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Renee Dubeau

Creative Nonfiction & Inspirational Shit

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Writerly Things

What if we’re all just doing the best we can?

I remember standing in the kitchen with my mother at age thirteen. “I’m going to get out of here, go as far away as I can, and never look back.” I said, with the kind of absolute certainty that only an angry teenage girl can proclaim such a thing.

A decade later I made my first cross-country move. I thought that removing myself from the place I was born and raised would fix everything. But, as they say, “wherever you go- there you are”.

I hauled my emotional baggage around for two more big moves and at least a decade of miserable marriage before getting serious about unpacking all that shit and dealing with it. When I was finally ready to heal, I had to burn everything to the ground and start from scratch. It was a gloriously awful time of self-reflection, evaluation and love. I learned, grew and thrived more than any other time in my life. Still, forgiveness felt just out of my reach.

I felt my anger was justified. People were not kind to me when I was small. The ones who should have been there to love and protect me failed. I suffered abuse and trauma that no little child ever should. Even worse, I was told that I deserved to be treated that way. As little children do, I believed the grownups who told me I was worthless. I believed that there was something wrong with me, that I deserved to be abandoned and abused. I believed that I was not worthy of love.

It was from this place that I chose abusive relationships with men, punished and sabotaged myself constantly and held myself back from the good things in life. I didn’t believe I deserved to have anything good. I didn’t feel worthy of love or success. I gave my power away without a fight, without even realizing I was doing it.

I spent a lifetime feeling alone in my pain, separate from all the “normal people” and their pretty little lives. I kept myself isolated in a cage built from my own shame and self-loathing all those years, suffering in silence. When I finally found my voice and began speaking my truth, I was overwhelmed at the outpouring of love and support from friends and strangers alike. I was shocked to hear the chorus of “me too” echoing all around me.

Suddenly, I realized that I was not alone. I was never alone. There are so many of us in hiding, afraid to share our true selves with the world around us. No matter how terrible our stories, we are never alone in our suffering. Knowing this helped me see my childhood in a different way.

Looking back on my life, I now see that the ones who hurt me did so from their own pain. Maybe they were also abused when they were little children. Maybe their lives were difficult and stressful, and they weren’t able to cope. Maybe they lacked the foresight necessary to know how their actions would change who I am. Whatever the reasons, forgiving them was vital to my healing.

Forgiveness is not making excuses for people who treated us badly. Forgiveness is not saying that we were not harmed by their actions, or that what they did was okay. Forgiveness is making the decision to let go of the anger, hurt, resentment and fear- the emotional attachments we have to the events- so we can move on, unencumbered.

As I let go of years of resentment and hurt, I began to see people with more compassion. As I accepted the apologies I would never receive, I also accepted that the terrible things that were done to me, didn’t have anything to do with me. I didn’t deserve to be abused- no matter how many times people told me I did.

I was not born with some great flaw that made me less whole or less worthy than anyone else. Knowing this allowed me to love myself more completely, and live more authentically. I stopped holding myself back, and stopped letting other people choose my boundaries for me.

I realized that the ones who hurt me did so from their own wounds, and the ones who failed me did so in their own fear and avoidance.

We’re all just doing the best we can.

In our human limitedness, in our small perception of the universe, in our egos, our denial, our own wounds- we all fall short of perfection. Perfection, after all, is a myth. It’s an ideal we are sold to foster our insecurities. Perfection is not possible, and therefore, not a fair expectation for ourselves or anyone else who is just doing their best in their limited human form.

Today I feel more at peace with my past and my family. I know that I am whole. I am worthy of all the most wonderful things life has to offer.

I know that surviving my past has helped me become the strong, resilient woman I am today.

I know that sharing my story has helped many others like me reconcile the terrible things they’ve endured, and find their own fortitude.

Today I know that forgiveness is freedom. And, freedom is attainable when we accept that people are imperfect by nature. When the failures of other people hurt us, we are not to blame. We can let go of our pain and shame and live the big beautiful lives we deserve.

 

 

 

Photo Credit:  Max Pixel

 

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How to save the world: Step 1

Do you ever feel like we are totally doomed?

Does watching television or reading the morning paper fill you with anxiety and feelings of dread?

Do you schedule important events around your quarterly existential crisis?

Do you find yourself in a state of perpetual outrage?

Have you ever considered faking your death and running away to a remote foreign land to escape the idiocy that surrounds you?

Have you ever wished the apocalypse would just hurry up already? Or, wondered if we’re right in the middle of it? (Zombies, everywhere!)

Do you ever wonder if the world would be a better place if run by baby chinchillas, unicorns, kittens or goats?

Do you ever feel like you’re too small to make a difference? Like, your voice isn’t heard or doesn’t matter?

Do you feel hopeless about the future, or helpless to change it?

Do you use dystopian novels and movies as an escape? Do you later compare said dystopian works of fiction to the shit show that is our current reality and feel even worse?

When asked where you’re from, have you ever lied and said, “Canada” instead of “‘Murica”?

Do you frequently wonder how we got so lost? Or why we seem to waste all the amazing technology, resources and opportunities available to us?

If you said, “yes” to any of the above we are in the exact same boat. And the good news is, it’s a great big boat, and there are lots of smart, reasonable, frustrated passengers on it. It may not feel like it– especially if you’re watching the news or spending a lot of time on social media– but, there is still intelligent life here.

Here is the problem: we’re segregated.

It’s human nature to organize and categorize things into neat little piles. It helps our brains process all the chaos around us. We’re bombarded with stimuli: sound, color, energy, responsibilities, emotions, a million thoughts a day… if we didn’t mentally sort things and put them into little buckets, we would be constantly overwhelmed by it all.

