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Mad Hatter

Image credit here.

Image credit here.

Sept 26, 2015

Mad Hatter

I am anxious. I am irritable. I have too much time between clients and too much time to think.

Isn’t this what I wanted? To think? To think about writing? To contemplate my enjoyment, which has become tinged with fear, and may be tipping into dread? I love writing for you. Yes, YOU. I also feel frightened and exposed. My perfectionism is a stitch in my side. And the demands of blogging etiquette stretch my introversion to desperation even while I enjoy your writing, and I lap up the comments you send my way.

I have a few moments, and so I continue the waiting I began earlier this week. I talk to God some. Mostly, I listen. I need to learn what comes next. I am both wonderfully strong and entirely dependent.

I purposed—and I think I still do–to finish my blog threads Family Rules and The Story of Hanna. I had written most of my material before the idea of a blog had even crossed my mind, and I have spent the months since February polishing and supplementing the pieces through which I have experienced freedom from suffering and greater self knowledge. During this therapeutic process, I became aware of a desire to try my voice in the hearing of others. I started this blog. All of this felt God-led.

Now the realization of my goal is within sight. What lies ahead?

I am known for fleeting passion. I gardened with fervor for a few seasons and then dropped it cold. My husband Henry and I worry about the appearance of the flower beds I started but do not maintain. Are the neighbors pissed? I crocheted my fingers to the bone last year, and now I can hardly stand the sight of yarn. Early in our marriage, I cooked everything but pasta from scratch. Then it was couponing for a few years. Before I started blogging, I was addicted to Bones reruns and Bejeweled Blitz. You see my pattern?

I have had to review, at many junctures, which parts of me are ME and which are merely hats which have caught my fancy. I have a list of ME parts. I keep it to remind me of who I am when I am in danger of becoming confused. Without it, I don’t think I would like myself very much, and I think I would have a hard time looking God in the eye. God’s pleasure in me is my guiding principle, or at least I want it to be. Not because of fear. No. Because I have experienced the goodness of God and can’t unknow it.

Here are some ME parts:

My relationship with my husband.

My relationship with my children.

My relationship with God.

My counseling career.

There are others as well, but these suffice for now. I am committed to the maintenance of these parts even on days when Henry and I argue, my daughters spill nail polish on the rug, God seems remote, and work straight up sucks. I will attend, fight for, defend, and nurture these parts even during times when my love is a discipline scant on warm feelings.

Writing might be a hat. I can’t tell. If so, it is one which I have worn with enjoyment. I might wear it for a while longer. Or I might put it in my closet and wait to see if it comes back into fashion. Then again, maybe writing is meant to become a part of ME. If this is the case, I will need to learn how to make a more permanent place for it within this anxious and chaotic woman. God can show me how to do this—and I will submit to this molding–but I don’t believe I can do it on my own. Perhaps writing will occupy some role which I haven’t even considered. I will have to wait and see.

And so I have entered a process of discernment.

Which, at times, requires me to lie in my bed with the covers over my head.

So that when I have become fully divested, I will do whatever God asks or permits.

Because following God is not a hat.

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Chocolate

Image credit here.

Image credit here.

2013

Writing seems to be at least as good as drugs. I went to sleep after finishing my essay on becoming invisible and had the oddest dream:

The weather was chilly. I stood just outside (Irish Name) Hall, an academic building on the (Jesuit) University campus. A man smiled and hurried by on my left as he made for the door. I didn’t take too close a look. Why would I? I was accustomed to the rhythms of student life, and I no longer noticed their comforting background hum.

I can’t recall his face other than to say that he was youthful looking and without facial hair. I assumed he was a fellow student. He had brown skin, and his dark hair hung about to his shoulders. My peripheral vision told me that he wore jeans and a dark leather jacket. Something flashed bright red—a knit cap or a winter scarf?  In passing, he held out his left hand as if in greeting. Without thinking–and perhaps in recognition of some unspoken solidarity among those who labor for knowledge–I held out my left hand in return. We briefly clasped hands.

I felt an immediate, sharp pain.

Stunned, I opened my fingers to find that his touch had transferred a loosely-crumpled wad of wood shavings. I soon discovered the source of my discomfort. In the ball were hidden four nails: two small wire brads and two larger wood nails. His grip had driven the larger nails into the bottom of my palm and the smaller ones into my wrist directly below. I spun around, confused. But he was already gone.

I brushed away the nails. Their tips had become embedded just deeply enough to draw a trickle of blood. I felt piqued and violated. He had smiled even while planning to harm me, and I had held out my hand in welcome. But what was to be done? Finding no recourse, I went about my business.

