with h e s i t a t ing t i n y steps she ventured toward the door marked
for she valued SAME -ness and FAMILIAR -ity and a REASONABLE AMOUNT of Comfort.
Which did she want more, CLARITY or COMFORT? Her chest held RoCKs while her belly held s e
Each evening she returned to SAME and a REASONABLE AMOUNT of Comfort but the next morning she’d check the weather and biting her lip carrying the RoCkS holding her y flutte r belly she’d venture toward the door marked
a teeeee n s y t i n y bit closer
till one day when she woke to check the weather and the storm B L E W
against her window she ventured out
closer and closer to the door
when she saw l i t t le b i t ty letters etched beneath the word CLARITY spelling out
( f r e e d o m )
and she R A N out never to return for freedom was better than a REASONABLE AMOUNT of
(Thank you SaferBrand for illustrating growth. I think I’min the flowering stage, and looking forward to ripening…)
18 years together–long enough to raise me and send me out into the world.
In this time you, my therapist, my hero, have taught me what I can hold onto and what I must release.
Starting in February 2001 with the death of the mother I’d always tried to please, in one session a month you led me through the minefield. You helped me learn to navigate when she had her lawyer send me pre-packed boxes of her possessions with cruel sticky-notes on the backs. I had ruined her chances of relationships with my children. I had made her unable to display the photos of my children. I had I had I had. I Had Disappointed.
Never in her notes, (dated and initialed), did she mention the anger and bitterness she spewed onto my children that last time she saw them. Never did she say she could have done things differently. Never did she mention the crazy note she put in Corinne’s 16th birthday present telling her not to believe what others said about her–two of the three she mentioned having been dead for some years.
Never did she say she was sorry. Never did she thank me for the years I’d continued to try to be in her life after her other two children had left it because they couldn’t handle her altered version of their reality.
And you, my steady, guiding therapist, walked me through that. All the emotions, all the self-hatred, all the raw pain.
You helped me learn to be a mom. My kids were mostly grown, but there was so much for me to learn: how to not take things personally, how to follow my own instincts when responding to the highs and lows of the rollercoaster that was life, both mine and theirs. How to not simply buy into the highest volume reaction in the house but to follow my own heart. I did this often poorly, but something you helped me learn caused my children to be extremely forgiving as I’ve apologized every time I realize the next big thing I got wrong.
In the teen years of our relationship you helped me see the truth of my marriage–that the bad had far overtaken the good, and I was living the definition of crazy by trying the same things over and over and over again with the same result. That my stubbornness couldn’t change the essential skeleton of this decades-long union. That in this struggle to hold on I was teaching my children terrible lessons. That sometimes choosing to call time of death is the most grownup decision you can make.
You’ve taught me to hold onto myself, always. To hold onto who I am in this world, and that it matters I am IN this world. That my way of loving and supporting and being available is a valid and valuable way, no matter what I’ve been told otherwise. You’ve taught me to pursue the knowing of who I am, to let go and be me, even though those who should have loved me best couldn’t. Even though those who should have known me best didn’t. You’ve shown me that God and I have the closest view of my heart even when others called me Disappointing and a Failure and Unloving and Unsupportive. You’ve helped me see those are not words that define me. You’ve taught me that I can let go of those Lies In My Bones.
I’m a work in progress. An imperfectly perfect me. Over these past 18 years you’ve helped me let go of what I could never really hold onto–making another person happy. And you’ve taught me to hold onto what I can–the growing of myself. I’m headed the right direction now.
To say thank you seems hollow. How can those two words express even a small percentage of the gratitude I have for literally giving me the will to live? For teaching me to appreciate who I am? To open my tightly clenched hand and release the control I never owned? To keep the bitter words of others from piercing my tender heart?
I was drowning and you saved me. I am eternally grateful.
As I’m dismantling my life in California to move northward to Portland, Oregon, I’ve been noticing how my space speaks of me–for one thing, it says A LOT (not unlike my own mouth) and it reminds me who I am and who I want to be.
