A Letter to My Therapist

(Thank you SaferBrand for illustrating growth. I think I’m in 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 my struggle to hold tightly to my marriage I was teaching my children terrible lessons. That my stubbornness couldn't change the essential skeleton of this decades-long union, and sometimes choosing to call time of death is the most… Click To Tweet

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.

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. Click To Tweet

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.

With love,

-julie

5 Easy Steps to People Pleasing

Image by Pixabay

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.

To My Petulant Inner 4-year-old

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.

And on days you think you'll feel unhappy forever, I'll be here to help you remember that feelings come and go, ebb and flow. That life changes but God doesn't. Click To Tweet

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.

God 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. Click To Tweet

# # # # # # #

  • 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….)

Some helpful articles:

The bring your own beverage conversation: Is there something young-you needs to hear from grown-you? Or vice- versa? I’d love for you to share, just so I know I’m not the only one talking to myself–

REMEMBER TO BE KIND TO YOU.


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God’s Perfect Plan For Me & Other Fears

I HAVE A GAZILLION FEARS.

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.

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? Click To Tweet

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 fear that I will take my crepey skin and no-longer-thin waist to my deathbed, alone. Click To Tweet

The Bring Your Own Beverage Conversation: What fears do you have for your future? If you don’t, please tell me how you manage that. I mean, seriously, how??


Why I’m a Bad Christian

Photo by Tirza van Dijk on Unsplash

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.”
  • I whine.
  • I get mad at God.
  • Sometimes I’m in a bad mood for years.
  • I get mad and lose my shit.
  • I say “shit.”
— I whine.– I get mad and lose my shit.– I say "shit." Click To Tweet

BUT:

  • 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.

I'm a struggler. I'm perfectly imperfect. Unwholly holy with lots of not so holy bits left over. Click To Tweet

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.

Divorce Sucks (& other news)

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

Having been full of angsty posts of late, I’ve decided to borrow from my new blogging friend Esther’s post from yesterday and write my own version of the Dolly Mama’s Is IT Worth It? about parenting, then and now.

I had the unique gift of becoming an Insta-Mom when I married my now ex-husband. He had a 6-year-old, and I Knew Nothing about being a momShe and I played and read together and walked to K-Mart and bought those little kits with the short pieces of yarn and the hook to make wall hangings and rugs. Every night I read Winnie the Pooh stories to her, doing all the voices, long before Disney took over and did the voices wrong. (Don’t get me started.) I tried to soothe her sad heart when she asked why her mama didn’t want her.

I had her sister, the one child who was stubborn enough to hang onto the inside of my uterus and be born of my womb. Stubborn always and funny and insightful, she had her dad figured out by age 3. He was prone to big, loud lecturing when someone displeased him. He would tell the girls that they “needed to go have a talk!” One dinner time he was being grumpy and argumentative, and a certain 3-year-old spoke up to say, “Dad, go talk to yourself!” (Here you may picture me wanting to laugh so badly that I ended up with broccoli up my nose. And you may be exactly right.) Then at 5 this little reader of mine saw a devotional in a Christian Bookstore and said “Look! We should get this for dad–‘The Men’s Emotional Bible!'”

I refuse to tell the stories of her great insights about me.

We started being foster care parents for the county, and our first baby was a bouncy, noisy, full of life little guy who later joined our family permanently. Did I say “bouncy”? I meant CONSTANTLY MOVING. Constantly finding new ways to be creative with the toothpaste when he was to be brushing his teeth. Constantly experimenting with the spatter pattern of blue ink pens on his wall….you get the picture. My neighbor’s first vision of me was seeing me holding this little love of a boy by one arm to take him away from whatever he was seeking to destroy. Only one chance to make a first impression, right? *Sigh*

Then we added our 4th, a teenager we met in the church high school youth group where we volunteered. She came potty-trained and able to dress herself, also fully capable of dressing herself in the same exact droopy navy blue running shorts–day after day after day.

