Practicing Forgiveness

I am not a forgiveness expert. This is not expert advice. This is my perspective based on my experiences. I cannot know whether what I believe to be true for me is true for you. I share this for your consideration only and welcome dialogue about it.

I’ve been given a lot of opportunities to learn how to practice forgiveness in my life. It’s one of the most common places I get into energetic conversations with friends because I seek to forgive the violence and abuse I have experienced in my life. The energy comes around the idea that the people who have harmed me do not “deserve” forgiveness and that to do so would make what they did “okay.” In my mind, nothing could be further from the truth.

I do not practice forgiveness for the other person’s well-being. I practice forgiveness because it supports me letting go of the prison that is formed when I allow someone else’s past choices to harm me impact my current reality. There are so many places already that the abuse I experienced has impacted my reality, and I have to fight the patterns I was nurtured to develop all day, every day. If I spend my time focused on how upset I feel that I have been abused such that I have to do this work or the amount of work I need to do to change these patterns, my attention is misdirected back to the person who abused me and not to my work on changing the pattern.

I use the term “practice forgiveness” because one of the things I never realized, despite 12 years of Catholic School and more church than I needed in a lifetime, forgiveness isn’t a one time thing. It isn’t something a church does or a god. It isn’t an event, it is a practice. Forgiveness is a choice that I make regularly, whenever I feel overwhelmed by the difficulty of having healthy relationships and start spinning in the anxiety and voices of my childhood. When my heart starts to race and the tears start to fall and I feel as though I am a victim all over again and powerless, forgiveness reminds me I am not. Forgiveness reminds me that I have accepted what happened and decided to moved away from that experience. Forgiveness supports me moving my internal energy and dialogue to those things that I can do to move on from those things and practice letting go of the energy around “what was done to me.”

I am not always successfully able to forgive. There are days that I feel the pain and anger and let myself ruminate in it. Usually, there is something going on that I need to sort out and giving myself permission to not always forgive perfectly has been very important. If not, practicing forgiveness of self is also important. There is nothing wrong with me not forgiving sometimes. Sometimes, it just isn’t there and that is okay.

Forgiveness takes as much of the power back from those people who I practice forgiving as I am able to. It allows me to find a space for me to exist outside of those things which would otherwise consume me. Without forgiveness, my struggle to learn self-care and self-love would not be possible. For me, practicing forgiveness is a selfish act. It isn’t about making the other person feel better or anything like that. It is about me accepting what has been done to me and taking the focus off people who have harmed me so that I can focus on my own health and relationships that nurture those.

For me, forgiveness is about the internal dialogue that I have with myself about the experiences I have had and how I respond to them. It does not erase what has been done. It does not change what has been done. Forgiveness is the decision that I make. One of my favorite quotes is from Viktor E Frankl who said that “between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” Practicing forgiveness gives me space to grow rather than suffer.

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My First Trip

Sometimes, it just takes some acid to clarify things.  It isn’t like I do a lot of acid. In fact, this was the first time I took a full dose.  I took it while at this amazing event with friends where we were camping in the woods.  It was Saturday night and we were getting prepared to watch things burn.  I was surrounded by people I trusted and decided this would be a good time to try it.  I took it leaving intention open and trusting that I would have the experience I would need to.  I was right.

As I was waiting for the acid to kick in, my friend and I decided to go use the facilities  and started the very long walk over.  As we neared the blue line of the hell known as Porto-potties, I looked to the left and noticed one of my fellow campers was having a hard time with anxiety.  He was pacing rapidly and clearly distressed. Anyone who knows me knows what happened next. I went to him and started trying to help him de-escalate…I completely walked away from my friend and the conversation I was having to do so.  I started talking him through square breathing, walking around to various points having moments of calm interrupted by the onslaught of anxiety.  I was starting to feel panic because I knew the acid would start kicking in. I can’t say when it did honestly