I opened the door and entered the building. There I found myself standing in some sort of dimly lit café or general store. To my right stood Rodger, a former professor turned colleague. Rodger’s class and way of being had been a great help to me as I was coming to the end of a long and exhausting spiritual slog. He continues to be a wise and helpful presence though we rarely interact.

Rodger stood at the end of a long wooden table which reached nearly to his chest. In the low light, I could make out a wall of shelves behind him. He was preparing to take orders, to serve people. He looked worn out.

Still startled from my encounter a moment before, I unclenched my fist to share with him the story of what had happened. The dripping blood had formed a jelly-like blob of crimson where it had congealed in the center of my palm. I wiped it away and showed Rodger my hand. He told me he was sorry about what had happened to me. I shrugged it off.

I asked how he was doing, and Rodger confirmed that he was weary. I thought some refreshment might help, and I asked him why he didn’t fix himself some tea. I remembered he was not a coffee drinker. Rodger replied that the tea had run out.

I wanted to find some way to help but couldn’t, at first, think how. I thought about my habit of carrying a bit of dark chocolate in my purse for just such emergencies as these. Rodger said he would be glad to have it.

I felt pleased to know I had something to offer and pleased that Rodger would accept it. I hoped it wouldn’t be covered in lint.

As I began to dig around in my purse, the room filled with people. They lined up along the sides of the table facing Rodger and waited to place orders for hot drinks and make requests for foods and dry goods. As the crowd grew, I was pushed farther and farther down the table and away from Rodger. For some reason, I remember that the woman who stood directly in front of me, near the back of what had become a throng, was wearing a beige overcoat.

Once I extricated myself from the tangle, I returned my attention to the excavation of my purse. To my surprise, I found two large, unopened bars of chocolate! Their labels promised a delicious treat.

I tried to recall buying these bars but I was unable to account for their presence in my bag. I realized they must have been in the bottom of my purse for some time because I could feel that they had they had begun to break along their fault lines into smaller squares. Finally, I came upon the single dark square I had originally sought. I was delighted! Not only could I serve Rodger; I could even offer him choices. I had more than enough to share.

My alarm went off. I got out of bed and pushed the dream to the back of my mind. Later as I sat in church, I woke up with a jolt: Nails. Palm. OH.

I recounted last night’s dream to my husband as we took a long walk together. He immediately saw what I had completely missed. And now, as I sit here finishing this account, I begin to wonder about something else. I had assumed the man had intended malice.

What if this was not the case?

Because of the timing and context in which I dreamed and recorded this dream, I have decided that it belongs to The Story of Hanna. For the prior installment, click here. For the next installment, click here.

Growth Pains

Photo credit here.

Photo credit here.

This is the first installment in The Story of Hanna

October, 2011

I’m still feeling a bit wobbly following my surgery this summer. It was unexpected, it was rough, and it happened without the benefit of anesthesia. I lost an important part of myself, and my wounds have not yet closed. As a counselor, I’m always helping others deal with enmeshment and individuation. I get this stuff. I was surprised at some things I learned when I had to look in the mirror.

“I knew as soon as I saw your hair and clothes.” Hanna had said, unable to fully articulate what had begun to go wrong between us the moment she and her husband arrived from Germany for a month-long visit. This was their first visit in five years. I had finished my graduate work and taken a job in my field. I wasn’t sure what taboo I had broken. What had I done to trigger such feelings of loss and betrayal?

Hanna and I met when we were assigned to the same fifth grade class in XCity, Germany. We were classmates for four years before I returned to the U.S. I was the pig-tailed American girl with the Ranger Rick backpack and the bad John Denver habit. She was the quiet, white-haired kid who wore traditional leather pants and carried a pocket knife. I thought she was a boy. It wasn’t until our early teens that our best-friendship became firmly cemented.

By ninth grade, Hanna had become a star athlete and a Beauty. Her looks and effortless air of mystery caused boys to pine and become irrational in her presence. I, on the other hand, had followed my family blueprint to become a gangly, pimple-faced Nerd. In my presence, boys experienced…nothing. They didn’t notice I was alive unless they needed help with their homework.

Steadfast through the decades, we visited back and forth and were in frequent touch in between. Despite our outward differences and our geographic separation, we were, as Hanna’s father often joked, “ein Kopf und ein Arsch.” A head and a tail. A single creature. Though he meant to tease us, he had hit upon the truth: We were so close that we hardly knew where she ended and I began.

Hanna and I understood one another intuitively and profoundly. Our enmeshment worked unbelievably well. In fact, I believe it saved us from childhoods which could have undone us.

Hanna came from a family in which feelings were poorly tolerated. She grew up without hearing the words, “I love you”; and when she showed emotion, she was criticized as mentally unstable and threatened with boarding school. Invalidated and undervalued, she could easily have gone for broke and self destructed.

