I am my own worst critic. The things that come tumbling out of my mouth during my counseling sessions are things I would never say to a close friend or someone that I loved…… Did you catch that? I haven’t been loving myself well… I have made my love for myself conditional; I have made my acceptance of myself conditional.
Hey everyone! So it’s been awhile. I kind of hate it, but the truth is I’ve been running on empty and so I haven’t had much to pour out, even in this space. I haven’t felt inspired or emboldened, enthusiastic or strong. I’ve been exhausted and weary. I rounded out the academic year back in April, which is always a chaotic time. And then a month ago in counseling, I started EMDR.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with the psychology world, EMDR stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. Basically it uses light and/or sound and/or little buzzers you hold in your hands to help your brain be in a more relaxed state, where some of your normal psychological defense mechanisms are lowered (it’s not like hypnosis; you’re completely aware of what you’re saying, thinking, and doing the whole time). Then you revisit past memories that are distressing or traumatic and basically address the shame messages that exist there. In this form of therapy, you are basically helping your brain reprocess the trauma, work through psychological “blocks” that keep you from healing, and build new neuro-pathways in your brain so that the associations that you make in your brain to the trauma are healthier than they used to be. Research has shown how incredibly effective it can be, though many don’t enjoy the process and some don’t stick with it because of the intensity of it.
While the sessions themselves can be pretty emotional and intense (so of course, lots of crying for me), I think it’s the reality of how I feel in between sessions that feels even more daunting. I feel like I’m walking around without an important layer of armor, like I feel less sure in my own skin. I am more easily sad and more easily angered. I have more stressful dreams (which again, if you know me, is saying something). I don’t know how to predict my moods anymore and that makes me feel incredibly fragile. I can’t function at the same high-capacity level that I usually function in, which is very bizarre for me. I’m having to choose much more down-time, say no to things and people I would normally say yes to, and it feels incredibly foreign to me. I’ve had to “retreat to the bunker”, in a manner of speaking; I’m spending a lot more time in there as I try to sort through the most difficult, excruciating, and important emotional work I’ve ever done. Learning how to prioritize rest and self-care instead of productivity and achievement is a habit I’m now being forced to figure out because I cannot pursue this part of my healing process and do what I’ve done.
In addition to all of that, we happen to be holistic creatures and I am here to tell you that my body has certainly been responding right alongside what’s been happening in my mind, heart, and spirit. For seven years, I have chased these issues and have focused on either my body or my mind. The aggravating reality is that both need healing. So I’m in with a new doctor who was recommended by my therapist, who values that holistic healing as well. Having her specialize in some of the rare circumstances and diagnoses that I am dealing with and actually be able to get to the physical “root” of the problem instead of treating just the symptoms feels refreshing. To be able to look at the numbers and hormone levels and know that I wasn’t just “making it up” or “exaggerating” feels SO validating.
Truly it’s been a season of adjusting my expectations. Before I used to think about adjusting expectations as failing, which is just shaming and not helpful. There are some realities that don’t have control over and I have a limited emotional capacity to deal with all that happens in my life (I hate that statement, but it’s true). With writing and how much writing I thought I was going to do the last 9 months, or how much more consistently I was supposed to do this so that “people would take me seriously” or how I was going to launch myself into being this amazing writer right away is all ludicrous. I’ve been working through A LOT. I’m in a season where I’m emotionally exhausted and don’t have a lot to give, so it’s okay to not be pumping out the content on the regular. I don’t have to prove anything to anyone. I know I’m a writer and that God has called me to write for a purpose.
I also knew that when I started writing 9 months ago that I was going to have to start to pursue healing again in certain areas of my life if I was really going to write about what I felt convicted to write about. Hence starting to look for a counselor back in November, finally finding the right fit and starting counseling in February, and starting EMDR and meeting with a new doctor this past month in May. So while the shame voices could tell me that I’m failing because I haven’t written as much as I said I was going to do, the truth is the energy that I am putting into my healing journey just means that I am still being incredibly productive and am exactly on track with what God has asked me to do. I cannot do it all at once, and maybe I’m not supposed to. This part of the journey has to be the focus right now and writing can sit in the back seat and that’s okay.
One of my best friends is a constant source of new music for me and this month as I started EMDR, she shared this song with me and I’ve been listening to it on repeat for the last 30 days. It’s called “Be Kind To Yourself” by Andrew Peterson. I love the lyrics in the second verse that say
“I know it’s hard to hear it when that anger in your spirit/ is pointed like an arrow to your chest/ When the voices in your mind are anything but kind/ and you can’t believe your Father knows best”
I am my own worst critic. The things that come tumbling out of my mouth during my counseling sessions are things I would never say to a close friend or someone that I loved…… Did you catch that? I haven’t been loving myself well. I have not been kind to myself and my anger has been pointed like an arrow at my own chest. I have made my love for myself conditional; I have made my acceptance of myself conditional. That if I couldn’t “fix” certain things about myself (where I’m coming to realize that I may not have control over some of those details), then I couldn’t ever fully love, forgive, or accept myself. That’s a pretty harsh and brutal sentence.
