Annual Holiday Epiphany: Relationships Come Together OR Fall Apart Via Communication

 

The following is an excerpt from my journal dated November 26, 2016:

 

I have to stop hating myself. Hating myself is a bad habit that does not serve me and impacts my relationship to the world. This has always been my struggle: I fear everyone hates me and then I hate me and then all I can see are people who hate me.

 

I had an epiphany yesterday:

 

The purpose of communication is either to create distance or connection and the purpose of life is merely to observe the way in which our own voice creates distance or connection.

 

Communication is not limited to the purpose of connection and human beings are not meant to control the outcome of a relationship; we are here to observe the way in which communication brings about either connection or division. This is part of the human journey.

 

When you hold back, because of fear that your voice will create distance in the relationship, you illuminate the reality of the distance in the relationship by holding back (or by modifying your position into something more “palatable” for others).

 

It’s okay to be the culprit of distance. Observe it. Feel it. Do something about it if you feel compelled. Don’t if you don’t. Either way, it’s okay.  It’s not your job to become someone else so that you can force a connection; it’s your job to be who you are and that is complicated enough.

 

In those moments when I fear using my voice will widen the divide, when all I want is to experience connection, I’m right in those moments. It’s not an irrational fear, it’s accurate intuition. Using my voice will probably lead to a greater division because that’s part of the purpose of communication and that’s what makes connection so beautiful–that it is not a guarantee.

 

Communication is how humans learn who is available to connect with and who is not. This is where we develop support systems. Manipulating your communication style to please others does not create connection, it is the beginning of a toxic relationships that sets the stage for a major divide in the future.

 

You are not more than or less than based on the amount of time other people spend singing your praises. The moment you sing your own praises will be the same moment you begin to notice others have been singing your praises this whole time. In fact, you’ll more than notice it–you’ll feel it.

 

So speak. Or don’t speak. You’ve got a 50/50 chance at either connecting or separating over it. Observe what happened and why. Grow. Understand that being your true Self absolutely can lead to goodbyes. Not only are we meant to observe this, we are meant to own it and take responsibility for it.

 

Own that your truth telling caused a separation. Learn and grow from it.

 

Own that your silence caused a separation. Learn and grow from it.

 

Own that your truth telling has lead to beautiful connections. Learn and grow from them. Intend to replicate these moments as often as possible.

 

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XO,

Rachel

PS: This is a collaborative mixed media piece I made with my husband a couple years ago and my haiku reads:

“There is no normal.

Regarding relationships:

they are what they are.”

Positive Mantras & Parenting: The Help

{originally published January 14, 2015}

 

Shifting from negative mantras to positive mantras was probably my greatest success of 2014.

 

I pushed myself through every day of my life, all the way to 2014, using hateful, terrorizing, emotionally crushing negative mantras. I was not always aware I was doing it. It was habitual to say the least.

 

The only reason I decided to stop doing that was because of the look on my therapist’s face when I told her that’s how I got myself through high school, college and law school (and the bar exam, my wedding planning and pregnancy). The look on her face suggested that was not a good idea.

 

So, I agreed to try out positive mantras. It was tough at first because I did not realize how huge the shift was going to be. I had to care about myself for real. I had to be sorry when I slipped up, which was tough because, at first, it felt very natural and almost soothing to just allow myself to tear into myself. But when I was finished, it wasn’t soothing at all (obviously) and I regretted what I considered to be “backsliding” into old bad habits.

 

Over the course of the year, I found myself doing many things to solidify my shift into positive mantras. Research, reading, journaling, mixed media art (#hellosoulhellomantras), meditating, EMDR, self hypnosis, yoga, etc.

 

Want to know what the single most helpful activity has been?

 

Parenting.

 

By far, the easiest and most effective method for my shift was to use positive mantras on my child.

 

When I was pregnant, I read the book The Help and was very moved by the mantra that the nanny uses on the baby (“You is kind, you is smart, you is important”).

 

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My big pregnant self was sobbing thinking about how helpful that would have been, if my parents had used mantras like that on me when I was a child.

 

Ever since my son was born, I have told him this every day:

 

You are kind. You are smart. You are important. You are my son. I am your mom. I take care of you. You are special. You are an angel. You are made out of stars. I am so proud of you. You make me so happy. I love to be your mom. We are a family. I love you.

 

I tell him this, without fail, at nap time and at bed time. I also tell him that when he is cuddly, or sad, or when I just don’t know what else to say. This is my filler.

 

At the end of this month, my son will be 3 years old. For the past 6 months, he has been whispering the mantra along with me. I could not be more proud. I know he believes every word of it (why wouldn’t he? It’s all true).

 

What’s even more amazing—I am beginning to believe every word of it about myself. I am kind. I am smart. I am important. I am a mom. I will take care of myself. I love myself. I am special. I am an angel. I am made out of stars. I am so happy. I love to be Jackson’s mom. I have a family.

 

It’s hard to totally change certain core habits. I know. I did it. Through, research, reading, journaling, various forms of therapy, art work, blogging, meditating, yoga and parenting.

 

I don’t care how old your children are, start the positive mantras with them today. Do it for them and for you. Do it every day.

