Ocean Currents

Ocean Currents

 

 

 

 

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This week was challenging. I say that most weeks, though. There’s so much change. I don’t know who I am within these new roles, and everything keeps shifting.

I’m not actually an ocean navigator, despite the wave in my logo. I’m terrified of water (that’s one major reason we picked the wave, and that will be another post). I navigate a metaphorical ocean, but still, I think that the best metaphors are grounded in some reality. And so I sometimes read about the ocean, and how currents work.

There are all kinds of different currents in the ocean.

There are surface currents, driven primarily by wind. Rip currents that happen when a large volume of water funnels through a narrow gap in a sandbar, or between rocks. There are upwellings and downwellings, which happen when the wind blows across the surface of the water and either deep water rises up to fill the displacement, or surface water accumulates if the wind blows it against a shoreline.

And there are deep water currents, too. Like the “global conveyor belt,” a deep-water current that circles the globe and is the foundation of the food chain. It moves more slowly than surface currents, and it takes a thousand years for a section of the belt to complete its journey around the globe.

And there are tidal currents, which switch directions and respond to the gravitational pull of the moon. Flood currents and ebb currents, predictable and cyclical and strong.

Metaphorically, and in reality, these various currents have a significant impact on the whole – whether it is the ocean influencing life across our planet, or the inner ocean influencing the self. The tides, or the deep water ribbons that move slowly and forcefully, or the surface with its rip currents, and its upwellings and downwellings (and the rich metaphor of algae bloom and anaerobic suffocation in the downwelling – the choking off of life when there is no connection to the deeper water – and in the further stretch towards recognizing how downwelling, even though it creates areas of reduced productivity, is necessary for the ecosystem because it allows for deep water ventilation – there are times when lower productivity is necessary for survival).

The sun setting on the ocean.

All photos in the post, unless noted, are copyright-free photographs via Pixabay

So these metaphors, and these currents, and this difficult, difficult week.

Deep water currents change slowly. Climate scientists are worried about the global conveyor belt because increased rainfall and polar melt will change the salinity of the ocean, and therefore change its density. If the belt changes, everything changes.

And there are changes in my own deep water currents. They change everything.

My work life is changing. I have been aware, for almost a year now, that my steady day job is not guaranteed. The economy, changes in management, the nature of my role. It’s been almost a year of nearly constant low-level stress, with monthly peaking moments of intense anxiety (usually when my student loans come out of my account – lolsob). My day job – boring, predictable, reliable, and one that I am exceptionally good at – has been a constant for me for almost a decade. I’ve been with the same company, in various roles, for ten years. And I’ve been in this particular role for almost six. Seven? I don’t know. A long time. It’s been an anchor. Sometimes weighing me down, but also keeping me stable.

My work life is changing, too, because of this. The coaching and the self-care work, the workshops and resource creation and writing and trying to shape this into a career. The desire to move from work that is reliable and that I am reliably good at but uninspired by, to work that I am passionate about and personally invested in. I will be good at this. I will make a difference. But while I move towards that, there is chaos and uncertainty.

Uncertainty especially in my financial life. I have not been truly financially stable since I was married – my husband made a solid lower middle-class wage, more than enough to allow me to run my dog training business and weather the ups and downs of entrepreneurship, and to buy clothes and food and craft supplies without worrying about it, and to have hobbies and go out for dinners and have adventures. I didn’t worry about money, when I was married. And I have worried about money constantly, since divorcing. It is, like the work stress, a constant low-level hum of anxiety with regular surges to the surface. These tidal currents – the huge gravitational force of capitalism pulling deep fear to the surface.

And that financial anxiety is also tied to my relationships. This deep current originates in my family of origin, in watching the dynamic between my parents when it came to money, and agency, and independence, and reliance. Who earns it, who spends it, who makes choices about it. And then, my divorce and the year after I left, with months of rent on the credit card and groceries paid for by my best friend – a level of vulnerability and insecurity that I had never previously experienced, and one that still trickles icy through my memory, makes me wary of taking risks. And then time spent supporting a partner, who now supports me, and another partner who also supports me. And the vague sense of unease I have every time I require help, ask for a loan to bridge a financial gap, make a choice that may impact someone else.

