Yes…Even in 2018

In my efforts to follow the Universe’s guidance, this week I spoke to a group of Gender/Sexuality Alliance (GSA) students at a local high school this.  It meant a lot to me, and it’s a tiny one step forward in a journey of a thousand miles.

The students?  Awesome, amazing, smart and kind.  Their questions? Honest, heartfelt and vulnerable.  What do they want?  Acceptance…especially from their families.  Adults in our world that care about them and believe they are perfect…just as they are.  To meet others that have walked where they are today and survived the challenges that they currently face…some from self, some at school, more at home, mostly in our world.  To know that it gets better…they really wanted to know that.

When I tell some of my family and friends, gay and straight, why this is important, I sometimes get, “Really? In 2018?”  Unfortunately, yes.  Especially in 2018.  These young people have adults in power using them as pawns in their political chess game.  To me, this is nothing new, but I am one of many who thought this type of game-playing was behind us.  It isn’t.  So, I actually agree when they say, “Really? In 2018?”

Here are the questions that run through my mind, heart and soul:

“Why are the most vulnerable in our society always singled out? What’s the benefit of looking for differences? What is the fear? Why do those who appear to have everything they need compare and compete to get a sense of importance?  Is it insecurity and fear that creates the need to make intolerable decisions to create a sense of security?  Is it seeing others live a different lifestyle that gives the impression that they must be living wrong…therefore we are living right?” 

When you encounter someone who is more vulnerable in our world than you, do you see and feel their pain, their challenges, and their struggle?  Does it give you empathy and a sense of compassion or fear and a sense of judgment?  If it’s empathy, it’s a bridge to connect you to another person’s experience.  If it’s fear, it’s a barrier to create a reaction of fight, flight or freeze.  It takes a lot of courage to sit with and in another person’s experience…to be with them in struggle.  It’s easy to run out of fear.

So, how do you stop running?  First, you have to want to.  You have to want a better world…for everyone.  You can’t pick and choose for some and not for others, or you remain in fear.  You have to let go of your defensive beliefs that others are trying to take something from you.  You have to look another person in the eyes, someone you don’t understand, and find a place where you see their perspective…even and especially if you don’t agree with it.  You have to show up…for yourself, for your loved ones, for our world.

My hope is that we can show up for those young students that are relying on us to see ourselves in their lives.  To find acceptance.  To care.  To know that we are actively working to make this world a better place.  They need to know that we are doing everything possible to create an open and accepting world for ourselves, for them and for all of our futures. 

That they need…and that’s just the minimum.

Finding the Gift when You’ve Been Discriminated Against…

I’ll bet you’re thinking, “What the heck!  There is no possible way to find any gifts in discrimination…Karen is truly losing her mind.  How sad for her.”  Hey, I appreciate your concern…it means a lot to me! And you know how I am…

I believe that there is always a light shining in the dark.  This is no different.

Let me explain…

I recently helped one of my closest friends unravel an experience where she was discriminated against for being gay.  My friend is a 30-year Navy veteran who served her country, just as I did, in the closet mostly under the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell era.  Now retired and out of the closet, she encountered this discrimination in a WWII Veteran organization that she has volunteered with for almost 20 years.  She loves these veterans and has passionately given a lot of her time, heart, and energy to this group. Then one day recently, she read a homophobic letter from one of the volunteers who was being rejected by the group for racist, sexist and homophobic emails. After reading it, I think she did what every normal human being does when someone judges them…he traveled from disbelief, to being hurt, to self-righteousness and resentment.  Finally, she looked for validation from others as she was seeking firm ground and for someone else to tell her that she was okay.

But what if there was a deeper lesson for her to unravel here?

What if this discrimination was an opening to look inward and discover the part of herself that was looking for internal validation?  What if there is no other person in the world can make her feel better than she can for herself?  What if the gift was in finding the connection to her truth, the one that is saying, “His opinion is his.  How do I really feel about myself?”  This is the gift that was given my good friend and her courage to get honest with herself and her feelings was a huge gift that she shared with me.

