Tag Archives: autism

Attitude and Gratitude


One thing I hear from some folks, is that all these New Age junkies and gurus are forcing people to be grateful about shit, and it is phony as hell.

These are usually people who have seen hell first hand.  Who feel it everyday–through racism, through ablism, economic oppression, and chauvinism.  The folks I hear saying such things have a right to their anger and hurt and wounds.  They come by them quite honestly.  They experience hatred and ostracism every day, then they face the betrayal echoed inside themselves of “not being good enough.”

They also have a point.

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People who haven’t walked in this particular hell, have no business telling someone who lives at that address how to ‘clean up their lives,’ or what they need to do to be happy.  The last thing anyone needs to be told is how what they are doing is somehow making themselves worse.  And a lot of the New Age philosophy or strategies sound like that to folks who are in the midst of their suffering.

So let me not stutter.  Let me speak clearly.

You are never responsible for the choices of others.  You are always responsible for your own choices.  And no matter how ugly your situation has been, no matter how badly you have been treated, there are places inside you where only your choices matter.  And it turns out, that in these places, you can become prisoner to your own abuse and attitudes or you can liberate the captive you have become.  Your choice.

I don’t say this as a privileged person who has never been there.  I say this as a person who has lost everything in an attempt to heal and get better.  I am autistic, female, and of mixed-race Indigenous descent.  I have always been a minority of one.  I was raised in a family where men were given tremendous amounts of power, where alcoholism and incest were constantly in the shadows.  Abuse and bullying and control were woven into my entire experience.

These things were just normal, the way things are.  So normal, I found another abused child and we set up house together with all of these same themes, unhealed, running through them.  I had friends and colleagues who bullied and controlled–and this was also normal.  It was how you showed you cared.  Gaslighting was my daily experience from loved ones, so much so I couldn’t see it, but always felt worse and worse…and worse.

My biggest fear?  Being alone.

My escape path?  Being alone.

That’s funny now, because I embrace and love that part, where before it was my worst nightmare.  Walking through the flames is a chance to grow.  It really can be all right.

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So, I’m not telling you all this to make you feel sorry for me.  Sometimes to get better you have to get sick enough to realize there might be a better way of doing things.  Some of you reading this right now are skeptical as hell.  You don’t want to listen to me, and you are looking for reasons to call me an a-hole or discredit me so you can walk away scoffing.  I see you, Sister.  I see you, Brother.  Don’t go just yet.  I am you, so hear me out just a moment longer.

When I hit my worst moment, I nearly took my life.  Years of abuse had taught me to abuse myself.  And I was good at it.  Years of gaslighting and denial had taught me to not trust myself or my insights or my experience.  But something happened, on the edge of the tub that day.  Something inside me said none of them was worth my life, that things could be different.  That I could be different.  That I could be happy.

Happy seemed a stretch, but I would settle for different.

I had one wise friend around this time tell me, “you’ve been rolling in your own shit so long, I think you kind of like the smell.”  Ooooo, this made me angry.  But he was right.  I had become my own prisoner.  I had been abused so much by loved ones that I learned to take the job on myself.  I was unkind (to myself).  I was mean (to myself).  I was the root of all evil…at least that is what I told myself.  Regularly.

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One thing I know for certain, and have always known, if you say you can’t–you’re right.  Because your brain will make sure you are right.  Start with what you can do.  Frame it as a positive.  Move forward with something to DO, leave the DON’Ts behind.  They are confusing for your subconscious mind.

At my worst point, I was nearly mute from my autism.  I was completely dysfunctional at home and at work.  I had little energy to invest anywhere, and what little I had was not very effective.  Eventually, I started taking baby steps to improve quality in my life.

I got my autism diagnosed and started working positive coping mechanisms that met my neurology where it lives, and stopped trying to pretend to be normal.  I separated from the ongoing emotional abuse of my spouse.  I disconnected from my birth family.  I got a therapist.  And I did something new everyday that stretched me somehow.  I faced fears.  I rode my bike.  I journaled and cried and wrote poems.  I found my heart.  I discovered that my choice of careers was always going to eat at my body, heart, and brain because it didn’t match my neurological differences, and I became a massage therapist and Reiki Master Teacher.

