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Life's Little Lessons

"If you ask me what I came into this life to do, I will tell you: I came to live out loud." – Emile Zola

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Be Brave

A couple weeks ago, I was bartending and as bartending goes, I was privy to hearing things. Two friends were talking about a friend they had in common whom had been struggling with depression and had recently been hospitalized for it. I heard “nut house” amongst other not nice things and it made me kind of grumpy as I finished my work. Sometimes you can’t unhear what you’ve heard despite all your best attempts to forget that you had.

Obviously, it wasn’t the kindest conversation. In fact, I felt they were rather brutal in talking about their so-called “friend” who had obviously been struggling and they appeared to have little to no sympathy for him. It broke my heart and made me think on the subject here weeks later. Here’s why.

All of us have probably received the news that someone that we loved, someone that we knew or someone that we knew of committed suicide. In my short forty-five years, I have had several acquaintances succumb to the depths of depression and lost their will to fight. And every time I hear of it, my thoughts are always the same: “I had no idea because they seemed like they had perfectly “normal” life. I wonder if they reached out for help. Did anyone know they were struggling?” Trying to wrap my head around such tragedies always throws me off-kilter, as it should.

And here I was again off-kilter as I listened to these friends make fun of and belittle someone for checking themselves into the hospital. It was taken lightly and ridiculed. I’m sure I would have been privy to a different conversation had their brave friend chosen not to get help. This needs to change.

There’s a stigma attached to reaching out for help, especially when it comes to mental health. No one should struggle. No one should have such thoughts or reach such depths. No one should fall a part and reach that level of vulnerability because when they do, they tend to be looked upon negatively in many different ways.

Weak.

Incompetent.

Crazy.

A danger not only to themselves but to others.

How do I know these things? I’ve been told these things by good and well-meaning people.

Personally.

A year ago today I got up on a Saturday morning and cleaned the house. I did the laundry and folded the towels. I made meals for my family and lined them into neat and tidy rows in the fridge and then I drove myself to the hospital, went straight to the ER and told the check-in nurse I needed to speak to someone in crisis.

Because I was in one.

I hadn’t harmed myself or anyone else but I was severely depressed, had stopped eating the week before and my thought life was a spiraling mess. I kept thinking I would get better on my own but the reality was I was scared that one day, in just one moment, I wouldn’t be able to fight the thoughts I had been having off any longer.

Looking back now, it was, without a doubt, one of the bravest decisions I’ve ever made and it showed me a lot about who I am. In all the right ways.

Since that day a year ago today, I’ve fought a hard battle but have persevered thanks to the love and support of my family and friends, particularly my children. I found a good therapist who helped me understand how and why I got to where I was and a good psychiatrist who did not think I was crazy or needed labeled with a permanent diagnosis, but rather realized how present day circumstances and our environment contributes to one’s mental health state. It’s been a year of hard work, taking ownership, assigning responsibility, establishing boundaries, accepting what is, letting go and looking to the future, but I’ve kicked some major ass and made it through. At the end of this week, I will be released from my doctors care. I did not take the chicken exit and am making it through to the other side. Happy Anniversary to me indeed.

But I have more to do.

God has been faithful and ever-present and for that, I am incredibly thankful. It’s been a humbling journey and I have learned a great deal about God, myself and others. If you ever find yourself sitting with a friend on the other side of the bar at a Beer Stube, remember your words and that everyone you meet is fighting a battle of some sort and sometimes, those battles are incredibly painful and hard. Once more, we need to do better. We have to. The ones that reach out for help are not weak, but brave. They need encouraged and supported. Not dismissed or jeered.

And if you’re like me and ever find yourself in a position where you need help of any kind, don’t go it alone. Don’t wake up day in and day out scared of your thoughts. I don’t care who you are or what you do. I don’t care of the title you hold or your position in the community, get the help you need. Don’t listen to the lies telling you you’ve failed or that’s it’s all your fault or if you were stronger or more this and less that, you would be better. Don’t listen to your Churches stance on medication and mental health. Pay no mind to what other people think or what they might say.

