The Winding Path

Counselling Services provided by Barb Zacharias

May 2021: True Love

Posted on May 23, 2021

May 2021: True Love

When I started writing this blog, I was sitting outside on my deck after a light drizzle had refreshed the great outdoors following a few very warm days. Imagine with me the vivid green of the new leaves, the birds singing nature’s soundtrack in the background, punctuated by the drone of a helicopter. Surprisingly, there is a lull in the usual cacophony made by vehicles and voices.

A moment of peace and serenity. Just a moment. Vehicles are once again steadily passing by my corner. The sun is burning through the cloud cover. I once again hear voices throughout the neighbourhood. A moment.

Sometimes I would like to live  in the woods away from all these background noises. To soak in nature’s quiet existence. But something always pulls me back. I suppose it is that innate need for connection. Something currently in short supply in our world. We seem to be headed toward a dystopian society. Some would say we are already there.

Why is it so hard for humans to maintain kindness and compassion? Why do we impose our beliefs on others or shut down disparate voices? Why can we not invite dialogue? Listen to each other’s experiences? Make reasonable and informed decisions? Why do we insist on being antagonistic? We all have the same capabilities of operating from kindness or apathy or aggression. Why do we choose the last two on a consistent basis?

I know these are rhetorical questions. Just where my mind is wandering. Which leads me to wonder how does one maintain hope in dystopia? And…it comes back to connection, reaching out. Finding one person that can be your anchor. Reminds me of holocaust and other genocide survivors. Their saving grace: community. A group of safe people providing consistency and connection.

During a global pandemic, it is very challenging to find a safe community. Meeting virtually has its limits. Humans need to touch each other. To offer comfort and support: physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually, relationally. In direct contrast with our need for community and connection, I informed a client the other day that true love can only be found within.

I realize those with conservative religious beliefs will counter that with statements about God. However, most religious faiths acknowledge the inward attunement that requires: even praying is an inward focus formulating thoughts that are sent out into the universe from our innermost being. Most of our prayer conversations happen inside our head. Most faiths also espouse that God already is within us and/or we are part of the divine Oneness.

Maybe that’s where to find community: in our oneness. But I digress from my thoughts on True Love. We tend to externalize love. We seek it outside ourselves in other people (and/or deities that are defined by faith systems). In doing so, we subject feeling loved to the vagaries of people and situations beyond our control —much like the weather. Similar to the external vs internal locus of control for our sense of self.

If our sense of self is based externally, those externals are in flux; and we lose security or stability. We never know who we are at given moment unless someone or something provides feedback (aka external validation). If our sense of self is based within, it is not dependent upon ever changing external factors. Much like shooting at a moving target.

So. To pull these thoughts together. If we can find “True Love” within instead of without, how does that impact the choices we make? How we seek to get our legitimate needs met, including connection and belonging? How we pursue our passions? How we center ourselves? How we shape our lives? How we choose romantic partners? When we develop a strong inner core, that may or may not include religious beliefs or spiritual practices, we know that we always have our own back. We can provide the consistency, stability, and security we crave and constantly seek externally.

How many of us actually treat ourselves with the compassionate care we crave from others?

For me, practicing “True Love” means making sacrifices as well as indulgences. By choosing to live as close to nature as I can, it involves living without the security of a steady income. My love of nature means I live further away from urban conveniences. Practicing True Love also means setting boundaries such as limiting contact with toxic people. I am an introvert, so I need to ensure I have sufficient alone time to recharge after interacting with fellow humans. Being an animal lover also means I make choices that impact where and how I live and how I spend some of my money when I have it.

Most importantly, True Love means I talk to myself much more gently than I used to. It means listening to my gut, my intuition, my Higher Self. It means interacting with the Divine Mystery, keeping an open mind, and a guarded heart. What True Love is not is narcissism, selfishness, arrogance, and the like. True Love makes us better humans, not less-tolerable ones.