And now the “someone else” is so complicated by the addition of two little elses. The new relationship of stepparenting. And knowing that my choices now are not just going to impact my financial stability, but also the financial stability of my relationship with my nesting partner, and rippling out from there to affect my stepkids, both neurodivergent, both requiring additional supports. And in addition to the worry about being able to provide materially there is also the worry about being able to provide emotionally and mentally. To heal the old wounds that I still carry so that I don’t pass them on, to adjust to this new role in a way that doesn’t place emotional weight on the kids as I adapt. The shift, such a huge shift, from knowing in a deep and fundamental way that I would never be a parent, to knowing that now I am a parent. And also, the drive to learn enough about the unique needs of these two specific kids, individuals, amazing little humans, to be able to help them, and to help my partner.

And that’s the key, that’s the deep water current that is changing right now – my very sense of self, in multiple areas.

And so then researching. Reading Understanding Stepfamilies: A Practical Guide for Professionals Working with Blended Families (in this, I am both the professional and the family – approaching my life, as I always have, from an academic perspective), reading Family Therapy and the Autism Spectrum: Autism Conversations in Narrative Practice, reading The Whole-Brain Child and The Real Experts: Readings for Parents of Autistic Children. Learning a whole new language, a new area of knowledge. And finding gaps in it – both when it comes to stepparenting and when it comes to parenting neurodivergent kids. Gaps filled frustratingly with the assumption of heterosexuality, monogamy, and cisgender identity, gaps filled with transantagonism, ableism, normativity and social pressure in so many bitter flavours it overwhelms my palate and leaves me gulping for fresh water in the form of writing, reading, trying to find connection and community and incorporate this work into my coaching because if I am falling into this gap, other people must be, too.

And also reading about coaching, about relationships, about narrative therapy – Opening Up by Writing It Down and Retelling the Stories of Our Lives and Levels 1 and 2 of the Gottman Institute ‘Gottman Method Couples Therapy’ and half a dozen other books and courses. And underneath all this research, which I love, is the slow tug of grief at leaving academia, because I decided not to pursue an MA in counselling psychology and instead started on this endeavor and it’s the right choice, and I will make a difference, and I will continue to be an academic and a researcher and a writer (writing a book! And learning how to do that). Independent scholarship is a real thing, and I will do it, but still, the changes.

Some of the books that I’m currently reading.

Photograph by Tiffany Sostar

And this change, this shift away from academics, is huge. Because deciding to finally go to university was a big deal. I had always wanted to. And I had been told, shortly after I graduated high school, that I didn’t have what it takes. I believed that story. That story became part of my core set of beliefs about myself. I was smart, I was a good writer, but I was not persistent. I did not have the “sticktoitiveness” to get through university. So I read academic theory on my own time (this essay – Reading Wonder Woman’s Body: Mythologies of Gender and Nation, by Mitra Emad, was my first academic love), and wrote nerdy papers about feminism and gender on my own time, and didn’t believe I could hack it in post secondary. Until I started dating someone who said “why aren’t you in school? You’re sending me links to feminist theory because you’re reading it for fun – apply to the University of Calgary.” And I trusted him. So I did it. And I graduated with a First Class BA Honours in English and a First Class BA Honours in Women’s Studies. I did it. I challenged that core story and I changed it. And I miss academics. As broken and abusive as that ivory tower is, still, I miss it.

And I miss myself within it.

And that’s the key, that’s the deep water current that is changing right now – my very sense of self, in multiple areas.

Who I am.

Who I am as a labourer – emotional, domestic, social, and other. Where and for whom and how I work, and how I get paid, and where my money goes and where it comes from, and how I spend my time, and my intellectual energy, and what I write and when I write it and who I write it for, and who judges it, and who judges me, and how I define my value and my worth, and where I find myself, and what I call myself, and who sees me and how they see me, and how I see me.

These are the ocean currents of my life, and myself. The deep water currents and the surface currents and the tidal currents. The core self, and the self in relationship, and the self in society.

So, these weeks are challenging. As I move through my life I am aware of the currents shifting, and I don’t know what the ecosystem looks like once they’ve shifted. Who I will be, how I will be, what I will be.

But change is constant, and it is not the enemy.

The Earth has experienced changes before, and I have experienced massive change, too.

I have faith in my ability to survive the chaotic betweentime, and I have faith that I will eventually settle into new patterns and find new wholeness and new peace.

I’m happy with how things are changing. I love coaching. I love this work. I love my kids. I love my partner, and my entire polyamorous pod. I love researching, and I love finding subversive ways to inhabit liminal spaces – bisexual, genderqueer, invisibly disabled, neurodivergent – I was made for the liminal spaces and the betweenings. Independent scholarship feels like an exciting new liminal space to step into. Just like stepparenting feels like an exciting liminal space to explore, with rich potential for writing and researching and offering help and hope to others. Just like parenting while queer, and parenting while non-binary, also feels liminal and rich with betweenness and both/andness.