Putting things in buckets is a subconscious thing we are all doing, all the time: Cold things go inside the refrigerator, school notes go on the outside of the refrigerator, cars drive on the right side of the road, coffee is an appropriate beverage choice while at work,  pineapple pizza goes in the garbage can… 

This process requires us to make little judgements about almost everything we see in the world. If we can identify something and make a quick judgement about what it is, we can move it neatly into our little mental bucket and move on to the next thing.

Unfortunately, in our very limited human perception, we’ve categorized and divided ourselves. 

We make the same quick judgements about other people based on very limited information, and sometimes no personal interaction at all.

We judge on appearance: young, old, short, tall, fat, thin, race, color, ethnicity, gender.

We judge on circumstances: relationship status, zip code, level of education, title at work, religion or lack there of, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation.

We take stereotypes, attitudes passed down to us from our families, or things we learned in the place where we are from, and maybe some past experiences into account when making these snap judgements. They happen almost without us realizing we’re doing it. But, somewhere in the background of our mind, it’s there.

Because we’re all sorting people into little categories to make sense of the world, we’re simultaneously looking for “our people”. The ones who look like us, think like us, talk like us, like the same things as we do, have the same belief systems and values and so on. In the pursuit of our own personal tribe of likeminded awesome folks to share our human experience with, we may decide that the folks who didn’t fit into our little bucket on first glance don’t belong there.

This is what is wrong with the world. 

Dividing, judging and categorizing ourselves into neat little buckets has basically turned the world into a giant high school cafeteria. Think about it: Preppy kids at this table. Band geeks at that table. Stoners over here. Jocks over there. Wanna sit at a different table? Good luck with that. 

And, so is life in America today. White church over here. Black church over there. Feminists at this table. Men who are terrified of feminists at that one. Young folks way over there away from the old folks. Hippies in the patchouli section. Asthmatics as far away from the patchouli as possible. Divide, divide, divide.

What happens when we’re divided up into groups? Competition for one. Sometimes the big group will even divide in smaller subgroups and create drama within the group. Ever sit at the nerd table and listen to the Star Trek vs. Star Wars debate? DC vs. Marvel? Superman vs. Batman? 

We want to be right, we want to be the best and we want that thing we love to be honored for the awesome thing it is. This creates an atmosphere of us vs. them.

Just like the high school cafeteria, we look at other humans and say, “you can’t sit here,” because our snap judgements have told us that they don’t fit in the bucket we are sitting in. We think our bucket is the best one. We think our beliefs are the only way, our values are the only ones that are right, and we dismiss everyone who doesn’t honor them.

The other product of all this division is conflict and fear. We may try to convince people who don’t think the way we do that their beliefs are wrong, bad, immoral, unjust, offensive, sinful or hateful. We may go around pushing our beliefs and agenda on others. Usually, this does not inspire change, it just pisses people off. We may jump to wild conclusions about people who think differently than we do. If you just go to the internet for half a second, you’ll find all kinds of example of this.

We often fear the unknown. Most of the hate I witness in this world is driven by fear. People can be passionately ignorant– rejecting the unfamiliar without any education or experience simply because they fear the unknown. Maybe they’ve been indoctrinated by religion, or grew up in a racist family, or picked up misogynistic attitudes from the media. Maybe they’ve never left the place they were born to experience other cultures, languages, religions and people. People have all kinds of ridiculous reasons to treat others like trash. It’s unacceptable, and it’s eroding our society and respect for humanity.

Here’s the question: How do fix this shit?

Step 1 to saving the world right now: We have to take all the little buckets we put people into, and dump them into one giant bucket with one giant label on it that reads: HUMAN.

This means every other label disappears in our minds, and instead of man, woman, old, young, black, white, gay, transgender or anything else we see a human first. We honor the human. We respect the human. Appearances don’t matter. Bank accounts are not important. Country of origin makes no difference. Because, we’re all just humans. We’re all basically the same. We all want the same things. We all have the same basic needs. We are all flying through space on a ball together in our little meat suits, and the least we can do is treat each other with kindness and respect.

If we want to create peace and unity on this earth, it begins with every individual making a conscious decision to extend empathy and unconditional acceptance to others. If we could learn to stop judging and dividing ourselves into us vs. them situations, all conflict, competition, and fear would subside, and we could refocus our energy in more positive directions.

If you want to save the world today– go out there and be kind to people who are not just like you.

Smile at strangers.

Speak up when you see injustice.

Be an advocate for change, a voice for the voiceless, a light in the darkness that is our world.

When you’re introduced to an idea that is unfamiliar, be curious.

Educate yourself.

Travel far and wide and experience life in different cultures.

Celebrate all the things that make us unique and special, while remembering that we all belong in the same big ol’ bucket.

Be a cool kid. Invite someone new to sit at your table.

This is how we fix what’s broken.

This is how we teach others how to be good humans.

This is how we change the world, one day at a time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photo Credit

Are you looking for Love?

We  sat across from one another, ordered appetizers to share, and just started talking. We talked about the day, and plans for the rest of our busy week. We talked about the house we’re building, and plans for our wedding next year. We talked about the kids, and all the good stuff they have coming up. We fell into our own little world talking, laughing, and enjoying a few uninterrupted moments together.

Each time our server stopped by to check on us, he lingered, joining in the conversation for a bit. He was a sweet young man, bursting with enthusiasm. He spent a few minutes at our table telling us stories about the restaurant business, and some of the crazy things he’s seen people do.

When it was time for us to leave, he asked if he could give me a hug. He looked at me earnestly and said, “Hold onto what you two have. I see so many unhappy couples come in here. They spend the whole time on their phones ignoring each other, or they argue the whole time and it’s super awkward. But, I can tell y’all really enjoy each other’s company. I can feel the love over here, and that’s really special.”

