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!

Learning to Fly on My Own

God gives every bird its food, but he does not throw it into the nest.

-Josiah Gilbert Holland

Learning to Fly

Learning to Fly

My mother had been dead for four months. I had become the matriarch of our family in one fell swoop.  At only 34-years-old, I felt alone on the planet. I had finally gotten my independence from an alcoholic, unfaithful husband, but my dependent nature clung to me like soot after a fire.  I wanted to wash it off, but a residue remained, leaving me longing for someone…anyone.

As I worked the microfiche machine at my desk at work, searching through other people’s family stories, I yearned to be part of a family and have a story of my own. I issued birth, death, and marriage certificates for other families daily. Performing marriage ceremonies seemed to feed my loneliness even more, leaving me empty and vulnerable.

I was working at the vital records counter in the county clerk’s office, listening to the good-natured chirping between my co-workers. Suddenly, everyone stopped talking.  The only sound in the large room came from the overhead fans and the rustling of paperwork on the desks near the open door.  Curious, I glanced up from the microfiche machine.

At first I thought everyone else recognized a movie star I had not seen before. Now I noticed all eyes were on me.  I fumbled around with the switches on the machine and walked up to the counter.

“May I help you?”  I looked up.  Our eyes met.  “Hey, I think I know you,” I smiled.

“I doubt it,” he said, dripping with sarcasm.  I took a step back.

“Well, I mean I think I’ve seen you.  Do you go to church?”  Wow…what was I doing?

He glanced up quickly, seeming to see me for the first time.

“Yeah,” he said, sounding a little friendlier.

I helped him with his paperwork, trying not to stare at him.  After he left, several of the women standing close by tittered and made little comments about his gorgeous good looks.  I was thinking about how I could sit nearby him at the next church service and try to catch his eye again.

Within two weeks he had volunteered to head a committee of men who would help me get my newly rented home ready for move-in.  It needed paint, some electrical work, and the carpet ripped out, and he was handy.   He came over every day, bending, stooping, and reaching.   I admired all 6’4” of him in all of his various positions.  He talked about the Lord constantly, incessantly in fact.  I tried to admire this, but it felt off and more than a little odd.

One day, coming back from running errands together, I asked him for a hug (sneaky strategy, huh?).  He sat there for several moments, not moving, not speaking, his eyes closed.  My stomach lurched.  I wondered if I had just made some terrible faux pas.  He reached over and hugged me so hard it hurt and whispered,  “The Lord told me I could.”

At first we found ways to spend time together without really calling it a date.  It was important to him that we went about this the “right” way for the Lord.   Nearing Christmas, we made a plan together (I thought) to take my children to get a Christmas tree.  My kids and I got up early.  They were clearly excited as we scrambled around the house, getting ready for the big day. Then we waited.  And we waited.  He didn’t show up.  He didn’t call.  Finally, I called him.

“Hi, what are you up to?” I feigned cheer.  “I thought we were going to take the kids to get a Christmas tree together?”

“You sound exactly like my ex-wife!”

My breath caught in my throat and my eyes widened as I tried to process what I just heard.  A sound came out of my mouth, but instead of forming a word, I slammed the receiver down on the cradle.  I began to hyperventilate.  It felt like something was being ripped away from me. The kids and I remained home for the day while I wrestled with my anxiety.  We were disappointed, and I felt totally confused…like I had just met Mr. Hyde.

Of course his next phone call smoothed away all my fears.  He was just tired, busy, something had happened at work that had upset him, he was sorry, and he’d make it right.

One night we double-dated with another couple.  He had planned the evening around dinner at a sushi bar and then it would be off to the Sycamore Mineral Springs Spa in Avila Beach, California, one of the most romantic places for a date.  Each oak barrel tub is separated enough from the others for maximum privacy.  Little lights line the dark paths winding up the hill through a sycamore grove.  I was looking forward to showing off my new bathing suit I bought, just for this occasion.  When I saw the truck drive up, I ran out to greet my friends. I opened the passenger door, jumped in, shut the door, and turned to smile.

“Don’t slam my door like that!” he glared.  Everyone went silent.  “Sorry, I didn’t mean to.”  My face reddened, but I struggled to normalize the request in my mind.  Of course he needs to make sure I don’t slam his door.  It’s a new truck.  I worked hard in the next minutes to pretend I didn’t notice his anger in front of our friends.  It was clear they were as surprised as I was.

We ended up having a wonderful time and I let myself relax.  But my mind began to compartmentalize my experiences.  One part held fear, caution, and lots of confusion.  The other part held the picture of the six foot, four inch, romantic man with the movie star looks.  He had a good job; he was handy around the house and good with money.  He was a gourmet cook and loved to grow orchids.  And he was a super spiritual version of what was on my top 10 list.  He was everything a good Christian woman should want, right?

