Been There…Done That?

I hear ya…

How many times do I have to say it?

How many times do I have to say it?

As I am working on my memoir, I have had to ask myself a very serious question. What theme threads run through the tapestry of my life? Have I experienced things that I’ve learned from? How can this help my readers in some way?

“It is never too late to become what you might have been.” ~ George Eliot

Poor Me!

I actually used to think that I had been through more than anyone I knew, and because of this, I am an authority on the matter of suffering. I wasn’t being arrogant about it, I just knew I could empathize with lots of hurting people. It was because of this belief that I became a psychotherapist. But soon I heard the stories…and then I quickly changed my stance on that subject. Nope! I wasn’t the poster child I thought I was. The world is full of hurting people…and I am just one of them.

But I also recognize that I have been through a LOT, and more importantly, I have overcome a lot…enough that I have hope for others.

My Themes

In my memoir I am going to write about:

Alcoholism

Codependency

Neglect

Juvenile Hall

Teen Marriage

Teen Motherhood

Physical Abuse

Divorce

Drug Abuse

Suicides

Mental Illness and My Experience in a Mental Hospital

Dysfunctional Relationships

Love Addiction

The Church and Bad Advice

A Broken Neck

Addiction to Narcotic Pain Medication

A Brain Tumor

Becoming a Psychotherapist

God’s Love

Healing

Forgiveness

…and a whole lot more!

My articles will discuss things I’ve learned on my own, as well as through education and experience working with others. I really hope you’ll join me. And please leave comments or questions. I will be happy to respond.

Also, for more tips on these subjects and help with challenging life circumstances and highly reactive emotions, come meet me over at http://www.changeyouremotions.com.

Stay tuned and keep updated by subscribing in the box on the upper right. And be sure to download my eBook for free, Becoming What You Might Have Been for some tips on how you can change your life and become all you can be too!

The Cage Door Swings

English: Monarch butterflies

English: Monarch butterflies (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

With my husband gone, I had to think about options.  I had not been able to work in about twelve years.  What had started out as simple panic attacks had turned into agoraphobia and raging, suicidal depression with psychotic features, all of which had been exacerbated by grief and despair.  My condition had improved somewhat over the years, but the stress of a marriage on the skids had taken its toll, and now I had a divorce to contend with.

I had never lived alone, and I was frightened.  On top of it all, my mother had been diagnosed with esophageal cancer and was dying.  Once she was gone, I would become the professed matriarch of our tiny family.  Even at thirty-four years old, I felt like an orphan.  I went to a well-respected church counselor at my large church for guidance.

“Linda, you need to move out of that house (the house I had rented with my husband, and could no longer afford on my own).  You need to get out, even if it’s to move into the housing projects.  You need to get a job…any kind of job, right now…this week!”

My mind reeled with this information.  I pictured it all…me moving into a dangerous neighborhood, raising my children around drug addicts and thieves.  The best job I could get with no skills was at a fast food restaurant.   I knew I could end up with a crazy ever-changing work schedule.  My youngest child was four-years-old.  What would I do with my children while I worked?  How would I ever better my life?  I would never get out, never be able to get an education.  I would be trapped in poverty forever.

I woke each morning with these thoughts replaying over and over in my mind. But this advice came from the church counselor, and I believed she wouldn’t be in the position she had on staff at our church if she weren’t thought of as someone who was wise, who heard from God.  Fear gnawed at me like a dog on a meat bone.

One day I mentioned what she had told me to my pastor’s wife.

“She doesn’t have to live it, does she?” she said softly.

Shock and joy hit me simultaneously.  Simple words and it was as if a cage door just flew open and let me out.  I didn’t have to blindly obey the church counselor?  I won’t bring the wrath of God down on my life?  I can actually think for myself?  What a concept.  Simple, and yet I was forever changed.

One morning, I was staring into the bathroom mirror, hurriedly applying make-up.  I had nowhere to go, really.  I was deep in thought about my future.  Where would we be in two years?  Where would we be in five?  I had no skills, no education.  How would I provide for my children?  Where would we go?  What will we do?

As if God were standing right next to me, I sensed a strong voice interrupting my reverie.  “I’m not asking you to live five years from now.  I’m only asking you to live today.”  My mascara wand stopped mid-stroke.  My eyes widened as I stared back at my reflection.  It was as if I was having an out of body experience and I suddenly found myself once again standing in front of my bathroom mirror.  I only have to live through today?

Over the next few days, ideas danced around my head like butterflies flitting through a flower garden.  My first step was to sign myself up for six secretarial courses at the local community college.   It was challenging.  I fought through panic attacks and depression so deep I felt I was drowning, but I took a deep breath after each hour-long class and forged on.

One night I had a dream.  I lay in a huge mahogany four-poster bed with a beautiful white spread over me.  In this dream, I awoke to find my mother silently approaching.  She was wearing a long white nightgown. She sat on the edge of the bed, threw her arms around me, and began to sob.  I felt helpless, but I comforted her as best I could.  I awoke with a start, and lay there thinking about her.

