Tattoo Chronicles #1 – Survivor

My first tattoo. Got it in 2008, five years after surviving cancer.

I drew this design up myself, and the tattoo artist commented it was obvious I wasn’t a tattoo artist – too many fiddly little scrolls.survivor tattoo

I wanted this tattoo more than anything. I needed a permanent reminder to never take my body for granted, and always listen to it when it speaks to me. The non-hodgkins lymphoma was stage 3B by the time it was found, undiagnosed for seven months despite my repeatedly visiting a doctor asking for tests. I knew I was sick. He told me I was just tired and working too hard. I walked into my local hospital emergency department on July 17th 2003 and told them if I was going to die, I wanted to do it in their waiting room, not in my kitchen in front of my kids. They found the saucer sized tumour in my chest within an hour of my arrival. Rushed to a bigger hospital in an ambulance, then airlifted two days later to Sydney. Three months of chemotherapy and two of radiotherapy. I learned a lot about myself in that time.

First thing I learned is my body knows what sometimes my mind and will refuses to admit. I thought I was living a good life, but it was a cacophony of compromises. My body said, fine, go there if you like, but I’m not coming with you.

It took time for me to relearn my body’s signals and to rebuild the trust between it and me. Now, I ask it first before I do anything where it will be required to bear the weight of the consequences. Sometimes it says, hell yes! Sometimes it says, are you kidding? Sometimes my body says, look at your arm, girlfriend. And when I do, I’m sometimes reminded I am not made of iron and stone. I can break. But sometimes looking at my survivor tattoo reminds me I can do very hard things. It reminds me not to expect so little of my body.

And sometimes, my tattoo reminds me becoming a survivor requires one almost die, and then come back from that…..but there be a day when I will not come back. Is this that day? No. This is not that day. Today, I live. Every day, until that day. I live.

Selah, my friends.
Jo xxx

How to shut out the world, and it all be okay.

There will be times when you feel strongly about connecting with others and building ties and making relationships and being around people, and you’ll seem to have endless energy for them all the time and take them out and have them around and give them everything you have, and it will never drain you or tire you and you’ll think, I am made to do this, this is my thing, people are so my jam, I’ll be doing it like this forever, don’t ever leave, I will never leave.

And there are times when you will withdraw into your bower and turn down the lights, and close the door and hope nobody notices and keep the noises low and the distractions to a minimum, and you won’t seek out contact with anyone much, or anyone at all, and you’ll surround yourself with things very old and very new that give you comfort and a connection to the unseen world and childhood comforts, and things that live silently and need little care or attention, or which draw your complete attention, which need a safe, quiet place to do their thing, but do not speak, like a candle, or a cluster of feathers, or a circle of stones, or a tray of tea, or a small dog or cat, or a book that needs reading, or one that needs writing. And that will be all you need.

And you’ll need it very, very much, And that will be okay. And that will be all right.

How To Love Your Darkness.

There is a time and season for negativity. I absolutely believe this. There’s a place for seeing things cynically and refusing to be cheered with platitudes and cliches. If you’re experiencing a period where your perspective is decidedly blunt and pessimistic, and you can’t see any good reason to change it, good for you. And I mean that.

Go with it. I often do. I especially found this empowering when I was recovering through cancer and treatment. Fuck all that positive thinking. Fuck all those sunshiney exhortations to just think positive. I didn’t want to be happy and just think positive. I needed to get down with my black thoughts and face off with it all. I didn’t want to make nice for others, or talk myself out of my fears. I needed to go with them down the rabbit hole and see where and what they led to.

It did me good. I’ve seen my dark side and my rock bottom. I hit it arse first and sat there with it, swearing and being a cynical shit and refusing to be cheered up or pulled out of it. I lived in a dark place for a long time, made friends with death and dying, became acquainted with worst possible case scenarios like you might a peculiar new neighbor, and learned they weren’t that scary or peculiar after all. I learned this about my worst case scenarios – sometimes they happen, and when they do, I can do them. I can go there. I am strong. I am smart. I’m also allowed to be scared, cry and fall apart. But I know what to do when they happen. Because I went there. Because I refused to talk myself happy or only think positive.