There is never ever shame in being brave and asking for help. Ever. I am with you.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255

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The Pick-Up Artist

For years I hid and stuffed a large part of myself down deep. It wasn’t easy or ideal and it was exhausting but I didn’t know any different. It was what I grew up doing; not wanting to think or feel as some sort of self-protection mechanism. There was the me that I presented to the world; I was put together, talked and walked with poise and ease *in public* and then there was the me that hid and covered myself up *in private* because inwardly I was a gigantic mess. I was a consummate circus juggler and had too many balls in the air and was *worn thin* from trying to keep them afloat. 

Then I attended a life-changing conference in Nashville Tennessee. At the time, I was leading a local Mom’s group at my Church called MOPS (Mother’s Of Preschooler’s). Looking back now, I shouldn’t have been leading much of anything but I had a slew of preschoolers myself and was actually trying my best to be a good mother to them. Besides, God often goes hard after the lost and lonely and has been known to put those who don’t have it together in positions of leadership.

And I swear to God, the conference had me specially in mind from beginning to end when they picked the topic.

Masks: Why we put them on and how we take them off. 

It was a simple message with a profound punch. It didn’t make me feel like shit like it could have but instead, empowered me to emerge from the suffocating squalor I had been hiding in. When I returned home from Tennessee, I stood in front of my MOPS groups, in front of women whom I was convinced had it all together and whom I worked hard at convincing that I did and bared my soul. It was like I was auditioning for the movie “Bad Moms” where one of the moms stand in front of the PTA and admits to smoking the weed she finds in her sons bedroom. 

I share this moment in life with you because it was the first of many where I mustered the courage to be me *as is* I became increasingly brave and awake, even though I still morphed into some sorry rendition of who I thought I needed to be. I didn’t gravitate quickly *nor easily* to a mask. I walked the Earth uncovered and through it, the whole of my insides was unearthed. 

It was the best of times. It was the worst of times.

When you allow yourself to stand naked before the crowd, it invites others to do the same. Nakedness brings up all those things that you’ve tried to keep hidden. All your insecurities rise to the surface. Things like jealousy, anxiety, depression, bitterness…just to do some brain storming. They bring with them thoughts and feelings that are all out of sorts. And when they hit like tsunami waves, they make you believe that staying hidden and numb would have been best.

But it’s not. 

Thoughts and feelings are not bad things, in fact, they can be used for a lot of good when kept in check. It wasn’t long till I became aware that I had a deep understanding of what other people were going through…kind of like a sixth sense so to speak. I could “feel” what others were feeling, at least enough to bring me to the realization that I’m a highly empathic person. An empath.

The trademark of an empath is that we feel and absorb other people’s emotions and/or physical symptoms because of our high sensitivities. We filter the world through our intuition and have a difficult time intellectualizing our feelings. When overwhelmed with the impact of stressful emotions, empaths can have panic attacks, depression, chronic fatigue, food, sex and drug binges, and many physical symptoms that defy traditional medical diagnosis.

Here’s some nuggets of gold I’ve learned this past year:

1. Empaths are highly sensitive
Empaths are naturally giving, spiritually open, and good listeners. If you want heart, empaths have got it. Through thick and thin, we’re there for you, and are world-class nurturers. But we can easily have our feelings hurt. We are often told that we are “too sensitive” and need to toughen up.

2. Empaths absorb other people’s emotions
Empaths are highly attuned to other people’s moods, good and bad. We feel everything, sometimes to an extreme. We take on others people’s negativity such as anger or anxiety and make it our own, which is confusing and exhausting. If we are around peace and love, our bodies take these on and flourish.

3. Many empaths are introverted
Empaths become overwhelmed in crowds, which can amplify their empathy. We tend to be introverted and prefer one to one contact or small groups. Even if an empath is more extroverted they prefer limiting how much time they can be in a crowd or at a party. This was one of the most important discoveries of myself this year.

4. Empaths are highly intuitive
Empaths experience the world through our intuition. It is important for us to develop our intuition and listen to our gut feelings about people. This will help empaths find positive relationships and avoid energy vampires *which is a thing* but we have to be careful. I find that if I don’t personally partner with the Spirit of God, I get pulled to make assumptions and judgements about people instead of initially thinking the very best of them.

