Forgiveness Is the Key

We’ve heard clever explanations of hanging on to a grudge, such as letting someone live rent-free in your head. That’s okay, so far as it goes –

But let’s take it further:  do you spend a lot of time thinking and/or talking about the bad hand you’ve been dealt by the Fates? the wrongs you’ve suffered? how unappreciated you are?  how you suffer?

We all know people who do. I know several on social media who rarely post anything other than the attention-seeking whining and complaining.  It’s boring.  And you know, I just don’t see how they can be happy people.

You want to be happy?  You want to be at peace?
1.  Give your whole life to God, and walk with Him.  That’s worthy of a series of posts, right there, because it’s important to understand Who God Is and what He requires of us as we live for Him and reflect His Divine Nature to the rest of the world. But nothin’, and I mean NOTHIN’! is better than that!

2.  Forgive the people who have hurt you.  Yeah it’l come round to taunt you from time to time.  Some times it’s a torment and it might not even be easy to recognize what’s going on.  It took me weeks, this winter, to figure out I was still living under the shadow of my parents’ choices.  But keep trying!

Forgiveness isn’t forgetting the past or pretending it doesn’t matter (things that hurt you at the core of your being matter a lot).  I think of it as letting go of the very human desire to be avenged.  To get even. To persuade the person who hurt you to see the hurt and regret it and to make amends. Tha’s out of your hands and you’ll drive yourself batty, obsessing about it. God will rightly judge and hand out penalties in the Judgment (yes, I believe in Purgatory, and it’s a good, healthy place); our job is to release our need to be made right to and to go on living. Yes, 70×7 for the same offenses.

Learn, if you’re still stuck, to get out of being the victim or someone’s emotional punching bag. Or rescuer or one to hide behind. Forgiveness is NOT about letting other people willfully and viciously use and hurt us!  Become strong!  Learn to value yourself (get counselling if you find this difficult — not for the rest of your life, but for a few weeks/months while you find yourself)

3. Choose to be happy.  Count your blessings.  Can’t find any?  Start a notebook.  You got a roof over your head? Clothes on your back? Food in your belly? Start there.  Recognize daily beauty — the song of a mockingbird or the flash of blue of a bluebird, or the serene ambling across your yard of a doe and fawn — and make a note of it.  Note the brilliant colors you encounter in Nature.  Find beauty all around you.  Put a pot of flowers on the table (heading into spring, I splurged when I really couldn’t afford it on bunches of tulips from our local grocery store.  My spirit needed them more than my body needed the food, and I can’t begin to say how much they lifted my spirits, what pleasure they gave me for a week at a time).

Study other people.  Who do you admire and respect? Why? Reach for those qualities in yourself.
Who makes you feel happier for being around them? Why? Emulate them!

Do you have friends? Be grateful for them. Look for ways to be a blessing to them.

Is there someone you know who needs help? Help her. Take the neighbor to the doctor and the grocery store when she’s not able to drive.  Pick up an extra bunch of tulips to cheer her up, too — or, this time of year, it’s little pots of miniature roses that are so beautiful.

Cultivate the habit of smiling at people.

Discipline yourself to stop bellyaching over every little thing. Everyone knows your sufferings by now; no need to belabor the point.  Now let them see your more cheerful and good-natured side.

Find one thing nice to say to everyone.

Get out of yourself.  Yes, take some time to rest and to be quiet and alone. But — bit by bit — “This week I will do this one thing” — get out of the rut.  It really won’t take long before you really have found some unexpected peace and joy and have become, very truly, your better self.

Springtime of the Soul

Winter doesn’t last forever. Thankfully, that’s not only true in our calendar or climatic seasons, but also to life seasons.

I usually live with depression of some description and to some degree or other from the first of October until mid-January.  That’s the season of all the family birthdays and some anniversaries, not to mention the great hype of Thanksgiving and Christmas as family holidays. But this year was different.  I got through the fall and the holidays fairly well, but I got hit hard in mid-January, just at the time I’m usually beginning to feel more myself.

It didn’t take much reflection to realize that I was very conscious of the 30-year anniversary of my separation from DH and the discovery he’s gay, but it took a little longer to realize that this anniversary reaction was compounded by the shadowy memories and continuing influences of other things that happened during the separation. My parents are dead, now, so it won’t shame them if I state that they were no help to me at all, and, in fact, abandoned me, even after they realized for themselves that DH is gay.  They blamed me for the divorce. I was in college, a single mom, and they didn’t come see me in two and a half years (they lived only an hour away from me, and my dad was in my town weekly for work purposes). I needed them and they weren’t there. That, as it turned out, was the largest factor of my descent into depression.

