Hiding in the Shadows

So much has happened since I last wrote. I read the blogs and wonder who that girl was that was writing and who she was writing to. I am saddened for the break in my vice; sharing my story in an authentic way as to help others with their own wounds. Writing is my way, my vice. The verbal aspect always gets stunted when I see the pain it causes. I can put down the words without the filter of fear of hurting someone.  He never realized what the words meant to me. I never realized what the words did to me.

I am single. I wanted to die from the loss. And then I didn’t. It took me at least 6 months to even begin to remove the blinders. Then, I remembered who I am. THEN, I became that fierce woman again. I am not sure I will ever recover from losing the kids. I will always be grateful for learning that it is okay to love with every ounce of my being. And I would do it again. The pleasure will always outweigh the pain and that is how I choose to be. Because I can make the choice now. Just me, what I want and need.

The biggest thing I have learned is to be true to myself. Love until it steps on something you believe in. Make decisions based on your own needs. Make yourself happy. It is okay to feel good even when your loved one does not. Never compromise yourself for someone else. You don’t have to be a victim to own your story. AND, don’t mistake abuse for support.

There is a HUGE difference between enabling and disempowerment. Let’s just take those words at face value.

Enabling is by definition “to make easy.”

Disempowerment is to “deprive of influence and importance.”

Although taken at face value, the definitions appear that one is helping and the other is hurting… we often miss an important aspect.

One of them is often mistaken for support and one of them will kill your spirit and you. One of them allows bad behavior and one of them IS bad behavior. One of them allows a narcissist to trap someone and the other creates (or recreates) a victim. One of them makes love very blind, and one of them makes someone feel like they are the cause of everything. One of them is something someone claims is their “only” contribution to the problems in a relationship and the other one is someone feeling like they are the cause of every bad thing in the relationship. One of them reminds you of what you’ve done and one of them is the cause of what you have done.

Here’s the thing.. if enabling is making something easy, then the person doing the behavior would feel a sense of permission and ease to continue the behavior.

If disempowerment is depriving someone of influence and importance, then the person would feel like that they didn’t deserve anything good and that they didn’t matter. They had no voice.

Who decides the intent of behavior? The receiver, the doer?

When the doer has “subdued” the receiver, how does the receiver “wake up?”

When you assess your intent, make sure you are being honest with yourself. Are you enabling? Are you reminding someone of their struggles? Are you denying them because of some mistake they’ve made or because of something that was done to them?

If you are the receiver of any of this, know this is abuse. In the worst form. Hidden in the shadows of help. Taking advantage of the kind is the worst kind of abuse.


Not that girl, Not this time.

Beginnings are scary,

Endings are sad,

But it’s what in the middle that counts.

So, when you find yourself in the beginning (which is also an ending)

Just give hope a chance to float up and it will… ❤️

I love that the journey I’m on has taken me back to my original, soft – hearted, love everyone attitude. I got so jaded and prickly for a while. No matter how much pain I feel, I never regret peeling back all the layers and being vulnerable so that I exposed the soft inner core of me that someone damaged so long ago.

I’m raw and exposed and loving every minute of it (Well, okay – me and vulnerability have a love-hate kinda deal). I will trade mounds of pain for being closed off and bitter ANY day. And I will trade honesty and ownership of self over denial and blaming of others – no matter what the cost.

All the things I saw as my weaknesses are beautiful character traits when given in the right way (balance) and received by the right person (trustworthy and also vulnerable). When someone wrongs me and I decide to be the better person and support them in their pile of self-pity and resentment, I am not honoring myself. And, if I get caught up in their blame game, then guess who changes…. ME.

My journey came at a great cost.. which is heartbreaking and devastating. But, it’s worth every minute of it to finally feel good in my own skin. To finally adore all my little quirks. To know how much love comes from my sensitive places and to know how that love blesses other people. To know that I am worthy of kindness and gooey love and that I’m open to accepting it. To know that I’m one hell of a warrior and NOTHING can stop me.

You can be sweet and vulnerable and let people see it.. I know, I know it’s going to expose you to a lot of opportunities for pain. BUT… the opportunity for self-love through vulnerability outweighs all the risk.

There is no joy without vulnerability.

There is no self-love without vulnerability. 

There is no truth without vulnerability. 

There is no growth without vulnerability. 

There is no TRUE love without vulnerability. 