5. Empaths need alone time
As super-responders, being around people can drain an empath so we periodically need alone time to recharge our batteries. Even a brief escape prevents emotional overload and is a great form of self-care.

6. Empaths can become overwhelmed in intimate relationships
Too much togetherness can be difficult for an empath so we may avoid intimate relationships. Deep down we are afraid of being engulfed and losing our identity. I’m still processing this one but I do realize I often go wide but not deep, even though I believe I walk the face of the Earth masks free. It’s easier for me to intimate with large groups of people rather than not…again, it’s something I’m looking at.

7. Empaths are targets for energy vampires
An empath’s sensitivity makes us particularly easy marks for energy vampires, whose fear or rage can sap our energy and peace of mind. Vampires do more than drain an empath’s physical energy. The especially dangerous ones such as narcissists (they lack empathy and are only concerned with themselves) can make us believe we are unworthy and unlovable. Other vampires include the chronic talker, the incessant complainer and the drama queen…just to name a few.

8. Empaths become replenished in nature
The busyness of ever day life can be too much for an empath. The natural world nourishes and restores us. It helps us release our burdens and we take refuge in every-day-ordinary places like mountains, oceans and my personal favorite…on a boat at my favorite lake. 

9. Empaths have highly tuned senses
An empath’s nerves can get frayed by too much excess

Too much details. Too much talking. Too much activity in general.

10. Empaths have huge hearts but sometimes give too much
Empaths are big-hearted people and try to relieve the pain of others *which often leads us to “fix” or “save”* A homeless person holding a cardboard sign, “I’m hungry” at a busy intersection; a hurt animal; a distraught friend. It’s natural to want to reach out to them and ease their pain but empaths don’t stop there. Instead, we take it on. Suddenly we are the one feeling drained or upset whereas we felt fine before and often leads us to feeling take advantage of.

One of lessons I’ve learned this past year is that it is essiential to have an aresenal of tools to protect my sensitivities such as praying, fierce time management, setting limits and boundaries *NO is a complete sentence* and staying in my lane by and being mindful of the traffic in MY own thought and feeling life. Being an empath is a gift, especially when I partner with the Spirit of God, but I’m learning to take care of myself.

Self-care is NOT selfish. 

And I’m learning to not take things personally. The thought life or emotional roller coaster ride that others are on is not because of ME. I am not the axle in which the world rotates itself around.

Friends, we don’t always have to DO something with what is before us. We can actually choose what we pickup and what we put down and when things are dumped on us, we can rise up out of the heap, dust ourselves off and walk out of the crazy.

Sometimes it is one of the kindest things we can do. 

Stop writing for everyone else. Start writing for yourself.

These are the words I heard echo through my Jeep as I pulled out of the parking lot.

Stop.

Start.

Always in motion.

So for whoever you are, wherever you sit on the other end of the screen reading these words of mine…that is exactly what I am going to do. Despite the opinions and fears of a select few, I am going to go after me. I am going to write FOR me. Because I am worthy and have value. I will not write for attention, as previously mentioned. I will not entertain that lie, but for healing, for if writing helps me heal, would it really matter how I processed?

I don’t think so.

But I always protect everyone else, everyone else but me.

Today was my third counseling session and I am so incredibly grateful for Wayne and Ruth. I sat smack dab in the middle of their overstuffed leather loveseat that is built for two and I’m grossly aware of the space that’s left around me. It doesn’t matter. I am there no matter how small I feel.

I will keep showing up honest and real.

Today was an exceptionally hard session so when I exited the parking lot, I turned left at the light. My thoughts instantly went to my friend. My beautiful friend…calm and sweet. My friend who thinks she is big, too large and on a scale of some to none…maybe she is. I don’t know. I think she is perfect as she is. All I know is that I want to drive my vehicle to her work so she can place her long arms, all comfy and soft, around me as I cry.

Because I want to cry. I want nothing more than to have a very good and long cry.

So I do. I pull in as she is pulling out and somehow she makes her way to my Jeep and opens my door and I fall into her arms. She doesn’t ask and I am thankful that I don’t have to tell and because I don’t even know what it is I would say if I did.

