“We get to stay in a hotel tonight” A young girl, maybe around 5 or 6, announced to me excitedly, her small suitcase and bear in hand as her parents unloaded the car in the parking lot of the Marriott where I was also staying.
“Oh really?” I replied excitedly, as I paused in my mission to grab something from my car, happy to engage and totally caught up in her enthusiasm. “Have you been in a hotel before?”
“Yeah!” She said, as her smile got impossibly and contagiously big. “We are staying on the second floor!”
“Really?” I asked, noticing her brother running around the car to engage too. “Do you get to go to the pool too?”
“We are staying for two days!” He chimed in as she nodded her head joyfully, perhaps in response to the pool question.
What a couple of cuties! Kids are so great at engaging and connecting authentically when they are excited. I felt a rush of love and joy and I kept talking to them, seeing my hotel stay through new eyes of excitement and possibility.
“Leave the nice lady alone.” The mom chimed in suddenly, a tired warning in her voice as she yawned and looked at me sympathetically, perhaps apologetically, as if her kids were being naughty and I was more than considerate to put up with their chatter.
“Oh no, this is great!” I said, even as I realized maybe that was her transition to get them moving out of the parking lot towards the room itself. I felt the energy in me change from happiness to sadness almost instantly.
Are we so isolated these days we are teaching our kids not to engage or interact? That their excitement shouldn’t be shared? That talking to others is “bothering them” and it’s best to stay silent an in your own lane?
I know I’ve been hypersensitive to the awkwardness presenting itself as people try to engage with strangers these days. As if anything we say can and will be attacked or scorned, debated or opposed.
But what if I don’t want to be left alone? What if I am desperate for engagement, for excitement, for someone to remind me there is passion and joy out there in the simple things? What if I want to be looked at and smiled at and acknowledged, even if only for a moment in a grocery store?
Have we become so used to isolation, hiding, being socially distanced (for real, not just in physicality) that we have lost our desire and ability to just greet another person with a nod or a smile or even, God Forbid, a bit of laughter or a touch?
“It’s hard to hate women when there’s so much awesomeness around me.” The words that came from my mouth on the fourth day of class shocked me. Where on earth did that come from? Here I am, on a massage table, getting CranioSaral work by at least five women, and THAT is what I say?
I laughed out loud. Partially because it was a funny statement, partially because I had no idea where it came from, and partially because I was waiting for the judgement to rain down.
I went back to my campsite that evening after a soak in the hot springs. It was 1 am; I was mulling over my experiences so far.
All week, every relationship that has come up that has needed healing was a betrayal by another woman. From secrets being betrayed, my body being judged, my ideas being shot down, my motives scorned. There wasn’t room for me in this world as a strong, independent woman in my younger years, and I had carried this forward in my body.
A Simple Intention To Heal
My physical intention for this week-long CranioSacral class was easy: Release the scar tissue in my lungs and chest that had been created by the mold exposure as well as the damage caused by the refrigerator that crushed me against a steel beam and caused me to lose function in my right arm for a few weeks.
My Emotional intention was even easier (so I thought.) To heal old relationship issues so I could open my heart even more. After all-I’m still friendly with most of my exes… I knew where my fear was, what my belief system was. I just needed a bit of support clearing that.
Ha. I thought I had work to do around my relationships with men. It makes me chuckle now.
Sitting in the room of 10 female students and 2 female teaching assistants (and the one male teacher) the first day of class, I found ease, grace, and familiarity in us all staking our claim in our roles in the introductions. Like a litany of triumphs- whether traumas, successes, or life struggles.
My name is x, here’s my intention of learning and/or healing for the week, here’s the experiences I’ve had. Strong identities shared. Here is my story. This is what you get to see of me. This is how I choose to portray myself.
A safe space to share trauma is rare. But allowing another woman to see the strength you hold; the power and beauty and sexuality—unheard of.
So we hid. Behind stories. Or perhaps—it was just me hiding. Behind my own ego, my own belief that my 23 years of healing myself had somehow brought me to a different level.
Are Women Taught To Hate Women?
Our group discussion as women the day after my session was fascinating. The same themes came up over and over.
“I don’t trust women.”
“I’ve never experienced love and trust for a group of women before.”
