Trigger (Un)happy

Last year, I trained for and ran a half-marathon. I used to hate running when I was growing up, but now as a mother – it’s a gift to me. I love the silence, the space to think and I especially love how strong I feel afterwards. But there was one run which stands out from all the rest.

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I was running along San Diego’s harbor on a beautiful Saturday morning. I was in a good groove, being a few miles in, and I was happy with my pace. But then a couple running together converged onto the boardwalk behind me. Like, right behind me. I could feel the twinges going on inside me – Do you really need to run that close to me? Really? I don’t actually want to hear your conversation. But then, it grew to something more. I imagined them watching my body as they ran behind me and I imagined them thinking critically of it. Behind one of my knees, I have a varicose vein I do not like. I imagined these running buddies staring at my veins with critical, laser vision. With every stride, I felt more and more agitated, hot and beyond annoyed. My insecure feelings intensified to the point I nearly turned around and yelled at them, “What the hell is your problem?!? What are you looking at?!?”

Thankfully, I did not do or say what I was feeling. Instead, I pulled myself to a halt, took a drink of water and let them pass on by. They gave me the runner’s wave and were completely unaware of my irritation. I composed myself and continued my run to the end.

“What was that?”, you might ask. Well, that was (what I call) the “triggery-me”. The part of me that was reacting to something external, causing discomfort and pain on the internal. You see, when I was about 18 years old, the guy I was dating at the time, commented on my leg vein saying, “It’s f*#%ing disgusting.” He said it with a snarl and left the room, leaving me with a guttural punch to an already damaged self-esteem and body image. I’m sure you’re wondering why I didn’t just slap him in the face and walk away… I used to wonder that too. Abuse is a crazy, hard-to-explain thing though. I never would have thought I would be the receiver of such treatment (I was way too strong for that, right?), but I did. It was an unbelievably slow boil, a handful of years later, and there I was just internalizing all of it.

Those runners? They were mere triggers. They didn’t do anything or say anything to induce such agitation and anger in me. They were just there. My past pain and fears were brushed up against and I felt the internal flare up.

When we brush up against people, places or circumstances that remind us of our pain or fears, we are triggered. It’s when we experience the discomfort, the churning stomach and the soul bullies chiming in. These are the exact moments we want to understand. We want to get to the root of why we are (internally or externally) responding a certain way.

One way that has been helpful for me to do this is to think of that “triggery me” as a separate part of me. How old is that part of me, who feels irritated, hurt, insecure and angry? What did she experience that might give us insight to her current reaction to things? What was she afraid of? How did life disappoint or hurt her?

My 18 year-old-self was in an abusive relationship, isolated and coping with an eating disorder. This girl felt invisible, not enough, unworthy of love and acceptance. Whenever I’m visited by anger, fear or not feeling good enough, not always, but most of the time it’s because my 18 year old self is being triggered. Once I identified this part of me, it has made it that much easier for me to deal with the underlying, root causes of my pain.

What are your moments of breakdown? When do the bursts of anger, bouts of tears, inundation of soul bully thoughts come? Can you identify an age to this terrified, insecure, hurt version of yourself? Does this help you understand some of your triggers?

When a Single Moment Changes Everything

A single moment can, in fact, change everything.

Sounds like a line from a movie trailer or a cheesy motivational slogan, right? When we are living out a healing season in our life, it usually comes as more of a bit by bit process. It’s a string of “Aha” moments strewn together that creates the whole. But what if I told you that one single moment DID in fact change everything for me?

My therapist, Elaine, and I had spent a few intense sessions digging into why it was so hard for me to hold compassion for myself. Why was I so on the hook for all of the mistakes from the past – mine and everyone else’s? Why should I have ‘known better’? Why was there so much disgust and hostility towards myself? As we would talk, we’d get a little movement here, a little there as far as processing some of my pain. But when asked what I thought about myself amidst the mistakes and the hurts? I literally could not hold any compassion for myself. Zero. It was as if I had put myself on death row, considering myself guilty of every crime in the books. I was ready and willing to sacrifice myself on the alter of humanity. Looking back on this view point now, I can see I was operating from a place of not truly believing Christ’s sacrifice to be enough for me. And I needed to pay.

