The Healing Journey

When approaching this series I was hesitant to use the word healing because it implies that once it is “healed” (whatever it may be) then we may never have to deal with it again. The truth is, the healing journey is messy and unpredictable. I wish I could say there is this simple path you walk down and it’s over. That it is possible for you to do all the right things as you heal and everything will turn out just right. In reality, the path has a lot of obstacles and a few thorns that will catch you along the way.

When I was five, my grandmother had this beautiful, cranky, golden cocker spaniel. This dog already didn’t like children and I had decided I needed to put a muzzle on her for whatever reason. Well, you can imagine what happened next. The scar on my arm is a constant reminder of that event, along with the fear and embarrassment I felt afterward.

I think the same goes for our emotional scars, or those scars that appear to go unseen. Even though we have been on the healing journey there are points in time when we become aware of those emotional or spiritual scars. A friend says, “We need to talk.” and you immediately get defensive expecting them to attack you and who you are. Something your boss says at work triggers a reminder of the degrading words your mother used to say to you. Or maybe you experienced a major loss and that time every year seems to start the grieving process all over again.

I think these sudden reactive responses surprise us, or at least they do for me. I often think, “I’ve been doing so well and have been feeling great, why is this happening?”
Whatever your trigger points may be I just want to say that it is completely normal to react. It’s normal to have those deep wounds that have been healing reopen again and bleed out a little bit. It’s being aware of these moments and being able to process the experience that makes all the difference.

Every year, I approach the end of October knowing that an old wound will reopen. I wait expectantly for some sort of clue, some sort of trigger to help me understand why the weeks of depression start to come back. Why I begin to feel disconnected, not only from those I care about but within my body. Why, as the sun hits the horizon I begin to feel dread. Why, as the night approaches the pain that I am all too familiar with consumes my body. Why the helplessness, the hopelessness, the vulnerability comes back, full force. I have no answers for this, nothing. The only conclusion that professionals and I have deciphered is the time change. The time change is my trigger every year, and it’s so frustrating.

As I curl up on my bed in despair I can’t imagine people seeing me like this. The fear paralyzes me, preventing me from having anyone come over. I don’t want to call anyone, sobbing incoherently. The shame begins to overwhelmingly taking over. The scary thing being, it used to be ten times worse before I started taking the medication.

It’s because I am taking the medication that I am able to do two things to help myself in these moments. I am able to find the strength to get out of bed and turn to my music or running.

Running helps me to connect with my body again. When I feel my muscles burn as I run up the “hill of death” on old 63 I am reminded to be in the present. I often close my eyes concentrating on each muscle moving, the pain reflecting how I feel. Reminding me that I have the strength to keep going, to persevere.

I often listen to super emo and sad music when I’m feeling particularly low. These songs help explain the pain I am feeling in ways I can’t even express myself. I play these songs and belt them out alone in my car, praying that God can hear that His daughter is in pain.

Another form of song I turn to is the Psalms and they brought me much comfort over the years. The authors share their raw, unfiltered emotion with our Lord. None of it is perfect and it doesn’t have a cookie cutter solution. Some of it doesn’t make any logical sense. Only making sense internally and deep within my soul.

About a month ago I was going through a death in my family, this event unleashed a shit-ton of other things that I had been healing from the year previously. The grief becoming present when I have a rare quiet moment.
One morning, as I searched the psalms frantically, feeling overwhelmed and exhausted, trying to find something that described how I was feeling, I ran across Psalm 13:

O Lord, how long will you forget me? Forever?
How long will you look the other way?
How long must I struggle with anguish in my soul,
With sorrow in my heart every day?
How long will my enemy have the upper hand?

Turn and answer me, O lord my God!
Restore the sparkle to my eyes, or I will die.
Don’t let my enemies gloat, saying, “We have defeated him!”
Don’t let them rejoice at my downfall.

But I trust in your unfailing love.
I will rejoice because you have rescued me (many times).
I will sing to the Lord
Because he is good to me.

So much of this psalm seemed counterintuitive to me. It seemed demanding and questioning, but it made so much sense. It felt real and honest, and I found solace knowing that my Father understood and was there in that moment with me. I may not feel Him or have an answer, but I knew I was able to communicate my desire to Him. That He knew what I wanted, what I needed.
This is a Psalm I often turn to when I’m feeling depressed. Praying it over and over again, allowing it to fill my soul…. Identifying with feelings that it produces…. And letting them go slowly, one at a time. The peace isn’t always there afterwards as I would like, but knowing I was able to communicate with someone about my true feelings makes me a feel at least a little better.

It is after engaging in these two activities that I engage in relationship and allow my community to help me in my time of struggle. Sometimes I reverse the order, when I’m needing a particular pick me up and it’s someone I can trust.

So the moral of the story is…. This healing journey doesn’t really end. Things are going to happen to trigger old emotions. There are going to be times when the stressors pile high and you wonder how you got to this point in your life. There are going to be times when you react rather than respond. There are going to be times when it is more difficult than others.
The awesome thing is that, it’s okay. We are all a beautiful mess… and our God loves every little bit of it. Partly because He gets to walk through it with us and love us in the process, even when we feel we don’t deserve it.

So my questions for you are:
What are your trigger points, what do you feel as a result? What are some things you need to do for yourself when you feel triggered?

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My 2013

As I reflect on 2013 I see it as a time of grief. I experienced the loss of a dream, a loved one, and many of my relationships changed. As the year came to a close the month that I dread every year approached. In November it is the beginning of a darkness that seems to last for eternity: the grief, the pain, the depression overflowing my life. Not being able to identify why. But this November it was different. The darkness didn’t end in December like it normally does. It continued into the New Year and forward.

