June 6, 2019

How to Avoid The Jellyfish & Be A Starfish: Healing From Word-Wounds

Words sting. And you know they do. Perhaps a sting doesn’t even begin to describe what words from an abusive partner (parent, boss, friend, family member) have done to you.

Psychology Today reports that “…emotionally abused women were more likely to report poor physical health than other women, and their reported ailments were strikingly similar to those affecting physically abused women.” This fact should not be news to us but it is good to be reminded of the power of words and the necessity for healing.

The impact of words from abusive partners has been a theme in my own life and most certainly in the life of my clients. I can’t think of one client (counselling or coaching) that hasn’t been adversely affected by the soul-damaging words of an intimate partner (or person in a position of perceived or real power and authority over them).

And because I’m a person-centered and solution-focussed counsellor, I was recently inspired to design a tool that I could use and offer to individuals and professionals to guide clients through steps to healing these word-wounds. More about this later.

According to Wikipedia, “The stinging cells used by jellyfish to subdue their prey can also injure humans. Many thousands of swimmers are stung every year, with effects ranging from mild discomfort to serious injury or even death; small box jellyfish are responsible for many of these deaths.”

When I read this description of a jellyfish, it rang true for me as a solid analogy with regard to how abusive language and words can sting us as we navigate the waters of relational life. As with the sting of a jellyfish, cruel words can injure and harm us - from mild discomfort to serious lifelong injury.

Then I noticed the word "subdue" in the above definition. Subdue means to "bring under control." Whoa! That lit me up. My mind raced as recollections flooded my memory of words my father and partners would use to "bring me under control." Words that killed my self-image, chipped away at my self-esteem, destroyed my spirit, killed my dreams, and put me in neutral because I bought into their lies. And I allowed them to have power over me. I don't say this as a shameful thing but a statement of fact.

Never again. I know better now. And yes, my favourite Maya Angelou quote once again fits perfectly here.  

“Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” —Maya Angelou.

The awareness of the power of words from our past and how it informs our present is the first step toward healing and strengthening.

If verbal abuse is not dealt with by being put in its place and replaced by truth, these damaging words and messages become what we believe to be true about ourselves (even though they are lies). These have a tendency to accumulate (because they are left to fester and grow into every area of our life - future relationships, life decisions, career choices) and sometimes can become life-threatening, even causing death.

It is imperative to note that it’s not "just the words" that can pack a punch but the messenger of them. Let me give an example:

If a driver in traffic were to call me “crazy” because of a perceived error in my driving habits (or I just made a mistake - it happens) or because they woke up on the wrong side of the bed, it might sting for a few seconds then dissipate by the time I reach my destination. It's done and forgotten, except for a good 'ol road rage story around the water cooler or Facebook post. However, if an intimate partner/husband to whom I entrust with my heart to cherish and love me, and with whom I share a home (a place supposed to be shelter and safety from the world) and a bed with follows me around the house and accuses me of being “crazy” and yells that into my face as the froth of rage forms around his mouth - that causes a different degree of soul damage.

Same word, different messenger, different circumstances.

Further damage or re-injury can happen when we attempt to share our hurtful experience with someone. Have you ever shared a hurtful message with someone only to be judged for your over-sensitivity and it be completely written off, discounted or (possibly worse) one-upmanship? Has someone completely invalidated the event to the point you were wishing you'd never shared? I’m guessing that’s happened to you. So this is when you dig deep(er). The knowing that it affected you, regardless of how someone else reacted to it, is the beginning of the work to healing from it. We don't need anyone else (although it's nice) to give us their stamp of approval of what to hurt over and what not to. If it hurt or affected you, then let's work with that. No questions asked. No judgment. 

If stuffed into the depths of our souls, over time hurtful, wounding words can cause us death, both figuratively and literally. Damaging words can throw us into a tailspin of despair and confusion, can cause us to give something up that we love, and dreams to die. The word-wounds are meant to break us down, put us in a place of disadvantage, subdue us, chip away and destroy our self-worth and self-confidence. They are meant to confuse and wear us down to the point that we feel worthless and lost in the lies and wreckage of what was once our self-esteem and dreams.

If we don’t have the awareness, resources, tools, or a support system to counter the attack(s), they inevitably get stuffed and stored away into our memory banks. And the tapes surface at the most awkward of times, often playing on repeat, and make us further susceptible to more stings and re-injury by future partners. It’s a toxicity that plagues our minds and can affect our lives, our choices, our mental, physical and spiritual health.

Whew! Now the good news. 

In a world of jellyfish, be a starfish. Here’s an excerpt from my website about the starfish. Take a moment and take this in.

The Starfish or Sea Star is a highly unique, intricate, and amazing creature found in salt water and in many shapes, sizes, and colours. More than 2,000 species worldwide live in environments from tropical habitats to great depths of the seafloor.

Sea Stars are survivors and are capable of regeneration. Beyond their typical symmetrical ‘star’ shape with five arms, some species have ten, twenty, even forty arms (called Sun Stars). To survive a predator, they will shed a limb or even a large portion of their body, yet have an incredible capacity to regenerate limbs, and sometimes, entire bodies.

For more, click here.

Starfish are one of the few creatures that can regenerate. It’s one of the many reasons I love the symbolism of the starfish for my life and for counselling. I believe in restoration and renewal and healing. We may disagree on the source of that power but it’s a belief that is a foundation of my life and business.

Be encouraged by the starfish. Even though a predator from your past has taken a limb or two or three away, just like the starfish, you can heal and regenerate.

The other thing that works about this analogy is that limbs don’t regenerate in a magical instant - there is no quick fix. Regeneration comes with awareness, time and effort. And that can be counted on.

To avoid the jellyfish, we need to be able to identify them. Get clear on who is safe and who is not. Then we can make better choices of what waters to swim in and which areas to avoid. And, if you're swimming through the waters of life and you come across a jellyfish, you, being a starfish, will have the scars to prove you have withstood their stings before and a knowing you will experience healing again. Better yet, you will be able to avoid their sting altogether.

