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Tuesday, February 17th, 2015 | Author:

2552487499_1dfda42709photo credit: Ti scriverò…. via photopin (license)

The idea came in waves.

As a journalism student in college, I was always writing news articles that answered the big 6 questions: Who, what, where, when, why, how, and the bonus 7th question: so what). My senior year ], however, was the first time I started to write more feature-length articles that were more people-oriented rather than event-oriented.

Following an interesting tip, I found myself writing my first feature-length on the stories of two women: one who was a current dancer (stripper) in the adult entertainment industry, and one who had been, but who now led a church ministry that reaches out to adult entertainment workers. Easily the hardest I’d ever worked on a piece and the most interested I’d ever become with my subjects. Their stories were so interesting to tell. The student Newspaper readership had to agree. I started to get stopped by students and teachers I didn’t know: “You’re the one that wrote the story about the strippers, right?” And then they’d have some other question or feedback for me.

What had started out as a beat in “under the rug” stories quickly found it’s focus in a particularly dusty area under the rug: the sex industry. And the most interesting part was always finding a subject — someone whose story would help me tell the larger story.

“Where were you the first time you ever saw porn?” I asked him.

I wanted to write about porn use and abuse, so I found a porn addict who was willing to speak with me honestly and bluntly. I was at a Christian University, so it was a controversial topic. We met in a secluded part of campus for the interview, and his name was changed in the article. But he let me tell his story. (He actually even told me I could use his name if I wanted at the last minute, but we decided it wouldn’t add anything to the story, and it may hurt him on campus.)

I remember while we were in the couple-hour interview, I had this thought: this is such sacred ground. He was telling me his shameful secrets. Allowing me to ask about the gritty details. Letting me in to a dark part of his past. I had never asked such candid questions, nor received such open answers.

The result was that I wrote an article about porn use, but really, I wrote this guy’s story. It just happened to have some porn in it.

The day the article came out in the newspaper, I went to the coffee shop on campus, and he was in there. He bee-lined for me and hugged me.

“I read the article this morning,” he said, “and I thought ‘that’s a crazy story.’ And then I went, ‘That’s MY story.’ And I called my mom and thanked her for the first time ever, for being there for me, for being both my mom and my dad when my dad wasn’t around.”

I didn’t write anything of his story that the guy didn’t tell me himself. But that was the first instance where I started to realize the power of hearing or seeing our own story outside of ourselves.

There is power in that. Even in just letting my story into the open these past 3 weeks, what started as whole-body anxiety and two-week-long nausea has turned into an acceptance that I hadn’t had before, an ability to breathe easier, and to see the power that my story has to change other peoples lives, to speak to them in the places where they thought they were alone, to share where I was and let it meet them where they are.

I’ve had my life changed by a story more than once. And I’ve found extreme power in seeing my story outside of myself. Sometimes it’s the power of healing and freedom, sometimes it’s the power of recognizing what I’ve gone through and thinking, “That’s a crazy story.” And sometimes it’s the revelation that I’m not alone.

This is why I’m starting Stories By Jo: The Story Project (see below).

If porn wasn’t what I was looking for, I may have found a different story entirely within that young man. So instead of approaching someone’s story looking only at a particular angle, I want to come in with fresh eyes and a non-newspapered freedom to say with a blank slate: “What’s your story?” And to see what we find there.  Whatever the story is, I know this — it matters.


 

Also, in order to do this story project I’ve been going out on a limb of faith in what I believe will be an incredible and incredibly meaningful project and I have begun to work as a freelancer. The project participants will pay to have me write their stories, but to keep those costs on a more reasonable note and to still cover my project expenses, I’d like to ask you to think about supporting the project financially.

If you’d be willing to donate to help make this project happen, please click the donate button below. Thank you for your support and for reading!

 

Stories by Jo: The Story Project

Everyone has a story, but not everyone has the

voice, time, or platform to tell it.

 

Just as you would hire a professional photographer to come take a portrait of you or your family, you can now also hire a professional writer to come help you tell your story by writing it for you.

The story project is my idea of wanting to help people see that they have a story, to give them a tangible product that they can then share with their friends and families and can pass down through generations, and to provide a collection of true stories of American lives for the world to see and be changed by.

That’s the power of stories. They help us know we’re not alone.

Look out for the official website Launch Next Week!

Jo O’Hanlon is an adventurer and storyteller. She tries to be honest about the ugly and hard parts of life, and the beautiful parts too. This blog is one of the places she shares her thoughts and stories.

Other places are

instagram: @jrolicious         twitter: @jrohanlon

storyofjoblog@gmail.com
Tuesday, February 03rd, 2015 | Author:

Some names and identifying circumstances may have been changed for the sake of those involved.

“I don’t forgive you.” Those were the words I wrote near the beginning of the letter.

He’d written me a letter apologizing for a mountain of pains and wounds, and asking me to forgive them. “I’m hesitant to write this letter to you for many reasons. 1: I don’t forgive you…” I began.

Let me rewind:

(If you didn’t read the nutshell version of “what happened” that was on the blog last week, you can catch up here.)

After confession Sunday, my life went dark for a long time.

It took me several months of therapy to finally get to a point where I didn’t feel like the situation was all my fault. I sat in my therapist’s office, afraid to admit dates and put an accurate timeline on how things unfolded because I saw her doing the math, I heard her mention “illegal” in her wonderings of what happened. She and other therapists had told me since the beginning what they thought: This was abuse. This was not my fault. That this is what they call a “trauma bond” and it’s the same bond that kidnappers and pimps have with their victims and girls. That I had been groomed.

But I fought them on that. “I am not a victim,” was my mantra, and I was defensive, trying to explain our situation away — to make them understand that I was not a victim, I was a very broken, but very real culprit.

I was afraid to reveal things because I still believed my old youth pastor this had happened with, John (not his real name), was just a good guy who just spent too much time with me. That it was an innocent “slipping up” mistake of a situation. “I had all these boundaries in place for everyone. To make sure I led a good life. It’s like you just slipped in the back door,” he said several times in the course of the secret becoming public.

I was still conditioned by the years of not telling. Because I had always seen that it was his secret to tell or not tell. It was always his family, whom I loved deeply, who would be so hurt by it. It was always his ministry and job that would be lost — his ministry that had taught me everything I knew about God and the ways to love and care about the world and to live life well. And the decision was always not to tell, because it would hurt all those people. “It would be selfish to tell,” were the actual words he used one time as he told me about this painful decision he’d come to one of the myriad of times we were trying to figure out what to do, how to stop this from happening again throughout the 7 years of on and off fucked-up-ness. (That’s my term — please, pardon my french, but there is not a kosher term that is also accurate.)