His kind words surprised me. I thanked him and gave him a hug.

After a year of cohabitation, blending our family of six into one functional unit, co-sleeping, co-mingling finances, and planning the next phase of our quickly changing world- we still dig each other. We communicate well, we treat each other with kindness and respect, we play like kids, and plan wild adventures together. Life is truly wonderful– so much so that strangers can see it in a few stolen moments together at a local chain restaurant.

That’s the thing about love: when it’s organic, pure, and real–  it’s unmistakable. It’s undeniable. When we see it, we can’t help but smile. When we’re near it, the vibration is almost palpable. And, with all the shitty things happening in the world right now, isn’t it refreshing to see love instead?

If you pay attention, it’s everywhere.

Love lives in the corner booth where the happy couple is planning their wedding, and also in the coffee shop where three college students make a pact to pass that calculus class together.

It’s in the eyes of every little child who is innocent and unaware of the atrocities that surround them every day. It’s in the hands of moms and dads who work tirelessly to make a nice life for those little ones, and the hearts of the grandparents who treasure the days  that slip by too quickly.

Love is the string that ties us together through distance, years, and change.

If you listen closely, love is the subtle humming in the background of all the noise in the world. If you can be still and silent even for a moment, you can hear it. It’s always there.

Love keeps the earth on its axis in times of war, tragedy, disaster, plague, and pain. It gives us a reason to fight through our hardest days. It keeps us reaching out for connection, looking for purpose, and creating everything beautiful in the world.

To love, and to be loved are the greatest gifts we can give and receive. Not just romantic love, wonderful as it is. Unconditional acceptance, the kindness of strangers, friendship, philanthropy, and passion for anything that makes the world a better place are all rooted in love.

Love is the force that drives positive change. Change in society, like greater equality and social justice begin with our capacity to love others. It’s the antithesis of fear, hate, judgement and discrimination. Love inspires us to reach beyond the familiar to experience new cultures. Love dissolves barriers built by ignorance.

All self-improvement is a product of self-love. Every good decision we make, every effort to become happier, healthier, and more authentically “us” begins with our ability to love ourselves. This is nearly impossible in a culture so determined to tear us down and make us feel insecure or inferior. To love ourselves is to accept every part of who we are, to embrace our perceived flaws, and make peace with our pasts. True self-love means unconditional self-acceptance. It’s speaking to ourselves as we would a dear friend- using words to encourage and not harm. It’s carving out time to do what we love. It’s taking care of our mind, body, and spirit in the way that only we can.

When we see love in the world, it is a reflection of the love that lives inside us. We recognize it effortlessly, because we are a literal embodiment of it. It’s the force that make our hearts beat and our lungs breathe.

I stopped by the grocery store on my way home that night after dinner with all of this swirling around in my brain. A woman stopped me in the frozen foods aisle to compliment my tattoos. We talked for a few minutes about local tattoo shops and the meaning of all the pieces of art on our bodies. She hugged me when we said goodbye.

These brief moments of connection- the server in the restaurant, the stranger in the store- these are expressions of love for humanity. People are hurting. We have more technology for connection than we ever have. But, we’re more lonely and isolated than ever before. We are inundated with images of violence, and sound bites of fear. The world is a harsh, scary place. There is much uncertainty, and despair. Just beyond the distraction of it all, love is still there. It radiates all around us. If we’re looking for darkness and doom, that’s what we will see. But if we look for love instead, it will find us over and over again.

Photo: Pexels

 

Is Ignorance Really Bliss?

It’s strange times, to say the least.

It seems the whole world has gone mad. Or, maybe it’s not the whole world. Maybe it’s just ‘Murica. Our president is a twat, violence is more rampant than ever, and the news ranges from depressing to downright frightening. We’re more segregated, more afraid and more polarized than ever before.

I’m a sensitive girl. When the world gets too harsh or scary for me, I retreat into my little bubble. I don’t read the news. I avoid social media. I stay as far away from the negativity, fear porn and hype as I possibly can. It’s a good place for me emotionally and spiritually. Just all nestled in my little bubble, where I can just focus on rainbows and puppies, taking care of my family, and just generally ignoring the world around me.

Then, I see something shocking- like the babies in cages at our border, or the white supremacist who advertised their political campaign with the slogan “Make America White Again”, or the homeless people baking in the sun on the hot Tennessee asphalt, or the bill congress passed making it legal for adoption agencies to discriminate against gay and lesbian couples. This shit infuriates me to the core. There are no puppies and rainbows when I’m in that headspace. Just sadness, rage and guilt.

Sadness, because goddammit, it’s 2018 and I just feel like we should be more evolved as a collective body of human beings. If everyone could stop trying to divide, devalue, degrade, dehumanize and disrespect others the world would be a fucking spectacular place to live. I don’t understand why we haven’t all figured this out, or why people put so much energy and effort into trying to hurt other people. It doesn’t make any sense to me at all.

I’m sad because I want to help and make a difference, and I just don’t even know how. How do I comfort the families who lost their children in a school shooting? How do I support gay and transgender people whose families are too indoctrinated in the hate of their chosen religions to show unconditional love and acceptance to their own children? How to I convince our government that people matter more than money? How do I convince my children that the world is a safe, lovely place while also teaching them how to protect themselves from acts of violence?

I’m sad because I know people are hurting, and I can’t fix it. I wish I could just sprinkle some glitter around and say some magical words to make all the hate, hypocrisy, judgement, fear and pain vanish. As it turns out, glitter and pretty words can’t change the world over night. Knowing this makes me feel helpless, hopeless. I’m just one person, and sometimes it feels like I am too small to make a difference. In my frustration, I do nothing. I sit back complaining instead of trying to do something- anything- positive or productive.

