“Amanda,” she started and then took a deep breath. “You know how you’ve been saying that something isn’t right, but you can’t put your finger on what it is?”
I was so exhausted, all I could do was nod and stare straight ahead through the windshield of the SUV, into the dimly lit garage.
The voice coming from the passenger seat belonged to one of my dearest friends, who had saved my butt by stepping into my caregiving role for a week while I traveled for a work retreat. I’d been parked in the dark for twenty minutes, trying to center myself before walking back into my life, when she had opened the garage door and suspiciously slipped into the car beside me.
“Well, I think I saw it this week…” She swallowed hard. “But I’m not sure you want to…” Her voice trailed off and I knew she awaited my permission to continue.
While we sat in silence, I listened to the war inside me.
Thank God! I’m not crazy! Someone else can feel it, too! Relief washed over my body like a comforting blanket.
But then fear ripped the warm blanket off, gripped my throat, and pounded in my chest.
OMG, I don’t think I want to see it! I know it’s bad. Why would I have stayed blind to it for so long if it wasn’t awful?
“I’m not sure I do either…” I paused. She waited. I gulped. “Okay, ready or not…”
“Amanda, your family is living with abuse…” She paused again, as if she had heard the shattering matrix inside me and thought I wouldn’t be able to hear her voice through the noise.
I nodded for her to go on. I can hear through this noise. I’ve been here before.
I hung my head and wept quietly as I listened to one horrible example after another while she pulled back the curtain and helped me see the story I’d been living in, the characters and the dynamics at play, and the impact on the two people I love more than life itself.
It took energy I didn’t have to stay present to her words and the details she shared — to not completely check out as the momma’s rage, the caregiver’s grief, and the family-fixer’s fear took turns vying for my attention. With every example she gave, my mind served up dozens of similar moments that I’d witnessed but failed to really see. Every memory compounded the impact of her words.
How could this even be happening? The big story arc of our impossible situation tried to piece itself together while I took long deep breaths to avoid dissolving into a puddle of powerlessness. The gramma my son and I had both loved since we were born was slowly slipping away to dementia and, with every progressive stage, losing her ability to manage the pain and rage she’d piled up in her eighty-plus years. But who will take care of her if I leave? My mind flipped through the chapters of my life and found me there, at her home, helping to take care of her every time she was recovering from a sickness, a surgery, or a bout with depression. Since I was about seven years old, I had been there, helping her deal with pain that I eventually learned stemmed from the horrors of her childhood. And now, the more physical and mental independence she lost and the less she was able to channel that horrendous amount of energy into anything productive (i.e. cleaning a 5,000 sq. ft. house from top to bottom, tending to her huge garden, or even preparing meals), the more she spewed her pain and rage at the people who loved and cared for her.
Sitting in the car, in the silence, I saw for the first time how my superpowers of compassion, responsibility, loyalty, and love had me jumping in front of proverbial speeding trains multiple times a day — to try to keep her from hurting herself or someone else, to keep the peace, to keep life moving.
And now, while I was out of town working, guess who had started jumping in front of those speeding trains?
My little Aaron! Rage and grief somehow co-existed as the truth of the truth struck me. If we don’t get out of this situation, my codependent preventing and fixing will become his normal… the way it has obviously been mine.
The choice was clear: Stay in this story and try to help her, or save myself and my little family.
As I felt the true impact in every cell of my body and every corner of my mind and heart, I made a decision. Over my dead body will he end up here! My mind quickly searched for escape routes and found none.
“OMG…” I gulped through the tears. “Can you believe that I’ve been helping people escape stories like this for almost ten years, and yet I have no idea how I am going to do this?” She knew how convoluted the situation was, how near-impossible it would be for me to extricate myself and my little family, and that I also would not be able to turn away from the Truth she’d just unveiled. We both knew there were no fast or easy answers — only very hard moments before me.
“I’m here, Amanda. We’re going to figure this out…”
Over the next few days, I walked through my daily tasks and interactions with new eyes and ears. I could see every jagged expression, hear every cruel word, and feel ever harsh intention that I had just learned to live with in my thirty-five years on the planet. I saw the pain in my little family’s eyes. I saw the exhaustion and inflammation in all of our bodies from the constant internal and external struggle. I saw exactly what was driving some of the self-destructive behaviors that had become the norm in our household.
There were hundreds of times when I wished I could rewind to that moment in the car and tell my friend not to tell me the truth. It was too hard, too painful, to see the whole thing without the blinders that had been unconsciously protecting me from this pain, rage, and grief.
I spent the next nine months planning for our exit, praying for the miracles we needed, processing my pain with my trusted friends, and working with multiple body, energy, and relationship therapists to leave this matrix differently than I’d left all the others.
You see, it wasn’t the first time I’d been offered the Red Pill and taken it…
[Note: If you’re unfamiliar with the Red Pill metaphor, check out this clip from one of my all-time favorite movies, “The Matrix.”]
