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

 

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The good about giving up. 

I want to be one of those patient and dedicated slow-pour coffee types, I really do.

I admire anyone who can take  precious extra minutes waiting for their fine, fresh brew. I even bought one of those tiny one cup pour-over cone shaped thingies since I drink alone in the mornings. And I tried, I did. I attempted a bleary-eyed dribbling of the hot water kettle into the cone of grounds–for about 5 seconds before I said “oh poop” and poured enough water to fill the cone and drip into my large mug. Morning is not my friend, and Slow applies to me in the hours before 10 a.m. but it dare not apply to my coffee. (And I use a paper filter to make it easy to clean up! Sacrilege, right?)

My friend Susy (author of the marvelous blog Animalia) and I laughed over this the other day. Her son is one of those who is gifted in Slow-Pouredness. I on the other hand know exactly how many times I can fill the paper cone of grounds with fast-pour kettle water for each mug I own. Oddly, I am okay with this. I accept there are many things that I will never be gifted in.

I will never be: naturally thin, naturally tidy, naturally energetic. I will never naturally feel my age. BUT I will always: laugh–often at embarrassingly inappropriate times–and believe the best in others, and love my family and friends ferociously.

The Lies in my bones have often told me I should Fail In Nothing. The Lies in my bones have said that who I am will Never be Enough. Oddly and unexpectedly, I am slowly learning that I quite like the imperfect and complicated person I am. That I can choose to grow or choose to be stagnant (by the way, I choose Grow. It’s more interesting.)

So what if I’m never thin? What if I can never be a successful slow-pourer, or even be desirous of becoming one? We all have our strengths and weaknesses, the things we feel passionate about and the things that we strive to succeed at that don’t really matter.

Today I will: celebrate what makes me unique–my passion for words, love of laughter, and ferocious love of those God has brought into my life for good and growth. I will celebrate the crazy and colorful (and possibly untidy) collage of books and dishes and art that surrounds me in my space and makes me smile.

The BringYourOwnBeverage conversation: What success are you striving for that honestly doesn’t make that big a difference in your life and you could quit wasting that time? What will you celebrate about yourself today/this week/this month that the world may look at as Less Than? What might happen if you saw your reflection and smiled instead of judged?

Till next time!

The F Word: Frailty

 

I’m just coming through another one of the times that tries my soul: a Fibromyalgia flare. If you’re not familiar with Fibromyalgia, it’s a chronic pain and fatigue condition allegedly caused by an overactive/oversensitive Central Nervous System. It can be managed to some extent on a daily basis, but the owner of the aforementioned Frailty doesn’t know from day to day whether it will be a good day or a bad day, a normal pain and fatigue day or an F word day (er, of course I meant Frailty there…..)

A few weeks ago I hit the perfect storm for a flare–the decision to have my 14 1/2 year old dog euthanized, the 5th anniversary of my sister’s death, among other things. Even weather changes seem to contribute. A bad day turned into bad weeks. It seemed like sleeping and trying to ease the extreme pain of this unwelcome flare were the only goals I could work toward. I had no extra brain cells to use.

I hate this scenario, one that I revisit on an unexpected basis, though it feels more like it drops in on me like a surprise guest–“Here I am! Hope you don’t mind if I drop in unexpectedly to stay awhile and change every plan you’ve made for what is as yet an undetermined amount of time!”

It’s brutal.

And how I tend to treat myself during this state of Frailty is brutal too. I tell myself I’m useless. I tell myself it’s my fault, I must not be doing something right or this wouldn’t happen to my brain and body. I get angry. I get sad. I feel sorry for myself, and then I get angry at myself for feeling sorry for myself, and that makes me sad. It’s a real party of one.

This particular flare was so bad that the friend I rent from told me she actually came in to see if I was still breathing. (And here my imagination goes a little TV Fabulous and sees her leaning across my curled body with a tiny makeup mirror to see if I have breath to fog it or is it necessary to call 911, at which point she looks around at the shoes, books, and electronic devices tumbled by my bed that the paramedics would need to navigate and decides it’s better to just close the door and let nature take its course.)

Frailty. It’s a big bad word to me that begins to define my worth and take me to a dark place of Not Good Enough and Worthless and Too Weak. And–dare I say it–UNPRODUCTIVE. (GASP!!)

