Suffering in Silence …

673520c8fa23c9f7778b3b6fbf74f3ca

We can never really know when those moments of ‘awakening’ will happen.  When all of a sudden something comes into full view that was prickly and palpable but just a bit too blurry, obscured and covert to detect really clearly.   One of the most poignant ‘ahas’ that I’ve had in a long time popped up very unexpectedly (nearly two years ago) after I received a distressed call that my mother-in-law had been rushed to the hospital … again.  My very beloved in-laws (Oma, now 87 and Opa, now 91) had been enduring storm after storm of medical crises (for several years in a row) …  with countless trips to the ER … numerous hospital stays … and many lengthy and lonely convalescences. We had been desperately craving some calm … not just for them but also for us.

But on that particular day, with no sunny skies in sight, I dropped whatever I was doing and made another 45 minute commute into the ER because no one should be alone in a storm. My heart sank as I saw Oma stretched out on the gurney and the man who had been her husband for over six decades was pacing and perturbed and clearly paled by his powerless to protect her.  The energy in the room told me this foreboding squall was not going to blow over quickly.

Yes, it was dire. And Oma was done. She was begging us to let her go this time… to find a way to end her suffering.  She was pleading with me … with us … in barely discernible whispers to“please” make it stop.  It had been too long.  She’d spent too many fractured years bravely overcoming one hurdle only to find herself promptly propped up against another one.  It was clear that she was not one bit interested in soldiering on through the pain of helplessness and subsequent hopelessness that she had so long been feeling.  She wanted it to be over.

I had seen her flirting with defeat before … but never like this. For many years prior to my arrival in the Lanser family some 40 years ago, Oma had already been an “invalid” (her term, not mine) … she could not brush her own hair or cut her own meat or wipe her own bottom.  And aside from lamenting that “It’s always something”… she really didn’t much complain. We knew she had her bad days, but I was invariably inspired by her attitude and the good-natured grace from which she courageously coped with her discouraging decline and undeniable debilitation.  And, I bore witness to the depth of her determination as she willed herself to persevere and to endure the surgeries and the long and tedious recoveries and the endless hours in physiotherapy in hopes that she could optimize her mobility and/or, at the very least, retain what little autonomy she still had left.  She laboured so hard physically and I intuitively knew she had to work just as hard psychologically to ensure those gloomy daily battles didn’t take her down emotionally.

But in the ER on that particular day … it was clearly all too much.   She wanted it to stop and begged us to spare her of more misery. When Opa’s eyes met mine, I could see him uncomfortably scouring his soul … how he could ever even consider letting her go? My heart ached deeply for both of them.

When the physician finally arrived into assess her condition … Oma compliantly shifted into ‘good’ patient mode and tried with muffled effort to answer the doctor’s questions. I had to help translate because she has a strong Dutch accent and was slipping in and out of English.  At one point, she offered a half-hearted smile in response to the something soothing that the doctor said and eventually she mustered enough strength to defeatedly but clearly declare, “I don’t want to be here.” The doctor was kind and caring and thought Oma meant she didn’t want to be ‘here’ in the hospital … not realizing she actually meant not ‘here’ in her life.  When the doctor compassionately responded that she’d try to get her “out of here” as soon as possible, the floodgates opened. She didn’t want to go home, she wanted to go HOME. Her suffering cascaded down her cheeks in torrents of anguish.  And although it was absolutely agonizing to see her in such a state of despair, I was not prepared for happened next.  As soon as the doctor had left, Opa leaned in toward Oma and told her with a very stern and almost scolding tone: “You had a smile for the doctor. You can have one for us.”

I was stunned.  Whatttt? I could not even fathom what I was hearing.  It took me a minute to recover and recognize that this was Opa’s own angst and terror talking. He was entirely overwhelmed himself and couldn’t bear to witness the weight of her woundedness.  He needed a reprieve … even if it was at her expense.  And so he took it the only way he knew how … he ordered it.