There was that first day in the honors program, at the Christian university I had chosen, when the most charismatic teacher I’d ever seen asked, “But… why do you believe in God? I mean, what if He doesn’t exist?” and my only answer was: “Well, my parents… my teachers… my pastor… they all said…” The matrix of my childhood religion shattered like glass around me that day as I realized that my beliefs were not mine. They were their beliefs that had been taught to me as fact. My mind quickly pieced some of those “glitchy” past moments together, and my fears of losing my way spiritually quickly turned to anger. Of course, this made my last year of high school make perfect sense! In the name of faith and love, I’d already been stepping outside that matrix and catching some serious flack for it. As I’d dived deeper into the magic of spiritual relationships, I’d been quietly “marked” as dangerous by those who were afraid of where I was headed.
My reaction was genuine but naïve. Rather than focusing on rebuilding my own faith on top of the numerous spiritual experiences in my past that were just mine, I led with my anger and began mentally challenging and emotionally provoking people who loved me and were now even more terrified that I was on my way to hell. I burned one bridge after another, until I was all alone and making big life decisions without trusted support or wisdom to guide me.
The one good decision I made because of this Red Pill was to change my major from Communication to Social Science and Secondary Education. I decided the best thing I could do with my life was hang out with young people, ask them questions, and show them how to think and problem-solve for themselves instead of blindly accepting the messaging coming at them from all directions at all hours of the day.
This, of course, led me directly to the second Red Pill Awakening.
I’d taken a long-term substitute teacher job in a continuation school and, of course, wasn’t told that I was going to be in a classroom full of the kids every other teacher had sent out of their classroom so many times that they weren’t allowed back. I worked my ass off to connect with those kids, and then dragged myself home to spend quality time with my son and husband before spending hours prepping for the next day. When I asked the other teacher working with these kids how she calculated the sliding scale for their grades, her words cut me to my core: “Mrs. Johnson, just go to your doctor now and ask for some anti-depressants or anti-anxieties. There is no other way to work with these kids.”
As I walked down the halls and looked into the medicated eyes of the administrators, teachers, and students, I realized this wasn’t my first brush with the realities of this system. My first mentor teacher had ruled his classroom like a dictator, barking orders and delivering what may as well have been propaganda to uninterested high school students. And then there were the amazing middle school teachers who were two of the best educators I’d ever met, but took constant shit for their unorthodox approach. They got results and their kids loved them, but man — they really suffered at the hands of jealous educators and frustrated administrators. If not for each other, they probably wouldn’t be able to stay the course. Awakened to the matrix and the reality that I didn’t have the physical or emotional health to be the change I wanted to be, I left, feeling like a failure and a fool for abandoning six years of education for who knew what. I became obsessed with the lost time, energy, and emotional and financial investment. How could I do this to my family?
I fell deeper down the dark and depressed rabbit hole until two years later, when a series of small synchronicities inspired me to change the world with a message. Immediately, I was swept by The Magic into the industry of entrepreneur- and self-development. I felt like I’d found my people — women and men who spoke the language of untapped potential and power and self-love. I dove into the deep end of my own healing and transformation and kept following the messy magic as it led me to create True To Intention and work with other messengers who had to heal some st*ry before they could share their message with the world in a powerful, embodied way.
As I did the rounds of seminars, training programs, and events, and learned “the way of the empowered and successful messenger,” I started to notice some things that didn’t feel quite right to me. The recipe for most presentations appeared to be 2 parts “Look at Me,” 1 part “Here’s Some Good Information,” and 4 parts “Here’s How to Work with Me to Not Suck Anymore.” The people I talked to at these events were stressing about how much money they’d already invested in other programs, how disappointed they had been with program delivery and outcomes, and how their spouse would divorce them if they invested one more cent. Oh, and there was this interesting shift that lots of people were making from their original message and gift/service to business coaching, even though many of them had not run a successful company on their own, because “that’s where all the money is.” Total head-scratcher. And tragically, the people who were tasting a little success were upset because they were doing a whole bunch of stuff that was “the right thing to do,” but they just so happened to hate it.
Feeling fortunate that I had some really amazing mentors who put my priorities and desires at the pinnacle of our coaching, I shook it off and enjoyed the organic growth of a small business that was changing lives until I was blindsided by a marketing team that didn’t have my best interest at heart. It cost me so much more than the tens of thousands I’d invested, as I was now a victim of this industry matrix and, worse, concerned that I was somehow going to accidentally perpetuate it with my own clients. Terrified, I shut down the business and began combing through my business practices and beliefs and personal st*ries, determined to make sure that would never happen.
But this is the most challenging matrix I’ve ever had to leave, I thought as I stood in her doorway and watched my gramma amble around her room and get ready for bed.