The marriage in which my ex and I gathered our family died, my having stayed long past its expiration date. Things, for lack of a better way to say it, got weird. I was a traumatized mess, having lacked the ability to take care of myself emotionally in the marriage. I became a mother of very little brain. I was barely available to myself let alone my adult children. But adult children still need a mom, and mine had instead this twitchy, fragile being prone to crying.

Some of those children grew a bit distant. Some, being made of snarkier stuff, were able to just shake their heads at my craziness and know it would change in time.

It was a rough few years.

I'm not a fan of divorce, I never will be. Sometimes, because this is a broken world and we are broken people, divorce happens. Click To Tweet

NOW–my oldest, at one point my stepdaughter, still remembers all those nights reading Winnie the Pooh. We joke that we have grown up together. Some school secretaries have commented that they can see the resemblance between us (I wish! She’s beautiful and thin.)

The stubborn child of my womb, she makes me guffaw with her understated snarky comments on life. She still calls ’em like she sees ’em. She and her husband have taught me the wonders of craft beers.

That active, bouncy boy? He’s an active bouncy 30 year old who still gives this mama lovely hugs when we get together, usually for a movie and lunch. He puts up with my need to take selfies in front of the poster advertising whichever movie we’re seeing, and even mugs along with me.

The daughter of the navy running shorts has branched out, a good plan since she lives in England where it can get ridiculously cold, and wears a variety of clothes now. We visit each other and laugh ourselves silly.

Those sad, hard years after I left their dad have passed. They were awful years, crying years. Struggling years. We all were trying to figure out the shapes of our lives after the huge rending apart of what I had hoped would be a forever marriage and childhood home. I’m not a fan of divorce, I never will be. Sometimes, because this is a broken world and we are broken people, divorce happens. We figure out how to deal with it, with the identity shift. I was once a wife, now I’m not. Everyone once gathered in one home, now we don’t.

That shifting part sucks. It sucks badly, the in-between, the limbo state.

But in time, with persistence and love, the pieces start finding their new places, the bonds are re-formed in different ways. There’s laughter again, sharing again. Give yourself the grace to walk through the storm–you will come out the other side.

And now there’s bonus material, because I can share the horror stories of online dating. But that’s for another post….

Give yourself the grace to walk through the storm–you will come out the other side. Click To Tweet

The Bring Your Own Beverage Conversation: Are you in a limbo state of some kind, with your kids or your relationships? If so, how can you be kind to yourself in the changing weather of it all?

I’d love to hear what you’ve done for yourself in this sort of situation!

Self-Care for Survivors (& other mysteries)

Photo by averie woodard on Unsplash

THE LONGER I LIVE, the more I realize how little I know. I see laid out behind me a veritable country of bad decisions, aaaaall with little headstones and wooden crosses.

They have inscriptions like “This is the time you allowed yourself to believe these words about yourself” or “Here lies the remains of your self-respect” or maybe “This is the time you trusted your feelings instead of your brain.” So many, many crosses.

The problem seems to be that I think I have something figured out for 5 minutes and then I move ahead. But OH here’s a bump in the highway with my next big screw-up where I didn’t remember that I am supposed to be in charge of my own safety, my own growth, my own self-care.

It’s tricky, taking care of myself after so many years of capitulating to the beliefs of others. I believed for years the words of my mother, the actions of my mother toward me, that I was A Disappointment, that there had Once Been Hope that I would be Worthy but clearly I Had Failed. I tried and tried and tried to disprove that by my own actions, my own words, to her and everyone else around me. SEE! I am THIS person! The person who loves her children! The person who still tries to have a relationship with a mother who is dismissive and mean to her! SEE! THIS IS ME!

I don't know how to feel pain and not want to stop-drop-and-roll into my own little hermitage away from the world. Click To Tweet

For years I tried to prove in my marriage that I Was Good Enough. That I was loving, kind, nurturing, could put up with being yelled at and belittled by a man with clenched fists and still have a sense of humor. BUT, still I believed, a little more and a little more over time, that he must be right. The one with the loudest voice wins, the one who can roar the longest and the fiercest must be right. Therefore I am wrong.

Surviving this Psychological Warfare shit means I am now supposed to, at age sixty-freaking-five, be in charge of my own safety, my own well-being, my own sense of self. I am to Take Care of Me.