After about 45 minutes of this, he and I had come to a place of understanding.  He needed missions and I provided them.  He would complete the mission which would help his anxiety and I would wait there for him to return.  It sounded good, except I wasn’t there to help him.  I was there for my own reasons.  I started to get really frustrated because this was my first trip of this kind and I didn’t want it to be a bad trip.  I was also aware that at some point, these drugs would kick in and then what? I mean, realistically, they likely already had. So, I gave him a mission to run the circumference of the field 4 times and come back. He agreed to the mission and then asked me to hold all of his stuff. Begrudgingly, I accepted the voice in my head screaming “why does this always happen to me?”  At that moment, another person came to me and said “Hi Theresa, would you mind holding onto this for me?” I took it…the voice getting louder, screaming “WHY DOES THIS ALWAYS HAPPEN TO ME?!?!?” My arms getting heavier and filled to the point of feeling awkward.

At that moment, I said to myself “Theresa, look down.” So I did. I then said to myself, “Look at this. This is your life.  This is what you do every day.  You take on other people’s shit.  You carry it around with you and you let it mess with your happiness.  You have a choice to make right now.  You can choose to carry other people’s shit around, or you can put it down. They made their choices and they are responsible for their consequences.  You have a choice to make…you can keep holding onto other peoples’ shit, or you can put it down and go enjoy your trip.”  I gave the second person their things back and put the first person’s things down, let someone know what was going on and went off by myself for a bit to watch blades of grass melt into my boots. I enjoyed my trip and changed my life.

 

Parenting post abusive childhood

Abuse is a heavy topic.  It’s not something people are comfortable talking about.  I think that is mostly because it isn’t something people are comfortable hearing about.   In fact, while the society surrounding me says that “child abuse is wrong” (harumph harumph) very little…VERY LITTLE is done to address or prevent it.  There is so much that could be done that doesn’t cost anything.  But, that is a post for another day (whee!)

I am writing this because I am very lucky.  Someone, somewhere told me abuse was a cycle and that it could be broken.  That combined with a core desire to be a good mother which was rooted in early childhood kept me looking at recovery from a very young age.  Throughout my life, I have been given the gifts of perspective and some relationships that I believe were the difference between my success or failure.  I cannot stress enough the value of mentors and good therapists.  I cannot stress enough the dangers of bad therapists.

I am writing this because I  have spent a significant amount of time with children and adults who were abused.  As a result, I have learned that there are a lot of “normal” things that parents who were abused as kids experience as a result of their own abuse as children. No one talks about these things.  So, here is a start to talking about it.

Abuse is called a cycle for a reason. Often, the cycle has been going on for generations.  I believe that it can take more than one generation to heal from the effects of abuse.  There studies supporting this theory, but, I have experienced it to a degree that even without the data, I would believe it.  Sometimes, less abusive is progress in breaking that cycle.  The person who most significantly abused me made significant progress in getting us out of the cycle that plagued her family.  She did everything externally that she could to try to break the cycle.  She is brave and brilliant and is one of the best nurses I have seen.  But, no one escapes the level of abuse she experienced unscathed.

She was unable to look internally to work towards a path of healing. I believe she thinks it would be too painful to heal. In large part, she truly believed that her abuse toward me was a sign of her good parenting.  I currently choose not to be in contact with her.  It’s okay to stop consenting to and participating in abusive relationships. It’s okay to love your abuser and still walk away. I believe it is my responsibility to my children to maintain positive boundaries and good mental health.  This decision was a reflection of that.

It took me years to get over the shame and guilt of the what felt like impulsive responses that  I felt to abuse my children.  I once thought of them as instinctive, but it is a learned behavior. It is normal as an abused child to grow up to be an abusive parent. Parenting was learned from abusers. That is why it’s a cycle. The impulsive response  are based in what is known and experienced.  I have learned how to cope with these impulses  put them in perspective.  Twelve years into this and I have done pretty well.  I think the secrets are deep breaths, pauses and mindfulness.

Another challenge faced and not discussed is that the traumas experienced as a child are packed away in layers that get peeled back as a parent.  I am constantly surprised at how something like my kid not brushing their hair can trigger a memory of mine being cut off because I didn’t brush mine.  Sometimes, it’s just a moment of “oh, yeah…that.”  Other times, it is like a sucker punch.  That’s normal too. I’m including a link to information on PTSD as well as Complex PTSD which is a bit different, but common for people who were abused over a long period of time.  If it feels like you are right back in it sometimes, please read the article. It might help.