We sat down and recorded this video about her experience and her gifts, that she never saw coming:  How to Find the Gift when You’re Discriminated Against…

I encourage you to watch it, as she and I have received many messages from people (all sorts of human people 🙂) struggling with the “opinions of others” in their lives.  It’s a great lesson to learn and has helped me tremendously in my own life and in the work that I do with others.

Discrimination is ugly and keeps us on opposite fences.  Discrimination hurts…whether you’re the discriminator or the recipient.

In this situation, discrimination was projected from a man who felt rejected.  He was hurt and did what many people do…he lashed out in an attempt to not take self-accountability and to deflect his own pain.  It worked for a moment.  But then it provided an insight to my friend…a priceless one that she wouldn’t have received without his self-righteous judgment.

People are going to have good and not so good opinions of you…those opinions are theirs, not necessarily your truth.

If there is a part of you that believes what that person says about you, thank them and then look inward.  Ask yourself, “What part of me believes that opinion (good or bad) to be my truth?”  The only opinion of you that truly matters is the one you have of yourself.  Just an opinion…

Why Community Saves Lives…

A few weeks ago, I started reading the book, When We Rise. My Life in the Movement, by Cleve Jones. The first sentence in the Preface reads,

“The movement saved my life.”

Cleve (who was mentored by Harvey Milk) was 17.  It was 1971, and he was living in Arizona with his parents, and skipping gym (by faking an illness) to avoid getting beat up for being gay.

That year, Cleve found a Life Magazine article that read, “Homosexuals in Revolt!” He skimmed through the pages and saw a photo caption that read, “a small group called Gay Liberation Arizona Desert was holding meetings at Arizona State University.” He was going there the following year as his parents both worked at ASU. The final line in the Preface reads,

“I am pretty sure that was the exact moment I stopped planning to kill myself.”

Cleve had found “community” and, even though he had never met any of the people referred to in that magazine, he was no longer alone.  He had found connection and hope.

Just ask someone recovering from addiction, someone who goes to church, someone moving to a new city…

Communities save lives…

Yesterday, two friends sent me the same news article about a 9-year-old boy in Colorado, Jamel Myles, who committed suicide last week after being bullied at school.  It was four days into the school year and he had told his classmates that he was gay. The kids told him he should kill himself, and he did. Even though he was afraid of being rejected, he had “come out” to his mother that summer.  She accepted him and told him that she loved him.  She got it right.  He did not get the same support and love from his friends.

Jamal hadn’t found a community that supported him…he was only 9 years-old.

That same day I was horrified to read about a 10-year-old boy in Los Angeles, Anthony Avalos, who was tortured by his mom and her boyfriend for five-six days after coming out for being gay.  Some of his eight siblings were forced to participate.  I won’t give you details…Anthony died a very painful and heartbreaking death.

Anthony was alone, and he was only 10 years old.  He hadn’t found us.

This continues the Universe’s push to find answers for the challenges our LGBTQ+ youth experience.  My current solution is to start a community of support and connection.  So, even though the last thing I wanted to do was get more involved in social media, I started a Facebook group for just this reason.  Our youth aren’t going to find a Life Magazine, social media is sometimes the only place they have to turn.  Maybe someone will find us, a community that supports and accepts them.  Maybe, just like Cleve in 1971, that will be what they need to turn off their plan to end their life.

Finding a community that understands and has been there can be the difference between life and death.

Those of us in our new online community have walked through challenging times.  We’re not children anymore.  We know that good times and tough times come and go and that you can get through both…as long as you keep walking through them.  We all need community, and some are isolated…some have zero support.  If you know anyone that could benefit from being a part of this community, please invite them. If that person is a child, invite his or her parent, as long as they’re supportive.  They can show the child that it will get better, that they are not alone, and that there is more love and acceptance out here than they could ever possibly imagine.

For Danny…

One of my first memories was being bit by a dog in my face.  I was crawling under a coffee table, probably creeping up on that dog in a threatening way, when it decided to teach me a lesson.  I still have the scar.  It was Danny’s dog.  I found out just a few years ago, that they had the dog put down after it bit me.  That broke my heart.  I’ll bet that was Danny’s first heartbreak.

Danny was like a brother to me.  He was one of the kindest people I’ve ever known.  I don’t really know how it all started.  Were my parents and his friends?  Did we live on the same street at some point?  It was my real early years, and I simply don’t recall.  However, I have a picture of him sitting next to me on a rock at my third birthday party.  Danny was always there.

