Invisible.

Today I thought I’d revisit a post from earlier in the life of The Lies In Our Bones, Invisible. If you’re feeling Invisible today I hope you know you’re not alone–I’m a recovering Invisible girl myself. 

 

I was standing beside my mother in line at the grocery store. I looked up at the full skirt of her dress.

I bet I could spin in that! Such are the thoughts of a 4 or 5 year old girl. I gazed up at the pretty brunette lady who was my mom, and my heart filled with warmth.

“I love you!” I said with happiness that she was my mommy, this beautiful lady.
No response.

I didn’t tug on her skirt that was waiting for a good spin, I didn’t poke my chubby little finger into her side. I knew better than to be a bother, so I stopped. I gave up being seen.

I knew the tightness in my chest and the ache in my tummy went with the feeling I didn’t have words for yet: Invisible. Unseen. My body was sad, and it was telling me through the sensations of pain and discomfort. And in time I learned to be glad for the times I was Seen, to save them up and hold the time that my sister told me how cute I looked, to absorb the kindness in a teacher’s eyes. I saved them, but in the long run I began to believe that Invisible was better. If I remained unseen by backing away and being quiet, and by trying to keep the peace by not bothering to even see myself and my needs, I didn’t get those troublesome feelings. Rather, I quit looking at them. I became Invisible to myself.

Our bodies are smart. While I was busy being Invisible to myself and realizing that with some people trying to be Visible brought more roaring and more pain, my body was trying to get my attention, to again become Visible. It was yanking on my skirt, poking me repeatedly in the side. And I kept ignoring it.

One day my body said “Enough!” and BOOM. Fibromyalgia. Constant pain and fatigue that could put me in bed, unable to cope with my regular day. BOOM. Terrible sleep became my companion, leaving me feeling like it was always 2 in the morning and I should be asleep. BOOM. Burning in my body, the feel of fire coursing through my extremities, and aching and more aching in my back, my shoulders, my torso. Simply getting out of bed in the morning was a massive act of my will.

I had to pay attention.

My flaws and frailties, my inability to stand up for myself, had landed firmly in my lap in the shape of a physical disability.

What will  I do for myself today? I will listen to my body. I will risk being Visible. I will stand up for myself.

As of today, October 12, 2017, I can add one more thing I’ve learned: what’s the point of spending time with those who don’t want to see me or hear me anyway? The energy of both brain and body is a precious commodity–let’s spend it where we get the most value for currency, in relationships that build us up.

The Bring Your Own Beverage Conversation: Can you think of places in your life where you feel unheard and unseen? What about ones where you feel built up and encouraged to be the person you want to be? Which should get more time and energy?

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Can we train our brains to let go?

When I read the book The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd, I identified strongly with a character. May, one of the sisters in the book, feels the pain of others so strongly it’s as if their pain, grief, horror, is hers. Attempting to manage all these overwhelming feelings, she scribbles names or descriptions on small rolls of paper and pushes the roll into the crevices of a stone wall she’s built–that way she tries to externalize the pain and get it out of her own head.

I’ve felt something similar over my lifetime, but more selfishly, usually the overwhelming feelings have been my own emotions of pain, grief, or horror. At my most generous I’ve felt a strong urge to help someone else feel less pain. Even that has often  been driven by the fact that their emotional pain hurts me. If I can help them feel better, more at peace, then I am more at peace myself.

I want to be an empathetic person, a truly empathetic for the right reasons kind of person. I just want to be able to do it with some balance and flair, like one of those people in a circus flipping from high trapeze to high trapeze in a shiny leotard. (Mine would be aquamarine. With feathers.)

Here was the major roadblock: I didn’t even know I could practice my emotional trapeze technique. I thought I was stuck with the techniques I had at that moment. And being stuck in a constant state of Big Feelings is exhausting.

Better late than never, right? If my life thus far has been in thirds–first third childhood/college/single, second two thirds marriage/divorce–does that make the next twenty years of my life the fourth third? However the math works out, I’m hoping to practice practice practice my way to balance and poise in my emotional state. I want to learn to handle my emotions differently, handle the emotions of others differently. I want to be more authentic in my responses to someone else’s harsh situation and the resulting feelings. This means my motive has to be about them, their pain, not mine.

Knowing how to respond to someone’s emotional upset helps me focus on them, their need, and gets my eyes off my own bellybutton. When we don’t sit with the unpleasant feelings that have rushed in, we won’t process all the way through to closure and acceptance. Here are two similar tools I’ve learned and personalized for ways to deal with the Big Uncomfortable Feelings and Words of life:

Observe those feelings. Feelings come and go. Sometimes they feel like we will never get past them, and maybe there are certain ones we default to because of the way we see the world and the people in it. Without trying to change or judge my painful emotions of fear or sadness or grief and so on, I use a visual image–I am a large rock in the middle of a stream or river, with the water carrying my feelings as it runs constantly over my head and around me. As the rock I notice the feelings as they come rushing toward me, over and around me smoothly. “Yup, there’s my sadness in this situation. There goes my anger at the unfairness of it…and my grief that the situation will never be the way I wanted it to be.” We can sit with our feelings as long as we need to for them to run their course, as they do. It’s calming and somewhat meditative to simply observe them.