The worst of all of the abuse I experienced was the distortion of thought.  I had (have?) some distorted thinking around my relationships, including how I relate to myself.  I was and still can be self-abusive. I just don’t have physical scars to represent it.  However, I am making consistent improvements.

Here is the thing that I want everyone to know.  I am healing wounds that I felt like might be impossible to heal. I am learning to live a happy and healthy life. I am learning to have healthy relationships.  I want to offer my experiences as hope for those who need it. I can’t do the work for anyone else and I am not going to lie, it’s a lot of work.  The peace of mind I feel in my life is worth every bit of it. Take care.

Boundaries Are A Beautiful Thing

Until relatively recently, boundaries were this thing I had heard rumors about.  Seriously, outside of a general understanding that physical aggression was not okay most of the time,  I had very few boundaries.  I was raised by someone who truly did not believe I had a right to a single boundary. Combine that with a childhood obsession with soap operas and Whitney Houston songs…Let’s just say an adulthood of healthy boundaries wasn’t looking promising.  Fortunately, there was never a time in my life where I was going to let my childhood experiences stop me from being who and what I wanted to be.  It turns out good boundaries are a very important part of that.

My journey to this lesson seems to have begun with a conversation with a friend about new relationships.  When they mentioned boundaries being important, I basically laughed it off and said “why would boundaries be needed?”  I actually think I may have actually used those words.  I think some moments change us without us ever realizing it at the time.  Because whenever I ask the question “why” it inevitably leads me to unexpected places.

Boundaries are a meaningful way to support a mutual understanding and facilitate the voluntary engagement in relationships.  Regardless of the relationship and whether it is a personal or professional relationship, boundaries are essential for health. Boundaries lighten the burden in relationships by offering the opportunity to say “this is how I want to engage with you.”  They can be simple or they can be explicit.  It’s up to you and the person you are setting boundaries with.

Recently, I have pushed myself to the point of physical discomfort to verbalize boundaries to individuals and lots of individuals at once. It is my belief that personal responsibility means knowing what you know what you will and will not accept from others in your life.  It also means communicating that to others.  It is not a reasonable expectation to think someone knows what your boundaries are if you haven’t told them.  You would tell someone “don’t smoke in my house.”  Equally acceptable is telling a friend “I am not comfortable talking on the phone.”  My friends accept this about me and all work with me to work around that in our relationships. I am grateful to them for that.  Boundaries are often fluid. As situations evolve, so do boundaries.  But, I don’t think that happens if they aren’t respected.

As a result of boundary practice, I have learned is that if I do not know what I would say “no” to, I end up saying “yes” to things I shouldn’t. Without boundaries, I was ruled by others expectations and my own feelings of duty and obligation.  Without boundaries, relationships were lost due to my own fear of setting clear boundaries and stated expectations.

In summary, boundaries can be hard.  It continues to be worthy of the effort. Boundaries are a beautiful thing. They have dramatically improved my life.

 

 

 

 

 

Rape Culture in My Community

The first thing you need to know is that I love my community.  I don’t know what lottery I won to be surrounded those who make up most of my community.  One of the things I appreciate the most is that we challenge the existing ideas and are not led easily to that which doesn’t meet our core values.

Yet, I am fearful about actually publishing this.  It isn’t meant to be an indictment or an assignment of guilt.  It is meant to provoke and challenge the status quot and hopefully, change some of these dynamics.

I think the first step is to define the term “rape culture.” Here is a superficial definition.: Rape culture is a term that was coined by feminists in the United States in the 1970’s. It was designed to show the ways in which society blamed victims of sexual assault and normalized male sexual violence.”  It’s a definition, but, to be honest, I would suggest my definition is that rape culture are the ways in which society blames and shames victims of sexual assault and normalizes non-consensual sexual violence.

Rape culture in my community is when a person’s pattern of sexual assault is revealed, the response from many is to defend the person who committed these assaults and question the character of the victims.  For those of you actually in my community, you need only look at the Facebook page to understand rape culture.  I understand there isn’t a lot of information and the questions asked are valid. The judgements are astounding. The jokes, disheartening.