Somewhere in those first months, I think my pastor or someone had asked me to start thinking about forgiving John. I don’t think I responded really, but as I thought about it then, I didn’t have much to hold against him. I thought that we were equal culprits in this, and I wasn’t mad at him, I was just devastated by the amount of pain we’d inflicted on those we loved, and I was devastated by the loss — his family were my closest people. The loss of other close friends that I had who either chose to step out of my life, or who wanted to be in my life still but were so pained by it that it would never be the same. The loss of my calling on my life to do ministry in the church. The loss of feeling at home in the church I literally grew up in. The loss of feeling at home in my hometown. The loss — I was just so broken over the loss. But I wasn’t mad at John.

And people told me I would be, someday. That I would realize his role as being so much bigger than I could see then. That I would someday need to see it for what it was — abuse of power. That I had been taken advantage of. I said, “No. You don’t understand.”

But I couldn’t move forward in my healing. I was devastated and I was stuck. I never hit that “numb” phase people tell you will come. It was just brokenness. Complete, vast, heart-decimating brokenness. Every day. And every night. Which led me to finally pursue something I’d heard about — Onsite’s Intensive Therapy Workshop.

There’s a place in small town Tennessee called Onsite Workshops, and they do these 8 day long Intensive Therapy workshops utilizing experiential therapy (which sounds like “experimental” therapy, but it’s not).

The intensives like this are supposed to be similar to a year or two of therapy in a week’s time, and for me, it was.

Then came Onsite.

“The problem we have with forgiveness is this,” my Onsite therapist, Jim, began addressing my group of 9 broken people in group room 4. “Forgiveness means to cancel a debt. But so often in our culture, we decide to forgive someone, but then later we feel that same anger or pain creep up again and we’re confused. ‘I thought I got rid of this! Why is this back?’ we ask. And the reason that happens when we just decide to forgive someone, is that we haven’t added up the debt we’re forgiving. And then as we discover more of the debt, we’re confronted with the pain or anger again. That’s part of what some of you may have to work on this week. Learning how to work through adding up the debt so you can really forgive.”

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I had never heard of forgiveness in these terms.

But it made so much sense to me. I’d always been reluctant to just decide to forgive someone and declare it done in the same breath. It seemed equivalent with deciding to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro and saying I’d done it in the same breath. I’d always seen myself decide to forgive someone and then once I’d worked through the crap of it in my heart, I’d realize at some point that forgiveness was there. I couldn’t coax it out of myself before it was ready. This definition of forgiveness as wiping clean a debt, it gave me permission to take the time to count the debt, to take the pains to climb the mountain.

I want to tell you about three things that happened there that week.

One: Getting mad

Within the first two days, I had a realization that broke me. The very first time John outright proposed something explicitly across the line (“You touch mine, I’ll touch yours?” proposition  when I was 18) I was outraged at the thought, said “No,” left, and came back to confront him later. He smoothed it over, made it seem like it wasn’t a big deal and that it didn’t change everything. He apologized and promised it would never happen again. So I trusted him. I so, so, wish I had thought to tell someone right then. But I didn’t even think of that option. I don’t know why. I just didn’t.

The realization that literally left me breathless, though, was this: At that point, had I gone screaming for help, or had I done what I did — he set me up to lose him and his family and to watch him lose his ministry and regular life right then. When I realized the fact that he set me up to lose right there — that’s the first time I ever truly hated John. And I hated my abuse-shaped self that didn’t even think to tell someone.

I still wasn’t mad at what he’d done to me. I was mad at what he’d set me up to lose — who he’d set me up to lose in the process. I had grieved the death of my sister when I was 14, which was largely what landed me in John’s family as a surrogate member. But the grief I had over the people I’d lost in my life after confession sunday, that was more grief than I’d ever known or experienced to date. It was like a massacre. And in an instant, I was enraged because it was the first time that I realized that he had chosen me. That it could’ve been anyone, but it was me. And he left me with no way to not lose people I loved.

Two: Accepting no apology

The next morning at Onsite, when everyone was together (40 people are in each workshop week), we had a seminar on forgiveness. “I want you to think of a person you need to forgive,” the director of the program started.

“Think of them, and think of the ways they’ve hurt you. Think of all of the ways. Now, imagine you go out to the mailbox one day, and in it you find a letter — a letter from that person — apologizing for everything, for every way they’ve hurt you. You got it? Can you read the letter in your mind?”

He paused for a moment. I was sitting in the front row and already silent tears were falling down onto my lap as I thought about it.

“Now, take this piece of paper, and write that letter to yourself from them.”

I knelt down on the carpet and used my chair as a desk to write this painful epistle. I wept while I wrote, finally starting to acknowledge the pain that he had caused me. I’d been able to see the pain the situation had caused for everyone else, but it was the first admittance on paper of the fact that he had caused me pain. That he had something to be sorry to me for.

“Now I want you to do something — I want you to accept the fact that you may never receive that apology. Let this letter, this one that you’ve written, be the invitation to forgive them. You don’t have to wait for them to be sorry for you to move on.”

I pulled myself up onto my chair, clutching my letter, the tears unwilling to stop. I sat between two men I’d met there, and they both put their arm around my shoulders and held me while I wept, letting the pain out in shutters, sadly accepting that there never may be as much as an acknowledgement from John. “Don’t hold back. Let yourself feel it, let yourself grieve it,” one of them whispered in my ear and then kissed the top of my head with an appropriate, fatherly affection.

It was then that I first saw that forgiveness is like grief — there are stages to both, and the stage of acceptance is the last in both cases. You can’t jump to that last stage on either path without first going through the other stages.

But, like grief, there are many mini-paths within the larger path, and that morning was the end of the small mini-path toward accepting that I may never receive an apology. John hadn’t apologized to me in his public confession. He may never. And I had with me now a letter with the things I needed to hear from him, regardless of the fact that it was written in my own handwriting. It acknowledged what I myself had taken months to acknowledge — that I was hurt by his actions, too. That I was left in the wake of great loss. And that my pain mattered.

And it was as I held that letter, one day after hating John for the first time, that I also decided to forgive him (which, remember, is different than having forgiven him). But the decision was made. I wasn’t ready. I’d need time. But I wanted to forgive him someday.

Read the rest of the story HERE.

If you’d be willing to donate to support Stories By Jo: The Story Project where I will be writing people’s stories for them as I have done here for myself, please click the donate button below. Thank you so much for your support and for reading.


Jo O’Hanlon is an adventurer and storyteller. She tries to be honest about the ugly and hard parts of life, and the beautiful parts too. This blog is one of the places she shares her thoughts and stories.

