awareness, Brokenness, Faith/Spirituality

Detoxing my mind…(Who’s Your Inner Critic part 2)

My brain kinda hurts already, just thinking about thinking. A couple months ago I attended a conference and heard a Cognitive Neuroscientist speak about detoxing our minds. She says we do this by ridding our brains, or rather, retraining our thoughts, to eliminate toxic thinking patterns. Perhaps that talk is what has got me reflecting on how I talk to myself in my mind. Last time I wrote I told you about my inner critic, Miss Mary Poppins, who whispers judgment and harshness and criticism to me. I have listened to those words for so long that the repetitive nature of them has created neuropathways in my brain. Caroline Leaf showed actual pictures of the inside of a brain and what happens when a person has a thought. It fires up like a short squiggly line in your brain with every idea. Over and over this little zap occurs. But here’s the kicker, if the same thought is repeated over and over again, it wears an actual groove in your brain and eventually forms a little cluster of thoughts that get rooted in your mind, making it easier for them to happen the next time.

I have a few pathways that have been forged and frequently travelled over the years. There are two main ones that I want to tell you about today, but I know for sure that there are dozens more.

One recurring thought I have is some version of the following: “What is wrong with me?”. I can already hear my counselor saying to me, as he always does, “there’s nothing wrong with you.” I usually just blow him off and continue to tell him about something negative, childish or dumb that I did or thought. Instead of giving myself grace or permission to be less than perfect or a mere human, I beat myself up in my head about mistakes, failures or shortcomings. The more I have these kinds of thoughts, the more I believe them to be true about me. I am pretty certain I have a mass the size of an apple in my brain on this one.

The other pathway that I’m sure  leads to a mass the size of a grapefruit (just thought i would be consistent since all doctors seem to relate tumors to a size of fruit to illustrate severity!) is “I’m bad.” I don’t say it quite like that every time, of course, because that would be too obvious. I use Mary Poppin’s type words and phrases so it sounds intelligent and well thought through and much much more convincing. Again, my counselor calls me on it when I say something like, “I know I’m bad, but I…”. He reminds me for the thousandth time, “You’re not bad.”

The fact that I preface what I tell a counselor who, in theory, is paid to not judge me (at least on the outside), with “I know this is bad” tells me even more about how I think of myself. What does it say, you ask? It tells me that I often talk/think negatively about myself because I care too much what other people think of me. Think about that for a moment…I have a twisted belief in me that if I point out the “bad” in me to others ahead of time, then maybe they will be less hard on me or feel bad for doing so. If I just say it to myself, maybe I can avoid criticism or correction from others. I beat them to the punch, in essence.

Not to confirm what I am saying about myself, but that seems “bad”! The one positive thing I will say is that I’ve improved over the years. 12 Step programs and cancer and faith have helped that happen. I remember a long time ago (in galaxy far far away) in my marriage I did that a lot to avoid “getting in trouble” or just prevent my husband from finding out I wasn’t perfect (I’m sure he would have been shocked!). Basically, it’s a form of trying to control or manipulate what someone else thinks about me. Image Management, if you will. I would audibly beat myself up when I forgot to drop off a payment, send a lunch to school, or backed in to my husband’s cute red sports car with my minivan (hypothetically speaking, of course). I did this to hopefully prevent someone I loved from thinking ill of me or being, God forbid, mad or frustrated.

I don’t really know the root of all the reasons I tend to have lots of little zappy negative squiggles in my mind, but I am working on doing something to unravel them. I am becoming mindful enough to correct Mary Poppins and replace her words with kind, accepting, gracious, loving words that come from God. Words that I would whisper tenderly to those I love the most.

Anxiety/Worry, awareness, Brokenness, Faith/Spirituality, freedom, grace

Who’s your inner critic?

You may have heard the saying, “hurt (adjective) people-hurt (verb) people”. I recently read through some notes I took from a speaker that had the quote, “free (adjective) people-free (verb) people”. Even though at my core I believe God’s grace received gives me the gift of being free at all times, I don’t always feel or live in that freedom. Sometimes I choose to sit in the jail cell even when the door to freedom is standing wide open. I guess the idea is that we often operate alongside and influence those we encounter based on what state we are currently living in. So, regarding my particular state, I would have to say I am a “wanna be”. And “wanna be free” people can often help other “wanna be free” people be, well, free. Or more acutely, I am a “wanna live free” person. Being free and living free are worlds apart. If you are one of those people, maybe you can join me in learning how to do this.

…I am laughing at myself, because at the end of that last sentence I started to type “better”. And therein lies the obstacle to why I don’t feel free in my head: I have terrible trouble accepting who am and being ok with me. With letting myself be enough of (fill in the blank). I am constantly trying to be better than I am right now. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, unless you berate and frown upon the person you are presently. How I talk to myself is so subtly abusive that I don’t even notice it most of the time. But the words and the beliefs those thoughts create in my brain-actual neuropathways-keep me from living light.