Rape culture is what assisted in a member of my community developing and hiding a very easily revealed pattern of sexual assault that seemed to be common knowledge among many of those in my community with nothing being done to stop or prevent it.  Rape culture was present in the jokes made about this person having a widely held reputation of doing exactly what he was accused of. I continue to have a really tough time trying to understand this.

Rape culture is what prevented these people from speaking up. Rape culture is why they remained anonymous. If it was safe for a person to come forward in our community, they would.  For me, a safe space is an environment where people look out for each other and hold each other accountable.  A safe space would not put a victim of sexual assault under intense scrutiny as though they should defend themselves.  Though the statics vary, the false allegations of rape and sexual assault are between 2%-5%.  For me, a safe space is only a room if someone is escaping an abusive situation.

I am not sure where to go from here. I think that the decisions made to extricate this person from their position of power were difficult decisions to make, but they are crucial. If we want people to trust our community over the state, we have to actually be able to resolve problems. In a voluntary society or self-governing society, we have a responsibility to hold ourselves and each other accountable and make sure that those who would hurt our community ar1e not part of it.  We talk a lot of big ideas, now we need to learn to live them.

 

Hello

Dear Adele,

Hello, it’s me. I love your song, but mostly because your voice is amazing.  As for the lyrics, I’d like to share some of the tough lessons I have learned about love and relationships reflected in your song…My hope is that they might help you understand some things that might be make it easier to let go of this pain that you are focused on in your song. Pain that is apparently, very old.

I was wondering if after all these years you’d like to meet to go over everything“…If this person wanted to meet to go over everything, they would have responded to your previous attempts…any one of the thousand of them.

They say that time’s supposed to heal ya but I ain’t done much healing“… It’s true time will help you heal, but, you have to do the work. Healing doesn’t happen automatically.  It isn’t your ex’s responsibility to heal you. It isn’t even your therapists. It’s yours.

Hello, can you hear me”… If I were this person, I’d be asking you the same question. Silence is a message.

I’m in California dreaming about who we used to be
Who we used to be isn’t going to result in moving beyond this place you are stuck. If you are still who you were, that may have been a contributing factor to your lack of healing.

There’s such a difference between us and a million miles” That might be intentional.  You seem like  you might have a habit of conflating things. In addition, it seems like boundaries might be an issue.  It seems like a million miles isn’t quite enough.

I must have called a thousand times“…You probably should have stopped at about 10.

To tell you I’m sorry for everything that I’ve done“… Like the thousand messages and phone calls? Sometimes, consequences of our actions hurt.  The people you hurt do not have a responsibility to absolve you of your guilt nor do they owe you the privilege of an apology.  Also, are you aware of what you are currently doing that might be problematic?

“But when I call you never seem to be home”…Okay, for real?  Are you serious right now?  If you have called someone 1000 times and they haven’t returned your call, then they have said all they are interested in saying. You are deluding yourself to think one more call might do the trick.

At least I can say that I’ve tried you tell you I’m sorry for breaking your heart“…When relationships end, you don’t always get to say your sorry.  It is a painful truth that sometimes, people disappear without the closure you would like.  To hold onto that for years does you no favors.

But it don’t matter it clearly doesn’t tear you apart anymore” This sounds a bit passive aggressive to assume that you know what is going on in your ex’s life…especially given the lack of communication in the years since.  Also, is it wrong that someone moved on from you after you broke their heart? Were they supposed to live in suspended animation after your relationship ended? Is that what you did?

It’s so typical of me to talk about myself I’m sorry” If you knew this was a problem years ago and still haven’t done anything about it, that might also be something you might want to look at.  Maybe if you did some listening, some doors and windows to new perspectives might open.

It’s no secret that the both of us are running out of time” It seems like your time together ran out a long time ago.  What is clear from the lyrics in this song is that your time together is long gone.  What time you are running out of is the time to find new love.

In conclusion Adele,  I think you have a great opportunity for growth. With some introspection and shifts in perspective, you might find happiness in love and the person you are obsessing over might find some peace. The choice is yours.