I don’t advocate the sort of self-absorbed introspection that renders us victims or traps us in an emotional childishness or leaves us with a myopic perspective; still, there are some things that need to be recognized and dealt with. I believe that if we are still and wait, if we look carefully, these issues will become clear enough that we can recognize them — and be given the means to lay them to rest. I’ve used the term “exorcise” and that’s not inaccurate, either.  The thing is, I believe, to be fully submitted to a discipleship in Christ, and not experimenting or immersed in any New Age or nonChristian framework; otherwise one might find oneself going into unhealthy spiritual and emotional places where one did not intend.

When I had realized that what was most deeply troubling me was the memory of my parents’ non-support — indeed, their abandonment — I was able to deal with it. There are techniques — you can find them in articles about mental health, or in talking with your own counsellor — but the one that turned the tide for me was pretending my Dad, especially, was sitting in the chair opposite me in the living room.  I gave him pure-T, unreconstituted hell for several minutes, and by the time I got to, “You used to call me your Winesap because I was the apple of your eye. How in HELL could you just abandon your little girl like that?” the cork popped and the tears started flowing —

I don’t cry easily or often; it had been more than two years since my last good cry.  Tears contain hormones, I’ve read, that influence or even control moods. Being unable to cry means that all those little bitty biochemical mood influences were trapped in my body and causing me to sink lower and lower and lower.  I told one friend it’s like standing on the wrong bass pedal of an organ — all that loud, discordant noise is there and can’t be ignored, no matter what delightful little fugue one might be playing on the manuals.  It’s an unpleasant weight around one’s soul.

Being able to cry was the wonder drug of the year. I followed up with a chat with a friend who does counseling and who knew my parents (that was important to me).  “Laura, I just never would have thought that your Daddy would have treated you like that.  I wish you could have told me – – ”  See? I’m not crazy and I’m not hateful.  Yes, I had a nervous breakdown. Yes, I was abandoned shamefully by my parents.  Yes, I forgave them (again).

YES. I SURVIVED.

And I survived the extreme depression season.  Crying worked it out of my body.  I found energy and interest and joy again.

Please note:  if you are trapped in severe depression so that you really can’t function, or are always sad, or can’t pull yourself out of it via ordinary means – sunshine, fresh air, exercise, a good venting cry or talk with a friend — do give some serious consideration to consulting your health care provider.  Life’s too short to spend it trapped in a misery which might find relief through medical treatments.

Also — I NEVER thought of harming myself:  life belongs to God, Period.  If you do think of hurting yourself, then I beg you to get some medical assistance. Your life has value and meaning and importance, even when you are temporarily unable to see it.  And, yes, it is temporary (even though sometimes it’s a long temporary) — the light of day always comes round at some point.  There is a redemptive end to all this.

 

More to Life

 

The arrival of spring invites us to reflect on how wonderful the seasonal changes are. My Gratitude Journal has been filled primarily with a record of the horticultural indicators that winter really is ended and spring is at hand — important when our temps are still a bit below average, right now.

The natural year and its seasons finds their match in our interior lives as well. The winter of our souls comes to an end, for a time, at least, as well, as the lengthening and warming days revives our energy levels.  And we discover that winter, with its cold, dark, starkly bleak days, is a time of hidden growth, a preparation for the fruitfulness of the coming summer. Winter isn’t only about rest from heavy productivity, it’s also a time of living off of resources, processing what we harvested before, of being still and quiet in preparation for an outburst of glory, with the lengthening of days and the warming of our lives.  Winter is when soil rebuilds itself. Winter is the season that makes us wise. Winter is the time when we go deep.

But at last it’s spring. Days are much longer, and for the most part a bit warmer, too. A lot of the trees and flowers have been blooming for the past month or so, and after this week my area is forecast to be out of the freezing temps for our nighttime low, even though our daytime temps are still running a bit below average. My energetic neighbors have long since planted their early gardens: potatoes, onions, sweet peas, cabbages, etc. Now that Easter is at hand, they’re looking at getting the warm-weather vegetables in the ground, too.