If you’d like a copy of my downloadable workbook Reframing Negative Messages: A Workbook For Healing From Past Hurts, please e-mail me and ask to be added to my e-newsletter list so you know when I release it later this month. To help continue my study and work, I will be asking a small fee for the download. This is a way you can support the work that I am doing in my singles' wellness initiatives and with others on their journey to healing and wholeness, while you have access to a timeless tool for life and healing.

Because every one counts,

Melanie Hart
Counsellor, Coach, and Singles' Wellness Facilitator

To Book Melanie for more information, for a counselling or coaching session, or for a speaking engagement, e-mail melaniejoyhart@icloud.com.

March 29, 2019

The Fog, The Mist, or The Clearing: Which Stage of Singleness Are You In?

3 stages of singlness by Melanie Hart

Suddenly or not so suddenly - the relationship is over. Like many natural disasters, there is little you can do, if anything at all, to be fully prepared for the event and the aftermath. Whether you saw it coming or not is irrelevant because when it hits, it hurts.

In the aftermath, there is immense loss, seemingly irreparable damage, and it changes everything. Loss of a relationship or the breakdown of one is a highly critical time for individuals. The steps they take and the support we as a community of friends, family, and professionals offer, is equally critical.

Sunday night was the Inaugural Event of "Embracing Single", a Singles' Wellness Initiative that I have recently undertaken to focus on supporting individuals in Single Wellness. A dynamic group of singles mingled over coffee, and participated in a few community-building activities, then engaged in a group discussion.

One of the many takeaways for me at this event (that will now be a monthly event) was the stark reminder that we are all in various stages of our journey with singleness.

If I was to describe to you exactly how depression feels, having experienced depression more than once in my life, I could do a fairly good job of conjuring up enough memories of my mental and physical symptoms to describe my experience. But it would never capture its intensity, depth, or darkness as when I actually experienced it.

And if I was to describe the pain of childbirth, being 18+ years ago now, I could try to muster a memory of it, but the physical pain has buried in my distant memory and washed away by the highly capable and independent young woman who is my beautiful daughter today. The image of the event is now a completely different thing, not the pain of the event that gave life to her this many years later.

What I was reminded of at Sunday night's gathering of singles is the emotions and feelings of what it felt like a few "stages" of singleness ago. I was reminded of the rawness of it, the chaos that goes with it when emotions are just beneath the surface, of the mental anguish, and the emotional turmoil. And it's not that any of this was visibly seen at any time during this amazing event but let's just say there was a presence of it.

This reminder and awareness helped me broaden my scope of reach to singles in order to address the "other stages" of singleness.

Before you go about "Embracing Single", which I call Stage 3, you may need a little help "Stepping Into Singleness", which I call Stage 2. And you may be trying to do both and you dance in between the two. And that's okay.

I'll briefly describe the Stages from 3 to 1 so I can end up back at where I want to be.

Stage 3: The Clearing

Embracing Single is when you begin to see yourself and your world much clearer than previous stages. It is a season of stepping into full acceptance of your present independence.

The timelines for this stage would be around the 2+ year mark, although this is not a hard and fast rule. Time for healing is essential but of course depends on the circumstances and complexities around the ending of the relationship, how long you had been partnered, how long the finality of the relationship or divorce took, etc.

Stage 3 is essentially when you are ready to welcome this single season of your life and wanting to use this time to work on self. We call this individuation which is a time of heightening and fine-tuning self-awareness (internal self, how you see yourself), and self-actualization (external self, how you present to the world). It is a time where you are choosing to stay single and/or are in preparation for being coupled again. When you do enter a future relationship, doing this work will help you be higher functioning as an individual and as part of a couple.

Join us for Embracing Single: Conversations for Singles in Greater Victoria.

But before one can embrace singleness, one must have had to step into singleness.

Stage 2: The Mist

You are in Stage 2 of singleness if your relationship ended in the last 3-24 months. You have started to experience a clearer vision, the dense fog is clearing now you are in the mist (and the midst) of the events that have transpired, you have some knowledge of what you must do to move forward, but you are aware (whether you want to admit it or not) that this would best be done with support and resources to guide you through this season. This might require asking for help rather than retracting into isolation and continuing to struggle in unnecessary isolation, which for some of us is our pattern.

You are transitioning (whether by choice or necessity) into a new identity as a single and ready to make the choice to step into a new season of healing and toward wholeness. You are open to receiving support and learning additional life and coping skills.

Some may be still going through the legalities of separation and divorce, including court proceedings, addressing the sale of assets and properties, and maneuvering complex co-parenting issues. Other may find themselves facing destitution and financial ruin, homelessness, bankruptcy, and feeling very alone in it all.

The only thing I can absolutely promise in this stage, although not much consolation but riddled with hope, is that time will take care of most of what seems to be overwhelming you right now. Time for you to work through these things, time for others to journey with you, and time for you to reach out to get the resources you need to get through it including counseling and/or coaching, support groups, community resources, trusted friends and family.

I have created a new Meetup group called "Stepping Into Single" which is a Meetup to do similar things that the "Embracing Single" group does (connection, support and community), but with the emphasis on "support group" dynamics, giving those in Stage 2 a place and space to be in this stage.

*Please note that I have made this a faith-based support group as I cannot see my way to offering everything I have to offer singles in this stage without including gently applied biblical principles to offer love, hope, and support for those struggling, as well as music therapy and prayer. Those joining the group will be fully aware of this format. Join us!

Before the mist... there is fog.

Stage 1: The Fog

The aftermath of a loss of a relationship is a critical time for self-care and seeking the help of others. Separation and divorce is a loss. In fact, this event is loss upon loss, and treatment of it and recognition of this as a loss is when the healthy process of grief can take place.

I can only imagine what it would look and feel like through images from news reports, what it would feel like to stand in a house or community in the aftermath of a tsunami. The wave hit and annihilated everything in its path. Now you stand in the chaos of what was once your life. The resources that were once there, things like shelter, power, and light, have been wiped away. Members of your community were washed away with the receding tide. You stand alone. You stand among the ruins.