As my wall says, “A day without laughter is a day wasted.” Did you know that endorphins are released by laughter? Did you know that releasing endorphins will lessen pain? I’ve always found life a bit ridiculous and know that when I lose my sense of humor I’m in trouble. So laughing not only helps me cope with my fibromyalgia but with life. I’m no longer embarrassed by laughing out loud when I’m watching Modern Family or Big Bang Theory or Life In Pieces, in fact I relish it.
When I went away to college at Linfield in McMinnville, Oregon, I started sketching myself this way on letters home. (I can at this moment hear my mother saying from her grave in Nebraska, “Not enough letters home–“ Sigh. Yes, mother, I know.) If only I’d known what that “overweight” 17-year-old body would look like through the lens of this 65-year-old… But I still often feel like this same child, looking for where I fit, making fun of myself.
A list of “feeling” words. When I moved to Fremont 3 1/2 years ago, I began healing from years of false thinking and being shut down. I needed words for what was going on in me, but shockingly for one so generally wordy I didn’t have many! That’s one of the effects of trauma though–closing off emotionally. When emotions don’t seem safe to express they can become stripped down to “happy” and “sad”… and sad isn’t one you bring up. Who knew there were so many variations?
On my bulletin board these several things have resided: one of my favorite portraits done by a student of daughter Corinne, and a handmade heart pin I found at a thrift store by another “Julia”. Also my Post Office box number because in 3 1/2 years I never could remember it correctly. It’s closed now, thankfully, so I don’t even need to try to memorize it.
On the side of the bookcase by my desk has been a collection of my borrowed fam–the people who took me in on this leg of the journey. I’ve been fortunate to have those who have welcomed me all along these past five-plus years since I ran away from my #MarriageFromHeck, from Danville to Berkeley to Castro Valley to San Jose, then finally here to Fremont. In these 3 1/2 years I’ve been able to watch Carrie’s children grow from kiddos to young adults. (By the way, it’s way more entertaining to watch other people parent teenagers, thank you Jesus!)
Also on the bulletin board are these two reminders: the West Coast Christian Writers Conference put on by friends, and another of a special foster child who was part of a difficult but incredible time of providing emergency foster care for Alameda County. Below is a photo of a child who is always in my heart…she went from being our Baby Diamond when we took her in at 9 months old to our Diamond Girl as she grew into a toddler and then the 4-year-old we had back with us for several months. She will always hold a space in my heart. I think she would be about 25 now, and I hope she senses how much of our hearts she took with her when she left that second time.
I’ve grown to love birds more and more as a symbol of freedom. This beautiful decorative birdcage makes me happy, but it will never hold even a decorative bird inside it. Its door will always remain open to remind me that I have choices in this life of how to live, and the boundaries are mine to make.
Nope, life doesn’t have to be perfect, but I find the whole thing to be full of spectacular sunsets and flowers and deep and silly conversations. All those overlap to be w o n d e r f u l.
I’ve been a creative soul as long as I can remember, but I was so emotionally constipated in my fear and trapped mindset that I couldn’t create. I made this in the first moment I was able to be free, be the bird out of the cage, in years. It felt incredible.
This packing process, the folding up of this tent of “home” has reminded me of the process of life. I know it will reassemble itself in some new form or fashion in my next tent. What an excellent way to remind myself that the location is not the home, that in fact I carry my home with me, and can set up camp anywhere.
Even these representative objects I surround myself with aren’t required–it’s the person they show me and the person I want to grow into, that’s home.
I can see my growth and my character in these bits as I’m dismantling. A sometimes terrible sense of humor, a heart with a capacity to stretch and hold, an appreciation of people, lessons learned. It’s good to be reminded.
The Bring Your Own Beverage Conversation:What are three things you’d like people to know about you? What ways do you demonstrate them in your life and/or surroundings?
