Sanity for Breakfast, with a side of freedom.

This morning I met a friend for breakfast and coffee. She is often busy during the summer months, so it’s been a few weeks since I last saw her. As we shared about family and events and, as always, books we’ve been reading, I told her how I have no real plans or responsibilities until September. I swear her jaw hit the table.

Really? She asked, What in the world do you do?

I responded, Honestly? Whatever I want.

I wish I knew what words to use to convey how incredibly free I felt in that moment. I do what I want.

For many reasons, I developed a co-dependent personality in my formative years. Like any other pattern of behavior, once you learn to react a certain way, until you recognize and relearn new behaviors, that is the way you always react. Once I learned codependency, it didn’t matter if the relationship was healthy or unhealthy, I saw it through a co-dependent lens.

Although my co-dependency didn’t stem from abuse, it knew exactly how to react to it, which means for years I have danced to the tune of things will get better when you act better. I lost myself in this dance, literally. When everything is about the image you project, you forget what is real and what is merely imaginary. I lost myself, my preferences, my opinions, my desires…my identity. I don’t say this bitterly, nor do I blame one person or thing. Things happened to me; I reacted. This is life.

Fortunately for me, I reached an IHHE (I-have-had-enough) moment two years ago. I couldn’t diagnose the issue then, but I knew I needed help. I might not have sought out that help had I known the depth and extent of reconstruction required to learn sanity. But now that I am on the other side I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world.

I saw a picture earlier this week:

sanity
I’ve never heard anything truer than this. I have felt absolutely crazy time and again over these last years. I’ve cried and yelled and thrown things. It is gut-wrenching, soul-shaking work learning to be sane, don’t ever let anyone tell you something different.

But oh. Oh, this morning I looked at my friend and told her I do what I want, whatever form that takes. That moment was freedom. Freedom from caring what other people think or expect or demand. That moment was sanity. To know who I am, what I like, what I want, after so many years of trying to measure myself by everyone else’s standard is like taking a deep, quenching drink from clean, clear water after years of sucking tepid, rinse water from a sponge.

This creative Sabbath, this window of unbroken time, is like a capstone course after two years of hard work, study, and unending support. This is where I begin to use all the skills I’ve worked so hard to master. This is me owning my life again.

All I needed was a cup of coffee to make everything clear.

Hibernation Zone: When I can’t get no satisfaction

One of the things I love about our annual family trips to the beach is how very isolated we are. We stay offline, barely even taking phone calls or texts. We sometimes stay outdoors from sun-up to sundown. It’s like living in a safe, gentle bubble with only the wind and  the waves and one million books to keep us company. It really is my favorite time of year. This year I seem to be particularly anxious for it to arrive, I think it’s the hibernation factor. I feel the need to unplug (ironic, I know, as I say this online).

This week I’ve been particularly edgy (not that you’d notice- wink, wink). The political atmosphere is very hard for me to escape. I can’t find the balance between informed and sane. Actually, it’s sanity I truly struggle to find. It’s bleeding into all the areas of my life. I can’t, in good conscience, completely shut down, but even being informed leaves me feeling enraged and powerless.

Honestly, my general attitude about everything is dissatisfaction.

So what do I do when I’m cranky, and snappy and generally dissatisfied? I’m giving into my urge for hibernation.

It’s a long, holiday weekend so I won’t be torturing myself with guilt over pulling out of the information cyclone for awhile. Hopefully the fire hose wanes to a trickle for a week or so.  Either way, I won’t be around to see it. No news, no email, no social media. At least until I get grip on this mood.

I’m not leaving the house. I might love to be home slightly more than a normal person should. It’s not so much about the house, just the home part. Give me a day on the back deck with the dogs and some food and a stack of good books and I am a happy girl. Today I shopped for groceries for one billion years so now I get to hide away from the world until the food runs out again.

I plan to read until my eyeballs fall out, run until my lungs make me stop, meditate, listen to good music, smooch on my Hunky, and generally find my happy again. I know it’s in there. It just needs to wake up from hibernation. I’m coaxing it out with all my best moves.

 

Self-awareness to the Rescue: Recovery and Growth

Basically, yesterday was a wash, creatively speaking.