And with his words … I watched her eyes become vacant and a solemn stare washed over her face. She then closed her eyes while she obediently retrieved any and all expression of her agony and she buried it somewhere deep inside her.  She lost her tears and became stoic, stalwart and completely silent.  I stood there, dumbfounded by the depths of sheer despair I could hear screaming out despite her sobered silence.  And I sensed from her rapid response to his request that this was not the first time she had been required to put her pain away … to keep it out of sight.

And I understood, in that very telling exchange, that part of her survival story was to repress whatever she sensed was not welcome to express.  Oma had learned to silence her suffering in order to spare others. There was a time to stop feeling sad and find a smile instead. AND, in the transparency of that blatant shushing of my ‘invalid’ mother-in-law … her pain was  rendered absolutely ‘in-valid’.

I instantly felt appalled and ashamed that for all these years I, too, had unwittingly perpetuated this discounting of her despair by applauding her admirable attitude.  I had misinterpreted her smiles as strength. I saw them as an absence of suffering … rather than a stoic and stalwart silencing of it.  It sickened me to the core of my being.

7ffd2bbba6217cefb4ea1993ef0afae3

Though not a word was spoken … the dissonance was deafening.  It was all too obvious to me now. What we were seeing on her outsides was not necessarily what she was feeling on her insides. This reckoning stirred up something deep in my soul that resonated with the pain of betraying one’s inner truth. How had I been so obtuse?  How could I not see in her what was all too familiar to me?  How had I missed this for so long??  I, too, had learned long, long ago how to muzzle my misery and quietly repress any wounding, pain or hurt that I was experiencing. Phewwwww.

In one sense I knew that I had been doing it, but like the twist of a kaleidoscope … I was seeing the same pieces of my life through different eyes.  A new picture was emerging that left me squirming uncomfortably. Seeing a ‘silencing’ so blatantly imposed upon someone else brought forth a recognition that I had been covertly but completely complicit in a lifetime of dismissing my own heartache … silencing my own pain … and pretending everything was ‘fine’ when it wasn’t. And, sadly, I had become really good at it.

47842d96d0bee50b5cee69009162c1c1

Source Unknown

And once you ‘see’ something, you can’t not see it anymore! Like rocks in a landslide colliding within my consciousness, I was instantaneously bombarded with memories of moments where, time and time again, I had forced myself for various reasons to also suffer in silence. I was so grievously saddened as I started sifting through all the evidence my heart had been holding. It became all to apparent that, over the years, I had morphed into a most magnificent martyr.

I could see as a child, how I deliberately silenced my pain in order to spare myself the shame … my alcoholic father, my mother’s multiple medical issues and diagnosis of manic-depression (Bipolar) … her subsequent addiction/abuse of prescription drugs … her stays in the psyche ward … their divorce … my time in foster care … the neglect and lack of nurture … the feelings of abandonment … the deep desire to ‘fit in’ to something you could be proud of … the longing to feel appreciated and approved of and maybe even respected.  And so … as a child, I opted to put a smile on my face and pretend everything was fine.  I have spoken to this more fully in a previous blog.  My pain was fully and completely silenced … even from myself … for many, many years until it was innocently and unexpectedly awakened in a mother’s group I was attending after we had children. You can read more about that here.

And so … about motherhood. For me, it was another long season of  harsh and heartless silencing.  I learned that what I really wanted to acknowledge was not culturally appropriate. New mothers are not supposed to discuss how horribly hard it can be to give your life over to a child.  Apparently, it was the best time of my life and it was going to go by so quickly that I should longingly adore it all completely. Every. Single. Moment.  I feel compelled in this moment to reassure all of you that I truly feel blessed to have been a mother. I absolutely do. From my humble perspective, motherhood is not a binary experience … it’s not good or bad … it’s not an either/or, but rather … it is an integrated both/and.   From where I am looking, it’s the ultimate in both agony and ecstasy.  I deeply cherish my opportunity to be a mother and the years did indeed fly by … but some of those days were the longest and most demanding in my whole life.