Other places are

instagram: @jrolicious         twitter: @jrohanlon

storyofjoblog@gmail.com
Tuesday, December 30th, 2014 | Author:

“How are you?” he asked me, having come up to me in church and hugged me.

“I’m OK,” I said, though eyes rimmed in tear-smeared mascara-clad eyelashes. I smiled.

Then the tears started again softly. Unexpected kindness brings them out. Well, it’s one of the things.

“Sorry,” I said, laughing, pulling a kleenex from my coat pocket to wipe away the small tears. “This is just what I do these days, I guess.”

 

I’ve been told that after women give birth to children, for the rest of their lives their you-know-whats will have a few instances that will just never be the same. Example: apparently while jumping rope (like when working out at Crossfit, not because they’re jump rope champs that want to re-live the glory days) they will pee a little bit.  I’ve actually been at Crossfit competitions with some of the toughest ladies I’ve ever seen, and they’ll be doing the double-unders part of the competition (you have the get the jump rope under your feet twice per every jump), and they’ll start peeing themselves. What’s more, everyone on the side-lines watching will then urge them to just keep going. A very odd thing to witness for the first time, but surprisingly common. Competitive, strong, grown women peeing themselves in public, all because they’ve had kids and their bodies are changed by the dramatic experience. While most things go back to normal, some things never do, apparently.

That has happened with my tear ducts. As I’ve become well-acquainted with loss and grief and pain, my eyes learned to cry. I thought they knew how before, but it’s like they went through labor, and now sometimes, they just flow on their own and I’m over here like “Come on eyes, get a grip! We’re just jump-roping!” I am like Jude Law in The Holiday: “I’m a weeper. A film, a good birthday card — I weep.”

This is not a new revelation, though. I’ve been a weeper for a couple of years now, and learned to embrace it as a part of the new me that I’m discovering and building.

What is new, though, is that in this past year, as I have come alive again, as I have chosen to love life again, as I have found joy again, I have found that my laughs are louder and more common, too.

I laugh often now. Un-stifled. I find that there is lots in life worth laughing about, and I find myself surprised at how hard and how loud I am laughing. At movies. At shows. At my friend’s jokes. At myself. It’s like as I’ve chosen to find joy in life again, the muscles that constricted my laughter went through labor, and now they’re just not as strong, and before I know it I have laughter flowing out of me like the pee down that Crossfit mom’s leg. It just happens and I can’t stop it. And when I’m with people who laugh too, it’s even worse. And by worse, I mean better.

Sometimes, when I laugh too hard and too unexpectedly, there is this laugh that comes out of me that sounds very much like a seal barking. I’ve been embarrassed about it for years, but in the past months it’s becoming more and more common. It’s definitely not an attractive laugh. But I’ve embraced it as the sign that my laughter must come out. That it has been in me untapped for too long. That it is ready to show itself loud and proud — like the seals on the warf in San Francisco. (Not what I’d always hoped to be, but at least the seals look happy.)

In the recent months, my seal bark as well as my regular laughs have been a common punctuation in my days. I’m laughing far more freely, far more often than I’m crying. Which may not sound like a lot, but it’s a testament to me about what life can be again. It can be joyful. It can be deep and wide and tear-filled and joy-filled. And just because my tears are common still in the midst of a life that is often still hard and often still painful, my laughs can also come freely. I can be both incredibly care-filled, and yet care-free.

I am finding that balance and that joy in life again and it is a beautiful, promising thing. As I am preparing myself to start another year, that’s my commitment — to continue to choose joy in life. To put myself in the way of the beauty of the world. To continue to work through my crap and let my tear ducts do their work where they need to. But to let my lungs give birth to laughter at the irreverent, at the comical, at the painful, at whatever they need to, as well.

So if you see me cry, it’s OK. If you hear me bark like a seal, it’s OK to laugh at me (which will actually be laughing with me). And if you see a lady start to pee herself while she’s doing double-unders, cheer her on, but maybe step back… you don’t want to get splashed.

I wish you all a year of laughter and joy. Cheers to a new year.

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P.S. I hope that analogy was worth it. Sorry, Crossfit moms. You rock.

 

Jo O’Hanlon is an adventurer and storyteller. She tries to be honest about the ugly and hard parts of life, and the beautiful parts too. This blog is one of the places she shares her thoughts and stories.

Other places are

instagram: @jrolicious         twitter: @jrohanlon

storyofjoblog@gmail.com
Tuesday, November 25th, 2014 | Author:

It’s odd, because this is now the end of November, and for a month that is usually saturated in social media posts about thankfulness, I actually have only seen 2 posts of the sort this month. The month has flown by for me, and without being intentional to cultivate gratitude in my heart in this season, it has almost passed me by. Except, for no November reason, last night I found myself thinking about how grateful I am for one specific type of people in my life.

 

Confidence has always come naturally to me. For example, as a two-year-old I distinctly remember being so upset my first time riding a horse because they wouldn’t let go of the reins and let me do it myself. I was sure I knew how to gallop, even, by myself, and that I had the situation under control. Sometimes I have self-doubt, or am uncertain about my body or my skill or the way I measure up to others when I play that ugly comparison game of life — but for the most part it’s just come naturally. Not in a cocky way, either, I would say, though it can come off that way.

 

But I’ve been changing, growing, breaking and healing a lot over the past couple years, but part of what’s been broken that I haven’t looked in it’s glaring eye is the fact that I am no longer naturally confident in myself in many ways. I have kept up the confident charm, almost out of habit I think, but this past week two different close friends called me on it. One sensed my laughter and doubt under my tones of false confidence, and it was painful to realize that as she said, “You ARE amazing, you know that don’t you?” I couldn’t even look her in the eye.

“Look at me,” she said sternly as she watched me involuntarily look down when hearing her words.

I looked up at her, met her eyes, and with pain that I couldn’t explain said, “Please. Don’t.”

“No. We’re doing this. Look at me,” she pushed.

“We’re in public, celebrating, and I have mascara on my lower lashes. When I cry, it’ll run,” I said as matter-of-factly as I could.

“You’ll cry?” She was taken aback.

“Please,” I could feel the tightening of my throat and chest as I sensed her need for me to hear her on what she sees as true and good about me.

“Ok. We’ll talk about this later, then,” she said, and she let it slide as I had asked her to, but she gave me the same look I was subconsciously giving myself — the one that asks ‘Who is this person who can’t accept the good truth about herself without pain?’ She certainly wasn’t someone who was always this way.