The good news is that self-awareness changes so much about how I process days like yesterday. I understand that I often fall prey to my own castles of expectation. I also don’t transition quickly. Basically I sabotaged myself by expecting too much, too quickly. I didn’t allow time for decompression and transition in my mental processes. Throw in a bout of anxiety and some car repair, and I simply didn’t have the resources to bounce back.

Working through a 12-step recovery program hasn’t always been easy or fun. It’s very difficult to honestly take inventory of my shortcomings and failures. But if I do it with balance and self-love, inventory reveals so much about my personality and patterns of behavior. I can actively work to change behavior patterns, but personality is a bit stickier. Rather than try to change my personality, I am learning how to work better within it. Being an introvert and an HSP (highly sensitive personality – read more here and here) aren’t liabilities until I don’t respect my boundaries. Then I begin to frazzle, fray and eventually, fall apart.

I know these things about myself now, but that doesn’t mean I always make the best choices. Occasionally, I even have days like yesterday where my personality protests for no discernible reason. Even though it’s frustrating, at least now I can say, I understand the problem. I may not completely understand what triggered the breakdown, but self-awareness means I can work through the cycle more quickly and effectively than before.

It’s interesting to me that we live in a culture that is steeped in education, success and progress, but we generally spend very little time learning to understand ourselves. It wasn’t until I was in therapy that anyone really encouraged me to listen to my very own soul. In fact, being immersed in a religious environment, I learned not to trust my inner voice at all.  I believed I hold little of inherent value and I shouldn’t love or trust emotions or internal desires. My own terrible, wretched flesh was my enemy.

I don’t believe these things any more, but I am not immune to falling back into unhealthy thought patterns. When my emotions are high or my physical self needs food or rest, I have to remember that taking care of myself, listening to my inner voice, is ultimately the most unselfish thing I can do. Self-care makes me a better human, which benefits everyone around me. Self-awareness makes me a better steward of my own soul.

Yesterday was an aberration, a blip in a pattern of healthier and more self-compassionate behaviors and choices I continue to learn. Today, I can continue to beat myself up for being entirely human, or I can move forward with the choices I know make me a better human. And I can say thank you to everyone who saw me yesterday and choose to love me anyway, still.

This recovery thing? It’s working for me. One day at a time; one moment at a time.

Reading Scripture Sideways: a new take on a very old book

I’ve been slowly, as in snail’s pace slowly, working my way through Rob Bell’s latest book, What is the Bible. I actually want to read it like the pages are on fire and I have to finish before it consumes them. I want to gorge myself on the clever, gentle, insightful ways of considering an ancient library. Scripture. I used to love it. Even now the word feels so weighty and mysterious when it sits on my tongue. I believe that’s because it is  weighty and mysterious, wrapped in thousands of layers of meaning and interpretation. Yes, I used to love scripture. I was so much more certain of everything then. Now, honestly, I’m afraid of the Bible, and that fear is holding me back from enjoying not only Rob Bell’s book, but scripture itself.

I know what you’re thinking: here comes the crazy again. It’s true. I have all the issues when it comes to church and church business. But through all this great big hairy church mess, somehow, I never believed that God lost her faith in me. Even when I stumble and flail and fall and swear, even when I push her away like an over tired toddler, she loves me still. She’s been faithful in every way and for that I am so deeply and powerfully grateful.

Religious institutions have not been so merciful or forgiving in my experience. Now I’m what old cowboys refer to as ‘gun shy.‘ Churchy words and situations make me anxious. I seldom measure up to expectations, and when I do it’s because I’m not being true to myself. And then there’s the Bible, the weapon most often used against me in religious altercations (also known as rebuking, church discipline and spiritual authority).

It’s true, I’ve used the Bible as a weapon myself, back in the days when together we were infallible. I can accept that about myself even if I don’t like it very much. Had I known how quickly that weapon would turn on me, I might have thumped more gently, perhaps not at all. For as long as I can remember, we’ve elevated scripture with superlatives: inerrant, inspired, ineffable. Words so high, I cannot attain them. I’ve learned to defend it, uphold it, revere it and memorize it, as though tongues of fire straight from Heaven itself licked words upon papyrus scrolls with nary a misprint or mystery in the process.

