Boss Up with Bevin Your dream life is at the end of your comfort zone

2014-09-16

Post Cancer Treatment Life in a Nutshell

It’s been awhile since I posted substantively and when I get to this point I get into these quagmires, “But there’s no context for me on my blog anymore!” I like this space to be an ongoing narrative of who I am and what I’m doing at the intersections of these identities of queer, fat and femme. So to kick off more posts about what I’m excited about, here’s a newsy update.

IMG_20140816_203125Dara and I had a great “progressive dinner” date where we went to three different restaurants for different courses. This was for the vegan ice cream course at Van Leeuwan in Brooklyn.

Post Cancer Treatment

Dara is doing well post-cancer treatment. She is really loving life, she has a zest that is similar to her love of life pre-treatment, except her zest is more gentle and self-loving now. She has a way of really being present and relaxing into the idea that a day doing nothing is the perfect way to keep from working too much.

IMG_20140822_220118Me and Dara at a rooftop party a couple of weeks ago. I love when you get to tower over a sea of blingie skyscrapers.

We have so much fun together. We had fun during cancer, she often tells me I “made cancer fun.” My opinion throughout was why should cancer treatment not be a series of tumblr post worthy, good photo opportunity adventures? So that’s what it kind of was. But even as we made the best of things, it was still with a bit of a pall covering everything. Without most of that damper we’re having even more fun now. Everything feels a bit more joyful, with the gratitude of not being in cancer treatment.

We’re doing tons of new stuff. We went to a park neither of us had been to at the foot of the George Washington Bridge on the Hudson River to take a tennis lesson. I haven’t played tennis as an adult and I never took to it in high school; I don’t mean to brag but I lettered in badminton. I was all set on racket sports and didn’t need that clunky tennis racket to cloud my badminton focus!

IMG_20140821_204956

But tennis as an adult! It’s pretty fun and quite a workout. I’m sold! Dara and I went to another tennis lesson in a different park and it wasn’t nearly as fun, so now we’re on the hunt for the perfect city tennis situation.

She has her zest back but not quite her endurance… she injured her knee and two other body parts within a week. She has insomnia from the Tamoxifin, a hormone blocker that she has to take forever. Or like 10 years. So that’s another ding for energy.

We are hoping to go apple picking and camping this month! And next month we’ll reprise our trip to Southern California we were supposed to take in June when her father passed away suddenly. It feels healing to schedule out the adventures we want to take and folks we want to visit. I feel really lucky we’re able to do that.

Lucky is a great way to describe how we feel post treatment—we saw the movie the Fault in Our Stars, about a teenage girl with terminal cancer. It really hit home how temporary love can be. And even though the length of love is sometimes short, it can still have important, life changing intensity.

I feel like Dara’s cancer treatment was a life changing intensity time for me… as it was for Dara. We’re excited to see what our relationship is like after cancer treatment. I think we’ll both be different after treatment. (This was also why I declined to move in with her after cancer treatment—I want us to just have fun together for awhile instead of adding another pile of stress to the end of what has been a really difficult year for me.)

Macy’s Recovery

20140821_175210Family selfie.

My beloved dog Macy had surgery for a ruptured disc in July and her recovery is ongoing. Her intense separation anxiety post-hospital has finally waned. Perhaps it was taking her to that first tennis lesson with all that noise and flying balls that convinced her that insisting on being with her people 24/7 wasn’t necessary, but she is finally able to be left at home alone again. For awhile I couldn’t even leave her in my bedroom for two minutes without her wailing. It was very intense.

Macy has to begin pricey physical therapy for her hind leg. She is walking on all of her legs, which is huge progress from the surgery, but she’s limping really hard, her body is shaped kind of like a comma when she walks, curved to the right. She can’t jump onto furniture and she can’t push open the doors in the house anymore like she used to, and she’s bearing 80% of her weight on the front legs which can lead to more problems down the road.

I hope that the physical therapy involves hydro therapy because it is very cute to watch in you tube videos. It’s also very successful at strengthening weakened legs so I’m hopeful for a full recovery.

IMG_20140816_214812The third stop on our progressive dinner date, short ribs poutine from Mile End. Macy in her “accessibility backpack” that enabled us to take her all over the place this summer when she couldn’t be left alone. She even went to an outdoor YoYo Ma concert with Dara in the Berkshires! I picked up the backpack on Amazon for $44 and think it’s a great value.