This is crisis. This is life-threatening. This is going to stretch every skill and resource you have at your fingertips to get you to a place of refuge. And perhaps in your mind, you are waiting for the next wave to hit.

Stage 1 of singleness can feel much like this tsunami scenario. You are standing in the aftermath. You find yourself feeling completely alone, in a fog, and the support you seek during this time is crucial. This is when you lay down your pride (if you have any left at all) and need to dig deep. The ironies are all around you. For to become self-sufficient, you ask for help. To become independent, you must depend on healthy relationships. Finding a small group of safe people with the resources to help you through the fog is essential. This could include being in the care of your doctor, seeking one on one counselling, joining a community support group, and staying connected to a close circle of family and friends who are safe, nurturing, and supportive. The support circle can start very small. Make it safe. As the fog clears, you will know who to invite into it. Just take care. Reach out. And know you are not alone.

I trust this was helpful for you in identifying where you find yourself in your stage of singleness. Perhaps you are someone in between. Whether you are in the fog, the mist, or the clearing, I hope you feel seen and supported...

Because every one counts,

melaniejoyhart@icloud.com | www.melaniehart.ca

March 20, 2019

Defining Single & Mad Respect For The Spinster (Don't Judge)

I consider it both a privilege and an honour to hear the stories of others. It has become my goal to listen with the intent to hear; an area I've improved in through study, mindful intention, and hundreds of hours of practice. And when I hear, I get to peek into a person's heart. These stories from clients, feedback from the (Singles' Wellness) survey, and recent conversations with singles have strengthened my resolve to nurture, serve, and love this specific community.

Embracing Single is an initiative to help singles in their single season. Its purpose is to inspire them to a heightened sense of self (individuation) while concurrently helping them define, seek out, and create nurturing communities for life-giving connection.

The more I research and study singleness, have conversations with singles, and experience singleness through my own lived experience, the more intriguing the subject becomes.

Try just defining single(ness)/singledom, for example. It is a legal status with many complexities by definition and continues to morph. The term is also used as social status, and unfortunately oft carries negative connotations as if being "alone", "single", "uncoupled", or "unmarried" is a negative thing. The default mentality in our history (especially for women), our culture and sub-cultures, is that singleness is a negative, less desirable, and a less respected status.

And if the over-arching mentality is that being a single is "less than" (as opposed to being a couple) than it's no surprise those sentiments turn into actions and why singles feel like second class citizens in families and in "church family" settings. For example, singles are expected (just because they are single) to be free to volunteer countless hours, yet this same demographic is usually left without a group of "their own" to be connected to in family-centric church culture. This statement is direct feedback from the Singles Wellness Survey as well as discussions I've had with single women. I intend to address this as part of my Singles Wellness Initiative with Pastors and Church/Ministry Leaders. My message is not one of criticism but more along the lines of "let's do better" and embrace and nurture singles in our church culture.

Time out.

Can we just take a minute to rethink how we treat the single person in our midst? I am not implying that "they" are helpless and cannot fend for themselves. In fact, many singles are fantastically individuated and confident, great with boundaries, saying "yes" and "no" like a champ when asked to volunteer, and feel safe and secure when in a group of couples, or in a room full of families. Others are not (yet). So I'm speaking out for them.

There is an invisibility factor when you are single, especially if you are a single woman. (I promise to research further to see if it's as true for men). Google it! Psychology Today. It's everywhere. I'll address "invisible" in a future blog.

Defining Single.

I want to define "single" for the purpose of the Singles' Wellness Initiative, Embracing Single. We may find that we don't agree on the definition of single. That's okay. I am committed to approaching people with "unconditional positive regard" which I believe is the most non-judgemental and loving approach I can take as a coach, a counsellor, a conversation facilitator, and in my non-professional life too. I must, therefore, be open to hearing someone else's perspective and definition of singleness. And, I might, therefore, agree, or agree to disagree with you. We can still be friends, peers, colleagues... I hope.

As I engage with more singles such as the singles' Meetup group in Victoria (Embracing Single: Conversations for Singles in Greater Victoria), defining single may be a great first topic to tackle for the purpose of clarity and as an opportunity to learn from others.

Here is how I define "single" for the purpose of an Embracing Single group, workshop, or program (and I reserve the right to refine and redefine as I go and as a life-long learner).

An "Embracing Single" is:

-  an individual who is not in a committed (or even a casual) relationship; that is, they are not cohabitating and/or engaging in a sexual relationship with another individual;
- an individual who is financially self-supporting;
- an individual who is not married (separated, divorced, or never married);
- an individual choosing to remain single for a season or a lifetime;
- an individual who is taking time to work on individuation and is not dating or pursuing a relationship during this single season (for a determined or even undetermined amount of time).

According to Wikipedia, "In legal definitions for interpersonal status, a single person is someone who is unmarried, not in a relationship and not part of a civil union."

Based on the above definition of an Embracing Single, I want to inspire single individuals (especially those who have not experienced singleness as an adult due to being being married young and who is now divorced and for those who have experienced mutliple relationships throughout their adulthood without time and space in between to heal or individuate) to see the opportunities and the possibilities that a single season can bring, whether they choose to remain single or couple again.

I want to be a part of a movement to change the narrative around singleness to that of a positive one. To do so, we must start with the belief system of single individuals. I hope to help singles feel embraced, seen, empowered, freed from the pressures of society/family to couple for the sake of coupling, and most of all feel understood by this initiative!

The Spinster, The Old Maid, and The Bachelor

A spinster, an old maid, and a bachelor walk into a bar... okay that's not the beginning of a joke... but it is a joke that the verbiage about women who are unmarried is far more derogatory than men who are unmarried.

Check out this definition of "Spinster."

According to Wikipedia, "Spinster is a term referring to an unmarried woman who is older than what is perceived as the prime age range during which women should marry. It could also indicate that a woman is considered unlikely to ever marry.[1] The term originally denoted a woman whose occupation was to spin. A synonymous but more pejorative term is old maid. The closest equivalent term for males is 'bachelor', but this generally does not carry the same pejorative connotations in reference to age and perceived desirability in the marriage."