And there is no vulnerability without courage, strength, and a lot of pain and tears.

I’m not going back to that girl who hated herself. I’m not going back to that girl who always doubted herself. I’m not going back to that girl who tried to be what everyone wanted her to be. I’m not going back to making decisions based on what I thought would make everyone else happy. I’m not going back to that girl who mutilated her body so that she could become the ideal person.. all the while dying inside. And I’m NOT going back to eating shit politely with a fork while asking for seconds.

But I will be happy to remain my true self- which is a smart, silly, sweet, sexy, big ole’ heart, stubborn, determined, hard-core achiever, and food-pusher kinda woman. And a bit high maintenance on my looks! 😂 But whatever you do, don’t mistake this girl’s kindness for weakness or stupidity, because that my friend is a regret you will have for eternity.

So.. if you’re reading this and you’re bitter, get some help. If you’re jaded, get some help. If you’re walled up and stuffing down, get some help. If you just can’t trust people, including yourself, get some help. And by any means – if you’re hurting, get some help. People who are hurting hurt others and that perpetuates the cycle we are all in.

If you need help finding help or know someone who does, let me know. I have a great network of counselors to send you to so you can make your journey through hell and into freedom. I’ve accepted that I’ll likely always need an impartial sounding board and that’s okay! Not growing means you’re dying.

CROSS OVER TO THE VULNERABILITY SIDE. Find your happy place from within.

Christians Who Hurt Others

Today I am burdened by a struggle. God guides my life, but I don’t judge others who believe differently. I also know many good people who believe differently than I do. As a therapist, I sit daily with people who have been abused and hurt by people who call themselves “Christians.” Christians who judge others for not believing. I sit with people who have been raped, molested, beat, neglected – all by people claiming to be servants of God.

I watch and hear of people who call themselves Christians who lie, steal, cheat, manipulate and worse. People who stand in church and they don’t even pay a man the wages he is due. And in the same breath, chastise others for not being a Christian.

I was abused by a man who stood in front of a church every weekend and acted as a servant of God. He often occupied the high moral ground, and it still makes me sick today to think that he stood in church and went home and molested children. He pushed me away from God, who could have helped me through the grief and pain my abuser set me up to endure throughout my life.

I know God doesn’t mean for us to be perfect. I understand free will. I truly honor each person regardless of what belief or lack of belief they have (unless they are harming others). I also know God forgives us for our sins. But, does that include continuous acts of intentional sin without any attempt to change?

I once heard a sermon that resonated with me and frankly changed the way I lived. At the time, I was a poor single mother. I often struggled to pay rent or feed my kids. Sometimes, I would grow weary of not being able to buy my kids even the smallest gift. Feeling less than, I would leave a bill unpaid, buy them something fun or take them somewhere. Because I never had enough to cover, I got evicted a few times or had to manipulate (which means not pay) utility companies. I stole from companies – at the end of the day, that is the truth. If you do not pay a bill or person you owe, you are stealing.

Until that day in church. My whole world changed.

The sermon was about paying a man for his wages. At first, I didn’t understand the concept. After some clarification, the preacher was trying to say that if we are going to call ourselves Christians and preach the word of God, then it is critical that we live as Christians. Not meaning that we have to be perfect, but to try to do things that represent truth and love. Otherwise, we end up just like the people who rape and pillage while calling themselves servants of God. Different degrees, but same concept. That means paying for what we use (our bills), paying people we hire, and paying companies for their services.

That day, I realized I was doing the same thing as my abuser – only on a different level. But does that make it right? I changed that day. I paid my bills first and began to know that even if my car was falling apart, I would get to work. Even if we ate Ramen noodles (with hot sauce, don’t judge!), our bellies would be full. Even if we bought second-hand clothes or had to wash clothes in the bathtub with dish soap (yes, that happened), we would still be the same people inside. No matter what we had on the outside, we would be honoring the true meaning of being a Christian.

And we wouldn’t be contributing to the number of people who cringe when someone says “I’m a Christian.”

I am by no means perfect. And I regularly assess the person I am. Not just because I want others to see that Christians can be honest, but because I have to live with myself and I refuse to be who my abuser was.

I Buried A Little Girl Today

My story, like so many others, began when I was young and naive. I saw people as kind and good-hearted. I trusted everyone. I wanted to help everyone. I was a carefree little girl with a soft, kind heart – worn boldly on my sleeve.