“We are taught as a society to judge and hate women. WTF.”
Together, this group of women let go of hate and bonded in a tighter way than I have ever experienced.
A woman who shared the experience on the table with me said, “Dawn feels like a sister. I wasn’t going to let go of her hand until I knew she was okay.” She turned to me. Protective. Powerful. “I don’t trust very many women. But I can honestly say I love you.”
We discussed how society had trained us to be competitive, mistrustful, judgmental, and hateful towards each other. Not how men had, but how other women had. How we, as women, had lost so much by betraying each other.
Am I Being Melodramatic?
Even writing this story—it seems excessive. Is it true we’ve been taught to distrust and hate each other so much? Reflecting on my experiences + how I hear my male friends discuss how baffled they are by the way women treat each other—I would say yes.
Ask me who my five closest friends are—the ones who know the most about me, who I trust with my life and my soul—only one is female. Fascinating. I’m not judging that or even saying it should be more balanced. Just noticing. Very curious. Curious about the hidden culture that set me up to distrust women—and how my mind latched onto unhealed past circumstances to believe it.
A Personal History of Betrayal; Unhealed Circumstances
Maybe it started in first grade when a classmate called me a whore. I didn’t even know what it meant, but I could tell she was angry and that it was really mean.
Maybe it was in 5th grade when one of my good friends made me choose between her and my other two female friends. I was told I must align or be left behind. I chose wrong that time. The second time she gave me that ultimatum she lost my friendship—or what was left of it.
Maybe it was in sixth grade when a friend told my secret to the whole school. When I got home I got in trouble for sharing the same secret. Doubly shamed.
Maybe it was the girls who made fun of me when I developed early; perhaps it was my male friends’ girlfriends who assumed I was sleeping with their partners, as they clung with a jealous ferocity to the boy they had captured.
Maybe it was the time in high school when I overheard two women talking about how I was having sex with my boyfriend; their shocked tones and catty judgement easy to hear through the bathroom stall.
Hell, I didn’t know I was doing the stuff they said I was doing with him. I would have been shocked at myself too at that age.
College Was No Different
Perhaps it was observing women at the university; they were cruel to each other, judging, commenting, hiding their insecurity behind a superiority complex and trendy clothing. I wanted nothing to do with it. I preferred the martial arts gym with the men where acceptance seemed easy.
Perhaps it was one of my closest female friends forgetting I existed when I was in my 20s; knowing I was staying at her house for the weekend so I could go to school, yet inviting her closest 5 female friends over to dress up and have dinner together. She was very cordial about inviting me into the group when I returned from school and they were gathered together. She even offered to share her dinner with me.
Perhaps it was being accused of disrespecting women’s relationships. Maybe it was because I portrayed myself as confident and independent and it made others uncomfortable.
I just didn’t have any awareness of how guarded I am when women get together in a group. Whatever happened in class this last week pulled the remaining trauma out of my body and my system. It’s been transformative. Emotional.
It reminded me how important it is to continue our own healing processes. How vital it is to look into the shadow side of ourselves; how our unhealed situations in our past as well as familial patterns influence our current reality.
If you are interested in exploring your unhealed moments in time, schedule a health and healing strategy session with me. I’d love to have that conversation with you.
I had just dropped my rucksack on the bedroom floor and stepped into the bright, open hallway when I heard the ruckus. I peeked over the open stairwell and saw my two nephews pounding up the stairs with excitement, the six-year-old, Geoffrey, a few paces ahead of his younger brother.
“Auntie Dawn! Auntie Dawn!” I knelt down to receive the oncoming barrage of love, and my heart nearly burst with happiness when I saw his sweet face round the corner. His brown hair bounced as he ran toward me, his green eyes sparkling with glee, a giant smile on his face.
He almost knocked me over as he ran into me full-force for a giant hug. I wrapped my arms around his little frame as soon as he crashed into me. His brother joined from the left side, blonde curls framing his sticky face, and snuck in for a group hug. As I gave them both a big squeeze, overwhelmed by the outpouring of love from their big hearts, I wanted to hold onto them forever.
“Auntie Dawn, I missed you! Are you going away again?” Geoffrey’s tiny voice was strained with anxiety.