 

Then later in the week, another good friend called me on it, too. “Look at me,” sounded out again as my eyes found their downcast way as if on command when my friend tried to affirm me. Several times, persistently the call of “look at me” washed over me and a gentle finger lifted my chin up to meet the gaze of someone who knows me and affirms me. Again, it was painful, but so necessary for me to hear those words of affirmation, for me to be forced to look at what’s good in me when I forget that there is anything there that’s good sometimes.

I am so grateful that I have a few close friends who see me, really see me, and who persistently want to remind me who I am — what I am — when I don’t remember, when I don’t feel that way. I’m  grateful for these kind of people in my life who don’t just let me look down, but lift my face to meet theirs as they remind me of what’s true.

A long while ago, I wrote a poem with this line in it: “Grace stings the wounded soul like hydrogen peroxide on a skinned knee. The cleansing hurts.”

That’s the image I got again with these friends this week. I am thankful for people who are full of the hydrogen peroxide of life, and who continue to help me clean this metaphoric skinned knee inside of me.

 

Jo O’Hanlon is an adventurer and storyteller. She tries to be honest about the ugly and hard parts of life, and the beautiful parts too. This blog is one of the places she shares her thoughts and stories.

Other places are

instagram: @jrolicious         twitter: @jrohanlon

storyofjoblog@gmail.com
Tuesday, September 30th, 2014 | Author:

Tackling Myths & Cliches: Whatever Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Stronger

50 MPH speed limit. That seems fast for this road. But OK. I’ll go 50.

Shoot this hill is long. I hear my dad’s mantra: “Don’t ride your breaks. They’ll burn out.” Ok, I’ll keep it near 50. 53. 54. 55. 54. 53. 54.

Green lights all the way.

Intersection.

Large truck turning into our path. Going fast. Too fast. We’re going fast.

Break. Break! BREAK! My foot can’t move that fast.

This is it. We’re going to die.

I see the panic on the blond girl’s face through the passenger side window of the truck.

My world goes black as I hear the deafening sound of metal colliding.

Silence. I am gone.

I come to in a car filled with airbag dust. I look, horrified at the passenger seat. What will I find there?

I see Kate. Her eyes like deer in headlights. Staring at me. Alive. Conscious. In shock.

I see smoke starting to fill the car. More and more. I’m still looking into Kate’s wide eyes. She does not blink.

I look around at the smoke, and back to her. “GET OUT! GET OUT OF THE CAR NOW!” I order her. Movie scenes of cars exploding in flame race through my mind. No.

“GET OUT OF THE CAR!” I say again.

Our doors open. I step out of the car and struggle to stand. Something is wrong with my foot. I hobble to the median of the broad intersection. It is at Kate’s side of the car. She is there already.

I slump down. People flood to our sides. Are we OK?

What’s my name?

Who can we call?

I don’t know. We don’t live here.

Where are my shoes? I get up to walk. Can’t. You, fireman. Can you find my shoes? Where is my phone? Can you find my phone?

Ambulance. Kate and I laugh lots of shocky laughs that make us cry out from the pain of moving. Emergency Room. Exams. Long, painful night.

Two years ago I was in a head on collision at around 50 MPH. I broke my foot, and suffered what we later learned to be a concussion which began giving me daily migraines.

My foot healed within 8 weeks. My migraines, though I have made MUCH progress, still punctuate my life several times a month.

It is one of only two times that I was certain that was it, that I was going to die.

But we didn’t.

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Whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Right?

No. I don’t accept that. That’s BS.

After my sister died, after my car accident, after my life imploded, after I moved because of a bad living situation — people told me I was so strong. And I’m starting to see that they were right. But I thought that they were saying these things were making me strong (some did say that). And deep down I knew that wasn’t true. These things, they were testing me, sometimes they threatened to destroy me. They weren’t making me strong. I was strong through them, not because of them. Those life obstacles were revealing to me the depth of strength that I had to find to survive those times, but they were devastating me in the process.

Pain doesn’t make you strong. It reveals your strength. You don’t actually need the painful things of life to be strong. But sometimes you don’t realize how strong you are without them. It’s the revealing that has value.

We should be honest that pain sucks. Bad things suck. That there are things that we wish we never had to live through.

It’s not about the positive spin. It’s about the true revealing of who we are so that we can go forward as the person we want to be or become.

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photo credit: mcandrea via photopin cc


But whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger is false.

The first person to ever run the distance of a marathon was actually running to the city of Marathon from the battle field to tell that the battle had been won. He ran the whole way, and the myth says that he died immediately after delivering the message.

Many strong people run marathons all the time now, but marathons don’t make you strong. Actually they temporarily damage your body, having pushed it so far. But they reveal the strength you’ve built up in training.

In the wake of the things that are destroying you, it is OK to not feel strong.

Sometimes, the strength that is revealed doesn’t feel like strength, it feels like taking one ragged breathe, one faltering step at a time, one after the other. And we slowly move forward. We slowly discover how much strength there is in us. And undoubtedly, we all have times where we feel too weak to carry on, and we have to sit down and take a break, or sometimes collapse and weep. But then we discover that we might have another morsel of strength. So we continue.

That is the true strength that is revealed when we think we might just die.

Marathon runners make it to the finish line, and their body takes a toll.

Broken bones, when re-healed, still ache sometimes, even years later. Strong people walk through the ache. But when they walked without ache, they were just as strong.

Our lives would be better without conflict. But the conflict reveals us to ourselves. And when we live as revealed people, we use the strength we’ve always had more fully.

Jo O’Hanlon is an adventurer and storyteller. She tries to be honest about the ugly and hard parts of life, and the beautiful parts too. This blog is one of the places she shares her thoughts and stories.

Other places are

instagram: @jrolicious         twitter: @jrohanlon

storyofjoblog@gmail.com
Tuesday, August 05th, 2014 | Author:

In 2 days, I will turn 25. Kind of a big birthday in my eyes.

On my last birthday, I wrote a column about the discipline of celebrating what is good, even if life is hard. It was a good piece that I still think I should abide by. The thing is, I wrote about how life is really hard sometimes, and that in those times, it’s easy to want to just ignore the opportunity to celebrate. When birthdays come after a death, it’s easy to just want to skip it. When holidays come after divorce, it’s easy to just want to ignore them. But really, we should celebrate. Even when we don’t feel like it.

I wrote: “It is not easy. It is a discipline. But the discipline of celebration itself helps to bring me back to life again. I believe life is always worth celebrating. And in the midst of life being hard, I intend to choose to celebrate what is good.”