Elaine suggested we try a specific therapy method that would help me re-process my pain – hopefully leaving me with the emotions, understanding and perspective I needed to move towards health. Amidst her modern method, Elaine invited the Holy Spirit to guide us and meet us in our process. She asked me to close my eyes and sit with all of my past mistakes, hurts and pain. Then she directed me to ask God what He thought of me in regards to all of it.

As I closed my eyes, I saw myself as a small girl, around the age of eight years old. I was small, lanky and blonde, wearing a pale pink dress that hit my legs mid-calf. I was standing in a wide open field, as dry and as flat as one can imagine. I was all alone in the great expanse. Out of no-where, an enormous tidal wave of water swept over me in all it’s furry. It knocked me over and consumed me in an instant. I knew this picture represented me being up against our family struggles, my feeling not good enough, being lonely in my younger years, and the narcissistic/abusive treatment I had experienced.

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The next imagery I saw was of Jesus, holding me like a sick child. His eyes were full of tenderness as He looked at me and gently said: It was all just too much for you. He set me down and knelt down to remove the impossibly heavy ball and chain around my ankle, which I hadn’t noticed was there. He stood up and let me touch the scars on His wrists. He said: I know what it is to be wounded… I understand your pain and fear, and I promise to help you heal. You don’t have to carry it any more.

When I opened my eyes, Elaine’s eyes held mine. We sat in silence together, honoring the enormity of the burden that had just been lifted. I whispered into the silent room, “It was all just too much for me.” Tears rolled freely down my cheeks. For nearly ten years I had been weighed down and had beat myself up for all the pain. I had to, because all I could see was God looking at me with eyes of anger and disappointment. But this?

This changed everything.

My God – who I usually experienced looking at me with eyes of judgement, anger and coldness – just met me in my desperate need with eyes of tenderness, understanding and love. He arrived to me, personally, in the midst of my brokenness and released me of the weight I had been bearing for so long.

I had experienced a personal paradigm shift in how I viewed God and how He viewed me.

And. This. Changed. Everything.

If you were to close your eyes and imagine Jesus sitting with you… What would His eyes look like? Do you believe, like me, that He’s looking at you with anger or disappointment? Or maybe you don’t imagine Him looking at you at all, as if He’s forgotten about you? Does this exercise give you any indication of what might need healing in your relationship with Him?

When it’s Time for a Little Self-Love

Have you ever felt struck over the head by a seemingly simple concept? A few years back, when I was beginning to realize I had lost my soul voice, I felt like a whole new reality was opened up to me when I read a verse I’ve known my whole life. In Mark 12:31, Jesus says, “the second (greatest) commandment is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’.”

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I was dumbfounded…

What if I don’t really know how to love myself?

What does this verse mean for someone who’s spent more time beating herself up than loving herself? How do you follow Jesus’ words then? How can you turn outward with anything authentic to give someone else, when every time you turn inward you beat down a piece of who you are?

Here are a few things that have helped me move towards loving myself (and ultimately better able to fulfill Jesus’ command of loving my neighbor):

  • Ask God to show you the way. God is WITH you and is all about molding you into His image. He’s not giving up on you or walking away. Ask God to show you how to have a heart of compassion, understanding and love for yourself and your story. Ask Him to give you the ability to forgive yourself for the thing you’re holding yourself hostage over.
  • Would I say it to my daughter? When the Soul Bullies get going (as my friend likes to call the ‘not good enough’ voices), I like to ask myself, “Would I say this to Harper or Kensi or London?” The answer is always a resounding NO! I would be absolutely heart-sick if anyone ever said to my daughters the things I think about myself in my head. Let’s give ourselves a little self-check every so often to see if we are loving ourselves or tuning into the Soul Bullies.
  • Write down the truth. When the Soul Bullies get going, it can be pretty difficult to get them to back down. I like to give myself physical reminders around my house by writing down words or phrases and putting them in prominent places. I have signs around my house, sticky notes on my bathroom mirror, and notecards in my car. Seeing words that pull me towards the truth can save me when I’m being pushed around. Try writing down the things the Bible says about who you are. Two of my favorites are: We are chosen, special, holy, His from 1 Peter 2:9. We are blessed, chosen, adopted, accepted, redeemed and forgiven from Ephesians 1:3-12 MSG.