Back in Los Angeles, she was very ill, having suffered several rounds of chemotherapy.  Her cancer had spread to her lymph nodes, and a particularly large tumor in the back of her neck had twisted her face.  I spent as much time as I could running down to Los Angeles to see her, but my younger sister was there taking care of her, and she insisted I do not uproot the children, knowing her time was short.  My heart broke for her.

One weekend I drove down to be with her to spend the night in her smoke-filled bachelor apartment.  As soon as I got there, I began to have the familiar sensation of panic.  This was unknown territory.  My heart had ached for my mother’s love for as long as I could remember.  I had never reconciled many things that had happened between us.  She had never expressed her love for me, never held me, had never bought me a “Hallmark moment” card.  She was not an affectionate person.  She was emotionally closed off, and guarded herself carefully.

But I loved her desperately.  Watching her suffer was torture.  I arrived at the apartment and sat down on her couch.  Immediately she came over and sat down next to me, put her arms around me, and began to sob. It was as if someone hit the play button.   The dream I had three months before appeared in my mind as if it were playing on a movie screen.  I stiffened, but I sensed the presence of God in the room and I tried to breathe into the moment. I held my mother, patting her back softly.

“Why did God give me cancer?” my mom asked me.  I fumbled for words.

“He didn’t give you cancer, mom.  He loves you more than you could ever imagine.  We get these diseases because we live in a fallen, toxic world, and we don’t always take the best care of ourselves.”

She asked me more questions about God, about his love, about how she could know him. I asked her if I could pray for her.  I was treading very lightly.  I felt I was on holy ground but it was shaky and I was afraid I could blow it.

“Please,” she whispered.

Those next few moments were the most beautiful and pain-filled moments my mother and I ever spent together.  It was like a precious gift had been wrapped up for us and left on the doorstep of our hearts.

What happened next will surprise you.  Picture me in a black robe, holding an open book, and saying the words, “Dearly beloved…”  Stay tuned.

Another Think Coming

Walking on Water Hajdudorog

Walking on Water Hajdudorog (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In my last post I wrote about how I expected that asking God to take over my life would lead to instant emotional healing.  I would love to be writing about how much better life got after I made a commitment to Christ.  In some ways, life got worse, at least at first.

The church was small, and about fifty to seventy-five members attended on any given Sunday.  The atmosphere was warm and intimate. It was like an incubator of sorts, and I truly do not think I would have survived in a large, mainline denominational church.  Even the pastor who recommended I start attending did not invite me to his own church!  I’m sure he pictured how difficult it would be for the proper ladies of his congregation to reach out to this poor, wretched, emotionally scarred scarecrow of a young woman.  They may have been tempted to simply ignore me, or tell me how badly I needed to clean up my act.   And it wouldn’t have taken much to push me over the edge, to make that break between me and life on planet Earth.

The people in this little congregation cared deeply about me.  Not one word was uttered about the state I found myself in.  I was legally married to my first husband, never having bothered to file divorce papers, even though he had abandoned us many years earlier.  I was living with my boyfriend, who was smoking dope from the moment he got up in the morning.  Looking back on this, I think it’s very unusual that no one proffered his or her opinion about all this.  It was almost like someone called a meeting and they agreed to allow God Himself to do what he does best when it comes to changing people’s lives.  Like I said, very unusual.

But this was a time of great confusion for me as well.  A well-meaning parishioner would throw a Scripture my way that was supposed to take all the fear out of my brain like a vacuum cleaner sucking up sand.  All those particles making noise and then silence.  Ahhh! But when quoting these Scriptures didn’t seem to work for me, I became sure that God saw me as an imposter, attempting to squeeze by unnoticed.  To me, that meant I was rejected.  My feelings of abandonment rested on a hair trigger.  It didn’t take much.  And if God abandoned me, that meant I was going to hell…no matter what.  And if I were going to hell no matter what, I might as well go ahead and make the trip rather then knowing about it for years ahead of time.  Who can deal with that knowledge?  Like a doctor telling you you have one to three years to live.  Yikes!

So I would be on the verge…making the plan.  I wrestled with it, worrying about my children, but thinking they’d be better off without me.  I worried about the church members, feeling all guilty and everything.  And then, like clockwork, it seemed like the Lord Himself stepped in to keep me planted on this side of the veil.  Once in awhile he just stepped right in to the scene in a dream I was having during stage 4 REM.  Other times, I would be pretty close to ending things when the phone would ring and one of the church ladies asked how I was doing, or there would be a knock at the door.  I became more and more sure that God was the one doing the knocking.  “Hello!  I’ve got a plan, and it doesn’t include repeating “fear not” while pointing your finger in the air or pretending to stomp on ‘ol’ slewfoot’s’ head!”