I have family in England, so on occasion I escape to what looks like a magical land to this Californian. This minute as I write, I’m sitting at a table in their garden, gazing past stone fences and heaps of lilacs and honeysuckle and beyond to a field. I came at the perfect time of year when spring is making all surfaces outside a thing of beauty.
Beautiful, serene view on my walk. I learned I shouldn’t be leaning on pasture gates….
Life here is not without trouble, of course.
There’s rain and snow and crappy jobs and people not getting along. I’m sure to those who live in the villages of England all this beauty I’m enjoying looks familiar and not so magical. They probably don’t notice the mounds of green I see spilling over walls and houses, they don’t see stone and brick houses and pasture gates as anything besides the usual. For me, it’s new every visit. The flowers and bushes and fields and even the cows speak into my soul.
So please forgive me for greedily soaking up everything around me. I hope sharing it with you has given you a moment of beauty and joy too.
There are few character traits I have perfected in my lifetime–I’m still working on becoming perfectly loving, perfectly full of grace, or even perfectly honest. But people pleasing? I’ve worked on this one for many years to good success, I believe.
Following are some of my most useful tools in pursuit of People Pleasing:
1- Think white Wonder Bread, or saltless saltine crackers. Work to achieve this level of blandness of opinion. Any food you might find palatable when suffering from a tummy bug, model your shared thoughts after these, for strong opinions are your enemy.
2- Learn to appear fascinated by the viewpoints of others, even if they are giving a detailed account of their bowel habits. This can be achieved by gentle head nodding and the occasional “Ah–” or “Mm” even if you are actually trying to guesstimate the length of that rogue nose hair of theirs rather than listening to their words.
3- Always laugh appreciatively at the jokes of others. You needn’t actually find them amusing. The teller will find you a person of rare intelligence, especially if even the joke teller knows it made absolutely no sense and in addition was in very poor taste.
4- Always defer to the other person’s tastes. This applies to anything you might do together. If you hate hamburgers, be willing to go to any beef-based franchise. This especially applies to vegetarian People Pleasers. Practice phrases like “Oh, I can always find something to eat.” Hate Tolkien? Prepare to embrace the extended versions of all of the Lord of the Rings movies, and the relentless repeated watching of aforementioned movies. Learn to do mental Sudoku or redecorating to survive said hours of “entertainment.”
5- If the other person prefers to be the only person with feelings, never let them know you’re having a down day. Keep the muscle memory of that forced smile front and center at all times. If they prefer you dependent, consider adding “What do you think?” to the end of every sentence. In restaurants this looks like, “I’m thinking of getting the Asian Salad–what do you think?” If deciding what movie to watch, “I’d love to see a comedy tonight–what do you think?” This gets trickier when pondering decisions like how quickly you need a toilet, so Your Mileage May Vary.
*These techniques are most effective with those who feel theirs is the Only and Superior opinion in town. Should you be dealing with a person who prefers people with an actual spine, these People-Pleasing Practices may simply cause blank stares and yawning, so choose wisely when to use them.
The not-so-funny truth of being a People-Pleaser is that it can wilt your soul, like that celery I feel compelled to buy but never eat, and if not caught in time, your soul will become like that celery–spongy, brown and smelly.
I consider myself a Recovering People-Pleaser. This is a process best practiced with people who love you and give an actual crap about your feelings and opinions. Safe people.
If you would like to join the society of Recovering People-Pleasers, go gently with yourself. Your skin is likely easily bruised and tender, but it will toughen with use. And it’s worth walking away from the People-Pleasing life. You’ll thank yourself for it–I know I have.
The Bring Your Own Beverage Conversation: If you are a People Pleaser, what drives that for you? How do you feel when you stop expressing your feelings? Is there someone you trust who you could try being honest with?
YOU HAVE WORTH, YOUR IDEAS AND OPINIONS AND FEELINGS HAVE WORTH. DARE TO SHARE.
Yesterday was a tough one, wasn’t it? So many feels and some of them were uncomfortable.
You felt angry and sad and like throwing a fit.
