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December 10, 2013

Opening to Vulnerability, Abundance & Gratitude. ~ Nancey Cohen

I spent the first eight years of my life in private foster care with a loving family.

Life was good and felt normal. When I turned eight, I went to live with my mom, where I would spend the next nine years until I left home.

Life with my mother was challenging, to say the least. Tons of emotional and psychological abuse, plus occasional physical abuse. I was put on a guilt trip for all the things my mom did for me, like feed, clothe and provide shelter for me.

Even at a young age, this didn’t make much sense since she was my mother and seemed that providing basic necessities for your child would be part of the deal. Still, the statement, “All my life, I’ve given you everything you’ve ever wanted,” became a favorite of my mom’s.

I’d be reminded of all the things she’d done for me, followed by “You’re such an ungrateful b***h.” I would hear this phrase over and over again until I left home.

Each time this happened, I remember thinking to myself, all I ever wanted was your love. This was quickly followed by feelings of guilt for being born in the first place.

I made up my mind that no one would ever let me feel that way again. This meant I would never take anything from anyone, either by way of asking for help or allowing someone to pay my way. And, if that did happen, I would make sure I kept score and evened the playing field as soon as I could—so that no one could ever hold anything over my head, ever.

I also kept score when I did things for others, placing conditions and expectations on my so-called generosity. This made me seem pretty cheap and stingy. I severed many relationships because I refused to allow myself to be vulnerable.

When my needs were not being met or I was having a difficult time in the relationship, I did not have the courage to ask for what I needed or address the conflict. It was easier to walk away than to allow someone to see me in a vulnerable state and be able to hold that over me.

When I moved to Seattle nine years ago, something shifted. I found myself letting go of my stingy ways and becoming more generous with my time, money and affection—though I still wasn’t so great with accepting generosity in return. I still needed to be in control at all times.

I remember helping out a friend when his mother died. He was overwhelmed by dealing with her belongings and reached out for my help, because I am good at purging and organization.We went to his mom’s place and spent several hours going through everything and were able to accomplish quite a bit.

The next time I saw him, he presented me with a $100 gift card to Safeway. I immediately thanked him and followed up with some form of repayment to him.

He said, “You know, Nancey, when someone gives you something and you try to return the favor, it takes away from the very gift that person is trying to give you.”

Wow. Serious aha moment.

That stopped me in my tracks and planted a seed of change in terms of accepting help and generosity without expressing a sense of indebtedness in return. I realized that continuing down that road was selfish and diminished the generous act.

Slowly, I began to learn how to ask for and accept help without keeping track or feeling indebted.

What I’m learning from all of this, now, is that it is not possible to keep track and be grateful at the same time. It’s either one way, or the other, at least in my opinion. It is still difficult for me to ask for help and accept it graciously. Old habits die hard.

As I was driving home tonight after a lovely afternoon and evening with a good friend and colleague who treated me to wonderful dinner, I was overcome with a sense of deep gratitude for everyone in my life who has supported me throughout my life, particularly this year.

I’ve been unemployed for most of the year while I go to school full-time for massage therapy, and it’s safe to say my income this year will be about 70 percent less than what I was making when I left my job in January. Add expenses for school and meager investments into my yoga and massage business and that leaves me with probably zero earnings.

Why is it then that life feels more abundant than ever?

For one, I’m doing something I love and feel passionately about. But the abundance comes from the support and generosity I’ve received from friends both near and far and my willingness to accept this support unconditionally.

So, to all who have put me on your guest lists; sprung for lunch, dinner or drinks; hosted me in your home; sent me words of encouragement and inspiration; listened to my stories; believed in me; given me hugs; wiped my tears; held my hand; come to my workshops; worked with me as clients; included me in your upcoming holiday plans; and showed up in countless other ways— thank you so much for being a part of my journey and for holding me up in ways you will never know.

I also want to say that I’m grateful for my mom. I believe that she chose me and that I chose her. I do believe that she loves me. I forgive her because I know that she is human, that she must have been suffering greatly, and that, ultimately, she did the best she could.

My cup and heart runneth over with unconditional gratitude and love.

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Editor: Michelle Margaret

Image: elephant journal Archive

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Nancey Cohen