What I didn’t learn was how slippery millenia old stories of the Divine become as they slip through time. Or how entirely human the men and women who recorded the stories really are. Sometimes a very human agenda superimposes itself over a very divine story. I didn’t learn context, or layers or culture. Truth may be eternal, but the expression of Truth isn’t so easy to nail down in concisely neat terms once and for all.

So I’ve floundered.

My experience of God doesn’t fit so neatly on the pages as it used to. It keeps sliding off, bursting out, growing bigger than the neat little boxes I learned about. The God of my deconstruction is endlessly forgiving, but God out of the box can get you excommunicated (or perhaps even crucified).

I’ve avoided wrestling with scripture for fear it will disappoint me. It has a lot to live up to when you look at it as the very word of God. But recently, I’ve started to see it a bit differently. Jesus, Himself, is the very word of God, and to date, He hasn’t failed me. I think for me it’s time to let the words of the Bible be what they truly are – a very human attempt to describe a very indescribable God.

An immutable, inerrant Word of God is far too dangerous in the hands of someone like me. But a human attempt to unravel the Universal Christ in ways we can understand and embody, with all the mistakes and course correction that entails? That might just be the right fit for a heretic like me. And if it isn’t, I have a God who’s waiting to fill in the gaps. Because that’s the kind of God she is.

How pimento cheese and chicken salad can save our souls

Last night I met with some good friends at a local sandwich shop. We discussed a fabulous book over pimento cheese, or chicken and egg salads. We also discussed British television, under-reacting, how children survive to adulthood, pre-reading, parental angst and Chuck E. Jesus. We did not talk about news, politics, rage (well, other than parental rage), or anything else of national or international import. Basically, it was delightful. At one point I thought to myself, these are the moments that save our souls.

I’ve been thinking about important minutia lately. Oh how we love the grand, sweeping gesture. We accept the mantra, “go big or go home.” But most of us don’t have the energy, knowledge or support to go big, so we just go home, where we feel powerless to add anything of value to a floundering world.

Here is where we miss an important truth: it’s the little changes, usually begun right at home, that begin sweeping momentum shifts. It’s not about making the biggest splash when we cannonball into the pool. We simply start where we are with what we have.

We live in a culture of hero worship. Even the church has “heroes of the faith” we love to rally behind. We believe we aren’t smart enough or good enough or experienced enough to do something for ourselves. So we wait, and we wait for someone else to start something we can get behind. And by get behind I mean make a facebook post about it and hope people like it enough times to affirm our position.

But last night, as we encouraged each other, admitted our secret fears and confessed our secrets (My children had no formal educational instruction until they were 8-ish years old, and now they all go to college. How about that?), I realized how empowering it is to be seen…heard…known and finally, accepted. Such a small thing which makes such a huge difference.

Instead of marking the things which divide us, instead we joined together for a bit on the things which make us human, a trait every one of us shares. These shared little things are the ones which save our souls, not the giant political systems or the moral majority. The way we change the world is by connecting with each other in small ways, across systems and religions and ethnicity. When we meet in the connecting spaces, we create the momentum that tilts the world towards love, acceptance and equality.

Yesterday I shared about feeling rage, impotent, helpless rage. But today I woke empowered – to feel more, to hear more, to connect more. You probably won’t hear about it in the news. It probably will receive very little attention at all. But I will know. If I can shift the moment to love those closest to me, then perhaps they will shift theirs as well. Each of us shifting a bit at a time towards love, mercy, grace and justice eventually we’ll create a tidal wave so huge, it covers the whole earth, washing us clean.

I’m grounded: choosing good tools to stay rooted in reality

Two-thirds of my progeny are currently away from home. Aside from double the dog duty when this happens, I also find myself with large, quiet swaths of unoccupied time. I never have much trouble entertaining myself (INFJ), but I have to be careful not to go too far into my head for too long. Discontent is an easy road to travel when my head insists I should be able to create an ideal existence. Unfortunately, very little in this world lives up to the kingdoms I create in my head.  I am a much happier person when I stay a little more grounded.