But then when the actual day came, it was easier written than exercised. I had horrible hives on my birthday all over my back and stomach, and by lunch time they had crawled their way up on my neck and face. (For perspective, to me, the ninth level of hell would be itching without ceasing.) I ended up leaving work to go to the doctors because I was so miserable and it continued to get worse.

My family came together to have dinner with me, and I couldn’t even tell you where we ate. They talked about things and I was miserably distant, not able to think of anything but the itching, my migraine, how tired I was from the shots the doctor had given me, and how my sucky broken life was hard enough to try to celebrate without all of this.

We got back to my parents and were about to open presents when I started crying and canceled my birthday. “Can we just not?” I said. “I don’t want to open these presents. I’m miserable. I have no idea what you guys talked about at dinner. I just can’t do it. It’s too hard.”

And I sobbed as my dad and brother waited, unsure of how to proceed, having gathered in traditional O’Hanlon family places for birthday-present opening. My mom came over to the side of my chair and told me it was OK. We didn’t have to do it if it was too hard. They wanted to celebrate my life, but not if it was too hard for me.

So after writing about celebrating what’s good, and deciding that’s what I was going to do, I instead canceled my birthday with itchy, drowsy tears.

But, through those tears, I asked if we could have a re-do the next week. Which we did. It wasn’t really a special thing, just family dinner again. But at least I was mentally present that time. I wanted to try my hardest to celebrate what was good in life. But to be honest, it was a real struggle. And I flat-out failed the first time I tried.

But the thing is, I tried again. I asked for a re-do.

And that’s how I’m trying to live my life these days and years now.  I’m trying to identify the ways I think it’s valuable to live, but sometimes those are hard ways to really live out. So I try. And when I fail, I try again. And even when I succeed, sometimes it’s not glamorous. It just barely qualifies.

But as I’m getting older, that’s actually one of my things I’m trying to do more — I want to fail sometimes. I want to be trying to do the hard things. And that means failing sometimes. And sometimes it means making it — barely — and not in the way I thought I would. That’s what my life is about these days — trying to dream big dreams, tackle big goals, and have grace for myself along the way. Because it’s true, sometimes I will fail.

lolo-jones

As someone who always accomplished what I’d set out to do before, this has been a different approach to life for me in the past year, and I think it’s been a really healthy shift. I’ve failed at more things this year than maybe any other year. And I’ve also grown personally this year more than in any other year.

So, the world can know that I started off my 25th year by failing. And by the end of that year now, I’m OK with that.

I’m going to celebrate my 25th birthday by playing mini golf, which I have never done. So I’m betting there will be a fair amount of failing on this birthday as well. But I’m excited to try!

Joanna O’Hanlon is an adventurer and storyteller. She tries to be honest about the ugly and hard parts of life, and the beautiful parts too. This blog is one of the places she shares her thoughts and stories.

Other places are

instagram: @jrolicious         twitter: @jrohanlon

storyofjoblog@gmail.com
Tuesday, July 22nd, 2014 | Author:

Recently I was with a group of people and we were talking about what was going on in our lives and the topic turned to one of the girls there who is leaving her job soon. “I know it may be bad,” she relayed, “but I’m really giving it my all now. I want them to miss me when I’m gone. I want them to be sad to see me go, and not think ‘Oh, she was leaving, that’s why she was slacking those last few months.'”

Other people in the room chimed in saying they felt the same way. It was quickly clear the desire to be hard to replace seems to be almost innate. Except in me.

For a long time now, I’ve been trying to make myself replaceable. And it’s just been the last few months that I’ve really realized how this mindset has sunk in to most every area of my life.

I create “truck binders” for projects I work on so that if I were run over by a truck, someone could use the binder to carry forward. I delegate tasks and responsibilities to teams and train others how to do my job in my absence. I plan ahead and I make notes about what I do and how I do it. And I’ve realized, I keep people at bay in my life, and I try to get them close to other people who could fill my role when I leave.

When I left for college, I didn’t want to be replaceable, because I wanted to stay in my hometown. But because I left, I wanted to see my people taken care of. I was happy for her when my best friend began to be good friends with another girl who is her best friend to this day. I was glad that someone could fill the hole I left in the day to day life of my friend. I’ve been tentative to sign art pieces that I make for people as gifts, because I want them to be able to enjoy the art piece regardless of what happens to me. I don’t want them to have to remember me with each glance at it if they don’t want to. (I know this is poor logic, and not healthy, but it’s the truth.)

In my self-realization that I do this, this is what I’ve found.

***

I mentioned in my “write your own eulogy” post that I always thought I would die young.  As early as I can remember I just assumed this to be true. I told this to my friend recently and she said, “see… that’s why I’m scared to have kids. How do you know that your toddler is thinking about death? That scares the crap out of me.”

And really, she’s right. How would anyone have known? I never bothered to mention it. I just thought it was a given. I was extremely happy and adventurous and risk-taking. I was well socialized. I connected well with people of all ages. But I’ve always thought my time was limited.

The only thing I can think of that I believe made me assume my life would be short was this: My mom always used to tell us stories about her and her brothers as they were growing up. One of my uncles was older than her and one younger. But the thing was, in the story I had two uncles, but in life I only had one. Her younger brother had died before I was born.  I only knew him through the stories.

And somehow I think that my little mind drew a lot of similarities between myself and my Uncle Randy. We were both the youngest of 3 kids. We both had allergies. We both got manipulated by older siblings, but still loved them. Just typical stuff. But somehow I believed that my fate would be like his – I thought my life would be short. So I lived that way.

When I was in 6th grade I started to have medical problems. They couldn’t figure out what was wrong but I underwent test after test, with no results giving an answer. I had my blood drawn weekly for a while for these. I saw specialists. I missed lots of school. I was just waiting for what I knew would eventually be a fatal diagnosis. I could manage life 5 or 6 days out of 7, but I missed at least one day of school a week. But  on my good days I would play hard, laugh hard, study hard, and be who I wanted to be. I knew time was short.

And then, when my medical problems were still going on, but were becoming less demanding, and almost seemed like they were fading, my older sister died suddenly.

I felt like the universe had gotten confused. She was supposed to live. My brother too. They were supposed to live long, full lives. They were both so accomplished. So smart. Smarter and better than me, I always thought. It was supposed to be me. I had always known. It was supposed to be me who died young. I was supposed to live an entertaining full, short, life that she could tell stories about to her children. It wasn’t supposed to be her.

I was ready for the fatal diagnosis. I wasn’t ready for the fatal call of someone else’s death, though. Cancer, some weird disease, “You have 3 days to live,” I could’ve handled. But watching the life go out of my brilliant, vibrant, feisty, 21-year-old sister who had so much promise for the world and for the people around her — that ruined everything I thought I knew about how to live well and die well.