Let's talk old maid and bachelor first, then we'll check out the spinster.

The "bachelor" in pop culture seems to describe an "unmarried" man who is free, cool, eligble, prime marriage material - quite celebrated - yet the "unmarried" woman is an "old maid." I do note here that there is a TV show called "The Bachelorette", which seems to level the playing field a little with regard to gendre and terminology. Where it falls apart is that this plays into the notion that this "prime candidate" must "couple" to be truly happy and live happily ever after. I imagine if they had called it "The Spinster" or "The Old Maid" it wouldn't have gone over so well. I'm counting on the millennials to never use terms like "old maid." Let's all put the "old maid" term out to pasture where it belongs!

Now for "Spinster."

Recently I was in conversation with a person (you know who you are) and they were describing a woman who had never been married using the "s" word! Immediately I jumped to the unmarried-no-children-woman's defence and declared, "She's not a spinster! She just chose to Embrace Single(ness)!"

Some quick research and I've found some things to (re)consider with regard to that term that I thought was derogatory. Let's glimpse at the history and then you can decide for yourselves (especially you single women out there) whether you'd like to be referred to as a spinster or not! I'll warn you, it's growing on me. I would put money on the fact that if I asked for a show of hands to see how many would be comfortable with being referred to as a "spinster" (before learning the history and context) that most women would reject the use of the term because they too view it as a negative term for (ahem) mature, unmarried women.

The more I read about the word "spinster" the more I might embrace being in that category myself. In the historical sense, it was a term to describe an "unmarried" woman with no children. That doesn't apply to me as I have been married and I do have a child. However, I found it to be an interesting term when it comes to the individuation process. It could be argued that these women "the spinsters of the 1800s" were highly individuated as opposed to those who married young (due to pressures of the day - society, culture, religion). Here's how I'm processing the term "spinster" as it aligns with my thoughts on the importance of individuation:


- took full responsibility for their individuality and (financial) independence and took on work - outside the home - which wasn't the "cultural norm" for women living in the 1800s.

 - spun wool to provide for themselves instead of depending on a man for financial stability (marrying young as others might have in that day).

- were possibly more authentic, sincere, or true to themselves remaining single rather than marrying because it was the thing to do

"One 19th-century editorial in the fashion publication Peterson's Magazine encouraged women to remain choosy in selecting a mate — even at the price of never marrying. The editorial, titled "Honorable Often to Be an Old Maid", advised women: "Marry for a home! Marry to escape the ridicule of being called an old maid? How dare you, then, pervert the most sacred institution of the Almighty, by becoming the wife of a man for whom you can feel no emotions of love, or respect even?"[8]

Mad respect. (That's me trying to be hip and use urban slang for my millennial peeps.) Spinsters are so much cooler than I once thought they were. They are independent thinkers, hard workers, possibly fearless! That's not how I would have described them a week ago. And spinsters really get hip in my books if you think of them as women of mystery! Read on.

Here's another great quote from the article, "In her 2015 book, Spinster, Making a Life of One's Own, Kate Bolick has written, "To me, the spinster is self-reliant and inscrutable. We think we know what the wife is up to and what the mother is up to but the single woman is mysterious. I like that mystery. So the term is a useful way to hold onto the idea of autonomy that can get so easily lost inside of marriage or motherhood."[14]

Autonomous. Self-reliant. Self-aware. Independent. Fearless. Mysterous. And this, my friends, is part of individuation! So my little ditty, "Wait! Don't Date! Individuate! might be something those 19th Century Spinsters may have said to me - had I bothered to stop and ask. And for my millennial friends, I've coined the phrase, "After graduation! Individuation!" No matter what stage of life you find yourself in, I truly believe that individuation is key for single wellness, not to mention the value it brings into future coupling!

Move over hipsters. Is there room for us spinsters? I think so. There's much more to learn from the spinster. I'll keep digging and learning and defining and listening. To be continued.

Because every one counts.

March 12, 2019

Dear Younger Me: Extending Grace & Hope for Your Past, Present & Future

If you could write to your younger self, what would you say? What do you know now that you wish your younger self had known? And when you hear that inner narrative to your younger self, is it one of self-deprecation, shame, and contempt, or is it nurturing, compassionate, kind, and undergirded with empathy? Answering these 3 questions would be a good indicator of where you are at with your emotional wellness.

To embrace any life season, including but not exclusive to the season of singleness, I believe it is optimal for us to first reconcile our past with ourselves which helps us individuate.

I have a favourite song called "Dear Younger Me by MercyMe." As a songwriter, I admire the uniqueness and depth of the song. The lyrics reach into my soul's journey as they take a compassionate look back at the choices and challenges of a younger self while encouraging the present self. The song explores the choices and decisions we made then with what we knew to do then rather than the context of what we'd know to do today. This plays beautifully with the quote from Maya Angelou that I used in my previous blog. When this happens (that is, a gentle flow in theme as I create, write, and learn), I know to pay attention.

Lately, I'm able to look back at my own life from a higher viewpoint. And it looks like something is really coming together from the piles of patchworks and bits and pieces of material that has been my lived experiences. Before my viewpoint was low, obscured, and disjointed. All I could see was a mess of odds and ends of clashing colours and patterns of fabrics, like quilting squares started that didn't seem to connect with the others. And all I could feel was the cutting and ripping of the threads of the fabric while the needles and pins barely held me together... Now I think I'm becoming a beautiful quilt!

So if I were to write a Dear Younger Me letter, it would include the promise that I was going to come together one day - even though it didn't feel like it when life felt unlivable, joyless, even hopeless.

Can you see your quilt yet or are you still in the pins and needles and holding it together stage?

Permit me to take the Dear Younger Me theme even further. Let's take it into our future and imagine what we are saying to today's self which will be our younger selves in 3 months, 3 years, or 3 decades. Let's plan to write, "Well-done kiddo! You did what you knew to do with the support, resources, and skills you had then!"