You see, I have been married for 39 years to an old fashioned, traditional, hard-working male … and from the generation from which he was looking,  parenting was “women’s work.”  I had no mom, mom-in-law or sisters to lean on, so I was in the trenches alone. There was no real interest in sharing the load because, at the time, I don’t think he actually believed it was a load or even work for that matter.  He erroneously assumed that because I ‘got’ to stay home, he was the only one working. He realizes now that he was the only one being paid for his work, but back then my efforts to explain my discontent were often met with quizzical looks and/or discomfort and/or frustration and/or a deaf ear.  And from what I could tell, other women seemed to be content with this binary set up. So, I learned to silence my grrrrrrrrrr.  Aside from one other friend and confidant, I had no where safe to put that conversation, so I buried my pain and put a smile on my face.  I acted like nothing was wrong, pretended that it was all perfect and soldiered on.  And, I hid it all so masterfully, that no one else was the wiser about how deeply fractured I felt or how deeply alone and unsupported I really felt in the parenting arena.

And it made matters worse that we had moved to my husband’s home town  … a very small, rural town so he could go back to farming.   I had reasoned with myself that I could be a wife and mother anywhere. I clearly had no effing clue just how arduous that would actually end up being.  But I couldn’t let myself complain … because I had willingly agreed to go and didn’t want him to feel guilty.  No one had told me, though, that the good and kind people who live in a small town already have their circles of belonging.  They don’t need to make friends with the new girl. They are more likely to gossip about her long blonde hair and her jewelry and her eye-liner than invite her for coffee.

I could not have been prepared for how my cosmopolitan roots were going to generate so much ostracism. Unfortunately, I’ve got oodles of examples to draw from … but the worst of it was probably when my mom died at Christmas in 1989 (almost a decade after we moved to that little town). I had deliberately silenced my grief in my home because I didn’t want to worry my daughters by crying in front of them. So, I took my pain for some long walks around town thinking I could hide the torrents of my tears behind my sunglasses.  I learned later that I had been nicknamed “crystal ass” … and then … my daughter came home one day and said her friend’s mom had declared I was a “slut.” Oooouch.

Apparently they determined I was “pedaling my ass around town.”  It was agonizing to be so misunderstood. I got self-righteous and brave one day and tried to address it with one of them.  Let’s just say it didn’t go well.  I suspected I was just making it worse so I downplayed how deeply isolating and hurtful my experience had been. I pretended everything was fine … even though I ached to put a huge sign up on the post office bulletin board … calling them out name by name by name … and … telling them all to shove their mean-spirited judgments right up their own miserable asses.  But …  I didn’t.

It became clear that taking a sanctimonious shot at any of them would not have served the greatest good in the situation. And so I hid all my pain again.  I was am a master at it.  I have been practicing my hiding since I was a wee child. I wonder, though, how often I looked like Oma did when I, too, lost my tears, retrieved all expressions of my pain, buried them deep down inside and pasted a strong and convincing smile on my face instead.  I’d gotten so damn good at repressing my hurt by then that I am sure people believed my sunny disposition was an honest reflection of my idyllic life.  Eventually, I did make some very good friends … and for them I am eternally grateful, but I’m guessing very few, if any of them, had any real clue about the deep ache in my heart.

e58dd1163ca6638cdc5bb779a3e85d05

And I do look happy. Even to this day, I think most people believe my life is filled with clear blue skies, bright sunshine and lots of lollipops. I’m guessing that is so because it is really quite rare for people to sincerely inquire “How are you doing?” In their defense though, why would they ask … I always look like I AM just fine. And so, for the most part, people tend to connect with me when they need to lean in … when they need support.  And, I am so deeply honored to be invited into people’s hearts (both personally and professionally) and trusted with the most fragile parts of their souls.  It is both my most passionate pursuit in life and my most nourishing purpose. So, please, please, please don’t get me wrong here … I treasure the opportunity to be of service but I’d also like to feel people’s efforts to connect with me are sparked by their affection and interest in me, not just their need of me.

