I Put Up a Wall …

two people

Source Unknown

I put up a wall to keep you out … because I am wounded and fragile and afraid you will hurt me.

You see my wall and feel rejected.

You perceive my wall as a judgment or criticism of you.

The space between us becomes large and ominous … and … keeps us from truly seeing each other.

It keeps us from truly loving each other and meeting each others needs … which we could do and would do … if we weren’t looking at exactly the same thing and seeing something totally different.

If only we could see through the wall.

If only we could feel each others vulnerability.

But we don’t.

And so we both suffer … needlessly.

Source Unknown

There are times when we need to wall up,  but … not all the time, Karen

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The Moments Between …

Mornings are my favorite part of the day. It’s just after 6:30am on a dark, chilly Sunday morning … November 22, 2015 … to be precise. I don’t have to be up yet. I just want to be. I think it’s the stillness. Or maybe it’s the coffee. I do love them both … with unequivocally crazed adoration.

My second favorite part of the day is punctuating the end of all the ‘doings’ over those 8 – 12 hours with a lovely glass of red wine … before the grilled cheese or roasted chicken that is dinner (depending upon the day). Sipping, savoring and reflecting upon how I invested those precious minutes of my life … scanning the moments for the brightest points of light … and, of course … the dimmest and dismal of them are doggedly determined to color the space (no matter how much I try to ignore them). Letting both blessings and lessons land in my awareness … holding them both with curious introspection.

And yes, on this particular day, the Malbec is in the rack, patiently awaiting my arrival. And although I eagerly anticipate that delicious and delectable moment, there is something so profoundly nourishing about just sitting here … in this solitude, before the buzzing of the world begins … sipping my java out of this gigantic 20 ounce mug.

My mug speaks the truth. I’d like to think that the mornings do too … but …  I am acutely aware that my morning knows nothing for certain about my afternoon nor my evening. Except for the nudging from ‘the list’ that I have put in my smart phone … itemizing and prioritizing the particulars this day might hold in store for me.

But who really knows. I think I am in control of my life … I feel like I am in charge of what I decide to cross off my list. But … as my thoughts wander through this blessed stillness of this morning, I realize that that sense of agency is just an illusion. Albeit an illusion a delusion that I really quite enjoy …

DonBut, I am reminded that we woke up 36 years ago today … November 22, 1979. It seemed like an ordinary Thursday. I’m sure I had a list. My hubby remembers that he slept in. I just remember the phone call. My husband’s younger brother, Don, was on his way to work. And, he didn’t make it. No, he didn’t make it. There was an accident. I still feel the agonizing ache in that reprehensible reality. He was just 20 years old. Even coffee couldn’t make that morning better mourning less bitter.

And, isn’t that the way it is with life … if we get quiet and clear enough to really examine it. We can’t possibly know what life will bring us … in those moments between the coffee and the wine. We can never know for sure … even with the most intelligently crafted list. It’s all uncharted ground … ripe with possibilities (divinely guided moments) and probabilities (stick to my list moments) … all with unequivocally uncertain propensity.

And, really, the best I can do is to remain open to all of it … and … simply choose the energetic frequency by which I will greet it. Because, while savoring my wine this evening, I will be reflecting upon the blessings and challenges that were tucked into today – the moments defining this particular November 22nd. Likely, I will be more grateful for some than others … but … the one thing I know for sure is that I’ll be weighing the energy I brought to those moments between my two favorite beverages:

Was I KIND?

Was I AUTHENTIC?

Was I an energetic expression of LOVE as I moved through the day?

I hope I will like my answers … Karen

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I Never Talked About It …

I never talked about it.  I tucked it all away, deep down inside where no one could see it. Not even me.

No, I never talked about it until one day when I was attending a young mother’s group.  I was about 30 years old … with three darling daughters.  The guest presenter was speaking about the challenges of parenting and invited us to recall the warm and wonderful times in our childhood when we felt safe and protected and happy and coddled.  Huh?  The naive assumption that we all came from that enviable place surprised me.  I could not resonate with where she was trying to take us … at all. I looked around the room. People were smiling … nodding.  Some were tearing up in fond recollection. I went numb for a moment.

And then it hit me … and … I swallowed hard to hide the tears that nearly escaped … right there …  in front of all those lovely young mothers caught up in that heavenly melancholic moment. My story was not their story.  I felt like I just didn’t fit in.  I remember thinking, “I don’t belong here.” 