You stomped your feet and folded your arms tightly across your chest. You stuck out your lower lip, and said, “It’s not fair!” I get it. I don’t blame you. Why do the things you’re happy with have to change?
I know you love your room here. All your special things surround you–your pictures on the walls and your collections on the shelves. And your books, well, your books are everywhere. You do love your books!
This room has meant a lot to you, hasn’t it? It’s been your safe place after feeling unsafe for so long. You’ve been able to rest and trust the people around you to be kind. Your room means Calm. And Acceptance. And Home. Of course it makes your heart hurt to think about leaving it.
Here’s what I want you to know: when it feels like life and God are being mean, I’m here to hold you. When things are too hard to understand and you feel sad and mad and a thousand other things all at once, I’m here to listen. And on days you think you’ll feel unhappy forever, I’ll be here to help you remember that our feelings come and go, ebb and flow. That life changes but God doesn’t. That He loves you and is paying attention even on the hard days. He’s collecting your tears in a bottle, and that means he sees every single one.
I want you to know that I understand how unsettling it is to have people in your life come and go, and it takes time to get used to. And that doesn’t mean you won’t cry sometimes and wish things were different, but that’s okay.
I want you to know all these gazillion feelings are normal. There’s nothing wrong with you when you don’t feel happy. There’s nothing wrong with you when you stomp your feet or your tummy hurts or your chest is tight–it’s your body talking to you. It’s telling you something is bigger than usual and it wants you to stop and listen. You wouldn’t ignore your friend if she was talking to you, would you? Your body is your friend, and you need to learn to hear what it’s saying.
I want you to know that hope is on the other side of the hurt.
That my love is always there for you
and my arms are always waiting for you.
You are safe with me,
and together we are home.
That I am with you for our next adventure and every one after that.
Early childhood trauma leaves some of us incapable of handling our emotions in a healthy way, and those feelings can become bigger and more powerful than they need to be. We can learn to be a kind parent to that small child part of us that’s feeling overwhelmed. For me, my fears can take over when the child is in charge, and I can become disconnected. My therapist has had to teach me ways to pay attention to my body, remain present, and define what I’m feeling. I’ve come a long way, but it’s a process, and my petulant inner four-year-old can take over at times…she’s a cutie, but boy does she have a serious attitude! I’m learning how to talk to her and reassure her, and show her she’s not alone. (I do at least try to have these conversations in private….)
I fear water. That if I jump into a lake or a stream or the shallow end of a pool, something will grab me from below and yank me down to the bottom to drown.
A little over a week ago I was sick, had a fever, got dehydrated and fainted–on concrete. I was out cold at 4:30 in the morning, face down, on the back patio, waiting for the dog to pee. Fortunately, I rent from a friend, and her son heard me and called 911. I had the second ambulance ride of my life, and Tredan, 18 year old son of my friend, sat with me in the ER for hours upon hours. I fear passing out face down on the concrete–alone.
“Alone” is one of my biggest fears. I fear that I squandered my chance to be in a loving non-alone relationship by holding fast to my irrational belief that I Could and I Should spend decades in the #MarriageFromHeck to be a good Christian woman, because certainly if I only prayed hard enough, made the right dinners, bought the right gifts, was agreeable enough blah blah blah I could become enough to make him happy. As the founding member of The Slow Learner’s Club, turns out that was not ever my job. Also turns out that Wimpy, Defensive and Argumentative are not good looks on me.
I fear that though I am absolutely in love with my children and grandchildren, all the result of that marriage, I may never experience a relationship with a special someone who finds it absolutely adorable that every single time I see the light coming through the leaves of a tree I will say, “The light through the leaves! I love that!” instead of muttering the irritated “I KNOW!” I should expect.
I fear that I will take my crepey skin and no-longer-thin waist to my deathbed, alone. That my gray hair and Bingo Wings will sleep alone forever with the possible exception of a dog or 24 cats. That my delightful sense of humor and absolute inability to give away memorabilia including every movie ticket stub will go unappreciated by that one special person.
I’ve barely scratched the surface of my fears, having not yet mentioned really big spiders, and plump slimy slugs (I mean, God, WHY?) and just so many more things….
Fears. Just one more thing that makes me feel like a Bad Christian. I mean, how many times have I heard “Perfect love casts out all fear” and other verses like that? And heard that God should be Enough? And that His plan for me is perfect? What if God’s plan is that me and my dimpled thighs live alone in a place inhabited by slugs and really big spiders… surrounded by water?
GREAT. I’ve uncovered another fear: a fear of God’s perfect plan for me.
I’ve always been a fan of the redemptive, turn-it-around ending to a story–you know, an I’ve-reached-this-wonderful-understanding style finish. My problem? This story is still unfolding. Unfinished. I have no idea how it’s going to turn out.
What I do know: I may always struggle with anxiety and depression. I may never get over my fear of water. That I was insane when I thought my hips were too big at 20, and I’m never ever going to get the point of slugs. I also know that after I lost babies in pregnancy, God gave me opportunities to love and nurture through foster care and adoption, and that while I’m still sad about those babies I didn’t get to see grow up, I can’t imagine my life without the children I have now.
I don’t know how to end this, so I’m just going to stop
I have been asked on many occasions why I don’t write devotionals–I’m a Christian and a writer, right? Usually this is when I’m with a group of Christians who are writers, so I say something like, “It takes me more than 250 words to introduce myself, so I couldn’t possibly write devotionals that short!” There is a smattering of (polite) laughter, and the conversation is over.
What I don’t say but I’m thinking is, “Actually, I’m kind of a lousy Christian.” I feel like people who takes verses from the Bible and tie lovely slices of life to them to bring them alive should be of the more holy variety of Christian. I identify more as the unwholly-holy type. Let me tell you why:
I don’t attend church on a regular basis. Honestly, in the last decade I haven’t attended even on an IRregular basis.
I have a passion for the well-placed used of the F word–a word I would have killed my children for saying. I would like to blame my long and difficult marriage for bringing on my potty mouth, but …
I have no set “quiet time” and no set space for one. I live in one room, people–the whole place is A Place. As for the daily discipline of aforementioned quiet time, let’s just say that discipline has never been my superpower. Plus I forget. I get in bad moods. Sometimes I don’t want to and you can’t make me.
As a writer I have actually gotten feedback that my piece wasn’t Jesus-y enough.
I want to love and affirm people who believe differently or have completely different lifestyles to me.
I can’t remember the street address of verses I like to save my life, and clearly I can’t remember what it’s called when you say the Bible book name and the numbers of the chapter and verse.
I forget to set down my troubles and “rest in the loving arms of Jesus.”
Sometimes I remember to rest in the loving arms of Jesus.
I’ve learned to love and respect people who differ from me in their beliefs and lifestyles, that each of us has innate worth as a created being sharing this planet.
I’ve realized that I will keep learning who I am and continue becoming who I want to be till my last day on this earth.
I’ve learned that being a Good Girl isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
I’ve been patient at least twice.
I hear God when I shut up.
Sometimes I shut up.
It turns out that lots of the boxes I thought I had to tick to be a Good Christian aren’t even strictly taken from the Bible, they’re made up of what we finite humans have used to make sense of an Infinite God.
I’m not saying that any person with a regular prayer time or who can quote sections of the Bible or attends church regularly isn’t sincere–I love lots of people who love Jesus and who do those things. I’m just saying that I’m a struggler. I’m perfectly imperfect. Unwholly-holy, with lots of not so holy bits left over. My head and my heart war. The Lies In My Bones fight with the Truth I know. My life’s journey is made up of a million bad choices–some mine, but some the decisions of others, and I’m left dealing with the consequences.
We are all strugglers on this planet. We all do better at achieving our goals on some days than others. We each have our own internal fights. All the things I don’t do coupled with all the things I DO make up my particular road trip on this Earth, my unique identity. I love the Creator of this globe we’re sharing, and I love His Son. Maybe I don’t think I’m a Good Christian, but I am a pretty good Jesus Follower, and that’s good enough for me.