Oh no, I thought, surprised by the length and ferocity of his hug as I held him close. I was suddenly feeling polarized between the immense amount of love flowing between us and the intruding guilt sinking into my stomach. I didn’t think it mattered to him that I was gone for nine months. They don’t see me that often anyway.
Suddenly, the two large dogs descended on the three of us, tails wagging and tongues flying, trying to get in on the action. As the youngest let go and started asking questions, Geoffrey kept me locked in his arms with an intensity I hadn’t felt from him before.
I don’t want to be another person in his life who comes and goes and makes him feel unstable, unloved, or disconnected. I thought we stayed really connected over FaceTime. I guess that wasn’t enough.
As I held him close, trying to reconcile the overwhelming energy of the dogs, the barrage of questions from the youngest, and the increasing concern about him, images and sounds of a different memory emerged—reminding me of the last time a wonderful hug led to questions about connection and my responsibilities within it.
Every culture we are engaged in, whether personal, professional, or geographical, has different touch rules. Many are unwritten. So how can we approach connecting through touch in a genuine and open way?
The restaurant had the feel of a small, simple café, complete with a tall Norwegian blonde woman behind a coffee counter and a glass case full of baked goods. Wanting to feel part of the culture, I walked up and grabbed the Norwegian menu. Maybe I can figure this out. I was a little nervous, as I really wanted to connect, but wasn’t sure what was appropriate as far as initiating conversation. Will I talk to people in English? Swedish/Norwegian hybrid?Well, I don’t understand much of this menu, so it’s already looking bad. I traded it for English and skimmed the page. No wonder. Whale steak, some kind of fish I’ve never heard of, and accoutrements I barely understand in English. After ordering, I re-gathered my courage and sauntered upstairs into the near-empty open dining room that included a small stage to my left and a bar to my right. The windows overlooked the ferry, fjord, and small patio, which was packed. Most of the inside chairs had been pulled outside and added to tables crowded with people and drinks. That’s okay. I’ve been outside all day. It won’t hurt me to sit inside near the windows. After claiming a chair by loading it with my stuff, I wandered up to the bar for a glass of wine just as the bartender ran to the back. I waited patiently, and a tall, stocky, obviously-Norwegian gentleman and eventually a shorter brunette woman joined me in the wait.
“Var är han?” the man asked, followed by something I didn’t understand, as he gestured towards the back and then down the stairs I had ascended earlier.
“Du talar för fort. Jag föstar inte. Kan du säga det igen?” I said, telling him in Swedish that he spoke too fast and I needed him to repeat what he’d said. I focused intently on the general words as he asked if the bartender was in back or getting food from the kitchen.
“Is English easier?” he asked.
I nodded. “Yes, but I should have a conversation to learn.”
The woman chimed in and my brain immediately tried to pinpoint her accent, “It’s really a friendly space here. You can just pull up at any table and join the conversation. Are you waiting for the ferry as well?”
When the bartender returned and took their order, I paused. Just pull up and join the conversation? I felt my stomach flip. From what I know, that might not be appropriate. Plus with those full tables, it seems like a lot to manage with a plate full of food.
Dawn, my other voice chided, you would have jumped on that in three seconds at home, plus that’s what you resolved to do. Remember being in Ireland in 2009? You had no compunction about joining conversations, touching people, engaging, and being yourself. Yes, you are more culturally sensitive now, as well as more aware of the impact of unwanted touch on people, but don’t hide out at the perfect moment.
I shook my head at myself. I’m back to being sensitive to people and a bit fearful of overstepping cultural boundaries. Perhaps I can bridge that with more ease this time—after I eat at a proper table.
“Miss, what can I get you?” the bartender asked.
When we all had our drinks, we started introductions. The woman was German and was traveling Norway in an RV with her husband and three large dogs. The man was from Oslo, Norway, and was on a two-week holiday visiting friends. Both returned to their respective groups on the patio. My food arrived and I was grateful for the space while people-watching through the glass. People are sitting very close to each other, and most are laughing and engaging and talking with enthusiasm, but they are not touching casually at all. Even the couples don’t seem to be touching much.
“Come, join us outside.” The German lady peeked her head in the door, her shoulder-length curly hair standing out from under her beanie. “Don’t be in here all by yourself.”