I found myself isolating myself from the people I care about. My ability to focus had decreased. I was ashamed of the deep depression I was in. I appeared to be functional to the outside world but my inner world was chaos. I couldn’t motivate to do even the most basic of responsibilities. My forgetfulness reached a level of dysfunction. I wasn’t able to be present or engage in church. My relationship with God seemed non-existent. Resulting in a shame cycle that sent me spiraling downwards, the “shoulds” plaguing my mind.

So I sat in silence trying to ignore the darkness. Hoping that maybe it would just go away like it always does. Berating myself because once again this demon was taking over my life like it had so many other times.

This was the reason why I stopped writing. I couldn’t even focus long enough to write anything coherent. I was disconnected from my emotions and my thoughts.

A month ago I decided to take action and began to take medication again. That’s when the fog began to lift and I could see more clearly. I began reading two books that have been pivotal in this journey: Changes that Heal, by Dr. Henry Cloud and A Prayer Journal, by Flannery O’Connor. I will be talking about them in the upcoming posts:

Healing Comes with Participation in Relationship
Healing Comes with Time
The Healing Journey

The Personality of Relationship

Relationships change. This is a statement I feel is common knowledge among many people. But for someone like me, who has a hard time adapting to change it can be a hard process to accept.
The way I have viewed relationships for most of my life is: if I am having regular heart-to-heart conversations with someone then that must mean we are close. Devoting time to relationships is very important to me, but it’s how I devote my time that has changed.
Over the summer I got to know several different people very well, I was hanging out and interacting with them pretty regularly via many social outlets. It was a season full of life for me. Then September hit and we all started to get involved in our respected ministries and organizations. My job became more demanding as my caseload began to grow while others had their own work to do. The people I had been running with were no longer available as things in their lives began to pile up. The friends I was communicating through social media were no longer posting or interacting with me as much. I started to feel insecure in my relationships, wondering if I was doing something wrong. Feeling guilty because I wasn’t able to spend as much time with those I cared about due to my own responsibilities.

As I dug into this in September I discovered a few things I would like to share as we begin to enter into the holiday season, a time when things tend to get busy and loneliness can crop up on us when we least expect it.

Relationships are malleable and adjustable.
Just as fall turns into the frigid winter, winter will turn into the life-producing season of spring.  I see relationships in much the same way. Sometimes our relationships go through a few rough patches due to things like insecurities or our own fears. There are times when we see some people more than others. Sometimes the role a friend once played in our life is something they can no longer do during the particular season they are in. Perhaps someone plays different roles during different seasons in our own lives. Allowing space for the relationship to grow and adapt can be worth the change if we let it.
The beautiful thing about relationships is you share memories together. As you experience each others’ stories throughout the years you receive a glimpse into each others’ lives and as a result the relationship grows and deepens. No amount of change is going to take away these memories.
A perfect example of this is my relationship with a close friend of mine. She is a constant encouragement and joy in my life, but our relationship has had its fair share of winters. These winters allowed us to get to know each other in a way that we never would have during a blissful summer. It’s the memories we shared that kept us together as we sorted through our differences and allowed us to move into the spring we are in now.

With change, there is a grieving process involved.
Even if the change is good, I think there is a grieving process. Usually when something changes, there is a loss in the mix. It is possible to grieve and experience joy in the change while acknowledging it is happening and giving space for the relationship to grow and adapt.
With this in particular I am reminded of a time when a friend of mine set some clear-cut boundaries with me. The boundaries limited the contact I had with them and meant our relationship was going to be changing dramatically within a short amount of time. It didn’t help that it happened during a time when I was transitioning churches and a lot of my current relationships were going through struggles of their own. In my own eyes, I felt I was losing yet another close friend of mine. It took some time for me to adapt to the changes and it took me a bit longer than normal to grieve the relationship that was no longer what it once was.
I wish there were something encouraging I could say about this…. But I think grieving and pain comes along with loving and being in relationship with others. It’s a risk worth taking in order to experience life giving properties that love provides.

Relationships are not black and white.
I have a tendency to live life as if it’s black and white. Either someone loves me or they don’t. If I spend time with someone we’re friends, if I don’t we aren’t. If I don’t have a heart to heart conversation with this person weekly then that means we must not be very close or they don’t trust me.
How draining is that?! I don’t want to live like this. And I don’t want to place these high expectations on my friends, let alone myself. There is no possible way one person can meet every need I have, and I wouldn’t want them to.
Some of my most life giving relationships are those where I can just sit on a couch with a friend and talk about absolutely nothing in particular, laughing together uncontrollably. Or perhaps a friend who shares my love for classical music and can sit with me as we allow the music to fill our souls. Some of these friends are not those who I would share my deepest concerns but that doesn’t mean I care any less for them.
We have many different relationships and they are vibrant and full of color. They serve different purposes in our lives and each are beautiful in their own personal way.  Each friendship has it’s own personality and that personality grows just as our own personalities do as we discover more about ourselves.

A friendship doesn’t need to be figured out, it’s the adventures you take together to do the figuring that make it it’s own.

Happiness

“The emphasis on happiness sometimes feels hollow because of its inherent temporal nature. As good as it feels to fall in love, get a new job, hold your newborn son, or meet a dear friend for coffee, those moments are simply that, moments. Life is not static, and those moments pass. Henri Nouwen wrote that life is filled with such moments in which sadness and joy kiss. Happiness feels good, but it is temporary. And you and I were made for eternity.”

A quote that I have been thinking about throughout today from an article I read this morning.

The Psychology of Happiness