9.6 Editor's Pick
July 6, 2020

I Alchemized the F*ck out of all my Pain & This is what I Found.

*Warning: naughty language ahead!


When I was around 19 years old, I went to visit a tea leaf reader named Dora.

In the time before GPS, we had to rely on our sense of direction, and I never developed that, so I found myself clutching a torn piece of white paper with an address scrolled carelessly across it.

I held it, white-knuckled, to the 10 o’clock of my steering wheel, navigating a part of a nearby city, surprised by the unremarkable neighborhood that would house a mystic.

I pulled into the driveway of an average, white, vinyl-sided cape, with a few bushes poorly tended under the front windows and four cement steps holding up a black iron railing.

A screen door swung open and a heavily bosomed white woman in a pink sweatshirt popped the top half of her body out of the door, “You Heather? Come on in.”

She looked like everyone’s grandma who I had ever met—slippers and everything.

Only right off I could tell she wasn’t the welcoming, baking cookies type. She was more the type to yell at the neighborhood kids to stay off her grass, or yell that the baseball game in the street was going to break someone’s window.

When I stepped inside, she waved an introduction in the direction of her husband, who she told me to ignore and who had no problem ignoring my presence.

He was parked in the middle of the room in a recliner, wearing a white tank top that revealed too much of the shape of his also large bosom. Dora slapped a paper plate of sandwiches on the TV tray in front of him and directed me to a round kitchen table that sat under the front window.

Squeals and applause from “The Price is Right” pulled at me from the background as Dora peered into my teacup with the dirt-like sediment in the bottom.

She told me she kept seeing the letter, “D.”

At the time, there was more than one boy in my life and by coincidence (not a coincidence), all of their names began with the letter, D. And by coincidence (not a coincidence), I was seeking out someone else to tell me what to do to make them stay.

So, I nodded, “I get it, Dora.”

My problems with relationships, especially the one with myself had already surfaced by this age, and matters of the heart would take precedence over everything else.

I was that what the generation before me would call—and what Dora passively suggested—“boy crazy.”

But here’s the thing she said next, which made me capture this otherwise, non-eventful visit:

“You haven’t found your power yet, honey. You have to find your power.”

Dora took my money, took me by the shoulders, and said it again and again as I exited her not-so-Hogwarts house. “Find your power.”

At 19, I thought I had found my power in my sexuality. At 29, I thought I had found my power in motherhood. At 39, I thought I had found my power in independence.

In those two decades of searching, I could never truly find my power, because I was outsourcing it to something or someone else.

In the five years following age 39, I began a search for my power that I knew was rooted inside of me.

I knew by then this wasn’t a boy problem, but a me problem. I did the shadow work, I revisited the trauma, I learned to self-comfort and re-parent, I studied the psychology, I alchemized the fuck out of all my pain, and do you know what I found?


I’m a writer and a true Sagittarian so, of course, I found love.

I’m one impulsive decision, one road trip, and one torn piece of duct tape away from slapping the word love on every leaky emotion that comes galloping my way. I’ll see a unicorn. I want to see a unicorn. If it’s a monster, I’ll write it into a unicorn. I got this.

I’m Tiffany Maxwell in “Silver Linings Playbook” and De Niro is giving the best lines of his life when he says,

“When life reaches out at a moment like this, it’s a sin if you don’t reach back. I’m telling you, it’s a sin if you don’t reach back. It will haunt you the rest of your days like a curse. You’re facing a big challenge in your life right now, this very moment, right here. That girl loves you, she really, really loves you and I don’t know if Nikki ever did, but she sure as hell doesn’t love you right now and I’m telling you, don’t fuck this up.”

And how does anyone not choose Tiffany Maxwell? She loves the hardest, the loudest, and she needs it the most. Even De Niro had her back.

So, I loved.

Love became my faith.

If I could see love in the mundane, in the darkness, in the edgy parts of being human, then I could transform its meaning. I could make anything taste, look, and sound better than it was.

Dear Dora, this was the ultimate power.

Until, one average Tuesday when the world began shutting down, little by little.

I couldn’t transmute the fear of other people into love. I couldn’t excuse their ignorance and their greed. I couldn’t un-see the mass deception and the agendas that had nothing to do with love. I couldn’t alchemize the rage and the riots. I could not love away the hate and the racism. I couldn’t transcend one tiny fucking bit of it.

