Warning, disclaimer! I’m going say some things and use a couple words in this article that might offend you. Don’t keep reading if you’re not up for it. Really. Stop right now. There’ll be another piece about gratitude that you can read and it probably won’t offend you at all. You can read that one instead.
With that said, the reason you’re reading these words is because my friend Nate Bagley has asked me to create a piece for his 30 day Gratitude Challenge. For those of you who don’t know Nate personally I’d like to fill you in. Nate is an amazing man. The moment I met him, Christmas of 2013, I knew there was something special about him.
It wasn’t just because of his backstory, the fact that he’d hit the road to seek out, document, and share powerfully beautiful hopeful stories of love from across the United States. Neither was it the fact that my sister had a crush on him, so therefore he must be a pretty cool dude.
It was his presence. When I spoke to him he was there with me. His voice is solid and clear. He knows the work he’s doing is powerful and he owns it. When I asked him how much amazingness was possible within a relationship (having been wondering this to myself for quite a while) he responded, with no trace of hesitation, “Amazing, incredible relationships are possible. They’re real. Let me tell you a story…”
Knowing Nate has profoundly impacted my work and life. He’s inspired me to take bold steps forward and I’m so grateful to know him. I hope one day you’ll get to meet him too.
Oh, and if you didn’t know, Nate is creating a Love Coaching practice. Nate is a love expert. He’s interviewed hundreds of couples across the US and I know for a fact that his work has already impacted the lives of many, many people, whether single, dating, partnered, whatever. This man is doing amazing work. Marriages will be healed, parties will be thrown, and lots of really amazing sex will be had. You can see if coaching with Nate will be a good fit by taking this quick survey. I’m so stoked that he’s stepping it up and offering this service to individuals and couples. So stoked.
So… a piece about gratitude. Where should I even start?
I think I’ll start by telling you what’s true for me in this moment.
I’m on a bus.
Ok, there’s more to it than that. At this very moment I’m leaving the house I’ve been in for 10 years and the city where I’ve lived for 12.
I realized last night just how much I’ve grown during the time I’ve been here. When I arrived I was in the midst of a powerful depression. I was suicidal, shut down, and almost totally disconnected from my sense of self-power. I was a shell of a man.
12 years later I’m IN LOVE with my life! I’m present with my experience in each moment. I’m in touch with my body. It’s my guide and the more fully I allow myself to feel all that there is to feel the better my life gets. I’m engaged in passionate romantic relationships with amazing women. These relationships are honest, emotionally clean, communicative, and quite free of expectation. I smile lots and laugh deep, resonant laughs that come out from my belly and fill up my whole body. I’m doing powerfully healing work. The kind I’d be doing even if I didn’t get paid for it. I choose my schedule and I choose to work with inspiring, authentically powerful clients.
I’m really, really happy.
And the best part of it all is that I know I get to be even happier. I choose not to limit my happiness. I get to have as much of it as I decide I’m worth having!
I’d like to tell you a piece of my story, a pivotal component of my transformation from empty and suicidal to deeply fulfilled.
This story begins with an ending. What ended was a relationship. We were together for about 2 1/4 years. We split up a while back.
And you know what? I’m still kind of pissed off at her. And when I say “kind of” it probably means “really”.
You see, I have an anger problem. It’s not the kind you’re thinking about. It’s the kind where I can’t tell when I’m angry and instead cover up how I really feel and end up people pleasing, wallowing in indecisiveness, and passive-aggressing (yes, I just made that into a verb).
So anyway, I’m really pissed at her. I think about all the times she got so angry at me for practically nothing. She yelled at me, she threw tantrums, she wouldn’t let me out of conversations that I didn’t want to be in. She was the biggest hypocrite I’ve ever met. Really. I can’t even count the number of times she practically turned around and did the same thing she just got done throwing a fit at me for doing.
Our relationship felt like a shit show about half the time. She pushed my buttons, expected me not to push hers, and then expected me to calm her down when I failed at that.
She was bossy, demanding, overly self confident, irrational when upset, and unappreciative.
She was an asshole.
I’ve used the word “bitch” before, in confidential counseling sessions. I’m absolutely NOT going to use that word here.
And I know I know that your level of respect for me probably just instantly dropped. I know that you’re probably judging me, perhaps heavily, for how I’m judging my ex-girlfriend. And you might be thinking that I’m a misogynistic asshole who walks around slinging sexist slurs at women who rub me the wrong way.
But I’m owning this shit. I am a complex human being. I contradict myself constantly and thoroughly. And this complexity is beautiful. Our rough edges are what give others something, anything, to hold onto. When we’re all smoothed over people try to grasp us, to know us, and we slip away because they have nothing to hold onto. There is no room for relationship when vulnerability and shadow are not acknowledged and invited to sit down at the table with all the other guests.
And here’s the turnaround.
The amazing life, career, laughs from deep inside my belly that fill up my chest and my whole body, the amazing relationships I now get to have… all of it I owe to her.
Literally and truly.
I know the changes I make ultimately come from within me, but if it weren’t for her I’d still be partially fulfilled, settling for ok, out of touch with my passion and body, and running the same self defeating emotional patterns that I’d already been running for so many years.
She is the most amazing, present, and (emotionally) intelligent woman I’ve ever been in relationship with. By leagues and by miles.
And know that I use the word “woman” very intentionally. Because she is. She is a brilliant example of what it means to be a woman who leans into and owns her personal power.
This is really what hooked me in the first place. It wasn’t the fact that she was and still is a total hotttie. It wasn’t how well she kissed. It wasn’t how smart she was and is about business. It wasn’t her unique and entrancing sense of style.