This is an upwelling – the wind has blown hard across my surface and there is space now for deep water to rise, and bring new life to the surface.

It’s scary, but the ocean always is, for me.

I love it anyway.

Brick by brick

Brick by brick

Brick by brick

Some days are tough.

I know my stories, most of them. I know the story about Tiffany-the-entrepreneur. I know the story about Tiffany-the-helper. I am learning the story about Tiffany-the-stepparent.

But knowing the stories doesn’t always mean it’s easy to hold onto them. And even when you can hold onto them, there are times when you just need a break. When building a thing – this website, this business, this life – is heavy and each brick sits uneasily on the last because I just haven’t quite figured out how they fit together yet.

In those moments, I have a few reliable tools at my disposal.

I can go for a walk, if the weather is good and the kids will tolerate it.

I can make some tea, though honestly this doesn’t help like it used to – I don’t have the tea nook that I did in the house I was in before, and it’s always a bit messy, and my desk serves multiple functions and the table is always full of stuff, so the ritual of tea is something I need to reinvent for myself within this environment. I’m good at reinvention, but reinvention takes time, and energy. It draws on the well, it doesn’t fill it.

I can write, if it’s quiet enough.

And I can build Lego.

More and more, Lego has become both a metaphor for the way I’m currently approaching narrative, and one of my most effective self-care strategies. The little Lego photo shoots I’ve done for this website, and the act of building Lego, have given me new tools and new language.

I build Lego differently than my partner does. I like to divide all my pieces up by type and colour, and then build. He dumps them out in a pile and sorts as he goes. That, too, is a rich metaphor – the different paths that arrive at the same destination. The value in that variation.

The last few months have been challenging. Launching a business is quite a significant task, learning to be a stepparent is quite a significant task. I work two, sometimes three, part-time “day jobs” and am trying to turn this into a full-time, sustainable career.

My youngest stepkid was diagnosed with autism in December, and that has been an emotional and challenging process – figuring out whether to use the same therapy team for her as we use for my older stepkid, trying to get a handle on the differences in autism in young girls (and feeling so much pain and grief for her, for the way autism stigma hits girls so hard – girls who are supposed to swim in that toxic soup of sociable femininity).

But still, I build.

Brick by brick, I build.

Lay all the pieces out, look at the plan, take it one action at a time.

Right now, I’m trying to get this website launched.

Brick by brick, page by page.

We’re getting there.

Plot twist!

Plot twist!

01

January, 2017

The other morning I was sitting on the floor in the living room, assembling Lego. Some days I build new sets for myself or for the kids, and some days I reassemble sets that have taken too many toddler-assisted falls. It was a good morning – the kids with their mom, and I had a London Fog and affection and I have this beautiful life I’m building – but I was overwhelmed with wave after wave of heavy emotions.

Because this story is not the story I thought I would be telling now, at 35.

And this is not the first time the story has changed.

And every time the story changes, there is grief, and loss, and guilt.

Lego octopus in a sunken ship.

Photograph by Tiffany Sostar

Once upon a time, I was straight. I was monogamous. I was a woman. I was married. I was going to grow old having chili bake-offs with my husband, inviting family over to taste-test, both of us winning. Every year we would go to the boutique gift shop for beautiful Christmas ornaments, to be given in wooden boxes we had designed and built and stained together. We would go to Croatia to meet his family someday. We would go to Norway to meet mine. We had three dogs. We had a new house. But I’m not straight. And I’m not a woman. And I’m no longer married.

Once upon a time, I was a dog trainer. I specialized in working with fearful and aggressive dogs. I was really good at it. I was APDT and CAPPDT certified, I took courses at the San Francisco Academy for Dog Trainers. I ran my own business. I was going to be an expert in the field. I would speak at APDT, I would host conferences, I would be sought out for interviews, I would publish books. But the economy tanked, and I went to university, and I love dogs but I no longer train them.

There are other once upon a times. Stories that felt like my forever story, fundamental to my being, that I am no longer in. The story where my soul mate and I grow old living together, he a lawyer and me a gender studies professor. The story where my anchor partner and I grow old living together, them at their video game console and me organizing events for the bisexual and trans communities, doing activism, being an activist. The story where I’m a famous author at 25. The story where I never have kids. The story where I work in my dad’s bookstore until he retires and then I become the manager. The story where I’m straight. The story where I’m cisgender. The story where I’m able-bodied. The story where depression is overcome, forever, and I am triumphant over my mind. The story where I’m inherently and eternally broken (that one was so hard to let go of).