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How can you practice a little self-love today? Do you have other helpful ways you silence the Soul Bullies?

Uncovering Shame (Before it’s too Late)

***Warning: strong language used for emphasis. If you are offended, you can consider skipping this post.***

I am with you…

Those four words pulled me out of one of the darkest, secret moments of my life. For several weeks, my mind tortured me with thoughts of ending my life. The thoughts usually came when I was alone and exhausted. Rocking our son, Bentley, to sleep each night offered both of these conditions.

There is no hope. You are never going to be enough. You’re not a good enough mom. You’re not a good enough wife. You’re never going to measure up. You can’t do anything right. Your family would be better off without you. You should just tap out. All you bring them is pain…

I am with you…

The still, quiet voice cut through my lethal thoughts and silenced them. This being our second baby, I knew postpartum depression was probably a factor but I didn’t give it much credit. I also knew the lies I was hearing were familiar, just more intense. Deep down, I was aware I held pain within me from a time before marriage and kids. It was a pain not dealt with and it was festering. But I wasn’t ready to face the truth that I had experienced much more than I realized.

I couldn’t put a stop to the sadness. Everything in life took emotion and effort from me. The tiniest thing would bring me to tears. From changing Bentley’s diaper, to making dinner, to retying Harper’s shoe. Everything felt like it was sucking the life out of me. It was like a spiral downward that grew with velocity at every turn. Day after day, week after week my depressed state worsened. The lies in my head grew louder and louder. The middle of the night feedings were always the worst. The. Worst. Each night I would lie in bed and promise myself I would be stronger when Bentley woke up. But each night I failed. The dark, desperate thoughts always found me and told me I should end it.

You’re not enough. You’ll never measure up. Anyone would be a better mom than you. Anyone would bring Jeremy more joy than you. You are so weak for not being able to handle life. You’re a fucking mess up! Just end it.

Each time the lies told me to end it… The small, still voice would cut in and whisper,

I am with you…

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I do not believe I could have rescued myself – I knew the thoughts I was having were not ok. But I felt so ashamed. I thought I could just strong-arm them into submission. It wasn’t until I actually had a vision of me ending my life that I knew I had to say something. It scared the shit out of me and I knew strong-arming wasn’t working. I finally told Jeremy, and my doctor, I desperately needed help.

After a few months on antidepressants, my desire to sleep every second of every day lifted. My suicidal thoughts vanished.

Thank God.

But the lies – the deafening cruel narrator in my head – kept on coming. My pride told me I shouldn’t need any more help. But in receiving support for my postpartum, it pulled back the layers of my soul and highlighted a deeper wound that needed attention. In everything, from being wife and mother to friend and Christian, I believed I was not good enough. I did not understand at the time that my underlying struggle was with shame.

Brene Brown – our generations shame guru – defines shame as “the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging – something experienced, done, or failed to do makes us unworthy of connection.”

These memories can still be painful for me to revisit, perhaps they always will be – I don’t know. But it is clear the astounding grace I experienced through my postpartum depression. It was the very vehicle that helped reveal the path of healing my soul desperately needed: To dig into and process the wounds I had experienced, to find out what God really thinks of me and to learn to hold compassion for myself.

Have you ever had one struggle reveal another? Who can you reach out to for support as you consider digging in to your underlying struggle?

Special Note:

Postpartum depression is no joke. 10-15% of women struggle with it post baby. Yet that percentage represents only those who report it. We know many more women experience it privately. It is, often, very difficult for women to talk about. Let me be clear: there is no shame in experiencing sadness, depression, anxiety, sleeplessness or suicidal thoughts after delivering our baby. Instead, these things need to be supported with deep empathy and understanding.

How Did We Get So Small?

You might say most humans do no want to walk toward a mess. We see something difficult, complicated or confusing and we tend to want to head in the opposite direction. That’s one of the reasons I love what my pastor says:

img_0271When we find that we have been making ourselves small – that we’ve been in a cycle of shrinking back from our own life – we must take a look at how we got here.