While I was writing this blog in my journal, my pen ran out of ink. The last thing I wrote was: By looking within for consistent caring presence…

I’m not sure how I was going to end that sentence, but my current thought sees it as a challenge for me to look within for a consistent caring presence. My True Self is my constant companion. I am always with myself. As ludicrous as that sounds, there can be comfort there if we treat our Inner Selves well. I cannot say that I do. I tend to be very hard on myself and unkind. As a recovering people-pleaser and workaholic, looking within instead of without for validation and support is not any easy task. And as I mentioned, sometimes looking within is just as troubling as without.

Finding True Love within is about checking our judgements at the doorway to our heart and mind and soul. It is about offering ourselves grace, speaking kindly, acknowledging limitations and mistakes, as well offering comfort and support. It is about taking responsibility for our lives—not for the externals that shaped us, but living with the consequences of unmet attachment needs, childhood woundings, conditioning, and imposed value systems.

By looking within we can make sure our inner compass is set to True North. And not everyone’s compass settings will look the same or point in the same direction. Unlike our planet, the inner workings of people have a variety of directions to turn to. I admit I have difficulties with this as there are some things I believe are universal such as opposing racism, sexism, poverty, injustice, and the like. Others do not believe as I do. My only hope is that I learn how to invite dialogue instead of drawing lines in the sand. And that I can turn within for support when I fail rather than punishment—whether that is seen as encountering the Internal Divine, my Higher Self, my Inner Compass, or my Interior Family.

My hope is that when you look within today, you will also encounter True Love. Maybe we can start by addressing ourselves as “Dear One,” as in, “Dear One, I see you.” Namaste. Perhaps that is enough: to look in the mirror, make the hand pose, and greet yourself: The spirit in me sees the spirit in you. Namaste.

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April 2021: Body Love, Pt 2

Posted on Apr 26, 2021

April 2021: Body Love, Pt 2

I received some exciting news at the doctor’s office earlier this week: I lost 3.5 lbs! After four years of steadily gaining 10 lbs per year for no apparent reason, this was a huge relief. No thanks to the medical community, I might add. Out of desperation, I began looking into my health concerns on my own. I read books. I completed questionnaires. Following recommendations from my research, I began a new supplement regimen targeted at thyroid function and female hormones as well as using essential oils and aromatherapy. I tweaked my food intake. I listened to my body. Most importantly, I did (and continue to do) the difficult emotional work.

I haven’t done the math to figure out how long it would take me to lose 40+ pounds at the rate of ~2 lbs per month (if that still continues). I am not even focusing on weight loss per se. If it happens, great. If it doesn’t, that’s okay too. As long as the weight gain stops. Because my 5’2” frame technically can’t handle this much “extra” me.

Fortunately, I am blessed with an hourglass figure plus the tendency to gain weight fairly proportionally all over my body. However, I have not always appreciated my curves. Especially in my younger, thinner years when my figure was disproportionately curvaceous in the caboose. I was teased about my big bum since junior high. I remember as a camp counsellor, campers commenting on my generous proportions in that one area. I grew up listening to my maternal aunts bemoan the state of their behinds and fluctuations in weight, size, and shape. I did not hear any positive messages about body image that I can recall.

I definitely felt defective.

I have hated my body—or at the very least questioned its abilities—my entire life. Even as a younger child I sensed I was different (eg. not wanting to exert myself physically) which turns out was likely the very early stages of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome—not to mention my mental health issues that have always been there: unnamed, unacknowledged. It has been a long, tiresome, arduous journey to reclaim my unwanted bits and bobs. With my mental health finally stabilized, it was evidently time to work on body issues—both internal and external.