 

XO

~Rachel

 

Haiku by Rachel VanKoughnet:

 

He’s not mine to own.

I was made to protect him

before I was born.

 

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Bill Murray in St. Vincent

{originally posted December 10, 2014}

 

Went on a hot date over the weekend to the movies and saw Bill Murray star in St. Vincent.

 

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I love Bill Murray. I am not done considering my overall opinion of this (very) dark comedy, but I am way overdue in sharing the part that immediately resonated with me…

 

Yes, it has to do with grief.

 

Bill Murray plays a character who (spoiler alert) loses his wife. The conversation he has with the little boy he babysits is very relevant to me. It went something like this:

 

(little boy) I’m sorry for your loss.

(Bill Murray, angrily) Why do people always say that?

(little boy) Because they don’t know what else to say.

(Bill Murray) How about, what was she like?

 

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So I’m in the movie theatre and I just burst into tears, trying to tell my husband (yup, I’m talking during the movie now, too) that: IT’S NOT FAIR!

 

What’s not fair?

 

The way society forces us to shut down our grief. I’m sorry for your loss is the same thing as saying: that’s enough, shut it down, this conversation is over. That is not polite, that is cold and rude. It’s also unhealthy. What was she like? Now that’s a conversation opener. Brilliant. Much warmer. Demonstrates that you care.

 

So I have already started doing it. Asking people who are grieving: what was she like? And the result is beautiful. I recommend it. Relationships never die. Trust me. Even if the other person dies, your relationship never dies because it lives inside of you. Keep talking about your loved ones who have passed, it strengthens your relationship; makes it grow.

 

I was trying to tell my best friend about this concept and saw the 1987 version of the movie The Secret Garden in my head. Remember when that little girl finds the key and opens the Secret Garden door for the first time? What garden?! The brown overgrown piles of sticks and dead leaves were so high and thick; you would never know we finally made it to the garden but for the title of the movie. That’s where your relationships go that you think are dead. That’s where the relationships go that you wish were dead. Relationships never die. They are just waiting for you behind the wall you put up.

 

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Am I blowing your mind? Watch this video I made:

(Relationships Never Die: The Secret Garden).

Revisit your relationships—every single one of them, as they are all living inside of you. Take inventory. Roll up your sleeves and be willing to do the hard work. Gardens don’t bloom in a day.

 

XO

~Rachel

 

A Double Haiku by Rachel VanKoughnet:

 

Always with Despair,

sometimes I think I can count

my friends on one hand…

hand orchids

…then I remember:

you keep your friends in your heart.

I’m never alone.

Love a Veteran?

{originally published November 11, 2014}

 

In honor of Veteran’s Day, here is a link to a brilliant 20 minute video about how to cure Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). If you or someone you know suffers from this injury, please watch this video to learn how to feel better immediately.

 

I have always considered myself a Veteran, though I have never been in the military, I was in the war at home. Domestic Violence. Abuse and Neglect. I am a survivor.

 

One of the many different things I do to recover from my complex PTSD injury is research and read. I cannot recommend the book Sacred Contracts by Caroline Myss enough. This book has taught me so much about myself provided an excellent guideline for how to do the HARD WORK of getting to know my true authentic self.

 

This book asked me to consider what my family legacies are. What are the things that family members have been doing to each other for generations? Right away, my brain answered: we don’t talk to each other. Ever again.

 

The reality of this family legacy legitimately precludes me from ascertaining what the other family legacies might be, but recently my brain released another answer…and it hit me like a ton of bricks: we think we should kill ourselves.

 

Terrible! I know, it’s disgusting…but hear me out…

 

In my family it was understood that making a mistake (such as stuttering, dropping something, striking out at baseball, etc.) would definitely lead to an overwhelming sense of shame that would absolutely be cured by just killing yourself. Like that would be the only way to be relieved or released from your indiscretion. Living with the shame…that would be unbearable. It was a joke…I think.

 

The thing is, years later, my paternal grandfather actually did kill himself.

 

I had only met him once. I was 16 years old and cashing them both out of the express lane at the grocery store when my paternal grandmother advised: “we are your grandparents…see, we won’t hurt you.” I smiled painfully and handed them their change and receipt, as my brain processed the information. Publicly. I had never met them before even though we lived just up the street from them and walked past their house all the time. Legacy #1 Cut Ties Forever.

 

I know my paternal grandfather was a Veteran. I heard that he was disturbed by his experiences in the war and that may have lead to his decision to end his own life.  Considering suicidal ideation as a family legacy has actually helped me tremendously. It’s not me. It is a learned behavior. It can absolutely be undone.

 

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There is no indiscretion that should cause a person to take their own life.  Every mistake can be undone with LOVE. I promise.

 

If, for whatever reason, you don’t take the time to watch the video about how to cure PTSD, I can break it down for you into 2 words: LOVE YOURSELF.  Love is gentle. Love is kind.

 

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XO

~Rachel

 

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*Haiku by Rachel VanKoughnet

“Like a horror film,

Sometimes all I see is loss

…suffocating me…”

Oh God, I’m Bleeding: Godspell & Grieving

{originally posted August 19, 2014}

 

When I was in middle school, Lake Shore High School put on the best production of Godspell ever. I have never seen another version. No need.