Again, for 5 minutes I think I have it figured out–Engage in Life. Walk in the sunlight, write poems and prose and pointless rhyme. Talk to friends, build friendships. Continue building the relationships with my children. Do the creative projects that feed my soul.

5 freaking minutes.

Then I add another cross to the Country of Bad Decisions. I lose being present in the moment. I forget that I’m still fragile, still healing. Still very stupid and un-self-aware. I beat myself up for making mistakes, for being human. I’m back into my head, and sometimes the inside of my head is a war zone.

Will I ever get “it” right? Will I learn to be more than human? More than full of mistakes?

No. I can’t. As long as I’m on this earth I WILL BE FULL OF MISTAKES.

I’ve spent my whole life trying to avoid screwing up. Messing up was a reason to be crucified by people who were supposed to love me and want the best for me, so I learned to fear my mistakes like the devil. And what better way to avoid making mistakes? Do Nothing. Do not engage, do not join, do not risk, do not breathe. All that does is make one light-headed and lonely.

I don’t want to be frozen like I was for so long, but I don’t quite understand how to move forward and risk and still be in charge of my own safety. I don’t know how to remember to keep breathing. I don’t know how to feel pain and not want to stop-drop-and-roll into my own little hermitage away from the world.

Such a painful way to live!

SO–I think my self-care for today looks like this:

I will get down on my knees and look my little girl self in the eyes. I will hold her shoulders gently and say:

“I am here for you. I will always be here for you. I will have your back, no matter what happens.

“It’s okay to make mistakes, that’s how we learn. It’s part of being a human. I love you!  I will always always love you with my whole heart, I will always be here when you need someone to hold you, even if it’s early in the morning and you know how much I hate morning.

“You can’t do a single thing to make me love you less.”

Then I will hug her for as long as she needs to be held.

 

The End.

For today.

I see laid out behind me a veritable country of bad decisions, aaaaall with little headstones and wooden crosses. Click To Tweet

The Informative Meltdown aka My Life As A Trauma Mama

Last night I slept hugging a pillow and my stuffed dog.

It was a rough week last week. I agree with the thoughts that “last week is over!” and “this is a new week!” and all that cheerful shit people try to encourage with. I agree with it, but I know it is far less than the whole story.

The whole story? It includes the week of my fifth birthday. It includes the day I gave birth with not nearly enough pain medication.

It includes me sitting on the edge of the bed after being belittled and badgered for an hour and a half and told I was not all the things I thought I was, like supportive, loving, giving….and wishing for death, time and time again. It includes the days I started realizing I didn’t need to live that way.

All those weeks and days and seconds are included in the whole.

Last week sucked big time, and the pain of it was informed by all the weeks that came before, even the moments when I stood frozen in fear with my hands over my face to hide my tears in 5th grade. I don’t even remember why anymore, but I can still feel it in my chest when I think of it. I feel the tightness, my breath coming shallow, my clenched jaw, my inability to cope.

INABILITY.

This is a place of Triggery Badness in me. It’s an oozing wound. And for people who would use other people for their own gain, it’s a raw piece of flesh to poke a stick in and stir.

I woke up crying today. Don’t remember that happening before, but it makes sense–that old unhealed, bleeding part of me was poked and stirred last week.

What my Triggery Badness told me last week was this: People who would gladly hurt others for reasons I can’t understand, people who need to control others and exploit the pain you’ve been trying to shed through all those weeks of all those years that came before, they are out there and they will find you. They will sniff you out–sharks smelling blood. THEY WILL COME.

All the Triggery Badness of last week, where it caused me to swear (more than usual) where it caused me to cry (more than I expected) where it made me wonder if I have really grown at all, healed at all…

SAVED ME.

It saved me. Someone else found me. Someone who I thought had been becoming a friend. Someone who had words of encouragement and praise. There were other things about them that I was uncomfortable with, red flags, green flags, purple flags–all the flags, really. And I did my usual thing–I said to myself, “don’t be judgmental! Maybe they are just that different from you so you’re uncomfortable. That doesn’t make them invalid.”