I remember my last significant weight loss like it was yesterday—even thought it was nearly ten years ago. At the time I assumed it was due to the grief work prompted by the death of a beloved pet, Gracie. In retrospect, it was due to Leaky Gut Syndrome (stomach not absorbing nutrients properly) which required going on a strict “diet” regimen for two years (and then slowly reintroducing foods to determine what was safe to eat). My first dramatic weight gain got blamed on a new anti-anxiety med. Changes were made, lost half the weight gained, which seemed to be my body’s new normal. Just as I was coming to terms with this version of my body, the gradual weight gain began much to my chagrin and bewilderment. What was my body dong to me? Why did it hate me so much?

On the latest leg of my body acceptance journey, I have been reading books by Geneen Roth. I highly recommend anything written by her if you struggle with any sort of compulsive behaviour. In particular, her workbook, “Why Weight?” is very perceptive and asks the tough questions with compassion. One of which is to ask your fat what it’s doing for you. For me, the answer was surprising. My extra weight responded with “we’re here for you.” Without my extreme weight changes, I would never have faced the internalized deprivation and shame messages (which surface whether we are over or under weight). I have weight/body image issues regardless of the numbers on a scale or clothing size. Looking at photos taken during my intense grief work (aka weight loss period), I recall I still hated my body shape, particularly my derriere. It didn’t help I felt unseen by my then husband. I remember vowing I would never gain weight again, discarded all my “fat” clothes (of a certain size), only to gain back all that weight and much more. I hated my body for betraying me.

Yet my weight is here for me in that if I had stayed “thin,” me, myself, & I would have continued betraying my body by shaming it every day (and several times a day). My body does know what is best for me, if only I stop to listen and respect what I hear. Just like my essential or True Self, my body longs to be loved. We have been to hell and back emotionally, mentally, spiritually, and physically. The least I can do is appreciate how it keeps working for me—day in and day out, through good times and bad. My body loves me unconditionally. It moves, breathes, circulates blood, and heals itself (albeit slowly) regardless of how much I disrespect it.

So instead of yet another rant (and believe me, I have a few held in reserve 🙂 ), I decided to share a bit of my body love journey—and all because I lost 3.5 lbs. There are so many contributing factors, I wouldn’t know where to start; but I will make a list of resources I consulted. Key among them are the nuggets mined from Geneen Roth’s shared experiences. I will try to summarize a few key points.

1) When we compulsively [insert behaviour here: eat, smoke, clean, organize, work, etc.], we are trying to nourish ourselves—to feed a hungry heart, not necessarily an empty tummy. We must slow down the compulsion to figure out what we are actually craving (eg. attention and affection) which food (or whatever) is not actually going to satisfy.

2) Awareness of the compulsive behaviour in the moment is the starting point—and being willing to try another way to satisfy the craving/care for self/feed the hungry heart/self-soothe.

3) Show the body (and your Self) some love—mindfully bathe/shower/apply lotion, repeat daily affirmation statements, seek out comforting touch, give yourself a hug, listen to music, create something meaningful, go for a walk, be in nature, get a massage, call a trusted friend, etc.

4) Explore the shame and/or deprivation messages and do something about them: keep, discard, modify.

5) Get to know your body inside and out! Don’t settle. Honour the trial and error method. Keep looking for solutions until you are satisfied.

May you experience an inner shift in your body love journey, however slight. It all counts. Never forget: you count and matter. Love and appreciate your Self, in some small way, today.

List of resources:
The Thyroid Solution by Ridha Arem, MD (2007).
The Supercharged Hormone Diet (2011) ORThe Hormone Diet (2010) by Natasha Turner, ND.
The Canadian Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine, Sherry Torkos, BSc Phm (2013).
The Complete Aromatherapy & Essential Oils Handbook for Everyday Wellness, by Nerys Purchon & Lora Cantele (2014).
The Art of Dressing Curves: The Best-Kept Secrets of a Fashion Stylist by Susan Moses (2016).
Feeding the Hungry Heart: The Experience of Compulsive Eating by Geneen Roth (1982/1993).
Breaking Free from Emotional Eating by Geneen Roth (1984/2003).
Why Weight? A Workbook for Ending Compulsive Eating by Geneen Roth (1989).
The Self-Acceptance Project: How to Be Kind and Compassionate Toward Yourself in Any Situation, by Various Authors, Tami Simon, editor (2016)

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March 2021: Time Warp

Posted on Mar 19, 2021

March 2021: Time Warp

I fully intended to blog about something that I mentioned on social media; but this week’s life experience rose to the top of the queue. In an attitude of solidarity with fellow, mental-illness strugglers, I am choosing to rant about the absurdity of the semiannual time change.