As I tune in to my lived experiences, I experience the melodies in my mind like an 80s mixed tape. My songs (and in my case quite literally) are raw and dramatic and big ballads of trial and triumph, love and depression, sorrow and joy. In my case, as a singer/songwriter, I've literally sung out of those experiences and feelings. And now I say, "Well-done kiddo! Your life songs were to be shared and are now part of the patchwork of the beautiful quilt that is your life!" I might even say, "Keep going kiddo! Imagine what your quilt is going to look like 30 years from now!"

As I have progressed into the ability to extend compassion and kindness - even empathy to self (something I had an abundance of for others but lacked in extending to myself) - I think the exercise of writing to our younger selves is quite a great concept. Journalling love letters to ourselves could be such a healing experience! This exercise can help us grieve losses, help us heal from past hurt, and make healthy endings for things we would like to leave in our past so we can move forward with our future. It can also train our minds (or retrain or unlearn) to catch ourselves doing something right when many of us dwell on what we've done wrong. Doing this helps us in the here and now by bringing our present into perspective. Take it that next step and we are making good choices now so that our letters to ourselves from a future self are going to be epic!

It isn't like me to ask others or teach others to do something I haven't done myself. So I am going to try a few examples from my own life that you could try:

1. Dear Younger Me, You are going to go through a few relationships in your adult life before you learn to truly embrace yourself in a single season. You didn't make great choices because you wanted so desperately to be loved. I totally get that. I'd forgive you because you probably think you need to be forgiven but there's nothing to forgive. You didn't know how much you were loved without the need to look for it in less than ideal relationships. You did what you thought you needed to do. And it's okay. It turns out that you were loved all along, you just couldn't see or feel it for yourself. And that's okay too. You'll get it. You'll learn to love yourself more and you'll love others even more than you do now. It will just take time. Hang in there.

2. Dear Younger Me, You don't know this yet but you will discover one day that your life experiences that are hard and painful now are going to help you write songs (and blogs) that will touch the lives of others. You will have a season of songwriting and singing and sharing your experiences and it will take you to places you never imagined going - in a good way! And by the way, I also want you to know that you are loved just as you are. Some will love you because you performed for them and will withhold love when you stop. Others that should love you will discourage you, shame you, and walk away from you when you do. You'll figure it all out and be stronger for it. Most importantly, you don't need to perform in any way or for anyone to be loved. You just are.

3. Dear Younger Me, You are brave and strong. You were incredibly resourceful and resilient - and you are a survivor. Looking at younger you makes me proud. You were so brave without knowing how brave you were. You couldn't even see all you have braved to fight through your darkest of times. You couldn't yet see the perseverance it would take to keep going. Well, I do. I see you. You are not only brave and strong, you still loved others well even in your pain. I admire you for that and that is a younger me that I am taking with me into the future.

When I went to try the above exercise for myself, it was at first harder than I thought. It's a very intimate exercise. The self-affirmation part - I'm not gonna lie - felt uncomfortable. It may have been uncomfortable for you to read. How can this woman write those things about herself? Many of us were programmed not to embrace affirmation yet we were starved for it. That's when we must now parent ourselves as adults. Self-affirmation doesn't make us prideful (wrong-thinking legalistic religious indoctrination lies just beneath the surface for many of us). What it does do is build up healthy self-esteem or healthy ego that we need to move forward in a healthy way. So go ahead! If you need permission to self-affirm - I'm giving it to you! The Bible tells us to "Love our neighbours as OURSELVES." I think that's pretty clear and gives this church girl a green light for learning to love myself. It's just that a lot of us do a better job at loving others more than ourselves. Yes, I digress but this was a necessary digression!

The steps I took to come up with the above points were to remember the ways I have been hard on myself for decisions I made that I felt stuck in, or ashamed of, or lost in, and then to extend grace to myself in those situations. If you need help in doing this exercise, I'm wondering if you can think of it like this:

Extend Grace (to younger self) followed by Hope (to present and future self). Grace for what you need to forgive yourself for (not knowing or knowing how to do differently) and Hope for a better future based on the decisions you can now make moving forward. But it doesn't end there. This process is cyclical. We will always want to embrace Grace and embrace Hope for self as we will inevitably stumble our way into our future. Try having both like two walking polls by your side propelling you down life's path. Keep them handy!

And so we embrace our season knowing this is only part of the beautiful quilt that will be our life. And remember to climb up high and look down, gaze across and over the patchworks of your life - it's great perspective, past, present, and future. And I hope you can see the Grace and feel the Hope of it all on the journey.

Please write and share your "Dear Younger Me" excerpts in the comments below.

Because Every One Counts,


March 6, 2019

Breaking Free From Relationship Addiction: Confessions, Choices & Challenges

I don't know how to do this any different than being raw and honest. One thing I could say about myself is that whatever I do, I do it from a place of genuineness and authenticity - often to a fault or to the chagrin of others.

I once worked in a bank. I was accused by the bank manager of having a moral compass! Oh, the horror of a Financial Services Representative having a moral compass with clients when dealing with their money!

People who have met me along the way can attest to my need to do whatever I do from a place of realness. Whether it was telling my story through keynote speaking or performing my music - I've kept it real.

So this endeavour of Single Wellness will be no different. I am the expert of my own life and I am using that expertise to help others. If I can't be vulnerable and honest with myself about my own sordid history, how could I possibly be able to authentically help others as a counsellor and coach, a mentor and conversation facilitator?

So I am going to expose one of my own realizations: I was a relationship addict. And I did purposely write it in past tense. I feel free of this for the first time in my life. The freedom and joy are almost inexpressible but it is what motivates me to tell my story for the benefit of others. You too can be free from it. Some may be offended by the use of the word "addiction." But I use this term intentionally and unapologetically because it best describes my experience.

