My mom and me.

“Will you send that to me? It’s one of the best pictures of me since I don’t remember when.” 

My mom said this today. This is us smiling. She came to visit me for the first time since I moved back home to New Jersey a year ago today. It’s one of two pictures we’ve taken together in almost a decade. It was a great day.


For most of my life, my mom and I had a very difficult relationship. I never understood why but she said today, “we are more alike than different, I think that’s why we butt heads.” She’s probably quite right. Our sensitivity and empathy run deep as does our impatience. It’s the Irish maybe. 


My father left her with my sister, who was a toddler about to turn 3 years old, and me when I was 3 months old. He left his wedding ring in the dresser during a business trip. My mom found it and called him out while home alone with us. Then he left for good. My mother never went to college. She didn’t have a safe or comfortable home life. She hauled us both in her car and got food stamps until she could figure out another plan. That is her version of the story. I’m sure my dad has his. I may never hear it because he’s been pretty M.I.A. except for a few years when he really was great.

My mom is the one who fought through her pain and confusion and grief to make peace with my decision to transition my gender identity in 2012. It’s taken us six years to be able to hang out and smile like this together. Six years and a lot of work and growth on both sides. During brunch today, I saw my mother as a completely new and different person for the first time in my 40 years on this planet. It felt like time stopped.

This post is a short version of the long story of my mom and me.

This picture exposes the tenacious love and compassion we have for ourselves and each other. All I am I learned from this woman. I’m the mirror that reflects her. She’s so afraid of life but she’s a warrior. She’s the inspiration for all I do in my own life, leaving nothing unexplored and being brave beyond all limits. She conquered a big fear coming to visit me today. I’m fearless from her example.

This is my mom and I’m who I am because she’s who she is. Perfectly her.

Each Moment is the Perfect Teacher

"Each moment is the perfect teacher." I read this sentence from Pema Chodron, so I'll just put that out there. It's not mine, but it inspires me in every moment. A lot of people think happiness, gratitude and easy living come by running from pain and discomfort. If they are struggling, they will change jobs, situations, relationships and believe the change will bring the relief and the life experiences they want to have.

They also think it will make them the person they want to be.

I learned years ago that this isn't the case. In fact, running and changing situations and exiting when we are uncomfortable only begets more pain, frustration and suffering. Many years ago, I stopped jumping from lily pad to person to thing to thing whenever I felt uncomfortable or challenged. It's true that I do change my circumstances from day to day, but now it's because what I'm experiencing isn't aligned with my deepest values of love, honesty, compassion, respect and mutual appreciation. I think there's a difference between leaving when those values aren't there and leaving because you choose not to create and share those values. Sometimes it's hard to tell the difference. Which is why I look to what people do and not what they say they are doing, or what they say they will do---at some point in the future. Because our future begins with what we do now. And our ability to see that, clearly.

We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit. -Aristotle

Each moment is the perfect teacher to see if I am running from something because I'm afraid or running toward the thing that brings me closer to my truest self, even when all I see are the ways I need to grow. Each moment is the perfect teacher to show me, and it allows me to hear, words I use, the way I speak, the ways I behave. And each moment allows me to decide if I'm practicing what I expect from myself in that very moment or pretending it will magically happen someday when "things change".

Pema also says that people can spend their whole lives on a meditation cushion or in a yoga pose and never really live out their yoga. Or practice compassion, for themselves or others. Or really feel their fear. She said people can go through the motions of achieving enlightenment in very convincing ways, to themselves and others, and still be trapped in their habitual patterns of fear and ego. We all need to try and fail. But I've known many people who try and fail and quit, not seeing that success (in this case, enlightenment) comes from endless attempts at trying and failing.

I learned a long time ago not confuse people who are "doing" with people who are "being".

At this point in my pursuit of living as a bodhisattva (spiritual warrior), I have found a happy middle place. Definitely somewhere between knowing and being present with my fear and ego and not giving into it, too much. Somewhere between hearing myself say what I want and seeing myself either doing it or not doing it every moment of my life. Because that's where the work is. That's when it happens.

Having listened to and read Pema's teaching for the past 12 years and knowing many good, good people who can echo back those values to me, I feel closer and closer to being the person I want to be. And each moment is the perfect teacher, to show me where my work continues.

 

 

Thriving vs. Surviving

Maya Angelou, writer, speaker and general all-around incredible person said: "Surviving is important. Thriving is elegant."

 

For most of my young life, I was merely surviving. I was not thriving. I would read these words, printed on a card I had and I would think, "yeah. That would be nice. Someday."

I had a lot of days where surviving was my best. It was all I could do, but I still did it, day after day.

When I experienced my first break-up at the age of 23, I was totally devastated. Totally. It was my first love, my first relationship, first sexual relationship and first domestic partner. It was the first time I had really loved someone with all my heart and my soul. When she left, I felt like I couldn't breathe. My guts went to shit. I cried and cried day after day.

But I still woke up every morning, swung my legs over the side of the bed and put my feet on the floor. I showered, got dressed, drove to work and was early every single morning. I don't think I ever took a day off. I was teaching eighth grade at the time and my students never suspected a thing. That went on for years. Years. I wasn't grieving the end of one relationship. I was grieving everything that relationship had opened up inside of me--stuff that had been buried down deep for years.

Last year was different. I was struggling with an experience that was just as difficult as the end of a relationship, if not more. I was grieving the end of something as I was living in it--my old self, my body, my identity, my name, my voice. This experience was really different from the past because I had that old experience to draw on. What had I learned from all that suffering and grief? What had I learned about myself? What had I learned about my own resiliency, tenacity and coping skills? What new skills and self-love tools had I now acquired? There were many days that I remembered Maya Angelou's words about thriving versus surviving.

I was determined to not just survive through my experience but to thrive in it.

So I made a plan.

I surrounded myself with tools to thrive, not just survive.

I know that's why I feel so amazing today, as I approach my year anniversary of deciding to physically transition to male. That anniversary is coming up in March. That was the month I decided to take intentional steps toward making a change that would alter my experience in this life forever. It was the month I decided to stop surviving and start thriving.

Before I made that decision, I was struggling. I felt hopeless, helpless and depressed.

I remember being so afraid to make a move but also feeling that deep down, this was not a way I wanted to feel for the rest of my life. I knew if I didn't make some big choices and take some big chances things wouldn't improve for the better. I saw myself reflected back to me in my clients: people on the edge of greatness and afraid to take the steps and make the moves they needed to make to change their lives. I wanted to walk my talk and I saw the big shift I was avoiding in my own life. So I decided I'd seek out whatever I needed to improve my situation--so I could move from surviving to thriving.

Some times, all we can do is survive. Our best is getting up, throwing our legs over the side of the bed and making it through another day.

But with the right tools, the right motivation and the right amount of self-love, self-determination and courage, we can move from surviving to thriving.

My tools were:

  • good, whole, healthy foods every single day

  • plenty of sugar and foods that didn't serve me (because perfection isn't realistic)

  • a consistent bedtime every night. At least 7 hours.

  • lots of water

  • good friends and mentors who are good listeners

  • my own health coach

  • a great specialized and experienced therapist

  • a deep spiritual practice that I nurtured every single day

  • exercise. Even when I didn't do it every day.

  • crying. Sometimes daily.

  • days off when I needed them

  • lots of movie-watching

Those are a just a few. This was my list.

This was how I moved from surviving to thriving.

 

Surviving was the least I could do. Thriving was a choice I made. 

And one I make from moment to moment each day.