Another one of my other early memories was being back at Danny’s house after his father died.  It’s a blur and I don’t recall how old I was, but I recall Danny’s mother being distraught.  I believe Danny came home with us that night.  His dad had driven off of a cliff.  It’s my first memory of a suicide.  I’ll bet that was Danny’s second heartbreak.

Did I tell you Danny was like a brother to me?  He was.  Throughout his early years, up until high school graduation, he was a primary fixture in my life.  He lived with us at times.  He went with us on summer vacations to Northern California.  He and my older brother, Dave, were the same age and were very close.  He was like another son to my mom.  He was as much a part of our family as any of us were.

My older brother went in to the Air Force and I went into the Navy after we graduated.  The next time I recall seeing Danny was when I was home on leave.  He was living in West Hollywood at that time.  That was when he and I came out to each other for being gay.  It’s funny to recall that…he has always been in my big moments.  Danny…my brother.

The next time I saw Danny was in 1996.  I was home on leave and he was in town visiting.  I had just gone through one of the toughest periods of my life, when I lost my mentor to my foe…suicide.  Danny was struggling with addiction and had found out that he was HIV Positive.  I had been clean from addiction for over three years at that point but was struggling with guilt over my suicide loss.  We sat in his old brown Mercedes, that he was so proud of, and talked about our pain.  I talked to him about getting clean.  He was incredibly overwhelmed with his HIV diagnosis and couldn’t see past it to the desire to get clean.  HIV was another heartbreak for Danny.

In 1997, I came home from a meeting one night and my partner told me Danny had called.  I asked her if he wanted me to call him back and she said he told her he would call again.  I wish I had, because he never did.  The next time I heard from anyone, it was Danny’s mother asking if I had heard from him.  They found his body a few days later.  Danny drove off a cliff, just like his dad.  It was another heartbreak for Karen.

I miss Danny.  He’s always been with me…just ask the scar on my face.  I wish he saw what I saw in him.  I wish he knew how much he inspires what I do.  My guess is that he does.  I wish his part in it could have been without the heartbreak.  That simply wasn’t meant to be.

LGBTQ+ | Operation “End Suicides”

And then the Universe answered my questions, from many angles and in different ways.  The question was, “What do you need from me?”  Essentially, “Where can I best serve?”

You would think that I have heard this response before but, in all honesty, I was in denial.  “How will I be received?  Who won’t read or watch my work anymore?  How will my family and friends react?  Will I embarrass them?  Can I really make a difference here?”  These were all worries in my head.  These were all barriers to expressing a unique part of me, my limitless heart, the part that the Universe is calling for.

If you asked me why I do what I do, I would tell you that I want to end suicides.

Can you imagine?  It’s my ultimate dream.  I believe the only way to get there is through finding self-acceptance…essentially self-love.  You won’t kill yourself if you accept and love yourself.  So, I teach self-acceptance…I teach about the inward journey of finding yourself.  A lofty dream, but mine anyway.

Yet I kept hearing about the suicide rate percentage of the LGBTQ+ population, my family, which is 5-8 times higher than any other population in the nation.  And I kept hearing it…

the Universe made sure that I heard, and it became clear where “I am needed.”

I heard it in my meditations where I was being called to step into this place that scares me.  I heard the answer in two podcasts that I randomly stumbled across.  It came when I listened to a masterclass that discussed your audience’s pain points…essentially, what their pain is and what you can offer.  The final answer came in the form of a friend looking for someone to go to the local schools to share and speak with the LGBTQ+ youth.

Okay, Universe, I got it.  LGBTQ+, Suicides and Self-Acceptance…my life has led me here:

LGBTQ+ – I joined the Navy when I was 18 and was in my first gay relationship a few years later.  So yes, the world’s finest Navy made me this way.  That wasn’t true 🙂.  I spent my next 22 years serving my country, absolutely loving my job, while also fearing being outed for being gay.  I, like most of my friends, remained closeted.  If I discussed my life, I would be “kicked out,” essentially forced out of my family.  It was painful, and I stayed hypervigilant.  Many young LGBTQ+ experience that from their nuclear family on a daily basis.