It is fairly widely believed that most have an addiction of some kind. Psychology also uses the terminology "self-soothing" behavior that describes things we do to fill a void or get our needs met. Thankfully, I have never had substance use issues of the legal or illegal kind; however, I do often overeat and use food to self-soothe. I'm not ashamed of it. I own it. If I didn't have something I'd either be a liar or in denial. We all have things we turn to and some are more harmful than others. This self-awareness helps me to have and show empathy for others with addictions, and it keeps me humble.

In this instance, what I'm calling myself out on, I have labeled as a "relationship addiction." This is certainly not a clinical term nor do I use the words lightly at all. What I mean by it is that it best describes the void I was looking to fill from early on in my life and through multiple relationships in my adulthood to fill a need in me to be loved, and quickly jump into another relationship when I felt unloved and in searching for love in another. This was without any time and space for healing, for individuation (self-awareness, self-realization, grieving from a previous relationship or past hurts). There are, of course, many layers and complexities to the myriad of reasons behind this unhealthy pattern that were rooted in childhood trauma and legalism in the church, to name a couple. Today I'm not going to address the icky bits of childhood memoirs nor process the ways I feel I was wrongly indoctrinated as a church kid. They are no longer excuses for me but an awareness. I just want to acknowledge both as factors in my addiction.

Perhaps one of my favourite quotes of all time, one that has resonated with me over and over again in recent months and years, is by Maya Angelou, “I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better.”

What I love about this quote is the self-compassion, grace, and kindness toward the self that is extended when we can make that statement about our choices and decisions of the past. But it doesn't end there. We can then take on the responsibility and accountability of it like a suit of armour into our present and future. And so when I admit that I couldn't stop myself from being in relationships, looking for relationships, wanting to date, to be loved, I do not say this (anymore) as a self-criticism but as self-awareness (internal) and self-realization (external). This is my own journey of individuation. For to preach it I must live it. It is a statement of compassion to little Melanie and to my younger self (even if that means to a girl I knew not so long ago) and a resolve that I will do better now that I know to do better!

Not all of you will be able to or want to relate to this. This means you do not have this experience (that's great!) or it could mean you are not yet ready to face this about yourself. And that's okay too.

But I have met others, who, like me, have never fully stopped in their adulthood (in between a failed marriage or relationship) to take time to be with themselves, time and effort to heal, to learn to stand alone, and to learn what it even feels like to be independent (as opposed to existing co-dependent on another) for any length of time. This is not a criticism (or I'd be criticizing my past self) but a compassionate observation and plea to consider this as an option before your next relationship.

One only has to enter the dating pool to experience this. Minutes, days, weeks after a relationship has ended (or before!) they are out dating. They can almost not be avoided no matter how much you think you can vet them before a date. And you can spot relationship addicts who are stuck in co-dependency and unhealthy relational habits and like an accident you can't unsee you are headed for the horrible conversation that ensues minutes after a first meeting. Off they go criticizing their ex for this and that, sharing horror stories of how they ruined their life, their finances, their hopes, and dreams and not taking a breath to express any self-responsibility. They choose to remain in complete blindness to their own shortcomings and opportunity for growth. Worse, they are serial daters who are not looking for an authentic relationship or even to have a nice evening out in companionship with that of another but to perpetually spread their slanderous and oft petty ex-stories. What a turn-off! I should start another blog: Dating Stories and Other Horrors of Single life! I'm sure almost each of you could add your own story. But I digress.

Remember my little mantra from my first ever blog, "Wait! Don't Date! Individuate!" It's a light-hearted rhyme which holds an incredible amount of life impact when implemented.

I've moved way past the point of carrying the shame of my past. It makes me sad to remember the many ways I carried shame for so long. Shame as a church kid because I got married and divorced young. Then again. Then again. The weight of shame was not something I was meant to carry. It was unhealthy. And shame ironically propelled me into seeking out a new relationship thinking I could make up for the failure of the previous one if I only could just get it right. Now I know better.

Individuation is multi-faceted. It is empowering on many levels. It is grieving past and practicing healthy endings as part of grief. It is healing from the past, for a better present, and a healthier future. it is checking off unfinished tasks from childhood life stages (I believe Erik Erikson's theory of psychosocial development is a part of this and a key to unlocking individuation). It is getting really clear about who you are, what you want, and how you want to move forward.

There are many reasons that I think people don't stop to individuate and opt to perpetually enter into new relationships. And I believe most if not all of those (unhealthy) reasons are fear-based.

Fear of...

Being alone.
Growing old alone.
Never being loved (including settling).
Being judged by society as "less than."
Bearing the financial burden of life and the future alone.
Being alienated from circles of friends, 3rd wheel, 5th wheel.
Being judged by family members (as well as cultural pressures) for being "unattached."

None of the reasons above are a reason or justification (in and of themselves) to enter into a relationship. And let me add the caveat... if it (the relationship) is going to be truly healthy, fulfilling - even loving.

And if we enter into relationships from a position of fear, we are setting ourselves (and our partners) up for potential failure and repeating the cycle of (most likely but not always) why previous relationships have ended.

Being single takes courage. Being single means being brave in facing the aforementioned fears and taking steps to break free of those reasons so that you can give yourself and your future partner a fighting chance of wellness in singleness and in relationship.

Wouldn't it be so much better to enter a (new) relationship fully individuated with another partner who is equally individuated, and together experience healthy inter-dependence, and from a place of LOVE rather than fear? And would you want anyone to be with you for fear-based reasons?

Maybe you are reading this and while you are not single, you are identifying with some of the fears above as to why you entered into your current relationship. If it ain't broke, no need to fix it. But if you are relating, I would encourage you to take courage in the fact that one can individuate while in a relationship! Developing a strong sense of self, working on the things you can take responsibility for in your life, and other self-actualization actions will go a long way to strengthen you from within a relationship.

If you are single and recognize your own pattern of multiple relationships as I described it in this blog (over a lifetime and without any breaks in between), or possibly unhealthy motives for entering into relationships (remember, practice self-compassion here), then you may want to be a part of Embracing Single. This is an opportunity for you to experience this single season in your life to individuate and explore a new journey. You may even enjoy your singleness! Or you may choose to couple again! Either way, you win.