Macy’s only ten years old and she’s otherwise perfectly healthy. Her veterinary neurologist expects that she’ll live out her days (Shih Tzus live to be about 16). So here’s a pro-tip, if your friend’s dog has had major surgery, don’t say anything like “She’s had a great life!” It’s really different to have a pet diagnosed with a chronic illness or an injury than to get a terminal diagnosis! She has had a great life (she was photographed in Time Out New York and Curve Magazine before I ever was!) but she has a lot more life to live!

I am still visioning for Macy to make it into People Magazine and Southern Living Magazine, two of my favorites. Maybe even Oprah Mag. But mostly, I’m still visioning lots of fun adventures for my charming and magical Shih Tzu!

Plus Size Party Girl

Instead of producing monthly parties, I’m now focusing my energy on less frequent bigger productions. Though, in lieu of all of that, I took a hiatus while Dara was going through treatment.

I just finished producing Dollypalooza, an Epic Fan Tribute to Dolly Parton on 9/5 (get it?). It was the biggest production I’ve ever taken on single-handedly. (Way to come back to party planning with a bang!)

bevingroupsingdollypaloozabyJenaCumboDrae Campbell, Miss Mary Wanna, Me, World Famous *BOB* and MILK from RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 6. Photo by Jena Cumbo for the Village Voice.

It reminded me of the intensity of Picnic Day when I was in college. That was the UC Davis open house—all departments, student organizations, sports teams, etc… put on some kind of exhibit or event. There was a parade, six stages of entertainment, a student activities fair. Legendary events during my tenure on the Picnic Day Board were the dachshund races in the basketball stadium, cockroach races in the Entemology Department and the fistulated cow demonstration by the College of Agriculture. The fistulated cow was a cow who had a hole cut into her stomach so people could put on a glove and reach their hand into the cow’s stomach to retrieve partially digested grass–cows digest the same food several times. It was rightfully shut down by animal rights protestors in the late 90s.

Obviously, there’s a lot that goes into coordinating that kind of event, involving a board of 20 and 500+ volunteers. There was a frenzy that overtook me and the entire board of organizers of Picnic Day the week before the event. I remember super late nights in the Picnic Day office laminating photographs into security passes. Dollypalooza was the closest I’ve ever come as an adult to that feeling. I love planning and executing major events, especially unusual ones that bring people joy. The lights in folks’ eyes when I fliered for Dollypalooza let me know I was on to something.

IMG_20140906_153536Me and my hero World Famous *BOB*–as her performance she told an amazing story about meeting Dolly Parton and had everyone from the show on stage at the end to group sing Hard Candy Christmas.

We made almost $700 for the Imagination Library in the raffle, Dolly’s literacy charity that sends books every month to kids in need, and it was an unforgettable show. I am brimming with ideas for next year. But I definitely know I can’t take on anything like that single-handedly again. I’m super grateful for Dara’s help—she did some amazing PR work that got a videographer from ABC News to come by, and some interest from People Magazine. My friend Jess, who brought me to Dollywood for the first time, took over the raffle and made that part so easy for me. We also figured out how to do a contest to send the performer who brought the most people in the door to Dollywood and got a raffle donation from Dollywood Cabins! At the end of the show, I felt like Oprah telling people “You go to Dollywood! And YOU go to Dollywood!”

IMG_6337The gorgeous view from the Dollywood Cabin I stayed in last May.

Mental and Emotional Health

Seeing a counselor with the Lesbian Cancer Initiative was the best choice I made as a caregiver during treatment. She pointed out to me going into post-treatment that I would have an adjustment period, and so would Dara. It is a significant energy shift.

IMG_20140829_162150This isn’t for the LCI but it’s from Callen Lorde, my physical health provider.

I’m in the weird process of looking for a therapist for the first time in my adult life. I’ve got about 50 possibilities from friends and am whittling it down. I am intentionally being really public about this process because my mental and emotional health are really high priorities for me and I want to encourage folks to feel empowered about seeking help. While things feel like the “calm after the storm” right now, I also think that the amount of life traumas I’ve faced in the past 12 months is unusual and I’d like to sort through them with a professional. Last night I had a dream about a friend of mine who passed last November and I’m about to go to Atlanta for the first time since her funeral. Crisis mode means you just scoot from one trauma to the next without digesting time, and I want to make sure I can go back in and digest things. Kind of like a metaphorical fistulated cow demonstration.

So that’s me in a nutshell (I really wish I had a picture of me in a nutshell).

Oh, and the first stop on our progressive dinner date (all in outdoor venues that allowed us to have our special needs Shih Tzu) was crispy kale salad in the backyard of Battersby… It was a great date!

2014-02-13

My Second Session of Relationship Coaching with the Lesbian Love Guru

This is the second entry in a series about my experience Relationship Coaching with Christine Dunn-Cunningham, the Lesbian Love Guru. Follow the lesbian love guru tag on the blog to catch all the entries!