This death was not like the movies, with time to prepare and goodbyes properly said. It was her birthday 3 days before. We didn’t get to say goodbye. She didn’t get to graduate college one month later like she was ready to. She didn’t get to celebrate her one year wedding anniversary that summer on the cruise they had already bought. There were no tears of parting on her part. It just ended. Like a book that just stops a quarter of the way in, leaving you hanging, knowing there was supposed to be more.

My poetic notions of short life well lived were smashed. This was not like that. This was a life-halting, heart-breaking, “WHAT AM I SUPPOSED TO F***ING DO NOW!?!?” chapter. It was not poetic. It was horrendous.

origin_2594318333photo credit: mugley via photopin cc

And what had once been a decision to live fully so that I’d soak up all opportunity and so that people could remember me in their stories they told, turned to a desire to minimize collateral damage. I know the pain and ache of someone dying. And I, still subconsciously believing I would die young, was determined to lessen that pain for others as much as possible.

I wanted to be replaceable. I wanted to be able to die and have everything go on without me as smoothly as possible.

I wanted to prepare people for my death — living like a cancer patient without the diagnosis. I wanted people to know how I loved them, cared for them, and that they didn’t really need me. That there were others who could fill my slot in the program of their life.

The first time I talked about “when I die…” to my friend Kate, we were roommates in college. I don’t even know what I said, but probably something flippant like “when I die, I want to have “Damn, it feels good to be a gangsta” on my tombstone. I didn’t know it then (this is just how I talk and think), but she got really angry with me for thinking about death, and talking about it so frankly.

A couple of years later, I had just attended yet another funeral for someone I respected, and I wrote an email to Kate. I told her if I died I wanted her to speak at my funeral, and there were certain things I wanted her to mention: One, namely, is one time that I had the best parallel parking job in the world, on the first try, in golden gate park in San Francisco, and we took a picture that she made me promise I wouldn’t use to brag. I asked her to show said bragging picture, because hey, I’d be dead.

It was in her gracious response that she’d let me in on her reaction to my candor about death. She understands now that it’s part of how I live, but I had never known before that it had angered her and made her sad when I brought it up the first time. Which is understandable. There I was, getting to be great friends with someone, and simultaneously trying to keep a distance, to prepare her for life without me, to make myself replaceable. I believe I may well live a long life now. But I’m still scared of hurting people. I’m scared of leaving a wake of pain should the unexpected happen.

But the thing is, I’m not replaceable. I work hard to make sure I am replaceable in my jobs and roles in life. Because those things you can be replaced in. But I cannot be replaced as a person. Nobody can. I’ve believed that about others, but I thought I could be the exception if I tried hard enough.

I’ve had other people who have stepped in and acted as big sisters for me. But nobody will ever be Julie. And the fact is, if her death had happened like the movies, and we’d had our time for goodbyes, it wouldn’t have made it hurt less. It wouldn’t have lessened the loss. She would still be gone, and still be irreplaceable.

Positions are replaceable. People are not.

So I am working on trying to let myself see this and embrace it in the ways I relate to the people in my life. Because I’ve realized in my efforts to minimize pain for people at my potential leaving, I’m actually stunting the joy of relationships for myself and for them.

I want to step into the fullness of who I am and embrace the value of that woman. And as much as I don’t want people to bear the hurt of loss that I so well know, it’s a lie to go on believing that I can prevent that.  Loss and pain are certainties in life. I’d like to focus from now on at caring, loving, giving, and being the kind of friend that I would never want to see leave my own life.

And it’s OK if you miss me when I’m gone.

Joanna O’Hanlon is an adventurer and storyteller. She tries to be honest about the ugly and hard parts of life, and the beautiful parts too. This blog is one of the places she shares her thoughts and stories.

Other places are

instagram: @jrolicious         twitter: @jrohanlon

storyofjoblog@gmail.com

Tuesday, July 08th, 2014 | Author:

A few weeks ago I wrote my own eulogy. It’s a writing exercise I’d heard of many times, but one I had never done. But, I’ve thought about my own death since I was a young kid. As someone who always assumed I’d die young (a belief I’m just recently beginning to challenge internally), I’d thought about this type of thing many times before.

The difference is that I wrote this eulogy as a sort of “weekly review” of my life in the most grave sense. And then two days later I was in a doctor’s office having them tell me, “Well, with you being as young as you are, it’d be rare that this is cancer, but we need to be real that that’s a real possibility here. We can’t do anything now. Come back in 3 weeks.”

I’ve been thinking about this eulogy a lot over the past few weeks, and while I understand that I don’t control all of my fate, I went from being scared and overwhelmed, to being determined that this is not where my story ends. That I will not let it end right as I was on the brink of what I talk about  below.

I have since received the good news that I am (almost) in the clear cancer-scare-wise. But it has been a poignant few weeks and I’ve realized that I am not done fighting. I am not done adventuring. I am not done working on things and becoming the best version of me that I can be. I will not lay down and die. If I die right now, I will die fighting if that is an option. But as long as I am breathing, my story is not yet finished.

So, here’s my weird eulogy post. It’s a mix of attempted honest self-reflection and how I hope, maybe, people would remember me should the story stop here.

*****

NOTE: NOT A SUICIDE NOTE. NOT AT ALL.

Joanna O’Hanlon died today. She spent her last day reading blog posts, having fun texting a cute boy, and trying to sort out information from other “productivity” blog posts that she could steal and make her own for a company blog. She was trying to get this done by 3pm, but her mind kept wandering. She went on a run, finished an art project, and went to a cheap movie. It was an ordinary day.

She didn’t know today would be the last day. She would’ve bought and eaten dessert at lunch had she known. She did try V8 finally for the first time before she passed though. She’d continually passed that option in life until today. She actually really liked it, even though it was like drinking cold tomato soup.

The story ending as it is, is a tragedy. She was on the brink of new life. On the brink of hope. On the brink of finding meaning in life again. But she hadn’t quite teetered over the edge. She had weathered the horrible, vomit-inducing, life-wrecking, heart-bulldozing times. She’d wandered in the desert. And when she was almost into the new, beautiful, life-giving season, it just stopped. That’s what makes this so sad. Knowing that joy and hope and adventure were right around the corner.

She had no real romantic involvement ever in her life. She struggled with receiving love. Her independent spirit was her fateful flaw. “You never needed anybody,” her best friend had said to her one time. But in the last year, she’d learned what it was to need people, and to need them without being able to ask for them. And they showed up. Again and again they showed up. She was working on making that translation into her romantic potential. But before she died, she knew she was loved. Not by a man — but by many men and women who gave her their love when she was really broken. When she felt the most unlovable. When she really needed love.