“I was just going to eat first and then come out,” I said, startled and hesitant to leave my quiet nest, “but okay.”
“How can I help? Shall I grab your water and wine?” she asked, as she reached forward to grab them.
“Thank you.” I followed her with my food out to the corner table, where her husband sat.
The couple they were sitting with must have left. I didn’t even notice.
She set my drinks down and introduced her husband. Quickly, we started with casual talk about our trips, and eventually worked our way into other conversations as we ordered another round of wine.
This is what I’ve wanted for so many days. A connection with people, real conversation, and a chance to learn.
“You are more than welcome to come stay with us in Germany,” she offered, her husband nodding as she pulled out her phone. “We are in a really small town, but it is beautiful. Here, I’ll show you.”
Everywhere I travel, I meet good, generous people who want to share where they come from and who are proud and excited to share it with others.
We exchanged Facebook messages so I had the ability to contact them in December, the next time I would be able to enter the Schengen zone again.
“Okay, we have to get our dogs out for a while,” she said, standing up. “We will see you in Germany.”
Okay, this is my opportunity to practice what I preach.
I took a breath and stood, being careful to keep my body open and relaxed. “How do you say goodbye where you come from? Do you just say goodbye and wave? Give handshakes? Hugs? What’s appropriate?” I smiled, watching her reaction to my question.
It feels like a way to imply I am open for all of those things, but without crossing a cultural barrier and asking for something specific. Even though we have been talking for two hours, we are technically strangers. I know Germans have a reputation for being practical and structured, but I have no idea how they touch.
“Hugs are good,” she replied smiling and opened her arms. We exchanged a warm hug, and I stepped back from the table.
Two weeks of self-imposed peaceful isolation to write my book on community bonding and touch has created a bit of loneliness in my heart. This morning, I made the choice to open Facebook and catch up on my dear friends and family. As I scrolled down the feed, my heart sank and tears came to my eyes as I saw how people were choosing to communicate.
How on earth am I supposed to help us connect with each other when we cannot even use civil tones with each other on social media? I sighed, as I scanned faster to avoid the barrage of hatred laid out in front of me.
People cheat, people lie, people do bad things—not liberals, not conservatives, not whites, not gays, not the immigrants, not the millennials, not the elderly. There are hate groups, of course, but in general communities of all styles, individuals make these choices, the same way my individual friends make the choice to use tones of hatred.
goal seeming suddenly hopeless, I stepped away from my computer and wandered
aimlessly around the small house in the Norwegian valley. The windows offered the same view to the
beautiful mountains, and the sound of the waters rushing down them hadn’t
changed, but it all seemed suddenly worthless.
My mind drifted back to an exercise at my Blandin Community Leadership training. If only people understood how much our beliefs are actually part of our brain function.
“I am going to put you into groups based upon your Meyers Briggs results and have each group figure a way to solve this problem.” One of the Blandin Foundation program leaders said, standing in the middle of the U-shaped table formation near the front of the room.
rural community leaders, a variety of ages, backgrounds, gender and race had
been chosen after a lengthy application process to learn to build and sustain a
healthy community. We were learning
about ourselves, where individual and organizational blind spots may be, how we
interact with others, how to see problems from a higher perspective, how to build positive social structures, and
how to resolve conflict. Quite an undertaking for a five-day retreat.
should be interesting, I thought, as she divided us into three groups. The last
few exercises taught us all a lot about individual roles and reactions, but
this is the first big group problem-solving exercise. I smiled as everyone
stood up and a cheerful buzz filled the room, as people grabbed their materials
and re-organized themselves.
the situation,” she interrupted the chatter as people organized into smaller
circles, “You are on the board of
directors of a nonprofit organization.
Your bookkeeper, a volunteer who has been loyal, accurate, and timely
for 15 years, suddenly starts making mistakes in the financials. The mistakes seem to be growing slowly, and
one day it is brought to your attention that someone smelled alcohol on her
breath while she was at the office. What
do you do?”
stepped back and smiled knowingly. “Does
anyone need me to read that again?”
not quite as challenging as I anticipated, I thought as I turned back to my group
with a thoughtful look on my face, I already know what my plan of action
of course we need to have a conversation with her,” one member piped up right
away. “We don’t know what’s going on or
if it’s true she really had been drinking.”