My not-yet girlfriend and I had our second session of relationship coaching the week after we began. Christine suggested we continue our coaching separately. It’s counterintuitive to how I pictured this coaching would occur; I imagined we’d both be together on skype with Christine, but instead we each take thirty minute separate calls with her. Since we tend to be together when it happens, the other hangs out in the living room with music playing.

Being out of earshot enables real talk with Christine about what’s happening. Often if you explained a problem in your relationship to a third party, you would use really different language than if you were together. I find it a relief not to think about Dara’s feelings when I’m explaining something. I feel like I can get right to the solution without spending extra time sugar coating an issue.
20140129_135431
Prior to the second session we had each filled out intake forms for coaching and sent them to her as well as one another. The intake form reinforces Christine’s confidentiality agreement.

The issue of confidentiality is paramount to this [coaching] relationship. My understanding is that nothing in this [coaching] relationship is to be discussed outside of our conversations. There are times when references to others may be helpful, however I would not ever mention a name or person that would lead someone to infer the discussion was about you as a client.

The rest of the intake forms were about our future visioning, setting out goals and what we think is limiting us. I liked that we shared them with each other because sometimes it’s good to see what the your sweetie is expressing in terms of goals for an ideal love life and how they see their future. What if your big goals are really incompatible? That’s important to talk about!

In my one-on-one session with Christine we focused on what was going on for me at that moment. This had a little less to do with my relationship and more to do with how I was feeling with my own time management. One of my goals this year is to get more structured about how I use my time. I am also really worried about caregiver fatigue because Dara has breast cancer and I’m her primary caregiver. Time management is important because I need to make sure I prioritize my self-care, which is easy to let fall by the wayside when you’re only dealing with things that are “bleeding.”

20140213_124617At her first chemo appointment, as the awesome nurse Erin at Sloan-Kettering was “pushing” the first dose of chemo poison, Dara sang Alice Cooper’s “Poison.” I would have gone with Bell Biv Devoe’s “Poison” which might do more to explain our communication issues than anything else.

Even though caregiving isn’t all that taxing (yet), it is a lot of time. After her surgeries was a lot of letting her rest and heal while I took on the lion’s share of the housework. Making sure we’re eating whole, healthy foods is another thing I’ve taken on 90% of the time. Her cancer diet is pretty restrictive, which means most of what I make is from scratch. Add to that we both work to only eat humane meats, which requires special trips to the butcher. I feel extremely grateful for my work from home lifestyle because when I plan well I can be cooking while working. But my time management can really use some improvement so that the planning part of that intention actually happens!

20140212_203059I highly suggest this infinitely customizable pizza casserole recipe, passed along to me by my dear friend JLV.

Christine suggested a Tony Robbins tool called “Rapid Planning,” which helps to ensure what you’re doing is in line with your priorities. I’ve begun implementing it in stages and so far it is helping me be mindful of my priorities. Just because something is urgent (bleeding) doesn’t mean it’s important and I need to remember that.

She also taught me a grounding exercise. When I got on the phone I told her I was feeling really spazzy and she did a meditation with me that was really quick and powerful. She’s offering an MP3 of the grounding meditation on her website for free if you click the link. I love a guided meditation and am totally keeping this on my phone for when I need a 30 second reminder that I’m right here, right now, one with the universe.

Dara and I usually talk about our sessions afterward–highlights and tools. She got a tool to work on for homework about how she responds to my emotions. I have really Big Feelings sometimes* and my face is a billboard–I usually don’t want to express myself right away but I can’t help it! Often what I feel immediately isn’t what I feel ultimately once I’ve had time to digest my reaction. My emotional reactions have historically been very difficult for Dara to handle, as she hates disappointing me or hurting my feelings. This has been difficult for many of my past loves.

20140213_111246I thought it was important to wear something cute to chemo.

Christine suggested a tool she calls “Holding the Bucket” where Dara doesn’t actually have to do anything but witness and recognize my feelings. She doesn’t need to take them on or feel bad for hurting me. I actually love this tool because it gives me a chance to have my Big Feelings and later apply the tools I have to respond instead of react and engage in my process without worrying about her reaction.

“Holding the Bucket” helped Dara prepare for a difficult conversation she wanted to have with me that we did some more work on getting geared up for during our third session. Dara said it helped her see that she didn’t have to take my feelings so personally, since they were about me and my process not necessarily about Dara.

Dara also told me she had been triggered by something that happened between us the night before this session. It was a relief to be able to talk to someone who was such an impartial party and a great listener.