She was reckless in her honesty. She defied the regular rules of propriety about what you could say out loud. She was honest about how she felt, about how life felt, about how death felt. She couldn’t stomach the trite positive-spins that the church and the ignorant put on pain. She would speak out against that with colorful language deep from her gut anytime she heard it. She made many people uncomfortable. And she wasn’t sorry about that. The truth was important to her, because she saw what lack of honesty, what positive-spins and secrets did to people. She’d been hurt by that before. She was finding freedom in the truth, and she wanted to share it with the suffering, even at the cost of making the non-suffering uncomfortable.

She dug into her pain. She let it fill her. She let it burn away the excess in her. And she sought healing. She so badly wanted to be healed. But when God told her he wanted to use her while she was still broken, she cried, and said OK.

Jo loved God. He was her only constant in life. She looked like a wanderer to many. She was, I suppose. Her heart was not at home. It had known pain. It had loved this world. But the only real roots she had were in her God. He had held her, traveled with her. She loved God because he was good in a world that so often felt bad. She loved him because He was there for her when her pain and shame were too much for others. He was there when she wandered. He was there in the wails in the middle of the night. She loved God in the most selfish way possible — she loved Him because she needed him and trusted him. And because she knew He loved her.

Jo loved life. She loved to laugh at funny things. She laughed and squealed with joy when she did child-like things like go to the carnival or swim in the snowy river. Joy might’ve looked like it came naturally to Jo, but really, it was a choice. A choice to not let her sorrow hold her. She would seek joy out. It was a priority in her life. Fun was a priority in her life. She believed she was on an adventure. She chose to believe that.

She really liked high places. She was a climber. Always had been. She could still be seen sometimes on a run, coming across a play ground in the neighborhood, and swinging unabashedly on one of the swings — swinging higher and higher until it felt like her adult-weight would make the whole thing topple.

She loved people. Especially broken people. Especially people who had shown her love. She thought nothing of giving time, money, opportunity, or energy to make these people a priority in their times of need. She needed to work on making them a priority when they weren’t in need, too, though.

And she loved stories. Her curiosity was a bit much for most people, so she was learning how to curb it for the sake of others. But she always, always wanted to know more. She wanted to learn about people and places and things.

About what makes the pressure in a fire hydrant so great that the water literally SHOOTS out of it, while the water in nearby houses simply drizzles out regularly. And which Roman emperor built the coliseum, and which one finished it. And what’s the difference in technique/approach of a barber verses a hair stylist. And how to put in a pool. And how Lewis and Clark crossed the Columbia river. And how did they know they would even find an end to the continent? And what seasonings are in V8? And how did you get to be the person you are today?

Her curiosity for knowledge, and her love of stories defined her. There were six words that always caught her interest: “Let me tell you a story…”

She was working on writing her own story, too. It is incomplete. But so is life, I suppose.

She is survived by some of her immediate family, not all of them: her mother, her father, her brother. She is survived by extended family and her friends — too many good ones to mention them all. But they live all over the country, all over the world. She is survived by her town: Oroville – the land of the hopeless and broken and stuck. She really loved that town. We don’t know why, but she did.

We don’t know what we should do with her body. She used to say to just throw it in the sea because it was the cheapest option. But we’re not sure it’s the cheapest option. And we’re not sure if that’s what she wanted anymore. She had definite desires — but they changed… it was hard to keep track sometimes.

Joanna O’Hanlon is an adventurer and storyteller. She tries to be honest about the ugly and hard parts of life, and the beautiful parts too. This blog is one of the places she shares her thoughts and stories.

Tuesday, May 20th, 2014 | Author:

things we lost in the fire

With the fires blazing in Southern California, I’ve been thinking about this question again:

If the house were on fire, what would I grab?

  • When I was younger and living at my parents house, the answer was the boxes of photos. But now that I live on my own, I don’t have very many printed photos. Most of them are either on my laptop or my external hard dive. So I’d still really like to grab those. But there are highlights of many of the (thousands and thousands) of photos that I’ve taken available on facebook and other similar venues where I and other life participants have posted them.
  • I have a lot of art pieces accumulating in my spare bedroom. But I made them all. And I know that while I may never be able to reproduce them, I also may be able to. Or I could make something new.
  • I have a lot of clothes. If I was thinking clearly, I’d probably try to grab a couple shirts and a pair of pants, but they wouldn’t be first priority.
  • The jewelry I care about most is always on my person, and those pieces are few, anyway.
  • My movies could all be re-bought, but really I could live without them.
  • While it would be incredibly sad to lose my journals — the chronicles of my pain, my joy, my wrestling — I know that I lived through them. I know their stories, even if I don’t know their exact words. I would try to grab them if I could. And similarly, most of my non-journaled writings I have either put into online spaces, or emailed to myself already, so most of those are accessible even if my computer burned.
  • My Bible is the most irreplaceable book I own, though in reality, I don’t use it more than a couple times a week currently. It was a gift from my dying grandfather the year after my sister died. It has been with me through everything. It has water damage and ink stains (because of the spilled water). It is more underlined and noted than I can describe through the decade of life it’s lived with me. It has tear stains — literally. The leather cover is falling apart and the binding has come completely undone. I need a new one anyway, but I would try to grab this. But if it burned in the flames, I would accept it, because I know it’s time for a season of wrestling anew anyway.

I used to think about this question a lot as I grew up. What would I grab? It gets at the heart of what matters to you. I always had a list of all sentimental things that were a part of my answer — much more than I realistically would be able to rescue from a burning place.

But I think I’ve come to a point in life where I’ve become slightly accustomed to the art of losing. Losing things. Losing people. Losing dreams. Losing places. Losing relationships and friendships. Losing nearly everything I thought I knew and loved. And I’m still alive. I’ve survived, though at times it felt like I wouldn’t.

And now that I know that I can live through loss, now that I am an amateur artist in the art of losing, I don’t think there is really anything physical that would be too devastating to lose. Which is both sad and freeing.

I suspect many people experience that freedom when they get to the end of their lives and most of their people and things have passed on or been lost before them.

The last time that I had to move, one of the landlord’s children had assaulted one of my roommates. It was a bad situation. I had to find a new place within a week, which was stressful. Had to coach roommates through the legality of the situation, how to file a police report, what our rights as tenants were. And we got taken advantage of. When it came down to it, we had every right to take her to court, but it wouldn’t have been worth the effort we decided. The woman we were dealing with was changing her story every day. We were ready to just be done.
So we walked away, took care of business, lost our deposits, covered our legal obligations. And moved on.