Then, trauma came. As each trauma occurred, that little girl got more and more wounded. I started to identify as if my trauma was my ONLY story. I shared my pain with many others, which I know now is what led to more trauma. I thought by being vulnerable, by being open, by being honest that I would find someone who loved me. Rescue me. Turns out, that isn’t how life works.

There are no knights in shining armor. There are no white horses. There are no saviors. There is just more pain, more trauma, more abuse, and more manipulation. Wounded people attract wounded people. And many wounded people hurt others, just like I did. And just like they did to me. The only way to heal wounds is to walk through them. Not around them. And not run through them.

I hated myself for the people I hurt along the journey to healing. I was so broken, so desperate for love. I got involved in many bad things with many bad people trying to find what that little girl needed. The worst part was, my babies got dragged through that journey with me.

I had my first daughter when I was two weeks shy of 17. I was determined to be everything to her. And for a while, I was. My oldest daughter was about 12 when I stopped being a good mom. She was in the midst of early adolescence, one of the hardest times of a child’s life. We were very close until I decided to wander off into stupid land. So there she was 12, trying to figure out life, trying to understand herself. And her mom jumps ship. Two years later, when I got my shit together, it was too late.

I tried everything I could to repair the relationship. I still try. But I can’t blame her for being afraid. After all, that is what I have done – blocked myself off from the world so nobody could ever hurt me. That is what many people do. It is protection. And it is hard to focus on the good when the pain from the bad is still present.

I was never very close to my son. He always wanted to be at his grandparent’s house. I tried to help him grow to be a decent man, but I was not successful. And it is no wonder… every man I had a relationship up until that point wanted something from me. Let me just say, they never wanted to be that rescue hero I was looking for. They wanted to use me and dispose of me. How in the world could I teach a boy to be a man when I had never known one?

My youngest, my baby. She was 3 when I went into the “shitty mom abyss” and 5 when I returned into my role as a mom. She doesn’t know anything else but me being an involved (sometimes overly involved) mom who sacrifices everything for her kids. And I mean everything, including myself.

After a series of failed relationships and more pain for my kids, I made the decision to stay away from men. To go back to school, stay out of relationships, and make myself something that everyone would be proud of. Be an example for my kids, and be an example for every other person who had been a victim of trauma. I was going to take all my pain and make it have value. I was going to win.

And I did just that. Seven years without so much as a date. A bachelors degree while working full time and being a single mother to three. A masters degree. Then another masters degree. Then a bunch of licenses, certificates, training, and private practice. A flourishing private practice in which I spent my days helping people recover from trauma and addiction. A private practice in which I teach people to love others and themselves. Where I teach couples to have healthy relationships. And I am really, really good at it.

The overwhelming problem is that I hated myself. I could forgive myself for everything and understand everything from my past. But NOT my kids. I could never forgive the pain my kids experienced because of me. I deserved to be punished forever. After all, why did I deserve to be happy when my kids weren’t?

The other problem is, that little girl was still inside of me. She died long ago, but her broken, frail, abused body still resided inside of me. I was just a shell for her. This adult body was a shell for a dead little girl.

Throughout my healing, I kept trying to revive that little girl. I kept thinking that I just needed to get that little girl back. The girl I was before all the pain. The problem is, you cannot revive the dead. You can be reborn, but not revived.

Today, I buried that little girl. I realized that all of the things I have done throughout my life have been for one purpose: to be loved. The problem is, how do I love with dead parts and hatred for myself? How do I take in love believing that I am the sole cause of my children’s pain? The answer is, I can’t. Better yet, I couldn’t.

I am a product of my past. I am a product of being a victim. Victims make more victims. It doesn’t make us culpable. It makes us human. Asking a victim to have no symptoms of pain is like asking a newborn to get up and walk. They don’t know how. They haven’t learned it. And they won’t learn it if they don’t have any examples. And they won’t learn it if you lock them up. And they really won’t learn it without some pain and failure.

Today, I forgave myself.

Today, I gave closure to my past.

Today, I buried a little girl. The one inside of me.


Privilege, Discrimination, and Honoring Diversity

Privilege, discrimination, honoring diversity… We all hear the words and think we understand them. But what does all of it really mean and how do they apply to our daily lives?

