What I Learned from (Losing) My Brother

As a writer, one of the scariest places to go is deciding how close to the edge of your personal life you choose to go and share.

But I just had a profound moment that I knew I had to write about. As I was reflecting on extraordinary love and my experience of it, I couldn't help but want to digress off topic from romantic relationships, and make an exception. I would like to talk about family, and I'm dedicating this post to it.

Let's call it (non-romantic) extraordinary love. It's a league of it's own, yet so influential to how we learn to express and experience love, that as a relationship coach, it's nearly impossible to talk about someone's romantic life without exploring family dynamics...be it our own, our partner's, and often, both.

After all, it was my brother who suggested I teach people about love and compassion because that's one of the things he learned from me. I was surprised when he told me that, and it ranks as one of the most heartfelt compliments I've ever received. It was an influential moment that nudged me down this path, and for that, I'm grateful everyday.

Anyway, back to my story...I had just made dinner, and I sat down with a semi-conscious attempt to be present with myself. Only a few moments has passed when I said the title of this post out loud. Hearing those words made  tear up, and I've done enough work to know that it was something I needed to explore. So, I decided to write about it. I reached for my laptop, began a draft, and here I am.

Over the last six months, I've lost my relationship with my brother. Despite typical sibling rivalry, I was lucky enough to also know him as one of my best friends. Over the last year, he's decided to explore himself outside of his identity as a brother and a son. I respect his journey, though to say that it has been devastating is an understatement. 

To offer some context, he expressed that our family has been so closely-knit that the only way he could establish himself as a man, on his own, was to be completely removed. We still talk; though much less often, and much more strained. The change has been drastic enough that I wonder if we'll ever really be close again.

The thing is...as any one who considers their sibling as one of their best friends can understand...your relationship may fade, but your bond never goes away. It hasn't been years yet, but I know that will never be completely gone. 

In light of allowing our pain and heartache to drop our guard, and to allow myself to explore (and even choose to express) my vulnerability...here I am.

This is what I've learned about love from (losing) my brother:

  1. No matter how much it hurts, you always want the best for them. I want him to be happy, and that will always take precedence. I would never want to interfere with what makes him truly happy.
  2. Linear time does not apply. A year can feel as long as a decade...just as 10 years can pass, and you can pick up right where you left off. Time is fascinating that way, isn't it?
  3. You hope one day things will change. As much as you know things will never be the same, there's always the part of you that holds on to the possibility that one day, things will be different. From time to time, you wonder what that day would/will be like.
  4. You know things will never go back to the way they were. At the same time, you know that your relationship will forever be different for what has happened. There's no going back.
  5. You realize your limits as a human being. When you've done all you can, there comes a point at the end of the day when you have to accept that you are enough. This is a beautiful blessing in disguise. 
  6. You have to choose how your heartache defines you. The past is the past. What keeps it alive is how we choose to let it define us. Our heartache is a teacher, if we're willing to take a step back, and see things differently.
  7. Every loss is a lesson in love, acceptance and forgiveness. There are nuances to losing someone, be whether it is temporary, forever, or somewhere in between. It is in these painful experiences that no matter what, we have the opportunity to delve into what love, acceptance, and forgiveness truly is. It is a way in which we become more closely acquainted with ourselves, and the human experience.
  8. Never short yourself the opportunity to grieve. Healing is only possible through feeling the feelings, sitting with them, and allowing them to exist. It's true...we have to feel them to heal them. It can be terrifying at first, but you will reach the other side, and from there, you'll know it was worth it. 
  9. You may never stop missing them. It's ok that the void doesn't fully go away. It's a sign of the love that was once, still is, and will always be there.
  10. Part of resilience is honoring your pain by giving yourself full permission to live. The only way I've found strength to move on from trauma, heartbreak, and tragedy is by choosing to live MORE. I refuse to let my capacity to feel love, joy, and excitement be hindered by pain endured. Blessing in disguise #2: The pain has also made the depth of incredible experiences that much greater.

I hope by sharing this with you that my story may connect with someone who maybe has or is currently experiencing something similar.  

As an older sibling, your love and sense of responsibility for your younger sibling(s) becomes a part of who you are.  It shapes us in countless ways. A sibling relationship is complicated at best. There are layers upon layers. I felt responsible for him, resented him, yet loved him, and growing up, thought tone of the only important things in the world was making sure he was ok. Then I'd be so annoyed with him I could scream (and I certainly did on occasion). For so long, I put so much pressure on myself to be a good example, and when I crumbled, I was disappointed in myself, but even more, I was disappointed in what it may mean in the context of him looking up to me. I had pride in that, and having that feel jeopardized has felt like 1000 life lessons in one. 

If you're reading this, and reflecting on your relationship with your family, I'd encourage you to reach out and connect with them. Honor the moments you get to spend with them. Appreciate that you can reach out to them, and know everything is ok. If it's not, I'd suggest asking yourself if there's anything you feel compelled to mend. You'll know when the time is right. That doesn't mean your heart won't race, or you won't feel scared to reach out and have a conversation, but that begins to feel worth it when you get to trade in not knowing for knowing even a little bit more. 

Each day is a new beginning. I choose to forgive myself. Forgive others. See the beauty in who we are. Each morning, I honor myself, my life, and those in it by consciously deciding that I choose love.

What about you?