Because every one counts,


February 27, 2019

When It Takes Courage To Be Single

What I most want singles to know is: singleness is not a deficiency.

This statement came to my attention as part of the feedback from my Singles Wellness Survey. (If you haven't taken it, please do.). At first glance, this statement seems like it should go without saying! Yet one only needs to look at what society has deemed normative, to discover that singleness is viewed as anything but normal.

This morning during my Facebook time I was assaulted by ad after ad telling me that I needed to pair up! Dating site ads were interwoven throughout my news feed with captions about men ready, willing, and able to take on a wife, take me out on a date, or sweep me off my feet! (Insert cough! cough! eye roll! ROFL! So much I could say here but I'll try to stay on topic.) The underlying message to our singleness during our most vulnerable moments, or worse, feeding our subconscious minds (and assaulting our souls) is "you are not enough", "click here and you'll get all your longings filled", "you would be better off with someone rather than in the sorry state you are in now - single!" If you listen really closely those are examples of the subliminal messages singles read, hear, and see all around us. Subtle. Not subtle!

Now I'm not blaming society (or even Facebook ads) for the pressures singles feel to date, pair off, couple, marry, or partner up. It goes far deeper and wider than that. What's most important is what I think about myself, where I'm choosing to get my needs met, and what choices I'm going to make moving forward. And this journey is why I'm choosing to spend my talents, time and energy cheerleading other singles to embrace their single season - to give them freedom and permission to just be single.

Not only is singleness not a deficiency but I believe it's an opportunity! Singleness is full of possibility when you're ready to see it that way. Regardless of what life stage you are single in, a mindset to lean into this season could be a game-changer for you. It could mean a fuller life in the here and now, as well as in your future, and most likely a more fulfilling (next) relationship if you choose to couple again.

At this point, I want to acknowledge that individuals who are single are coming from many different lived experiences, circumstances, and reasons they arrived at being single.

Some of you reading this have not yet found a partner in life (and have a deep deep longing for that). I want to say something to you. I wish to tell you that I see you too and acknowledge that the concept of Embracing Single might seem almost, well, cruel. And so I want you to know that I cheer for you too - to find that love that you so long for. Embracing Single doesn't mean we shut down our longings. Longings are longings. There is no shame in a longing! They tell us that we are alive and remind us that we are made to be loved! They are meant to be felt. They are a part of the fabric of our humanness. You have every right to long for and dream for that special someone. You're designed for that. However, how and when that longing gets fulfilled might turn out to look very different than you dreamed it would be. What an adventure! For now, do you think you might embrace single not as a resignation of your aloneness but as a way to gently lean into the season you are in? And while you do that, would you allow others to journey with you while we cheer you on in your singleness and in your desire to find that special relationship? I hope that feels comfortable for you. Embracing Single is for you too. Take courage.

Some did not become single by choice. And some of you became single because you made the decision to remove yourself from an abusive or toxic relationship. Some of you may still be in such emotional pain from your past relationship that facing singleness, now and into your future, has left you paralyzed with fear. Others may be in a place where you can't think or don't want to think "single" because you don't want to be "single!" Others find themselves on the hamster wheel of serial dating or relationship cycling, constantly succumbing to the pressures from within and from all around that you are somehow deficient because you're single so you must couple. For some, your singleness is fresh and seeing this season as "possibility" or "opportunity" is simply too soon. That's okay too. You'll be okay. And there are many singles who are thriving and not struggling in their singleness whatsoever. This is likely because they are further along into their journey as a single and they are... Embracing Single.

To all who are single and struggling in any way, I want to be a gentle voice of encouragement that reminds you that there will be good days ahead. I want you to know there is hope - even in your single season. Most of all that you are not alone and that there are others who are walking this journey too. If you would permit me to coach you for a moment by challenging you to think about one thing that is possible (something that gives you peace or even joy) because of your singleness and go from there, but when you are ready. This is when singleness takes courage.

Here are a few more things that singleness is not.
... is not a bad thing.
... does not mean that you will be single forever (unless you choose to be).
... does not make you lesser of a person in any way, no matter what emphasis on coupling family, culture, church, or any other societal pressures you perceived to be as truth about singleness versus coupling (marriage).

For the churched folks: the Bible talks about singleness as a gift. I think most of us church kids grew up in a culture within a culture that emphasized marriage as the ultimate go-to for adulthood. That notion, pressure, belief - whatever you want to call it - has lead a lot of us church kids down self-destructive paths. Let me say that I believe that marriage is a beautiful and sacred thing but it isn't a union that makes us more complete as an individual. This is a complex topic and for another blog. I merely wanted to point out that singleness is revered in the Bible and as a kid who grew up in the Church I wish I had seen singlness as more of an option. Being single in the Church takes courage. If any of you have ever walked into a church service on a Sunday (or any church event) as a single person, you know what I'm talking about! This is a worth-while conversation but again for another time. I want to encourage churches to see singles, embrace singles, and minister to them in their singleness.

Here are my top 3 reasons that I believe singleness takes courage:

1. Singleness takes courage when you stop and take inventory of oneself, your past patterns and behaviors, and take responsibility for what you are responsible for as to why your past relationships have not worked out. As much as your single season can be an exciting season, it can also be hard work. It takes courage to know thyself. It's humbling. It's frustrating at times and it's easier to remain on the hamster wheel then to get off. Some things you're going to love about yourself. Other things may appear ugly. But the sheer courage to stop and do the work is a decision one should feel proud of!

2. It takes courage to take time out to be single in a world where it seems like everyone else is a couple. Of course, we know statistically, this is not true. In my previous blog, I pointed out that there are now more single households in Canadain history than ever before. But the perception that everyone has someone, especially, when that is a deep longing you have, can be painful. It takes courage to say that you, in all of your singleness glory, are enough! (Note to self: future Instagram post!)