This is also a season when my neighbors are burning brush pruned earlier in the year, or “prescribed burning” the undergrowth or wood or yard debris of prior years. It’s a time to clean up – not just to make things tidy and manageable in appearance; it removes the fuel for out-of-control wildfires, such as the ones that swept through this region and destroyed so many homes a little more than fifty years ago.

A new season of productivity is at hand, in our minds and hearts as well as in the natural world. I’m spring cleaning. I have joint issues, so it’s going embarrassingly slowly; what might take a friend or family member an hour to accomplish, in a whirlwind of activity, I took a four-day weekend to do, this week, one step at a time. But the results are satisfying. “Brick by brick,” that’s how Rome was built, and it’s how my life is being rebuilt, too.

Like my neighbor burning brush cuttings last week, I’ve been trying to purge household debris that makes it harder for me to navigate the life and work God has given me. I’ve been living out of plastic bins for too many years; this weekend those bins and a metal cabinet went to the trash bin and a lovely wooden cabinet replaced them. Those bins were cheap and they were adequate, but the new cupboard, an old wardrobe fitted out with shelves, not only holds more, it’s also beautiful. We need beauty.

I got other things done as well, that aren’t so immediately visible, but also are satisfying. Writing work, administrative work for an organization I volunteer with. Music prep for Eastertide.

It’s a time to re-evaluate all sorts of activity. I told a friend Sunday evening that I really need to cut back on my social media time; it isn’t just a time suck, it has also left me habituated to the quick sound bite and short bursts of “conversation” that become a habit, a habit that makes it harder to focus for these longer (!) efforts like a blog post — much more so, an article or book.

Cutting back — reducing or ejecting — the clutter and debris. Cultivating the things we decide matter most — the relationships we value, or the skills that God has given us to use in His service —

Cultivating our own character: resolving to purge weaknesses, faults, defects and to cultivate virtue.

This is a season for renewal.

 

 

Lancing the boil

Every now and then, a flood of very ugly, bitter memories overwhelms me. This week has been one of those seasons. I hate it when it comes, but there it is. This morning I woke up, feeling much better after talking with a lifelong friend, last night.  I called this process “lancing a boil.”

The years immediately following DH’s leaving me were more horribly difficult than I can begin to describe. In common parlance, I had a nervous breakdown. Okay, for the sake of accuracy, I’m told there’s no such thing, medically speaking, as a nervous breakdown. The term is a sort of lay umbrella term that is so nonspecific that it doesn’t really mean anything.  It covers dozens of situations and so becomes pretty meaningless. The neighbor who had a bipolar episode requiring hospitalization could just as well be said to have have had one as I could, dealing with the nightmare stress and anxiety of going through the separation and discovering DH is gay.

More, at the time, I was under the impression that a nervous breakdown meant someone had been found curled up in the fetal position mumbling incoherently to herself, and couldn’t be pulled out of it. I wasn’t nearly so bad, I thought; I was functioning (more or less). Besides, I couldn’t think of things like that, there was too much at stake, I had a family to take care of, and I had to keep going.

But this is what I experienced. I am sharing so that others going through this can know they’re not losing their minds, but experiencing something not at all uncommon among us:

* I couldn’t concentrate.  This was particularly inconvenient since I was in college at the time, and English majors read a lot.  I’d look at a page for long minutes and not be able to figure out what it said. I’m not really sure how I was able to graduate and keep a B average.
* My mind was all over the place. Mostly, as I remember, was a litany of “I’m so afraid” or “I don’t know if I can do this” sorts of thoughts. Worse, a lot of my thoughts, and the interior voice that comes when one is reading silently, were screaming at me.
* I wanted to sleep all the time. Sleep was an escape. Plus, I was so, so overwhelmingly tired all the time. I could drop off to sleep so easily, and I hated waking up and having to be in the real world again (I still love to sleep, my dreams can be so entertaining! but I am also glad to wake up again.)
* I felt tense and anxious all the time. I came to refer to it as feeling as if I were living on the epicenter of an earthquake. Every single thing I did, no matter how normally inconsequential, seemed to loom in front of me as possessing potential for catastrophic consequences. I was certain that whatever I did, even to choose the pink button-up blouse over the blue knit pullover, would be WRONG.
* I couldn’t cry.  I just couldn’t. Still don’t. I pretty much isolated myself with my children and tried not to go to pieces. Complete isolation was impossible, being in college, living on campus in married student housing, having children. But I curtailed a lot of activities and kept to myself, still and quiet, as much as I possibly could.
* I felt on edge, had “the jitters,” all the time. No respite. For years.
* I had already established overeating, and eating the wrong foods, as a way of self-medication during the bitterly unhappy marriage. This continued through the Dark Days following the separation and the discovery that DH is gay. I’m not sure it actually increased, but it might have done.
* For months, people urged me, “Don’t deny the rage.” I didn’t know what rage was — until a horrible tragedy befell a friend, a year after DH moved out, and the cork popped.  Once it popped, there was no shoving it back in, and I seethed and boiled and simmered with rage. It wasn’t just that I developed a short-fused temper (also connected to my fear of catastrophe striking again at any minute) but my usual sense of humor turned sharp-edged, sarcastic, “black.” The negativity and resentments came out sideways. So did an overabundance of profanity.  Frankly? I didn’t like myself at all during this time. But I couldn’t seem to stop.