Then they struck. First a light strike–just a shark nose bumping my leg, just a comment to say that In my Best Interest, should I say that? Do that? Thinking Of You! So I considered their words. I did what was suggested because it made sense. They’re just protecting me, right?

Bigger bump. Their response that put me in a lesser position to them, that said I Am More Than You. I Have Superior Experience. I Will Guide You. Harder shark nose bump, awakening the trigger, starting its vibration.

Next strike, bigger strike, taking a chunk of my leg. Me bleeding out as they chided, You Are Doing This Wrong. I Know More. Listen To Me! You Are Great But Incapable, I Will Lead You!

Triggery Badness released in full horns and bells and whistles. ALARM! DANGER! DANGER!

And I realized what my Triggery Badness was trying to tell me, why it was screaming for my attention: This person needs to be Better-Than, which means they need me to be Less-Than. This person needs to be the one Who Knows, which means they need me to be the one who knows less, the one who needs guidance. This person knows your weakness, your fear that you are Incapable, Unable, Unfit. They smell the blood of that exact wound, that precise tender place–and are willing to exploit it. You Are Prey. (Watch this video–I saw it after I wrote this post and it explains my whole life!)

This person knows your weakness, your fear that you are Incapable, Unable, Unfit. They smell the blood of that exact wound, Click To Tweet

After trauma, one’s nervous system is wound too tightly. Its strings are taut. Its alarms are set to go off at the whisper of one’s breath. It takes time to retrain and rewire our brains after trauma. This is not something that happens overnight. This takes work and practice and more work. It will include the week of my next birthday in 2019. The week of Christmas in ten years.

It’s ongoing.

Don’t judge me for the path my healing takes. I’m working my ass off to heal those triggers, to rewire my brain and let the wounds close and form healthy skin once again.

Don’t judge me for crying. For clutching a stuffed dog and a pillow at age 65. For cancelling plans. For being anti-social. For whining sometimes. For being too silly, too loud, too quiet. Too sarcastic.

Don’t tell me “it’s a new week!” which translates to “Just get over it!” in my healing brain. I’m trying to sort out the good from the bad. I’m trying to be in charge of my own safety, my own mental health. I’m trying to not go back to a place where I believed I Am Incapable. I’ve been there, done that, I’ve peed on the T-shirt and burned it.

Have patience with me, with others who struggle. You can’t possibly know all the weeks I’ve experienced. You don’t know the weeks that will come. You don’t know what informs my actions. I will do my best to do the same for you.

For whatever reason we have trauma, trust us that it’s real, that we wouldn’t have it if we could help it. That we are likely working on it right this second to not run screaming from social interaction that can set off all that cascade of signals that we Are Not Safe.

We heal in community. Be a part of that healing community.

Be kind to you, be kind to me, be kind to others.

And be safe.

Same life, different day?

Photo by Anandan Anandan on Unsplash

 

IT GOES WITHOUT SAYING, some days are harder than others. Even some of the days on the road to recovering from being a Trauma Mama are harder, but the overall trajectory is better.

As a small child I didn’t know how to cope with the chaos of my home. I worked out my own coping strategies on an instinctual level for safety. That mostly involved hiding from what terrified me. Since that was pretty much everything and everyone, you can imagine the job of remaining hidden and invisible and only popping my head out when I had a smile on my face took up most of my time and energy.

I’m beginning to see how one part of my coping was to deal with one day only. Get through that one day by keeping myself safe. I didn’t look into the future with a sense of hope. As far as I was concerned, the future looked like “same life, different day.” Keep under the radar at home, in school, at church. Be unseen and unheard if you disagreed with others. Only be seen in small moments of lightness.

This is a tricky way to live.

I carried it on into my marriage. Try, try, try harder to make no waves. Try, try, try harder to soothe difficulties rather than solve them. Try, try, try harder to only be seen in small moments of lightness–moments that became much less frequent in time.

I’m five years out now from my marriage. Five years of ever so slowly thawing from the freeze of being my Trauma Mama self, of holding my body so tightly, fighting my emotions so fiercely that my body said “Enough! I now give you the magical gift of Fibromyalgia!” If that doesn’t teach you to slow your roll, nothing will.

