02 January 2024

Redemption is Silver

Each blog post I've shared so far has been from a place of wanting to teach and counsel. I get great joy out of teaching and counseling, and I've gone through hellfire enough times to see some things and know some things about some painful things. And wisdom is best shared. 

But this bomb that recently blew up in my life has me feeling as if the wisdom I've learned and shared in the past is embarrassingly underdeveloped. I'm revisiting old journal entries, the books and materials I've gathered over the years on forgiveness and boundaries and healing, and I feel like past me missed out on something greater in my healing journey. (Hindsight is always 20/20 amirite.)

The healing journey naturally stirs up many questions, much of which asked while shaking a fist at the sky, demanding that God fix these wrongs — why did You allow this happen, why didn't I say something before, why does this have to hurt so much, why, why, why... Questions are great, invited even. Jesus answered many questions in His ministry, and He continues to answer our questions, though often times He answers them in a way that spurs more questions. The parables are an example of that. Here, in the topic of questions, is where past me had a narrow understanding.

When God answers our questions, He will never give us an answer that makes us believe we can be self-sufficient. It's not in His nature to give us something that will pull us away from Him. This is good news; our Creator knows what is best for us, just as the artist knows the painting's meaning through and through, and how the inventor knows their invention best. God loves His kids! He wants to do life with us, so God gives us answers that are straightforward enough to give us direction, but cryptic enough to motivate us to continue seeking Him. This opens the avenue to build a relationship with Him. 

In the past I sought the Lord so He could answer the questions I had during the storms I was navigating. And I 'm seeking Him to answer questions in this current storm. There is nothing wrong with wanting answers. But I realize that my underdeveloped spiritual eyes didn't see how I needed to seek God for Him. And the lack of peace I was feeling in some areas of my healing journey was precisely due to this issue.

Seeking answers from God should never draw us away or take precedence over seeking God Himself. That is idolatry and it will break your heart every time. 

I don't like that it's taken yet another storm for me to be made aware of this. In fact, I'm quite irritated and grief-stricken. And the questions I have are overwhelming, and heavy. 

This isn't a warning against asking God questions, or taking your raw and real emotions to Him. Again, He welcomes it. He wants to do life with us, and He isn't scared of what we feel. He knows your questions and feelings, but He wants to hear them in the form of honest confession because He loves the sound of your voice.

This is a message of encouragement — be honest with God. Bring your questions to Him, bring your concerns and worries and hang-ups and raw emotion. It's what Job did in his grief. It's what Hannah did in hers. His prayers and her petition were brought to God in the midst of their grief and suffering. Job made some wild assumptions about his suffering, and a priest thought Hannah to be drunk in the temple because of her gut-wrenching and tearful prayers. (Read in Job and First Samuel 1.) Honesty can be messy, even in the presence of God. But these honest and gut-wrenching prayers produce a peculiar glory and even more peculiar edification.

It's hard to articulate why bringing our honesty to God is edifying and glory-producing, because a lot of it is an experience in the spirit. Not a feeling, but rather a transformation and change. I've experienced spirit-deep peace after honest prayers. Not simply because I'm being honest, but because the power of confession releases the emotion to God so He can untangle the knots it has created in my heart. But that is only possible when I am honest, and when I ask God for forgiveness. This is a peculiar grace, because I know I'm forgiven, but asking God for His forgiveness acknowledges my need for it. It's to practice humility. It's essential, otherwise you're not really praying, but using God as an emotional dumpster. True healing can't take place this way. 

This isn't to say past me was only wanting to read scripture and seek God because I wanted something from Him. I love Jesus, I always have. But this current storm is giving me the eyes to see that I did not fear Him. Fear, in the Hebrew, means "to revere" or "reverence." Fearing the Lord is to respect Him. Therefore, it is entirely, and frustratingly, possible to love Jesus, but to live in a way that disrespects Him. I've heard it put as this: this kind of fear is the same fear you have toward your loved ones. You're afraid to do anything to break their heart or to hurt them. It's the same with God. 

I don't like that I was blind to how I was breaking God's heart, and I really don't like that it's taking another storm for me to see the extent of my blindness. I'm embarrassed. But that's how stormy seasons can be redeemed; God's in the business of redemption. And that was the word He had for me at the beginning of this season — I am going through this storm hand-in-hand with Him, Who is redeeming and restoring the years the locusts ate (Joel 2:25). This season is not just a storm, but a refining fire.

I'm reminded of the story about the silversmith. 

“And he shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver” (Mal. 3:3). 
This puzzled a Bible study group. One of the members offered to learn about the process of refining silver and inform them at their next study. He visited a silversmith and watched him at work. He watched the silversmith hold a piece of silver over the fire and let it heat up. The silversmith explained that in refining silver, you must hold the silver in the middle of the fire where the flames were hottest and most consistent to burn away all the impurities. The member then thought about God holding us where the flames are the hottest to burn away our impurities. Then he thought again about the verse. “And he shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver.” He asked the silversmith if it was true that he had to sit there in front of the fire and watch the process at all times, or if he could get up to move around and come back to it.
The silversmith answered that not only did he have to sit there holding the silver, but he had to keep his eyes on the silver the entire time it was tested in the fire. If the silver was left a moment too long in the flames, it would be destroyed. You must leave it long enough to serve the purpose of purification, but not too long as it would destroy it. The member was silent for a moment. Then asked the silversmith, “How do you know when silver is fully refined?” He smiled and answered, “Oh, that’s easy — when I see my image in it.”