But you know what really leveraged my change in the midst of this?  What changed me from taking baby steps that felt like a drunken, directionless stagger to focused leaps toward my own redemption?  Gratitude.

And I don’t mean that false gratitude you come up with at Thanksgiving as a teenager when everyone at the table is looking at you and the last thing you actually feel is gratitude.  The secret to Gratitude (capital G) is this:  it has to be heartfelt, and it has to be real.  It cannot be forced.  And you should never TRY to be grateful about shitty, awful things.  Be where you are, emotionally.

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If someone hands you a shit sandwich, don’t say thank you!  It’s a shit sandwich!  (Unless, well, unless you like that sort of thing…then feel free.)

However, once you start practicing this gratitude thing, you may find that there is a way to find gratitude even in that shit sandwich.  But that’s advanced gratitude shit.  You might not be ready for it.  Don’t force it.  Gratitude has to come from your heart.  Have some patience–level up over time.

Because another thing I know, is that gratitude when you’ve been abused is not something that comes out of you without some intentional effort.  It is foreign.  It feels awkward.  And it might take some practice for it to feel comfortable.  You might be averse to it.  It is more comfortable to roll in your own shit constantly thinking about how awful your life is.  I get it.  I feel you.  When you’re ready to try something different, the first step is to stand up.

As my life became unbearable my deepest fears began to materialize, and I found myself alone.  I think one of the things that saved me, that helped me turn my situation (inside and out) around so very quickly, is my gratitude practice.

Here it is, you are welcome to take it and make it your own:

  1. Find 5 things right now that you are deeply and intensely grateful for, with all honesty.  (If you can’t find 5, then try for 3, if you can’t get three start with 1!)
  2. Make sure they do not rely on anything that can change or that are beyond your control.  (Remember that other people are in your life temporarily; illness, injury and financial circumstances are beyond your control).
  3. Now, breathe, and keep repeating these things.  (If you are sad or feeling overwhelmed, you may need to really sit with your list or repeat it a few times before gratitude can overcome whatever grief or anxiety or upset has hold of you.  Be patient and keep at it.)
  4. Don’t stop until you feel it.
  5. Repeat as often as you need.  (Remember to pull out the list, especially when a wave of upset or anxiety, fear or grief overwhelms you.  Use your list and this practice to “change the channel” on negative feelings whenever they become oppressive.)

I want you to notice a couple things up there.  Choose your gratitude list carefully.  If you invest your practice in something temporary, then where will you be when things change?  Up that proverbial creek without a paddle, my friend, and if you’re here with me in hell, we don’t need anything to get worse for you.

Hedge your bets and place your gratitude in your breath–if you lose it you probably won’t care.  Place it in the stars.  Try not to place it in your living situation, your career, or the many wonderful people in your life, or the fact that they spend time with you.

This is the emergency list, the list for when all the fan blades are dripping with poo.  I was tempted to put clean air and water on my emergency list, but sadly, I realized that was also beyond my control.  This is a list that would serve you even in the trenches of apocalypse or WWI.  The emergency list–you can (and likely will, I hope) expand on it later, but start here.  This is a list to serve you through disaster.  Homelessness.  Unemployment.  Hunger.  Thirst.  Illness.  Loneliness.  Discomfort of any kind.

That may sound ridiculous to some of you, but the point is that you have a gratitude list in your back pocket that can pull you from your despair should all of the worst things happen at once.  Because there is ALWAYS something to be grateful for.  And gratitude changes us on the inside–in those places where only our own choices matter.

I also want you to notice, that this list is not to be used to prevent you from feeling your own feelings.  You can pull the list out anytime, but I especially want you to pull it out if you are being crushed in negative emotions that are bigger than you.  Grieve if you need to grieve.  Be sad.  Be angry.  I’m not saying you should prevent any of these feelings.  Just also be aware that what you choose to invest in, with your thoughts, words, feelings, and actions, is what will be multiplied and brought back to you.  When the necessary elements of grief overwhelm you, and toss you in a perfect storm, reach for the list as a practice.  Choose to invest yourself, your being, and your energy, in something beautiful, and positive in those moments of overwhelm.