I don’t want to burn all of the bridges in rage like I did when my religious matrix shattered. She was a wonderful and important part of our lives for years before the decline really started, and I don’t really want any of us to remember her as a villain.
I don’t want to obsess about the loss of time, energy, and respect like I did when my education matrix collapsed. There are many people who are going to be crushed and maybe even furious that I would even consider leaving right now. I can already hear their reactions, but if I give all of my energy to trying to make them happy, I’ll never do what I must.
I don’t want to shut my whole life down like I did when my industry matrix imploded. There is no way that I can stop moving any part of my life forward. I don’t know how I’m going to do it, but I have to figure out how to do the work in the middle of all this.
I had made enough mistakes and done enough personal work to do it better this time, and I did.
I doubled-down on my faith, remembering that I had been well-prepared for this through my apparent PhD level training in Red Pill Awakenings.
I asked trusted friends for the safe space to feel and process all of the emotions, and I leaned on the wise ones to help me figure my way forward and embody as much kindness and grace as I could muster.
When I wanted to quit, I reminded myself that nobody could do this for me. It was up to me and my Co-Author to write a new story for myself and my son. I asked others to remind me that, in the end, Truth has always been my pathway to more Freedom, and that’s all I ever wanted for my kid — for him to grow up free and know how to stay free.
It was horrible and painful and quite possibly the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but I did the shitty emotional work, the miracles showed up, and we left that home and our gramma with a lot of love and gratitude in our hearts; and, of course, we did our best to maintain our connection with her until she passed.
What I didn’t see coming was what I now realize is one of the most painful parts of the Red Pill Recovery process, which didn’t happen until I was sitting in our new home in a new state, watching my son struggle to process what had just happened and be present to our new life.
How could I have been so blind? How could I have subjected myself, him, and my husband to this for all of these years?
I closed the door to my new office, grabbed a journal, and let the self-hatred and the sadness ooze out of my pen. As I sat over my notebook, tears streaming and puddling onto the page, I came face-to-face with little Mandy — and I had to tell her that I was so sorry that I hadn’t seen it earlier, and that she and those she loved had suffered because of my not knowing. I released the rest of the pain and rage that I’d been carrying for myself there on the floor of my office.
With that awareness and self-forgiveness, the wounds finally healed up.
It was a full 18-month process, but I was finally on the other side. Awake and free. And though exhausted from the amount of energy it took, I was still willing to keep asking the question, “Where am I asleep? Where can I wake up to more freedom?”
Good thing, too, because the very next year, I would wake up to the debt-based financial system and begin fighting my way out of that.
And another short year later, I would wake up to some truths about our world that are making their way into the mainstream as I write these words.
Which is why I am writing these words.
It’s hard to wake up, my friends.
There is always that unsettled, something-is-wrong-but-I-can’t-put-my-finger-on-it feeling that precedes the offer. Without that feeling, why would we look for any answers or truth, or even consider the Red Pill of Truth when it is offered? I believe this is the part of us that knows more than our conscious mind can articulate or is willing to look at. Maybe it’s our spirit. Maybe it’s our body reading the danger signals as our mind calls them something else. Maybe it’s some combination of the two, or something else. It doesn’t matter what we call it — it knows and it communicates its knowing to us. And yet, because we are raised in a society that discounts that inner voice, especially when it comes through a child, we learn to discount it, too.
That’s why the war wages inside us when the offer is made. Oh, thank God, I’m not crazy! and then Oh no, what the hell am I going to do with this information?
And if you make it to that point, and you really allow yourself to see the whole truth, it’s gonna hurt… deep… for a while…
You’re gonna be tempted to rage against the machine and do whatever you can to destroy it — or at least shame and shun it.
You’re gonna feel crushed as you consider and calculate the losses.
And in the end, you might, like me, realize that a lot of that rage is actually turned inward, and self-forgiveness is the only path to peace.
My prayer is that you learn from my mistakes and be gentle with yourself and others…
It’s up to us to remember all the times we’ve been disappointed and crushed in the past and remind ourselves that we will survive this, too.
It’s up to us to reach out to friends who will hold us and love us through the dissolution and rebuild.
It’s up to us to stay awake through the pain. We have to scream, but not at each other. We have to cry and let go of the narratives and not ignore the feelings.
It’s up to us to process our stuff, so we don’t create more collateral damage than there already is. To take some deep breaths before speaking and acting and choose words and actions that will illuminate and build, not destroy.
It’s up to us to stop waiting for others to do the work for us. We have to get real about our part in it, even if it was just ignoring the signals from our own spirit, and refrain from being powerless victims or vengeful punishers. It is up to us and our Co-Author to write a new narrative for ourselves… and contribute our best stuff to the new collective story.
It’s up to us to remember that Truth does set us free, and it’s up to us to keep looking for it, speaking it, requiring it, and sharing it with everyone we meet.
We can do it.
I believe in us.