 

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I’ve been thinking about that musical A LOT over the past year.

 

Specifically, the part where Jesus is crucified.

 

Oh God I’m Dying…

 

I’ve been singing it to myself for at least a year…

 

I have a story to tell.

 

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So I made a YouTube video called Godspell & Grieving: Oh God I’m Bleeding.

 

WHY?

 

Because I had to. I had to shut this song up, that’s enough. I’m not dying.

 

I’m grieving.

 

Feels similar, I imagine, if your death were as slow and painful as possible.

 

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In the video I describe toxic relationships using my favorite television series: Arrested Development.

 

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I also act out the 5 stages of grief in a loop 3 times in a row…there is a giant stuffed panda bear involved. Totally normal stuff.

 

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I know that this story has to be told because it is haunting both my days and my nights. I’m done. If you don’t have 6 minutes to invest then hear me now:

 

–SPOILER ALERT–

 

Set boundaries that honor your personal limits and have the integrity to keep your own promises. This is life. It can be whatever you make it. Make it as kind and loving as possible.

 

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Please let me know what you guys think of my new video and please subscribe to this blog so you don’t miss out on my next special delivery 😉

 

XO

~Rachel

Eating, Grieving & Friendship (a love story)

{originally published July 18, 2014}

 

In my first YouTube video, I mention the health benefits of taking a break from toxic relationships.

 

You can have a healthy relationship with someone as long as they let you have your story. Including your parents, siblings, spouse, friends, etc. If you are not allowed to tell your TRUE story because someone keeps changing it in a way that dismisses or invalidates the very essence of your being, that is a toxic relationship you are free to let go of. You’re welcome.

 

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It’s not easy to let go of or take breaks from relationships. It involves GRIEVING. I’m talking about Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance…in a constant cycle…for the rest of your life. (You’re welcome?).

 

I’ve been spending some time each day multitasking sunshine and reading on my hammock. It’s awesome.

 

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Intuitive Healing is a book that I highly recommend. I’m not that into doctors in general because of my experience with flagrant disregard for emotional health, but this lady seems like the kind of M.D. I could have a doctor/patient relationship with. This book gives me permission to use my INTUITION regarding personal health and wellness (finally!).

 

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Here is an excerpt that I read today from Intuitive Healing:

 

“Here’s a formula for healing everything from anxiety to abuse: Darkness is transmuted into light by love. A practical alchemy. Give yourself latitude in expressing self-love. No rules: just your personal truth in the moment. Suppose you’re depressed. You may decide to enter psychotherapy, take antidepressants, not take antidepressants, go on a meditation retreat, call a time-out with your mother, or build sandcastles on the beach. Follow your intuition. If you’ve lost touch with it—stop. Find someone to help you reconnect. This is fundamental work I do with all my patients. Part of healing is reaching out. If you can’t love yourself (those times may come), you must let others love you until you can. When I’ve sunk the lowest, what has saved me over and over again are the eyes of my friends shining on me.”

 

Recently, I spent some time with my dear friend Liz (the one who taught me about House Plants!), her husband (the one I starred with in my first musical in 4th grade: Christmas on Main Street), and their adorable son, Zev.

 

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It was really special because this was the first time our toddlers had ever met.

 

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They hit it off right away (just like me and Liz and Tim) and are pretty tight now.

 

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Once again, my good friend Liz taught me a bunch of stuff—about wellness, parenting and life. What is resonating with me currently is what Liz taught me about preparing meals:

 

I eat while I cook.

 

What?

 

Yeah, I always do.

 

What??

 

I make a small plate of starters that I nibble on while I prepare dinner, I listen to music and, to be honest with you, I enjoy a glass of red wine. Basically, I make preparing meals as enjoyable as possible for myself.

 

What???

 

She then went outside and fed my husband from her plate of triscuits, hummus and carrots and I could immediately see the frustration in him subside (the charcoal grill was giving him a tough time due to rain and he said he was hungry over an hour ago).

 

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Liz

Is

Awesome.

 

I mentioned in my PTSD RECOVERY video that it’s hard for me to eat 5 times a day. I wrote a blog about seeing a nutritionist and discovering my eating was disordered. The advice I received from Liz was the most helpful to date: eat while you cook.

 

At first it seemed…wild…excessive…fancy.

 

Then I ate the triscuits and hummus and carrots and it just…seemed…right.

 

I was back on. Engaging. Funny. I realized that I was now winning a battle with a head ache that I did not even know I had been fighting.

 

Liz invited me to partner with her in a weekly comedic podcast similar to one she and her husband enjoy called: uhh yeah dude (but ours will obviously be way better). Liz thinks the world is missing out on how funny and interesting the combination of the two of us always is. I agree. (Liz is smart).

 

Stay tuned for the launch of our podcast. Hopefully we come up with a better name for it than Mrs. Tadpole #1 & Mrs. Tadpole #2 (the names of our characters from my 8th grade musical: Last Chance High).

 

XO

~Rachel