The rage comes after the sadness. I am a pissed off little hippie, because my utopian dreams depend entirely on everyone getting their shit together. This is not fucking rocket surgery- it’s basic decency and respect for human life.

Here’s the truth about people as I know it: we are all different, and we are all the same. Each of us has a story, a past, a gender, a race.  Our skin is a certain color, and we speak a certain native language. We have as much education as we have, and we make as much money as we do, and we live where we live. We have unique gifts, talents, strengths and weaknesses. We believe in god, or we don’t. All these things shape who we are, and how we experience the world around us. None of these things are good or bad, right or wrong. It’s all just part of our individual human experience. Being individuals is so important- we all need to have our own identities, beliefs, values, and things we do that make us who we are. That’s good shit.

Everyone has the same basic human needs. We need food, water, shelter and safety. We need love, community, family- a place to belong. We need a purpose- something to do that brings us joy. Everyone deserves to have the same opportunities for success- education, health care, and jobs. Everyone is entitled to respect, dignity, and freedom. Everyone is searching for these same things in the world- and no one has the right to take or keep us from them.

The guilt is real, and heavy, and sometimes almost too much to bear. I feel guilty for having so much and giving so little to those in need. I feel guilty for sitting idly by while everything goes to shit. I feel guilty for not making more of an effort to be a voice for the voiceless. I feel guilty for complaining instead of taking action. I feel guilty for not dropping everything to go to Texas to rock those babies who were taken from their mothers, or spending time with the elderly people wasting away in nursing homes without any visitors, or serving more meals at our local homeless shelter. I feel guilty for staying out of politics, instead of joining the activist efforts that are at least trying to influence social changes.

Most of all, I feel guilty because I know that my inaction is a product of my privilege. I am a straight, white, cis-gender, middle-class woman. I live in an affluent area. My kids have great schools. Our daily needs are met. My life is comfortable, and outside of the occasional chauvinist or judgey religious person, people generally treat me well. It is a privilege for me to be able to choose ignorance over action. It is a privilege for me to look away when the world gets too scary and dark. It is a privilege for me to choose silence, when I should be screaming from the rooftops about the atrocities I see. It’s a privilege to turn off the news and ignore the pain of other human beings, who are just like me, who are searching for the same opportunities and comforts I so easily take for granted.

Ignorance comes in different flavors.

In my privilege, I choose to look away from the terrible things in the world. I choose to be uninformed, and unbothered by the pain of other human beings. I choose to be ignorant to the events in the headlines, because it hurts me to look at them. This ignorance insulates me from the fear and hate out there. It gives me the illusion of safety. Unfortunately, problems don’t just go away because we choose to avoid them. This chosen ignorance, or avoidance, feels like self preservation. But, it’s actually part of the problem. If we don’t do something, who will? Maybe one person can’t change the whole world, but small acts of kindness and speaking up for what is right certainly can make a difference for those around us.

The other flavor of ignorance that seems to be fucking rampant in our society is the fear-based kind that breeds hate. This one is also a choice, but I don’t think some people even realize they are choosing it. Most of them probably learned it from their families, churches, and peers. This is the malignant kind of ignorance we must challenge as a society. We do this by traveling, moving around the country, leading by example, exposing people to new ideas, and sharing our stories.

Racism is a fear based ignorance that we can no longer excuse or tolerate in our culture. Discrimination or degradation of the LGBTQ+ community under the guise of religion is antiquated ignorance that must stop now. The chronic objectification and dehumanization of women is no longer acceptable. Xenophobia, and all the ways it shapes our politics and our attitudes is absolutely not ok.

As much as I would love to remove myself from all the unpleasant things happening in the world, I can’t do that anymore. My little bubble may be cozy and warm, but there is a great big world out there that needs me to care enough to participate in making it a better place. Maybe I can’t change the whole world. But, I can use my voice. I can stand up for what’s right. I can contribute to efforts in my local community to feed the hungry, educate the children, and influence our leaders. I can be a support to people who are hurting. We can, and we must.

No, ignorance is not bliss. Ignorance is a privilege I will no longer allow myself. Ignorance is a source of fear of the unknown, and hate of the unfamiliar. Ignorance is the antithesis of the love, community, safety, and shelter we all crave. Ignorance is not bliss, and it’s not acceptable.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How to Fight for Your Life.

When someone is critically injured, or is diagnosed with a serious illness, we often say that person is “fighting for their life”. As a healthcare worker, and hospice volunteer, I’ve watched many people fight these brutal battles. Whether a heart attack, cancer diagnosis, or a serious accident, patients have some common things they do while preparing to fight for their lives.

First, they assemble their teams. Or as we say in the South, we circle our wagons. We get our crew together, because, this is not a fight we can win by ourselves. No. We need help. So, we call our insurance company and find out what we can depend on them for. We research and find the best doctors, the most renowned hospitals, the most sought after  specialists. We make friends with the nurses, the pharmacist, the kind lady who delivers our meals. We gather our friends and family, and though it breaks their hearts a little bit to see us hurting and afraid, they suit up for battle. They will be our strength, our translators, and probably our sanity for as long as it takes to walk away from what are likely some of our worst days ever.

Once the team is all in place, and loved ones have gathered at ground zero, the planning begins. It’s time to make a treatment plan. We trust our doctors, the experts, to lead this process. We trust our intuition to tell us if they are on the right track. We get second opinions, third opinions whatever it takes until we feel comfortable.