There are many ways I reground myself when I’m feeling cut-off and adrift, when my body and my reality are the last place I want to be. Meditation, exercise and working with growing things all pull me out of my head space and into my body space. A good wrestle with one of the pups anchors me in the physical present by engaging all my senses, including my sense of fun. But I get the most bang for my grounding buck when I’m doing some good, old-fashioned house work.

If you spend much time at all talking to me, the conversation will roll around to minimalism. I’m a die-hard.  But it wasn’t until recently that I realized how often I use minimalism to plant myself in a healthier reality. The act of evaluation forces me out of what should be, to what is right in front me.

Let’s face it; life gets messy. Relationships require work. Cars break down. College demands tuition. People get sick. There’s literally no end to the list of things which can send us spiraling off into the Land of Should.

This should be easier.
I should have handled that better.
They should know how I feel.
Should Should Should Should.

I constantly take the mental train to Shouldtown, shoulding on myself the whole journey.

That’s the head space I’m talking about, the idealism in which I am so easily trapped. Reality can never compare to all the ways I am certain things should be. Because of my personality, I can camp out for weeks in Should Town, wallowing in my discontent and disdain for the way things are.

Understanding what tools pull me out of that space and back to reality is an important part of my recovery. When I use them to get grounded, I can break out of that funky head space and see reality clearly. Dreams and aspirations are necessary components of happiness, but idealistic perfectionism is the enemy of emotional health.

This week, when I’m not reveling in a book, you’ll find me cleaning closets and sorting the storage area. I’m making meal plans and writing book reviews. I’m touching and working and feeling and sorting, all ways to push my emotional roots further into the soil of my precious reality. If I let myself stay in my head, I miss so much that is beautiful and wondrous right in front of me, already resting in my hands, just waiting for me to notice.

There are so many things I enjoy about my personality. But like everything else in this world, I have strengths and weaknesses. The more I learn about myself, the easier it becomes to pull myself back from unhealthy thought and behavior patterns. I am more than the result of what has happened to me in this world, I’m also what I choose to make from the things I cannot control. When I’m grounded, I can see past what “should” be to what can be, and what steps I can take to facilitate the possibility.

 

How I spent all day reading: thoughts on guilt

Today I fully intended to write a follow-up post to yesterday’s thoughts on happiness. I even have part of the post pre-written. Instead, today, I read books. It’s the perfect sort of day for reading, dark, rainy, quiet. I was alone in the house all day except for the dogs, who love nothing more than to curl up next to me on the sofa. Since I have quite a few books que-ed up right now, I gave in to my base desires. I spent the entire day reading. It was completely delicious.

True, when I go on vacation, I spend entire days parked in a chair by the ocean reading book after book after marvelous book. I find it harder to indulge this way when at home. Here I can always find ways to be busy. Or to lose myself in the million responsibilities tied to parenting and wife-ing and life-ing. You can fill in the details, we all have lives filled with them. It’s easy to tell ourselves we don’t have time for the things we want when there are so many things and people that need us.

It’s almost a drug, this illusion of being needed. We want to matter, to know we hold an important position in this world. We measure our worth by how many people depend on us day in and day out. So we pile it on, the duties and activities and responsibilities, making ourselves important, believing ourselves invaluable. Then we look at all the appointments and responsibilities which fill our lives to the limit and beyond, leaving no time for self-indulgence or rest.

Or maybe that’s just me. But I don’t think so.

I’ve spent the better part of the last five years feeling guilty for failing to measure up to an arbitrary, shifting standard. I’ve signed up, cleaned up, cooked up and shown up to the point of exhaustion. But about six months ago I came abruptly to my senses. I realized I’ve wasted innumerable hours chasing after ill-fitting recognition for something I don’t want after all. I’ve chased acceptance and value in a vicious cycle, constantly falling short, constantly trying harder.

So I stopped. Yes, just like that.

And then I felt guilty…again, maybe more than before.

But instead of fighting the guilt with more busyness and activity and fixing and forcing, I just leaned into it. I leaned in and listened to what my heart was telling me about how I really saw myself. At first the image was distorted, almost unrecognizable. But the longer I looked, the more still I became, the more my inner vision came into focus. I began to recognize myself again. Day by day, slowly finding the real me, buried under the ways I tried to make myself bigger, better, more…whatever thing I suddenly thought I needed.