I hear Ruth’s words and I realize how true they were.

“I always throw myself under the bus.”

I am twenty-three and my father hits me just weeks before the wedding I don’t want him walking me down but I find myself on his left-hand side weeks later because that is what dutiful daughters do. They stay quiet. They soldier on and spend the next twenty plus years of their life secretly hating themselves for not standing up, for not speaking up.

I could go on. I thought about typing more, in fact I did. I started compiling my list like  some Power Point I could some day use in a presentation of what NOT to do, but since I am writing for me and not you, I’ll stop here. September 1997.

I am a young mother.

My young daughter is standing in the yard beside me and my mother and my father, full of his unpredictability and rage, reminded me once more just how small and truly insignificant I was.

 

 

 

 

 

Shattered

“Humpty Dumpty sat on the wall. 

Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.

All the King’s horses and all the King’s men,

Couldn’t put Humpty together again”

This childhood nursery rhyme is in my head this morning as I drive. I rounded the bend in the road and crossed over the railroad tracks and it played through my mind again.

“Couldn’t put Humpty together again.”

Shattered to pieces, poor Humpty. And where was the King? If all the King’s horses and all the King’s men couldn’t, could the King have put him back together again?

Will my King put me back together again?

I think the better question is, “Will I allow Him?”

I cannot play the victim here. I can no longer afford to allow other people’s actions or lack of dictate WHO I am. And I have allowed it. It’s a choice I’ve made, over and over and over again. It’s an old habit, an old neighbor, if you will, and the property lines are no longer clear and weeds have encroached me.

I am not broken.

And though I feel that I am, because I am most definitely bruised, I will not lay on the floor in a thousand little pieces waiting for someone to come rescue me. Waiting for someone to notice that I have fallen and fallen hard.

I will.

HE will.

HE does.

I show up to my doctor’s appointment and I am brutally honest. I am honest with my feelings. I am honest with my thoughts. I am even honest with the not good ones. There is no covering up today, I am direct.

“Help me. I need just a little. Just a little to get me through.”

I sound beggy. I sound pleady. Like a child, I out stretch my hand, “Please.”

Please. Because I am looking for a fix.

My feelings are running the show and I need to make sense of them, I need order, I need peace.

I want to escape. I want to run. I want to numb out. I no longer want to feel.

So we talk some more, she hugs me at the end after taking way more time with me than she should and hands me a script. I walk to the check-out desk with hope in my hands that maybe a little pill will help me to not feel all over the place so I can think clearer, be better.

Because I have indeed fallen all apart.

And I have hope to fall back together again.

Hope that reaching out to the doctor is a step forward.

 

 

The Further Journey

I cannot find my lipstick. I cannot find it in my purse, my bag or any of the pockets in my coat. I forgo showering trying to find it and spend the next hour trying remember when the last time was that I used it.

I rack my brain. Where is it?

It drives me crazy. I wish I knew where it was so I could resume regular living but instead, I’m stuck, consumed with trivial things.

It’s just a tube of lipstick, “Bombshell” I believe is it’s name and it’s part of the system I’ve put in place that helps me feel safe, protected and such. Just knowing where it’s at, HAVING it, tricks my brain into believing I am enough IF I have enough lipsticks.

And sweaters, shoes, shampoos. Bracelets and books.

Books on how to break free from bracelets and books.

And all they do is suffocate me and make me feel like I am drowning under a heavy and thick layer of ooze, of shoes. I can’t find it. I’ll go buy another. Because I must have it.

Obsessive Compulsion much?

A process I have run from my entire life is before me and I believe deep within myself despite how it looks or feels, it is a gift.

I resolve this time to go all the way through, to the very end and beyond, to the further side. It would be wasteful of me not to.

Seriously, this is a gift horse and I know it.

Only time will tell if I see it to the end.

The last several weeks have been just about the worst. The Holidays came and went, our son was Home and is now gone again and during that period of time, problems were placed neatly on the shelf. The Holiday hiatus is now over and it is time to keep moving forward.

Yet part of the problem is I feel at a standstill.

I don’t want to remain shelved.

Roni, a very wise friend of mine, encouraged me the other day to stay focused on the solution rather than the problem. Easier said than done and I know those who have walked through life and the joys and sufferings of it, will agree.

It is difficult to not get consumed by life’s “problems”, hence washed away by some giant wave that often feels and looks like a Tsunami and has the potential to take out the entire planet, or at least my own private island and right now, my kingdom is in jeopardy.

I’m not sleeping well or eating much. My thoughts are consumed with the bigger picture, of what may happen, but as washed by the waves as I am, I drown myself in worship and  in prayer and resolve to continually place my thoughts on the solution.

What is the solution?

I am. I need to make different choices.

I know the power to overcome lives within me. Any answer that I am seeking dwells there because I believe Jesus is who He says He is and if He is, so am I.

I also know there is a process in each of us that needs to be fulfilled to completion and until it is, it will chase us down as a predator hunts its prey. It is inevitable. We may play hide and seek the entirety of our lives trying to avoid it or disillusion ourselves thinking we are done when maybe we were only half way through. We may tell ourselves that halfway is good enough and that our bandages will stick but in reality, they eventually fall worn to the ground and we get used to our limp.

Maybe our process will not end.

Maybe the end is not ever the end.

I do know that in order to move forward, there is always something that has to be let go of, moved beyond from, given up or forgiven. Baggage is heavy and to continue to make progress, we have to be made light. Maybe that’s why so often we cut the process short. We grow attached to our stuff, even the heavy and hard. Even unhealthy attachments are attachments nonetheless.

And I have a lot to let go of.

The price may seem higher for the addict who prostitutes for a fix than it is for the addict who merely spends their entire paycheck on a new wardrobe, but ultimately both pay with their lives.

And I am tired of paying with mine when Jesus loved me enough to pay with His.

Insanity Is Doing the Same Thing Over and Over Again and Expecting Different Results – Albert Einstein

I know we may all have our vices, our little fixes we gravitate towards when the sky feels like it is falling on our heads and our lungs get so tight we can’t breathe. I’m sure we may have all been drawn toward something to help, something to fill our empty places.

Drinking

Eating

Drugs

Sex

Exercising

Shopping

Social Media

Gambling

The ante keeps escalating and I can’t keep up. My fix is no longer fixing…I don’t know if it ever did except to lull the real me to sleep and numb me from the noise.

So today I made a call, this week I’ll take a step. I am going to attend my first Celebrate Recovery meeting which is similar to AA and is a Christ centered approach to recovery. I’ve thought about going for years but as things like this go, things got better, things got worse. It wasn’t the right time. I thought I was at a good place. It’s just shopping. Everyone likes shopping and I had a hold of the reigns real tight. I was in control and in charge.

Turns out the reigns have had their hold on me.

Tight.

To those whose minds consume them whole till they begin and then finish, you may understand.

Binge and Purge. It’s what those of us who create systems do. We are wildly all in or all out. There is no middle ground. We erect tiny safe havens within ourselves that we go, that we hide, like the Mall to feel safe. We buy new sweaters to feel pretty.

Sometimes I wish I sat a bar.

But no. Instead I am lost in my house for over an hour looking for my latest lipstick.

I tell myself it doesn’t matter.

 

It doesn’t matter what it is that I DO, it doesn’t matter one bit. What matters most is that I desire to be free, completely.

And this baggage cannot go with me where I am heading. I am scared but I am unashamed.

I need to be made light in order to journey there.

 

 

 

Shift

We are seven weeks into boot camp which means we are on day forty-eight and have one scripted phone call and ten letters. The long and the short of it is is…I miss our son. What I wouldn’t do to hear his voice and to tell him I love him.

And on Friday at 9:46 AM he called my phone.

I was giving my full attention to the person I was in a meeting with and when they walked out the door and I looked down at my phone, my heart broke. I had missed him. Maybe it was my own sadness and longing to connect but a very big part of me heard it in his voice as well. My son on the other end, miles and hours away, longing to do the same and here we were, both broken for it.

A lot of emotions started to go through me.