I went home and cried. A hard cry.  And … the lid came off.  It all came pouring out of me … in streams that chafed my cheeks and welted up the tender corners of my eyes.  And then I got mad … MAD.  How dare this gracious ‘presenter’ with the Hallmark childhood so cavalierly ignite the pain I had tucked away so effectively for so long! How dare she obliviously obliterate my strong, capable, logical, ‘I can handle anything’ persona.  I felt fragmented and fragile and I couldn’t seem to collect myself with any degree of predictability.  I simply could not get the lid back on it.  And I tried … believe me I tried.

I’m not sure when I conceded … when I decided that it was time to tell my story rather than continue hiding it and hiding from it.  Somehow, between the sadness that surprised me and the struggle to ignore it,  I realized that I would need to ‘feel it’ in order to ‘heal it’.  And THAT was certainly not a straight path. Nor easy.  I was flooded with painful memories and I didn’t have a  clue where to put them or how to carry them out there in the real world. 

I started talking about it.  I guess I shared too much … too often …  because then someone said, “Is that is all she ever talks about?”  Perhaps that was true.  Maybe the pendulum had swung the other direction … when the lid blew off the mess was hard to contain.  What I heard her saying was:  “No one really wants to hear about it”.  Ouch.

And I almost silenced myself again.  Out of shame.  Far be it for me to take up space where my story was not wanted.  I had no idea where it belonged …where I belonged.  Fortunately for me, I found a place to put it. I found a place where my story was honored.  And I felt heard.  And I found some beautiful gifts that had been tucked into my story.  And it felt good.  And I learned that these things need to be spoken of … because  all wounds need a compassionate witness if we are to finally make peace with them.

Ultimately, I found a safe place to lean in and embrace my own story.  It scares me to think of where I would be had I not discovered the divine body of work founded by Debbie Ford.  I got some good counseling too.  Yes. I did.  And … it transformed my life.  So much so that I found my calling.  I trained with Debbie Ford herself and also went back to school and earned my MSW.  Now, I get to coach and/or counsel those who need a safe and compassionate place to own their stories and help them learn to thrive despite the pains of their past.

 I could never have anticipated the miracle and magic of owning my story. I still talk about it  … sometimes.  And other times I blog about it.  Mostly, though, I share it when I think it will be meaningful to others. I am learning that there are times when my prior lived experience really resonates with the people I am working with and fosters their own capacity to heal.  And, in the communion of our stories, we are liberated. And we are understood. And we find a place where we belong.

And yes, there are still those times when I sense that my story is not welcome … places where it is not a good fit.  But that doesn’t mean my story doesn’t matter.  It does.  And so does yours.  I hope that you, too, will be brave enough to find a safe and compassionate place to share it!  It matters … and  you never know … you might just find some magic and/or a miracle or two wrapped into it.

Daring Greatly,  Karen

I am not what happened to me …

not what has happened to me

I just came across a very heartfelt stream of consciousness that I recorded in an old journal. I was wrestling with my aversion to confrontation.  I was questioning why I got so anxious at the thought of disappointing others. I was pulling at the roots of my prior people-pleasing tendencies.

Here is what I discovered as I coaxed myself deeper into the subconscious inquiry:

Why am I so uncomfortable with contention or confrontation?

Because I don’t like it when things aren’t going well between people…

Why don’t you like it when things aren’t going well?

Because I am afraid people will leave me.

What am I afraid will happen if people leave me?

I will be alone and scared and have no support.

What will happen if I am alone, scared and have no support?

I will have to do things all on my own … and/or … reach out to strangers for help.

What if I reach out for help?

Then people can hurt me, when/if they don’t care enough about me to help me.

What if they don’t care enough to help you?

Then I will feel rejected.

What if I feel rejected?

Then I feel worthless and insignificant.

What if I am worthless and insignificant?

Then I am nothing.

What if you are nothing … ?

If I am nothing – no thing in particular, then maybe I can be anything.

Ha!   My stream of consciousness just took a sharp, very unexpected turn.   Upon deeper inquiry …. the blessings covertly tucked on the other side of my fear are rendered visible!  If I am no particular thing (nothing) ... then maybe I am at liberty to consciously create myself into something … and perhaps … that opens the doors for me to be anything.

In order to claim that prize, I can see I must be willing to step out of old patterns of belief and behavior. As Carl Jung so wisely contended “I am not what happened to me,  I am what I choose to become”. As a people pleaser, I developed a pattern of trading truth for safety.  In order to feel safe, I contorted myself into the most pleasing, sweet and endearing child … always.  All ways.  I can see that I did so (in order to minimize the probability of rejection) because I was often at the mercy of  leaning on a teacher, a friend’s parent, or a stranger.

BUT, that was THEN and this is NOW. I can choose differently.  I have access to resources and supports I never had as a child … and I can take care of myself.  Mostly. And, maybe … even more importantly … maybe at this point in my ‘all grown up’ life, it could be quite safe to risk be rejected. Perhaps, in being brave enough to risk the rejection of others, I could quit rejecting myself  by ‘going along to get along‘.  Perhaps that has been the greatest violation to my soul in my patterns of the past.  I have been unwittingly rejecting my Self when I trade truth for safety.

So, I am seeing that the ultimate gift in risking rejection is the opportunity to be authentic and real.  I can go along to get along … or … I can be real, raw and truthful to my Self.  I can do one or the other, but not both simultaneously.  So, let’s bring on the confrontations … eeek.  I say that knowing that they give me a chance to step out of old patterns … and … claim the opportunity to be something closer to the real me … 🙂

There is so much light hidden in the dark … if we dare ourselves to look deep enough,  Karen

P.S. I wrote this journalling years ago, and drafted this blog quite some time ago, but I never posted it.  It’s likely no co-incidence that since then, I have taken several bold opportunities to be real and risk being rejected.  It’s actually been quite an interesting ride … I think I’m going to hold on and keep doing it.  Much to my surprise, being ‘real’ feels really safe in a whole different kind of way … really.  Nothing could be better than stepping out of old patterns from the past.

No one is coming to save you …

plant your own garden You might be surprised by how frequently I meet with clients who wholeheartedly invest themselves in bettering other people’s lives at great expense to themselves.  They have embraced the altruistic adage that ‘what goes around comes around’.  They interpret their self-sacrifice as a noble gesture depicting their love and devotion.  They might even see it as good karma.  They trust that if they just give enough, pray hard enough, wait long enough, and/or suffer quietly enough … someone will finally honor and acknowledge their selflessness by returning the favor.  Seems like a benevolent way to live one’s life, but …

Some of them having been waiting a really, really, really, really L-O-N-G time!  In fact, sometimes they have sacrificed until they are completely spent and downright empty themselves.  Some have tolerated the intolerable for such an unbearably long period of time that they find themselves in such a dark and depleted emotional place that an anti-depressant has been prescribed.  While this doesn’t alleviate the source of the problem, it does bolster their capacity to ‘soldier on’ for a while longer …..

It’s typically the most genuine, loving and kindhearted people who convince themselves that meeting their own needs would be too “selfish.”  Some are just hoping that by living in hell now they will be rewarded with heaven in the long run. Far be it for me to argue that possibility …. but … I do find myself questioning whether the old adage that ‘God helps those who help themselves’ could be just as true or truer?

When clients express feeling really stuck, but have resisted taking action in situations where it seems they still can foster change … or, worse yet … if they have adopted a sense of powerlessness that renders them feeling like helplessness victims;  I will compassionately but candidly invite them to consider an unfavorable prospect – a desperate possibility that ultimately inspired me to step out of my own self-defeating beliefs and behaviors.  I say it not to harm them, but to help them.

No one is coming to save you.

What …? My prickly point is usually punctuated by a long silence, shallowed breathing and a blank stare. Sometimes a tear breaks free …

No one wants to hear such a thing.  It may sound unduly harsh and maybe even blasphemous to some … but flirting with the possibility that waiting may be eternal often propels folks to  step up on their own behalf and resume an active part  in creating their own well-being.  It’s a miraculous moment when people reclaim their own power.  It really truly is … remember Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz?  What if each and every one of us has ‘had the power all along’?  What if we just needed something drastic enough to catch our attention so we could bring that possibility into clear focus … ?

I received my own wake-up call a few years back during one of my darkest moments as one of Debbie Ford’s students/trainees.  Here’s what I learned … about my own pattern of self-denial and self-sacrifice.

I was taking the long way around:

• I give what I need to others…
• I hope that they give it back to me…
• I suffer when they don’t …
• This proves the most painful story I often tell myself: I don’t matter
• I forget that I had what I needed to begin with … but I gave it away! DUH!!  

And then I repeat the cycle … over and over and over again! 

Why not just give myself what I need???

Ahem … it seems so ridiculously clear in retrospect.  However, I needed a ruthlessly compassionate nudge in order to finally see it for myself.  I have made some remarkably wonderful shifts since I gained this insight.  I share this in case you or someone you know has been marinating in unfavorable circumstances or feeling stuck in a particular situation.  If you are tired of waiting for someone to save you, you might intervene on your own behalf by asking these questions:

What would you do differently if you knew it was up to YOU to take the first step in the direction of making a change you want/need to make?

What is one baby step that you could take on your own behalf?

What just popped into your mind?

What might open up in your life if you dared to act upon whatever came into your mind?

What might it cost you to take that step?

What will it cost you if you don’t?

Where will you be in five years if you continue doing what you are doing?

Give yourself some time to sit with your answers … even if they scare you spit-less. Allow yourself to notice how those answers feel in your body.  Some of the best decisions I have made in my life made me SWEAT profusely the very first time I dared to consider them!

Ultimately, the point is this … even if no one is coming to save you,  you might still be in very good handsyour own!  In fact, what if is is true or truer, that you never needed anyone else to save you after all?   Maybe YOU are the answer you have been waiting for?   What if … ?

Here’s to planting our own gardens and decorating our own souls, Karen

 

Owning Our Voices …

Source Unknown

Source Unknown

She has found her own voice.

I am glad that she has because otherwise she will always resent mine.

She is so empowered by it that she will be likely to overuse it in the beginning.

That will cause some pain.

I hope it doesn’t take too long for her to quit singing solo and appreciate the harmony of a duet  … or … the absolute magnificence of a choir.

It serves no good is she has no voice, but it serves no good if hers is the only voice she cares to hear or appreciate.

There is a place for all our voices as the melody comes together … the music is flat without the depth of the tenor or the pitch of the soprano.

It is the difference in our voices that create the awe and wonder!

May she learn to enjoy the beauty of her own voice without rejecting the ones who want or need to sing along.

May I remember to be so willing and wise myself, Karen

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Breakdown or breakthrough … ?

courage

One of the most sacred but entirely daunting and deeply humbling parts of becoming a ‘Certified Integrative Coach’ is that you MUST do all the work yourself … long before you ever get to lead a client through any kind of process.  I learned really early on that Debbie Ford’s incomparable internal processes were not for the faint of heart.  They are designed to unconceal inner truths that most of us have consciously and/or subconsciously tried to avoid, justify, resist and/or deny. Sometimes in the midst of it all, it feels more like you are on the cusp of a breakdown rather than a breakthrough … BUT …

Over the past dozen years, I have learned to ‘trust the process.’  I have never yet failed to find the most bright, brilliant and beautiful gifts when I was courageous enough to face the most painful parts of my own past experience.  Which doesn’t mean it’s pretty.  No, definitely not pretty.  And …  you learn that the wisdom in your wounds, the blessings in your challenges and the light in the dark  are usually tucked somewhere within the ‘ugly cry’ (you know – that shoulder heaving, snot dribbling, swollen-eyed, red-faced kind of sobbing that makes it hard to breathe) … BUT …

It is hard to describe the sublime freedom, joy, and/or bliss of redefining the parts of your life you had previously been resenting, rejecting and blaming for your heartaches. Crazy but true … ask anyone who has attended a Shadow Process or been coached through this impeccable body of work. They have incredible stories to share.  Sorry, I’ve digressed … this was not meant to be a sales pitch for integrative coaching.  My intention was to offer you some honest, authentic  ‘truth-telling’ … BUT …

Some of the most profound shifting of my life emerged when I became part of Debbie Ford’s study group as she was writing her book Courage: Overcoming Fear and Igniting Self-Confidence . Debbie has redefined courage as a quality of ‘being’ rather than ‘doing’ … not something that we ‘do’… but something that we ‘are’.  Huh?

I had been equating courage to a kind of brave and intimidating force … and relating it to qualities like strong and invincible  You know, the ‘roar’ of the lion … the bold retort … the willingness to stand up and defend yourself or your cause (at all cost). I thought it was what you mustered up when you couldn’t take it anymore (whatever ‘it’ is in a given moment).  Yep … I could see where I could ‘do’ courage like that … BUT …

As I journalled about how to ‘be’ courage, I could feel a large lump forming in my throat.  The unflattering truth that leaked out of my soul through the ink on the page was this:

“I don’t know how to ‘be’ anything … I only ‘do’ life. (Ouch).

Well … that’s not entirely true … I AM STRONG. I do know how to BE strong. (In truth, it’s become my comfort zone.)

But if being strong is doing courage … then what is being courage? (Totally baffled.)

No other thoughts or words came to me, but in my mind’s eye I got the most poignant, remarkable image of a huge tree (trunk at least 5 feet in diameter) … solid, unshakeable, and impenetrable. I could feel it was the visual representation of my strength.  And then … I could see some wee little arms struggling to reach out of two (almost imperceptible) holes in the massive trunk of that tree.  And … I knew it was me. More tears … big tears. It was heartbreaking to notice that she couldn’t reach anyone … and … very few passers-by noticed her.  She was hard to see  because she was pretty much concealed by the enormity of the tree trunk that protected her but also eclipsed her from view.

Then the tree opened (kind of like “open sesame”in fairy tales) and out came this little waif … a little strawberry blonde – so innocent, so tender, so trusting. She was about 2.5 feet high … such a fragile, timid, vulnerable little thing that she could have been knocked down by a feather . Her skin is so thin … so translucent … you could see clear through her and right into her heart. She was the essence of pure love …

It was in this poignant moment that the ugly cry started.  The tears were blurring my vision and flowing like rivers as they poured off my chin … BUT …

I got it.  THIS IS COURAGE!  To allow yourself toBE’ completely exposed, unguarded, unprotected and undefended takes a very brave spirit.  I could feel in my heart, as Debbie contends, that ‘courage’ truly is  ” to be and own all of who you are … without apology, without excuses and without masks to cover the truth of who you are.”

‘Being’ courage, therefore, is reflected in my willingness to really be seen … to come out from behind the tree!  To boldly face the fear being of mocked,  ridiculed, dismissed or ‘less-than’ and to stand in the energy of heart … to show my pain, my heartache, my sadness rather than concealing it behind my impenetrable veneer of ‘strength’. It seemed so incredibly clear in that moment. .  I have clearly used my strength to aptly avert anything that might invite me to be really, truly vulnerable.  I could also see that I had been motivated to do so because  life hurts. And, hurt people, hurt people!  Vulnerability did not feel safe.  At all. No. Not one bit … BUT …

You have to decide who is worth suffering for and/or with … and then …  let your heart show.  Because … here is the ‘truth’ that I uncovered.  It is ‘safe’ being tucked into the trunk of the tree, but it is incredibly lonely … and … painfully isolating.  In any given moment, I can  protect or I can connect … but not both.  With that awareness, Brene Brown’s insights about vulnerability being the quality that connects us were  speaking to me at a much deeper level … at least 10 layers deeper.    The dots were coming closer together around why I have often felt very alone in the world.  I have been unwittingly co-creating my own sense of isolation by choosing to be strong instead of vulnerable.  Argh.

I could see that the true challenge would be to actually show up differently … to actually let my waif-like warrior be ‘seen’ beyond my strength.  So, here I am …  blogging about it … attempting to drop my guard with this transparency.  It feels more like I’m destined for a breakdown than a breakthrough … BUT …

This is me ‘being’ courage.

It’s going to take some practice … Karen

 

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“Not all wounds … are so obvious” – My Messy, Beautiful

With gratitude to Annie Oddflower for this amazing grahic

With gratitude to Annie Oddflower for this amazing graphic

I feel like I’m going out on the skinny branches with this blog.  I’ve been deeply shifted by Glennon Doyle Melton’s brave commitment to “shameless truth-telling and hope spreading” and, in keeping with that, this essay and I are now part of the Messy, Beautiful Warrior Project .  As a result, I have been inspired to admit that I’ve been hiding my authentic Self behind a shiny facade of perfection, performance, and people-pleasing (but only for most of my life).  It turned out that I got to grow up on ‘the wrong side of the tracks’ (so to speak) and, since then, I have invested considerable effort and significant energy into ensuring my dignity and character were, as much as humanly possible, safely beyond reproach.

Nonetheless, despite my very best efforts to out-run my past and confirm my worth, I’ve been described as “fake” (Ouch).  I’ve also had people tell me (yes, right to my face):

·         “You’re the kind of girl we love to hate”(painful) …

·         “I don’t know you and I don’t think I want to” (excruciating)…

·         “I didn’t think I could ever be friends with someone like you” (encouraging-ish) …

·         “You are not what you look like” (hmmmcriticism or compliment … ??).

Lately, I’ve been secretly flirting with what life would be like if I accepted Glennon’s scary invitation to “drop the cape” and meet her on the messy side of life. You know … actually risk letting people see the less thanI’ve got it got-it-all-together’ me.  But, honestly, since  I am a counselor, I SHOULD have it all together if I am going to presume I might support others in doing so, right?