Maybe I am being too vague. Maybe it will help to have a visual. A few months ago I was privileged to do a book study with a group of women in leadership in Springfield. One of the weeks, our assignment was to characterize our “inner critic” and give him or her a name. Without thinking very long about it, I identified her as Mary Poppins. I am a pseudo-expert on her character, based on the fact that I have seen the original Disney flick approximately 79 times. When my 23 yr old son was about 4, he was obsessed with the “Step in Time” song/dance. You know, the one where Burt (Dick Van Dyke) dances on the rooftops with Chimney Sweeps? My son would place couch pillows on the floor (these were the chimney tops) and leap from pillow to pillow with a long duster (the kind you use to clean spider webs and such from the ceilings of your home), mimicking the choreography. I tell you that adorable story to validate my Mary Poppins expertise. Anyway…here’s the relation. I find Mary Poppins to be slightly intimidating, arrogant, judgmental and have exceedingly high expectations of others. She’s also a bit cra cra if the truth be told. Several times in the movie she takes the kids on some wild adventure and when they try to tell their father about it she denies it ever happened saying something like “we did nothing of the sort!” (Or some other funky English phrase).

When the voice in my head tell me I am not enough (didn’t manage my time well enough to get the dishes/laundry/phone calls/appointments made, am not working out often enough or eating well enough, that I should have give more attention to my kids and given them more responsibility and hugged them more, etc.), she sound like Mary Poppins. She has a nice English accent, which we all know makes everything sound more romantic and pleasant even when it’s not. She doesn’t curse or accuse in a way that causes me to tell her to take a hike. She simply points out all the ways I don’t measure up. It’s a running monologue, background static that seeps into my subconscious until I eventually accept those ideas as truth. Once the are solidified, she moves on to other areas so there is never a moment of rest.

Maybe you are ready to call 911 and send them over to have me take to the hospital for evaluation. Or maybe you could take a moment and ponder what your inner critic is saying to you. What’s his/her name? What kind of lies is he whispering, or shouting, to you throughout your day? What kind of truths can you cling to that can be used to combat that voice? How can you put her in her place-in a time-out, if you will-and replace her words of bondage and criticism with ones of freedom and acceptance.

My intention is to pay attention to my thoughts, evaluate if they are true and from God, who loves me and created me and accepts me exactly where I am today, or if they are from Mary Poppins who thinks she’s “got me”. I intend to listen for the voice of truth and counter her lies by acknowledging that I am doing the best I can with what I have at any given time. And so is everyone else, for that matter. I get pretty worked up when I think of cruel or hurtful things other people have said to or about me. To quote Marianne Williamson in A Return to Love, “whatever abuse they gave us was often mild compared to the way we abuse ourselves today. It’s true that your mother might have said repeatedly, ‘You’ll never be able to do that, dear.’ But now you say to yourself, ‘You’re a jerk. You never do it right. You blew it. I hate you.’ They might have been mean, but we’re vicious.” This type of self-loathing is destructive and deadly. It is the root of all that is bad in us and in the world. She points out that all this emotional energy has to go somewhere. “So we sabotage.We drink. We do drugs. We control. We obsess. We codepend. We overeat. We hide. We attack. The form of dysfunction is irrelevant. We can find a lot of different ways to express how much we hate ourselves.”

Without being hard on myself and therefore responding counter-productively to this whole blog, I do want to say that i am going to do what it takes to silence Miss Mary Poppins. I need a new voice in my head. I need to listen for God’s soft whisper and mix it with the kind and gentle part of my own spirit. The one that gives me a break for not being perfect and tells me to rest in who I am at this current moment. That tells me I am always enough. And so are you.

awareness, Change, Faith/Spirituality, Growth

Things I learned the hard way…

When I refer to things I “learned” the hard way, I mean that in the truest sense of word; to gain knowledge or understanding by study, instruction or experience. It’s important that you know that I don’t mean to imply that I have mastered any of what I am about to share with you. It’s more of an exercise in putting some pretty excruciating and embarrassing scenarios and revelations on paper in order that it might help someone. It’s quite possible that I am the someone that most needs help today…

We learn best in hindsight, unfortunately. I really wish I could have been more aware of the growth opportunities in the midst of my pain, but sometimes it takes the rear view mirror perspective to truly appreciate the the wisdom hard circumstances provide if we are willing to receive it. In the interest of time and attention span, I’ll limit today’s lessons to a small handful of items so as not to overwhelm either of us (my heart is already racing, just thinking about some of the experiences that brought me to my awareness in these areas…)

1. I can be “scary”. I finally get it. I have been told this in a variety of ways over the past 30 years but always had a defensive argument for how that is ridiculous. how could I possibly be scary to anyone!?!  I now understand, after years of keeping potential friends away, losing many valued friends and being confronted by some real friends who loved me enough to risk pointing this out to my scary-self. The root of it was a result of expectations that I put on myself and others that were impossible to live by. That attitude resulted in my friends feeling a sense of being judged, being not enough, being a disappointment. If no one, not even me, can fulfill these expectations, everyone loses. I have done a lot of soul-searching and found that when I “live and let live” and focus on myself and doing my job (which is to take care of myself and not try to do God’s job and work on other people) I can actually maintain some long-term, intimate relationships.