These things I simply attributed to “stress,” but it was stress to the breaking point.  For fun, I took one of those “stress tests” that assigns number values to different stressors — highest number for the death of a loved one, down through a series of other situations to more minor situations like car repairs.  A test similar to this one. The test warned, if one scored above an 85 over a six-month period, one’s health might be in jeopardy from excessive stress over the time indicated.  I scored 320.  Okay, I stretched the six months to 18 months or thereabouts because most of those issues were still currently causing problems.  But that was still a frighteningly high number.

Being unable to recognize what was going on, I didn’t seek professional assistance. I’d already dropped out of therapy because DH cashed and kept the Blue Cross/Blue Shield benefit check that was supposed to have gone to our therapist for “marriage counseling,” and I was terrified of debt. I didn’t realize that I might be in need of medication to see me through the worst of it. I couldn’t see that continuing in therapy would have been a very sound investment for my recovery and my future life.

I had no family support. None. Due to problems in my own family, some of which deserve a post of their own, I had no help or support whatsoever from my parents. My evangelical church, which DH left as soon as we separated, was no help; the pastor laid the whole burden of blame on me. The support and encouragement I did have came solely from the college community, from faculty and administration who knew me.

It’s hard to look back and to see just how bad things were. I shed a few tears, yesterday, thinking what I’d had to go through, and how utterly alone I felt (and, in fact, was).  “Bleak” skims the surface, and I don’t know of a better word to describe the experience — a thesaurus of words, maybe, would be required.

A regular divorce is bad enough. Stress enough. But a divorce PLUS the discovery that one’s spouse is gay? The world that I thought I knew was suddenly revealed not to have actually existed. The most essential realities of my life suddenly — not true. Or vanished altogether. The world had collapsed, a new world had to be recognized, and I didn’t know who I was in this unfamiliar place.  I was terrified of failure, but failure seemed inevitable.

This is NOT the end of the story — but it will suffice for now — again, as an assurance to other women going through this nightmare:  your experience is not singular, you are not in completely unchartered territory, although it’s not a well-travelled path.  You can survive this.  You can probably come out of it better than I did. Take comfort from my experience, and learn from my mistakes.

(To be continued – – – God’s Grace Carries Us)

 

Reviving the Blessings Journal

Low. Not sure what has triggered it, maybe the big anniversary or the realization I’m single for the duration or something I haven’t put my finger on . . . or maybe it’s the cumulative effect of several things at once. Anyway, it is what it is.

Several years ago, I came up with the idea of recording the unusual, the beautiful, the blessed things that I encountered during the course of ordinary days, to counter the sense of drowning in grief. I quit after several weeks, when I was back on top of things, again.  I think it’s time to revive the discipline

You see, I believe that every beautiful thing that comes by us, even the “ordinary” ones, is a way God is telling us “I love you.”  And every reminder that God loves us is a step out of the dark hole, or a pushing away of the Black Dog —

So here goes:

BLESSINGS AND BEAUTY, Week of February 25, 2018
Signs of Spring:  Daffodils and jonquils are up and in full bloom. Ornamental cherries. Bradford pears are a cloud of bridal white. Saw some forsythia yellow on my way to Mass, Friday.
A good bit of sunshine, last week, with temps in the 70s, giving us a break from the clouds, rain, and general early spring chill that we’ve returned to, today (Monday, 2/26).
A squirrel came within a yard of me, yesterday. I don’t know whether he was distracted by his food or just used to people moving around him but he didn’t seem to mind me at all. I like squirrels.
A turtle was by the sidewalk as I came out of Mass, yesterday.  A good-sized turtle.  I stopped and got some photos. He/She hissed and turned his/her back to me, but I still took pictures.
There’s a fragrance in the air, here at my country home, that reminds me of my grandmother’s grape hyacinths’ fragrance. I’ve no idea what it is or where it comes from – there are no hyacinths anywhere around me! and this fragrance is strong. But it’s a wonderful scent, and I wish I could capture it into a perfume to wear all year round.
My cousins’ dog came to visit both Saturday and Sunday. There’s something very sweet about a dumb animal choosing one as a personal favorite. Several students’ cats and dogs also seem to have chosen me as a favorite; their humans tell me they don’t behave the same open and friendly way toward other people who come to their houses.
My cat seems to be very sensitive to my state of mind, and he has stayed very close to me, these past couple of weeks, all cuddly and  — well, demanding and sometimes annoying. But it’s still sweet.
A young friend honored me this week by sharing a moment of profound vulnerability with me.
Another friend shared with me one of her personal sorrows.
I received a most generous gift from another friend, a gift that has covered my recent car repairs and given me a little to put aside for the next crisis.
Another friend, an artist, contacted me, “Can I help you with your writing and speaking business promotion?” She designed a business card for me, and coordinating notecards. I have to pay the printer, but she gave me her talent.
“I love the hymns we sang today,” someone told me, after Mass. I choose the hymns each week.

Some of these blessings also bring pain and sorrow — the love of my young friends and their parents is such a contrast to the estrangements I live with in my own family, and the affirmations of others’ gifts brings me the pangs of remembering the struggles to be known and taken seriously by my parents and by DH — but this is also part of the healing. One pushes through the resistance to find peace.

And I will push through.  The fact that a fragrance can stop me dead in my tracks while I delight in it, and the cloud of pink from a particular ornamental makes me say “ooooh!” before I’ve known I’m going to say it — these are signs of great hope.  I may feel low, but I am not too low.

Choices.

I don’t mind being an ex-wife defining my work. This is something I do, it’s part of how God redeems that experience and brings something out of it that, I hope, helps others.

But I’ll be damned if I’ll sit back and let being the ex-wife of a homosexual define my life.  Even after thirty years. The warping of the psychological and emotional abuse of that decade-plus may be too much to overcome, and I may not be able to find happiness in married love, but I will not go through my life as a victim.

A “wounded warrior,” maybe, but not a victim.

A friend I dearly love made a remark – I’m sure, now, it was innocently-intended – that set off a chain reaction of memories. . . miserable, bitter memories. And a knee-jerk reaction, “I hope you don’t mean to imply . . . ” that I’m cringing over, now — but that’s okay, he’s tough and he can take it. My life isn’t endangered because of an accidental trigger.

Memories. Weaknesses. We think we’re sailing along in calm waters, we think that, because it’s been a long time since we have been tormented by thoughts and memories and reactions that we’ve finally come clear of them, and WHAM! something slams into our gut and there they are again.

As far as I can see, there’s only one thing for it: grit my teeth, fight my way to the surface of the wave, and ride it out. If I have a hard time getting my thoughts back under control, I have a local counsellor I can talk it out with. I have friends who will support me. I have this writing as an outlet.

I’ve been through this before, I know it will pass.  And it takes less time, now, than in the early years.

 

It’s All Okay

Much better the day after that last post.  Most of the time I do very well.  This one took me unprepared.

There are days I know will be difficult:  my daughters’ birthdays. Our anniversary.  Christmas.  As those approach I give myself a bit extra pampering, allow myself a bit of grieving, buy myself a good chocolate bar and maybe some other delicacy.  I take extra naps.  In advance, I might take extra vitamins and immune boosters, since being low in spirits often coincides with a lowering of resistance to sickness.

I’m not a cry-er; it would probably be better for me if I were.

But what the mind doesn’t consciously identify, the body often will know and react to.  This can be brutally hard at times. Suddenly finding oneself low and not knowing why is almost more distressing than being low in itself.  When I’m low on certain expected dates, I know it’s because it’s that date and will pass by the time I wake up, tomorrow morning; but when I’m leveled and don’t know why, it leers at me and threatens to become my permanent state.  This is unrealistic, of course, but sometimes the feeling dominates all.

The good news is that I got through a couple of anniversaries, this past year, with barely a wobble.  There is a lot to be grateful for:  if time doesn’t heal all wounds, it does generally make them less acute.