Past me missed out on cultivating one of the most life-giving relationships I'll ever have for all eternity, because I was so focused on getting past the healing stage, the refining stage, the firing stage — like clay in the kiln, or silver at the heart of the flame — because I wanted to be done with the pain. I was tired and over it. But pain from a refining fire has purpose: to make us more like Him, just like the way refined silver becomes a mirror for the refiner. The most beautiful part? He never takes His eyes off of us during the entire process. 

I'll make this clear: I have grace for past me. She did the best she could with what she had. Being able to recognize my past impatience and desire to avoid more pain is proof that God is working His redemptive power in my life, just as He promised He would. This brings me much joy.

This storm I'm navigating is intense. Some days I feel like I might shipwreck, and my first instinct is to measure the height of the waves.

However it's a waste of time to calculate the height of the waves in your storm when Jesus can walk on them anyway. All we have to do is take His hand and have faith, secure in the knowledge that storms pass, and He will never leave my side. 

I'm just grateful that this time, my eyes are locked on the King.

~It is not well with my circumstances, but it is well with my soul.

09 March 2023

Embrace Doubts, Stop Doubting. Believe.

I finished reading the Bible in its entirety last Easter, which turned out to be very timely because I wrapped up my reading in John where Jesus rose from the grave and appeared to the disciples. (I literally could not have planned for my readings to land this way, it just happened and it was thrilling.)

Having grown up in the faith, I'm familiar with the story. But reading it this time, something else was revealed to me in the way Jesus appeared to Thomas. As I read the passage in John 20, my heart went out to Thomas, because the poor guy has such a bad reputation. Even now, 2000 some-odd years later, he is literally known as "doubting Thomas" — sometimes we're even warned to not be like him. It makes sense; he was one of the twelve disciples, who saw Jesus' ministry first hand, and he still had his doubts. 

Thomas responded to the news that Jesus rose from the grave with doubt.  "I won't believe it unless I see the nail wounds in His hands, put my fingers into them, and place my hand into the wound in His side!" (John 20:25)

Our natural inclination is to think "well I would never" but we actually "always" on a daily basis; how many times are we promised provision or healing, and we doubt that God will actually come through? We trust Him with our salvation, yet we doubt that He'll provide for us with the little things, like when money is tight or when we need healing from sickness. 

Despite the warnings and misgivings about Thomas, I think we should be more like him, because his doubt was not born of rebellion, but out of the motivation to find the truth. Thomas didn't stop at doubt, and that's how we should respond to doubt in our own lives. 

What I love most about this passage is how Jesus responded to Thomas in verse 20:27. "Then He said to Thomas, "Put your finger here, and look at My hands. Put your hand into the wound in My side. Don't be faithless any longer. Believe!"

It struck a chord in my spirit, so I made a sketch.


A few months later, I couldn't stop thinking about the drawing, so I put the drawing on canvas. I didn't start working on the painting until a couple months later, on March 4th this year. I finished the painting on March 7th. 

When I finished, I stepped back, looking at the way the gold foil catches the light. I wish you all could see it in person. Photos don't do it justice. 

The longer I stare at this painting, the more I feel an overwhelming joy rise up in my spirit — a response to an invitation. When we look at verse 27, Jesus could have easily condemned Thomas for those doubts, for not believing He had risen. Instead, Jesus invited him closer. 

What a wonderful love this is where instead of condemning us, God calls us closer to Him so we can know the truth. 

Doubts are not the enemy, and we need to quit looking at them as such. Instead, we should see them as opportunities for God to shine through and work — all we have to do is draw near to Him, ask questions, and listen for His still, small voice as He covers us in peace and bestows upon us wisdom to squelch our doubts. 

That's all doubts are — thoughts that have not been given a drink of the Living Water in a long time. Doubts are cause for refreshing, asking questions, and learning to listen. Do not allow doubts to turn your heart to stone, but instead, let it lead you to God who wants to show you the truth. 

Like what Jesus did for Thomas.

That is a love I cannot take for granted. He does not get angry with us when we come to Him with our questions born of doubt. When we bring our doubts to God in search of answers, we're acting in accordance to our design to be dependent on Him — that's what God wants from us. He wants to show us the truth. He wants us to depend on Him and to have a relationship with Him, to grow our faith and for us to experience the joy that comes with it. Acting in accordance to our design in this way is how we experience fulfillment; we were made for this loving interaction.

He does not condemn me for my doubts. When I worry or when I get anxious. When I decide to take my own path and do what I want. When I trust myself more than I trust Him; He still invites me close so I can see the truth, know the truth, and walk in the truth, with grace abounding. There is no greater love than that. 