2. “I care way too much about what you think of me.” This is really an awareness that I have to keep in check regularly. When I get unfit spiritually, I start making idols out of the people around me (whether or not I like or know them). My identity and self-worth become dependent not on God, but on what I think others are thinking about me. That is a dangerous lens to view myself through considering much of it is based on your brokenness mixed in with mine. It’s hard to see anything clearly with that standard and makes for some pretty unstable self-esteem and security. I didn’t always see this as a problem and am grateful, having been in a twelve-step program the past 6 years, that I am beginning to get a handle on it. I used to put all my eggs in the baskets of people who were not capable, because only God is capable, of meeting my needs and giving me my identity. After years of suffering I finally stopped blaming them and transferred my eggs to God’s basket (can’t deny that I occasionally steal them back until it get’s painful again).

3. “I’m not much but I’m all I think about.” ‘Tis true. In spite of the fact that I tend to trash myself (telling myself I am a bad friend, bad Christian, bad mom, bad wife), I think about myself an awful lot. I can obsess about my woes and worries and completely forget that anyone else could use a word, a text, a call, an hug, a simple smile. Self-consumption is a sickness that I haven’t always recognized in me. I think Leukemia was a really good remedy for that kind of sickness. Even in the midst of a pretty terrifying threat of dying and potential for absolute self-absorption, I chose to write and share hope and strength with others. That was only a God-inspired decision that I take no credit for at all.

4. “I can be right or I can be happy.” Apparently I was born with or cultivated a very vibrant and stubborn “justice gene”. This has gotten me into trouble on more than one occasion. If in the right context, God can do a lot with this genetic wiring. But if it goes astray, it manifests itself in an attitude of self-righteous superiority toward groups or individuals. Neither of which are productive or feel very loving to the recipient. When I am sure I am right on something I feel compelled to prove it (feeling like I have to “win”) and the recipient often feels as if their views or needs are disregarded and devalued. I almost never see it that way and am therefore shocked when I get a strong pushback. I have most certainly not entirely recovered from this, but am at least willing to acknowledge that I have the propensity to go there and don’t argue my “way” nearly as long as I used to. 😬

5. “I am a wimp”. I have an embarrassing memory of a conversation I had between a friend and I several years ago (like 20 years, so give me a slight break). She asked me why I never drank before I was 21 or did drugs or had sex before I was married. I told her I thought it was because I wasn’t afraid to do the “hard thing.” It’s actually a “hard thing: for me to even get those words out;  it’s so arrogant. And so far from reality, now that I can see myself a tiny bit more clearly. As I mentioned a few blogs ago, I am afraid of practically everything! And I wasn’t any better back then. Just a bit dumber (is that a word?). I actually think I have an extra large aversion to “hard things”. I mean, I won’t even go downstairs to put my laundry in because it’s too far and the very thought of even planning a meal or following a recipe makes me want to start fasting. I work out the shortest time necessary and eat as much as possible without crossing the line into excess. I text and email instead of call because that is easier. My whole life revolves around doing what is easy. Who am I trying to fool? Today, the answer is “no one”. I am fully aware that I am doing the best I can for now and so is everyone else. I am not special. I only do hard because I have to, not because I want to or am up for the challenge. Most people do. I used to take pride in my “uprightness”, whatever that is, and now, I am just glad to be upright and not in jail (ok, that’s a little extreme, but you get my point). I have been humbled once or twice, and continue to be reminded that “there, but for the grace of God, go I.”

So there you have it. That is the tip of the ice berg on what I have had to learn the hard way. Maybe sometime soon we will get to what’s underneath all of that-consider yourself warned.

awareness, Faith/Spirituality, Trust

“Putting the cart before the horse”

Maybe you are better than me, but sometimes, I forget things. Sometimes I forget where I put my sunglasses (which are on my head) and forget where I set my phone (frantically searching for it while talking on…my phone). Yesterday I ran off to show a house, forgetting to remind my son to take the chicken out of the oven (good thing it is spring now and we can open our windows!) and I can only remember to take my vitamins consistently for about 4 days in a row. After that, I have a tendency to forget that my general health care sort of needs a regular boost.

But what I find most disturbing are the soul-level things that can be forgotten even when I believe them in my deepest parts. It’s especially in-my-face when I read a little book I wrote and think, “Oh ya! I forgot I believe that! Maybe I should practice living as if I really do!”

This morning I was reading from a book called “Immortal Diamond: The Search for Our True self” by Richard Rohr. He brought up an analogy that gave me a phrase that perfectly describes what it looks like when we forget. In this case, the forgetting involves what happens when I “put the cart before the horse.” When I put the “cart”, my cart, with it’s load of trash and treasures and decorated like it’s going to be in a parade, before the “horsepower” itself. Rohr says that the “horsepower” is precisely our primal (elemental, vital, central) union with God. When I get ahead of God, it’s as pre-post-erous as expecting a cart (with essentially no power in and of itself) to pull the horse. You ain’t gettin’ nowhere like that.