Winter’s comin’ on and it’s twenty below. And the river’s froze over so where can he go. We’ll chase him up the gulley then we’ll run him in the well. We’ll shoot him in the bottom just to listen to him yell.

“Old Slewfoot,” by Johnny Horton – The Legend – 1975 Columbia House 2P-6418

And it was enough…enough to keep me coming back to the little white church with the mural of Jesus walking on the water…enough to hang in there and keep breathing long enough to live another day.  I was still grieving the death of my brother, still waking up and crying first thing.  I still couldn’t drive a car, go grocery shopping, and I was still lying on the floor all day long just trying to get my breath at least once a week.  And I was still seeing Dr. Teemis.  And Dr. Teemis was still royally screwing with my head.  But things were definitely looking up a little.

One day I was talking to the pastor about my fear-filled thoughts about the future.  “Linda,” he started, if we got a list of all the things that would happen to us at the beginning of each year, we would go crazy with fear.  But all those things take place one at a time, and God gives us the grace to handle each one as they come.”  That helped a little, alleviated some of the dread I felt inside when I had certain thoughts.  But there was one thought that produced so much adrenaline flowing through my veins that the thought of God’s grace coming in after the fact wasn’t comforting at all.  Turns out all that dread was justified.  If I thought I was done with trauma just because I had become a believer, I had another think coming.

Jesus Had a British Accent

Stained glass at St John the Baptist's Anglica...

Fear.  If I try to recall how I felt as a child, I would have to say that I felt the emotion of fear more than any other.  It was a boa constrictor that constantly attempted to squeeze the life out of me. I was afraid of adults, afraid of kids I did not know.  I remember being afraid of school.  In the records of my kindergarten year at Bennett Elementary, it’s recorded that I was so shy my teacher could not get me to play with another child the entire year.  I was afraid of the dark, afraid of the Russians, afraid of what we were going to have for dinner (it better not include peas).

One of my biggest fears was going into the garage at night.  There were rafters full of boxes filled with everything from Christmas decorations to old dishes and clothes, but I was absolutely sure there was a strange man hiding in one of them as well.  He was waiting there…waiting for me to come in the garage at night, cross the cement floor to the other side, shut the side door and turn off the light.  Then, he would jump down and strangle me or do who knows what.  He was always waiting.  And because I was afraid that he was always going to be there, my father made me the keeper of the garage at night.

Once I turned out the light and ran back into the house, fresh from my narrow escape from death, I had a hard time getting to sleep.  So I would imagine that Jesus and one of his angels was standing by my closet across the bedroom, keeping watch over me and my sister.  I wanted to go to church and find out more about Him, but my parents didn’t attend church and I didn’t know anyone else who did at that time.

When I passed my tenth birthday, I decided to take things into my own hands. I got up one Sunday morning and put on my fancy lavender dress with the white polka dots on the satin ribbon that tied in the back around my waist; the one we usually saved for eating dinner at my great-grandmother’s house.  I put on my nicest lace trimmed white socks and my black patent-leather “mary jane” shoes.

“Where do you think you’re going,” my mother asked from behind the Sunday comics.

“I’m going to church,” I answered.

My mother just gave a short laugh and told me she’d see me when I got home.

I walked four blocks up to the big white Presbyterian church on the corner near the edge of the housing tract.  I felt very important walking up the steep steps to the double doors.  I stepped into the foyer.  There was a lot of activity going on, people rushing around, towering over me.  No one seemed to notice me at all.  A table by the back of the room held carefully placed pamphlets and small Bibles.  I walked over and tried to act like I had every right to be there. I picked up one of everything.

I don’t remember much about the service, but I do remember how it made me feel.  I wanted to be “good.”  I wasn’t sure what that meant, exactly, but I knew I wanted it.  Badly.  I tried to think of what I shouldn’t be doing.  Teasing my younger sister had to stop.  What else?  Maybe I should always, always believe that Jesus was really standing by my closet?  I wasn’t sure if that was enough. The minister had said something about becoming more like Him.

I thought about all this on the walk home, and by the time I arrived at our front door, I had it all figured out.  I knew that if I were to be more like Jesus, I was going to have to talk like Him.

“Hello Mother, I said, in the best English accent I could muster.  “How is your morning?”  I was sure that proper English had to be one of the things God would require if one were to become “good.”

“What?” my mother asked.  She looked rather incredulous for some reason.

“Church was simply wonderful,” I said. “The minister was extremely nice. You should really think about coming with me next Sunday morn.”

I left the kitchen and went to my bedroom, determined I should start reading my new Bible right away.  Within minutes the “thees” and “thous” had me stumped.  Oh well, so much for trying to be “good.”  I ran outside to find my sister and didn’t darken the doorway of church of any kind for another five years.  And fear continued to motivate most of what I did.

No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear.

-C.S. Lewis