In the same way but with a different visual, we can observe the negative words put on us by ourselves and by others. I touched on this in a previous post. The wind is hitting my face, and I see pieces of paper with the negative words I’m hearing, no matter who we may have received them from. Close your eyes and picture the words on the pieces of paper: Foolish. Stupid. Less-than. Too loud. Incapable. No voice. etc.. As the wind blows these notes against your eyes and mouth and cheeks, visualize them hitting but not sticking to your face. Those words of self and other judgment are being swept away by the wind. Keep picturing this in your mind until the words run out and you realize they’ve gone and are now papering somebody’s back garden fence.

Both are simple to do. Either could work for words or emotions. I’m a pretty visual person, so this type of exercise is helpful for me.

The Bring Your Own Beverage Conversation: Do you have repetitive words and phrases in your head or on your lips that label you negatively? Write a list of them. Do you have any big emotions you wish you didn’t have? Write a list. Use your list with either visualization, sitting quietly for 5 or 10 minutes and letting them clear out your mind of the labels, the painful feelings, and help you move forward. How did you feel after completing the exercise?

 

Remember that you have worth simply because you’re on this planet! #Ihaveworth

 

Acceptance and the gift of THERE-ness

I leaned over the hospital bed and whispered “Please be okay–I’m running out of fathers” and kissed my father-in-law on the forehead. He was going in for a biopsy of a spot on his lung, and I was afraid.

My own father had died, my step-father had died, but in all honesty my father-in-law would be the hardest personal loss. He had always loved me and accepted me, right from the beginning of my relationship with his son. I could feel his appreciation of me shine out of his pores, and it was an amazing feeling.

When I had a miscarriage he sat with me after I got home from the emergency room. Just sat. Stayed in the same space with me as I cried quiet tears he pretended not to notice. But I could feel his love. I don’t know how to explain it, but his there-ness spoke loudly to my aching heart.

Mostly in my life I’d had people who were too busy with their own problems to just be with me, too critical to see the person I thought I was, and I had believed those people’s lack of there-ness was somehow my own fault. If only I were more this, less that, thinner, then I’d be lovable. THEN I’d be deserving of someone’s time and attention. But here he was, this father-in-law of mine, not making my pain about him, not judging my reactions, not telling me how to be over it, not doing anything but making me feel loved and Visible by the sweet gift of his presence.

He’s been gone for years now, nearly 2 decades, but I can still feel that love-without-condition for me and see the warmth in his face and the twinkle in his eye when I think of him.

I’m still struggling to get to that same place with myself, where I can remember and acknowledge the person I am–the one with flaws and frailties and a good heart–without letting the harshness of others bring me down. But I know how important an honest assessment of myself is since it’s the receptacle of balance.

Today I feel like I need to turn this post around from its usual position of “what will I do for myself.” Today, especially after the venom of this year’s presidential election, I want us to look at it this way:

What will I do for the people in my life today?  Today and every day, I will extend the there-ness I crave to anyone who is hurting. I will choose to live by the passions of my own heart and mind to accept and love people of all sizes/shapes/ethnicities/lifestyles/beliefs. The same God who made me made them.

The BringYourOwnBeverage Conversation: Have you craved the accepting presence of someone? Who gave you that gift of themselves? Who can you give it to today?

The blame game

Somewhere in my teens I was informed by my mother that was the reason she had to get her teeth pulled and replaced with dentures. My birth that early September had followed  an extremely hot summer, so she was forced to chew ice.

Picture, if you will, mojo exuding from the tiny splayed fingers of my unborn hand as I reach toward my mother’s mouth while chanting, “Chew ice! Chew ice!” in a tiny demonic voice.

I’ve never known such power since.

What causes a mother to blame the child in utero for her own actions? I’m frustrated to only be able to make lame guesses since nothing about that makes sense to me. All I know is that she did, and that I felt guilty–and that doesn’t make sense either.

I can’t know what motivates someone else since I can’t see inside their head, as much as my nosy self would like to. And even they may not know why they blame us. Yet we’re the ones left trying to figure out what to do with their big steaming pile of…. guilt.

One of the deeply written lies in my bones was (I’m improving!) that I had the power to show others how capable/smart/creative/wonderful/loved they were, and how happy they could be. Turns out others also carry lies written in their bones (surprise!) and it’s up to them to do their own work to change. Most importantly, they have to want to do it differently in the first place. So, if my mother didn’t want to bear the responsibility of ruining her own teeth, Damn the Truth! Blame the unborn!

Finally I had to face the billboard size fact: I am not responsible for anyone else’s happiness/unhappiness–or teeth. Sure, I needn’t be a giant headache inducing pain in someone’s hiney, I still need to make my own choices daily/hourly/minute-ly to be the best me I can be. I still need to be the empathetic, laughing at my own jokes person I am. But Other Person’s steaming pile of guilt? Here, let me put you down over there with the others….