I love that when I looked up the phrase “putting the cart before the horse”, wikipedia told me that “preposterous” was a one word description for just such an action. “Pre” means before or front and “post” means at the end or in the back. So when something that should be in front is in the back and vice verse, that is preposterous! In case you are sleepy today (or I am being as clear as mud), this means that when I get out in front of God, not only in the wrong position but trying to do all the work, I demonstrate a lack of faith and trust and reliance on His power and His will. My EGO ( some say a good acrostic for that is “Edging God Out”) keeps me running and striving and exhausted, trying to provide my own horsepower for all of life’s experiences, good and bad. Sometimes I forget I am not that powerful.

Rohr reminds us that “the horse does all the work. Your work is of another kind; to stay calmly and happily on the road and not get back into the harness.” St. Teresa of Avila used a similar metaphor when she described how you can either keep digging the channel or find the actual spring and let it just flow toward you, in you, and from you. “Her entire mystical theology is about finding that Inner Flow and not wasting time digging trenches.”

Have you, too, forgotten? Forgotten that God is the ultimate Source, the horsepower that makes it possible for us live and move and have our Being? Forgotten that it’s not about works, but about grace and connection to God’s own heart first and foremost? Forgotten that he bids us to come to him because His burden is light and he will give us rest from the weariness of trying to pull our own cart?

If you tend to forget, like I so often do, may this be the day you remind yourself to remember all you have forgotten.

Anxiety/Worry, awareness, Faith/Spirituality, fear, Trust

“Terrification”

When my 22-year-old son, Berkeley, was about 2, he had an irrational (yet adorable) fear of “fuzzies”. Now that I think about it, maybe my house-keeping was lacking, because the “fuzzies” he was referring to were little balls of lint. If one made it’s way out from under the couch or was stuck to an item of clothing, he would panic and scream “Fuzzy! Fuzzy! Fuzzy!”. And while we’re on the fear-note, my kids and my husband all share a heightened fear of spiders. Spiders don’t just get stepped on or squished in our home, they get tortured, often with poisonous spray or a combo of fire and hairspray if time allows.

I am not particularly frightened of the usual suspects; snakes, spiders, public speaking, the dark, clowns, or fuzzies. But here is what I have come to realize about what I do fear: I am often afraid of pretty much everything else. Well, that might be a slight exaggeration, but let me tell you, it’s a lot. And most of the things I fear are about as rational as a fear of fuzzies.

Recently, quite by accident or divine direction, I came across some writings that helped me put some of my thoughts on fear into better words than I have been able to express on my own. See if some of them ring true for you:

*”The problem isn’t that we’re lost or apathetic, narcissistic or materialistic. The problem is we’re terrified…A lot of us know we have what it takes-the looks, the education, the talent, the credentials. But in certain areas we’re paralyzed. We’re not being stopped by something on the outside, but by something on the inside. Our oppression is internal…We’re just afraid, period. Our fear is free-floating. “

“Sometimes we make the mistake of thinking other people don’t have as much fear as we do, which only makes us more afraid. Maybe they know something we don’t know. Maybe we’re missing a chromosome.” 😂

“Fear is to love as darkness is to light. It’s a terrible absence of what we need in order to survive. It’s a place we go where all hell breaks loose.”

“God is not the author of fear. You are.”

On my way to work, almost every day for the past month or so, I tell Siri to “play ‘Fear, He is a Liar’ on U-Tube”. It ends about the time I pull into the office parking lot. I have to remind myself before I walk in the office and through-out my day, that “Fear, He is a liar”. I have to remind myself that the antithesis of fear is love and for me, Trusting that God knows better than I do how my day, my life, should play out. He knows that what I want is not always what I need. Even though I am not always 100% satisfied with the way my life is at that moment, I am still terrified that it will change or be taken away.  I believe that fear is at the root of most everything that is at unrest in my spirit (my anxieties and worries and hauntings) and the source of all my egomaniacal behaviors ( that’s the intellectual phrase for bragging, posturing, image-managing).

I don’t like having fear. It feels weak. It feels weak because it is weak. And even though it can be a powerful force that keeps me immobilized with insecurity, worry, hyper controlling and self-focused thinking, It is not all-powerful. There is a power greater than fear. I have found that power to be my God. He tells me that “perfect love casts out fear”. That’s definitely something worth unpacking because otherwise fear will get the better of me and hold me back from living in freedom, serenity, and unwavering trust.

Now that I have unearthed this idea that maybe we might all share a common struggle with terrification (a pseudo-intellectual word I made up meaning “a state of being terrified instead of terrific” ), I am going to sign off and think on this for a few days. Feel free to weigh in. More to come.