We disobey our doctor and go to the internet. We Google our condition and read all the internet horror stories we can stomach. We look at the pictures. We can never un-see these awful pictures. Why did we go to Google after our doctor specifically said, “Hey, do yourself a favor and don’t consult Dr. Google.”?

Well… we can’t not go to Google. Google knows things, and what we need now is information, education, reassurance. And, we need to see those terrifying  pictures. We’re preparing. Planning. We can’t take anymore surprises. It’s time to go to war. We need all the help we can get.

When our team is in place, we’ve learned all we can, and a treatment plan is complete, the battle has only just begun. Now is the time to find out what you’re made of. Maybe, you begin chemotherapy, and quickly understand what people mean when they say that the treatment is worse than the disease. Maybe, you go to surgery to have your body cut apart and stapled back together. Maybe, you learn to walk again, talk again, how to swallow and speak. This is the dirty work. The nitty-gritty, gut wrenching chore of fighting through the pain, fear, set backs and sometimes unbelievably slow process of healing.

This is when your team is your lifeline. They make sure your needs are met. They don’t let you suffer alone. They’re right there in the trenches sharing your struggles, and marveling at your strength. They hold your hand, and your hair. They remind you how utterly capable you are. And when you sleep, they lean on each other. They cry. They pray. They take turns sitting at your bedside while the others run errands, and try to get some rest before their next shift of bedside watch.

Sometimes, things go exactly as planned. Sometimes, they don’t. Sometimes your victory is swift and sweet. Sometimes, it’s hard fought and bitter ’til the end. Sometimes, we have to surrender to what is, and accept defeat. Win or lose, this fight changes us. We begin to look at our life in a new way. A line of demarcation is indelibly drawn, neatly compartmentalizing our life into the things that happened before the event that changed everything, and everything that happened after.

Before the cancer.

After the car accident.

Before the stroke.

After open heart surgery.

Somewhere along this road, something really important happens: We finally start getting our shit together.

We reprioritize everything. We get focused on what’s most important. Facing our mortality, being vulnerable and needing support, feeling weak and afraid– these are huge motivators for rethinking all of our life choices.

In the days and weeks that follow, we become masters of self-care. We are forced to listen to our bodies and examine every single thing that goes into them. We may give up our bad habits, our favorite foods, anything that stands between us and our healing. Because, we know without a doubt that we would trade anything in the world for the healthy body we probably took for granted right up until this terrible thing happened. We wouldn’t trade any number of pizzas, bottles of wine, or packs of cigarettes <insert applicable vice here> for the opportunity to have our health and wholeness restored.

Usually, we begin to focus on relationships. We find a new appreciation for our team, for all the things they sacrifice to take care of us when we need them most, for the ways they encourage us, support us, keep us laughing, and sneak us in our favorite take out, even if the nurse says, “no”. We know who our real friends are now. They are the ones who didn’t run when shit got difficult. They stayed, they loved us through it, and we cannot wait to return every single favor just as soon as life allows us the chance.

While fighting for our lives, we make amends with those we’ve wronged. We ask for forgiveness. We forgive others. We mend our fences, because we have to be ready for the unthinkable, and we can’t leave any unfinished business behind. We take a good look at our lives and take an honest inventory of the person we have become. We engage in life review- revisiting our favorite memories, our most painful moments, our regrets, and maybe even that list of things we always said we wanted to do “someday”.

You know, someday.

That day in the arbitrary future when whatever perfect world scenario we’re waiting on is supposed to come to fruition. When work calms down, when the kids are bigger, when we have more money, or time, or focus, or whatever limitation we’ve imaged is keeping us from doing that thing we want to do.

When we realize that we might not get another someday, those experiences, goals, accomplishments- whatever we were putting off- might just be our motivation to keep fighting. We start doing whatever it takes to make sure we get to see the sunset in that city we always meant to visit, write that book, stick our feet in that ocean, or hold that grandbaby we just know will be on the way just as soon as the kids are ready. Whatever it is suddenly consumes us. It gives us hope, purpose, comfort.

This thing we return to on the days when we think we can’t fight anymore is there to remind us that we’re not done living yet. It becomes our touchstone.

Sadly, in our culture of chronic busyness and distraction, sometimes it takes something dramatic like a heart attack, or a car wreck to wake us up. Sometimes unthinkable things happen to make us fight for the privilege it is to exist on this earth. To remind us what’s important, or teach us how to take care of ourselves.

Life throws us all kinds of curves- they don’t have to be health scares. They can be anything that makes us turn off our autopilots, stop coasting, wake up and really get serious about creating the lives we truly desire.

My life has lots of these lines of demarcation- and moments that changed me.

I was a different person before my first child was born.

After I left my hometown.

Before my grandmother died.

After my divorce.

Before returning to the workforce after a decade at home.

After meeting my husband-to-be.

The process for major life changes is pretty much exactly like navigating a serious illness or injury. The same gathering of important people and reprioritizing everything else needs to happen. And, holding onto our touchstone reminds us why we need to do the very important, difficult, sometimes heart breaking work of tearing down our life and rebuilding it.

While fighting for the life we most desire, we need our team. They will remind us that we are utterly capable of dealing with whatever we’re going through. They will listen, they will hold our hands, they will remind us who we are, and why it’s so important to keep on keeping on the journey. They will be right there in the trenches while we gut out the hard days, and when we rise victorious, they will celebrate with us.

We need a plan. Not just dreams or goals. Actual plans that do not begin someday.

If you want to buy a house, change jobs, lose weight- whatever the practical things are you’ve been putting off- make a plan. Consult the experts, read, learn all you can about the things you want to do. Then, do them.

Do the practical things and the fun things you’ve been putting off.

Do the things you wish you could do, but fear has kept you from them.