Past experience has taught me to always schedule “recovery time” post time change—whether springing forward or falling backwards. If I operated like a corporation, this would be viewed as a significant financial loss as I am not earning an income during scheduled down time. Fortunately I don’t think in those terms. However, sometimes that is the only language the “powers-that-be” understand. Given the numerous statistics that indicate the time change is not a good idea (increased emergency visits, car accidents, and the like), it does beg the question why any country would agree to something that detracts rather than adds to a person’s quality of life.

However, the goal of this blog is not to petition the government to stop the insanity; but rather to normalize what I experienced this past week and what many of you likely also went through. This past weekend, I followed through with the usual protocols. Changing the clocks before going to bed Saturday night. Giving myself an unhurried Sunday morning. Only having one (unavoidable) scheduled item for the afternoon. Monday was more of the same. I allowed myself as much flexibility as I could as I am usually more tired than usual during these time adjustments.

So I was surprised by my drop in mood come Monday. I questioned whether I needed to ask my doctor to increase my anti-depressant (which I have been gradually reducing). That was a check point for me. I was frighteningly near the edge of the abyss; and I did not want to go there. It was akin to PTSD flashbacks imagining the effort of crawling out of the depression abyss; and I wanted to avoid that all costs. This had me worried. What was happening that my whole system appeared off kilter?

By Tuesday I was still sluggish but no longer near the edge of the abyss. I could tell my body was adjusting; but everything feels “off” given our circadian rhythm is so dependent upon the movement of the sun and takes its cues from the amount of daylight. The days feel “wrong” to me with this time warp. Made me question why we “need” an extra hour of daylight at the end of the day when we live above the 49th parallel and have plenty long enough days as it is. Who needs daylight at 10pm??? In summer I am very dependent on blocking out the evening light, not absorbing it.

To me, taking advantage of the summer sun would involve installing solar panels. Not trying to manufacture a longer day. Why do we try to play with the concept of time? The day still only has 24 hours. Our bodies can only do so much with our given time. I fail to see the logic in messing with the natural function of the planet, sun, and moon. There are so many better things to do with our resources—a key one being rethinking the structured 40-hour work week. Now there is something that might actually allow people to take advantage of daylight hours.

So I guess there is one thing I can extract from this week’s depression scare: I am grateful I am self-employed and can plan my days with wellness rather than profits in mind. The irony is that focusing on my wellness means taking advantage of the times of day when I am most productive which translates into efficiency (work smarter, not harder). But my definitions of productivity and efficiency differ from the corporate world which requires a servitude to a bottom line and profit shares.

It also made me frustrated that a nonsensical “tradition” was imposed upon me. Something I didn’t want or need, that didn’t contribute to the greater good or overall well-being of the planet. Something that actually caused harm in the form of a depressive episode. If I may add, unlike masks and vaccines which are intended to stop the advancement of a deadly virus. At the worst, masks are uncomfortable but don’t cause any harm. For those claiming duress, there are many accommodations like home deliveries to counter the need to leave your house which requires the wearing of a mask. There are no accommodations for mental-illness setbacks triggered by mandated time changes.

Hence, I am grateful I am not a slave to the 40-hour work week and someone else’s bottom line. The trade off is less personal income and no financial security; but I have come to terms with that. For me, messing with time has no benefits and only creates chaos. If it wouldn’t complicate my life, I wouldn’t bother with the time change. So if your week was as filled with emotional upheaval as mine was, take heart. You are not alone. And you are not crazy. Just live in a crazy world.

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