3fef078fae7c8fb33456d29b67023491

And, I’d be remiss without sharing that I’ve also felt the need to stifle all the embarrassment I feel for being such a ‘fun sucker.’ It’s always been a challenge for me to simply ‘let loose’ with my husband and our girls and my grandchildren. As I shared in a prior post:

The shame and neglect of my early years has shaped my overly ‘anxious mind’ and unfortunately, it takes a whole schwack of energy to manage the various worries, uncertainties, reservations , doubts, qualms and fears that persistently and unpredictably pop into my awareness.  When uttered in the past, my husband would shake his head in stunned disbelief as my neurotic ramblings effectively sucked any potential for joy out of the moment.  Pretty soon, I just quit sharing them out loud …

The anxious mind is so bewildering for people to comprehend.  It’s not rational at all.  Not even to me. So how could it make any logical sense to others?  How I wish I could just “relax and have fun” within the cacophony of noise and chaos and dangers that my highly sensitive spirit and highly-kindled brain is on high alert for when the house is filled with of all of us. It sounds so reasonable … and yet … is always a struggle for me. So I do my best to manage my jacked-up amygdala and try not to suck all the fun out of the space when the alarm bells are going off unnecessarily in my head.

I know I have chosen to silence myself on many occasions because I truly am a “Highly Sensitive Person” I am acutely aware of the energy in a room.  I can sense when people are hurting and then I worry that maybe I have done something to upset them.  Gah.  It’s tough, because I do not wish to harm anyone with my words, thought or deeds. If it would seem that my perspective would be uncomfortable or unwelcome in a situation, I have often muzzled myself. While I will introduce ‘hard conversations’ in the counselling room or the coaching domain, I refrain from doing so in my personal world without an invitation.  And it would be completely outside my character to publicly unleash any un-tempered anger … even when doing so would protect me from victimization. I can think of at least three times that has happened in my professional career. Arghhhhh.

It does not escape me that there comes a time when protecting others becomes injurious to oneself. And yet, I am forever checking whether the things I am about to say  would improve on the silence.  Is what I need to say kind, true, necessary or helpful?  If not, I have voluntarily silenced myself on many occasions when I actually have had a whole lot I could say!!  And it can often be at great expense to myself that I will stifle a whole conversation because I just don’t want to hurt others. I’ve even considered deleting parts of this blog because I worry that I have cast some of my loved ones in a bad light. All the second guessing is brutal … and … prickly … and … sometimes excruciating.

And so …  in that split second … in that ER room with my precious in-laws … I had some clear insight into the unhealthy nature of the patterns that have been chronically, quietly and subconsciously running my life.  The truth is that I have resisted giving myself permission to bleed in public … it’s seems way too risky. In fact, the more I am hurting, the quieter I will usually get.  It’s become a habit … not always adaptive.  I am far more willing  to discuss my pain once it’s been healed and the lesson from my wounding might be of service to another . Yes. I am more comfortable speaking from the scar.  It just feels so much safer … so much tidier.

However, I am sensing that I need to change this because it is not working all that well for me anymore.  I think a part of me has always known I need to change this, but I have effectively silenced that awareness too.  It seems so very scary to stand before someone … naked in your pain-filled truths … before there is enough scar tissue to protect you.  I’m not yet great with vulnerability.

But … I keep getting nudges from the Universe telling me I don’t have to keep suffering in silence.  Maybe I don’t have to keep doing the hard parts alone. Maybe I shouldn’t expect myself to weather the storms alone any more than I expect Oma should go through them alone. I certainly don’t expect my clients to do that. I don’t expect my friends or children to do that either. Maybe I need to start giving to myself what I most love to give to others … a soft, compassionate and safe place to bleed … a tender touch on an open wound … a safe place to heal the pain. I hope I can be brave enough to keep doing this because I still have some things to say … some things that still have tears attached to them. Yes. There is more to work through.