Feel the grief, but when it threatens to take over, intentionally change the channel with gratitude.

Gratitude opens the doors to thinking differently.  Feeling differently.  And it is a CHOICE.  We can expend energy toward our own destruction and defeat OR choose to invest that energy, those thoughts, those feelings, words, and actions, toward a bigger existence.  Ultimately, how we choose to feel and think on the inside, even about the most dreadful circumstances, is a choice.  Gratitude, honestly expressed and invested in as a practice or discipline, can change us from the inside out.

And it is a practice.  The first few times you do this exercise, it might be hard.  Don’t give up.  Don’t judge yourself.  You’ve seen hell.  Keep trying.  Choose to invest in an expanding practice, then sit back and watch.  Expand the list.  Expand the times you reach for the list.  Say thank you out loud whenever you can.  And watch the miracles unfold.

For those of you holding yourselves captive, long after your abusers have moved on, gratitude is a great way to slice at those bonds and free yourself.  Those bastards don’t deserve to win.  If I can’t convince you to practice gratitude for your own sake, then let’s start there.  Make a gratitude list, invest in it, repeat it, feel it, and let it naturally expand–as a way to flip both middle fingers at every a-hole who ever tried to keep you down.

Namaste, Warriors.  You’ve got this.

Gratitude and Grace on the Autism Spectrum

About five years ago my life imploded.  No, really, that isn’t much of an exaggeration.  It slowly began to spin wildly out of control, contracting mercilessly, and I hung on for dear life trying desperately to retain as much functionality in my life as I could.

When nothing seemed to help, and as I lost the ability to speak at will (unless I was teaching a well-practiced lecture-script), and then the ability to read, I became truly alarmed.  I sought diagnosis for the weird little traits that seemed to be holding me back professionally, socially and in my personal life.  They all seemed to coalesce around the term Autism Spectrum.  Alone, I sought diagnosis, for I had alienated just about everyone out of my life, as it contracted smaller and smaller and smaller–still with no relief.

But with diagnosis came coping mechanisms that actually helped me learn to help myself in ways that honored by true self and how my neurology was indelibly wired.  I mourned.  I cried.  I fought to escape many in my life who only loved me enough to use me, not enough to help me heal.  It was a dark and very painful time.  But be patient with me as I relate this story, I’m not telling it to you because I need to talk about the darkness, I’m telling it to you because you need to understand the depth and hopelessness I dwelt in so you can be as blinded as I am by my current state of brilliant light.

Such loneliness, my friends.  Between being unable to converse or make friends, alienating my (now ex) husband and dwelling in a solitary bubble because it was the only place I could keep from feeling tremendous pain or illness, I was quite alone.  I could make friends online, because for some odd reason, my fingers didn’t get jammed up with my sensory overload, and they kept typing out what was locked away so deep inside me.  I sat alone.  I ate alone.  I rode my bike alone.  I faced ultrasounds, biopsies and cancer scares alone.  Getting the pattern to this?  And I walked along a suicidal cliff, at times dangling both feet over the edge, praying to God that I be relieved of this pain I seemed to cause everyone around me.

I was lucky.  I have strong Angels.  Maybe you are one right now.  They speak to me clearly, and were able to get through to me even on the day I almost walked right off the precipice.  Thank you for pulling me back.  Thank you for giving me the chance to heal, and share that healing with all in need.

Still, as I began to carve out a new, autistic-friendly life for myself, I had a hard time finding the gratitude in my situation.  I realized that I will always tire or become ill from being in groups, that social activity will always exhaust me to the point of uncontrollable meltdown (if I tried to keep up with the rest of the world).  I felt broken, and as good as I got about self-care, the ever present shadow of my social limitations hung over me as I took each meal alone, aching for company.  That is the hardest part, really.  Because although I had developed to a point that I could accept my neurology, and was learning to love who I was inside and out, I realized that my normal thirst for human contact could never be slaked without also putting my self-care at serious risk.