From my experiences, I believe: before healing can come, we must be willing to hold our painful realities in our hands and process them. There is healing and power that comes from knowing our own story.

Walk toward the mess. Spend some time brainstorming your life story. What moments stand out to you as possible contributors to your smallness or voicelessness? Did you experience anything significantly painful, hurtful or traumatic?

Let me be clear – We are not looking to blame. No, we will not land there. But we need understanding. Let’s be brave and walk towards our own mess and expect God’s great grace to meet us in that very place. For example, you might come up with contributors like:

  • The tumultuous family years where you didn’t feel safe and secure.
  • That awful thing your boyfriend said to you about your body that made you want to disappear.
  • That one time your family member yelled at you and said that really hurtful comment that made you cry yourself to sleep.
  • The teacher who shamed you every time you didn’t know the answer to her questions.
  • That hurtful nickname everyone called you in junior high.
  • All the moving around you did – made it difficult to make and keep friends.
  • The abuse you experienced growing up or in that relationship.

Remember the end goal. We are moving towards gaining our voice back and expanding into our full, truer self. And we are taking these steps in confidence, believing God will meet us here in a huge way – to bring us out of darkness into His light; to give a voice to the voiceless.

Spend 15 minutes this week making your list. Try to be as honest as you can about the moments, things, people who contributed to you being small and voiceless.

***Sometimes we experience things too painful or traumatic to process on our own, and that is totally ok. I am a huge proponent for God-centered therapists. If you think you need support, please connect with your therapist or get in contact with one in your local area.***

When We Realize We Have No Voice

July 4th. Most people attribute the summer holiday with being together with friends and family, firework shows and good food. But for me, July 4th will always remind me of my breakdown.

I had been feeling the cracks and splits within myself for a long time. The ‘not good enough’ voices had been there for years, but they had definitely gotten worse. I had become “a puttying master” – fixing the crack that went the deepest in my soul, then moving to the next in order to prevent a complete fall apart. I told everyone in my life that I was fine. I’m. fine.

But I wasn’t fine.

On the morning of July 4th, I broke down crying to my husband, Jeremy, telling him I just couldn’t pretend any more. I was profoundly not ok. I couldn’t live with the voices in my head telling me ‘I’m not enough’ any more. But I had no idea what to do. I had been praying so hard. Reading my Bible so much. Trying to muscle enough “umph” to just believe enough that I could be healed of such tortursome thoughts. But all of my pressing, white-knuckling and pretending was not enough. I was tired and my soul needed resuscitation.

Later that afternoon, our family headed to a friend’s 4th of July party. As we walked in, I was put together on the outside, but I knew my insides were still threatening to spill out and ooze all over everybody. It was one of the last places I wanted to be, in the “soul condition” I was in. I was walking into a party with friends we loved, but couple’s who all had strong, confident and beautiful women as the wives and mother’s of each family. I felt like I didn’t belong. Like I was an impostor, sharing company with such women. I ached to feel as confident and brazen inside as my friend’s appeared to be on the outside. My ‘not good enough’ thoughts were deafening as I focused on what each woman brought to their family that I seemingly could not. Kara held a firmly grounded view point on mothering and family values I longed to be clear about myself. Tatum, was wife to a pastor and a woman of deep faith, the kind where she seemed to believe in her core and never waiver. Leeana, was a deep and soulful author and a fashion guru. And Elaine was an incredibly gifted therapist – someone I respected – and the person I had always secretly wanted to be like “when I grow up”.

Late in the evening, the adults gathered around the mini bar – each of us holding up a shot of tequila in our hand, cheers’ing to a happy 4th and having sweet friends together. I swayed my body to the music just like I did so often all those years ago at fill-in-the-blank bar. In that split moment I felt a mixture of familiarity and discomfort. Familiarity, because I knew how to be “that girl” who was a little bit of a mess, dancing, with a drink in her hand, pretending everything was fine. Discomfort, because that was a girl I didn’t want to remember from all those years ago. She was someone I had spent an awful lot of time ignoring and burying.