Be like Thomas. Embrace your doubts, find the truth, and believe. 

04 January 2023

Proud Imperfectionist

Perfectionism is a straight up scam. A farse. Fake news. 

So I'm quitting it, cold turkey.

Well, as cold turkey as I can get because even now, I'm struggling to write this. Because it has to be perfect. The irony is real. 

I've given a lot of thought to the perfectionism issue because I'm just one of many victims that fall prey to it. It's insidious, with the shiniest of exteriors — what could go wrong with perfect, right? However "perfect" isn't the issue because, as it turns out, ✨we are the problem✨

The age old "human condition" strikes again, which is why we shouldn't aim to be perfect, but to be better than we were the day before as we all run our own race. In order to do that, we need to embrace imperfection. It's the only way we can ever hope to find the peace and freedom to become our very best selves. 

Perfectionism exists in many forms, one form of which is in season; the infamous new year's resolutions. It's not surprising to see people fall off the wagon within two weeks of January first because the expectation that the "new year new me" mindset is going to carry them through the year is not sustainable. 

A "fresh start" doesn't actually exist, so expecting it to help you become the best possible version of yourself is a trap. The path to self-improvement based on a "fresh start" promises immediate results and lasting change with little effort. I'm not against self-improvement, however. (If you're new here, read some of my older posts lol) I'm not even against new year's resolutions, it's great to have goals. But there has to be an understanding that we never actually get a fresh start because we all start from experience. A fresh start mindset doesn't take into account your bad habits or the version of yourself that you're trying to change; your gluttonous-holiday self, your last-January self, your toxic-traits self. It's all brought into your fresh start; those bad habits took time to form, and it will take time to break them. 

It's healthy to expect mistakes, but only when you give yourself the grace to learn from them — mistakes are not true failures, neither is a lack of motivation or not being able to meet your goals with your all, every day. Quite frankly, that's also very exhausting and not sustainable. The only way you truly fail is when you dwell on your mistakes and give up entirely. It's why the diet never lasts beyond Monday, why studying is still hard this semester, and why a gym membership isn't used beyond the first session.

Perfectionism is relative, therefore, it can be selfish and manipulative. This is simply realized when we ask random people on the street what their perfect afternoon would look like. Who is one person to tell another that "perfect" only exists as reading a book on the couch, when the other's "perfect" is spending time with their kids? The "perfect" pizza for a vegetarian would definitely be different than the person who regularly orders a meat lover's. Perfect is relative, therefore, it does not exist. 

This is why it s u c k s. We are digging our own graves, killing our motivation and creativity with an expectation we've set for ourselves based solely on preference. It's the perfect poison. (Pun is so intended.)

You could argue that it does exists but only in the relative sense and that there's a word for it, so I guess, yeah sure, it does. But doesn't that defeat the whole idea of perfect? Isn't it supposed to be, by definition, a universal standard?

Philosophy aside, perfectionism is a burden. There is no grace in it, no peace, and no room for growth. It's a breeding ground for pride and anxiety, driven by the unnecessary pressure and panic of "getting things right" all the time. We weren't designed for this panic. God did not make us from dust and bone for us to run around like headless chickens, worrying and trying to get things perfect, as if God hasn't already done all of the work for us. We are fallible, and will never live up to "perfect." Without imperfections, there is no need for grace. And with no need for grace, what did Jesus die for?

I don't expect that with this epiphany I've had, I'll have all of this mastered going into the new year — that would be duplicitous of me and deliciously ironic. But I do know that making the decision to let go, let God, and to refuse participating in "perfect" I already feel unburdened. So, I urge you dear reader, to unburden yourself, and find peace by embracing imperfection. Peace is a bond and it ties us together in humility because of our shared understanding of the inevitability of mistakes. You free yourself from weighty expectations, and assumed responsibility and control that you don't actually have when you tell perfection "no." Imperfections are what make life so much sweeter, more authentic, more gracious. That is why I am a proud imperfectionist.

~Special thanks to Oliver Burkeman's newsletter and this Christian R&B playlist I found on Spotify for inspiring this post✨

15 September 2022

Control is Overrated

I've been holding back. Watering down my story with preface after preface (maybe this post counts as a preface lol) and I'm really sick of it. 

There is so much I want to say, and it's getting very heavy to carry. But I'm not here to confess anything, because that's not really the point of this. I'm more interested in why I've been holding back, even in the littlest things. 

I could list off what is expected, like a lack of confidence or I'm feeling silenced, but after closer examination, I've realized I'm only holding back because of one thing, and that's fear. No one likes being misunderstood or being responsible for uncomfortable conversations, and I'm learning that I've been avoiding some situations that require this of me. But as a divorced and remarried Christian woman with three diagnosed mental illnesses that had a baby two months before graduating with her Bachelor's degree in psychology, these situations are necessary and inevitable.

I don't admit this freely and comfortably. Well, maybe freely. This is the internet. But it's never comfortable to face parts of yourself you promised you wouldn't adopt into your behaviors. But alas, we are creatures of habit, imitation, and fault. 