I still get caught up sometimes in the belief that I need to do more or work harder to be worthy of love or acceptance or …insert whatever thing is poisoning your soul here. Guilt for not measuring up lingers, and whispers, telling me to go, try, work, do. But I’m less inclined to listen now. When I’m not chasing every urgent detail, I can actually handle the important things and leave the rest for someone else, or no one else. It doesn’t really matter.

Which is why I’m perfectly content about my choice to drift around the house today, snuggling dogs and reading books and drinking tea. I accomplished nothing of consequence to anyone but me. Because I’m worth. I’ve always been worth it. Even when I was too busy to realize it.

The generosity of letting go: Dana paramita

This morning my dear friend, Heather texted a photo from a book she’s reading about the intersection of Buddhism and Christianity. In it, she found the term ‘dana’ which is the word for the Buddhist pillar of generosity. My imagination piqued, I did a bit more research: Dana is a Sanskrit and Pali term meaning “generosity” or “giving”. In Buddhism, it also refers to the practice of cultivating generosity. Ultimately, the practice culminates in one of the Perfections (paramitas): the Perfection of Giving (dana paramita). This is characterized by unattached and unconditional generosity, giving and letting go.

I love Heather for her gift of thoughtfulness. (I love her for more reasons than this, but they are too many to list here).  She frequently sends little notes or texts or postcards when she encounters something that reminds her of me. She does this with all her friends, but knowing this makes it no less special when she does it for me. Every time she does, it’s nearly as good as a face-to-face hug. Nearly. Not quite, though.

Heather is also special to me because she and I stumble through this whole deconstruction thing together. We share questions and scars; we wondering pastor’s wives. Never quite fitting in anywhere, we lean on each other from time to time. It’s important to have people like this. They help you feel less alone.

Remember earlier this week, when I shared about a podcast that had me running and crying? Since listening to it, three other friends have brought it to my attention. ‘Have you listened? it sounds like you. That could be you.’ I felt this when I heard it, but it’s affirming to hear others say it as well. I hope to one day be as wise and generous as the woman who shared her story.  She, too, helps me know I am not alone.

In the podcast, she speaks of looking forward rather than getting trapped by looking back (she even mentions Lot’s wife in her story.) She, like me, is a questioner, a closet mystic, a system skeptic. We share a kind of grief for the system we relied on which fell apart when we looked too closely. What was supposed to be secure and welcoming instead became a weapon used to beat us into submission. Conform or leave were our only choices.

So we left. We all three left.

I can only speak for myself about moving forward, but, until now, I haven’t done it very well. I’ve clung to how things should be, or how I should be. I’ve blamed and avoided and tried to make myself disappear. Moving forward seems so difficult when everything you’ve ever been told screams, run back to what you know!

Known equals safety. Unknown is dangerous; the slippery slope looms.

I stalled, stagnated, looked back. For too long. I hurt myself more than I’d already experienced and damaged those around me with my sharp edges and bitterness. I regret that now, but I cannot change it. The only thing to do is make amends and move forward, into the mystic as the song goes.

Which brings us back around to generosity, the dana paramita. One of the most amazing gifts of this hundred day journey is finding permission within myself to move ahead. Unlocking this generosity towards myself empowers me to release it to everyone, to release the institutions and people which have caused me such harm. Not only to let go and look forward, but to feel generous benevolence for who they are and what they do. Perhaps that path isn’t for me anymore, but it’s not a bad path. For many, it’s a path towards healing and belonging as it one time was for me. The time I spent there wasn’t wasted, only limited.

So now I move ahead. Because it’s okay. Because everything belongs. My path doesn’t depend on norms someone else designates. There’s room for all our paths in this vast and beautiful universe, “Sometimes the moment at which it appears to the system that you have most checked out, you actually might be checked in more than ever before.”

That’s me. Checked in. Letting go. Practicing dana for myself and everyone else (most of the time – I AM a work in progress). Maybe my companions have changed from who they used to be, but I am not alone.