I am really enjoying my experience working on my relationship with Christine’s help. I was pleasantly surprised at how skilled she is at working with folks on an individual level. She works with singles, couples and poly permutations. Experiencing how she is able to guide me one-on-one, though it’s centered on things coming up in my relationship, definitely enforces how awesome she is with singles looking to break down their limitations on finding and experiencing the love relationships they want.

20140213_111246

Christine offers a limited number of free introductory thirty minute calls every month. Twelve of you signed up last month. If you want to try her out, click here and sign-up! You’ll get to know Christine and find out if she’s a good fit for you, as a single, couple or poly permutation! (Even though she’s a “Lesbian” Love Guru she actually works with all gendered folks on all parts of the gender and sexuality continuums.)

*In my natal chart I have a Scorpio Moon.

2014-01-23

I Got Back Together with My Ex and Started Relationship Coaching with the Lesbian Love Guru

This is the first entry in a series about my experience with Relationship Coaching with Christine Dunn-Cunningham, the Lesbian Love Guru. Follow the lesbian love guru tag on the blog to catch all the entries!

In November of 2012 I started dating someone who I thought was just going to be a friend with benefits. That turned into a super deep connection I wasn’t expecting. Neither of us did. I went with it and we fell into a “thing” we were calling “keeping company,” a delightfully old fashioned term she picked up from her uncle’s description of his courtship of her aunt thirty plus years ago. We had a lot of fun together but ran into a lot of static around a few areas, including communication. It took me until months after it ended to realize that how disparate our semantics often were. She would be saying one thing, using the same words I would use, but mean something completely differently than I was understanding. Like we’re both calling something an apple but really I mean a peach.

8868390850_f762dea0b1_oLast May. Photo by Grace Chu.

Things ended at the end of March when the fact that she didn’t want to be in a relationship, and hadn’t wanted to be in one in the first place, meant we needed to break-up. In our first iteration, things were just always so hard for us together emotionally, and when you don’t want to be in a relationship you don’t want to do the work to be together. She was also preparing for an epic, possibly forever, road trip. Selling all of her possessions, getting some part time consulting she could do remotely, and staying with loved ones a few weeks at a time. A life in an RV I’ve been visioning for a long time, a tiny version of which I took in 2011, but she was going solo.

I had thought we could eventually transition to long distance in some way, and we fell back into an “ambiguous” relationship status within three weeks of breaking up. Eventually that fell apart, too, she left town and I thought I’d never talk to her again. By the end of that ambiguous period I had my own reasons for not wanting to be in a relationship with her. Our mutual frustration lapsed into a long period of radio silence.

I recognized that the grief I was feeling about the break-up was incommensurate with the loss. I started doing some spiritual work through the help of Katie at Empowering Astrology. She helped me cut emotional cords and end what she described as a karmic cycle Dara and I were in.

Cut to October, when we had a pretty organic reconnection. She was back in NYC for a couple of weeks and we met-up and made peace. I thought maybe we could try “benefits without friends,” as a way to just focus on what always worked with us. (Sex.) I could slot her into my life the way a few treasured friends have; when we’re in the same town we sleep together if our relationship statuses allow for it and the rest of the time we’re just casual friends that text every now and again. This was a mildly complicated idea for me because I knew I was still in love with her I just couldn’t be in a relationship with her.

8867777135_1606770681_bPhoto by Grace Chu.

Life threw us a giant curve ball because when Dara was in town she happened to visit her GYN for her annual exam and they found a lump. She was diagnosed with breast cancer after she had gone back to LA (where she was at the time) from her NYC visit. (She’s been video blogging her experience with cancer.)

What does it mean when your ex gets diagnosed with breast cancer? I didn’t know. I knew I was still in love with her, that had never changed. I knew I didn’t want her to be my girlfriend because I’m really dedicated to loving unconditionally and to want her to be my girlfriend would mean I would require her to change… and I didn’t want to do that. So I resolved myself to just be there for her as much as I could be. “Open heart and good boundaries,” became my mantra. A witchy friend even prescribed a tincture of Ocitillo which I serendipitously found in a South Brooklyn apothecary.

We hung out when she got back to NYC to start treatment. It was really great and really easy. We hung out again. And then another time. The quality of conversation, the ease at which we were able to tread topics that would have been hard or hurty before was surprising. I was able to do the things that I liked to do to support her–cooking nourishing meals, being sweet to her, giving massages. As well as encouraging her to relax and do self-care, two things she is now learning how to do post-diagnosis that she’s never prioritized before. The ways in which I thought I needed her to change kind of melted away, and somehow I was different, too.