I guess that bears some explanation.  My connection to my body was something that years of trying to ‘suck it up’ and be like everyone else was a tenuous thing.  In order to seem normal for short periods of time, I learned to shut out the signals of my body.  In fact, at the point of diagnosis, I could never tell when I was hungry, thirsty, tired, in pain or when I had to use the bathroom.  I was always uncomfortable.  I was always on edge.  And one signal for discomfort intertwined with the next until I was just one big messy pain signal.  All.  The.  Time.  This is when self-harm reared an ugly head, because hurting myself, reaching the point of absolute meltdown meant that adrenaline would spike and the entire circuit breaker on my neurological system would get tripped.  Reset.  Reboot.  Try to start again from a state that felt very much like sedation.

My therapist, who diagnosed me, helped a lot during this time.  I got a tattoo to help remind me that my goal was to fully accept and love myself–all parts of me, not just the stuff you can be proud of, but the not so proud stuff as well.  I put a lotus blossom, Buddha’s throne on my left forearm where it would remind me always of this.  I never hit myself again.

Still, as I learned from scratch how to care for myself and accept my own personal limitations, it felt as though one thing would never be possible:  enough social interaction, a large enough group of honest friends and social network to satisfy my needs without tripping up my sensory overload and need for space/recovery.  But remember when I said that this is a story of the light?  It most definitely is.

This last couple of months I have had the honor and privilege to meet many other Reiki practitioners in my lineage–both online and in person.  Due to some interesting events, we came together in crisis online and worked a tremendous distance healing in a pure state of love.  Personally, I believe the entire planet is in a better space thanks to that shared connection and the union of our hearts.  But…that story is for another entry.

Yesterday, as I received messages from some of these new friends, as they spoke to me not as a damaged Autistic struggling to remain functional, but as friends who expressed honest love for the person I was…I got a little overwhelmed in the best possible way.  I realized that I had found acceptance within me, and that my healing work, the ever present invitation/use of Reiki had brought about a profound change in me.  Inside.  And outside.

I may still eat many meals alone, but it is primarily a choice.  I know company is just a heartbeat away, that the Creator not only links me to my loved ones with each beat of my heart, but that such love can manifest in the blink of an eye if I wish it.  One turn of the head, one look on the street, one invitation to a random stranger and I will find the company I seek when I seek it.  I will manifest Creator’s Love to earth, and go quietly about the rest of my day.

The joy I have felt connecting to my Reiki brothers and sisters the past couple of months is healing another set of deep and painful wounds–converting them to pure love and light.  The proof of this is when I attended the International Reiki Retreat in Sedona a couple weeks ago.  Most of these kind of events usually lay me flat by day three.  I get overwhelmed by the sensory input, and the very “human” moments all large gatherings of people seem to be burdened with.  Yet, I didn’t need to retreat this time.  Even when I was processing some pretty serious healing, I was able to collect myself among the rest of my Reiki colleagues, without having to curl up in a ball in my hotel room.  Truly, this was a miracle.

Some of that progress is due to my own healing progress, but some of it is also the exceptional human beings I have the honor to stand among these days.  They do not tax me.  Those ugly human moments that cut me to the soul are almost nonexistent.  I didn’t have to exhaust myself trying to elevate the energy of the room–or trying desperately to hold it at bay.  All that work was just unnecessary.

All that, and then I hear their words, I feel their hugs, I watch their faces and I am awed to be seen (at last) without judgment even from people who know next to nothing about me.  Their love teaches me faith and continues to heal me.  Truly, I am just grateful to be present to experience this, then they turn to me and thank me for…well, for following my guidance and trying my best to live in love.  Truly.  I am awed.  I am overjoyed.  I am grateful.

I am basking in the light of their redemption as I look back and see that Reiki has not only healed me, it has also released me from the last bars of the cage that was my autism.  Oh, I’m still autistic, and always will be, but isn’t it a beautiful gift to fully embrace who you were born to be at last?  I know Reiki isn’t the answer for all on the spectrum, but I sure wish I could share it with each of my autistic brothers and sisters.  And you.