Post traumatic growth: finding answers in experience

Yesterday I threw a question out into the universe: where do I go from here? It seemed that I had reached an impasse, one I’m not sure how to get past. As a person of constant questions, I often ask things without expecting a response. I certainly didn’t this time. But sometimes the universe is simply waiting for us to ask the right question. It’s as though God knows until we open our souls to the answer, She’ll only be giving a gift to someone with clenched fists. On so many occasions I have to wait and wait and wait some more for answers. But this time, the Spirit was only waiting for me to ask to whisper her guidance over me.

Yesterday, I listened to a podcast I listen to infrequently (It’s a lovely podcast, we just don’t always click personality-wise because I am a grumpy curmudgeon. This the episode on anxiety caught my eye). Very briefly in that episode, they mentioned this episode of On Being about resilience which I listened to on my run this morning.

Holy Malloy. HOLY MALLOY! (this is what I say when swearing is inappropriate)

I wish I knew the word for how it feels when you hear the click of answers falling into place in your soul. Even though I didn’t receive a neon sign or a carefully detailed map, with just a few words, I received clarity for the next steps in my recovery process. I don’t need specific answers about what may be next, as long as I can see part of the path that will get me there.

Do you ever have these moments? You know the ones. Suddenly we gasp aloud as an electric thought jolts us into wakefulness. We hear or see or experience something so sweetly tuned to our soul that likely no one else can hear it the same way. In fact, it’s often the case that these gifts are specifically meant only for us.

The summer after my friend Natalie died, everywhere I looked were ones. When Nattie ended an excited sentence, she used exclamation marks…like this!!! Except, she always released the shift key too soon, so instead we got this…!!!!11. Those ones were so much a part of her, and after she was gone, the world around me was filled with ones. Maybe it always is, but that summer they were for me and no one else. I was specifically open to receive those ones. They were reminding me when random terrible things happen, life still has meaning. We have the power to make meaning through our own experience. 

It’s easy for me, when I reach what seems to be a dead-end, to fall back into learned helplessness. Accepting that I don’t have the power to change things is a familiar neural path for my thoughts to travel. This morning, however, I was literally shoved from that path onto a new one. I encountered a new perspective, a new way of healing, and permission to take back my spiritual experience as my own. What a silly thing to need permission for, huh? But apparently I did need it, and this morning the universe poured permission into my soul at fire hose volume.

I allow the probability that a relationship can break beyond restoration. That happens sometimes in this life. Depending on the relationship, this unresolved stress cycle can continue to cause trauma – relational, emotional, perhaps even spiritual. But just as I can receive permission, I can also withdraw permission. I can close doors, declare an end, if not geographically than relationally, taking back whatever power I relegated into their care. I can own myself, and all the pieces of myself again.

Are you waiting on permission to own all the pieces of your life? It’s already yours. We can make meaning from our experience if we are open to receiving it.

 

 

Making space for emotional and spiritual health

In May, I stayed pretty busy. It was a good sort of busy. I felt like I was growing and contributing and celebrating important events. Not at all the wheel-spinning busyness that is exhausting with nothing to show for it. This month, and likely this entire summer, is intentionally much slower. It’s a time for more internal work rather than external work. Time to take the lid off my emotional and spiritual health and stir it up a bit, see what floats to the surface.

Healing from trauma is interesting. For awhile you have to look trauma in the eye. Then you have to step back a bit and let it all settle again. If you move too quickly, you end up with a worse wound than you had to begin with, but if you wait too long, or leave the work unfinished, it festers. Last month was a good time to step away and let the dust settle a bit. Now I can more clearly see the things which still require attention.

This week, I did some work with understanding spiritual trauma, and some research on anxiety, both causes and techniques to deal with it. Unfortunately, these things snag all my triggers. Here a trigger, there a trigger, everywhere a trauma trigger. I’ve meditated so much I dream about meditation, not even kidding. I’m not as worried about depression anymore, but stepping away from that lethargy means engaging with things that are difficult.

I journal, and share with some of the people I trust, but none of these things change the fact that I am currently in an unresolved stress cycle. This means I that I can’t escape from the thing which triggers my fight or flight reaction. It’s a frustrating situation. In many ways I my emotional and spiritual health is improving. However, until I can break free of this cycle, I face the probability of regular set backs .

I see the problem, but I’m currently unable to solve the problem.
And so the question remains, where to I go from here?
My guess is figuring this out, will be my work for this summer.