Do the thing you would do if you knew you couldn’t fail.

Do it all. Make a plan, and do it soon, because  someday is not promised.

Our someday is today. Right now. This is when life happens. Now.

Become a master of self-care. Take all the time needed to take care of yourself, improve yourself, and make yourself the happiest, healthiest, best self you can be. Examine every single part of your life and decide what makes you better, what depletes you, what feels good, what makes you feel satisfied. Listen to your body, your intuition, your spirit. Then, adjust accordingly. Leave the job you hate. Move to that city you’ve always wanted to call home. Open the restaurant, do the open mic night, hang your art on the walls of your favorite coffee shop. That’s your touchstone. That thing- the idea of it, the feeling of accomplishment, satisfaction, fulfillment that you know will come with it- that’s your motivator for rethinking all your life choices.

You see, we don’t have to be sick or injured to fight for our lives. We can fight for them everyday, through the sea of distraction, and the mountains of excuses we make to stay stuck. We can assemble our team, learn everything we need to know, make a plan, and go to war until that impossible thing we thought we might never do becomes a line of demarcation in our life.

When we look back on the time we fought for that thing, we see our courage and strength. We see how life seems to give us everything we need, right at the time when we need it most. Most of all, we see what’s really important, what makes us feel happy and safe, and how utterly capable we are to handle any challenge.

Circle your wagons. Find your touchstone. Mend your fences. Make a plan. Get in there and fight for the life you deserve.

 

Photo: Wiki Commons

I Made a Thing.

They say when life gives you lemons, you should make lemonade. They also say that writers should avoid clichés, but this one really works for me…

There are lots of ways to make lemonade- to focus on the positive, to find a place of gratitude in our struggle, or make things sweet even when they just kind of suck.

Writing is my lemonade. It’s the best therapy I’ve ever found, and the only way I’ve ever been able to make sense of my life.

Today, I published my first book, Dysfunction Diaries. It’s a collection of short stories from my early years as a humor writer. It’s ridiculous, vulgar, and exactly how I had to tackle the impossible job of becoming an author. It was my first little blog, the first website I built all by myself, and today, it’s my first book. That feels pretty awesome.

Thanks to everyone who helped make this happen. I’m the luckiest girl in the world to be surrounded by so much love.

Namaste

xo Renee

 

 

He Helps Me Believe.

Five years post-divorce I thought my healing work was done. I thought I loved myself with the full capacity of my heart and soul. I thought my outlook on life was as rosy as it would ever be. I thought I had everything figured out. Then, life sent me a wonderful surprise, and I fell in love.

Falling in love seems to be the worst thing that can happen to a writer like me. Where does one find inspiration in a happy heart? And, how does one convey in words the deep swirling, ecstasy, bliss and fear that occur simultaneously while opening our hearts to a new partner? If I were to try to put that complex emotion into words, the most simple, honest way I could describe my new love, is this: He helps me believe.

He helps me believe that there are still good men in the world. He shows me every day that chivalry is not dead. The Southern gentlemen I thought only existed in movies are real life unicorns who walk among us. It’s more than opening doors or buying flowers. It’s holding me in the safety of his embrace while I sleep. It’s his strong arm pressed against my chest when the car comes to a sudden stop. It’s the way he keeps his promises. The way he jumps up from the dinner table to wash the dishes after I’ve prepared a meal. The way he creates space for me to be exactly who I am, and encourages me to follow my crazy dreams. These romantic gestures come so naturally to him, sometimes I don’t know if he even realizes he’s doing it. But each time he does, he helps me believe a little more in the power of  those little, everyday things that make a person feel honored, respected, and loved.

He helps me believe in the power of real, raw, passionate, beautiful physical pleasure. Sex that does not hurt. Sex that does not demean or degrade. Sexual expression that allows for fantasy and fun, and deep soul connection.

He helps me believe that my satisfaction is important, and my body is wholly adequate and desirable.

He helps me believe that I am ok, after years of believing I wasn’t. And in that, I see how very wrong I was to hate my body, and punish myself for the misdeeds of others who failed to see her as sacred and perfect.

He helps me believe in daddies. Daddies whose hands don’t hurt their children. Daddies whose words empower and encourage. Daddies who provide for, protect and nurture their little ones.

He helps me believe in daddies who read bedtime stories, kiss booboos, build erupting volcanoes for science projects, and get a little choked up when their baby nails their flute solo.

He helps me believe in daddies who stay. They stay because leaving their children would be like cutting off their own hands. They stay because they intuitively understand that their engagement in the lives of their children is vital to their wellbeing. They stay because they know how their relationship with their children will influence all future relationships they have with men.

He helps me believe that the kind of daddy I wished and prayed for as a child was not something I imagined, but something very real that a few really lucky little girls get to experience in this lifetime. This gives me infinite hope that the husband I dreamed of is also real.

He helps me believe in fairytales and super-heroes . Even though this princess is totally capable of saving herself, it sure feels nice to have a prince hold my hand through the hard stuff. Sometimes, he rescues me and I am overwhelmed with gratitude for the way he gives himself to me so selflessly. The way he protects me, and supports me through life’s challenges is something I’ve never experienced. He reminds me that sometimes home is a person, not a  place. That safety, comfort, and love can be embodied by those who wish to extend such things to the ones they cherish.

He helps me believe that we can build a life and a future from a place of pure honesty. Our only motive to share a big, happy adventure together.

He helps me believe in love. Real love. The kind of love where both partners give and take equally. The kind of love that allows both partners to be exactly who they are in the world and inspires them both to be the best versions of themselves. The kind of love that allows for disagreements with kindness and respect, and celebrates milestones and victories for each individual as victories for all.