Anxiety/Worry, awareness, Faith/Spirituality, fear, Serenity, Special ed pre school

“Make Good Choices👍” (From the “Everything I need to know I learned in Special-Ed Preschool” series)

Some of my biggest life-lessons have come as a result of working for a few years with Special Ed pre-schoolers. As a 48 year old with a full-time job, a published author and a mother of 3 almost-grown children, that’s saying something. The “something” that is says is that at my core, I still need the simplicity of pre-school principles in order to address my emotional, relational and spiritual challenges. If I ever master the basics, I’ll be sure to let you know.

So, without further ado, I bring you another entry of “Everything I Need to know I Learned in Special-Ed Preschool”.

I tell you what, it’s been about 4 years since I worked at that school and I can still picture their adorable faces and hear their tiny voices in my head. One life-skill we worked very intentionally to teach them is the importance of making good choices. We regularly said to them, about a thousand times in a 2 hour time frame, “Make good choices” and accompanied that instruction with a smile and symbolic “thumbs up”. It occasionally made a difference, but it also took tattling to a whole different level. I distinctly remember a little boy finding me during play time and proudly informing me that so-and-so had made a “bad choice”, accompanied with a symbolic ‘thumbs down” gesture. Bless his precious pre-school heart…

This weekend, out of the blue (or maybe not so much, since I was thinking not-loving thoughts about and being extra critical of myself), I had a revolutionary thought. Remember the days (sadly, a fad that has waned a bit) when people wore WWJD? bracelets and put said stickers on their cars? It is an acronym for “What Would Jesus Do?”. And regardless of what you believe about him in a spiritual/salvation sense, I think most of us can agree that if we could indeed model our life and love patterns after Jesus, we would be pretty darn pleasant people. So, back to my revolutionary thought; Maybe it would be a better practice to ask myself WWJT?. “What Would Jesus Think?”. Because, my brain has a hard time deciding what exactly Jesus would do. Would he really work-out or tan or spend $5 on a coffee drink or kill time by wandering through Target? It’s a confusing question for me (like I said, I learn a lot from pre-schoolers so that should make perfect sense to you). But what I am fairly certain I can answer “yes” or “no” to is about what kind of thoughts I allow myself to entertain. It’s one thing for a thought to come through my mind, but whether I choose to let it in again or ruminate on it should depend on my answer to that question.

In other words, or in pre-school lingo, that means I have to “make good thought-choices”. Not that I am in the clear entirely about my not-so-nice thoughts about others, but I have found that my most destructive and anti-like-Jesus thinking is more about my thoughts about myself. In fact, even when my negative thoughts start off being about others, they usually circle back around to me (the EGO is a powerful monster). When I have jealous or covetous thoughts about another persons success at work or their material possessions, the root of those thoughts goes back to me feeling like somehow I have failed or don’t measure up. My thoughts quickly beat and batter myself over my perceived failure. I have a hundred more examples, but I think you get my point.

But most of all, it is worth posing the WWJT? Question to all the self-thoughts that cycle through my head minute by minute. I think part of the reason this idea was triggered in me this weekend was because I sang at church. I regularly doubt myself and my talents, comparing them to others who seem to be more confident and blessed with more natural vocal abilities. That’s when it occurred to me that these were not thoughts that I believe Jesus would have about himself. I can’t imagine that Jesus would tell himself that he stunk at what he was doing or that he wasn’t as good as that person so he might as well quit. I don’t believe he would complain about the body God had blessed him with or whine because his Father didn’t answer his prayers the way he expected him to or in the time slot he felt would work best for everyone. And here’s a good one, I don’t believe Jesus would worry in his mind about what his employer or co-workers think of him. He would do his best and forget the rest. What they thought of him ultimately had no bearing on his calling. I don’t even believe he would stress about what other people believe about him or if was who he said he was, knowing that they are in the hands of God himself who desires that each person should have an intimate relationship with Him. He just focused on loving God and loving people. He probably didn’t spend time obsessing about his problems, telling himself that things usually turn out bad for him so why bother expecting God to show up. Pretty sure he didn’t have thoughts like I often do: “I’m so stupid-lazy-forgetful-insensitive-worthless”. And this haunting thought that I am not enough (not spiritual enough, not thin enough, not smart enough, not tidy enough, not attentive enough, not serving enough, etc.) is not something I imagine he would entertain.

If I can learn to catch myself quickly, as all my thoughts creep in, and ask myself WWJT?, I just might be able to finally give myself a break. Maybe I can relax and trust God for my well-being, my affirmation and my identity. Maybe I can learn from Jesus’ way of thinking, how to think kinder, gentler thoughts about myself and my world.

What do ya think? Time for another kind of bracelet? WWJT? 🤔

Addiction, Anxiety/Worry, awareness, Control, Faith/Spirituality, Recovery

Extraction!