My first draft of this post was complete garbage. I was angry and fed up with a lot of injustices, so I wrote, and it felt really good to get it off my chest. In this moment of weakness, however, I fought the urge to share everything on my mind because it would've been out of a heart of needing people to understand how "right" I am. Which is a problem, because it indicates a "wrong" side, and would turn me into some sort of martyr because of my trauma. And, ironically would've made me look like the pontificating windbag I told myself I would never become. Not only would that have been inappropriate, but so fruitless and plain wrong. 

Because it isn't about me. It's about truth. And the truth is, I'm tired of gossip, I'm tired of grief, and I'm tired people expecting me to put lipstick on a pig and brush things under the rug. I'm tired of assuming people expect things of me and I'm tired of expectations, assumed or not, being a motivating force for me to do anything. 

Ultimately, my first draft lacked grace and forgiveness, things I've fought so hard to advocate for, and it was really embarrassing to read. 

And like a whisper, I heard these words.

"Don't let your heart be controlled by their actions."

The ultimate soul-poke. In my moment of weakness, I'd become the very thing I've fought to not become in my healing journey; bitter. God spoke the truth with so much grace, so I scrapped the first draft of this and started fresh. ✨so here I am✨

This doesn't mean that I'm not angry or tired anymore, as nice as that would be, but those words snapped me back into the right heart posture. Sure, I have plenty to be angry about, and many reasons why I'm tired, but those words were the mirror I needed to see that I'm feeling this way largely due to all of the crap I've been inadvertently holding onto. I need to just let go. And honestly, I'm really tired of holding on. 

In light of this discovery, to let go started with me leaving my past self alone. I ask her too many dumb questions like "How did you not see this coming?" or my personal favorite "Why didn't you say this instead?" 

Because the past version of myself was genuinely in love. It wasn't her fault that she was lied to or used as a human doormat. She didn't know any better, she was young, and she was learning. And that's okay. She didn't know she needed to stand up for herself or be tough as nails or cut people off because she couldn't see what the future held. And that's okay. She did what she could, and she did a damn good job of it, considering she didn't know what I know now. I won't discredit the hard work I did by asking silly questions, because my past self went through a hard season without the lessons I learned from them. She is tough. And I need to leave her alone. She deserves peace just as much as I do now. 

Hindsight is 20/20 but that isn't going to give your past self a pair of glasses. 

...or something like that.

So, I won't hold her back with questions. I let her be at peace. 

Little did I know that my anger has been my biggest teacher in my healing journey, because I've been too busy looking at it like the enemy. It exposed insecurities and fears that ended up being of little consequence. It showed me how desperately I need to remind myself my identity is not assigned by others' opinions, but in the truth that I am a child of God. The way others react to my boundaries has nothing to do with me, and everything to do with them. Anger taught me that it's time for me to accept it all as it comes, as it came and went, and move on. 

So, I won't hold myself back with expectations I have no control over. I've let go of the need to be understood and seen by others.

Because it isn't my responsibility to make sure people understand what I share, and even sharing what I want to doesn't guarantee that people will see my side. I'm aware of those who've made their mind up about me, and it isn't a great picture. But that's fine. I'm past the need for people to have a good opinion of me, because the point I'm making has little to do with the trivialities of being "liked" and everything to do with freedom.

As I let go, I'm set free. Giving up the control I *think* I have sets me free to enjoy what is right in front of me. And there is so much in my life to enjoy. 

Holding onto feelings of betrayal while trying to heal from them is a form of self-sabotage, even if I didn't seek out to hold onto them in the first place. I found myself wrapped up in figuring out where my past fits in my healing journey and I'd inadvertently made my past feelings my present. I got too wrapped up in "figuring things out" that it became a distraction. It's a mental prison, because how much control do I really have over how people perceive me? 

*spoiler, the answer is ✨none✨*

 Holding on was holding me back from fully experiencing the best and most joyful years of my life! 

God has restored to me wholeness that I wouldn't otherwise have known so well. I cannot let the hurt of my offenders influence how I treat the God-given people in my life; the projection is fruitless and isolating. I'm so beyond done with that part of my life. That's all it is, a part. Granted it had a huge impact and ripple effect, but ultimately, it's just a part, not the whole. And the whole is so much sweeter. 

My now is dripping in gold and covered in peace. Because the truth is, I am already seen by God because He made me from dust and bone and knows even the littlest of details about me, from the number of hairs on my head to my last words on the day I die. I'm already understood by Jesus because He grieved and wept and died and rose again, and would do it all over if it meant I would spend eternity with Him because He loves me that much. I am already empowered by the Holy Spirit in me, who gives me the strength and courage to ask for help and let go of what no longer serves me. I don't need to hold onto things on this earth, the expectations and hurts from my past because I am seen and understood in ways that surpass the human capacity for the same. 

Why would I desire the cheap human alternative when I can let go and receive what is freely given to me by a divine God who chose the color of my eyes and has only the best in mind for me?

I'm learning this is what it's like to process grief; reflect and release. There are things I miss from hard seasons, and I grieve even for those things that weren't good for me in the end, because in those things I can recognize the potential for gain. And in many ways, I have gained. (Unfortunately, one of those things is weight but that's motherhood I guess lol)

The past is my past. It hurt, I lost a lot, and it's still manifesting itself in real ways. (helloooo mental illness!) But I can't afford the distractions and the noise, not when I've looked at my past from every angle and can't learn anything new from it anymore. There are bigger and more important things in "the now" that need my attention, like how my husband built us a bedframe and shelves, and we're making plans to have friends over for dinner next week. 

Grief is weird. Anger is weird. But it's a good teacher if you're patient enough to listen.

Here's to letting go, and not holding back. 

~Let It Go by Idina Menzel was stuck in my head while writing this so now it's stuck in your head, you're welcome.

24 May 2022

Made to Forgive

In light of my second installment of "what I wish I knew about mental health" I thought I'd write a little follow-up about where I'm at today in my healing journey. 

** T/W mental illness **

In my last two posts, I opened up about some dark thoughts and how I felt during triggers, and I feel the need to explain myself. I'm afraid that there isn't grace for me. Admittedly I have the tendency to think the worst outcome will happen, that I'll be scrutinized for being a bad Christian because I was bitter for a while and wasn't always forgiving, but I'm often proven wrong with the abundant grace people show me. It's humbling and heart-warming. Even though I'm encouraged by seeing the fruit of me sharing my experiences, I cannot put my peace in it, and I can't expect the praise to carry me through the remainder of my healing journey. I must make the choices to go forward, even when I'll inevitably be met with scrutiny. Those choices are to move my focus away from what happened, to how I can learn and forgive now, tomorrow, and the next day.

I can't control what happened to me, but I can control how I respond to it.

The biggest part of my healing process has been learning about forgiveness and its many facets. I don't want to define forgiveness — because dictionaries exist — but I want to show how it's changed my life, how it's actively changing my life. I've never experienced such joy and unbridled grace, but not because I'm the one receiving it. Forgiving others and extending grace is the spice of life, it's our purpose as human beings, a fundamental practice, and so fulfilling. Serving others in this way, we find purpose and meaning in our lives. We find freedom. Forgiveness frees me from the burden of keeping track of the nitty gritty details of my testimony. Honestly, I don't remember a lot of them, partially because trauma amnesia is a thing, but I also don't want to dwell on the details and keep those hurtful memories alive. What is important is despite going through a season that nearly took my life, I emerged with a soft heart, but not without hard work and daily discipline to forgive those who hurt me.

We don't drift towards holiness, so choosing to heal required lots of discipline, daily. I wrestled with my inborn sinful tendencies and had to learn to rise above them. In my effort to forgive my ex-husband and many others in that season, I absolutely battled bitterness, hatred, and anger. And I still do, namely in weak moments or when I work through a trigger. To have learned a lesson doesn't mean one is an expert in applying what's been learned, because it takes practice to be good at making those hard choices.

That's the thing really, to "practice what I preach" entails the inevitability of failure. So yes, while I was working on forgiveness, I often failed and caved into bitterness, but my decision to forgive is still completely valid and my mistakes do not make me any less of a forgiving person. Failure to forgive is a part of the process. To not practice what I preach is to abandon forgiveness all together, and that's absolutely not an option. (There's a reason why the saying isn't "perfect what you preach" because it's unattainable and unrealistic. It also just sounds weird.) 

But people don't see those silent battles and daily choices. Only now am I sharing my experiences publicly. This isn't a unique struggle because everyone battles bitterness at one time or another. It's a part of the sin nature we were all born into. Whomever tells you differently is ✨lying✨ 

At the beginning of my healing journey, I knew forgiveness was the right thing to do, and I should do it because of what's been written in Scripture. I'd be lying if I said my heart wasn't hesitant; I was so hurt and so broken, and desperate for external peace. I wasn't aware of the lie I believed, that forgiveness was excusing actions that hurt me, and that it was an olive branch to my offenders. I can't even begin to describe the relief I felt when I learned that forgiveness is not synonymous with reconciliation or condoning hurtful actions. Instead, it is freeing yourself from carrying the pain your offender has caused you, allowing you to move on and make peace. As the age old saying goes, to withhold forgiveness is like drinking poison with the hopes the other person will die.

There are plenty of opportunities for me to remain bitter, daily. Given the nature of PTSD, I'm consistently reminded of little things regarding my ex-husband and the divorce; it's hard to completely drive out memories of someone you were doing life with. Not every reminder is a trigger, but the reminders do make me angry sometimes. It's difficult to say no to bitterness in those moments. But no amount of good will ever come from me being bitter towards my ex-husband. It isn't like bitter thoughts will somehow end up in him getting my form of justice, or him understanding what I went through or, or, or... It isn't up to me that justice is served or that "he gets his" because it's none of my business. I don't know what he needs in order to change and I'd be a fool to assume I do. It would also be foolish to bank finding my peace and closure on "him getting his" because no form of justice would be satisfying enough; I cannot risk my peace on circumstances I can't control.

There's a lot to be said about the latter, but it all comes down to understanding the importance of placing my peace and closure in something I can control, and something that withstands time and the space in my spirit. I can choose to have closure and peace — to wait for him to act gives him power over my peace. To wait for your offender to offer closure is like handing them your keys and enabling them to change the locks without you ever knowing — where is the peace in that?

Remaining bitter hardens the heart, a state in which it wasn't created to experience. Like a rubber band or dried clay before the firing, hardness is weakness, cracking and brittle. There is no strength found in harboring bitterness. Bitterness is all promise and zero delivery. It keeps us trapped into thinking that holding on to the pain from our offender will result in something fruitful. All it does is deepen the pain, prolong suffering, and weaken us in the process. 

Choosing to forgive is a fruitful discipline. It gives you the room to tap into your indwelling peace God gives to us, something wild and beyond our understanding; everlasting and never changing. It brings forth ripe authenticity in the pursuit of joy and of grace for others, but not without making daily choices to think right thoughts and practicing the art of letting go. 

I'm not perfect at this, and I never will be. Growing in forgiveness is not progressive like stairsteps, and not quite cyclical like a complete circle, but rather like a horizontal spiral. Through ups and downs, we learn, moving forward in time through the seasons of life, picking up valuable lessons on the way and doing what we can to make good choices, one of those being to forgive, hard as it may be. 

Forgiveness is difficult. But living in bitterness is a bigger burden. 

So be strengthened. Find peace. Align your heart with your wonderful design. Take the power back and participate in something greater than yourself. Don't let bitterness keep you in chains. I urge you, let go of what we were never made to carry, choose to forgive, and be freed.

~All I could think about when concluding this was the song "Nobody's Perfect" by Hannah Montana, and now the song is stuck in your head. You're welcome.

20 April 2022

What I Wish I Knew About Mental Health #2.2

Welcome to part two! Thank you for being here and braving through this tough subject with me.

Now that we've gone over some misconceptions and I've bared my soul to the world, we can talk about healing.

** T/W trauma, mental illness **

**I am not a licensed mental health professional (yet) I am simply sharing my journey through struggles and my own studies. Please contact your doctor or a mental health professional if you need help **

I wrote in the last post that my journey is not the golden standard of what it's like to live affected by PTSD, and I want to emphasize this because healing is so subjective and what might work for one person may not work for another. I found my solace in hiking nearly everyday after my divorce. I learned to breathe deeper, to count and to notice the small things, and to drink in the view at the top of the climb. Or to put simply; breathe, be thankful, and celebrate victories. 

As great as the benefits are, this would be a terrible healing strategy for someone who hates to hike, which, in the PNW, is right up there in rarity as seeing a local use an umbrella. If you know, you know.

There is no "golden standard" or "one-size-fits-all" when it comes to healing in a healthy way, but there are unhealthy practices in a healing journey, namely, making assumptions.  

The worst of the worst of things that someone can do is assume, and unfortunately assumptions run rampant, and have really deep roots. The thing that makes assumptions so dangerous is they are divisive. Like lies, they fool many people into thinking they're not loved, that there's no hope, and that things won't get better. Some assumptions are honest mistakes, or they're made from the heart of wanting to be helpful. But many times, because of misinformation, the assumption will ultimately keep one stagnant in their healing journey, regardless of who is making them.

*You know what "assume" does right?*

The biggest mistake I see when people talk to someone who is healing and working through a trigger, is they assume the traumatized individual needs a hero. This can go the other way too, where a traumatized individual feels like the only way they can get better is if someone else does the heavy lifting because they feel like they're not strong enough. How great would it be to have someone step in and take all the weight, offer the greatest advice, and solve all the problems so they aren't triggered anymore? Sometimes, admittedly, I wish this were plausible. But there's a wonderful alternative that yields even better results and the opportunity to grow. 

It all starts when you realize that you have a choice.

I can choose to heal and do the work and heavy lifting, to be my own hero, because to not choose is to choose misery. To have someone else do the heavy lifting is being robbed of the opportunity to refine your character, becoming stronger, and having the satisfaction of saying "I did that."

I'm not saying that you can "think" your way out of a trigger, because there isn't much one can do when the brain is reacting in its rewired way. But you absolutely have a choice in how to respond to your trigger. The beauty of it is that in making the choice to heal over and over — to breathe, be thankful, and celebrate — your beautiful brain creates a new breathing, thankful, celebratory pathway and it becomes easier to make the choice each time. The pathway eventually becomes second nature. It's really this simple.

When I say simple, I don't mean easy. Nothing about healing is easy. But it's as simple as making the choice to show up and be willing to feel weak as you sit with your pain for a while, so you can walk out as the warrior you were made to be. 

This is why it's absolutely silly to assume that triggers are weaknesses, because they aren't. They are purely a response from a brain rewired to be hypervigilant. Essentially, the amygdala, a small almond-shaped part of the brain, is conditioned to react to any stimulus that it perceives as threatening by throwing out the stress hormone cortisol, in abnormally high quantities. It isn't a matter of whether someone is "really healed" but rather how the person is literally at the mercy of their altered brain chemistry. Because of this, triggers make for poor indicators as to where a person is in their healing journey. A traumatized individual can make the decision to forgive, go to counseling, practice mindfulness and other prescribed exercises, but it takes a very long time for the brain to adjust its chemistry. 

It's all brain science folks.

The only thing assumptions have ever been good at is robbing someone of the chance to connect on a spirit-deep level. Assumptions fuel the fire of pride in the individuals that want to help, while simultaneously watering down the hope of the hurting. 

"I can fix them. I give great advice."

"If people knew what I really thought about, they wouldn't want to get close to me."

It is imperative to cast assumptions aside. Instead, focus on these truths:

Triggers do not make you weak, nor are they indicators of failed healing. The progress is evident in how you handle your triggers and the choices you make, not in how your changed brain chemistry reacts to stimuli you can't control. Don't bleed on others just because you're cut. Your triggers do not make your choice to heal counterfeit. Your decision to forgive your offender is genuine, even on days where forgiveness feels so far out of reach. Trauma validity is not a matter of opinion, because what happened and how it affects you is real. Healing has its good days and bad days. One bad day doesn't mean you aren't healing, it's all a part of the process; there's a reason why it's called a healing journey.

You cannot "fix" someone who is hurting, but you can love them through it; choose to listen to their story if they feel comfortable sharing and make an effort to remember their triggers. Love them by waiting for them to open up in their own time, because it isn't about you. Choose patience over the need to know. To do otherwise is to rob them of important growth moments. 

It's hard to heal and it's hard watching someone you love heal, but regardless, you are not alone. Refuse to make an island out of yourself, because there are people who have gone through things you have, and they do understand. Let people in and watch them surprise you with their abounding love, and let it soften your heart.

There is an exception to the rule, and I've said it before, but if you assume anything, assume you don't have the full story. You can absolutely be helpful to someone without knowing every detail. Choose grace when emotions are high. Choose gratitude, especially on the dark days. Above all, choose compassion; trauma is painful and a little compassion goes a long way. 

I know this is all much easier said than done, but the beauty of it is that it does get easier the more you do it. Healing takes time. Healing is a practice, there will be ups and downs. It is not a destination, it is a journey. It takes lots of love, especially for yourself. There's a lot more healing found when you're vulnerable with the people you trust. I've found that to be true.

Really, it all boils down to making the choice. 

~Listening to Healing by Riley Clemmons

19 April 2022

What I Wish I Knew About Mental Health #2.1

If I had to list things I wish I knew about mental health going into my 20's, knowing more about triggers before I experienced them would be on the list. I don't like being caught off-guard, and triggers have flipped my life upside down in many ways. 

The unfortunate reality is triggers are complicated and messy. It takes time  and lots of it  to know how to work through them as the healing process advances. Though complicated and messy, I'll try my best to address them and their common misconceptions, while sharing some of my own experiences, in two parts. (And a bonus third part because the inspiration struck.)

** T/W su*cide, self-h*rm, trauma, mental illness **

**I am not a licensed mental health professional (yet) I am simply sharing my journey through struggles and my own studies. Please contact your doctor or a mental health professional if you need help **

My sister and I talk about triggers often, because she also struggles with PTSD. She described in a recent conversation how she felt after listening to a song, that she felt like she was "back there." She was hesitant to call it a trigger because her understanding of being triggered was that it's solely a movie-like flashback in her head, like we see on TV. 

"It brings up difficult emotions," she wrote in her text to me. "Haven't listened to [the song] since freshman year. Would that be considered a trigger???" (Yes she used 3 question marks leave her alone.) "I didn't have a flashback but I feel like I'm back there."

"w h a t" she responded when I told her it's absolutely a trigger.

Two major things came to mind after having this conversation, both having to do with the proverbial "they." Media has a huge impact on how people understand the world, and the way media portrays PTSD perpetuates that, one, it's an illness that's exclusively experienced by combat veterans, and two, that being triggered is only experienced as vivid flashbacks and acting out in a breathless daze. 

So, spoiler alert, there are several ways to experience being triggered and PTSD is a diagnosis for ✨everyone✨ It's inclusive that way.  

The history of mental illness portrayal in movies and TV shows is laughable. Not to say there aren't gems out there with an excellent story and accurate representation, but generally, neurotypical individuals write the stories with second or third-hand experiences. This isn't an inherently bad thing, but unfortunately, this means the general etiquette  trigger warnings, excluding self-harm/suicide on-screen etc.  is not on the forefront of their mind and is often forgotten. The point here is not to blame the media for all the misconceptions about PTSD and triggers, it doesn't even have anything to do with how it perpetuates stereotypes, but rather, there's an abundance of misinformation out there. As a soon-to-be art therapist and someone who struggles with these things daily, it's endlessly frustrating.

There are important distinctions to make when addressing triggers and what it means to be triggered. Triggers, to the untrained eye, are innocuous  a smell, a person's name, a specific place. There's nothing inherently dangerous about these things, but to someone who has been traumatized, those seemingly innocuous stimuli can leave the person feeling terrified and helpless. 

Responses to triggers are dependent on the individual and how they perceived their traumatic experience. Physiological responses such as an elevated heart rate or upset stomach are possible symptoms of being triggered. To become anxious or afraid in the face of a trigger is also very common.  In my case, I'll usually feel as if the thought follows me around like a dense cloud, which commonly results in mental fog and extreme irritability for the rest of the day. Sometimes this can last for a few days, if the trigger is really intense. I call these "hornet thoughts" because these thoughts sting over and over and over...

*I know it isn't my job to ask God "why" but I have a few questions about the creation of hornets. And mosquitoes, like what is their job in the world's ecosystem other than carrying disease and being an absolute nuisance??*

Responses are not a one-size-fits-all because trauma comes in all shapes and sizes. As it's commonly understood, combat violence is traumatic. But so are car accidents, or even childbirth. As more research comes out, there is scientific evidence supporting that intimate betrayal, such as an affair, in a committed relationship can encourage the onset of PTSD. The triggers in relation to these events will be different. 

Because of my divorce (read my previous post), I've had difficulty watching crime TV shows, which is a bummer because I love a good murder mystery. But those TV shows will almost, if not always, have scenes where a character is on trial in a courtroom. This is one of my triggers.

There are instances where I can get past the anxiety with quiet prayers and deep breathing, but there are other instances where it's just not possible. I sit at the mercy of my altered brain chemistry, as the TV show brings me back to my first experience in a courtroom, the morning after my ex-husband was arrested. In these moments, I can almost smell the matted carpets and old wooden benches. 

I'm reminded of details I haven't thought about it a very long time. Sights, smells, sounds. Feelings. Mostly embarrassment; I was the wife of the accused, hardly able to hid my sobs as he was shuffled out wearing handcuffs and navy blue like the other inmates. Not only were eyes on me as I cried ugly tears, a victim to his crimes was on the other side of the same bench I sat on. I wanted to tear out of my skin. 

The trigger doesn't stop there. I'm reminded of a separate hearing, where there were more victims present. I remember my thoughts. Angry, embarrassed. I desperately wanted privacy in my life, but I was realizing that was no longer an option in that season. The victims snickered as we prayed together before the hearing. The hate in the air was thick, suffocating, and I wanted out of the building. I couldn't figure out why I was so torn up, even though I wasn't the one on trial. I wanted to die. I wanted peace.

I'm reminded of the heat from my face, the bouncing in my leg, my restless, shaky hands. The burning tears I held back. 

I will not cry I will not cry I will not cry I will not cry.

I need to stay strong. Everyone is counting on me to be strong. He's counting on me to be strong. I cannot and will not break. He needs my help. I must stay strong.

I couldn't have been happier when the hearing was finally over. I don't remember most of the night afterwards. Trauma is like amnesia at times, though the 2 shots of tequila on an empty stomach followed by several beers probably didn't help. Grief makes you do funny things. Stupid things. It was definitely not my proudest moment. This is where the trigger amplifies my embarrassment.

As I navigate the embarrassment, it becomes a sort of flashback, both memories replaying at the same time, pulling in other moments, good or bad, anything that relates to the courtroom scene. My brain is whizzing at a million miles an hour, my heart painfully palpitates in my chest. Frustration, white hot in my face. I can't catch a good breath. The night only comes with lucid nightmares. My thoughts, doubts of my progress. Repeating to myself that healing isn't linear, that I'm safe now. I know the science like the back of my hand, but that doesn't make it hurt less. I wish it did. I wish for an end, frustrated that I need to ride it out like a boat on a restless sea.

And all of this is happening because I had to sit through the stupid scene about the stupid courtroom on the stupid TV show that I can't stop watching because the stupid story is just so good. (I was about to call myself stupid here but we don't do self-deprecation over here at Bee Happy. Self-deprecation is for sissies.)

I don't share to get sympathy or pity because I share from a place of healing, not grief or pain or even bitterness. Do my thoughts come out pain-soaked and bitter? Sure. Being triggered is a raw, emotional process, and many of my triggers are rooted in a very bitter season, where every thought was muddled with grief, shame, betrayal, and a lot more. I'm still processing. But I'm healing. I'm choosing to forgive, which has made me able to share this today. I'd call that a victory. Though this be a victory, it doesn't make it any less difficult to share. 

As small a window this is into PTSD and triggers, it's a very real window. Being triggered is far more complicated than being uncomfortable or offended. Rooted deeper than trivial irritants, triggers are exhausting, messy, and ruthless. The body is put into fight-or-flight, bracing for impact, even at the slightest hint of possible danger. This piece of my heart I've shared is just a fraction of what I experience, as I have several triggers, and my story is not the golden standard of what it's like to experience these things. Even if I had known what it was like to experience triggers before going into my 20's, I don't think it would have made a significant difference; again, it's complicated and messy.

With that said, don't do your loved ones, or yourself, a disservice by basing your understanding of mental health off of movies and TV shows, because stereotypes write the scripts. Have grace, extend love, and listen. We'll be talking more about that in the next post, so stay tuned. 

~My sister did talk to her therapist about our conversation and I'm happy to report that it was a good session.