He helps me believe in me, in us, in families and forevers. He helps me believe that the best years of my life haven’t happened yet. He helps me believe that we are an unstoppable force, and nothing will keep us from accomplishing all we desire together.

 

Photo Credit: Le pont des Arts

What it Means to Stand in my Truth.

In the spring of 2011, I traveled to India. It was the most exhilarating and terrifying thing I’ve ever done. I got so far from my comfort zone, I came back changed. I began to question everything. I was thirty-three years old, and had absolutely no idea who I was. Motherhood seemed to be my only purpose on this planet. Though it was a noble one, I knew that I was meant for something more. But, what?

I had always felt that something was missing in my life. I struggled with depression and anxiety. I was surrounded by friends, but felt so alone. A year after that fateful trip, I was ready for a big change. The life I was living was a lie. All of it. In my heart I knew it. Our perfect little picket fenced suburban existence was little more than a house of cards. If I was ever going to be happy, it was time to knock it down.

Since starting over and finding my way back to myself, I’ve been obsessed with truth and authenticity. I write and speak often of “my truth”— standing in it, owning it, accepting it, embracing it. But, it occurred to me that while I’ve put little pieces of my story out there, I haven’t really explained what it means to stand in my truth, to own it, accept it, and embrace it completely.

My truth is pretty fucking messy. I guess that’s why I lived a lie for so long. I went around trying to convince everyone that I was ok for three decades. I wasn’t ok. I was a liar. I was a coward. I was doing what I thought I had to do to survive. Mostly, I was trying to tell the sick, scared, broken little girl inside myself to sit down and be quiet. I neglected her. I neglected us. But, ignoring the gaping hole inside me would never make it go away. Filling it with addictions, distractions, eating disorders, toxic relationships and self-punishment would never help me heal.

Healing would take some work. Hard, honest, real, raw, soul work. I would have to rip the scabs off all of my wounds and allow them to bleed again. I would need the light of day to kiss them, and oxygen to surround them. The things I’d worked so hard to conceal and avoid would have to be revealed for my healing to begin. I would have to finally admit that all the years I thought I was battling my demons, I had really only been running from them.

Standing in my truth means not being afraid of my darkness or ashamed of where I came from. Owning my truth means sharing all of who I am with the world, without fear of judgement. It means looking for the gifts and lessons in the ugliest parts of my history, instead of trying to conceal or avoid them. Living my truth means being exactly the same person at the office as I am when I’m home with my family or out with my friends. It’s offering the world an honest expression of my soul every day.

My truth is: My first childhood memory is being molested. I was three years old. It happened at the dinner table in my parents’ home. I was sitting on the neighbor’s lap. My daddy was right across the table. I told my mother that it was happening. She didn’t know how to help me, so she didn’t. That man was invited into our home over and over until I spoke up at age sixteen.

My truth is: My dad is schizophrenic, and my mother has her own set of issues. In my childhood home, I learned that abuse feels like love. I learned that grownups cannot be trusted, promises are seldom kept, and there is never, ever enough time, money, food, love, or attention to go around. I learned that I was bad, loud, bossy, fat, and annoying. My baby sister, however, was none of those things, and that is why I hated her.

My truth is: The only substance I could turn to for comfort in my early childhood was food. I began binge eating as a little girl, and continued with that until high school. In high school, I desperately wanted to be pretty, and to be pretty, you had to be thin. I became anorexic. I gave up my food rituals and replaced them with cigarettes, alcohol, marijuana, cutting, and sex. I struggled with one or all of those for the rest of my life– and still struggle to this day.

My truth is: I feel like an orphan child with living parents. I remember standing in the window of our trailer as a little girl, waiting for my real parents– the ones who loved me. I just knew they would come back for me someday, and they must have had good reasons for leaving me there with that family where I didn’t belong. I began mourning the loss of my parents when I realized the ones I wished for were not coming.

My truth is: I got pregnant in high school by a drug head loser who couldn’t be a father. I went to my high school graduation in a maternity dress, which felt like a great big scarlet letter. People were not kind to me when I was a pregnant teenager. I felt like a failure, like I would never be a good mother, and like no man would ever want me with the giant pile of baggage I was dragging around.

My truth is: I married one of my best friends from high school when my daughter was two years old. He loved us both to the best of his ability, but, there was always something missing in our marriage. We distracted ourselves with money– chasing it from job to job, state to state. We reached a point where no new house, car, or extravagant vacation brought us any joy. We were miserable. We were making our kids miserable. I finally asked for a divorce a year after our trip to India. It was the first time I was honest about how empty our home felt to me. When I got honest, he did too. That’s when he came out of the closet.

My truth is: I was relieved to learn my ex-husband is gay. It meant that there was nothing wrong with me. It meant I could stop hating my body. People often asked me if I was angry with him for concealing his sexuality. I never felt I had a right to be angry with him. We were the same in that relationship– both hiding who we really were because we thought we had to. I’m grateful for the ways our marriage changed my life, for our children, and everything I learned from our years together.

My truth is: I made a lot of mistakes with my children I wish I could take back. I was young, impatient, and for the first several years poor and barely surviving. I was living to please another person instead of being who I am. I didn’t give them the best of me until after our divorce. That’s my biggest regret in life. Thankfully, we have wonderful, open, loving relationships today.

My truth is: I don’t hate any of the people from my past. I know that my parents did the best they could with what they had to work with. I know the man who abused me did so from his own pain and sickness. Being a survivor of sexual abuse has not been easy, but it has made me damn strong and resiliant. Sharing that part of my story has been incredibly powerful, and connecting with other survivors has brought me peace and healing I never imagined.