In this woman I saw something extremely special. I craved it, from deep inside me. I noticed a fierce anxiety/excitement. What would it mean to bring such a powerful force into my life? My body drew me forward. I had only an inkling of what lay in store for me OR for her.
Relationships occur because we see something in somebody else that we already have inside, but that we’ve lost access to. We see that this person can show us how to get back in touch with the parts that are who we truly are.
Is this THE truth? No. But it’s my truth. At least in this moment. I may change my mind later on…
So I dove in.
Who she was being pushed swiftly and quickly up against my boundaries. Except in so many ways I didn’t consciously know where my boundaries were.
So I dove in some more. I felt the intensity of our passion and the whirlwind of our conflict. I opened up to it. I let it in me.
I consciously chose to make myself available, for the first time in my life, to the full range of experience. Passion. Fury. Contentment. Sadness. Guilt. Joy.
I threw myself into the middle of the ocean with her. Sometimes the seas were calm and pleasant and sometimes they crashed over me unceasingly. I swam confidently in moments and I floundered completely in others.
And now it’s over. We chose to end it. The image that comes to me is of a rock at the shore of the ocean. In some moments the waves murmur and caress the rock. In others they leap up and come crashing fiercely back down upon it. But a rock is a rock and it will not budge, it will only become smoother and more beautiful with time.
I am now that rock. I feel its presence, peace, confidence inside me. Through our relationship I discovered my power, my sense of Who I Truly Am. It’s beautiful. I’m beautiful. And I’m so grateful for it all.
This woman is a marvel. She has made some very important choices about who she is being, what kind of life she is living, and what kinds of relationships she is creating. She is really smart. She is in her body.
She is a powerful healer. The work she’s done has DIRECTLY impacted thousands of people. Her friends, customers, and clients are taking the gift that she has offered them and are passing it on to THEIR communities. She’s inspiring. She’s bold. She is unapologetically herself and how she expresses it is one of the most beautiful things I have ever witnessed.
Earlier in this piece I told you all the stuff that pissed me off about my ex-girlfriend, this incredible woman. I basically called her a bitch. I told you all the messed up things she did and all the different ways she hurt me.
There’s a secret I want to let you in on. I’m a human animal! I have emotions!
When I believe the thoughts that my fear creates I live from a victim mentality and digging, sexist, hurtful epithets come up and out from inside me.
While it can be useful to express and honor my shadow side I also feel in the center of my being that living from victim and blame is a powerful poison.
I also know, from this place of wisdom-beyond-words, that gratitude is the antidote.
I practice gratitude. And yes, it is a practice. It’s a choice I choose to make over and over and over again. Consciously. My life is beautiful beyond words for it. I have deep relationships with my parents and sisters, deeper still with every passing week. I have strong relationships with my community. Each person means so much to me and I let them know it.
I’ve written notes of appreciation to roommates, sang songs to lovers and friends, spoken or emailed or texted to clients, smiled to strangers, asked genuine questions of curiosity to acquaintances. I have a million different ways of acknowledging and appreciating the person who’s in front of me or on my mind. I make it a practice to notice when I’m feeling appreciative and then to take action and let them know.
Feeling upset today? Call someone up and appreciate them. Write down a list of ways you notice them being and how they’ve impacted your life. Call them up. Read it to them. I can pretty much guarantee that you will both walk away from the conversation with a deepened connection and big smiles on your faces. The world will seem closer to you. The colors will be more vivid. You’ll feel that swelling sense of fulfillment that our bodies yearn for.
Earlier on I told you that this story began with an ending. That’s not really true though. Things aren’t over, nothing’s ended. Things just shifted. We stopped holding on to our stories about who the other person was or might be. In this moment I don’t know exactly what she and I are or what we’re doing, but it IS something.
I look forward to what our future together holds. Even if it means we don’t talk. That’s still a choice we make in how we will relate with each other. It’s a relationship still.
See, gratitude/true appreciation, is a continual process of letting go. It’s letting go of the projections that we put onto others and the stories we tell ourselves about what we must settle for or how so and so did us wrong. It’s letting go of the safety patterning that we took on as children, the places where we learned to close off and protect our tender, loving child-hearts.
Gratitude means doing the personal work it takes to open back up. It can be scary. It can make us feel like we’re dying. But I’ve shed and seen shed a lot of tears. I’ve been with others as they shook violently as long-locked emotions poured out of them, sometimes for the first time in their lives. They felt like they would literally die. And they didn’t. The opposite came true. Openness. Power. Peace.
Gratitude is about noticing. It’s paying attention to the thing that attracts you to another and then speaking that truth.
You get to do it with yourself too. It’s noticing just how far you’ve come since 1, 3, 14 years ago and letting in the truth that you are exactly where you ought to be. Know too that there is even better yet to come.
Gratitude is about curiosity. It’s a yearning to know yourself and others more deeply and intimately than you currently do.
Gratitude is simple. All it takes is a few words, a loving touch, or an act of kindness.
Gratitude is a practice. That means you do it once. And then another time. And then another time. Each time you do it you get better at it. That’s what happens when we practice things.
Gratitude is powerful. It has already and will continue to change your own and your loved ones’ lives.
Here, I’ll model:
Thank you for being with me through the end of this piece. I probably don’t know you and you probably don’t know me (yet), but the fact that you’re here means that we share a connection. There’s something that draws us closer together. It’s special and I am so honored to share this connection with you. I’ve shared extremely vulnerably with you. Thank you so much for honoring my vulnerability.
That you’re connected with The Loveumentary means you’re on the path. It’s happening right now. I want to let you know that I notice this in you.
My bus ride is almost over. My new life is just around the corner. I can’t wait to see what the future holds!
And one more time, thank you. With love, Bob Schwenkler
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