Sticks and stones may break my bones

Words hurt.

You know that saying we all grew up with? The one about the sticks and stones? And words never hurting? Yeah well, that good-ole preschool saying is a big fat lie.

We pull out that “sticks and stones” line on the playground when we’re young so we can protect our little hearts from the negative comments that little Suzy says about our icky clothes and how we smell like dog poop and how we are tattle tales and are stupid for tattling to the teacher that it was Johnny and Jimmy who drew with crayons on the wall during recess. When we were younger, little (or not-so-little) bullets of negativity were shot our way and our immediate self-defense was to respond by saying, “sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me,” accompanied by that classic scrunched-up-nose-and-tongue-stuck-out face we mastered by the time we hit 1st grade. I thought that saying was my invincible shield, the armor and sword that could and would protect me from all negative comments and hurtful things said to me for, well, as far as I was concerned, ever.

Now as a twenty-something adult who has experienced adult versions of elementary school playground negativity, I have found that statement to be completely and entirely untrue. The fact is that words do hurt. While 80% of communication is through body language (and 68% of statistics are made up) and the minority of communication is through the spoken or written word, that 20% (maybe only 48% of statistics are made up) sure can pack a punch. The words we choose to use in our communication with others can lift us up, lift others up, bring ourselves down, or bring others down. Of course there is potential for combination there, and often times the bullies that haggled us in middle school and the people that haggle us in adulthood have the same thing in common; they use their words to put others down so that they can feel like they are lifted up and standing a little bit higher over everyone else. But be warned: while it appears that they feel they must put others down to get ahead, in reality it’s a way for them to cover up their own flaws, a way for them not to get hurt by having to look their imperfections in the eye.

From my own time in therapy and other such introspection, I’ve been learning that what someone says to others is really just a reflection of how they feel about themselves and where they are on their individual journey at any given moment on any given day. As much as it may seem like it, what other people say to us is not personal. Even if they are hurtful words, those words are not personal. Those words are merely a reflection of the other person’s own pain and hurt. I am guilty of using hurtful words, or abstaining from using words, against others — we all are. But those words I choose are words that actually reflect my internal mumbo jumbo and chaos and pain, not those of the imperfect person in front of me.

We all have sacred places of vulnerability, and we all have things we keep close to our hearts in that guarded place. What hurts is when we trust in another enough to share those deep emotions and memories and programs from that vulnerable space with someone else and they dishonor that trust. Again this is not personal, but these words hurt deeply because the person dishonors that trust and shares those words with other people because they have no notion of respect and honor. They dishonor that trust when they take those very words that you have told them about yourself and turn them against you, blaming you and judging you and finding you guilty for your flaws, as if you were the only person who had them and you weren’t already aware that you had your own shit pickles that you’re dealing with. That is the use of words that hurt. And those words leave bruises and scars, mother truckers.

Those people that use our words against us are guilty of betraying our trust and dishonoring our vulnerability, but we’re the ones who are guilty of putting the bullet of words into the hands of heartbreakers. Does this mean that it’s our fault when someone turns our own vulnerabilities against us? Absolutely not, that’s now what I’m trying to get at, at all. The people who do that to us are to blame. I mean, we’re all human, we all make mistakes and say things we wish we could take back. But there’s a difference between a proverbial slap on the face and the kicking of the proverbial dead horse. One is a wake-up call, the other is a brutal, disrespectful beating that no one deserves (not even my asshole ex-boyfriend who used words to make me mad so I wouldn’t be sad anymore). What I’m trying to get at is that perhaps next time before opening up our vulnerable places to others, we will just have to be a little bit more wise about who we believe is worthy of hearing our stories. Not everyone will honor and cherish the blessed, magnificent compositions of our lives. So it is up to us, then; we must be more cautious of only letting those people in who will honor and respect our beautiful, precious stories and selves, broken bones and all.

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“You can attain the kingdom of heaven from this one agreement: Be impeccable with your word.” Don Miguel Ruiz

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YOLO: A Recipe for Disaster

Hit the bottle hard.

I have this 14 year old 8th grade student who has a chronic issue of being late to my class. In the past month, he has been late over nine times and today he got his third demerit from me for being late. When I told him that he had an amonestación (demerit), he said, “bueno, YOLO” with five layers of “whatever” and ten layers of “I couldn’t give a rat’s ass.”

