Grace Elaine Sommers Whitehead

This past week my mom turned 79. It’s kind of jolting, because I don’t think of her as being someone who is close to entering her octogenarian years. She’s just my mom. However, she’s MY MOM. And being that I’m a mom, this has caused me to reflect on what it must be like to be my mom.

Sometimes I look at old pictures of myself from when I was a kid, and try to remember what my personality was like. I’m guessing my mom would say I was a happy and talkative child, and I was, for the most part. I liked to play outdoors in the dirt, ride my tricycle, talk to the neighbors, and play in the sandbox. I also liked to pretend I had imaginary friends and even children. One day I told my mom that I had two daughters–one named Ruthie (after my grandma who I was obsessed with) and Crouton (after my favorite salad bar topping-BECAUSE WHO DOESN’T LOVE SEASONED BREAD?!). I was creative and liked to color and draw and watch the birds at the bird feeder.

My mom would sit at the foot of my bed every night until I fell asleep. We said bedtime prayers, and she helped me to learn how to pray. She cooked healthy food for us, and we always ate at the table.

(God, I should stop reminiscing because this is actually making me think about all the ways I’ve failed as a parent.)

But before I stop, I must mention one more thing.

I remember lying in bed in my childhood bedroom. Only I wasn’t a child anymore. I was 30 years old. My mom had pulled the curtains up, in hopes that I would feel the sunshine. It was springtime and it was beautiful weather. And yet, I couldn’t stop crying, and I couldn’t get out of bed. I knew my parents were concerned, but every time they tried to speak to me, I either cried or shut down. And all I remember thinking was, why can’t I just enjoy the sunshine? There are actual people who are getting up with the sun and going outside and living their lives and going to the grocery store and shit. And getting up to go pee was overwhelming to me. Eating was overwhelming to me. Showering was overwhelming to me.

I felt like I was getting evicted from my own life. This was during my second separation from my husband. Things were crumbling and I did not want to surrender. What I didn’t yet understand was that, as Glennon always says, nobody gets evicted from his or her life unless she is being called to a truer, deeper life. Rock bottom is always an invitation to something else- something even more authentic and beautiful.

My mother came into my bedroom. She sat down on my bed. She told me she had baked some homemade bread and had fresh strawberry jam, made with strawberries from our garden. While my mother is an incredible cook, it was very out of character for her to make homemade bread. I looked at her, perplexed. But then I knew: she’s trying to get me to eat AND baking may be her way of coping with the fact that her child is feeling hopeless and not eating or sleeping.

She convinced me to eat a piece of bread. She brought it upstairs to me and sat on my bed. I put the bread in my mouth and could tell it was nearly a perfect tasting piece of bread, so I began to chew it, even though I wasn’t enjoying the process of eating. Every time I swallowed food, it went into the pit of my stomach and I thought would vomit. But I didn’t vomit. So I continued to slowly and thoroughly chew the bread in my mouth so that I could nourish my body at least.

“I’ve been thinking,” my mother suddenly said, “about you.”

I sat up in bed. She had my attention.

“I have this vision of you in my mind. You are an exquisite, beautiful flower. And yet, you’ve been buried for so long under the dirt. The ground above you is hard and cracked, and the soil is not good. However, you continue to grow and you will soon sprout above this ground that is holding you back–this ground that has held you down for so many years, and you will begin to bloom. And you’re just the most beautiful flower. You’re becoming yourself and you’re stunning. You are going to bloom and break free.”

I looked at her in awe, because she was envisioning things for me that I simply couldn’t see. But what she said–her words–were so intricate and fascinating, that it drew me in.

Everyone has always loved my mother. At times I resented this, because I didn’t like sharing her. I would get jealous and hide for attention or act out (when I was a child, to clarify-not last week 😜). But now I know why people are so drawn to her-it’s because she showed up for them, and never fell apart. It’s because she’s a vault when it comes to trust. My mother has exhibited grace under pressure, time and time again. When others are stressed, she remains serious. When people are crying and crushed, she responds with compassion. That’s why people love her.

So that is my mother. She is a believer in things that dwell in truth and possibility. Happy birthday, Mom.