And so, if you are still here reading … after I have taken up so much of your time with this very long 3550+ word oration  … thank you for staying with me … thank you for not ducking out because I have been so incredibly long winded … thank you for holding a safe space for me,  Karen

P.S. My mother-in-law survived that storm on that particular day … and since then … has gone on to endure many more.  Sadly, she and Opa are struggling once again.  We are hoping they will soon find themselves enjoying fairer weather.  Cross your fingers for them okay?

P.P.S. Oma did not survive that last storm. She left this physical plane on October 9, 2016. We honor her strength and cherish memories of our times together.

Please note that WordPress.com may place advertisements on my blog sites. The presence of these ads does not constitute my endorsement of the information, services, or products found in them.

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

How to Love … Unconditionally.

Unconditional Love - Mark Nepo - web size

My first thought … whenever I hear the concept of ‘unconditional love’ being bantered about, is that we must somehow ‘turn the other cheek’ and tolerate/endure people’s chronic ways of being with us  … even if it hurts … because we love them.  It disturbs me, however, that a wholehearted commitment to this interpretation of ‘unconditional’ might encourage the most caring and compassionate souls to step over neglectful/abusive energy … instead of stepping up to address it … or … stepping out of it entirely.

No … from where I am looking, that does not serve the greater good.  In The Book of Awakening, Mark Nepo sagely suggests:

In truth, unconditional love does not require a passive acceptance of whatever happens in the name of love.  Rather, in the real spaces of our daily relationships, it means maintaining a commitment that no condition will keep us from bringing all of who we are to each other honestly.

For example, on any given day, I might be preoccupied with my own needs, and might overlook or bruise what you need and hurt you. But then you tell me and show me your hurt, and I feel bad, and you accept that sometimes I go blind to those around me.  But we look deeply on each other, and you accept my flaws, but not my behavior, and I am grateful for the chance to work on myself.  Somehow, it all brings us closer.

Unconditional love is not the hole in us that receives the dirt, but the sun within that never stops shining” (p. 309).

I much prefer to embrace the notion that the unconditional’ nature of love is really best reflected in our willingness to keep working through the accidental harms that are an inevitable part of our humanity … consciously fostering opportunities to afford restitution for the collateral heartaches that result due to the colliding of our competing needs, wants and desires.

Perhaps, we might love each other most unconditionally by graciously making space for such an honest, sincere and transparent exchange  … rather than dismissing, excusing  and/or failing to tenderly express/address the wounding within our relationships.

In fact, when we take a really honest look at our lives, we will see that many of our deepest resentments have arisen out of our undelivered communications. Yes, it is often the unspoken violations  … the unexpressed injuries that covertly forsake the love and security in our relationships.  And maybe it doesn’t have to be that way. Maybe we can create a safe space within our relationships to honor each others wounds instead of righteously defending ourselves.

hurt

Thank you again, Mark Nepo, for obviating the ‘unconditional’ love that is inherent in “bringing forth from within, rather than the enduring of what comes from without” (p. 310).

May we feel such love and be such love … unconditionally, Karen

Please note that WordPress.com may place advertisements on my blog sites. The presence of these ads does not constitute my endorsement of the information, services, or products found in them.

Save

A Tragic Misunderstanding …

With acknowledgement to the Internal Acceptance Movement [I.A.M.]

My ‘effing’ story got me again.  It’s so frustrating because as a counsellor/therapist and life coach I have been impeccably trained to help people bust through the nasty stories that are lurking insidiously in the shadows of their minds.  In fact, I’m actually really good at it.  I’m usually pretty good at managing my own unfavorable narratives too, but …

Every once in a blue moon the most painful ‘shadow belief’ that tagged along from my childhood literally blindsides me.  It reeks sheer havoc with my soul and then leaves me shattered, shaken and grievously grappling for solace.  And I get so frustrated, because although I KNOW that my story isn’t true … when it takes hold … it FEELS so true. And, my logical mind can’t seem to talk my emotional heart out of it’s desperate despair.