In fact, that’s perfect.
The Bring Your Own Beverage Conversation:Where have you taken on someone else’s idea of your identity and stopped looking at who you really are? How can you embrace the perfectly imperfect you?
*Be kind to you. The God who created the earth made you.
Today I’m having a guest post by a Twitter friend, Aaron. He and I have talked a lot about the common themes I write about here on The Lies In Our Bones–early trauma, Triggery Badness, the Lies we tell ourselves based on our early coping mechanisms, among others. Lest I make us sound like two wise and serious souls communing on The Meaning Of Life, we talk about plenty of stupid stuff too and laugh. Oh, and I mock him. Hard. A lot. (Really, I’m a good friend…mostly.)
He’s in a transitional time of life, one I remember so clearly after I left my #MarriageFromHeck 5 years ago. Everything was changing. Suddenly I was trying to shake myself from the lies I’d been telling myself for years…things like “There’s no such thing as safety” “I’m alone” “I’m worthless” and other fun stuff. My therapist kept nudging me toward becoming the keeper of my own safety, being my own friend, and telling myself the truth.
Since I could remember how tender I felt back then, it seemed only appropriate to catch Aaron tweeting about feeling sorry for himself and his situation and encourage him in my nurturing way…by telling him, “Pity Party of One, your tiny table and one wobbly chair is ready!” We ended up dubbing it “the wobbly chair” and pass it back and forth as needed. (If we both need it Aaron has to sit on the floor of Twitter.)
He’s been journaling to process what he’s learning and sharing it with the Twitterverse, and this one hit home for me. Hope you enjoy it as much as I did! Take it away, Aaron………
Creating a Life of Meaning
Lately I’ve been feeling alone in the world. In my mind it’s as if everyone else has a life but me. I crave connection. I crave being with someone, and I tell myself, “Life is empty and meaningless without having someone special in my life.” But is that true? Is my life meaningless without having a special someone in my life? No!It’s yet another lie I tell myself. Or maybe it’s another lie that Satan tells me. Either way, if I focus on that belief and start incorporating it into my belief system then I’m all but doomed to feel unhappy and depressed. I will undoubtedly also feel very disappointed when/if that special someone does come along because they will not infuse my life with meaning, either. That’s not their job. That’s my job.
Engage in the relationships God has placed in my life.Reach out to family and friends I haven’t talked to in a while. Go visit them. Invite them out to do something. Catch up on the phone and see how they’re doing. Don’t just sit around idle.
So then, how do I go about creating a meaningful life for myself?
Engage in the relationships God has placed in my life.Reach out to family and friends I haven’t talked to in a while. Go visit them. Invite them out to do something. Catch up on the phone and see how they’re doing. Don’t just sit around idle.
Reach out to people who are hurting or struggling or may just need someone to talk to.There are all kinds of people struggling with things in their lives. Some may be vocal about it, like on Twitter, and others may be suffering, and I don’t even know it. Whatever the case, reaching out to them and forgetting about myself for a while can make a world of difference.
Do things for myself. Engage in a new hobby. Attend a new group. Go for a walk. Find a good book to read. Clean up around the house. Do some things I’ve been putting off like going clothes shopping.
That’s pretty straightforward and simple isn’t it? It’s not complicated at all. I just have to stop sitting around on my wobbly chair feeling sorry for myself and take action to create the meaning in my life that I crave. As a bonus, these things will strengthen relationships and provide support for me when I need it. It’s a win-win situation if I put forth the effort.
And back to me, julie!
The Bring Your Own Beverage Conversation: Is there anything you’ve been sitting back and waiting for to give you a sense of worth? If so, what has held that place for you? What action could you take to move forward in your life and create your OWN best life?
I’d love it if you’d keep us off the wobbly chair and talk with us, we’d love to hear your thoughts!
Remember to be kind with yourself. It’s a process.