I don’t know how it is with youth in the U.S., but here in Mexico, some of my 8th graders have adopted YOLO like it was their own child to the point where now it’s almost like a birthmark, or a birthright, or better yet, the slogan that defines their very existence. And instead of taking YOLO for its deepest meaning that, yes, we really only do once so we might as well live to the fullest and appreciate life and jump at every opportunity it has to offer us, many of them take it to be an excuse to be apathetic about anything other than going out and getting wasted. Or to actually not give a damn about anything but spending time with their friends. The students I see using YOLO as an apathy motto transform it into an excuse to physically trash their still-developing livers and do whatever the hell they want to do. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all about going out and having a good time. And I am sure I made my liver cry and shrivel in college when I hit the bottle a little too hard. But these kids, they are 14, 15 years old and they are drinking their weekends away like that was the school that they go to: YOLO – the school of hard alcohol, no limits, and poor decision-making. Someday, if they ever actually start living their lives as adults and their livers start to give out on them, they’re going to wish they hadn’t gone at the bottle so hard before their bodies could handle it.

I really do wish my students the absolute best in life and that they truly live by the phrase YOLO. We only live once and this one wild, precious life we have been given is to be seen and cherished as a gift. It is to be valued and appreciated, which is a perspective that I still strive for yet often struggle with. But I didn’t start off on this beautiful journey at a young age with a hefty dousing of apathy accompanied by a bottle of tequila mixed with lack of responsibility and topped off with a big ole dose of laziness. Yikes… that recipe is no good.

In middle school, your world is your friends. I get that, and as a middle school teacher, I am reminded of that everyday. And in middle school friends translates to  the community of people at school around you. For most kids, there isn’t much outside of that. But I hope that as they turn 16, 17, 18 years old, they grow out of it, at least out of the heavily apathetic part of it. The drinking? Well, I don’t approve because I know from first hand & personal experience that drinking too much can be a cause of emotional shame as well as irreversible physical damages. And I want my students to be healthy and thriving both emotionally and physically. But if they are to keep one piece of this disastrous YOLO puzzle, which I believe they will, let it be the drinking by all means. But the apathy? That has got to go. Apathy equates to a lack of passion, a void where purpose is absent. It seems like it may be easier to be apathetic than to care about anything and fail at it or have our feelings hurt by it, but apathy is one of the worst defense mechanisms that exists and it is, in and of itself, a recipe for disaster.

“It’s not you, it’s me”

When relationships end, dating back as early as middle school, a common, overly-used and under-expressive phrase when one person ends a relationship (and they are typically the only one who wants to end it) is, “it’s not you, it’s me.” We roll our eyes when we hear this phrase used as we age in life and enter (ideally) into mature relationships in which both parties know how to express their emotions, needs, and desires. But as the real world  and time will have it, we do not all mature at exactly the same rate as we age (I know this from first hand experience, we all do quite frankly).

As we grow up, we enter into relationships only to find our buttons pushed by things the other person does and we often let those buttons drive us crazy until we explode. When those buttons explode like a long-dormant volcano, it means that person has hit some emotion or memory from your childhood that is more than likely buried under the years and years of layers of defense mechanisms you have established to protect yourself and these weaker parts of your being from getting hurt, from feeling pain. Once we are sick of having these weak-pain buttons reappear and be pushed time and time again both in a romantic relationship and in any other relationship we have, we realize that these pains need to be confronted in order for us to try and have the most peaceful human existence we can have. That’s what the quote, “the risk it took to remain tight inside the bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom,” is all about (thank you, Anais Nin). So when we need to blossom, even though the blossoming itself can be painful, we go to a therapist or enroll in group therapy or do something that will help us work through our hurts of the past that we unconsciously live in the present. Take this as coming from a girl who got so fed up with other people pushing her pain buttons (and herself pushing her own pain button) that she mustered up the courage to find a bilingual therapist in Mexico.

Through my own process of emotional maturing and working through the pains of my past (a.k.a. therapy and reading tons of, yes, self help books), one of the greatest lessons I have learned is that nothing is personal. Absolutely nothing. Anything and everything that someone does to you or says to you is merely a reflection of where they are on their own personal journey in life, or it is a pain or hurt button that somehow in some way you unwillingly and unwantingly push. People react to us based on what we bring out of themselves.