As I sit in my thoughts, I try to reflect, but find myself frozen. It is a familiar frozenness as I have experienced a multitude of experiences that left me feeling paralyzed. It is a familiar feeling to most individuals who have experienced abuse, regardless of the type. At some point, discrimination becomes abusive. When the discrimination involves power, regardless of the kind of power, the dynamics change, and the abuser is rewarded by the witnessing of your pain. And you are likely left feeling frozen, angry, or wanting to run. Because discrimination and abuse of power are traumatic and that is what our brains do when they experience trauma. Fight, flight, or freeze.

Some discriminations are mild and come in the form of microaggressions, which are more about ignorance than anything else. However, some discrimination is bold and intentional and often comes from people with enough power to get away with it. When the speaker starts the statement with “I know this will sound _____” fill in the blank with racist, sexist, and the like… well, they know exactly what they are doing. As a good rule of thumb, if you have to preface your statement with “I know this will _____,” then maybe the best thing to do it to be quiet.

Slow down. Ask yourself what you are trying to do and find another way to do it. Intergenerational and discrimination-based trauma is real. And your words are like weapons, killing a person one word at a time.

What exactly is power? It could be a supervisor. It could be a loan officer deciding if you’ll get a home. It could be a server deciding if you get your food first, or at all. It could be an aid worker deciding who gets rescued first and what areas of town to start in. It could be a police officer deciding fault. It could be a case manager deciding if you get food for your family or insurance for a sick child. It could be anyone… anyone who plays a role in deciding something you have no power over. Often something you need or want to avoid.

People frequently say “Don’t let them win” or “Just ignore them.” Those types of statements ignore the very essence of power. And dismiss the genuine feelings of pain and hopelessness experienced by the victim.

I am by no means suggesting that we cower to the abuser. However, sometimes it is not as easy or as clear as ignoring the situation. But, how do we balance fighting back with being perceived as a liberal “fruitcake?”

Truth be told, I am a conservative. But, I am also a liberal. In the same way I do not want to be boxed into a group of race, sex, or the like, I do not want to be boxed into a definition that encompasses my entire belief system. Those who fight for equal rights often shun me for being conservative or not disliking a certain president. When you feel the need to put me in a box that isn’t the same as yours, you are a hypocrite. You are doing the very thing you’re fighting against.

I recently spent a considerable amount of time with a white, male, person in power. My future somewhat rested in his hands, so I battled trying to protect myself, protect the others he was affecting, and find a place of understanding for his journey into becoming an abuser. Even the fact that I have a right to reflect on the experience shows my privilege and am quite mindful of my power in reflecting.

I am a white, middle-class female. I am highly educated and carry myself in a manner that allows my past to go undetected. What most people don’t know is that I’ve battled through more in my 46 years that most people can fathom. My life should be a lifetime movie.. or 5 for that matter. I have been a single mom of three children, sometimes going without food so that my kids could eat 25 cent packages of ramen noodles. I have walked in many churches to be gawked at as if I am a circus freak. I have been victimized over and over – financially, physically, emotionally, and sexually. And even after overcoming all those battles and making a successful life for myself, I still get judged.

When I express my frustrations in being judged for being a snooty white girl who doesn’t know a thing about trauma or pain, it is hurtful. When I express that hurt, I am often dismissed with “that’s not something bad to be discriminated against.” The problem is, when you deny someone’s reality, you deny someone’s battle through their pain. When you judge someone, regardless of the direction of the judgment, the pain is still the same.

As I have discussed in a previous blog, I understand the brain makes some of these judgments on their own. But, everyone has a responsibility to make acceptance and diversity a priority so that the automatic judgments can make way for understanding.

And if you are in a position of power, use that power for good. Use that power to take down every abusive, narcissistic person who uses their position to take advantage of anyone who they see as “less than.”

If you don’t know how, reach out, ask for help. There are ways to protect yourself and fight for what is right.

Honoring My brother. Honoring My Pain.

18 years ago today, my brother died. He was 29 years old and full of life. He was an amazing dad and a vibrant human being. He had struggled and had his demons, but he was good in his heart. He went into the hospital for pancreatitis and got judged for his tattoos. The put him in a room, filled him up with fluids, and his body went into shock, of which he never recovered. They kept him alive for us to get there and say our goodbye. Like so many of those before him, he was judged and set aside to die. Shame on you.