As far as family and friends, I’ve had some “I love you no matter what” coming out experiences…and I’ve had some, “I love you even though you’re now going to go to hell” coming out experiences.  I still brace for impact and anticipate the latter, regardless of who I’m coming out to.

The “baggage” of living in the closet for so many years is a tough one to overcome.

Suicide – Unfortunately, suicide has been a part of my life since I can remember.  One of the first deaths I recall was a friend’s father driving his car off of a cliff.  That same friend, Danny, was like a brother to me.  He also drove off of a cliff in 1997, which was devastating. I miss Danny a lot and will probably always regret not calling him back the last time he called.  I’ve lost four other people to this epidemic, three high school friends and then one of my mentors in the Navy.  There are never answers that make sense.  I could go on…maybe one of these days I will.

For now, I’ll only say that one suicide is one too many and those of us left behind have a really hard time ever letting ourselves off of the hook.

The Solution – Traveling the long and solitary trip back to self-acceptance is something every human endures, and I’ve been on that road since I can remember. Those who have experienced societal rejection have a harder time accepting and loving themselves. They don’t know how to live in a world where they feel rejected, from their family, their friends, and their God, for something that is their nature.  This is why they are taking their own lives 5-8 times more than their counterparts. They want what you want.  They want a peaceful world.  They want love and acceptance.  They want a place where they are treated equally, with dignity and kindness, and mostly they want to live happy and healthy lives.

They haven’t yet learned that they are loved and accepted, that they are their answer, that life gets better, that their uniqueness is their incredible strength.

If you are struggling with being uniquely awesome, please hear this:

Everyone, and I do mean EVERYONE, is trying or has tried to fit in.  It doesn’t work because you’re trying to fit into someone else’s life.  You are meant to fit into your life…it was tailor-made just for you.

I know it seems like it won’t get better, but I promise it will.  Reach out and just keep moving through it.  There will come a day when you look back and think, “Man…this life I’m living?  It is one big Hell Yes!”

Message received, Universe.  I’m stepping in.  I would love for you to join me.  Danny would like that…Peace friend ✌️🙂

p.s. If you’re in struggle and need support, don’t give up…reach out to one of these resources:

p.p.s. Here’s my first video on Operation “End Suicides”

It’s an Inside Job

Earlier this week, I spent some time with a group of young women.  All are dwelling at their “bottom” and rebuilding their lives.  Their common theme, and I do mean all of them, was how much they “hated” themselves.  All were struggling finding their own intrinsic good and redeeming value.  All had a hard time seeing a way out.  And all were looking for something, anything, outside of themselves to fix their pain.

I sat there thinking, “I wish they knew what I know,” which is this:  Their bottom is a gift, sent to help them out of their personal hell.  There is nothing external that will create the peace and love they seek.  That thing they’re looking for to save them is already here.  She’s the woman they see when they look in the mirror…the woman they currently hate being with and looking at.  That woman?  She’s their only way out.

Truth:  It’s an inside job.  That thing you seek?  It’s within you.

I’ve spent more years than I care to count looking outside for something or someone else to save my butt.  I laugh now when I type that…yet there it is.  Money, material possessions, relationships, pets, alcohol and drugs, fitness, likes and followers, food…I’ve tried it all.  None of it gave me what I was seeking.  Because again, it’s an inside job.  What has always been there is within me…my heart, my connection to a higher source, my willingness to hang on when the shit hits the fan.

So, where do you start when you find yourself residing on the bottom, hating yourself, and not knowing how to dig your way out and into a place of self-acceptance and love?  Getting curious is the first step so, nice job, you’re well on your way🙂.

Next, the only way out is through…one step at a time.

Meditation is that way through; it’s the way into your heart and the way out of your hell.  Sitting on your butt or lying on your back in meditation and listening, even starting with ten minutes a day, is the way to find yourself.  Yes, your thoughts will be attacking your search for peace at times.  Notice them and let them pass.  Allow yourself to fall from your head to your heart and feel your feelings.  Denying your feelings is how you got here in the first place; always looking outward to escape your pain.  Once you feel your feelings, and love each and every one of them, they will also pass through you.