But I tried. I offered space for healing, I tried to quiet, to listen, to comfort.

And two months later, another average Tuesday came along. It felt like it came with a vengeance for what I was trying to bypass both internally and externally by trying to love the hurt out of everyone.

The Universe got personal. She picked me up by my ankles and shook the crystals out of my pockets. She put a mirror to my face and demanded that I see that all the love I was giving out was a lie, because I wasn’t giving it to myself. Trust me, the cliché is as disappointing to me as it is to you.

I was forced to realize that I was investing my heart in a relationship that was unstable, because I believed that if I saturated it with enough love it could heal. And it never would—it never could.

You can write a monster into a unicorn, but first you have to see it as it is: a monster. You can’t heal a relationship with love, unless both people want to and choose to.

I la-la-laaa’d my way through four years of a relationship skipping along, singing over and over, “This is one damn fine unicorn! I can’t wait til’ it’s really mine!”

In choosing it over and over again, I was choosing to use love to mask reality.

As much as I loved the person, the relationship was a wreck of manipulation and wounds. Neither of us could trust, neither of us could be honest about what we wanted, and we would continually hit a wall where we would break instead of opening.

There’s a whole other article to be born of this clarity, but it was in the epiphany that when I chose this, I denied myself what I truly wanted (love, duh). Because you can’t receive love, stability, and honesty from another person when you are denying it to yourself.

It was abusive to myself. I chose to lie to myself.

Dora, it was all a lie.

So, I sat on my steps this morning, this jagged little pill still stuck in my throat and I thought about Dora. I thought about how she was perhaps just an older, wiser woman giving advice to a younger woman. Nothing magical in that.

I looked up at the sky for the umpteenth time in the last few weeks and cursed love and magic and Dora altogether. I cursed the search. I cursed the idea that we can ever heal anything.

Because in seeking something outside of ourselves, what we’re really saying is we don’t have it already. Because in waiting, we are really saying that we don’t deserve the thing now. Because in wanting to heal something, we are saying that it isn’t whole already.

If I could talk to Dora today, I might take her by the shoulders and tell her, “Eureka! I found my power!” Or more realistically, declare in a shaky voice that I’ve discovered what it is not.

It is not love. Because if you truly love something, you have to see it as it is. I have to see the manipulation, the instability, the lie, the desire, the insecurity, the hurt, the rage (both internally and externally), and name it as it is. Only then am I able to offer it love.

It’s not truth, because the truth is subjective. It is created from personal experiences, which is every part real whether or not the outsider can relate to it or bear witness. My truth was not my partner’s truth.

I think I would tell Dora that our power can maybe only come from transparency—from being very, very, human and restructuring much of what we were taught human is.

It is not being powerful.

It is not being loved.

It is not being healed.

It is being.

I’m not searching anymore. I don’t know what that means for tomorrow. I’ve written in my journal over and over again the last few weeks, “The fight is in the wound, the wound is in the fight.”

I believe that when you have to fight so hard to be seen, to be loved, to be valued, it is because you don’t believe that you are. I see this in myself and I see it reflected in the world right now.


Not a coincidence.

I often think about the tea leaf reader who set me on a quest to find my power, and as I realize that I’ve had it and I’ve lost it several times. I also know I will have it and lose it again.

I still believe in love on my best days, but these are not the best days right now. These have become the days for seeing and sorting. But sometimes, I can still feel love above all else.

It’s smooth and fuses all of those broken nerve endings back together. It sinks me deep like honey, and all of the painful experiences and judgement, all of the trauma and joy, all of life and living, and God and whatever-you-call-it, gallops in like a unicorn saturated by love.

It’s one damn fine Unicorn, and it’s already mine.

I’m Tiffany Maxwell and I’m just being. I’m on my couch, watching her read the signs, and being reactive and healing and everything makes sense for one moment.

I take in this scene from “Silver Linings Playbook” like air into two lungs that have been deprived for too long:

Tiffany is crying and pointing and screaming in Pat’s face, “There will always be a part of me that is dirty and sloppy, but I like that, just like all the other parts of myself. I can forgive. Can you say the same for yourself, fucker? Can you forgive? Are you capable of that?”

And I say to the air, “Yeah, I get it Dora.”


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