Somehow, as we drove home that night, I knew deep in my soul something was awakening and needed discovering. Somehow I knew a truer me needed to emerge from the facade. Somehow I knew it was going to be painful. And I had a feeling it had something to do with the girl back there holding the shot in the air, swaying to the music.

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Of course your story is uniquely different from mine. But for those of us who suffer from not feeling good enough, you may recognize some common threads.

When we are making ourself small or we find we have no soul voice we may:

  • Feel unworthy. For whatever reason, when we make ourselves small or have no soul voice, very often we have believed that we are not deserving or ineligible of love and belonging. We feel unworthy of taking up space, anyone listening to us or (God forbid!) investing in us. Often this can be marked by over-apologizing for ourselves.
  • Hold back our opinion and have difficulty making decisions. It’s difficult to share our opinion when we don’t feel worthy of it being shared. When we hold ourselves back, it can further feelings of being invisible and unknown. Struggling with sharing our opinion can also turn decision making into a torturesome task.
  • A lost sense of identity. Deep inside each of us is a full, true self that wants to emerge. When we live in smallness and voicelessness, we inherently know part of our story is missing. It’s difficult to attain peace when part of us is buried.
  • Our relationships suffer. Our spouse, friends and family most certainly take a hit when parts of us are hidden away or diminished. Our relationships can not fully bloom or reach their potential when only half of the equation is showing up.

Is there a part of your soul that feels voiceless? Are there ways you are making yourself small in your life?

When We Need to Look Down… And Then Look Up Again

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Last week, I had a day where I found myself feeling discouraged and discontent. When I took a moment to take an inventory of my thoughts throughout the day, I realized I had been caught playing the comparison game again. Maybe you’ve done this too? Thought by thought, I had spent the day stewing silently in my soul about who was more stylish, had a bigger house, seemed to be more patient with their kids, had fewer wrinkles, was more accomplished or who seemed to be more able to “handle life”. The list of my thoughts were detailed and long winded. Whenever this kind of comparison takes place, it doesn’t take much for me to slide into “not enough” thinking – as in “I’m not talented enough, thin enough, good enough, etc.”.

As I reflected, I realized: When I’m looking around, sizing myself up to others, it’s as though I’m hustling my own self-worth. When I’m comparing myself to others, it’s as if I’m trying to prove to myself: you are unworthy to be loved and accepted where and who you are.

In my heart I know nothing could be further from the TRUTH.

The next day, I took a quiet walk in our neighborhood, alone, and asked God what He thought about my comparison thoughts. As I stayed with the stillness and waited, I could feel Jesus whispering, rhythmicly, two phrases into my soul.

Look down. And then look up….
Look down. And then look up…
Look down. And then look up…

Look Down. Quieting the noise and distractions around me is essential to being able to recalibrate myself. I need to get my eyes off of everyone else around me and be reminded of what God is doing in my life. Glancing at myself for a moment, allows me to be reminded of who God has made me to be (I am enough, loved and free) and where He has planted my feet. I love the reminder Psalm 40: 2 gives, “He lifted me out of the ditch, pulled me from deep mud. He stood me up on a solid rock to make sure I wouldn’t slip.” Once I’ve cleared the noise around me, remembered who I am and where God’s set me, then I can lift my head and live from an authentic – fully me – place.

Then, Look Up. When I’m comparing myself to others, I’m making it ALL about me – what I do or don’t have, what I am or am not doing, where I do or don’t live. No matter how the list grows, it is still focused on ME. The hard reality is: comparison turns me into a “me-monster”. And the truth I need to remember is: it’s not all about me… it’s ALL about Jesus. In a day and age when we can tend to care far too much about our social media status, we forget we are called to live out a social status here on earth as a servant. When I spend my time focusing on myself and how I measure up against others or how I appear to others, I’m missing out on loving and serving the people right in front of me. If I could lift my eyes off of myself, who are the ones closest to me who are hurting, lonely, struggling or simply need a listening ear over a cup of coffee?

Do you need to look down from the distractions and be reminded of who you are and where God’s planted your feet? Or do you need to look up and see what Jesus is doing right in front of you?