Truth is, we don’t always get the sunny outcome we are praying for. Positive thoughts have their time and place. But so does your melancholy. Just feel it all. Truly, that’s my advice to my friends who are going through cancer, or loving an addict, or being an addict, or breaking up a relationship, or watching someone slip away. Feel it all. Don’t be afraid. Love all the parts of you, even your cranky, negative, cynical side. It’s still you. However, be careful not to use your negativity to hurt others. Don’t become a bully, or a jerk, to your friends and community. Some won’t cope with your negativity, but lots of them will love it easily. Let them do it. Let them help you love the dark places in you. Love them into the light.

May you be loved into the light today, sweet friend.

I want to say you’re going to be okay.

Ben is in bed asleep, and I’m once again sitting in my car in the dark on Windy Hill, trying to imagine all the very hard things you’re all facing at the moment, pouring all my energy and love into making words in all the right order for you.

I think about you, and think back to a year ago, two years ago, three, four, even five, to a time when I can say my life was as hard as it’s ever been. When my husband didn’t want to be married to me any more, and had drunk himself into a deep, dark hole I refused to follow him down. A time when I still felt the dank, metallic shadow of cancer following me everywhere. A time when I had both divorce papers and a will kit on my desk. When I wondered which horrible thing in my life would overwhelm me, or outright kill me, first.

Oh God, I thought I’d never get through it all, really I didn’t.

But here I am, five years later, that same man who would’ve rather drank himself to death than stay married to me is the same man asleep in my bed down the hill in that little house. And the same heart that eleven years ago was being smothered by a lymphoma in my chest still beats, still burns, still blazes with life and love and lust for all of it – all that this mad, brilliant world can give me.

This is why I sit in the dark and write to you, tapping away on my iPhone with the car engine running. Because I want you to know you’re going to survive this. I want you to know others have, I have. I want you to know it won’t always be like this, and you can be okay, and will be, and life will be all right and more than tolerable – it can again be wonderful. I know this. And I want you to believe it, somehow, being hope, if you can, if you just can.

Don’t give up, sweetheart. Don’t, just don’t you dare. Do your nights, one after the other, and do what you need to do to get through. Eat good food. Don’t worry about being too fat right now. Sleep when you’re able. Stay away from the bottle and the wine glass, if you can. Read, read, read. Keep good friends close. Buy well-fitting jeans and a great swimming costume. Also, the best bed sheets you can afford. A book a month, at least. There’s your prescription, you’re welcome. Take two and call me in the morning.

I know it seems like there is no hope. Be angry if it helps, but not all the time. Be brave when you can, but you can’t always be brave, I know. It’s all right to be a pain in the ass, to cry, to tell people it’s unfair, you did your best, and be shitty and a bitch. Just not all the time. Remember how staggeringly heroic you are. Tell yourself your story so you remember what a saga this is going to turn out to be, imagine how it ends and tell yourself that story over and over. Fall in love with people and let yourself include them in a future of your imagining. Just remember it’s pretend. All this is training wheels on hope.

Oh, and forgiveness. Don’t worry about it. That can come much later. Just leave it for now.

That’s all I got for you honey, right now anyway. Just know I’m thinking of you, holding your phone there in your hand in the dark, looking for answers, begging the universe for a sign. This is it.

I know. Me too.

You’re going to be okay,

Love you.
Jo xxxx
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Why the answer to your prayers is letting go.

We’re all praying for something, right? We’re all holding on to something, hoping it will come right, work out, be fixed, healed, restored, returned, changed or… God, just something, anything would be better than this.

I know what you mean. I’ve prayed for and about a heck of of a lot of things. And I’ve had my miracles.

I’ve also had my complete catastrophes.

And sometimes they are the exact same thing.

I don’t know about those magic prayers which are said to get you just what you want from God, and never anything bad, unpleasant or unwanted. I only know those times I received an answer to my prayer was when I let go of what I knew in my heart I needed to let go of.

In every instance, while I prayed for a miracle, I was holding on to something I thought I absolutely needed to survive with sheer desperation, thinking if I could keep it all together, I could keep it all, and everything would be all right, and I would get what I wanted, and nothing bad would happen to me or anyone else, and everything would be okay.

God, I held on. To my fear of risk, of change, of the disapproval of others. I held on to my bad behavior, my habits, my addictions, and I held onto the people in my life I blamed for causing those things.

I held onto stuff, places, ideals, ambitions and tribes. I held onto the limelight. I held onto my hiding places. I held onto what others told me I should hold on to, even though it didn’t fit me, and I became someone I wasn’t and never could be.

I held onto my shame, my pain, and the stories which defined me. I held onto my past success, and the identities I adopted for myself and others put onto me. I held onto being good, being a rebel, being dumb or smart, being up front, being invisible. I held on with all my might to things I thought were the cure, but which turned out to be the disease, all the time praying to be healed.