What they didn’t know is that my brother had the same doctor for three years. He trusted his doctor to look after him, and his doctor didn’t. My brother wasn’t some tatted up loser. He was an artist. He owned a successful tattoo shop that looked more like a doctor’s office than a tattoo shop. There was a publication in the local newspaper when he died – full of people speaking about what an amazing, giving man he was. All those people at the hospital saw was his skin, his outside. And they let him die for it. Shame on you.

We took the case to trial and tried to right the wrong, but the courtroom was filled with medical terms and jargon. I sat in the trial and cried for 4 days straight. Literally. I remember my mom saying she’d never seen someone cry so much. I now know that I was crying for so much more than his death. I was crying for the loss of my innocence, the loss of my dreams, the loss of a chance for my babies to have a good life. I had never stopped long enough to actually cry. His death gave me permission to grieve. For his loss, for my loss, and for my kid’s loss.

During the trial, the jurists were yawning and disconnected. Once again, he was set aside. That was a human life you were judging. Shame on you.

The truth is, I wasn’t very close to him growing up. We were only a year apart, but I always felt like I annoyed him. He was close to my older sister, and I often felt like a third wheel. He left our home when I was 14, and he was 15. He went away to live by our biological father and his side of the family. I never understood the dynamics of him leaving. I grew up in a household where you just didn’t talk about “those things.”

One of my favorite memories of my brother is when he was a freshman. He was a late bloomer, so he was bigger around than he was tall. He was being bullied, and I stood up for him. I am not sure if he was mortified by the bullying or his younger sister protecting him. I can still see his sweet face. He was standing in the stairwell at the high school. I do not remember what he said or what he did. I just remember his sweet face. My brother had such a soft heart. And like me, I am guessing he paid for it immensely.

After he left our home, we didn’t speak for a long time. My sister went to see him in Ohio and spent a lot of time with him. I had a baby when I was 16, another when I was 19. I was busy raising my kids and trying to survive. I had pain of my own. Not knowing he would no longer be with us, I disconnected and continued survival mode.

When I was 28, my husband at the time attempted suicide. I had already suffered significant abuse, and I was terrified for my life because of his family. I sat in the hospital trying to make sense of it all. Trying to save my husband’s life while protecting my own. In a moment of desperation, I reached out to my brother to come to visit and protect me. He was in the process of opening a new shop and couldn’t come. I felt abandoned. I felt unsafe. And, back then I was a hothead anyway. I told him “fuck you,” and I hung up on him. A year later, he was dead.

As an adult, I can look back and realize that he was expressing appropriate boundaries. He was putting his needs first and his family’s needs first. At the time, I did not understand that. Today, I respect that.

For a long time, I used his death for an excuse. An excuse for addiction. An excuse for all my messed-up behaviors. An excuse for my pain. The reality is, my pain started long before he died. And my need for protection did too. Every time I told my story, I focused on his death as a turning point in my life. The reality is, it was the only piece of my story I could own.

Each year, I make social media posts about making sure the last words you say to a person are meaningful and honest. This year, I will honor my brother in a more authentic way. This year, I open my heart to you in the hopes that you will honor your pain. Slow down, take the time to heal. Do not be afraid of judgement of the severity of your pain. You do not have to be your story. You can stop, heal, and rewrite your story any time you are ready. I did. And I was a seriously wounded human. I had nobody but myself and the willpower to change my life for my kids. I didn’t love myself enough at the time, but I sure loved them enough.

Joseph Litteral, You didn’t deserve for your life to become my tragedy. You deserved to be honored, respected, and celebrated. You deserved to be a dad, a grandpa, a brother, and a son. You deserved to shine your bright light wherever you went. You didn’t deserve to be judged for what was on you – you were worth a pot of gold for what was inside you.

Glitter is for Strippers.. and Little Girls

I love glitter. I wear it on my body, on my eyes, love to play with it any chance I get. Something about glitter makes me giddy like a small child. Time and time again, people ask me if I am moonlighting as a stripper or if I think the glitter is childish. I usually just chalk it up to a cranky person or realize that those people are obviously just jealous because glitter is truly miraculous. I will eventually have an entire room made out of glitter!

As with most things, I started thinking about the why behind people’s issues with glitter. I believe that people can do whatever makes them happy, as long as everyone consents, there is no harm to others, and they aren’t trying to do it to me. I say go for it!  However, it seems as though many people believe that there are rules and limitations to everything, even glitter.