“I am not the only one who has lived in many books.”

I am not the only one who has felt my identity sink solidly and safely into a narrative, only to have someone in the distance shout, or whisper, “plot twist!” and to feel the ink of my identity fading on the page, new words forming, words I do not know, or know how to inhabit.

These plot twist moments can be traumatic. They are moments of “identity threat” – times when our sense of self, and who we are, and how we are in the world and in relationships and in each other’s eyes, when it all shifts.

When we come out. When we divorce. When we lose a job, or a friend, or a partner, or a parent. When we gain a job, or a partner, or another partner, or a new name or a new body or a new baby. When we transition to polyamory. When we discover our kinks. When we tell our lover. When our lover tells us. When we hear that voice, stage left, “plot twist!”

Or, sometimes, when we feel the slow twist of a knife long buried. Microaggressions. Erasures. Moments of invisibility and coercive passing. When we are read by those around us as something we are not, and we see reflections of ourselves in others’ eyes that do not feel right. When stereotypes or biases against us start to eat away at our own sense of self and wholeness.

Illness. Wellness. Brokenness. Wholeness. Togetherness. Aloneness.

When we move from one state of being into another. When we find ourselves lost, and find ourselves, and lose ourselves.

I like tentacles.

Photograph by Tiffany Sostar

Lego can be fixed. I can go back to the book, find all the missing pieces (or most of them, anyway), reassemble it and it will look almost like it did when I first built it.

Life is not like that. I cannot find the booklet and all the missing pieces to reassemble those old stories, those old lives.

But my life is like Lego in another way – endlessly adaptable. A smashed house can become a truck can become a dragon can become another house. There is hope, and new wholeness, and new stories, and there is healing possible. I have learned to sit with the grief, and the loss, and the sadness, and the hope, and the joy, and the excitement. I have learned to let the plot twist, to trust myself to be present in whatever story comes next. To know myself, and love myself (in action if not in emotion, and in intention if not in action, and always reaching towards a more wholehearted love), and care for myself. I have learned how to breathe in to the moments of change, and trust that even when my identity feels threatened, feeling or fearing a thing doesn’t make it real. Whatever comes, comes. I can find a way to exist within it.

Moments of identity threat can be incredibly challenging. We often feel guilty when the narrative changes, because we know it isn’t just us that’s impacted. And we want the people around us to be happy, we want them to like us, we want them to know us. It’s hard to find a solid sense of self in the plot twist moments.

Lego can be fixed. I can go back to the book, find all the missing pieces (or most of them, anyway), reassemble it and it will look almost like it did when I first built it.

Life is not like that. I cannot find the booklet and all the missing pieces to reassemble those old stories, those old lives.

But my life is like Lego in another way – endlessly adaptable. A smashed house can become a truck can become a dragon can become another house. There is hope, and new wholeness, and new stories, and there is healing possible. I have learned to sit with the grief, and the loss, and the sadness, and the hope, and the joy, and the excitement. I have learned to let the plot twist, to trust myself to be present in whatever story comes next. To know myself, and love myself (in action if not in emotion, and in intention if not in action, and always reaching towards a more wholehearted love), and care for myself. I have learned how to breathe in to the moments of change, and trust that even when my identity feels threatened, feeling or fearing a thing doesn’t make it real. Whatever comes, comes. I can find a way to exist within it.

Moments of identity threat can be incredibly challenging. We often feel guilty when the narrative changes, because we know it isn’t just us that’s impacted. And we want the people around us to be happy, we want them to like us, we want them to know us. It’s hard to find a solid sense of self in the plot twist moments.

“There is hope, and new wholeness, and new stories, and there is healing possible.”

That’s what I’m here for.

If you feel like you are losing yourself, or have lost yourself, and the narrative is getting away from you and everything feels scary and overwhelming and you don’t know what your story is anymore, I can help.

Self-care, self-discovery, self-expression.

I can help you find the story that lets you move forward.

You can find my daily self-care tips on Facebook.

You can email me.

If you’re excited about this work and want to support me, you can find me on Patreon. In addition to the coaching, I am committed to creating accessible self-care resources because financial insecurity is too often a barrier to help.

Or you can watch this page, because as I develop resources, they’ll all be collected here.

I’m excited about this journey! We’ll build the path forward, brick by brick.