The Woman I Feared: My Ex’s Fiancée

When I was still married, I remember lying in bed one night thinking of all the reasons why I shouldn’t get divorced, despite the fact that my marriage was pretty much a living death at the time. All of the reasons I listed were branches grown from trees of fear or “what if’s.” Among these reasons was the following;

He’s gonna find another woman and I cannot bear the thought of another woman playing mommy to my daughter.

My internal dialogue went something like this: She’s gonna be pretty and sweet and is gonna let my daughter do whatever she wants and my daughter is gonna want to go live with her just like what happened in whatsherface’s family–YEAH that will be my freaking life and I won’t be able to bear it. And she will be the “fun mom” and my daughter will hate me because her dad and fun mom hate me.

But, as the story went (that was actually not just a story, but my real freaking life), I filed for divorce in spite of this fear and all the other fears. Because what often happens when you’re in a situation where fear is ruling your life, is your heart and your brain and body eventually can’t take it anymore, and so you have two choices: disassociate from the pain and fear OR boss up. Somehow, not by anything less than luck or possibly the grace of God, I chose to boss up. Not everyone is or was as lucky as me, and it is to those beloveds who are still living with fear as the boss of them, that I dedicate this post. I am speaking to you, my loves, who are living in fear, and I want you to know:

I am no different than you. I am no smarter than you or more courageous than you. I just somehow decided to do it-to leave an abusive, scary hellhole that was my life. Maybe your hellhole is different situationally than mine, but fear is fear, and loss is loss. It is real, and it’s hard, and it’s scary.

To this day, I have mixed feelings when people say to me, THANK GOD you changed. While I am very thankful I left my situation and that my life is now beautiful and true (albeit messy and hard, just like life is), I have SO much compassion for that girl that I used to be-my rock bottom self. Cause there ain’t nobody in this world who loves her more than I do. Why? Because she felt the pain and let it steer her. She felt the loss and knew that it was devastating. She knew she wasn’t like everyone else around her. But what she didn’t know, was that she was worthy of happiness, respect, and peace of mind. And so that’s why I love her–because she needed love and still does.

We don’t give as much love to people at their rock bottoms as we should. Sometimes it’s because we are afraid they will never change. Sometimes it’s because we are afraid they will change, but not for the better. Sometimes it’s because we’re just plain tired. To the people who are tired, please rest. But to everyone else, I say this: love them anyways. Show them love without fear, so that they know it’s real and that it exists.

And to my rock bottom beloveds, I tell you this story, about my now ex-husband’s girlfriend. Once I left, I had the gift of time. And with time, came less fear and more understanding. And then one day, my little girl came home from a visit with her dad and said, “Daddy has a new friend and her name is Ashley and she’s my friend, too.”

And somehow, I felt the goodness in this. You may ask me WHY and HOW in the HECK did I get there? And all I can tell you is that it was time, beloveds. Time created space, and space created awareness. Fear cannot survive when you start doing things you’re afraid of doing. I don’t know why that is, but it just is. It’s like your brain and anxiety get a little shock, but then they realize that you are still alive, so they keep going. That’s kinda how it was for me, too. I did a lot of little, scary things, and then the big ones took care of themselves.

And then it was revealed to me pretty quickly that Ashley was just a younger version of myself. And I loved her, because I love me. And she loves my girl, and so it makes sense that there is goodness in that. And even though she’s a younger version of me, she’s still not me. I am still mom, and that’s a truth that will always exist. Fear can’t change the truth.

So here it is, my fellow rock bottomers who may be reading this: I am no different than you when it comes to strength and courage. I love you more than I do most people because you know rock bottom. I love you because you understand pain and haven’t entirely dissociated from yourself yet. The pain you feel can be a loophole that you slide through which brings you to your future- a future where you find others like you, and show them love, and pull them out, too. All you have to do now, though, is believe, even if it’s for just a minute, and that everything you’re afraid of, isn’t as strong as you are. Give yourself the credit you deserve and know that you even if you just slide your pinky toe through the loophole, you still got through, so just keep going. One minute of believing fear isn’t your boss may turn into two minutes the next day, and soon enough, with time, you will realize your whole entire leg slipped through the loophole.