The result of being trapped in all that shame is that I struggle to let myself be loved by those closest to me (most importantly my husband) because I feel like I don’t deserve it. I want to believe the love that’s being offered to me, but when I’m trapped in the shame vortex, it keeps me from letting the truth of Love seep into the soil of who I am. Shame is a bitch like that. It keeps us in isolation when love and deep connection is the solution.
Recently I had the privilege of being a part of the launch team for Rachel Held Evans’ new book “Inspired” and was able to read a copy of the manuscript before the book is released to the public. While there is much I enjoyed about the book, there was something she wrote about that has stuck with me. She was talking about how in Biblical times, the ancient Israelites celebrated The Year of Jubilee, where every 7 years debts were forgiven, slaves were freed, etc. The Year of Jubilee is a time to celebrate liberty. While Rachel talked about it for other purposes, it came to me a few weeks ago that maybe this year is finally my Year of Jubilee. That I’ve been so weary and enslaved by this shame, these diagnoses, etc. that maybe it’s finally time for some freedom. I’m having to adjust my expectations for what free looks like, what healthy looks like. It doesn’t mean I’ve failed. It just means life is excruciatingly difficult sometimes and there is so much I cannot control. I need to start seeing myself through some different lenses.
On the same night I started thinking about the Year of Jubilee, I also thought about an idea that would be healthy for my soul and today I put it into action. Years ago, I did something similar when I was figuring out how to make peace with my body after recovering from an eating disorder. Back then, I could list for you plenty of things I liked about my personality but struggled mightily to list things I liked about my body. We’ve all stood in the mirror and thought “If I could just change one thing, it would be ___________.” But then one thing becomes three, then three becomes five, and five becomes ten. That list, however poisonous, takes root our mind and looking in the mirror, really seeing ourselves, becomes painful. So back then, I stood in front of the mirror for 2 hours (crying, of course) and wrote a list of things I liked about my body. I wanted to have to see that list every time I looked in the mirror, at the start and end of each day. Eventually, the voice in my head that cruelly reminded me of the things I didn’t like about myself got quieter and the list of things I did like about myself became more prominent. It probably stayed on my mirror for a year, but it worked.
So today, I did that again. Different reasons, different diagnoses both physically and mentally that I’m struggling with, different shame messages, but I knew that I needed to choose to start believing healthier, kinder things about myself. So this morning, I stood in front of the mirror and used a white-board marker to write down the things I need to hear and I need to see. I want to start and end each day with these truths. I want those words to be the lens and filter that I see myself through. That in order to look deeply or intensely close at myself in the mirror, I have to look at and through these words.
While some are incredibly personal, I want to share some of them here in case they are things you need to hear today too. I choose to believe:
-I deserve better than conditional love and acceptance from myself.
-I am strong and resilient
-I am worth staying for; no one has to settle by choosing me.
-I am beautiful & sexy, and I deserve to feel those things.
– I am not broken or defective.
-I can be kind to myself.
-I am not a disappointment or a failure.
-My story and tenacity are inspiring.
-I can be patient with myself; progress isn’t linear.
-I don’t have to punish myself anymore, especially for something that wasn’t my fault in the first place.
-This diagnosis doesn’t disqualify me from living a life of impact, just like my other diagnoses don’t.
-I can have peace without having all the answers.
-I can be generous with self-care and rest.
-I want to believe the love I am offered.
As much as I wish I could live out of the freedom of those words all of the time now that I’ve written them out here, I know it will be quite the journey and quite the process. I know some days I will be able to believe those for myself, and there have been, are, and will be so many days where I forget and I will need my sweet ones to remind me of what’s true. So for those closest ones who get invited into the bunker, thank you for loving and protecting me in that space; thank you for doing battle with me. For the rest of the world, know that I’m not gone forever but probably will continue to be a bit more “absent” in this season. A transformation is occurring, in the slower, quieter places. I’m trying to embrace rest and play and joy.
To end, I leave you with my favorite quote from “A Broken Way” by Ann Voskamp (which I ironically posted on Facebook one year ago today and the quote popped up in my feed today. Life’s funny like that).
“Wounds are what break open the soul to plant the seeds of deeper growth… For a seed to come fully into its own, it must become wholly undone. The shell must break open, its insides must come out, and everything must change. If you didn’t understand what life looks like, you might mistake it for complete destruction.”