*I was thankful I got to hear his voice. This was not a scripted call nor did he yell into the phone as Marine Recruits typically do. This was our son. Our compassionate, loyal and witty son. “Hi Mom, its Tristan…” He sounded serene, mature and my thoughts drifted to gratitude.

*I was angry. Angry at the person who preoccupied my time. Angry at being distracted that I couldn’t even look down at the screen of my watch to see who was calling. Bitter, my heart was turning ugly.

*I was heartbroken. I write him several times a week and in each letter I tell him how much I love him, how much we ALL do but knowing he was trying to reach out and I had missed an opportunity to audibly speak those words….it just hurt. I called his girlfriend, which looking back now was the WRONG person to call. You don’t ever call the girlfriend because part of me thinks that was just mean, but sometimes you just need someone to cry WITH you. Someone who gets it, who gets YOU. 

This is just a small example of life as of late. Thoughts and emotions are all over the place for all particular reasons. Our son was calling us to let us know they were evacuating the base because of Hurricane Irma and as I sat in my vehicle praying for this natural storm to disippate, I realized I needed to shift my attention and my focus to the storm inside of me. *CATEGORY TEN* I don’t know how, on my own, to stop it. It’s raging and appears to be gaining speed with gale force winds and destruction that’s imminent. I want nothing more than to hide under the bow of my boat as the water laps my feet, deep within myself, and stay there safe and protected, but I hear Jesus whisper, “Stand and speak to the storm.”

So today I took a stand. I made a phone call. I made two. I reached out for help. I need to start focusing on navigating MY boat. As much as I care for the safety of others, I won’t do anyone good if I drown in a few inches worth of water.

Sometimes the first person you need to save is yourself.

Speak to YOUR storm.

before you jump

I have a tendency to go it alone and by going it alone, I mean going it a-l-o-n-e as in, in silence. By myself. I can write about deep and personal all day long and give snippets of what is actually happening in my life that just may elude to the fact that I need some “withness” but rarely will say I say, “H-E-L-P.” I’ll just flounder for a while and eventually come up under the water having caught my breath, as I always and eventually do…and tarry on.

But today I was done tarrying alone. I got down and gritty with a few friends and didn’t think twice about what they may think of me and what I said. Because friends don’t really care what it is that you say, I mean…I really don’t think so. At least I don’t. I don’t think they absorb every word and think, “Ah, she’s in THAT place and I thought she was in t-h-a-t place. How sad.” I’m pretty sure from knowing mine that their heart breaks when mine does and they can read through the cursing, the emotions and the lies I’m believing and hear what I am really asking for…

WITHNESS. 

Because lies are awfully isolating.

Friends don’t have to fix anything in this place and I’m certainly not looking for magic words, sometimes, I’d rather not have any. When I get to the point where I say, “I am having an awfully bad, no good day,” I’m really saying, “I am going to jump off this ledge. I am drowning in this water. I feel all alone. Can you be with me?”

And as good friends go, they text or call or show up AT YOUR DOOR and you secretly wish they would go away because you have a good mad on and you want to stay that way, but you can’t…your friend is there, standing on your porch about to ring your door bell for the SECOND time and she knows you are home. There is no escape. She’s relentless and refuses to let you go it alone and you realize…

You are getting exactly what you asked for.

Support and love flood in various forms, all are tender and merciful. And though nothing seems fixed, everything seems doable. Because no matter how you DO IT, you know that you KNOW, you won’t be doing it alone.

So friends, if you are standing in the boat or on the ledge and you find yourself by yourself and are tempted to jump, I encourage you to ask someone into that space with you. Jumping itself is not bad, in fact, sometimes you just GOT TO take the leap, but invite someone to do it WITH you. The circumstance of life can be heavy and weighted and if you are not careful, they can bog you down into a deep abyss. But the funny thing with withness is it changes your perspective and fills you with hope. I think of Peter walking on the water towards Jesus, “Eyes on the prize and things will be fine.” Without focus, the storms are rather distracting.

Invite someone into your storm. Allow them to be Jesus in the flesh.

Stay focused. Stay steady. Stay WITH them.

 

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