It seemed like every woman in the church, single and married alike was riveted on my relationship with this mysterious man.  I was suddenly catapulted into a type of churchy celebrity status.  For the first time in my life I had something that others wanted too.  Other single women approached him, and asked him out for coffee or for lunch.  He turned them down and I felt pride that he had chosen me over so many others from our large church.  Only I never felt I had a firm grip.  My stomach began to do a play by play of events and I ended up in the doctor’s office almost weekly after being diagnosed with colitis. My feelings were on hyper alert.  Is this what love is?

The next time we argued, he told me he was just tired, busy, something had happened at work that had upset him, he was sorry, and he’d make it right. And besides, I had pushed a button of his, and if I just had not done that, this would never have happened.  I would have to try not to do that.

He planned beautiful, romantic dates at the best restaurants, including roses and wine, and ending with long walks on the beach.  He drove me up to the mountaintop late one afternoon.  He brought a quilt, champagne and flutes, and smoked salmon and cheddar cheese, and spread them on the ground.  He helped me out of the truck and gently wrapped a blanket around my shoulders.  We sat and ate and talked until dark.   He tipped my chin up towards the sky and whispered, “Just wait.”  Soon, a trail of light blazed across the sky.  Then another.  Then another.  Then he kissed me.  I flung my doubts out to the sky and let them disappear into the black ink.

Our relationship became a series of conflicts, retreats and pursuits, the pattern repeating itself over and over.  I believed the only way to bring a stop to my insecurity was to marry him.  I was sure my own fears about his love were what were causing problems.  I believed it would be good for my son to have a strong male figure in his life.

The night we got back from our honeymoon was a turning point.  Now that we were married, Mr. Hyde quit playing hide and seek and decided to stay for dinner.  I felt helpless for several minutes while I listened to him bully my children about helping.  They weren’t doing anything right.  The silverware didn’t go the way they put it on the table.  They weren’t fast enough and dinner was getting cold!  He looked at them as if they were stupid.  They became quiet, and nervous, giving each other sideward glances.

“I sure hope you are listening to the Holy Spirit right now.” I said.  He glanced down and seemed embarrassed.  My chest swelled a little.  I had stepped in and taken care of it, just like that!  I am a good mother.

Soon, none of us were doing anything right.  Nothing happened without his approval.  If it wasn’t originally his idea, the answer was “no.”  If he said yes, he would change his mind at the last minute.  My friends could come over when he said they could.  They came less and less.  My sister could visit, but she walked on eggshells and spent time crying in the guest room.  He always answered the phone on first ring, screening all our calls.  He wouldn’t let my teenage daughter lock the bathroom door.

Then we were battling over how to cook ground beef or when to start a load of laundry.  He was disgusted when I didn’t know to put two slices of cheese on a grilled cheese sandwich, so he threw it in the trash.  I began to filter everything I did or said around what the consequences would look like.  What would he say if he knew I thought this, said that, or did this other thing? What would he do?  Mostly I knew what he would do, and it wasn’t pleasant.

At times I escaped by hiding in the tree house in our backyard.  I took long walks or I got in my car and drove to a nearby gas station and cried to a friend from the payphone.  My anxiety attacks and depression worsened and I needed medication.  My children were miserable.  I started calling some friends to see if we could come stay with them for a while and no one could help.  I began stashing change from the market in a shoe along with a spare set of keys.  I ordered a credit card in my own name.  I knew I had made another stupid, stupid mistake, and I felt ashamed.  I stopped looking into my friend’s eyes when I went to church.  I lied to everyone.  I’m fine, how are you?

My church family and pastor seemed to turn their eyes away, as if they couldn’t stand to watch the train wreck happen.  No one called; no one came to help. The church counselors knew I had bruises, but by this time his charisma and charm had landed him a position on staff at the church. They believed him when he told them I was out of control.  Many times I drove onto the freeway and just screamed out to God in desperation.  But I didn’t believe I deserved his help.  After all, I had done this…with eyes wide open.

Finally, I was ready.  I called my husband and asked to meet in the middle of a parking lot at the shopping center.  With others around for protection, I told him I was divorcing him. It had been two and a half years of pure hell.  I was a shell of who I had been starting to become.  Thin, hollow-eyed, defeated.  I was filled with guilt over what I had allowed to happen to my children and myself.  I believed God was so disappointed in me that he had turned his back altogether.  In one month’s time I had managed to lose a husband, my home, my car, and my job. It was my third divorce.  I was wrecked.

So I did what I did best.  I ran.  There’s a story in the Bible about a concubine of Abraham’s.  Her name was Hagar.  She gave birth to Ishmael, before Abraham’s wife had her own son, Isaac.  In Sarah’s jealously, she mistreated Hagar to the point of desperation.  Hagar ran out to the desert with her son, alone, and seeming without friend or protector.

I thought of her as I ran out to my own desert, away from church, friends, family.  I ran empty-handed. And then, just like God met Hagar in the desert, God met me there too.  He picked me up and carried me like a wounded little bird in a cardboard box.  He was gentle, tender, giving me little sips of water.  He slowly restored my spirit and eventually, he restored everything I had lost.