People kept saying that I was “handling this all really well,” as we were moving out and I was trying to find a place to live. Which was baffling to me at first because I thought — how else would I handle it? I think when it comes to the loss of money or things, I have a quicker time accepting it — “what other option do I have?” is my mindset.

I remember preparing for a church trip abroad when I was younger and they talked about the “two hour rule”: Don’t take anything with you that it will take you longer than two hours to get over if you lose it.  At this point in life I don’t own something that would  fall outside that category.  And I’m not sure how I feel about admitting that.

But I think the gift is that it prepares me to live with abandon now.

If I could choose, I wouldn’t choose it. But I have been baptized into the art of losing, and I know that it’s shaping who I am and how I live now.

Maybe one day I’ll find roots again. But for now, I just have acceptance for loss, and the stamina to take a deep breath and start again. And again. And again.  I know the strokes of the art of losing. And I know that there is always life anew if you wait for it, if you build it, if you search for it. There is no other choice in my mind. Ashes to ashes. Dust to dust. And still, we walk on.

This song is by a band called Bastille and I have come to love it. It speaks about this process. This art of losing. But the song itself is full, almost upbeat. It’s become a sort of anthem for me. “The future’s in our hands and we will never be the same again.”

“Things We Lost In The Fire” by Bastille

Things we lost to the flames
Things we’ll never see again
All that we’ve amassed
Sits before us, shattered into ash

These are the things, the things we lost
The things we lost in the fire fire fire
These are the things, the things we lost
The things we lost in the fire fire fire

We sat and made a list
Of all the things that we had
Down the backs of table tops
Ticket stubs and your diaries

I read them all one day
When loneliness came and you were away
Oh they told me nothing new,
But I love to read the words you used

These are the things, the things we lost
The things we lost in the fire fire fire
These are the things, the things we lost
The things we lost in the fire fire fire

I was the match and you were the rock
Maybe we started this fire
We sat apart and watched
All we had burned on the pyre

(You said) we were born with nothing
And we sure as hell have nothing now
(You said) we were born with nothing
And we sure as hell have nothing now

These are the things, the things we lost
The things we lost in the fire fire fire
These are the things, the things we lost
The things we lost in the fire fire fire

Do you understand that we will never be the same again?
Do you understand that we will never be the same again?
The future’s in our hands and we will never be the same again
The future’s in our hands and we will never be the same again

These are the things, the things we lost
The things we lost in the fire fire fire
These are the things, the things we lost
The things we lost in the fire fire fire

These are the things, the things we lost
These are the things we lost in the fire fire fire

Flames – they licked the walls
Tenderly they turned to dust all that I adore


listen to it here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MGR4U7W1dZU

photo credit: eijeiii via photopin cc

Joanna O’Hanlon is an adventurer and storyteller. She tries to be honest about the ugly and hard parts of life, and the beautiful parts too. This blog is one of the places she shares her thoughts and stories.

Other places are

instagram: @jrolicious         twitter: @jrohanlon

Wednesday, May 07th, 2014 | Author:

Ask for what you need.


That was a mantra repeated again and again at Onsite when I was there a year ago this week.

Onsite is an intensive therapy workshop in Tennessee, and it was the setting for the most significant week of my life to date. I heard about it first from Donald Miller at the Storyline Conference (he also mentions it in the Storyline book).

“My assistant has been with me for 10 years, and Onsite was such a significant experience for me that she refers to me as pre-Onsite and post-Onsite,” Don said. “I didn’t even know how broken I was until I went and started to look at what it would be to get healed.”


I was in a place where I thought I knew exactly how broken I was — decimated was a term i used a lot. Turns out, I didn’t even know the depth of the broken places.


This small place in the country in Tennessee became holy ground for me as I waded through the most painful pieces of my life. As I grieved. As I found acceptance for truths I couldn’t see or stomach previously.


But, though it wasn’t the main theme of the week by any means, the underlying words that were breathed again and again just for the health and safety of everyone were, “Ask for what you need.”


And this has been a revolutionary thought, not just for me, but for me to articulate with the people I do life with.


It’s come out in my nuclear family’s dynamics. In my friendships. In my jobs.


I ask for what I need up front, instead of waiting until later when my needs haven’t been met to address it. And I encourage others to do the same.


Sometimes it’s about the temperature of the air conditioner in the car.

Sometimes it’s about expectations about traveling with a friend. Sometimes it’s “I need to share my story with you,” or “I need for you to not put a positive spin on everything.” Or sometimes, it’s the really painful stuff: “I need you out of my life,” or “I need you to be there for me in ways that you haven’t ever been there before.”


What happens is that those conversations change from being painful or awkward confrontations where someone has been let down, to being pre-emptive and healthy, and direct. (Because our relationships continue from places of hurt and dissapointment, though, there may still be some pain in these conversations. But as you practice this more, the points of pain decrease in frequency in my experience.)


The trick is, to do so, you have to know what you need. It takes self-examination, and taking the responsibility on yourself to know your needs, instead of expecting others to fulfill the needs that you may not have even been able to articulate to yourself.


I’m sure I’ll write more about Onsite throughout the months and years to come as it was so formational for me. But this week, as I am one year out, this is something that came to mind and into my conversations last night, and it’s been a part of my new rhythm of life in this past year.


It’s not easy to examine myself and figure out what I need, but it’s healthy, and it helps me have more realistic expectations of other people, and helps me communicate my needs directly. Sometimes, I can say “I need ___” and the person knows right there and then that they’re not going to be able to meet that need. And while that may be hard/sad/disappointing, it’s healthy. It gives us all the freedom to say what we need, and say what we can offer to others before the hurt and disappointments leaving us feeling in a lurch.


So the question is: What do you need?


Once you practice knowing your needs, practice asking for them. It may be intimidating for us at first, but I have seen significant amounts of health flourish into my relationships as we’ve started to use this honest, self-responsible, direct approach.  I invite you to try it, too. Feel free to share your thoughts/questions/and stories of how it goes.


If you’re interested in Onsite, I cannot say enough about the impact it had on my journey. If you feel stuck, or at rock bottom, or hopeless, or you just are interested in being the healthiest version of you, I would personally recommend their workshops. They have a variety of types and lengths of workshops. I was told before hand by a therapist not affiliated with them that it would be like a year or two of therapy in a week. For me, it was. https://www.onsiteworkshops.com/

Joanna O’Hanlon is an adventurer and storyteller. She tries to be honest about the ugly and hard parts of life, and the beautiful parts too. This blog is one of the places she shares her thoughts and stories.

Other places are

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