“She is a volunteer,” another person chimed in. “But we do have a duty to our organization, especially when it comes to finances.”
we definitely cannot sacrifice our organization if she isn’t able to continue
here duties well, but if she needs a bit of time away from the job to deal with
a personal issue, we could find another person to help temporarily,” the next
this is easy, I
sat up straighter and looked around the rest of the conference room to see how
the other two groups seemed to be getting on. Looks like there’s a lot of
agreement in the other two groups as well, I noted, people are smiling and nodding and
seem enthusiastic with their hand gestures—-at least the extroverts.
giggled to myself. Blandin had broken
our 16 types down into sub-types, giving us further insight to each category,
and I could see that playing out in the room. Our group is much smaller than
each of the other two, I noted. We only have about ten, and the other
two are around twenty people each. That
must make it a bit more difficult to come to a resolution.
have three minutes left. Please pick
someone from your group to present your decision to the group.” The leader interrupted loudly over the
hastily picked a leader, had her summarize our final decision to us quickly,
and turned to the front of the room, waiting.
“Group one, please present your results.”
A prominent businesswoman stood up and projected the decision easily and clearly over the group. “As the board of directors, we have no choice but to terminate her volunteer position immediately and find a replacement. We cannot tolerate any financial impropriety in the organization, as it could cause a negative impact on our nonprofit status, our revenue, and the community trust in our organization.”
that is super harsh, I
thought, stunned. No communication?
No making sure that there wasn’t some other error in the system or an
update that wasn’t her fault that was creating the errors? Wow. So much for years of loyalty. I know how much time that stuff can take.
three, go ahead,” the leader interrupted my thoughts as I shook my head and
turned my body the other direction to hear the verdict from the other side of
the executive director of a nonprofit stood and faced the group. “She has had 15 years of loyal service. We thought it was in our best interest to sit
down and have a conversation with her, offer her help, see if the matter was
one in which she wanted to leave the position temporarily or permanently. We will give her support in finding help with
her drinking if that is necessary, and do what we can to get her back on track. She is a volunteer after all, and we don’t
need to jump to harsh conclusions or actions until we understand the totality
of the problem.” She sat back down.
that doesn’t seem to protect the organization fast, and is completely opposite
of the first group’s answer.
2?” The leader prompted.
Our spokeswoman, who worked for a large corporation, stood up and announced our decision, an exact blend of the other two. Starting with compassion and curiosity, and if the issue wasn’t fixed, to take strong disciplinary action.
brain wiring determines how we make these kinds of decisions. Holy crap. And my group’s brain wiring has a blend of
both sides, which is why we are smaller and have a blend of both answers.
understanding hit me as ways to increase communication and synergy to pull two
conflicting sides together became clear.
How Do You Choose to Communicate?
Nature and nurture both influence how we see and interact with the world as individuals. The drama in the media of all sides now shapes the tone and grace, or lack thereof, in which individuals choose to share their opinions and the stories they hear.
mom told me that if I can’t say anything nice—-don’t say anything at all. I don’t believe that is true. Communication is necessary for a vibrant
community. We need to be able to
disagree, to have respectful conflict, to speak our minds, to share what is
disturbing us and why. However, it can
be done in a curious, educational, and amicable way. Are there people spouting melodrama and
hatred out there? Of course. Does that mean you need to match their
tone? Absolutely not.
If something someone says triggers you and makes you extremely angry, is there a way to pause, take a breath, and reply in a manner or tone that conveys your disagreement in a way that opens communication? What kind of attitude and tone opens you to listening to an opposing point of view? Try using that.
My Question/ Challenge for You
my challenge for you this week. Whether
it’s a disagreement with your child, your coworker, your friend, or on social
media, take a breath. Realize that
everyone has a right to their own opinion, no matter what information or lack
thereof informs it. You may not be able
to change someone’s mind, but you won’t for sure if you attack them. Ignore those who haven’t learned these lessons
yet, except to prompt them to please use a different tone.
give ourselves a chance to heal our communities and our relationships. Let’s
say what we need to, nicely.