I don’t usually write at 4:30 in the afternoon, but today I am a little off because I got a tooth extracted this morning. I went in at 7:00 am and left at 9:45. I have mentioned before that I am a big baby when it comes to dental work. My heart rate rises and even during the shots I am clawing the arms of the chair and my whole body is tense. It didn’t help that a kid was getting his tooth pulled in the room next to me. He was crying and wailing, which was pretty much what I was afraid might happen when they started yanking on my tooth! I wished I would have brought my headphones because the breaking and grinding was sort of making me go insane. I actually asked them to turn up the Mumford and Sons radios station that was playing. At least I could sing along in my head! The dentist was patient and luckily, strong. The roots to my tooth were so wound around the bone that the dentist had to pull on it with all her might for an hour to get it out. When the last piece finally released I thought she might do a post-touchdown dance!

All that was pretty un-fun. But here is the worst part; they don’t put my fake tooth in for 4-6 months! There is nothing there, an no, you can’t see it! I feel so “hillbilly-ish” I can hardly stand it. Apparently it has to heal or something dumb like that, then they can screw a fake tooth into the piece they just drilled in to my jaw (anyone feeling light-headed just talking about this?).

My point in all this isn’t to get sympathy (though I totally earned it!). I had to let my brain go somewhere different while I was waiting for all that to be done, so naturally I thought about how that pleasant situation could relate somehow to life. For starters, I remember a friend sharing that she had some trauma as a young woman that damaged her heart, her body and her tooth. She has been wrestling with the effects of this event for almost 20 years. Awhile ago, she finally had the damaged tooth extracted and shared with me how she used it as an opportunity to make it a symbolic extraction of not only the tooth, but all the pain, nightmares, fears, insecurities and anger that she had been battling for years. I decided to give it a shot.

I pictured God as the dentist, trying his hardest to extract the rotten, unnecessary or no longer needed defects of character out of me. I know without a doubt that even though I know it needs to happen, there is something in me that holds on to those things for dear life. I am like those roots, twisted and tight and clinging with all my might to the very things that can set me free. Relieve me of pain. Help me move on in health and lightness.

And about these defects of character…recovery rooms define them as “assets that have lost proportion.” When we get out of touch with God, listen to wrong voices, are self absorbed and egocentric, or are effected by the disease of addiction in whatever form it presents itself, we often let the very things that once served us well, morph into behaviors or thought patterns that are dangerous to ourselves and our relationships with others. Our job however, and thank God for this, is not to figure out which ones need to go and how to make them go. Our job is simply to turn them over to God and let him decide the where, when, what and how of it. This may sound lazy to some of you, but if you think you are in control of what gets removed and the rate at which it goes, you might be deceiving yourself a bit.

Giving it to God lets a great weight fall from your shoulders.

One last thing; just like the area where my tooth is missing (sigh) has to heal for several months in order for a new tooth to be installed, so do you. You have to give time time. After the old ways, the useless and sometimes harmful ways are extracted, a period of healing and preparing and regenerating needs to happen before the new can be installed in you. Enjoy that time. Rest. Recover. Be patient. Be present. Be grateful. But be ready, because he is about to do something new and beautiful in you when you are ready for it.

I promise it will be worth the wait.

Anxiety/Worry, awareness, Faith/Spirituality, Serenity

What’s on your index card?

As I have mentioned before, I do some yoga in the mornings. If I am coherent enough to remember, I lean an index card against the coffee table leg with a meditation to focus on and keep my mind from running ahead into the rest of my day. the other day I fired up my laptop with the video, set up my card and my mat and lit a candle. As I prepared for my first position, my mind started to fret over a few things left undone and and things I was afraid I would forget to do in the future. Luckily, I remembered, after a few minutes of worrying, to re-center my mind on my day’s mantra. I glanced over at the index card for the words I knew would give me perspective: It was upside down and backwards.

Well, that sounds about right. How much of my life is lived with me either forgetting about that card entirely, or operating with it upside down and backwards? I have several cards to choose from each morning. Each has some truth that reminds me of what I believe to be true, or want to be true in my life. Phrases like, “Do not worry about the past or the future. Each moment is enough for now. BE PRESENT” , “I can’t. God can. I think I’ll let him”, or “Me and the people I know and love are exactly where we are supposed to be right now. We are all ENOUGH.” But doggonit if I don’t forget them as soon as I roll up my yoga mat.

Over the past several years I have had to gather some new beliefs and tools and practices to manage some extreme challenges in my own little world. I read and review and talk about these principles with friends and at recovery meetings. But it doesn’t take much to let my serenity slip subtly away. It doesn’t take a catastrophe to make me forget what I know is the best way to live and behave. It only takes a slight distraction. That distraction can be a too-busy schedule with no time set aside to reflect and pray. Or it can be a person I choose to focus on fixing rather than taking care of my own over-all needs. And it can definitely be all the “cares of this world”, as Jesus put it, that vie for my attention and trick me into thinking that much of what I think matters, simply doesn’t.