And that is how your truth begins.

“I’m at point A. You’re at point Z.”

I’m sick. Apparently my laryngitis spread to my eyes, because my eyes are beet red. I had plans to go over to a friend’s house tonight, but just texted my friends a picture of my eyes (which I’m sure grossed them out), and informed them that I wouldn’t be making it, since I don’t want to infect them with whatever stupid laryngitis-red eye-disease I have.

And when I’m sick, I have to slow down. I don’t like slowing down, because I generally don’t like sitting still. When I’m forced to sit still, I start getting into a reflective state, and sometimes it’s hard to stop the “should train” in my mind. That’s the train of thoughts that tells me all the stuff I should be doing that I’m currently not doing. It’s also the train of thoughts that says, “Look at those people over there who are doing X, Y, and Z, but you’re over here still on A, B, and C. What’s wrong with you?”

When Theodore Roosevelt said, “Comparison is the thief of joy,” he knew what he was talking about. Whenever I start comparing my day to someone else’s or my life to someone else’s, it is the ULTIMATE slippery slope.

It’s crazy to think about the fact that there are so many life experiences which encourage us to compare ourselves in this way. An example of this was when my elementary school teachers would choose two students to be team captains and then ask those team captains to “choose” their teams.
If the captains were choosing teammates to compete in a spelling competition, I was proud to be one of the first chosen. If we were in gym class, I was screwed.

I remember standing there as teams were being picked and making a million promises to God in my head through silent prayer that I would never again let Him down if he would just answer this prayer request to not be chosen in the bottom 50 percent.

These moments were anxiety producing, obviously. Even when I was “team captain,” I was anxious about being put in the position to evaluate my peers in such a public way.

Because truth be told, I have often struggled with self esteem and self worth.

Over the years, I would say that most of the mistakes I have made were related to self worth on some level. I have chosen to not stand up for myself when I really needed to. I have chosen to be in relationships with men who were not very nice to me. I have chosen to not exercise and eat well because I didn’t think I deserved to have the health or body I wanted. I have allowed toxic people into my life, because I didn’t think I deserved to be happy. It was almost like masochism was my friend. I made bad choices because I didn’t think I deserved to have goodness in my life.

I’m thankful that I’ve broken these patterns in my decision making. The way I actually did this was that I started to trust my emotions more. I realized that my feelings had value and usually meant something. I also worked on trusting my gut and my internal guidance system. I began to think about all the things that were right with me, instead of what was wrong with me. I began to choose positive thoughts over negative ones.

But the most important action I took was that I began to figure out WHO I was. Because when I started to know my identity in a distinct way, I gradually stopped relying on other situations or people to fill in the gaps. And that is by FAR the hardest part. It is a challenge, as it was today, to remind myself that I know who I am and what I want–and that I don’t have to compare myself to others because of the simple fact that they are not me.

For example, I’m sure that many of you do not like split pea soup. However, I REALLY do. Which may make me weird, but if you’re weird like me, then you will love this recipe.

Spicy Split Pea Soup
Adapted from More-With-Less Cookbook

5 c. chicken broth
5 c. water
1 lb dried split peas
2 T. butter
1 onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 T. curry powder
3/4 t. ground coriander (freshly ground if possible, from ~1 t. seeds)
1/2 t. cayenne
1 t. salt
1/2 c. cream

Combine chicken broth, water, and split peas in a large soup pot. Bring to a rolling boil, turn off heat, cover, and let stand for (at least) 1 hour. Reheat, and simmer over low heat for 45 minutes.

In a skillet, melt butter over medium heat. Add onions, garlic, curry, ground coriander, cayenne, and salt, and saute for about 7-8 minutes, until fragrant.

Once split peas are tender, stir onion mixture into split peas, cover, and cook for 20 minutes over low heat. Use an immersion blender to lightly puree the soup in the pot, or use a blender to liquefy approximately half of the soup before returning it to the pot.

Stir cream into soup, and reheat to serving temperature. If too thick, thin with a small amount of water or cream.

I like to put sour cream on mine.

And this person right here is another daily motivation for me to work on getting the self worth piece right. Because when you’re someone else’s female prototype, that’s kind of a big deal.