Ask yourself, “What do I currently do to escape? What am I addicted to?”

Here’s some possibilities:

  • Your phone and social media. How often do you pick it up and do the addictive-swipe to see if there’s a “notification” that gives you a short-term feeling of happiness?  Did you know that your “someone cares about me” notification releases the feel-good hormone dopamine?  So, you will keep subconsciously swiping, again and again, looking for the short-term dopamine-driven high.
  • Drugs, alcohol, or other substance (food, smoking, etc.). Other than air, which is an FDA-approved addiction, addictive use of substances is an escape from reality.  What is your drug of choice and, more importantly, when do you reach for it?  I’m not sure you needed to know that…seems a little obvious.
  • Work.  Yes work.  Does “what you do” define you?  Even if you’re “living the dream” and doing your life’s passion, are there times when you escape yourself to excel?  Just asking…don’t shoot the messenger…you seem defended🙂.
  • Your relationships.  Who are you without your relationships?  How healthy is your most important relationship…the one you have with yourself?  If you can’t stand to be with you, how can you expect anyone else to want to be with you?

Look friend, not one person can love you, like you, hate you, admire you, validate you, disgust you, inspire you, or anything else-you more than you do that for and to yourself.  But we’re not looking at them right now.  We’re looking at you…the one that is having a hard time loving yourself.  The one that needs time inward, to connect, to feel your feelings, to find your own intrinsic worth and value, and to start loving the person looking back at you from your mirror.  She, or he, or they are in there…patiently waiting…for you and only you.

Self-exploration questions:

  • What do you do to escape reality?  What is your “escapism drug of choice?”
  • Do you currently meditate?  If you do, what comes up that you’re trying to avoid?  What brilliance comes up that you’re scared to see?

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Free Will = Self-Responsible

I woke up on the wrong side of the bed today.  It was 6am.  I rolled out, trudged down the stairs, and started making espresso.  I’d had a rough night of restless legs and a restless mind, which had me falling asleep somewhere between one and two in the morning.  I wasn’t happy.  In that moment, a strong latte was my only hope.

Espresso made.  Trudged back up the stairs and into my office, where I flopped down and put my attention on my next priority, my gratitude journal.  Each morning, I write down three things I’m currently grateful for and then focus on them for a few minutes.  Today, this was the last thing I felt like doing but, like magic, three things appeared from the tip of my pen looking like this:

Grateful for:

  1. Meditation

  2. My Free Will

  3. Love in my Life

“My Free Will.”   A little reminder that I am responsible for my actions and my attitude, especially when I’m feeling like a sleepless grumpy-butt.

My commitment (to myself) to get up at 6am came directly out of “My Free Will” to start my day with some self-care (Let’s have a little self-accountability here, Karen!🙂).

 No one is making me get up at 6am.  I am choosing to do so.

So, more often than I like, I have sleepless nights.  I can’t control those nights.  What I can control is how I’m going to respond to a sleepless night.  I can react and take my victimhood out on others…essentially punishing them for my circumstances.  Or I can take accountability for and be responsible for my attitude and behavior and not make others responsible for my tired grumpy-butt.

I try to start my day on the right foot and yes, that includes choosing to participate in a caffeine addiction🙂.  It also includes gratitude journaling, meditating, stretching, writing, and connecting with myself.  This reminds me why I chose to start waking up earlier…to have the time to start my day in self-care so that I choose me first and don’t make you responsible for my attitude, my lack of sleep, my circumstances.

I can choose to remain a victim to last night and allow it to continue victimizing my day and this moment.  Or I can choose to find joy, grace and happiness right here.

I can choose to be grateful that I was gifted a restless night of sleep, in a safe home and a comfortable bed, with love surrounding me, and the universe supporting me.

Thankfully today, I choose the latter.  I fully understand that I am responsible to choose to BE my best self.  “My Free Will” gives me that choice.  Your Free Will gives you the same.

And then tonight, I’ll sleep like a baby (You hear me, Universe?!?) and be curious about what tomorrow will bring.  I’ll attempt to be Pope Francis-like and, “await the surprise of each new day.”