And then he began to teach me how to fly on my own.

 

 

 

 

 

Broken Pickers

Broken Picker

Broken Picker

Well folks, now you know the worst of it (see post ~ In the Well With Tolstoy).  Being a creative type, I sometimes imagine something worse happening to me in the future, but thankfully, so far, nothing has come close to losing my brother and father to suicide.  Sometimes I still catch myself waiting for the other shoe to drop, but I console myself with the knowledge that it already has, and most of us only have one left one and one right one for each pair we own.

Oh, don’t get me wrong.  After my father died, I still experienced divorce and another marriage to yet another abusive, controlling man, a divorce from said man, a broken neck, and a terminal brain tumor, and that’s just for starters.  But as horrible as all that sounds, it still did not compare to the total destruction of my family.

So, I still had a long row to hoe if I ever wanted to feel remotely “normal” again. I was beginning to understand my illness a little bit.  And I believed that the Lord was guiding me through the muddied waters rushing through the storm drains of life.  But I had a problem a lot of people suffering from serious mental illness have.  We really have no idea how much the trauma, abuse, and neglect has hindered our decision-making capability.

We have “broken pickers.”  We tend to make some of the same mistakes over and over again, and it can take awhile to figure it out.  We try, but we tend to follow certain patterns, especially in relationships.  It goes something like this.  The next time, all you need to do is pick someone at least one step up from the last one you ended up with and it’ll all work out.  For me, that meant that the next one must not beat the hell out of me.  That was the deal breaker.  But I digress.

One thing I did after my father died, after much consideration and forethought, is to get pregnant with my third child.  If there is one thing I do not regret in my life, it is my decisions to give birth to various and sundry individuals.  They are all now my best friends, and they make a mama proud.  God knew each one of them before they were even “knit together in their mother’s womb” (Psalm 139) and all three of them love him dearly.  So, under ordinary circumstances, my decision to get pregnant at that time of life may have made some sense.  My fantasy of having a nice, calm Christian family life was not to be, however, and it’s possible that maybe I should have seen this coming.

To my ex-husband’s credit, he never once beat the hell out of me.  Not only that, but he was extremely helpful to me during the years I experienced the worst of suffering serious mental illness.  He took me to appointments with my therapists because I could not drive.  In the beginning, he came home early when I called, sick with fear, and he watched the children when I could not cope with the unrelenting anxiety, depression, and grief.  He attended church with me, at first as a way to support me, and eventually, he developed his own relationship with the Lord.  We were as happy as happy could be, outside of the hell I experienced in my own mind.  And having a new baby in the house helped.  He was a joy to both of us.

Then something began to change.  My husband had a problem with drugs before we married, but he had trusted God to take away his appetite for smoking a doobie before breakfast.  And God had come through…that is until my husband took a new job working with a bunch of Deadheads in the next town over.  He just could not resist the stuff and returned to it again and again like a dog returning to its vomit.  I argued and cajoled, pleaded and begged, to no avail.  The following years were filled with alcohol, drugs, lies, and infidelity.  I prayed. I waited. I prayed some more.  I waited some more.  I finally gave up.  A second failed marriage, and I was still not a well woman.  I had progressed, but the fear, anxiety, and depression were ever present, partly because my life was still a series of crises.

Driving down the street one foggy morning, tears popped into my eyes.  I had just dropped my daughter off at her middle school and watched as her friend’s father hugged his pre-teen and waved goodbye as he drove away.  As one thought led to another, an imaginary phone call with my deceased father ensued in my mind.

“Dad?  It’s Linda.  Um, I’m kinda in dire straights (again).  My husband left and I don’t have any way to support us.  Can I come home and stay for awhile?”

“Of course,” my Dad would say, wearing a blue cardigan and smoking a pipe.  “Your room is just how you left it.”

My heart ached with the thought of it.  To feel that kind of love from a father!  To be taken care of, if only for a little while!  I saw myself tucked safely away in my twin bed with the lavender ruffled spread.  I was so weary of constantly worrying about what I would do with three children, no husband, and anxiety and depression still such a huge part of my days. I had not been able to work for over ten years.

Suddenly a thought inserted itself into the middle of my reverie.   As I continued to drive on auto-pilot towards home, a Scripture I had read seemed to force its way to the forefront.

“The LORD is like a father to his children, tender and compassionate to those who fear him” (Psalm 103:13 TLB).  For the first time I “saw” God as the compassionate father, one who, unlike any earthly father, can actually change circumstances and make permanent changes in my life.  Instead of band-aid fixes, he could move hearts and open closed doors.

I continued towards home, a little warm glow beginning to melt the icy grip of fear.  There were more battles to face, but it was a start.  I couldn’t quite trust enough to hand over the reigns completely.  But amazing doors were about to open.  And unbeknownst to me, I was headed on a path to healing.