3. Singleness can be financially daunting. Everyone who has lived alone and been completely responsible for the roof over your head, for every bill and expense, knows that this is a tremendous responsibility in an expensive world. It takes courage to be single when there is no financial safety net of another person's income. Then there's the future. Perhaps you are without a steady job, or a pension, and have had a life where it was difficult to accumulate savings. This isn't ideal but it's a reality many singles face. It takes courage to face the future as a single.

In the comments below, please complete the sentence: "It takes courage to be single when..." I would be interested to hear what you think.

In the meantime, please connect with our Embracing Single Group on the Meetup.com. You can find our group Embracing Single, Conversations for Singles in Greater Victoria on there. I am open to hosting more singles groups in person or online as momentum builds. Let's build a community where we can encourage each other to take courage!

Because every one counts,


February 19, 2019

Embracing Single.

Singles Wellness
Dear Sojourners,

Permit me to make a statement. Then I will write a little about what it took for me to arrive at this statement.

I encourage singles to explore self-awareness and opportunities for personal growth. Clients I work with are looking to remain single, even for a season, so that they can heal from past hurts and become fully alive in their individuality, whether or not they choose to couple again. I am not pro single nor am I against coupling. I am for the individual embracing their single season to work on self, and, while doing so, finding and building healthy communities that nurture their wholeness and wellness.

If you haven't asked yet, I'll save you the trouble. The answer is "YES." Yes, this is very much my journey, my own story. Now that we have that out of the way, here's what I want to say.

My journey to this moment, this post, this mission, has been long. It has taken my entire adult life and brought with it elements of childhood. It is the good, the bad, and the ugly of my life's path. It has been painful and more recently it has been most joyful. I have been prideful yet have arrived at this moment most humbled. I have been stubborn and that has sustained me. I have been broken and brokenness has helped qualify me.

This moment is years and tears in the making. Failed relationships, yet all along my way incredible, unmistakably God-orchestrated timely, loving friendships. Poor decisions yet embraced and graced by others with wise counsel, professional counselling, and mentoring. An unwillingness to learn taking comfort and shelter in my blind spots but eventually a necessary and earnest search, self-study, and formal education resulting in a toolkit brimming with new and sharpened skills. Career, ministry, family, and business. Successes on mountain tops and hard lessons in a heap of depression. It all has come to this vocational focus: Singles' Wellness: Embracing Single.

Take a quick Google search, and you will find topics of wellness such as health and wellness, seniors' wellness, fitness wellness; even a recent Globe and Mail article warning readers about the "wellness" trap. (It's a great read). So many resources and services are devoted to all sorts of relationship issues, marriage support, dating advice (ad nauseam), but what about taking time to get "wellness" before a new or next relationship?

When I say I promote "Singles' Wellness", I mean I am for singles taking time out in their "single season" to work on individuation. And that being self-actualization, self-realization, breaking co-dependant mindsets and beliefs, and becoming a healthy independent. Further, I believe this process is only possible and successful while in connection with a healthy, nurturing community.

I'm for those of us who have been through multiple relationships in our adulthood, including marriage(s) and/or those who are serial daters, to step off the proverbial hamster wheel and just stop. This stop or pause (whatever is comfortable for you and for however long you need) could be the most exciting, enriching, and exhilarating time in your adult life. And warning, this pause could lead to a healthier you and quite possibly, if you chose to, a healthier coupling relationship down the road!

My quirky creative mind that loves words came up with this wee phrase this morning (even before my first cup of coffee) to get my message out with a gentle nudge of humour:

"Wait! Before you date... individuate!"

See how I did that? It rhymes and everything.

Here's what I know to be true. There are many hard things about being single. In future blogs, I will share some results of a survey I'm currently conducting where I'm getting feedback from real people on this topic. (Here's the link if you'd like to take the Singles Wellness Survey.)

There are many fears that can be associated with singleness. This includes fear of living alone, growing old alone or financially surviving on a single income. (These fears are valid; however, they might not be the best driver for making relationship decisions! I will be addressing fear-based living and decision-making in future blogs.) I don't believe we are designed to be alone but it is fact that many of us are.

Did you know that singles are making Canadian history? According to the latest Canadian household census, there are more one-person households than ever before in our history! Gloria Galloway, Journalist with the Globe & Mail, writes in her article on the latest Statistics Canada Census 2016, “For the first time in the country's history, the number of one-person households has surpassed all other types of living situations. They accounted for 28.2 percent of all households last year, more than the percentage of couples with children, couples without children, single-parent families, multiple family households and all other combinations of people living together.”

And so we have more single households than ever before. But we also kmow that we need others to be healthy - emotionally, spiritually, mentally, physically. In his book The Different Drum, Community Making and Peace, M.Scott Peck writes,
"The truth is we can never truly be whole in and of ourselves."
This is why I simultaneously want to promote singleness and community. This, on the surface, appears like a no-brainer but "community" in its most authentic sense of the word is harder to attain than one might think. I want to help singles build safe, nurturing communities just as much as I want to see singles soar to new heights of individuality and wholeness! I believe they are mutually exclusive. You'll hear more about this in future blogs and workshops too!

Embracing Single could possibly be one of the greatest personal breakthroughs, adventures, and journeys of your lifetime. I could practically guarantee the life-changing consequences of making an intentional decision to embrace your singleness!

I'm going to conclude with a list of synonyms of "embracing" for you to soak in. I challenge you to take this concept of "Embracing Single" and imagine yourself actually physically embracing your singleness. Lean into it as if it's a friend not a foe. And I mean all of it. All of its pain, its fears, its joys, and its adventure. Treat each of these words like a melty Lindor chocolate. Feel the feels. Then notice what you are feeling. Baby steps. Are you ready to Embrace Single?
Welcome. Accept. Receive. Enthusiastically/Wholeheartedly Take-Up. Take to heart. Adopt. Seize. Hold. Cuddle. Clasp. Squeeze. Clutch. Grab. Clinch. Nuzzle. Caress. Hug. Enfold. Clasp. Hug. Enfold. Clasp. Bear Hug. Cradle. Bosom. Envelop.
As always, feel free to reach out melaniejoyhart@icloud.com.

Because Every One Counts,

Melanie Hart