So, the other day at work, while exchanging pleasantries over our coffee, a most lovely colleague of mine unsuspectingly asked about how it is that I always look so ‘put together’.  In that moment, I heard that small, still voice within me wildly proclaiming  “here’s a chance to ‘drop the cape’ Karen”.  Dang it!  I guess I should have expected that the Universe/God would lovingly conspire to help me grow into the next best expression of who I wanted to be in the world.

Anyway, with my consciousness frantically grasping for courage, I responded by saying “Do you really want to know?”  “Yes” … apparently she did.  Hoping she’d change her mind, I repeated “Really?”  She said “really”.  So … to the best of my anxious mind’s recollection, I think I said something like:

I’m honestly just trying to out-run the ‘better-thans’.    My father was an alcoholic who struggled very unsuccessfully to keep us all from sinking.  My mom was diagnosed as manic depressive (bi-polar) – and became addicted to several prescription drugs (with all the shenanigans that THAT involves).  Both of them were doing and saying things that shamed and humiliated me as a child … often.  After my parents divorced, I was raised on welfare and ended up in foster care three times.  Most distressingly … I felt like my friends and their parents were watching (and judging) the entire debacle called my childhood.

Kids can be honest (OK, maybe even mean) … so I intuitively sensed the good parents liked to keep their children away from troubled families like mine. Clearly, I had no way to save face when the police arrived at at my house or when my mom landed in the loony bin (both more than once).  It just stung too much to actually admit it, so I put a perpetual smile on my face and committed to never let them see me hurting. I resolved to someday become someone I could be proud of … someone like my amazing classmates Susan or Janice or Margo.  These girls were never ever mean to me, not even a little bit … but I always felt incredibly ‘less than’ in their presence.  They were kind, smart, athletic, beautiful AND rich (at least from where I was looking!). They were everything I ever wanted to be …

Somewhere along the way, I must have decided that if I looked and acted like them, then maybe no one would be the wiser about my shoddy roots.  So, I began dressing immaculately, behaving impeccably and earning straight ‘A’s … clear through to my Masters Degree.  Perhaps unconsciously, I figured that with perfection and performance I could fly under the radar and avoid any chance of further shame and/or humiliation.

So, as I honestly shared with my coworker, the truth of the matter is this … appearing “put together” was simply my fear-based and well-intended attempt to feel safe … to measure up, to be liked and to feel accepted.

But here’s the thing. I still got those kind of comments (like those listed above) that belied my ongoing attempts to carve out a safe place to dwell.  It wasn’t until I did some deep inner work through Debbie Ford’s Courage Coaching Program that I realized the ugly truth of it all. It turns out that in my sincere effort to escape and out-run the shame I felt in the presence of those ‘better-thans’ … I was unwittingly showing up just like a ‘better-than’.  I had become what I most feared.   ARGHHHHH.   I was completely gob-smacked to know that in my protective effort to escape feeling ‘less-than’  … other people might be experiencing me as attempting to be ‘better than’ they were.  Eeeek … no wonder I got those kind of comments!  Whoa …  I felt sickened to the core with this painful awareness.

So, here I am …with my protective cape tossed to the ground. I am publicly acknowledging that the real reason I have been inclined to appear ‘put together’ is because I am scared spit-less not to.  I am terrified that you might get a glimpse of the REAL me … a shame-filled girl who just doesn’t feel worthy of your admiration or respect.  Yep … this is the me most people don’t ever get to see.  Aside from my best girlfriends,  my husband and my precious community of certified integrative coaches, no one really gets to see the part of me that is wounded and hiding – hoping no one will look beyond the facade (on one hand) … BUT … (on the other hand) needing  desperately for  someone to consider that terrified little gal as someone worthy of their love and acceptance.

While it is hard to admit,  I hope I can stay this brave…. and … keep letting people meet the REAL messy me.  I hope so, because in all honesty, I truly have been fake.  I’ve been hiding behind my cape of perfection and performance and people-pleasing.   It is absolutely true,  I publicly admit it  ….  I am not what I look like.

Yikes … maybe all those ‘better-thans’ from my past weren’t either.  Not all wounds are so obvious …

With messy heartfelt humility, Karen

messy-beautiful-700b

To learn more about the Messy, Beautiful Warriors project or to join us, CLICK HERE!  If you would like to  learn more about the New York Times Bestselling Memoir Carry On Warrior: The Power of Embracing Your Messy, Beautiful Life, just released in paperback, CLICK HERE!

“You are not what you look like … “

not all wounds(With gratitude to Annie Oddflower for this amazing graphic!)

I feel like I’m going out on the skinny branches with this blog.  I’ve been deeply shifted by my introduction to Brene Brown’s impressive studies on ‘the power of vulnerability’ and Glennon Doyle Melton’s brave commitment to ‘shameless truth-telling and hope spreading’.  As a result, I am inspired to admit that I’ve been hiding my authentic Self behind a shiny facade of perfection, performance, and people-pleasing (but only for most of my life).  It turned out that I got to grow up on ‘the wrong side of the tracks’ (so to speak) and, since then, I have invested considerable effort and significant energy into ensuring my dignity and character were, as much as humanly possible, safely beyond reproach.

Nonetheless, despite my very best efforts to out-run my past and confirm my worth, I’ve been described as “fake” (Ouch).  I’ve also had people tell me (yes, right to my face):

·         “You’re the kind of girl we love to hate”(painful) …

·         “I don’t know you and I don’t think I want to” (excruciating)…

·         “I didn’t think I could ever be friends with someone like you” (encouraging-ish) …

·         “You are not what you look like” (criticism or compliment … ??).

Lately, I’ve been secretly flirting with what life would be like if I accepted Glennon’s scary invitation to “drop the cape” and meet her on the messy side of life. You know … actually risk letting people see the less thanI’ve got it got-it-all-together’ me.  But, honestly, since  I am a counselor, I SHOULD have it all together if I am going to presume I might support others in doing so, right?

So, the other day at work, while exchanging pleasantries over our coffee, a most lovely colleague of mine unsuspectingly asked about how it is that I always look so ‘put together’.  In that moment, I heard that small, still voice within me wildly proclaiming  “here’s a chance to ‘drop the cape’ Karen”.  Dang it!  I guess I should have expected that the Universe/God would lovingly conspire to help me grow into the next best expression of who I wanted to be in the world.

Anyway, with my consciousness frantically grasping for courage, I responded by saying “Do you really want to know?”  “Yes” … apparently she did.  Hoping she’d change her mind, I repeated “Really?”  She said “really”.  So … to the best of my anxious mind’s recollection, I think I said something like:

I’m honestly just trying to out-run the ‘better-thans’.    My father was an alcoholic who struggled very unsuccessfully to keep us all from sinking.  My mom was diagnosed as manic depressive (bi-polar) – and became addicted to several prescription drugs (with all the shenanigans that THAT involves).  Both of them were doing and saying things that shamed and humiliated me as a child … often.  After my parents divorced, I was raised on welfare and ended up in foster care three times.  Most distressingly … I felt like my friends and their parents were watching (and judging) the entire debacle called my childhood.

Kids can be honest (OK, maybe even mean) … so I intuitively sensed the good parents liked to keep their children away from troubled families like mine. Clearly, I had no way to save face when the police arrived at at my house or when my mom landed in the loony bin (both more than once).  It just stung too much to actually admit it, so I put a perpetual smile on my face and committed to never let them see me hurting. I resolved to someday become someone I could be proud of … someone like my amazing classmates Susan or Janice or Margo.  These girls were never ever mean to me, not even a little bit … but I always felt incredibly ‘less than’ in their presence.  They were kind, smart, athletic, beautiful AND rich (at least from where I was looking!). They were everything I ever wanted to be …

Somewhere along the way, I must have decided that if I looked and acted like them, then maybe no one would be the wiser about my shoddy roots.  So, I began dressing immaculately, behaving impeccably and earning straight ‘A’s … clear through to my Masters Degree.  Perhaps unconsciously, I figured that with perfection and performance I could fly under the radar and avoid any chance of further shame and/or humiliation.

So, as I honestly shared with my coworker, the truth of the matter is this … appearing “put together” was simply my fear-based and well-intended attempt to feel safe … to measure up, to be liked and to feel accepted.

But here’s the thing. I still got those kind of comments (like those listed above) that belied my ongoing attempts to carve out a safe place to dwell.  It wasn’t until I did some deep inner work through Debbie Ford’s Courage Coaching Program that I realized the ugly truth of it all. It turns out that in my sincere effort to escape and out-run the shame I felt in the presence of those ‘better-thans’ … I was unwittingly showing up just like like a ‘better-than’.  I had become what I most feared.   ARGHHHHH.   I was completely gob-smacked to know that in my protective effort to escape feeling ‘less-than’  … other people might be experiencing me as attempting to be ‘better than’ they were.  Eeeek … no wonder I got those kind of comments!  Whoa …  I felt sickened to the core with this painful awareness.

So, here I am on the skinny branches …with my protective cape tossed to the ground. I am publicly acknowledging that the real reason I have been inclined to appear ‘put together’ is because I am scared spit-less not to.  I am terrified that you might get a glimpse of the REAL me … a shame-filled girl who just doesn’t feel worthy of your admiration or respect.  Yep … this is the me most people don’t ever get to see.  Aside from my best girlfriends,  my husband and my precious community of certified integrative coaches, no one really gets to see the part of me that is wounded and hiding – hoping no one will look beyond the facade (on one hand) … BUT … (on the other hand) needing  desperately for  someone to consider that terrified little gal as someone worthy of their love and acceptance.

While it is hard to admit,  I hope I can stay this brave…. and … keep letting people meet the REAL messy me.  I hope so, because in all honesty, I truly have been fake.  I’ve been hiding behind my cape of perfection and performance and people-pleasing.   It is absolutely true,  I admit it  ….  I am not what I look like.

Yikes … maybe all those ‘better-thans’ from my past weren’t either.  Not all wounds are so obvious …

With heartfelt humility, Karen

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The pains of our past …

~ Skruffi ~

If you can imagine, this gorgeous cat had been abandoned and abused and was near death when we rescued her over 10 years ago. We didn’t think she would make it through the night, but she defied the odds. We called her scruffy (because she was so horribly beat up), but watching her thrive despite her dire circumstances, we decided to spell it ‘Skruffi’ because it seemed to better honor her incredible inner beauty and determined spirit.

Although she has physically healed, the painful experiences of Skruffi’s past left her very scarred and emotionally wounded. Although we adore her, she cannot let us ‘hold’ her.  She so fears being controlled by anyone else, that she robs herself of the joy I am trying to share with her when I pick her up to cuddle her.  I only want to love her and please her … and she could enjoy it so much … but she denies herself the joy I am offering to her.  But she has no idea …

As we say in the coaching/counselling realm,  Skruffi is in her ‘story’ … the story of an abusive past that tells her the world is not safe. She brings that story to her now … to our home. It is not the reality here, but she can’t see that …  so, instead, she confirms and recreates her own perceptions that the world is not nurturing, by bringing her fears from the past into this moment.  She is not able to allow the love and affection that is available in this moment to nurture her … which it would … if she could let it.  I have often wished she would TRUST me just long enough to enjoy the love and nurture I am offering her … but she can’t let herself.  What an insidious cycle!  

If Skruffi could be conscious of her position in time (i.e. not subconsciously imposing her past upon her present), then in the moment that I would pick her up and bring her close to my heart, she would be able to remind herself that it was “not safe” then, but this is now … and now IS safe.  She could then open herself up to reap more love and affection than she could ever imagine.  But she cannot because she is not conscious of her own perceptions. She is living in a past reality … an illusion of current danger … a story of  “I am not safe”. 

And … as humans, we get caught by the pains of our past just as unwittingly!  We need to be vigilant about the notions we are entertaining and notice when they take us out of NOW and back to an unfavorable THEN.  Personally, I have a lot in common with Skruffi.  Given my parent’s inability to meet my needs due to their own struggles, my upbringing did not feel particularly secure.  It was fraught with experiences where I felt rejected, neglected and abandoned.  I interpreted it all to mean “I don’t matter”.  So, NOW, whenever I perceive anything that looks, feels, sounds, seems like any of THAT energy, it can take me right out of NOW and back to the painful emotions attached to THEN. For example, if my husband forgot to take out the garbage, it’s not that ‘he just forgot’ … it’s that ‘he doesn’t really care about me’.  When I am ‘in my story’, the pains of my past hijack the innocence of the present moment.  Just like with Skruffi.

But paradoxically … I must also acknowledge that my “I don’t matter” story subconsciously inspires me to seek ways to prove that my presence on the planet does matter.  The ‘gift’ of this story is my unfaltering desire to make a difference in the world.  It propels me to create social change, to help others, to leave the world a better place because I walked the planet.  It fueled my desire to become a counselor and life coach … to start my own business … to bright my corner of the world and to help shift fearful perspectives by writing blogs like this.  So, in addition to managing the pain my story sparks, I must also give thanks for it.

In the final analysis, the pains of our past come bearing both gifts and challenges.  Gifts  … when we can consciously find ways to use them, rather than them subconsciously controlling us. What if  we chose to use our triggers to remind us that we have momentarily fallen into the PAST, and looked at them as wake -up calls trying to get us back on track to the PRESENT?

With gratitude for my story … and  …  ongoing efforts to stay out of it, Karen

 

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