I was a little confused. I mean, when does your ex become your lover again? She has breast cancer and sex is life affirming. And all the in between moments were so magical. I kept telling my friends I felt like Dara and I were in a different dimension.

There was other stuff, too. I kind of thought I could be there for her but there’s no way she could show up for me, having cancer. And then my December 2013 took hold, three friends passed away in the span of two weeks and the week before Christmas I unexpectedly and quickly had to put my beloved cat ALF to sleep just six months after his brother Bear passed. And through it all Dara was a champion–supporting me, handling logistics, making sure I could bring Macy with me to the vet when I had to rush ALF to the kitty ER for his final moment. After my fiance and I broke up I swore I wouldn’t get serious about someone again until we had gone through a crisis together. Being with Dara in this iteration feels like we’re running a gauntlet–except we’re laughing, holding hands and getting through it in this hopeful and happy way I never knew was possible. Like if we can be this good in a crisis how nice will life be when we can just work and travel together?

1497957_10201768063297968_397615989_oAfter her first lumpectomy surgery (she had to go back in for a reexcision lumpectomy two and a half weeks later) I was in the recovery room with her and we made a game about how silly of a photo we could create with found hospital objects. Together we conceived her Rudolph look.

With the heady mix of old intimacy and new relationship energy, I suggested we might want to get relationship coaching. In fact, neither of us is willing to call each other “girlfriend” yet because we want to eliminate fears of slipping back into old communication patterns and the stuff that was so hard before. It hasn’t happened yet, we’ve done a great job of communicating through rough spots; often we just stop a conversation that feels like it could get sticky and awkwardly back out of it. But it could happen, and a professional might help us set the kind of foundation we never had before.

Enter Christine Dunn-Cunningham, the Lesbian Love Guru, who I met over the summer. I was thinking of working with her as a single person who wanted to open myself up to finding the future Mx. Branlandingham. When Dara and I were starting to become a “thing” again, I read some of the Lesbian Love Guru blog entries (full of incredible tips) and this one about High Quality Quality Time totally helped me. In the entry she suggested having a conversation where you figure out which activities create the deepest sense of connection between both of you. So I had that conversation with Dara one day cuddled up in bed. Thinking about what I needed in a connected moment helped me ask for that the next time we were both having a rough day. (The connected activity for me was praying together, by the way.)

12090937296_0e745e3a5f_o
Hanging out in this week’s blizzard.

The success I had with applying the tips from the blog entry definitely told me that Christine would make a great coach for us. And there’s a huge difference from following advice in a blog and working directly with someone to create a program for you. That’s why I love coaching!

We corresponded via email and she offered me one of her free introductory sessions.

I talked to her on the phone during the session and she explained that her coaching can take different forms. Sometimes she works just with one of the people in a relationship, who then takes the work back and applies it to the relationship. Sometimes she works with both partners separately and sometimes she works with them together. I had originally envisioned the two of us on Skype with Christine building capacity for our communication, but she said she would want to start with a session where the two of us spoke to her on our own to get our perspectives.

1484050_10152125663973749_1871562914_o

Christine also has experience coaching folks in polyamory, which was great for us because some of our stickiness is around establishing a foundation where we can create some kind of non-monogamy or polyamory that works for both of us. I’ve never successfully done non-monogamy in a primary relationship and Dara has been practicing polyamory for twenty years.

Even though she’s called the “lesbian” love guru, Christine actually coaches folks of all genders, on the trans spectrum and some straight couples. Because at the end of the day, relationships are relationships.

During the first session where we each spoke separately, Christine asked us for each of our versions of our first iteration, what areas of growth we wanted in our relationship and what we were hoping for out of coaching. Dara remarked afterward that she felt “heard” about our first iteration for the first time ever. Christine is really easy to talk to and is great at asking the right questions to open you up.

I’m excited to work with Christine moving forward. I’ll be blogging about the experience so stay tuned!

Christine is offering a limited number of free introductory sessions to readers of my blog (with folks later in the game on a waiting list). The first session is great–it’s a great way to see if she’s a match for what you want. Again, Christine works with established couples and single folks and people of all genders and sexualities (even though the landing page is geared towards women specifically). She’s really great and in that introductory call you’ll walk away with tangible stuff you can apply to your life to help you open yourself up to a great relationship.

Also, this week Christine and I were both featured in the Happy Healthy Lesbian Telesummit. Hopefully you got to catch our interviews when they were released, but if you missed them you can download them as a package (along with a slew of other great interviews about money, nutrition, love, travel, healing and body love). Click here to view more details

Powered by WordPress