My family was equally dysfunctional. We were just as well versed in passive aggression but it was located within a larger arsenal of weapons intended to help us bite and scratch ourselves to the top of the family heap. Punishment came frequently and unpredictably, and nobody wanted to be the one in the crosshairs when Dad was in one of his moods. I became observant and stoic. I distrusted and ignored my own feelings. I could easily have gone on to become an abuser or else continued to withdraw until I lost touch with myself altogether.

I know Hanna’s love and support made me more resilient and allowed me to hold my head a little higher. I conjured her presence to help me when I felt clumsy shopping for clothes, and I imagined myself in her skin to give myself the courage to take risks. I later learned that she had carried me in her heart in much the same way. Admiring my dispassion and logic, she imitated me when she needed to think her way through difficulties without becoming overwhelmed by her emotions.

Our outward experiences were always very different. I was a goody-goody; she experimented. I accepted Christ; she remained skeptical. I went to college and became an athlete at about the same time she retired from athletics and moved to a small town to apprentice as a goldsmith. I dated little, married young, and couldn’t wait to have babies. She traveled the world and dated a series of colorful characters. Nevertheless, we always shared intimately and without judgment.

We each made an important decision around the year we turned 40. I returned to school to pursue my M.S. in Pastoral Counseling. After making progress towards an undergraduate degree in Psychology, Hanna dropped out of college to become partner to a man with a serious and chronic health condition. We did not realize that the cord which had kept us connected for so long was about to fray.

My grad school experience was arduous and protracted. Family responsibilities resulted in my taking over six years to finish; but stretching out the timeline had gifted me with the opportunity to deeply contemplate and assimilate the material. The program required more of me than the memorization of facts and the writing of research papers. I was challenged at every turn to reflect with honesty upon my faith and my life, past and present. I experienced anger and sadness, joy and gratitude as God used this time as the crucible for a work of healing and enormous growth.

It was suggested this summer that I had changed, that I had become “other.” It was hinted that I had become less. Less hospitable, less authentic, less available. I disagree. I know have become more.

Somewhere along the way, I grew my own head, heart, and lungs without even realizing it. My brain thinks clearly, my heart beats confidently, and my soul expands with every breath. I love Hanna, and I want her friendship just as much as I always have. I simply no longer require her. In time, I believe I will be able to feel the profound beauty of this truth.

We are not yet at the end of the story, and I do not know how it ends. What if I survive the surgery, and Hanna does not? What if we both survive the surgery but the friendship cannot be resuscitated?

The wait is painful and uncertain.

To follow this thread, please click on the tab for The Story of Hanna or find second installment here.

I Want to be a Mighty Oak

I Want to be a Mighty Oak

When I grow up, I want to be a mighty oak. Grounded and strong. Expansive. Well. Wise. Generous. Knowing. Kind.

To date, each piece of writing I have posted about my family has been taken from material I wrote a few years back. I experienced intense feelings during the process of writing these bits. Sometimes I felt nostril-flaring rage or indignation. Other times, I felt sadness for Young Me and her siblings. Grief was in the mix too.

I am a labored writer. I hacked and sawed my way through, eventually producing something with form and smooth (enough) edges. In the course of this writing and rewriting, my experience changed. I got in touch with some of my less vocal feelings. These have turned out to be the ones which have lingered now that the thornier ones have subsided. I am grateful.

Yes. Wrangling words onto a page was and is good therapy for me. Once the suffocating growth burned off, enough sunlight reached the forest floor for love, longing, mirth, and appreciation to unfurl their tendrils. Maybe other seeds slumber in the earth and wait to surface in due time. I suspect there may even be some familial pride.

In their 2007 article “The only way out is through: the peril of spiritual bypass,” Cashwell, Bentley, and Yarborough discuss the snare of spiritual bypass and the gifts awaiting those who take the long route.

Spiritual bypass occurs when clients seek to use their spiritual beliefs, practices and experiences to avoid genuine contact with their psychological “unfinished business.”

and

According to Hillman, all humans, like the acorn, have a mighty oak spirit inside that yearns to grow and strive—to manifest our full human potential. Unfortunately, for humans, this spiritual essence often becomes obscured with emotional, mental, interpersonal, and physical struggles that accumulate across the lifespan. When this occurs, people begin to identify with their acorn qualities rather than their mighty oak qualities. The work of spiritual healing and growth includes the clearing of these obscurities to reveal and connect with the true and transcendent self. To follow the acorn analogy, the constricting shell must first be opened for the mighty oak to emerge.

I do not seek to injure or provoke. And I am trying to keep a respectful distance from stories which are not mine to tell.

I am just working my way out of this acorn.

This post is part of Family Rules. For the prior post, click here. For the next post, click here.

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