What will I do for myself today?  If I carry guilt from my own poor decisions I will learn from it, I will make changes. I will also remind myself that I can’t force someone else to carry their own *pile*. I will practice saying “No thank you!” to those who would make me liable for their choices.

The bringyourownbeverage conversation: What situation are you currently in where someone wants you to carry their judgment/unhappiness/blame etc.? How can you remind yourself to Just Say No to their guilt?

Invisible

I was standing beside my mother in line at the grocery store. I looked up at the full skirt of her dress.

I bet I could spin in that! Such are the thoughts of a 4 or 5 year old girl. I gazed up at the pretty brunette lady who was my mom, and my heart filled with warmth.

“I love you!” I said with happiness that she was my mommy, this beautiful lady.

No response.

I didn’t tug on her skirt that was waiting for a good spin, I didn’t poke my chubby little finger into her side. I knew better than to be a bother, so I stopped. I gave up being seen.

I knew the tightness in my chest and the ache in my tummy went with the feeling I didn’t have words for yet: Invisible. Unseen. My body was sad, and it was telling me through the sensations of pain and discomfort. And in time I learned to be glad for the times I was Seen, to save them up and hold the time that my sister told me how cute I looked, to absorb the kindness in a teacher’s eyes. I saved them, but in the long run I began to believe that Invisible was better. If I remained unseen by backing away and being quiet, and by trying to keep the peace by not bothering to even see myself and my needs, I didn’t get those troublesome feelings. Rather, I quit looking at them. I became Invisible to myself.

Our bodies are smart. While I was busy being Invisible to myself and realizing that with some people trying to be Visible brought more roaring and more pain, my body was trying to get my attention, to again become Visible. It was yanking on my skirt, poking me repeatedly in the side. And I kept ignoring it.

One day my body said “Enough!” and BOOM. Fibromyalgia. Constant pain and fatigue that could put me in bed, unable to cope with my regular day. BOOM. Terrible sleep became my companion, leaving me feeling like it was always 2 in the morning and I should be asleep. BOOM. Burning in my body, the feel of fire coursing through my extremities, and aching and more aching in my back, my shoulders, my torso. Simply getting out of bed in the morning was a massive act of my will.

I had to pay attention.

My flaws and frailties, my inability to stand up for myself, had landed firmly in my lap in the shape of a physical disability.

What will  I do for myself today? I will listen to my body. I will risk being Visible. I will stand up for myself.

The BringYourOwnBeverage conversation: What will YOU risk today? Have you every felt Invisible? If so, how did you respond–did you decide to become Visible, or did you, like me, decide Invisible was a better place to hang out, to the detriment of your own body? How did Invisibility affect you?

 

 

Oncoming trains

I sat in my car, trembling head to toe. I’d just come from an uncomfortable coffee date. You may have heard of “fight, flight or freeze”? I’m a big-time fan of fleeing and freezing, rather like a small child closes their eyes and thinks we can’t see them if they can’t see us.

In my own small child days I would either duck my head and go to my closet and look at books or play with dolls, or when old enough, flee to the park on our block. When my parents were having one of their nobody-wins, all-out, angry, loud arguments, I would head anywhere to keep from feeling the rumbling emotions that grew from the out-of-control fear those arguments fed into me.

I remember my mother shoving the tall chest of drawers from the upstairs hallway into the opening at the top of the stairs, then returning to the yelling match. When questioned she would say it was to stop our father from coming upstairs where we children were in bed. But how, I wondered, would a chest of drawers that my mother could move keep my fireman father away? And what would happen if he did get upstairs? A constant underlying fear ran through me, a sense that I had no control permeated my being, following me through most of my adult years.

That day in the car I called two friends who are faithful to remind me of the Truth–the kind of friends one needs when recovering from a lifetime of freezing in fear. Suddenly I could see that small child part of me cowering in the corner, feeling raw and powerless. My heart softened toward her. It’s okay, I’m here for you now. I’m going to do my best to stop leaving you in front of oncoming trains. That’s my job, I told her. I’ll keep you safe.

Slowly I felt the pounding of my heart and the dizziness in my head abate. I’M in charge of my own safety. I turned the idea over in my head. I don’t have to be at the mercy of others any more.

When we come from early trauma–and even sometimes when we don’t–it’s easy to hand over the control to others. When we were children we may have felt at the mercy of the grown-ups in our lives. Maybe they didn’t protect us as they should have. It’s easy to carry this lie in our bones into adulthood. But now we have a choice. We can choose to stand passively on the tracks watching the oncoming train, or we can decide to choose actively for our own mental and physical health.

I will do this for myself today: keep a sharp lookout for oncoming large vehicles of all kinds. Sometimes these are people I know, and sometimes these are situations I know are unhealthy.

The BringYourOwnBeverage conversation: What places in your own life do you know you’re leaving yourself in the path of a train with unhealthy people or situations? How can you protect yourself?