I prayed to be saved, forgiven and redeemed, whilst doggedly clinging to my victim stories and the deep, seemingly immovable belief I was worthless, bad and totally useless.

I prayed for God to heal my cancer, while holding onto the life I’d made for myself which led me away from self-care, truth and authenticity. I prayed I would survive, but I did not want to give up living to please others and proving I could be clever, independent and good and not too much trouble.

I prayed God would heal my marriage, but I would not give up my husband, not to the journey he needed to go on to heal and become whole, and not to the alcohol he was killing himself with.

And then, after almost dying from holding on, and almost witnessing the person I loved most in the world self-destruct, also from holding on, I realised that holding on was not facilitating the miracles we needed not just to heal, but to actually survive it all. Holding on was not all it was cracked up to be.

We needed to let go.

I lost the life I built for myself out of holding on. And so did my husband. And we even lost each other.

For a while.

There is a miracle awaiting you in the letting go. Learn it, teach yourself to do it. And practice it often. The world tells us we must own, accumulate, conquer, build, possess and at all costs be right, but this isn’t how miracles are made. Empires, addictions, exiles, vices, wars and debt are made this way. But ownership, wealth and power won’t cure your cancer, restore you to your children, heal your relationships or bring back the years you wasted rehearsing your deepest fears.

For His strength is made perfect in our weakness.

Your miracle is born in the crucible of your surrender. It will be terrible, and it will be painful. But you know in your heart there is no other way.

Trust. Everything is going to be all right.

Let go.

Love, Jo xxx

Everything.

Everything you think you need from God to be whole and enough

Everything you cry out to have

Everything you beg to be fixed, repaired and saved

Everything you think you can’t do

Everything you were proud of that was snatched from you and dashed into a thousand pieces

Everything that bleeds and aches, and which you plead with Him to heal

All your wounds, shame, lack, pain, sin, failure, loss and want

Will be the very things you reach for to heal in others

What fills your “windscreen” now, what seems impossible to ignore, what pains you so much to acknowledge and admit, what you’re learning to forgive yourself for

Will be the view you seek to create perspective for
Will be the shame you seek to soothe
Will be the hurt you long to relieve
Will be the lesson you burn to teach

For all the rest of His loved ones

Who are being hurt now, or who are yet to be hurt, or who are hurting others

And who will be just where you are, right now

Or are already seeking a healer, a teacher, a mother, father or friend.

You’ve believed your joy will come when this is over

When you get everything you’ve been praying and longing for

But your joy will come when you understand how this has made you truly see others pain, and not just your own

And when you realise you can help, and heal and make whole because

You can say “I know, me too”

Because this is love. And this is everything.

Blessings,
JO xxx

You are more than good enough.

I don’t live in regrets, but I do look back at times and wonder how I could think what I was thinking for all those years. How did I come to be so afraid for so long, and what was I afraid of?

It wasn’t until I developed a massive cancer in 2003 that I really thought about whether the way I was living my life was doing me any good. I understand now, I was driven by trying to please others, taking on the roles they had for me, making myself up as the mirror image of who I thought was acceptable and successful and good. Nobody would’ve thought I was racked by fears and insecurities. I seemed confident and capable, and achieved a lot.

But I look back at photos of myself and see a woman desperately blending into the landscape around her. Everything about me designed to paint myself as a certain kind of person – responsible, intelligent, successful, productive, talented…..yes, “special”.

I didn’t feel special. I felt less-than. I felt I had to prove myself. So I created a persona from the outside in and hoped it would work.

Based on fear.

They don’t like me. They won’t help me. They think I’m stupid. They think I’m bad, dirty, flawed, sinful, broken. They don’t see how clever, talented and good I am. They will ignore me. They will reject me. I need to show them I am good, and good enough.

Then, one day, I realized I was sick, and getting sicker. It was clear that my body disagreed with the life I was living, and wanted out. I could keep living the pretending, prove-it-all, self-aggrandising, insecure, over-achieving life if I wanted, assuming everyone thought the worst of me and wouldn’t help me. Assuming I was so helpless and worthless I needed to prove I was worthy. I could keep living like that. But my body had decided it wasn’t coming with me.

I thank my body now for its wisdom, for “putting its foot down”. For not being willing to ride with me any longer on my fear-based marathon of trying to disprove my assumption everyone thought badly of me and I needed to prove them wrong.