Why little girls and strippers? I suppose little girls are allowed to be magical and delight in the sprinkles of joy that glitter brings. And strippers, well, we all know the stereotype of the trashy naked woman dancing on the pole while covered in glitter. If one were just examining the apparent “rules” of glitter, it would seem quite strange that glitter is okay for two groups of individuals that are seemingly so different.

As a therapist, I know the judgments about glitter aren’t about me. People have issues with and rules for different things based on their past, society, and the messages they learned in childhood.

We assign meaning automatically. It is a fundamental trait of humans, and we do it for our ideas on relationships with others, physical items, and our thoughts about ourselves. The brain automatically assigns meaning by reviewing past information and current perceptions of information. The brain can even assign meaning or reject information without you knowing it. It is an automatic process.

Given that it is an automatic process, how do we change our beliefs about things, even glitter? Core beliefs, such as glitter is for strippers and little girls, develop in the subconscious mind outside of our conscious awareness. Because these are outside of our awareness, we have to consciously examine the beliefs and identify what needs they meet.

You may ask yourself what need “glitter discrimination” may meet. Although it seems funny, some people find that these judgments meet their need for superiority. Some people find that it meets a need for certainty. Some people may find it meets their need of being socially acceptable. Some people have been shamed for being “different,” even if just in the scope of wearing glitter.

Before we can change a core belief, we have to decide who we want to be and if that belief fits the mold of our personal belief system. We also have to examine the emotion behind the belief so that we can consciously make a decision as to how we want to perceive a person, behavior, or thought.

Some of the questions you can ask yourself are:

Why does this bother me?

Is the behavior/person/thought hurting anyone?

What need does this belief fill?

Where does the belief come from?

Is the belief rooted in logic or societal norms?

It is also critical to ask yourself if the person was born with whatever your belief is about, such as the color of their skin or a disability. Identify if there is an emotion, such as fear, surrounding your belief. Try to not to introduce shame or guilt into your belief system. Shame reduces growth, which is what can come of identifying and changing core beliefs.

If you do not understand what you judge, then try to engulf yourself in learning about it. For example, asking an adult what glitter does for them. Or going to a church service of a religion you do not understand. Or volunteering at an agency for mental health.

I recognize the core beliefs I discussed span a wide range, from glitter to race to mental health. All of them are core beliefs, and all of them stem from unconscious influences that our brain takes in. And all of them equate to significant pain for the doer and the receiver.

Take action. Identify and recognize your core beliefs. Accept glitter.

What Is It All For?

As I awaken to another day of intense body pain, I sit and ponder. What is it all for?

Growing up, we learn what we “should” and “shouldn’t” do. For me, this wasn’t about gender or race, which I am eternally grateful for. It was about effort and ability. I think the missing piece was utility, which we will come back to later.

Effort is about putting forth your best attempt and energy to get the job done. Ability is about using your skills and capability to complete the task. The problem is, everyone has a different level of effort and different abilities. Some people have a core belief that they should put forth only what is required of them, which equates to the best attempt. Some people (like me) have a core belief that you should always put in beyond what is expected of you, and even then, there will be something you could’ve done better.

The funny thing is, both ways get the job done. People meeting the minimum in everything they do still meet the requirements and accomplish the task. However, it is more likely that those people have enough energy left over for joy and self-care.

People who meet the bare minimum both fascinate me and frustrate me. On one hand, I envy their full lives and ability to be successful in small ways and be satisfied. On the other hand, I think, how can they just do the minimum and then spend the rest of their time just enjoying life? How dare them and how brilliant of them!

Perfectionist gets the same job done, but with added misery and time-consuming over-reaching. By the time the task is complete, a perfectionist is already on to the next task, unless they are paralyzed in analyzing the previous task and all the things they could’ve done better. And there is never, ever joy or a sense of accomplishment in perfectionism. There is only more tasks, more goals, more self-doubt.

Utility is defined as the state of being useful, profitable, or beneficial. Common sense tells us that we should understand the utility of a commitment before agreeing to the task. However, for perfectionists, this step is missing. Or we have unrealistic expectations of utility. Usually, perfectionist take on a task because they think it will be that one thing that finally makes them feel important, get recognition, or feel accomplished. The problem is that good feeling never comes and the recognition is ignored. The battle and pain are worn as a badge of honor instead of being seen as for what they are, which is a slow painful death of the body and soul.