This week I picked up a book. It’s actually my book about my life written by me. I am fascinated! If only I could be like that girl, I’d be amazing! And to quote myself, “when you compare yourself with yourself and you’re still not good enough, you know your in trouble!”. I would read an entry and think to myself, “Yes! I forgot that I believe that! I haven’t been living as if I do, that’s for dang sure.”

Here’s the deal; most of us know what we believe to be true and how we ought to live, love and act. If you don’t, start there. But if you do, you are probably also keenly aware, especially at the beginning of a new year, that you have a strong tendency, like I do, to forget to return to those beliefs and ways of living that you know will help you be your best and highest self, living in harmony and unity with yourself, God and others.

Yes, my index card, with an reminder of what I believe, was (and often is) upside down and backwards. But the goal is to keep referring back to those cards. First figure out what you need to put on your “cards” and harken back ( that’s fancy talk for “remember to look at it ya ding dong!) to it over and over as you go through your days. There will be times the words will be embedded on your heart and mind with unwavering clarity, while other times your card might be crumpled on the floor of your car or mixed in with a bunch of junk on your kitchen counter. But remember to look for it when you sense yourself getting out of step. Aimless. Grumpy. Discouraged. Heavy. Anxious. Fearful. Angry.

None of us can do this perfectly all the time. But my prayer for me and for you is that we will notice less and less space between the unrest and the solution when remember to return to our roots. To the core of what we know we believe.

Harken back to what’s on your “index card.”

awareness, Faith/Spirituality, gratitude

Feelings aren’t facts…

Maybe not writing for a couple weeks has a direct correlation to the fact that I am struggling. Which came first? Who knows. What exactly am I struggling with? Well, ironically, during this Thanksgiving season-it’s gratitude. At a time of year when even the most curmudgeonly people seem to pull out something to be grateful for, I am just not feeling it.

You have probably heard it said that “feelings aren’t facts”, but even when I make a gratitude list or encounter dear people I know I am thankful for, the facts remain and the feelings ( read: warm, kind, sweet, tender) don’t match.

I figured out that my attitude sort of stinks on this whole”thankfulness” topic while I was doing some reflective reading yesterday. The book has dated entries and this reading started with the same repetitious reminders that the author has addressed for the past 7 days: “be thankful in all circumstances”, “thankfulness takes the sting out of adversity”, “thank God frequently”, “thankfulness is a language of love”, “thanksgiving puts you in a proper relationship with God,” “fill your heart and mind with thankfulness”, “when your mind is occupied with thankfulness, you have no time for worrying or complaining.” Blah, Blah Blah. You get the idea. I was shocked at my response when I realized she was still stuck on this topic; a big eye roll. I mean, Thanksgiving is over lady! Let’s move on already!

I give you permission to pause it here and decide whether you want to continue reading what my bratty-sounding self has to say (maybe ever again!)…

For those of you who are still with me-I just have to say that I am not proud of this posture and it makes me feel like I have no right to write anything at all until I get my junk together. But I have learned a couple of things from writing a few hundred blogs. One, when I stop writing regularly, bad things happen in my soul (since the majority of what I write helps me first and you second. I can’t give away what I don’t possess). And two, when I share the stuff I am most ashamed to share, that’s when people seem to connect the most. I suppose I understand. I feel weird and isolated and crazy most of the time, and I don’t always find hope when I hear motivating talk from someone whose life seems spotless and never appears to struggle with “temporary insanity”-being tempted to live counter to what they know to be true in their heart. I just don’t relate and despair and self-pity take over.

So-what am I gonna do about my lack of “happy” feelings and my pessimistic, prickly emotions? Well, as I have said, awareness is the first step in making some changes. Now that I I am aware, I can make some phone calls and dialogue with people and God. And I can know that “this too shall pass”, because sometimes we just get in a funk for no apparent reason and we don’t have to flog ourselves over it.

Don’t worry about me. I’ll do what I need to do to get “better”. But even though I started this blog to confess my grouchy, juvenile attitude and maybe give some insight into how to “fix” it, I think that God has other intentions for it. What I hope you hear, is that “you’re not alone.” I am still here for you, still as messed up as ever, and I will walk next to you as we “trudge this happy road to destiny” together. Never, ever forget that.

Anxiety/Worry, awareness, Brokenness, identity, insecurity, Trust

Post-Secret (or “what’s your secret?”)

I read a book in August, laying on the fake beach in downtown Chicago while my daughter and her friends went to Lollapalooza. This, for a 48 year old female who has almost fully raised three children and survived cancer, packs all the fun and excitement I need to thoroughly enjoy myself. Of course, it was some heavy content: Stephen Kings young adult book “Gwendy’s Button Box”. I read all 164 widely spaced pages in 2 days (don’t judge….I am a slow and simple reader). I have already talked about one of the books major themes in my blog on “English as a second Language” (https://heathercarterwrites.com/2018/09/13/english-as-a-second-language/). I have been saving up the second one for a time that felt just right…now is that time I guess.

Let me give you the sentence from the book that has been stuck in my mind since August:

“Secrets are a problem, maybe the biggest problem of all. They weigh on the mind and take up space in the world.”