Because that’s what I thought.

I am bad.

I need to show I am good.

I appreciate now why I was attracted to Christianity at such a young age. The heavily reinforced concept of being a helpless, rotten, dirty sinner who needs help and can’t do anything for themselves including be “good” exactly matched my internal view of myself.

Except, that’s not who God is. That’s not what Jesus is about. That’s not who I am.

I wonder… are you held in a “system” – a group, culture, family, tribe or way of being – because the beliefs they hold reinforce the negative way you think of and feel about yourself?

Is the picture you have of who you are really the truth? Is it what God truly thinks? And how long are you prepared to believe you’re helpless, dirty, broken, unworthy and wrong…until your body or mind or soul decides it doesn’t want to come too?

I look at all the disconnected, soulless people I know, and I think I see what happened.

Their soul had enough, and it got up and got out of there. They died a kind of death, and now they can’t see or feel it any more.

But you see it, you feel it, don’t you?

Look for the flame inside you. You already suspect you were born for more than this. You have heard a calling in your spirit, and you’ve allowed your fears to quell that voice, in your search to be safe and liked and belong. But it’s costing you. What are you prepared to pay, to stay as you are right now?

I’m grateful I listened to my body and broke out of my old beliefs. But things got much worse before they got better. I lost my business, and my marriage. My husband descended into mental illness and addiction, and my church family largely abandoned me. We imploded financially. I was left wondering why I survived cancer, to die in every other area of my life.

But as it turns out, everything I suspected in my heart about myself – but which had been undermined for years by fear – was true.

I really was strong and brave.

I really was faithful and intuitive.

I really was clever, resourceful and intelligent.

I really was capable of deep, healing love, forgiveness and trust.

I really was a capable, connected and loving mother.

I really was beautiful and worthy of the love of a good man.

What do you know? I was “good” after all.

My life is healed and healing, from the inside, right to the outside. Who you see today is who I really am. I’m not proving or striving any more. I don’t believe I’m a rotten, bad, unworthy sinner – I understand how we live in the age of Gods grace, and are fully restored to our glory in our creator. I am not afraid. I am me.

Be courageous, my friend. Freedom from fear can begin today. One step. Then another. Why not begin? Listen to that still, small voice inside you, and begin to trust it. It’s telling you the truth.

I’m for you – you’re worthy. And you’re good.

Love, Jo xxx

Your Amazing, Beautiful, Heroic Body.

A major health crisis such as cancer can bring a renewed appreciation and respect for our amazing bodies. I’d always kind of hated on my body because it’d never go as thin as I wanted it to, no matter what I did.

It wasn’t until I got skinny because I had cancer I realised being healthy and being skinny were two completely different things.

I’d treated my body abysmally, both physically through poor nutrition and lack of exercise, and though just generally despising it because it wasn’t perfect, or size 10, or like the bodies of women the media said were beautiful.

It was after I recovered from stage 3B Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma, three months of chemo and two of radio I realised my body had put up with everything I’d ever done to it, as well as given birth to four children, plus had various things scooped out of it and healed itself from illnesses, as well as recovered from a terrible disease and the treatment for that disease, and survived. It was changed, it was a little ragged around the edges and it still didn’t look like those “ideal” bodies, but my body was clearly a hero, and I wasn’t giving it the kudos it deserved.

So I changed not just my attitude to nutrition and exercise, but also my attitude towards my body. I’m grateful to it. It’s done a brave, marvellous thing and come out pretty well.

How much differently would we treat our sweet, darling bodies if we always saw them as the true heroes they are?

Tell me – has your view of your body changed, and what happened to facilitate that?

Self-Care Is Not Selfishness

selfcareMany cancer survivors say one of the hardest things about living well after cancer is learning to put themselves, their health and the things they love or enjoy first in their lives.

It’s a tough lesson to learn – and sometimes it’s tougher for those around us to change than it is for us to decide change needs to happen. Also, we may belong to a group who taught us others always come first (I learned it was Jesus first, Others second and Yourself last which led to true J.O.Y. in life, but I’m not an advocate for that any longer), but there are no medals for those who deny themselves pleasure, rest or access to the things which make them happy.

There. Are. No. Medals.

Good self-care is not selfish, and neither is living the life you want, or need, to live to stay well and strong. Do one thing today that’s healthy, and just for you. You’re so worth it.

What do you think? How hard is it for you to put your own well-being or pleasure before that of others?

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