The reality is, the perfectionist is trying to prove something. Prove that they are something, such as competent. Prove that they aren’t something, such as the mistakes they made in their past. They are often trying to quiet the voices and overwhelming thoughts. The voices that say they are never enough and the overwhelming thoughts of all the things they have to get done. Or the thoughts of their past, which are entirely too painful to examine. So, we choose what is thought of an easier path, although just as painful. We never stop moving or achieving.

The other side of perfectionism is loneliness and isolation. The very thing we try to avoid, pain, is the absolute and inevitable “prize” of perfectionism.

Some perfectionist can sell themselves and have many who love us, many who spend their years begging and longing to be our priority. And then some perfectionist have few friends, only surface relationships, yet still long for connection. Usually the connections are based in what we can do for someone, not in who we truly are underneath that hard shell of an exterior.

Perfectionism and misery are the best of friends. People are first impressed by perfectionist like me. However, that impression evaporates into large pools of frustration. People try to help us by making our life easier and taking over tasks for us, but they can never do them good enough, and then we just put something else in that time slot. Our partners try to set up just the perfect situation so that we can detach and finally absorb their love, only for us to answer an email, find a household task to do, or just plain ignore them because we are so exhausted.

Then sets in the emotions for not being enough somewhere because we were trying to be too much everywhere else. Then, we get the physical and emotional pain for letting someone down. Trying so hard not to let anyone down, all the while letting everyone down because we set up impossible expectations of ourselves.

The suggestions from loved ones are abundant, but at the end of the day, that badge of honor is strong and proud. And usually, there is a big ball of resentment and a feeling of being misunderstood for all those involved.

Somehow, we have to learn how to get off the hamster wheel. Hamsters who stay on a wheel eventually die of a heart attack. And individuals who remain perfectionist do too. So, I wonder – can we use our perfectionism to correct itself? Can we become obsessed with self-care and keeping a tight schedule of activities that fill our proverbial bucket? Or are we doomed to a life of misery and pain…

Listen to the Whisper

“If you listen when your body whispers, you won’t have to hear it scream.” ~author unknown

From a medical perspective, when our body experiences pain, it sends a signal to our brain that there is an issue. If ignored long enough, certain chemicals go through our body to help get our attention, or the pain gets severe enough that it immobilizes us and we do something about it. But, what about when the pain has no medical origin? The pain still causes the same process to occur, sending signals to our brain that there is an issue we need to address. Sending signals that there is an internal crisis that needs an immediate cure. The problem is, addressing emotional pain from a medical perspective only causes more problems. People often get somatic pain disorders, which begins a constant focus on pain and symptoms that leads to severe emotional issues and often worsens the pain.

Emotional pain also causes signals to the brain to help us know when something is wrong. However, they seem to be easier for people to ignore, to distract themselves from. The problem is, our bodies cannot differentiate between emotional and physical pain. All our body knows is that something is attacking it and the keeper of the soul isn’t paying attention. So, it gets louder and louder. It begs us to listen to it through brain fog, insomnia, emotional meltdowns, dissociation, and eventually a paralyzing pain that even master distractors such as myself cannot ignore.

I know this because I have spent many days in the emergency room, sure that I was dying, sure that there was a problem that needed medical attention. Today was another one of those days. Anxiously waiting for a doctor to come back and tell me that there is nothing remarkable on the test results and then handing me a handful of prescriptions. And don’t forget the stomach medicine they have to give me because of what all the other medicine does to my poor gut. And then comes the embarrassment, the guilt, the shame for what I have done to my body and our finances.

I have been ignoring my emotions and body for so long that I do not even know when they are asking for my attention. Until they scream at me. And I abhor screaming of any kind. I have always been able to listen to anything people think or feel, as long as they do not yell at me or attack me. But, I have not offered my body and my emotion the same respect, the same attention. So it screams at me and attacks me.

I teach people to ask themselves to recognize what they think and feel, what they notice in their body, and how to respond to emotional cues healthily. I also educate people that emotions are not consciously controlled. Emotions are a part of our limbic system, part of our primitive brain that likely developed to protect us from threat and help us remember what to stay away from in the future. This is the same part of the brain that tells us to run away or stay and fight. There is no reason or logic in the emotional brain, nor is there language. No reason, no logic, no language, and controlled by our unconscious. Sound like a disaster waiting to happen?