5 Ways We Unknowingly Sabotage Relationships

I've been fascinated with relationships since I was 5 years old. Seriously. I remember playing tag in the kindergarten playground, and being curious why nothing happened when I was tagged by a boy, and nothing happened. Wait, to my intrigue/disappointment, "coodies" were not real.

In kindergarten, we're guided by imaginary germs, things we've been told, and what we've made them mean. As adults, what imaginary things are we afraid of? The stories change, but the premise remains...we create the world we live in.

If I create my world, why don't I have the relationship I want?

What if you do?

Sometimes we sabotage the exactly thing we want for unknown, or unconscious reasons. Usually, they're "survival notes" our unconscious has made along the way. Our thoughts and behavior give us insight to what our notes contain. The unconscious mind responds to questions, which is one of the reasons self-inquiry offers us greater insight into who we are. I've come up with a few signs to look for that may indicate that we're unconsciously sabotaging our relationships. Are you ready? Here they are:

  1. We're not fully available. If you are playing games and ignoring the other person for fun, that's your choice; but know that you're not fully available. Let's distinguish between time availability and emotional availability because they're both important. If you're busy, and getting back to someone as you can, it's different from intentionally being unavailable. Yes, your time and energy should go towards what's most important to you, which most likely doesn't include a coffee date with someone from Bumble; however, if you truly want to find someone t build a relationship with, you're going to have to set some time aside. As for emotional availability, if you're not in a place to connect with someone, take the time for yourself to do the personal work  you need to do. In the big picture, you'll be happy you did. I'll use myself as an example. I want an incredible person to build a life and lasting relationship with...that means that I'm going to have to put myself out there, and be willing to do the work, and set time aside to meet new people, and invest in myself and my life, so I sync up with the vision I hold. 
  2. We're not present with the other person. If we're distracted by our thoughts (ie. I need to get my car washed, and pick up my dry cleaning, etc.), it will take us out of the moment. Make a list of what you need to get done, and do it when you can. If a thought comes up, ask, "Is there anything I can do about it now? Do I need to do something about it now?" If both answers are no, then set it aside and re-engage with the lovely person who decided they wanted to spend this hour with you. If you are constantly checking your phone while sitting across the table from someone, you're (perhaps unknowingly) indicating that you'd rather be somewhere else. I'm not saying to never look at your phone, but checking it incessantly is an indicator that you may benefit from putting the phone away, and being more present with the person right in front of you. Other ways to be present is to make eye contact, ask questions, and genuinely connect in the moment.
  3. We make up a story that isn't true. We decide that them leaving the toilet seat up or down is passive aggressive. Sometimes, it's easier to make a list that separates the actions ("What happened?") and the meaning that was applied ("To me, it meant..."). When we can separate the two, we can see the situation more clearly, and see what we brought to the situation. 
  4. We're scared of what we want. This is a major one. "If your dreams don't scare you, they're not big enough" territory. The thing is our dreams should scare us...it's because we don't know them yet, and on a primal level anything unknown feels like a death threat. Consciously, we know that our dreams won't kill us, but we're hard-wired to survive, and our survival instinct only knows that we can survive what we have already experienced. That doesn't mean that we can't experience something new...rather we just need to know that that is where our fear is coming from, and we can choose whether or not to let that steer our actions or not. 
  5. We make someone else responsible. The moment you blame your partner on a regular basis, it's time to take a step back. You are choosing to be with them after all. Keep that in mind. What is their behavior provoking in me? Of course, it's easy to say s/he "made me" do it. But that's never actually true. You DID it. They DID it. But you didn't make them do anything, and visa versa. As long as you make someone else is responsible, you remain in a place where they have power over you. Take back your power, and step into the space of, "I trust myself. What would I like to do?"

The first step to breaking unconscious patterns is to become aware of them. Congrats! You've begun the process simply by being here. If you're wanting to create a different dynamic, you'll continue to step #2: Track the pattern back to where you first learned it. How old were you? What was going on at the time? How was this thought of belief intended to serve or protect you at the time? By appreciating where it came from, and the positive intention behind it, you've now acknowledged that it's been at work behind the scenes, and you now have the choice to expand the belief. Ask yourself, "How do I now choose to expand my beliefs? Who do I become, and who am I as I embody this expanded belief system?" *I will say that this taps into a process that can take several months to unfold, however, we can dive into this process of personal introspection at any time we choose, so I offer a few suggestions here, in case that's something you'd like to do. 

Now that we've discussed 5 major ways we tend to sabotage our relationships, and how to begin the process of understanding ourselves more, I'd like to close on this note: People are who they are, not who we want them to be. The same is true for us: Do you want to be who you are, or who others want you to be?

Just as we want the freedom to be ourselves (and loved and accepted for it!), so does the person next to you. It's a part of our humanity. So, give yourself some grace, realize we're all doing the best we can, and see what happens when you show up with the intention to be present with yourself, and those whom you're with.

If you experience is anything like mine, it'll change how you see the world. 

One more thing :) I would like to mention letting go of the past as honorary #6 for this list. Accept your past for what it is, and that it got you here. Every present moment is finite, and living in the past takes away from the possibility of the present. Allow yourself to move on, be it from from a relationship, a hurtful fight, whatever may weigh you down. Thank the other person, or the experience for being in your life. Approach the lessons you've learned, and the time you've shared with reverence. Know you'll always have that. Just because you choose to walk away to move forward (or someone else does), it doesn't erase all the memories. Be grateful for them. Take them with you how you'd like, and step forward as the brilliant, refined, evolving person you are.

Go get 'em xx