Once I realize the party is headed for StinkTown, one thing I do is to allow the words of self-flagellation to fly at me but simply glance off. To recognize that while this Frailty may derail me for a time it won’t shut down the railway altogether–I have a temporary Out Of Service sticker on my forehead, but in time it will lose its sticky and the train of my body and brain will begin to run again.

A couple of things I like to do for myself in these times: I’m a fan of visualizing. Whatever makes sense to you will be the best, but for me I actually visualize myself with big pieces of crumpled paper being blown at me like I’m in a storm, and on those papers  are the negative words and phrases written in large, dark print. They hit me but then continue on in the wind past me. They don’t stick. I also love to listen to affirmations. My favorite at the moment is from Belleruth Naparstek, “Healing Trauma.” Her CDs usually have an intro, a guided imagery segment, and then an affirmations segment. The affirmations in her voice are deeply soothing to my mean-spirited brain, and help me treat myself more gently.

IMPORTANT: all this takes practice. When you try to change your thinking be gentle with yourself–it won’t change at once.

The BringYourOwnBeverageConversation: What do you see as your frailties? What frailties cause you to belittle yourself? I saw as I wrote this post just how big of a deal being Nonproductive is for me, and how little grace I give myself when I need it.

Hope to hear from you!

 

 

 

 

 

Redefining Weird: one of these is not like the others

I usually get a cautiously startled response when I tell someone I have an obsession with Doctor Radio on SeriusXM. Then I think “I shouldn’t have said that, maybe–now they probably think I’m weird.”

BUT–does that make me weird? If “weird” means “something specific to an individual” then we probably all are weird. Just because I’ve learned more things than I needed to know about what can go wrong with the male anatomy, or the insights of professionals on children under the age of 12 “heading” the ball in soccer, does that make me odd or simply better informed about useless-to-me medical information?

I also have an obsession with real estate sites–Zillow, Realtor.com and Trulia all coexist happily on my phone. I can give you a decent overview on rental and purchase amounts of apartments and houses in a good portion of the San Francisco East Bay area. (Yep, it’s crazy out there!) I’ve always loved looking at houses, in fact when my kids were young we would go peruse the new housing developments going up. Now I can look at houses on my phone standing in line at the grocery store, and how great is that?

I also have a fondness for triple numbers, like when someone’s license plate contains 333 or 999, or my phone says “5:55.” When my birthday was on Oh Nine Oh Nine Oh Nine I was over the moon! SO GREAT! (Yeah, another time people looked at me like I was strange when I tried to get them equally excited.)

A good friend has commented that she’s trying to let go of the lie that she’s weird. She’s kind and funny and talented, and happily shares pie with me. if that equals weird, I’ll take it!

My favorite people would fit the Sesame Street song One of these things is not like the other. (But in a good way, of course!)

What I will do for myself today: Today I will listen for the lie in my head that says my differences are bad and wrong, and recognize how those particular differences actually make me unique, and often bring me joy. I want to be seen and recognizable, and I won’t be if I’m just like everyone else.

The BringYourOwnBeverageConversation: What do you call yourself “weird” for? What of those things bring you happiness? What makes you unique?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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?

On blankies and the need for touch

I’ve become podcast crazed since a recent talk with a friend. I have a love of learning about what drives us as people to do the things we do and believe what we believe, and just finished listening to an episode of Hidden Brain entitled Creature Comforts. Besides learning the amazing and redemptive fact that, yes, there are other viable adults out there who still love their childhood blankets–and I now come out as one who would cuddle my favorite childhood blanket from my grandma if I didn’t think it might fall apart–I also learned about a guy named Harry Harlow.

Harry Harlow was an American psychologist who proved psychologists wrong who believed that the less touch a child received the better. Apparently the teaching of the time was that parental touching and comforting of infants and children would “ruin their moral fiber.”

What??

My 50s era parents seemed to operate under the same belief that affection was unnecessary. I’d like to believe they were merely a decade or so behind the times, though the more likely scenario is that my siblings and I had a mother who didn’t appear to find us interesting once we learned to talk, and a father who was affectionate in what I’ll just refer to as Inappropriate Ways. (Ahem.)

The safe port in the storm of crazy that was my childhood was my maternal grandma, who made the lovely satiny yellow blanket for my fifth birthday. When I touch it the endorphins roll in and my heart says  AHHH. It represents Safety. It represents Comfort.