My truth is: I used to belive that there was something wrong with me that made other people treat me badly. I thought I was born with an inherent flaw that somehow made me worthy of abuse. As the abuse piled up over the years, I began believing I was damaged because of the things that were done to me. I let shame keep me from realizing my potential. I didn’t think I was worthy of love, happiness, prosperity, or respect. Today, I know that I am now– and always have been– perfect. I know that the people who hurt me did so from their own fucked-up-ness. It didn’t have a thing to do with me.

My truth is: I know who I am now, and I love that girl. I know my past only defines me if I allow it to. I could choose to be a bitter, angry, hateful person if I wanted to. Who could blame me? Instead, I choose love. I choose peace. I choose happiness in each moment. I choose to be grateful for my life, and embrace all of who I am. I know that each experience brought me here to this moment, where I can see my own courage, strength, and fortitude.

My truth is: I am a badass motherfucking warrior princess. I survived a hell most people can’t imagine. I didn’t just survive there. I learned how to thrive. I am the pioneer who stepped into the unknowns of life beyond the edges of my hometown where the world is still flat. And when I did, I left the cycles of poverty, abuse and dysfunction I grew up in behind. I had some angry years, and some difficult days fighting inside myself. Then, I learned the beautiful arts of forgiveness and surrender. I learn to extend unconditional love and acceptance to myself. I learned to put myself first. I found my power, my voice, my ability to manifest the life I desire. Finally, I realized I was worthy of such things.

My truth is: I am perfectly imperfect. Like every human being on this earth, I make mistakes. Hopefully, I learn from them before repeating them too many times. I still fall into old habits, still have the same old fears sometimes, and still have moments of wishing I had a “normal family”, whatever the fuck that even looks like.

My truth is: From my pain, I’ve learned deep empathy and compassion for others. I am a better person because of my struggles. Knowing that my story gives a little glimmer of hope to another human being is my greatest joy.

Standing in my truth means awknowledging all of my scars. It means owning every single thing that happened to me. It means knowing that those things do not define the woman I am today, and yet, I couldn’t be who I am without the lessons and gifts that came from those experiences.

This is me– beautifully broken, perfectly human me– standing in, owning, and embracing my truth. This is me– healed, whole, happy, healthy me– leaving fear and shame in the past. This is my story, I am the author, and I get to choose my very own happy ending.

 

 

I have a new title… and it totally freaked me out.

Recently, I was asked to speak at a summit called, “Unleashing the Real, Raw Uncensored You”. It’s all about authenticity, and living the life of our dreams.When the organizer reached out to me to ask me to speak, I felt a combination of pure bliss and utter panic.

I mean, this is what I want to do! I want to share my story, and write books, and speak to groups, and help others find the kind of healing and empowerment that has changed my life. The invitation to speak felt like a big step in that direction- that was the bliss part.

The panic set in the moment I read the word “expert” in the speaker’s agreement.

The entire document referred to the speaker {me!} as “the expert”. Each time I read that word, I cringed a bit. Then, all my insecurities came for a visit, and I had no choice but to invite them in for tea and sit with them a while.

In the long list of words I might have used to describe myself, “expert” was not one of them. I wondered for a moment what exactly the organizer saw in me. Was I missing something? I certainly didn’t feel like any “expert”.

I started thinking about my story, and all the things that are important to me. I’ve been writing for a few years about feminism, health, parenting, love, and overcoming all kinds of things I’ve experienced. I’ve written about mental illness, addiction, surviving sexual abuse, eating disorders, suicide— you name it– but I didn’t feel like an authority on any of those topics.

Am I an expert? What qualifies me as an expert? An expert of what?

The theme of the summit is authenticity. It’s learning to be unapologetically yourself. To listen to your intuition, and allow it to guide you to your dreams. I’ve basically dedicated the past five years of my life to this- first to heal myself during a painful divorce, then to share the things I learned in those brutally beautiful years of discovery and growth.

I like to say that I didn’t become a badass bitch because I had an easy life. My strength has come from a lifetime of overcoming. The key to owning my shit was overcoming shame, and all the ways it made me smaller in the world. To fully own my shit, I had to learn how to love and accept myself without limits, restrictions, or conditions. I had to get so good with me, that it didn’t matter what anyone else thought.

Living without fear of judgement, without the need for validation from others is the closest thing to actual freedom I have ever felt. This freedom lends a safety, a comfort to life that nothing else can. When you experience this feeling of being totally at home in your skin, and seeing your scars as part of your perfection, all fear just fades away.

This kind of freedom scares the hell out of people who are not ready to own their shit and stand in their truth. These are the people who recoil when you say that really real thing that’s a little too much for them. These are the people who tell you you’re crazy for chasing that big dream with all your heart. These are the people who will encourage you to conform and play small so they can feel comfortable.

Maybe, that’s my actual area of expertise. Maybe, I’m an expert at making people uncomfortable.

My fascination with the human condition won’t allow me to be filtered, censored, or silenced. I need to know about, and talk about all the things that make us tick– especially the things we’re not suppose to bring up in polite conversation. I like to talk about sex, politics, religion, quantum theory, and my shitty childhood. I like to write about real life things that happened, and how they changed me. I like to talk about our patterns, how we learned them, and why we continue living in them, even when we really want to stop.

I’ve decided to embrace my new title– Renee Dubeau, “Expert”.

Expert lover.real raw

Expert dreamer.

Expert wine and cheese pairer.

Renee Dubeau, the expert comfort zone destroyer, and pattern crusher.

Renee Dubeau, expert sayer of the things no one wants to talk about.

Expert explorer of taboos and stigmas.

Renee Dubeau- expert owner of her shit… Yeah, that’ll do just fine.

Renee Dubeau– Authenticity Expert. That’s me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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