Gwendy has this thought as she becomes aware of the tremendous pressure she lives with after being given a box covered with buttons that hold power to control her immediate surroundings and even on the other side of the world. She has to keep it safe from others who might find it and use it for evil, as well as keep it safe from her own whims, fancies or resentment fantasies. She has been given strict instructions by the giver not to let anyone know about the box. It becomes a veritable weight-a constant burden and distraction as she tires to go about her life, trying to look and act normal. She is ever mindful, even as she dates and succeeds in school and sports, of her box and it’s safety, always worrying someone might find it or telling tales to her loved ones about where she is going so they won’t know she is checking on the box. The secret consumes her every thought.

Take a moment, or several, to think your your “box”, your biggest, scariest and darkest secret.

Does it “weigh on your mind and take up space in the world”? It probably won’t take you long to identify it, because it’s just always right there. Even when you are fooling others, you are not fooling yourself. And it is slowly crushing you. Robbing you of your freedom and your joy. Causing you to be imprisoned by your fear that someone might figure our your hiding spot. You can’t let people too close because wonder if you slip up or let yourself be vulnerable and you give away it’s hiding place. You have imagined it over and over-the potential outcomes if this should happen: people might think you’re an ogre, a hypocrite, a monster, a victim, someone unlovable, disgusting, unredeemable, unforgivable, unworthy. They might reject and shame you. These possibilities keep your resolve to hide it in strong force. You protect it at all costs. And that cost is pretty high.

What reignited my thoughts on this topic, was an event my husband arranged for us to attend last month. I thought more people were aware of this New York Times best seller than there actually are. When I told people we were going to hear Frank Warren, the author of the “Post-Secret” book at the college, most had never heard of him or the book. We have had this book as a coffee table book for at least 10 years. And fun fact that I learned at the event: Frank Warren grew up in Springfield, Illinois (any of you Springfielders know him?). Here’s the premise: in 2004 he passed out post cards to strangers with his home address on it, inviting them to share a secret. The only rules were that “it had to be true and it had to be something they had never shared with anyone before.” It’s also anonymous. After the first week he posted a few of them online and had 1,000 views. After week two he posted a few more and had 10,000 views. After week three, there were 100,000 viewers. The rest is history. Look it up. Today he has millions of postcards, filling an entire room, stacked almost to the ceiling.

I attended this event the night before I was to do one of my first “talks” to a local group of about 50 women. It reinforced that what I say and why I write is not only necessary for me, but for countless others who have often thought, “I am the only one.” The despair that comes from feeling like we are alone in our brokenness, our pain, our secrets, is crushing. It causes physical and mental illness, loneliness and even death in our churches, our schools and our town every single day. When we have secrets and keep them we slowly deteriorate. In Recovery programs there is a saying, “we are only as sick as our secrets.” You cannot work the 12 steps successfully without passing through the steps that help you puke that junk out and let someone love you in spite of them. We have to reveal our secrets to God (which is redundant, since I believe He already knows), ourselves (which means we have to be alone with ourselves and reflect once in awhile) and to another person (the key to freedom and release).

Frank Warren continues to offer hope by giving people this same opportunity. He says, “secrets have stories; they can also offer truths. After seeing thousands of secrets, I understand that sometimes when we believe we are keeping a secret, that secret is actually keeping us.”

At the end of the event he opened up 2 microphones and invited people to share their Post-Secret live. There were lines curled around the corner and at one point he had to cut it off for sake of time. People were brave and cried and hugged perfect strangers, and some, their best friend who they had kept this secret from. That is the reality of our world. Even though some of us have what we consider a “best friend”, we are still in hiding and living in shame and fear, always trying to figure out the safest hiding place for our secret.

So, maybe today is the day of freedom for you. Or at least the beginning of it. Maybe you could start by sharing it anonymously with Frank (Post-Secret 13345 Copper Ridge Rd/ Germantown, Maryland 20874). But eventually, I think sharing it with a person with skin in who can look you in the eye and tell you “you’re not alone and you are still worthy of love”, will give you the most freedom. You have to be discerning about who that person is. Discretion is important, as well as the potential impact on the other person. Unloading the burden of your secret onto someone else who might be devastated by it, is not loving or wise. Pray about it. Seek counsel. Your goal must be for you to be free, but not at the expense of putting someone else into captivity.

I want to close this out by sharing a quote from the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous. I practically have it memorized, because I think it applies to anyone willing to expose the darkest places of their past in order to bring light and warmth to their present:

“We should be only too willing to bring former mistakes, no matter how grievous, out of their hiding places. Showing others who suffer how we were given help is the very thing which makes life seems worthwhile to us now. Cling to the thought that, in God’s hands, the dark past is the greatest possession we have-the key to life and happiness for others. With it you can avert death and misery for them” (and for ourselves, I might add).

(A portion of all Post-Secret proceeds having been going to Suicide Prevention since the first of 5 books published in 2005. Don’t let your secret bring you to such a place…)