Part of the thaw means I’m feeling a broader range of emotion, I’m seeing a broader range of possibilities. I’m even starting to see, waaaay out there in the distance, what is that thing? Wait–I’ve heard of those……the glimmer of A Future!

That processing led to today’s poem for the Poetic Asides Wednesday Prompt of SET:

 

Same.

 

I thought of my life

as a set recipe–

minor changes,

a variation

with

an added herb,

a trace of spice

but still

essentially

the same.

 

I thought of my life

as a slow leak,

a faucet dripping

Same sink,

same dribble,

same

leak,

new day.

 

I thought of my life

as a set of books,

new character

here,

lose one

there,

subtle nuance,

but still

essentially

the same.

 

I thought of my life

without a dream.

Imagine my surprise–

I’m not a book

or a recipe.

I’m not a faucet

to be fixed.

I am me

expanding.

 

I am not set.

 

jle2018

I'm even starting to see, waaaay out there in the distance, what is that thing? Wait–I've heard of those……the glimmer of A Future! Click To Tweet

Full Disclosure: I Hate My Cankles.

DECADES BEFORE a Kardashian talked about cankles, I was cursing my mother’s side of the family for them. Some people missed the handing out of a sense of humor, but me, I missed the receipt of that trim bony bit that is supposed to occur between feet and calves.

Recently I heard the term Body-Positive. Having been staunchly Body Negative my entire life, the term intrigued me. I even told my friend’s daughter that she should have a Body-Positive Instagram account because she carries extra weight her doctor thinks she should lose, but this girl seriously rocks her curves. I have no idea what a Body-Positive Instagram account would even look like–pictures of women outside the “norm” (otherwise known as “the body I have always wished I had but not enough to give up ice cream for”) and maybe some cheery little encouraging memes with flowers missing a few petals or a butterfly with a wonky wing….?

I poked around the internet a bit to see what’s being said about the term. I found pretty much what I expected to–websites urging us to see the beauty of who we are and what we look like, challenging women to stop measuring against what social media decides is Right and Perfect. Most women I know have at some point chosen to either suffer to live to those standards or to embrace their own style, their own shape, their own uniqueness.

Because I’m a Jesus follower I like to see what’s being said in that culture as well. This time I was disappointed to see the Body-Positive idea being made out to be idolatry, as if being Yay, I’m Cool With My Body translates to I Love My Body More Than God. May I  politely say, “Rubbish”?

While I may have been the last child in Sunday School left sitting with my nose and mouth scrunched trying to find the verse during one of those, what were they called? “Sword Drills”? I do remember that my bible says I’m to love my neighbor as myself. It also says I’m not to judge others. Even with my faulty grasp of math those seem to add up to not judging myself.

Like this:

Love others like I love myself + Don’t judge others = Don’t Judge Myself.

Sadly this means I will need to find a new hobby, since I excel at self-judgment. (If you need references I can readily supply the numbers of several friends and my therapist.)

What I’m learning as I go is that I Have Imperfections. Not only physical but character-wise. (Please feel free to !!GASP!! in disbelief. Thank you.) The problem isn’t the imperfections themselves as much as it is my unwillingness to accept them, apologize when they’ve hurt someone I care about, and learn to do things differently as a result. I can get stuck for days in the self-blame mire of “I can’t believe I’m such a horrible person!” and waste precious time and energy beating myself up. Better I should say, “Yup, you’re human. How about that,” get up, brush the dirt from my hands, wipe my skinned knees, and look around for anyone I might need to say sorry to that I knocked down in my flailing. Accept. Apologize. Learn. Sounds simple, takes practice.

All that said, if I do decide to make an idol of myself, I WILL have my cankles edited out in the statue version. I appreciate immeasurably the strength of my bones, I accept the shape thereof,  but I’m never gonna love my cankles.

 

The Bring Your Own Beverage Conversation: What do you need to learn to accept and appreciate about your own imperfections, in the physical or character trait realms?