Emotions are also closely tied to past memories. If your past or early childhood has trauma in it like mine, then your emotional responses are likely strong, and responses to similar stimuli trigger a sense of danger in your brain. Even long after the danger is gone, your emotional brain still senses danger where there is none. You eventually learn to just ignore the cues.

You may be asking yourself what all this has to do with body pain. Well, emotions are the whisper. Body pain is the scream. If you do not listen and respond to emotional cues, your body will scream at you. And, if you divert your attention away from your emotions by being an over-achiever like me, then your body experiences both an emotional threat and a physical threat. We can only run on an empty tank for so long before the vessel breaks down and needs repair. But it isn’t as easy as stopping for fuel. It is more like when you run your car out of oil, and it needs an entirely new engine.

Dealing with emotions and stress are like regular oil changes. Out with the old, in with the new, filter out the crud, and top off the tank. Living in chronic stress, a busy mind, and ignoring emotions is when the oil light comes on.. it is too late, and the damage is already done. You have to start over with a fresh motor and try to remember the regular oil changes.

Type A over-achievers get so busy they forget to change the oil until it is too late. For people, changing the oil means self-care. Self-care is different for everyone. For me, it is making sure I sleep, going to therapy when I get in my own way, staying away from toxic people and things, meditating, not taking on other people’s stuff, making sure I have time for fun and being the mom, nana, and wife I want to be. It means good sleep hygiene, lots of long runs, healthy food, and paying attention to that voice in my head that says I am never good enough. Reaching out to the few people who actually know me and letting them in to replace my motor. Being vulnerable, being raw and open, and having the courage to know that vulnerability is a sign of true strength, not weakness.

Everyone has to figure out their own self-care, and find different ways of fitting it in their life. Above all else, listen to the whispers.

The Personal Pendulum

First of all, I have to give credit where it is due. As I spoke to my sister this morning about the path of being authentic and balancing the wild side of me, she referred to the struggle as dealing with a personal pendulum. The term settled in with me and my current state. The personal pendulum swinging in and out of the parts of ourselves that others or society would not approve of. The parts of ourselves that temporarily make us feel better but have the potential to hurt others permanently.

My pendulum used to swing to one side, being wild and free with no regard for who I hurt. After a ton of negative consequences, (and yes, there were a ton because I am stubborn) I created this new personality that swung the other way completely. Hard-core personal and professional achievements, strict rule-following, and no sight of that wild girl I once was. Pretending for others so that they would respect me and I could hide my past mistakes. I started out as the obedient rule follower, so the role was easy to fall into.

I have always been grateful for my sister, who taught me to stand up for myself and taught me how to be a woman. The bulk of my positive childhood memories and true fun include either my sister or my cousin, so for that I am eternally grateful. It was my sister who let that wild side of me flourish, so it is only fitting that she is a part of this post.

Carl Jung offered the concept of the shadow personality. The idea behind the shadow personality is that we all have parts of us that are relegated to the darkness of the unconscious. In other words, that dark side we all want to hide. The problem is that that dark side is part of who we are, and without an outlet for it, we become stale and unauthentic. Which means that we wander around in a different shell of a person, longing for happiness but never achieving it.

I used to feel safe in my dark side, but too many men took advantage of that side of me. Too many men showed me that I needed to be something else to avoid pain. Too many men stole my innocence and taught me that I have to protect that girl. Now, I have a man who is nothing of the sort and I have the freedom to be me. Yet, I still struggle.

My mentor (and one of my favorite people) once explained the shadow to me in an attempt to help me integrate that side of me back into my personality. He explained that most people lock up their dark side in a closet, hiding it away from others in shame. He said that the trick was to learn how to take your dark side by the hand and take it for a walk with you. All the while being conscious and intentional with the dark side’s actions. Although the description made sense to me, I have not been able to take my shadow for a walk yet.

I know that to find happiness, I have to be myself. All the buzz words like authenticity and true-self are abundant in my therapy sessions with others. I can recognize the overwhelming issues when someone tries to be what others want them to be. However, as the same mentor as mentioned above said, you can’t take someone else where you haven’t been.

I am not sure where to go from here. I do not have the magical answer. But, I do know that it is time for me to take a walk with an old friend… myself. I am not sure where she will take me, but I know it has to be a better place than having everything people dream of and being unhappy. And I know that it will include more of what I dream of and a lot less of what someone else considers a dream.

Stay tuned to see the pendulum swing.