My “I don’t matter” story is strong and powerful and perilously persistent.  It emerged in my childhood … an erroneous interpretation of a wee little girl just trying to make sense of the neglect she experienced in a dysfunctional home ravaged by addictions and mental health issues. She couldn’t see, at the time, that her parents were caught up in the wounds of their own painful dramas.  So instead, she attributed their lack of attention to her needs as a reflection of  her own insignificance.  A tragic misunderstanding.  A terribly tragic misunderstanding.

Through the exceptional body of work inspired by the late Debbie Ford, I’ve been effectively ‘rewiring’ the neuro-template that was firmly etched into my psyche by that erroneous interpretation.  Thankfully, it doesn’t take me down all that often anymore, but … if/when it gets away on me, that negative cognition has the capacity to so steal so much joy from my heart … and … it can convincingly morph itself into any number of painful correlates:

“Nobody REALLY cares about me.”

“My needs are meaningless to others.”

“I’m completely expendable.”

“I’m absolutely inconsequential”

“I’m only appreciated for what I can give to/do for others.”

Blah … Blah … Blah … Blah … Blah. 

Recently, while marinating in the vulnerability of that unfavorable quagmire, I found myself beseeching  a miracle.  I was pleading for a merciful release from the wretched pain of that effing story. And … low and behold … I came upon Daniell Koepke.  Her words landed gently like a warm and loving salve on the jagged and raw edges of my tattered and torn heart.  Who was this person who knew exactly what I needed to be reminded of in the agonizing ache of those moments??

I felt compelled to look her up.  It turns out she has inspired the Internal Acceptance Movement.  She has written some inspiring reflections!  She was my angel in that moment offering a meaningful measure of pure grace and the miracle I was looking for … the ability to shift my perceptions from an energy of fear to a spirit of love and acceptance. So I’d like to say “Thank you Daniell.”  Your thoughtful perspective answered my call.

And … I am sharing this with all of you publicly because I want to pay forward the blessings in her wise words – just in case, you too, find yourself consumed by a painful belief you’ve lugged along from your past … and … just in case, you too, are in need of a wee miracle.  If so, you might let some of her words wash warmly over your soul  when you are in need of some help busting out of your own sad story …

With deepest respect for our collective wounding, Karen

Save

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

 

Save

“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

Please note that WordPress.com may place advertisements on my blog sites. The presence of these ads does not constitute my endorsement of the information, services, or products found in them.

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

My Tributes: Better Because of You ...

Teresa – A Fond Tribute to your Spectacular Sparkle and Gregarious Grit!

The last time I saw her was a few years back.  We had been waiting in line for quite some time and were just being seated at our table at the IHOP that had recently opened in Lethbridge. Teresa had already eaten and was just leaving … but after enjoying one of her big warm […]

The Days are So Much Better when they Start With a Smile …

My husband has been working out of the town for the last couple of weeks. He is an oilfield consultant and heavy equipment operator.  He loves his job.  Sometimes I tease that he gets paid to play in the dirt! He doesn’t just move dirt … he creates works of art.   His approach to his construction […]

Dwayne and Cheryl … So Many Moments Were So Much Better Because of You!

You came to mind yesterday.  Again.  I can’t even begin to tell you how often I think of the times we shared in that little town.  I’ll never forget the day you moved in … across the street on the other corner … kitty corner to our house.  Your kids found our kids outside and […]

[GUEST POST]: Township Environment

Originally posted on Iizidima:
Knysna township There are few days when we are not reminded that there is plenty to be thankful for in life. Given what we do in South Africa, we would need to be blind, in a physical and emotional sense, to not experience this sentiment. The living conditions and depth of poverty…

A Precious Penny …

You know the old saying … ‘a penny for your thoughts’?  Well, I’d like to switch it up  and offer my ‘thoughts about a penny’.  A very precious Penny.  I’m not even sure how many years we’ve been doing it, but it’s become a very important tradition for us to sit and sip a little coffee together before the hustle and bustle of our […]

%d bloggers like this: