How to Be A Human Episode 008 How to live your truth when nothing feels culturally safe to do so with Jo Encarnacion

Today’s episode is an incredible conversation I had with Jo Encarnacion.  Jo is a relationship and womxn’s life coach who is daring to lead hundreds of womxn down a path of radical self acceptance. 

We talked all about;

  • Jo’s personal story of growth and healing from sexual trauma & a sucide attempt in her teens all the way to navigating life in a pandemic while leaving a 12 year marriage. 
  • The pain and growth that comes from leaving a relationship
  • The work that goes into healing cultural & generational trauma
  • And so much more…

I loved this conversation & hope you will too. So grab some tacos and let’s dive in, okay?! 

Tap the podcast player above to listen now, or keep scrolling to read the full transcription of today’s episode!

Want to connect with Jo? You can find her at:

https://www.gofitjo.com/

On the ‘Gram @gotfitjo

 

How to live your truth when nothing feels culturally safe to do so with Jo Encarnacion

Leisse:

Hello, and welcome back to How To Be A Human the podcast with Leisse Wilcox. I am so happy to be joined by my new friend Jo Encarnacion from California, Joe, welcome. 

 

Jo:

Hey, thank you for having me.

 

Leisse:  

What’s your current title? sexual health wellness educator?

 

Jo: 

I don’t fucking know. It’s funny. I was thinking about that this morning actually, I was laying in bed and I was like, How the hell do I introduce myself? Because I’m in the biggest upheaval and transition in my life. And every single time I think about it, I’m like, I am a woman in progress. I don’t know, there’s a progress bar. But if I think about what I do, and if I think about the doing aspect of my life and my human being aspect, I’m a sexual wellness coach, but in terms of my being, I’m a woman of progress.

 

Leisse: 

I used to introduce myself as a professional human and real life adult, because that’s the most accurate title for me. I understand the human experience, I am living the human experience. Can we please just call me a professional human? You and I talked about how SEO does not like that. It really wants you to niche down and choose a very, very specific focus,

 

Jo:

Part of me is like, Can we just blow up the bullshit about the whole SEO thing? You know, it’s funny, I think about just how much I constantly tried to remove myself from boxes or labeling and this whole online coaching thing just traps us in this box because we have to have SEO.

 

Leisse:

I know! People will say ‘oh, what’s your program?’ I don’t have a program, people can hire me to work with me 1:1. ‘Oh, so you don’t do one off sessions?’ No, I don’t. ‘So is it a program?’ No, it’s not. Sorry, I just do my own thing. I hate saying this out loud but my marketing plan is that I just trust that the right people find me at the right time and we go from there.

 

Jo: 

I love hearing that, because that was my marketing plan for years and then I got into this mode where I’ve got to put some fucking structure in place and then the structure got put in, and it was like my whole being was like, Fuck this!

 

Leisse:

It’s hard, isn’t it when you’re so intuitively led? Kind of going back in to check all the boxes? It’s like, I don’t like this, I don’t want to do this, this is hard, no this feels weird. So being a woman in progress, you run a business. You’re an active influencer online on Instagram for some pretty mega brands, and you’re also going through the trauma of divorce, and frankly, you are an Asian American woman in 2021, which is its own category of layers of pain and trauma. Really? 

 

Jo:

It’s been an interesting unraveling. And it’s been an unraveling, I think for me since 2015/2016. But the deep unraveling was 2017/2018.

 

Leisse:

Okay, I want to start there, if you’re comfortable. And first, I want to pre frame this, especially for you and for people listening that by no means am I doing the white thing of ‘please speak to us on behalf of all Asian American women’. I’m not, I really am so interested in your experience, because you’re so good at sharing your experience and I think it’s a really beautiful lens, but please don’t feel like I’m making you a token or a poster child of the capital Asian American experience.

 

Jo:

Yeah, I appreciate that because it’s really interesting when people introduce me, or when they say things like you’re an Asian American woman, I always like to say, ‘Actually, I’m a woman who happens to be Filipino American’. Because I am a woman first and all of those labels come second. 

 

Leisse: 

Often when people on podcasts or interviews have introduced me, like first and foremost, as a cancer survivor I feel it viscerally because I’m like, have we met? Do you know I am so much more than a cancer survivor? That doesn’t even resonate for me so I want to just be very tender like, in no way are you being asked to represent a nation. I just really want to know your experience that happens to be compounded under the lens of friggin of 2021

 

Jo:

I appreciate that because, you know, it’s really funny. I don’t think I came home to that identity until roughly about 2018. I always ran away from being Filipino American and it was because growing up I remember, I’m a first generation Filippino American, so my parents are immigrants. I was the first daughter born here in the US, in my family. I have two older siblings, they happen to be 8 and 10 years old me, my brother and sister. Growing up Filipino American, and also the daughter of immigrants, with my parents who are just so very immigrant in the way that they do everything. It was always really challenging because we just butt heads, I didn’t see the way they saw the world. I was looking at it from a different lens. I always say that I believe I was raised in a third culture, meaning that my parents were trying to infuse one culture in me, I’m trying to build another one. And then here’s another influence, which is Western culture, my friends, everybody around me. So there’s a third culture intersection of all of these different mismatches in culture, right. Growing up, I would always see the way traditional Filipino Catholics would be, and I just was like all of this bullshit. All of this teaching, all of the things that they were trying to infuse in me, the fact that there was so much colorism. Growing up, my parents wanted to bleach my skin, they wanted to pinch my nose because it was not as American. They always called me in from being outside in the sun. And I knew later in 2018, I realized that this was not Filipino Catholic, this was Filipino colonial, it was a colonized mentality. What they were instilling in me and it was like, No wonder why growing up throughout my entire childhood all the way to when I moved out, I resisted all of that. Because it just was like, why is this? Why are you taking away so much of our rich culture? I’m a Brown Girl, like a Brown Girl, you know? It was even funnier, because I learned later that Filipinos are children of the sun. And so when my parents would call me in from being outside, they would say ‘Oh, you smell like the sun’. We are children of the sun. We are children of the sun, that’s why there’s a sun in our flag. Like, there’s just part of that, as far as like who we are. I just ran from all of that. Coming back home in 2018 for me happened when I was interviewed for a Filipino American, docu series that they were doing. It was with me and my girlfriend and we were at the time talking about sex openly. This was a time where I was like, my daughter is now 15 years old, I’m a sexual trauma survivor, I’ve walked through so much shit over my life. I’ve dealt with a suicide attempt when I was younger, I have complex trauma written in my body. How do I, as a mother equip my daughter to not only learn from my pain, but also what is the education I want her to have, that I didn’t have, so that she didn’t have to walk through that same pain that I did, or confusion

 

Leisse:

which, you know, to come out of therapy, if you have that person to bear witness to your experience. If that experience, no matter how traumatic can be seen and witnessed by another compassionate person, it already lessens the trauma of that experience. So to be able to take that and use it purposefully as a gift to your daughter is really, really commendable.

 

Jo:

Yes. Yes. So now I remember she came home, so my sexual awakening, I guess, as an adult woman. I mean, it had variations of it like all sexuality does awaken and rise at different occasions in your life. The biggest one for me was around 2017/2018. And it was when my eldest daughter came home with homework from her health class, and it was on sexual wellness. And I had been wanting to dive into this topic for years already, because I’ve always been curious about sex. I was always confused about it. I wanted to learn more about it. But I always felt as a mother, that there’s that social conditioning and then also cultural conditioning as Filipinos, you don’t talk about sex, and also that whole purity culture about moms. Like

 

Leisse:

I know,

 

Jo:

it’s so weird. It’s so weird. It’s like, you as a mom, have to choose to be either mom, or sexual. And it’s like, ‘wait, how the hell did I have kids? you guys know how I got pregnant. Right? You know how I became a mom, right?’

Leisse: 

You literally insert A into B, there’s no getting around that. 

 

Jo: 

There was intercourse involved. And there’s also ejaculation and then there was a conception, like, let’s go through the whole science thing.

 

Leisse:

But as soon as you have a baby don’t worry, you’re not supposed to feel that anymore, and if you do, then that means something about you, but if you’re not actually active in sex as a mom, it means something else about you. It’s so much. It’s so much.

 

Jo:

It’s so much. Yes. So my daughter came home with this homework. And I was lit up, because I was like, I get to bless the gates open now about really getting curious about sex, having conversations in my home around sex, because that was not what we had growing up at all. I just wanted her, well both my girls, to have a different upbringing around that topic in that conversation, because sex, love, relationships, was never talked about. And I never got to see the love that I feel deeply, that I know is available in this world, and the type of relationships that I wanted and the type of sex that I wanted and hat type of interaction in a conscious and beautiful, loving real relationship. I never got to see growing up. So of course, for me, this is what I want to get my kids like, I want to give them that thing. Her homework had stuff around dating consent, different sexual identities, it talked about dating apps also. I mean, I was like, This is amazing. It’s pretty comprehensive. Yeah, it was really cool. So at that time, I was like, great, this is going to be a beautiful opportunity for her and I to learn, and have dialogue on something completely different. And it was in such beautiful alignment because for me at the time, the awakening of like, why can’t moms talk about sex? happened internally.

I remember being around a bunch of girlfriends trying to talk about sex and love and relationships with them at the time. And they were all moms. And all but one of them were open to talking about sex. And here I am like, we’re all moms, and our kids are going to cross this barrier and we need to be comfortable with it. Because I don’t want to be like my mom. I don’t want to have that discomfort of not being able to talk about sex, love, relationships, the hard shit in life, I didn’t want to hide those things. So yeah, that’s kind of where like, that whole thing began in terms of just blowing the gates open and talking about sexuality, then pivoting my business into being a sexual wellness coach And it was all because of the homework assignment, but then I just started talking about it publicly. And then, back to that story of the video interview. It was for a Filipino community and at that time, a lot of my followers were like, ‘thank you for doing what you do as a Filipino American woman’. ‘Thank you for talking about the things that our moms never talked about.’ And I just, I’ve resisted coming home to my community for my entire lifetime because I was also told by my community, how different I was. How I didn’t want to conform, how rebellious I was against everything. And I was like, none of what you guys are telling me of how to live my life is right.

 

Leisse: 

This is so interesting to me because as a conscious relationship coach, I am so fascinated and captivated by the human experience. And one of the foundational takeaways is, while we are each having our very unique experience and interaction with this world, the emotional experience that we’re having is virtually identical, like that, that is to say, we all have the same feelings. And one of those feelings profoundly is that we feel like we’re having our feelings in isolation, which then begets shame and more isolation, and self judgment. And it’s through these kinds of conversations and the work that you do. The work that I do, that we start to just open the door, and we let people in to be like, “Oh, you have felt this feeling? I too, have felt this feeling because I am human”. One of the really interesting things that I’m hearing in this is that there was such an absence of belonging or a feeling of the absence of belonging. The absence of belonging/ the deep need to belong, is a profoundly human thing. So if I’m just sitting here thinking, as an upper middle class, tall, kind of pretty white woman, if I feel that I don’t belong from time to time, like juxtaposing on ‘Holy shit! what do we do when the cultural messaging here is now telling you one thing and another kind of cultural messaging is telling you another thing?’, and you identified as feeling like third Gen? How did you say that?

 

Jo:

third culture

 

Leisse:

What does that do to your sense of belonging and ability to be in the world?

 

Jo:

Oh my god, I felt so alone growing up. I remember, there are moments in high school when I would try to talk to girlfriends or friends actually, about just the experience I was having at home, because my parents and my brother and sister, so again, they’re 8 and 10 years older than me, so they’re far older than me. In the Philippines, when you have older siblings, it’s kind of like you have them as second parents, or your other set of parents. So because my parents worked a lot, and so did my brother and sister because they’re much older. I mean, it was great, because I sort of had some siblings. The other thing is to let me just look back at sort of really quickly, I didn’t meet my brother and sister until I was 10 and 12 years old. They were still in the Philippines, and they didn’t get their citizenship right away. So they had to get a visa and all that other stuff and work their way really hard to move out here and I got my citizenship because I was born here.

 

Leisse: 

Did they live with your grandparents or family? 

 

Jo:

They were living with…I think they were separated. So my brother lived with a great aunt and then my sister lived with my mom’s side. So my brother lived with my dad’s side, my sister lived with my mom’s side. I still don’t know that story yet. I don’t know why they were separated. I don’t know why, they have no idea. My mom honestly doesn’t open up to it. And I think it’s because there is so much shame around that. And I see that too with my mom, because she was the only child out of 9 who made it over to America. And so she’s even alone. So like, there’s just so much of that, you know, and I see her human experience. A part of me is like, just open up just a little bit, you know? And maybe one day and who knows, but there was so much corporal punishment in my house. Yeah, I grew up with a lot of domestic violence, because they were disciplining me through physically. And they were disciplining me because all I was doing was just speaking up for myself. I was just telling my truth, I was expressing how I felt, I was talking about my discontent about things. I never did drugs when I was growing up. I ran away a couple times, but I mean, like, most kids kind of sneak out of their house, you know, I mean, but, I got decent grades. It wasn’t straight A’s, but I got decent grades. I didn’t want to become a doctor or nurse or an engineer, I wanted to become an artist. And so to them, this was like, ‘holy shit, this girl is out of line. We need to beat her back into submission.’ And that was for about, 4 or 5 years of my upbringing. It was hard. I remember wanting to share that with friends, just the experience, just to be able to talk about it and also, not get my family in trouble, because I knew that this was their form of just wanting more. They didn’t know any better, they didn’t have any other tools. But it was so hard. I remember one time hiding bruises on my legs during PE class because I didn’t want anybody to see the belt welts. And, you know, they didn’t beat me to the point. Well, there were some moments, but like, they weren’t like beating me because they were drunk. They weren’t beating me because they were out of control that way. I mean, there was, “reason to’, discipline me. That was their only form of discipline. So I remember feeling really, really alone in that I was trying to explain that to my white friends, they would immediately say ‘Get the fuck out of there’

 

Leisse:

And I was gonna say, you know, zooming out a little bit. Now you don’t really feel like you can belong at home. Because when you try to be you and speak your truth at home, you’re punished. So then when you are trying to find belonging in your peer group, and you’re trying to speak your truth about what’s happening at home, you don’t really belong there. So it’s like mask mask, mask, bury, bury bury. That’s very isolating. 

 

Jo:

Yeah, I remember this one time, I ran away because I felt so alone. I ran away and I ran away to my ex boyfriends house ex now, my boyfriend’s house at the time. And that was when I was raped at 15. 

 

Leisse: 

Oh, Jo. 

 

Jo: 

And so that was really hard, because here’s the one person I thought I could really trust and be myself and share all these things, because he also understood what was going on. And I walked into a situation that was not safe for me. I mean, I thought It was just gonna be me and him hanging out. And it was a party and it was like, ‘Oh, fuck, this is already like bad news’. One thing led to another and I went home, I think 1 night later. And I just was like, how do I go home?

 

Leisse:

Oh, man.

 

Jo:

I just left violence stepped into another violence and how do I go home to this? And what do I say? because in their eyes, I deserve that. I actually didn’t tell my parents about that until maybe four years ago and six months later, the feeling of loneliness and depression, feeling just so sad led me to my suicide attempt

 

Leisse:

I was gonna say there couldn’t have been much of a gap between a suicide attempt there because that is like, Okay, I’m gonna check out this, right. And I’m not like idealizing suicide by any means, but it’s like, oh, it’s not safe here. So when I take action, I create safety here that’s not safe. And then I take action again, to create more safety and that’s really not safe. Fuck it. I’m over it. I’m not playing anymore. 

 

Jo:

I mean, I wasn’t even safe at school because when I ran away, everybody knew. My parents went to the school and were asking around for me, nobody knew because my boyfriend at the time did not live in my city. So I took a bus, two and a half hours away to go see him. When I came back to school, I had photos of me inside the trash can. I was so embarrassed because my parents were passing flyers like, ‘have you seen our daughter? We haven’t seen her. We don’t know where she is. She has no cell phone. Like we don’t know where she’s at.’ And the embarrassment also of just like, Oh, fuck, everybody knows there’s drama at home. And like, I was gone and now I have the whole school asking me questions, 

 

Leisse: 

and you were 15?  How did you come through that? 

 

Jo: 

Thankfully, I mean, you know, when I attempted suicide, my dad found me in the bathroom, and rushed me to the hospital because they didn’t know what the fuck happened. And I just was on the floor in my own vomit. Woke up to a tube down my throat and was in intense therapy immediately after, because obviously I tried to take my life and so I woke up with a tube in my throat. And then of course, handcuffed to the bed. I mean, talk about waking up in the traumatic experience.

 

Leisse:

Come On! When does this get to be a fair experience for you like, Oh my god, I just, I’m just Well, I know, we’re like coast to coast right now, but I’m just going to quickly put my arms around you and like, press you into my body. And this is, that is more than anyone should ever, ever have to experience, sweet pea.

 

Jo:

So yeah, it’s funny because I’m, I’m like, flashing back to those moments and I remember seeing it. And I was so scared too. My parents weren’t around, they were at work and I woke up to a police officer outside of my door. And I just was like, Fuck, what did I do? And where am I? And what happened? I didn’t know anyone. 

 

Leisse: 

And you didn’t do anything wrong? 

 

Jo:

No, I know. But you know what I mean? Like you’re a child, you’re scared. And so, fuck dude with the saving grace of that moment, like, I experienced therapy twice a week for about 4 years. One was solo. The other was supposed to be with my family but because Asian Americans don’t talk about emotional health, mental health, any of that stuff. And being my Filipino Catholic parents, they believed in praying over the entire situation. So they refused to be there during most of the therapy sessions. It was supposed to be the three of us. They would wait outside. And I remember being there and hoping that my mom would come in and sit and listen. And so differentiating myself from my family’s experience, and my family of origin and my parents and all that stuff started really young. 

 

Leisse: 

Yeah, no kidding. 

 

Jo: 

And it was great. Because in some way, had I not had that experience. I would still feel so alone. Because at 16 through like 19-20 years old, through all that therapy, that’s when I really was able to find myself. And just know that despite feeling so alone in the world I at least still had me. 

 

Leisse: 

How do I say this? I am in no way being like, well, thank God that happened to you. You know, like, I don’t mean it like that. It shouldn’t have happened to you. And it says so much about your character, your soul, your spirit, your tenacity. To be able to, as a teenager when you were not even fully cooked yet, as a teenager to be able to use that experience in that transformational way. And to really be like, okay, here’s who I am now. Nobody does that as a teenager, right? Like, we do that in our now 30s 40s 50s. So I love that you were able to go purposefully with it. And I just respect so much being able to be in the recognition of that trauma. And then like, you know, we’ve got this point over here, this point over here, and where they converge is now the work that you’re doing in your community, with your family, with the people that you support, to really give them that power doesn’t even cut it, but like really coming at it from a much more embodied and empowered place of service. Who the hell are you!? You’re like some kind of angel that is like doing God’s work!

 

Jo:

It’s crazy, because I remember after finally feeling like I was coming out of just the darkness. And in my teens, I got into a creative writing class in high school. And that’s when, you know, my thought of,  I just want to help other people in a situation. I want to help people. I want to help bring people out of their darkness, because I fucking came out of darkness. And I rose from so much of it. So it’s funny to now look back at history, and I know this deep within me, I know that my story is what’s going to help heal so many people. And I’ve always known that about my life. And so I trudged through the shit, knowing that deep within. And that centers me so much, even in those moments where I’m like life has brought me to my knees. I think one of the things that I really like, I personally really love and admire about myself, is the willingness to roll up my sleeves and get dirty with that. And to figure out all the shadows and the intricacies and the whys. And to just make sense of it, not only for myself, but so that when I do coach or when I do teach, when I do speak, I’m literally coming from a really lived experience.

 

Leisse:

Yeah. I call it earned and learned, like wisdom that you only get by going through something. Man, I was gonna say too, oh, there’s so much I want to say. This is like the peril of the lightworkers journey, right?  So we talked about this, when people are like, ‘you’re so strong’, it’s like, ‘Fuck you! can I please not be strong’. You did a post on Instagram, I know you tagged me and it was like, ‘it’s okay for you to fall apart’. Because I’m over here. I’m like, No, it’s not. When people are like ‘you’re so strong’, the default answer from the strongest people, we’re all like, ‘Fuck you I didn’t ask for this, like thnanks but what was my choice? to not be strong?!’. And I feel like, again, it’s such a blessing and a curse. That’s the ultimate paradox of like, you went through that shit that maybe at a soul level you agreed to, I don’t know. And you’re still finding a way of making it bigger than you, right? Like making it bigger than you and especially for people that I’ve worked with and friends of mine in my personal life, who have experienced sexual trauma and violation. Oh my god, like the feats of strength required to reclaim your own sexuality, like that’s already massive. And then to be able to reclaim that not only for yourself, but for your daughters. And now for your clients. It’s like, it’s really commendable. The way in which you show up.

 

Jo:

Thank you. I appreciate that. Yeah, it’s, I mean, you know, we’ve talked about this ‘It ain’t fucking by choice’. And ever since our conversation about that, whenever people are like, you’re so strong. I’m like, I don’t like that word. Can you just choose resilient? Yeah, cuz right now, I want to be weak but I’m choosing resilience. 

 

Leisse:

But do you also get tired of being resilient? Like, Come on, guys. 

 

Jo:

Can I just be? I want to just be. I’m in progress. For now.

 

Leisse: 

I feel like that’s on the horizon for you, just that ability to to be I know, you’ve got a couple challenges to go through. But I feel like that’s got to be on the horizon for you this place of stillness.

 

Jo:

I mean, I feel it and I feel you know, the idea of stillness is so difficult. You know I was teaching a class. So, I also teach at Journey, I’m a life event instructor to future life coaches. And so the class that I teach is actually on, it’s so funny, the class that I teach is on emotional triggers.

 

Leisse:

Oh, do you have some familiarity with that?!

 

Jo:

And coaching presence! Like, I don’t know why I’m pretty equipped. So it’s funny because like, one of the questions that one of the students had was around this idea of stillness, because I said, you know, the thing that that I always try to do with my clients is like, bring them into a moment of presence and like stillness, even in the beginning, just so that we can both drop in energetically and be in the same place. And they’re like, well, what if it’s really hard for your client to say still, and I said, you know, it’s interesting, because for some people, staying still is really difficult because of their trauma. So it’s one thing to kind of keep in mind. And what I remember saying that, like, I just was like, Oh, that’s a download from the universe, because I haven’t sat stil. And then I just was like, Oh, this is why it’s hard for me to stay still. This is why it’s really difficult. I’ve had to run all my life, and I’ve had to build so much greatness for myself just to rise from the shit. And now in this moment, I’m taking a soul care sabbatical, thanks to our conversation. And I think I’m taking it for at least six weeks. Awesome. And taking a step back from building, doing, thinking, it’s just me being and like, being a mom and being in this transition of a divorce. And I’m also unpacking the trauma response of having to do, yes, really actively consciously surrendering to the stillness, and let me tell you, it’s fucking hard.

 

Leisse:

It’s so hard. And like, I get, I get so nerdy about this, I’m so excited for you. Because I know what’s on the other side of this. I shared recently, it is safe for you to be present in this moment of your life. And I shared that for a reason. You know, there’s so much to explore here. Because I think the pandemic for everybody has brought that like, ‘Whoa, what am I afraid of?’, like, I’ve been on a hamster wheel, where I’ve been reaching for a ton of drugs, or a ton of alcohol or a ton of sex, to cover up the void that I have’. And so you know, we stay in terrible relationships, because confronting that is too scary. Or we stay in this method, or this model of like, do, achieve, repeat when it comes to success. Because in the absence of that, it’s like, well, who am I without my material success and wealth. So that I think it’s glossed over in this little social media world that we live in, it’s just like, you know, just be present, it’s not so simple. Because when every fiber of your neurology has taught you, that being still in present is fucking dangerous, right? Then it triggers that fight, flight, freeze, fawn response of ‘Get the hell out of here, just keep moving’. Right. It’s like those little I think it’s a mouse in Australia, I think it’s a kind of rodent in, but like, they’re so busy, and they’re so frenetic that if they stop, they drop dead, like their heart rate changes, and they drop dead. And that’s such a powerful model, because then like, I watched so many women do this, it’s like do achieve, do achieve, wear the mask, play the role, perform, perform, perform. And it’s like, what would happen if you stopped. Well the perception is that if you stop, it’s a disaster. And so the work that you’re doing, of learning how to be safe in the cultivation of that stillness is not only commendable for you as a human, but I think it also like, it’s just so commendable in overcoming all of the previous cultural programming that has backed that up, that has taken that neurological safety and then shown you examples consciously, or socially that like, no, this is the way that we do it.

 

Jo:

Yeah, yeah. And I mean, if you think about the immigrant experience, I look back at my mom, and as you were saying, all those things, I remember, my mom would never take a day off. Like she just would not sit and I remember seeing that growing up. And I was like, I do not want to be her. I do not want to be her because she is literally working herself to stress, chronic stress. She is overworking herself to the point of just anxiety, & depression that she doesn’t want to talk about. She’s overworking herself to the point where she has this relationship with my dad that like, I don’t I don’t even I couldn’t even tell you if there was, there was probably love there. But I couldn’t tell you if they were ever in love. Growing up I never witnessed it. And so I remember telling my mom like you need to rest and she was like, I can’t rest. There’s like no rest here. And she’s like, I’ll rest when I’m dead. I’m like, Oh, that sounds terrible. But I remember finding myself in those moments in my marriage, in my relationship, in my career, in my womanhood. And I was like, Oh fuck, I’m becoming my mom and I don’t want to be that. So in this moment of rest and stillness, there are times where I like when I wake up from a nap or when I wake up from sleep, I start just touching myself at the pleasure. Yeah, just like touching my body and touching her softly. Gracefully under the covers. Taking like my linen sheets and kind of rubbing them on my face just because it feels delicious and good. And then I’m whispering to my body ‘You are safe. It’s okay to rest. We’re safe. It’s okay to rest’. Just so I can reprogram myself and it has been an interesting week long experience. I can’t wait to like, you know, obviously continue to learn more about how that’s going to unfold and change me. But it has been. It’s been great to slowly start to wake up feeling deserving of it. Like, truly deserving of it. And that is a feeling that I’ve had a long dance with forever, because of course, cultural messaging in my household, you’re not allowed to rest! You need to do more. And the reason being because if you’re immigrants, like doing more, performing more, keeps you from rocking the boat. It keeps you from looking different. You don’t want to be the Asian American or the Asian immigrant kid who looks lazy, because guess what, you can be kicked out. Or you can be discarded is pretty much the messaging that I’m pretty sure my parents had in their brains working super freaking hard for their visa to get over here, and doing all the things they needed to do to get citizenship. You know, I was born here and just like all the things.

 

Leisse: 

I’ve heard women of color describe that as like, you have to work 10 times harder than anybody else. It’s really 10 times harder than any white person, because you just have to prove more. And it’s not even a conscious thing of like, Oh, I have to do this more. I have to be more. It’s like it’s ingrained into you like, Nope, just do it. And don’t ever get seen as anything other than the hard working one.

 

Jo:  

Yeah, yeah. Yeah. I mean, it is the craziest thing. I mean, also, you know, it’s interesting, as you said that my mom, I remember, she wouldn’t take certain up leveling roles in her work. I mean, she’s still worked jewelry in retail, but she wouldn’t take upper management. And I think the reason being is because responsibility, fear of failure, and then also what would it mean? Because then she would have to be seen? You’d be seen, which is dangerous. And her potential flaws could also be seen too Right. And also, my mom always said, never asked for help. Never ask for help. So I mean, even that, like I mean that was unpacked for me in 2018, where one of my partners when I was exploring non monogamy during that time, had said to me, like, he’s offering me help in my business, and just a different perspective, and I felt like a visceral reaction my body. And he was like, why don’t you like receiving help? let me unpack that really quick. And I dated it back to my mom’s story. And I just was like, holy shit! This is a physical thing in my body that I’m feeling.

 

Leisse:

And that is such a common, dare I say, emotional trigger. That’s a trauma response. Right. Somebody finally offers you help. When you’ve become so self sufficient for your own safety, survival, protection. And then somebody offers you help. It’s like, it’s almost like, I can feel it in my body still, it’s like you recoil away from it. I’m like, No, no, no, no, no, like, we can talk it through but I’ll pay you. Right. It’s like, let me push that away. Because of the idea, the perception of receiving help from another, I still feel the tightness in my stomach, because it’s just like, Oh, I can’t do that. I can give it and I can over give it, and I can overwhelm you totally, but you just can’t help me. And I also can’t ask you for that. 

 

Jo:

I’m not drowning. It’s okay. I’m not drowning. I’m not suffocating.

 

Leisse:

No, I’m fine. Can I do anything else for you? Great. Can I bring you coffee?

 

Jo:

While I’m here underneath of all this shit? Is there a way that I can serve YOU? You know, anything? Because this yoke on my back is not enough.

 

Leisse:

I know. And it’s not going to carry itself. Let me tell you. Oh, I hear you offering your help. I didn’t hear that. But that must have been weird. You know, it’s like it’s such a common experience. It’s such a common experience. And I can only imagine as a projection of what that is like, again with this extra layer. And again, I don’t know if you’re comfortable speaking to this, but like 2021 in particular, I feel like hass really brought out the like, the risk for Asian Americans.

 

Jo:

I mean, 2020 did for me. I remember the first time a year ago, when we were all in shelter in place, and seeing the news of Asian Americans being harassed. All the racism. I told my ex husband, this is the first time in my life that I’m scared of being Asian American. This is the first time in my life I do not want my kids outside. This is the first time, and I live in the fucking Bay Area, we are supposed to be really diverse and super inclusive, super open. I mean, this is like a tech hub. The pot of people that come in here, you would think and then also like San Francisco, there’s so many Asian American immigrants that came here early on. So it’s like, this shouldn’t even be a thing. This shouldn’t be a thing. And the fact that it was a thing, and then all the shit that was happening in Oakland, which is like, I mean, I live in Oakland. So it’s like, there was I think, 10 minutes from me is Chinatown. It was just like, Fuck, can I get a break really quick?

 

 Leisse:

I know. I know.

 

Jo:

I mean, just a moment. Is that cool? No? Okay. So yeah, I try really hard not to think about whether or not that threat is coming after me. I try really hard. But I remember, you know, hearing the news and seeing the news. And so many of my friends’ parents do look like all those Asian American elders that were getting hurt. And it was just so sad to me, because you hear about it happening in San Jose. And that’s where I pretty much spent a lot of my upbringing. I grew up in San Jose. So it’s like, all of this shit was so close to home. And I just was like, Fuck, like, this could be my friend’s parents, and their grocery store. This could be my mom and dad.

 

Leisse:

Just another layer of unsafety. Right.

 

Jo:

And then I think the other part of it is like, how do you speak up?

 

Leisse:

Yeah. Well, that’s really what I was gonna ask you, how do you personally manage to speak up? How have you found even a certain degree of comfort or safety in speaking up and in being able to speak your truth and live in a way that feels very aligned for you? amongst the many hardships that it’s taken for you to get to that place?

 

Jo:

You know, it’s interesting, because I’ve gotten that question, several different times in my life in different ways in different forms. Because, you know, ever since having a public online presence, the thing that people always ask is like, how are you so fucking authentic? Like, speak your truth so openly? And like holy shit, you know? And the thing that I was just reflecting on when you’re asking me that question is, if I don’t speak my truth, a part of me dies. Like, it is literally in my body where I feel what I’m not speaking up. There’s restriction and constriction. And that signals to me that I’m not in flow, and when I’m not in flow, I’m not my best self even in that moment. So I’ve just learned throughout my years of just lived experience and life experience, to speak up as much as I possibly can, because it’s important because if not, a part of me dies, a part of my spirit just dies.

 

Leisse:

So for you to be you and be in alignment with what you value. This is just a part of it is using your voice and speaking 

 

Leisse:

You know, politically all the things that were happening, and culturally, it’s really hard. I remember when George Floyd’s death happened. My daughter became very, very vocal about it. It was so difficult because for me, and I wasn’t trying to, I didn’t want to center it on my experience, but the only way that I can help my community understand or other people because I feel like Filipinos happened to be a bridge, right? Like, Filipinos are very interesting in terms of just our culture. We’re not really quite Asian. And we’re not like we’re not Asian enough. We’re also not brown enough. We’re not black, right? but there’s a part of us. Like, if you talk to most Filipinos in my generation, there’s a part of us that we’re like, we love fucking hip hop. we’re kind of like, we’re taught or told that we’re like the ghetto version of the Asians, like, we’re not like the typical, stereotypical Chinese where we are super smart. You know, we’re still kind of in this mix of like, we’ve got some labor with us. But like, it’s just, we’re an interesting, just extended Island people, because we’re islands like. I think that’s the beauty too, like, We’re from the islands. So we can have a lot of intermixed culture. And if you look at us, like historically, Filipinos happened to be the first wave of Afro Asiatic was our people. So like, our people are actually from Africa, literally a first wave. So anyways, I remember during that entire year, June 2020, I was like, in a freeze moment for myself, like, how do I speak up? How do I say anything? Because my entire upbringing was told to not speak up. And also of being Filipino American, and I’m pretty sure some Asian Americans feel this way too, or just yeah, Asian Americans feel this way too. It’s like, you look at racism, and it’s like, it’s not your fight. That’s the fight between white and black. Don’t get involved. Don’t get involved. And then, you know, in addition to that, I remember my parents had their own, especially my dad had his own racism woven up within him. Like, never date a black guy. WHY? why would you say that to me? And so anyways, the whole speaking up thing has been really an interesting thing, because I am pretty sure. Again, not trying to speak on behalf of obviously, my community or other communities. But I know, it’s hard for us to speak up. We’re not only taught that culturally, we’re reinforced that at home. And then we’re also reinforced that by our Western culture, too. And all the other messaging of us not being enough already. So why would our voices be important enough to be heard.

 

Leisse:

So in your own experience, I, I like to ask people, you know, how to be a human, but I want to get more real and more granular with you. I’m writing a book, a second book called Alone, the truth and beauty of belonging. And for me that’s really, really resonating with everything that you’re saying, you know, after your own earned and learned wisdom. How do you find truth and beauty in belonging?

 

Jo:

Well, I’m still trying to understand that fully within myself and trying to fully embody that truth. But when I think about truth in beauty, in belonging, you know, I think about this feeling of, like liberation, the thing that comes to mind is this sensation of just like being in the most comforting silkiest adornment? I don’t even know what it really looks like. It doesn’t necessarily need to be a gown or robe, but it just feels soft on your body, and comforting. And like there’s just sensation to it. It’s pleasurable and feels warm, and just beautiful and soft. And that, to me, is this feeling of just surrendering into yourself? And into the people around you, but most importantly, into yourself. Because I think despite the chaos of anything in the world, once you can find belonging in yourself, then you truly belong everywhere.

 

Leisse:

I think that’s, I mean I don’t think, I know that’s the secret. That’s it. Yupp. Clapping, That’s it. That’s it. We’re never really alone and we’re always alone. And so it’s like, instead of running from that, or feeling like we need to run from that, but to be able to really be at peace with belonging to ourselves. That’s why I wear a ring, like a gold band on my ring finger because it’s like holy shit I actually belong to myself and I’m very comfortable in supporting myself through that. So again, I think it’s really beautiful that you’re coming home to that place.

 

Jo:

Yeah, and I think that belonging to self is very interesting, because there is, I think I want to say there’s a fine dance of belonging to yourself, and then also being so independent that you don’t need others. 

 

Leisse:

Yeah, I know to be able to let the boundaries down but keep them up enough that you get the right people in but not so high that nobody can climb the wall when they’re ready to come in. 

 

Jo: 

Yeah, it’s such a dance right? I remember this one beautiful, like my first psychedelic mushroom journey ever. I remember I was like oh my god I don’t need anybody, self love is the answer to everything and at the time I was in two relationships one with my ex husband and one with my now partner because we are exploring non monogamy now as polyamorous or I am polyamorous, or in a polyamorous relationship, so complex…

 

Leisse: 

But you want to talk about how to develop excellent boundaries and communication?explore non monogamy.

 

Jo:

It’s so beautiful. It’s such a beautiful experience for another conversation. But yeah, I remember sitting down. I was like, self love is the answer and I remember my brain was like, but also, also wait a second, I can’t love myself too much that I don’t have my children in mind, that I don’t have my community in mind, that I don’t have my partners in mind, I don’t have lovers in mind, there has to be this balance Like, I just remember being on that trip. But I was like, love is everything. I don’t need the boys, I don’t need kids. And I’m like, Oh, wait, gotta bring it back. 

 

Leisse: 

We’re gonna, we’re gonna rein that back. But you know that’s what I argue for that all the time, that every other relationship we have in our life is an extension built on the foundation of the relationship we have with ourselves. So when we’re having relationship problems, quote, unquote, where something doesn’t feel in flow, when we rein it back and be like, okay, so where do I feel not in flow or not in alignment with myself, that I can heal that in a deeper way, which I think is ongoing. For the record. I don’t think you reached that pinnacle. Like, Oh, cool. I did it! done. No, it’s like we’re constantly evolving, and we’re constantly in progress. But taking it back to that place, and then watching how it then heals forward in other relationships.

 

Jo:

Yeah, yeah. I mean, I’m in the deepest healing of my life right now, walking away from a 12 year marriage, 18 year relationship, one that, you know, I remember the first time I was feeling that like a gut knowing that this relationship wasn’t right for me. 2015. And I started telling family, and I mean, even before that, when we were having relationship issues, or problems, quote, unquote, I remember trying to gain help from family members, and community and friends. And of course, family was just like, push through it, it’s just just a hard season of your marriage. This is what marriage looks like, this is what marriage looks like, just push through it. And you know, we would be tried therapy. We tried therapy for a little bit, even though he was resistant. And I just was like, Fuck, like, inside of me. I was like, I don’t want to. I know this is gonna go down and be the same relationship that I witnessed growing up, and I didn’t want it. And because of the cultural messages of just push through it, just keep going. As a woman, like, what else do you want? What else do you want?

 

Leise:

And also, who are you to ask for more? Like, this has been good enough for everybody else. Who do you think you are? That you deserve better than us? 

 

Jo:

Yeah, it was like, what else do you want? You have a beautiful 9-5 tech career, two kids. You have a dog. You live in the Bay Area. You have a husband, who is creative and has a photography business. Like, what more do you want? Fuck, Okay, maybe you’re right on paper. I do have it all. What’s wrong with me? something’s really wrong with me. And I remember trying to fix so many things. And I was like, Fuck nothing’s wrong with me. I wasn’t living in my truth. 

 

Leisse: 

Exactly. And that’s, oops, I almost just threw my laptop across the room. You’re like, where’s my mic? I gotta drop that too! That is it. That is it. There’s nothing fucking wrong with you. It’s that moment of like, oh, there’s nothing wrong with me. I’m not broken. I don’t need to be fixed. I’m not in alignment, or there’s something that is unhealed, that is out of alignment. That is a super subtle shift in language, but it is a vastly more powerful difference in practice, right? 

 

Jo:

Yeah. And I just, I mean, fuck the pandemic. It slowed me down. It was the one thing that was able to slow me down. And, you know, prior to that, I was like, 

 

Leisse: 

That’s all it took, a global pandemic?!

 

Jo:

It didn’t take an injury. It didn’t take any of those things. I swear like life was like to happen.This bitch needs a huge fucking pause button. Maybe this will work. 

 

Leisse:

Is this big enough for you? That’s what he said!

 

Jo:

Oh no, the goddess was like I’m gonna send one big dick down, the Coronavirus. Have fun with that. 

 

Leisse:

Bend over!

 

Jo:

You wanted to be sexually liberated, Jo, come on,

 

Leisse:

May we recommend our Excalibur package.

 

Jo:

Oh man, boy did that like, oh boy, was that something that shocked me and in a lot of ways like, I’m trying so hard to unravel from so much shame about the divorce because we launched a podcast in 2020 thinking that like, Hey, we’re going to do this creative project. And I thought like maybe a creative project would be the thing that also helps to continue to sustain us. And honestly, maybe, yeah, this would be a great opportunity for us to share all the learning lessons we’ve learned over the last two years in non monogamy in rebuilding our marriage in trying something different in reclaiming ourselves. And then pouring back into our marriage, even though it was complex. And it was a beautiful experience. But then I also started to just witness the same patterns that were perpetuating prior to, in this new container. And I, you know, I wasn’t traveling as much, I wasn’t working as much. So I was able to actually see everything with a little bit more clarity. And the funny thing is, in 2019, I was like, 2020 is my year. 2020 is like the year of clear vision, the theme of 202 is gonna be clarity. 

 

Leisse: 

I know, well, be careful what you wish for. Is that clear enough for you?

 

Jo:

I know. Right? It was like, you want clarity. Cool. Yeah. And so you know it. I mean, we got into a fight that I just was like, I’m not doing this again, I’m not, I didn’t want to be in the same fight again. And it was the same fight that we’ve done before. And I just was like, I can’t, I can’t do it. So I asked him to leave the house momentarily. And the first conversation we had back a week later, after like taking some time apart. I was like, I don’t want to be married anymore. I don’t want to do this with you anymore. And it’s been what, like eight months, nine months of like, just trudging through that mud. And then also, bringing up so many, so many wounds that I have suppressed and repressed, so much violence and abuse emotionally, so much gaslighting and narcissism that I just could not see. And was also too afraid to label. Because once you label it, it’s real. That’s the truth. 

 

Leisse: 

Yeah, and your brain can’t make you a liar. So it’s not possible, psychologically, it’s not possible that I could have been in this 12 16 18 year relationship and been violated this whole time like that I can’t accept that reality, then you get to this moment of stillness, which Congratulations, by the way, because you actually have come through a period of stillness, and it has been safe for you to do so. But like, you get to that place of stillness, and it’s like, Oh, shit. Now, this is exactly what’s happening. There’s that 2020 vision. It’s like, in hindsight, this is exactly what happened. Right? 

 

Jo:

And I mean, it’s hard, because it’s like, you kind of dance to the beauty of it all. And you look at the, you know, as far as, as I’m looking at everything, it’s like, you look at the performance aspect, you look at the doing aspect, you look at everything that you’ve accomplished in that relationship, and we accomplished a lot, a lot. And there’s a lot of beauty in that. But if I’m truly, truly honest with myself, like, deep down inside, I knew from a very long time ago, that that was not something for me.

 

Leisse: 

And nobody else can ever understand. I feel like nobody else can understand that unless they’ve been through it necessarily. Because nobody knows what happens in a marriage, except the people who are in that marriage period, like period, that’s just the way that it is. Right? And what feels on or off for you is so unique for you that it’s up for nobody else’s judgment. And again, it takes a lot of inner resilience to be able to have that conversation with yourself and label it and then take action on it.

 

Jo:

Yeah, yeah. And then also just like, walk through the lack of like, family support, because you know, I mean, they don’t know what to do. They don’t know what to do. Like nobody’s, I’m the first person to get divorced in my family.

 

Leisse:

And nor will they and it’s like, nor will they understand that. So again, there’s that. Let’s break this pattern, right let’s break that pattern of you feeling so isolated or not seen or not supported or that you belong, because it’s like, that’s one more pattern or one more way in which that pattern is coming up. Yeah. And it’s like, I think that you’re, you’re breaking it.

 

Jo:

Yeah. I mean, it’s and you know, it’s funny, like breaking patterns, like, it just hurts in the body.

 

Leisse : 

I know. I know. Until it doesn’t, it’s like it’s so cruel, because it hurts. And then it’s like, oh, okay, I did it. You know, it’s like one more thing that I came through for the sake of coming through it. But it’s like, you never have to do that again. In that, and I think I sent you that podcast a while ago. But like, That, to me is the huge or hugely traumatic part of divorce, is that it? for a lot of us triggers this like PTSD response, right? Because like you go through the process of divorce, and the process of divorce triggers, so many past dramas, it’s like, wow, now like, now’s the time, I got to go through this, okay.

 

Jo:

I’m thinking about. I’m like, you know, I actully told my daughter, I told my daughter last night, I was like, I’m so excited for you to fall in love and get a heartbreak. And she was like, Really? I was like, Yeah, because think of it, like think about this way. Think about what Mom’s going through right now. This is a really big heartbreak. Even though I’m the one who wanted it, it’s still a really, really, really big heartbreak. However, I now know that you’re going to need a trip to Joshua Tree, a bunch of girlfriends, some chips, ice cream, and for a bunch of women to come and celebrate you as much as they possibly can to help lift you up as you rise. And then I was like, and maybe there might be some psychedelics in there. Because at that point, you’ll probably be old enough and then we know it’s just gonna be that whole different relationship. It’s a brave new world. She’s 16 at this point, it sounds like I don’t foresee you’re falling in love until a little bit later anyways. But yeah, it’s so hard also to be doing this during a pandemic, when all I really want is my girlfriends. 

 

Leisse: 

Yeah I know. I know. It’s, it’s again, it’s really hard. What you’re going through is really, really hard. There’s no bypassing it. I know, you’re gonna find the beauty in this. And still right now, it fucking is brutal. And that’s a very real thing.

 

Jo 

I mean, you know, the beauty in this right now in this moment is I’m in this season of dancing with my pleasure and pain. Like there is this feeling of the best way I’ve had it described to me is if you envision like two cups, and you’re pouring water in and out of one cup. And that’s kind of what this feels like. It’s like pouring out and then pouring in simultaneously. You’re like, Fuck, this is like a heady cocktail. Yeah. But like I’m pouring out so much, I like to refer to as like John’s wife. And that old version of me and pouring a lot of her out of me so that I could open up into whatever this space is going to be. And it feels expansive, but it also feels really, really painful. Because you know what, I think that’s the thing that like a lot of people don’t ever really express very much are we have this like, misunderstanding with just because you’re the one or I’m going to ask for the divorce doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt. 

 

Leisse:

I know! People may resist this. But like, I think being the one to call time of death on a relationship is in many ways, not in all ways, in many ways, more painful, because of the resolve it takes to be like, Oh my god, I know you feel that this is broken, but I have to be the one to do this. Okay, here we go. Like there’s so much additional pain. 

 

Jo: 

I mean, it’s, it’s brutally painful because you’re the one who sees it for both sides. And, and you’re the who’s conscious enough to be like, okay, we’re not only just waking the fuck up, but we’re both gonna rise. Since you can’t make that decision that I’ll have that. And it just, it’s not easy. It’s not easy.

 

LeisseL  

No, and expensiveness is painful, right? Like that growing outside of any container. Is it like you’re busting through a limit. It’s painful. We watch it happen in nature all the time. It’s not pretty. It’s not graceful. It’s usually disgusting, deteriorating experience before it can become like grace and beauty and healed.

 

Jo  

Yeah, yeah. And I mean, this is like all of it. Like I think about, you know, me, divorcing that marriage is hopefully also stopping the pain of my mom. You know, and it may not happen right away. But I just, you know, that’s obviously the multi generational wounding of just the same relationship over and over and over again, because I remember thinking to myself, like, yeah, on the outside while this relationship looks so fun, and so free. And yes, there are moments that felt really amazing. The moments that felt really bad were also on the polar opposite. And I just, I was sick and tired of having that whiplash.

 

Leisse 

Yeah, that’s a great way of saying it. Yeah. I think you’re just a beautiful human, like you’re beautiful on the outside, you are so beautiful on the inside. And I really, really celebrate you being here and speaking so openly, that is going to serve so many people like across the actual world in a time when people still feel like the world is standing stone. In your own words, how do you describe it? How do you think you’d be a human?

 

Jo 

You know, I think being a human is being able to radically accept all the pieces of you. Dark, light, gray, black, white, all the pieces that are misunderstood, all the pieces also that you’ve yet to understand. I think that’s what it means to be human. And to also just, to be honest, to just try to find pleasure in that. I mean, there’s nothing there. The suffering is all around us. And so if we can find pleasure in being able to radically accept all the pieces that we’re still unsure of within ourselves, that’s what it means to be human. 

 

Leisse:

I love that. I love that. Where can people find you and connect more with you?

 

Jo:  

You can find me on my website gofitjo.com. I’m also on the ‘gram and everything social @gofitjo

And also you can have some messy conversations with me and my wonderful co host Kristen on our podcast called Nothing Confidential. 

 

Leisse: 

Such a good podcast. You guys are just like the best team. Okay, thank you so much. It’s been just a pleasure getting to spend this time with you. And I adore you.

 

Jo  

Thank you.

 

Have questions? Comment? Enjoyed this episode? Want to connect with me on social media?  Wahoo!

Instagram: @leissewilcox

Website: leissewilcox.ca

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