I think the phrase “it’s  not you, it’s me” has an absolute truth to it. It really isn’t you that’s doing anything wrong; it’s the other person whose soul doesn’t mesh with something about you. That sounds almost worse, but it’s really nothing personal. And when we distance ourselves from people by either audibly or silently saying “it’s not you, it’s me,” it’s actually a gift we are giving ourselves. We’re saying, “I know myself well enough that this person or situation causes discord within me, and for my well-being and harmony, I choose to distance myself partially or completely from this person or situation.” It’s an act of self-love. Can the distancing be done or stated hurtfully? Absolutely. Does leaving someone or being left by someone leave scars? You betcha it does. But if the other person is saying, “it’s not you, it’s me,” it’s really a blessing from God saying, “this person no longer serves a purpose in your life at this moment in time, and it is time for them to go so you can grow. I’m closing this window, but honey child there are many many more that are opening.” Hear God out. And be open to the miraculous possibilities that can come from the heartbreak. Because wherever there are cracks, there is light that shines through them.

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“There came a point when the risk it took to remain tight inside the bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom” Anais Nin

Voldemort Part I: When You’re the Friend that Leaves

Hot Air Balloon

In a blog post I read awhile back, it talked about the time of change and growth that is the decade of the twenties, and it talked about how sometimes, as people move to and from different cities, our friends are going to be the ones that move away from us, and sometimes, we are going to be the ones that move away from them. We are going to be the ones that leave. And, well, the time has (almost) come when I am the one that is going to leave.

In less than two months, I am moving back to Portland for __________________ (undetermined – who the hell knows how long or how short) amount of time. One of my friends has dubbed this event “Voldemort,” such as “the event which shall not be named” just as Voldemort was “he who shall not be named” in H.P. We don’t bring it up much in conversation but when it does arise, “Voldemort” suffices and gives us a laugh and helps us to get it out of our minds a little bit quicker.

Just like with any big change, be it positive or not, in some ways I am ready to leave the home I have created for myself here in Mexico, and in others I am not. When it comes to being a teacher, I have one foot and most of my body out the door. Teaching is not what I want to be doing and it feels unnaturally confining and restricting in so many ways. Most weekdays, I feel a sense of stress and tension related to my classes. When I have exams to grade, even if they take me five minutes a piece, I feel a looming sense of pressure to get those puppies graded ASAP and I feel guilty if I even think about reading a book for pleasure if I have things to grade. When it’s Sunday, I don’t even for a minute feel like I can just chill the fuck out because I have prep work to do for class. When I have to prepare a PowerPoint presentation, I go over it several times to make sure I am prepared enough to give it, and still I know that my armpits will sweat buckets when I am giving it in class. Are they going to ask me questions about the material that I don’t know the answer to? If I don’t know the answer, they will probably think that I’m not a good teacher and that I’m not credible because I don’t know the material back and front. These are thoughts that play through my mind throughout the year over and over again. They plague me, restrict me, leave me tense and stressed and stunted in my personal creativity and productivity. Ya, I am so ready to be done teaching. In that way, I am ready to get the heck out of Dodge now. 

But in another way, a very very big way, I can’t stand the thought of saying goodbye to the community of warm-hearted, caring, loving friends I have made in the past two years. When I bought my plane ticket yesterday, it felt as though my insides were simultaneously weeping/shriveling up/collapsing. Something in the very center of my chest was going wild as I confirmed my departure from my Mexican home back to the Pacific Northwest city where I grew up. It is a moment that seems so far from now, like there is still so much time between now and then. But I know that July 22nd will come by faster than a heartbeat for time is a funny thing; it goes by in the blink of an eye when we think it will take ages and light years to pass. I do not look forward to this event. I do not want to leave my friends, I want to take them with me. Miniaturize them so I can put them in the pockets of my dresses and take them with me wherever I go. You know, like those plastic Shrinkables we would color on and then put in the oven to shrink them and then wear them around as necklaces or bracelets (note to self: look into shrinking my friends…). I want to not say good bye, or hasta luego. I just don’t. So I won’t futurize about my feelings when I leave, prematurely write about how sad I am going to be while feeling those emotions before they have arrived. Instead, I am going to live up my last 8 weeks here and cherish every moment I spend with my girlfriends. I’ll let myself be sad about Voldemort if I need to be sad about Voldemort, because the contrary, denying and internalizing feelings, is an unhealthy recipe for a desmadre de Margarita (damn mess of Maggie). And trust me, we do not want any of those.

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“Pick the day. Enjoy it – to the hilt. The day as it comes. People as they come. The past, I think, has helped me appreciate the present and I don’t want to spoil any of it by fretting about the future.” – Audrey Hepburn