Self-exploration questions:

  • How do you get yourself out of a funk when it appears? How do you shift?  Do you find that you get wrapped up in mis-directed anger toward others?  Or do you find connection within for self-responsibility?  How does your funk typically play out?

Self-Righteousness Opposes Connection

“I’m right!”  This must mean that “you’re wrong.”  Bummer for you.  You don’t agree? “You either believe my beliefs or I’m done with you!”

Look familiar?

You see, anytime we’re in a disagreement where either or both parties are closed-minded (convinced they’re right), there’s no connection and it’s an impossible conversation.

What are your views on self-righteousness? To me, it’s not respecting someone else’s opinion, beliefs and insights (“It’s my way or the highway”).

Self-righteousness delivers the message that your mind is closed. You won’t even consider other possibilities.

Is your mind open or closed, or does it depend on the topic?  When you get in a disagreement, are you able to create an opening for the other person’s position or do you need them to agree with you?

What happens if they don’t agree with you?

When you’re closed-minded, you have some underlying fear in which you self-identify and won’t tolerate any disparity from the “other side.”  You need others to be loyal to your belief.

When you get stuck in one polarity, you become a “topic” extremist.

It looks like this:  I hate…(here we go): Republicans, Democrats, Liberals, Conservatives, Pro-Choicers, Pro-Lifers, Christians, Muslims, Gays, Straights, Whites, Blacks, Browns, the Police, Women, Men, Pitbulls, Chihuahuas, and on and on and on.

Anything you hate controls you because you are owned by your limiting belief.

Would you consider that there are three sides to every argument…to every story?  There’s my side, your side, and the side (that consists of a vast ocean of possibilities) in between.  Or put differently, there’s my truth, your truth, and THE truth.

We all have opinions…finding the middle ground is what will bring us closer together and away from the polarizing separation.  The middle ground helps us accept and respect, not agree with, the other’s perspective.

The middle ground helps us connect.

Personally?  I’m a fence-sitter on almost every topic…a “live and let live” kinda girl. Yet, there are areas where I tend to get self-righteous (just keeping it real).  Full disclosure?  Sure…I’ll give it a shot.

Discrimination.  Definitely closed-minded to discrimination.  When I see someone get targeted based on their ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, body image, or socio-economic class, I react (fight or flight).

The last time I looked, we are all human, with a beating heart and air flowing in and out of our lungs (that was a self-righteously affirming statement).  Since I’ve experienced discrimination, I know how icky it feels, so seeing someone discriminated against sends me into a self-righteous tailspin. I just realized that I discriminate against discriminators.  Nice insight 🙂.

Violence and abuse.  Seeing others hurt, victimized, targeted, or abused hurts my heart.  I am closed-minded to violent video games, any animal fighting or abuse, child or partner abuse, sexual abuse…I simply hate violence and it scares me.

I get stuck in my belief that normalizing violence (on TV, in video games, in sports, etc.) sends a message, especially to growing children, that violence is normal.  It’s not normal and it’s not okay (It feels like I’m going to stay self-righteous in this belief for a while).  And an awareness: I get angry when I experience violence, which is a deflection from the scared part of me that wants it to end.  That anger is an inner violence…which becomes self-righteousness…which is a horrible feeling.

I’m curious… if you have an awareness of your self-righteousness and how it impacts your life?

If you are stuck in your beliefs, then you have no choice but to dismiss other people’s experiences because you fear that your belief is being threatened…that it’s under attack. This is how self-righteousness gets ignited. This is how wars are started.

There are numerous possibilities and perspectives filling the space between two close-minded people.

Try to explore the middle ground and get curious about the areas where your mind is closed.  Ask yourself what part of you feels threatened and how you might find a place to let your guard down.  Talk to others with different beliefs and be curious about their lives.

After all, stepping toward each other to create understanding, kindness, compassion, and open conversations is what will help us come together.  Sitting on the other side, with a closed-mind, stewing in self-righteousness, will only create more separation, more violence, and less peace.  And that, we don’t want…said my self-righteous self.  Buddha agrees 🕉.

Self-exploration questions:

  • Where and when do you become self-righteous?
  • How do you act and what do you do when you find yourself in a disagreement with someone who carries a different belief than you?
  • Can you find a place of ownership and explore why you need their agreement?