Sincerely,

Theresa

 

 

 

Thriving with Depression

Are you depressed?  Yeah, me too…it’s not all the time, but often enough that I have learned to deal with it.  I share this as a resource for others to consider.  I don’t presume to know whether this will work for anyone else.  It does work for me and continues to improve as I practice the skills.   This works for me because I have my basic needs met.

When I am really depressed and feeling like I am lost in the fog, I can feel pretty helpless.  That is the first sign that there is a problem.  I am the best person to help myself at this point.   I know when I need help. I know what help I need. I know how to get it.  I know when I am incapable.  I am learning to ask for help.

To feel helpless is usually an indication that I need to refocus my attention. This is true whether I am depressed about relationships that I wish I could change, a past that I wish had been different or the politics of nations.  A lot of my dealing with depression is the simple acknowledgement of reality as it exists. I tend to get depressed about things that I will never have the ability to change.  To me, this is an exercise in futility. But, this is about the process of dealing and healing and so here it is.

The first thing I do to refocus is to stop what I am doing for a minute and take a minute to breath and assess my environment.  When I am really depressed, I start by asking whether I have core necessities covered.  This is because as I am able to say “yes” to questions like “do you have shelter/” “do you have water?” “are you safe?”  As I answer those, I begin to at the same time build a foundation to work from. Also, I am well aware that not everyone has these things and so I build appreciation of those affirmations.

Most of the time,  my depression is low level and my environment can be easily improved to assist me in feeling better by asking less intense questions and find potential solutions.  Examples include:

  • Are my clothes comfortable? If not, what can I fix?
  • Am I on Facebook? If I am, there is an auto response, get off Facebook and hoop for a few songs
  • Am I thirsty? Get a drink
  • Is the music I am listening to helping me to feel better or feeling my depression? I have playlists of songs that sometimes lift depression, but this is my favorite.  I am morbid.  I find that if I embrace that, I am less depressed.
  • Is there a task that I am anxious about that I can complete and take off my plate?

As I assess these questions and begin to come up with answers, I help myself to begin to redirect my focus toward more immediate needs as well as put me on a problem solving track. I cannot always make all of the environmental changes I would like, especially at work. I do what I can though and often it helps.

Often, if the depression persists, I start to dig a little deeper to see if it is something more than environmental and/or situational.   Usually it is something else and typically it is a problem perception with regard to past or present.

Sometimes it takes me days to figure out what is causing the depression. Sometimes, the depression is situational and the situations are way more long term than anyone would comfortably admit. What works for me is letting the depression exist without my undivided attention by compartmentalizing my emotions.  I am sure someone would have some something to say about this. I find that giving myself time to work through depression without judging it or myself has been life changing. There is power in not letting the intensity of my emotions take over.  Emotions are temporary. Everything is.  Keeping that in perspective helps.

Additionally I consider what is at the source of my depression in this moment. Questions about this might be

  • Is it possible that I am seeing things from a place of distorted thinking?  Am I applying past events with other people to current relationships?
  • Is it normal to be depressed about this thing that is happening?

I allow myself to externalize the depression and think of other possibilities and often times, that helps.  If nothing else, it helps to reinforce that I am doing everything I can think of to address the depression I am feeling.

If I am depressed about the past, more often than not, it is because of the effect the past has had .  Complex trauma is like an onion; lots of layers that present themselves when you least expect it.   Parenting is proof of that.  I welcome the layers most days.  I work hard for these layers to become sources of personal strength.  But, those layers being revealed is more than depressing.  It’s still worth peeling them back.

I take naps. I go outside and play. I read books. I listen to music. I write. Sometimes, I call people.  The best thing I can do when I am depressed is do something about it. Feel it without judging myself for feeling it. Think of ways to process through it and act on the combination of those things.  It isn’t easy.  Even writing this, I feel like I am missing steps and over simplifying.  I believe, after a lot of therapy and blah blah blah…that I am the best person to help myself.  This is how I deal with depression, by doing something.  This and lots of love, family, friends and hugs. I hope it helps.