Back to Harlow. Some of his experiments were ugly and created enemies. One example was when he showed the effects of isolation on baby monkeys, with only their rudimentary needs being met without affectionate interactions. I too was angry for those innocent monkeys when I heard this–especially when I realized I have long battled with the loss of hope and feeling of despair this horrible experiment built into them.

My early childhood experiences helped chisel the Lie into my bones that I’m of little consequence. After all, if I wasn’t worth the attention and affection from the mother who should have loved me, how much worth could I have? Why would I deserve to be treated with affection and respect by anyone?

I have a better idea at this point in my life of the struggles my mother had with her own moods and emotions and anger, that those things weren’t really about me. Oh, I’m still angry at times that Safety wasn’t written into my bones rather than Never-Safe. That Comforted wasn’t built in rather than Alone. But I’m working to let go of what wasn’t provided and learn to provide those things for myself.

Touch is a huge need for me, affectionate touch. I’m a hugger. I gladly receive hugs and I love to give hugs. In fact, it’s a bit of a joke with my adult children, how much I like to lean into them and hold on.

What will I do for myself today? I will remind myself that even if important others didn’t build into me Safety or Comfort I can allow those Lies to be erased from my bones. For me personally, I have a loving God who is always there for me, and I’m learning to be there for myself too. And as I practice being present and aware in my own life I can build my own Safety and Comfort.

The BringYourOwnBeverage conversation: My beverage today is water and lots of it because it’s WARM!

Did you have someone let you down in the early days by withholding affectionate touch and along with that a sense of safety? How are you learning to be your own safe place?

 

 

 

STUPID STUPID STUPID!

“YOU ARE SO STUPID STUPID STUPID!”

No, these weren’t the words of Mommie Dearest being spit at her daughter at finding wire hangers in her closet. These were my words to myself. Last week, in fact. And I don’t even remember why I said them.

It could have been after eating a Krispy Kreme donut. It might have been because I couldn’t figure something out, as happens often with my Fibromyalgia-brain. (And with the Everyday-brain as well.) It could have been nothing at all: simply not fitting the key into the door, dropping something, not reaching the (low) daily steps goal on my Fitbit.

The point isn’t what was happening that conjured those horrible words to myself, the point is, would I EVER say those words to a single other soul on the planet?? The answer is simple: NO. I would not. I know how hurtful that would be, how long the words last when the event is long forgotten. So why the heck say them to the person I should be loving and protecting–me?

I don’t remember ever hearing those words directly spoken by someone else, but I do know I learned that I was Stupid and Less-Than by the way I was treated. I’ve always been a tender and sensitive person–OVERsensitive to some–so the slightest growling look could devastate me as a child, let alone hurtful words. I expected myself to be psychic, needing to know the answer to something I had no way of knowing, so I wouldn’t be ridiculed. And so rises the ugly head of Perfectionism again. Never make a mistake, never eat the “wrong” thing, (Dear Donuts: if loving you is wrong, I don’t wanna be right…) never fumble and be clumsy with your keys, never be less than kind to others…. The list goes on for me, and probably does for you, if you feel any sense of commonality with this blog.

So–a couple of the Lies I still seem to tell myself are that I Must Be Perfect. I Must Never Fail (if fumbling with my keys is a failure, which I sort of doubt in the grand scheme of things). Someone can say a hundred-and-fifty-nine mean things to me, but if I utter two unkind words back, there I am judging myself with that growly look again.

What I’m learning lately: STUPID (or “steewwpud” as one friend’s mother would call her and is now a lie written in her bones) seems to be more of a judgment than a feeling. What is it I’m actually feeling when I berate myself so unkindly? Inept/clumsy/hopeless/discouraged/inadequate/regretful, maybe. But I know I’m not actually stupid. And yet I say it.

What can I do the next time I spit those evil words at myself? Can I stop and admit that I feel frustrated/inept or any of a million feelings I have in a day?  I love this definition of grace (thank you, Siri!): “courteous goodwill”.  I extend it to others constantly–people in traffic, standing in line at the Post Office. Why not myself?

SO–today I will do this for me: hear the words I say to myself, acknowledge what I’m feeling, and tell myself “I’m extending Courteous Goodwill to you. You’re welcome.” And not get sidelined by the unkind words, but keep moving forward.

The BringYourOwnBeverage conversation: What are some of the words you say to yourself that you would never say to another being in the known universe? What are you feeling when you say them? How will you practice Courteous Goodwill with your own wonderful self today?  🙂