The Winding Path

Counselling Services provided by Barb Zacharias

February 2024: New Chapter

Posted on Feb 25, 2024

February 2024: New Chapter
2024 sunburst on trail

If you follow my Facebook page, you will already know that I’ve had a “rough go” of it for the last little while. After making some tweaks and allowing myself to rest, I think I’ve turned a corner. I’m on the mend. To provide some background, the month of January was bitterly cold and slow with clients (only 4). So, I decided to take the hint from the Universe and start writing my book – and working on my trust/anxiety issues with daily reassurances that the Universe is limitless and has my back, my needs are provided for.

I started writing my book 10 years ago, but didn’t get farther than an opening paragraph. Since then, I’ve been collecting thoughts and ideas, making notes, reading memoirs, and getting a general feel for it. This past January, it felt like the Universe was telling me: okay, enough research, time to start writing. I also felt brave enough to open my old journals and revisit my past as I perceived it at the time. I knew I could finally embrace that younger version of myself with compassion instead of keeping her at arm’s length with a sense of shame.

It became a tandem exercise: writing what I could remember of my childhood and adolescence while reading my initial forays into journalling in my early twenties. And then processing what I was reading in my current journal! At some point, I decided to transcribe my old journals into the computer for easier access should something be pertinent for my book. What I didn’t realize, but my body did, was the drain this processing and writing had upon my emotional, mental, and physical reserves.

I first noticed the setback at the end of January, but couldn’t explain it as I hadn’t done anything physically exhausting to explain a typical Chronic Fatigue Syndrome ‘crash’ – which takes about a week to recover. Instead, my symptoms and level of functioning continued to decrease to the point that I spent more time in bed or on the couch than I did actively doing anything, including sedentary computer work. I simply did not have the brain capacity to keep words and concepts together (otherwise known as brain fog).

I would have to check my journal to determine the exact timing of the realization that the regression of symptoms (it was more than a crash) was rooted in revisiting my childhood and adolescent trauma. While my brain and psyche may have processed quite a bit of my trauma, evidently my body hasn’t released all of it yet. Hence why generational trauma is a legit concept. Trauma is not only passed down through the generations via learned behaviours, it is also stored in us on an inexplicable cellular level.

The histories of our ancestors are as much a part of our lives and our stories as it was their own. While they experienced it firsthand, we are storing it and re-experiencing it on a different level – genetically or otherwise. And our descendants carry on the stories while creating their own as well. In that case, I am grateful the buck stops with me. I have no living children nor nieces nor nephews. However, my cousins do. And I wonder how much of our shared histories are stored in their biological systems. Stories they are unaware of.

I am a bit of a genealogical junkie (whether it’s a person or a place). I love watching shows that explore genealogical clues. I have done some exploring of my own and discovered crazy stories hidden in the details that get recorded. One has to sit with the data a bit to discern the trail of bread crumbs; but the details are telling. I suspect I could write a book that is just a collection of genealogical anecdotes. My latest passion has been exploring my namesakes up my family tree. The very first one is a Barbara born in 1753 in Prussia; and she has quite the story that I hope to share in my book someday! Life wasn’t simple at any time in history. There is no such thing as the ‘good ole days.’

Not only do I have my own experience living as Barbara, but these former Barbaras are also written into my genetic code. So far, the ones I’ve researched a bit haven’t had easy lives. Some of my generational trauma has been passed down through cultural conditioning, some of it from shared experiences as women in patriarchal systems. Can I live up to the strength and courage these namesakes exhibited? They all made tough decisions to make the most of their situations.

In that sense, I have too. I wonder what they would make of my choices? From the data, I have a sense that that very first Barbara would not only understand my choices, but celebrate them. Some of the more ‘recent’ ones would have a hard time with my decision to divorce my husband or my limitations with a chronic illness (productivity being the Mennonite raison d’être). But different times call for different actions. Their stories are remarkable for what isn’t said as much as for what is known.  

I, in fact, didn’t know I had namesakes until 2016. See previous blog. That is also part of the generational trauma stored in my body. To explore my story is to resurrect theirs. They will not be forgotten. Wow. That hit me on a visceral level. For my next thought was: unlike my mother. My story is also my mother’s story and all the women before us on that family tree. For my book, I will be limiting it to the accessible Barbaras on my tree.

How to end this blog? I began simply reflecting on the past couple months and finally having the wherewithal to write a blog entry. I was beginning to think I wouldn’t write anything this year. I went from giving a ‘heads up’ that I have been unwell to generational trauma and ancestral stories. Not what I was expecting. So, as I leave this blog to either transcribe my old journal entries or research namesakes, I encourage you to embrace all the stories held within your physical body: the past versions of yourself as well as all the ancestors that have contributed genetically and experientially to your story, your being. Celebrate you today!

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December 2023: Choices

Posted on Dec 28, 2023

December 2023: Choices

It never ceases to amaze me how life has a knack of sorting itself out, if we give it a chance to do so. The first two weeks of December were unusually quiet for me, work-wise—which provided an opportunity to practice my belief in a limitless Universe that has my back. It took some effort, but I was able to quell the anxiety about future finances. It helps knowing that worrying doesn’t change anything, simply provides your brain the false belief of doing something when one has no control over the situation—providing a sense of action when there is no course of action to take.

To keep the anxiety gremlins contained, I immersed myself in the concept of wintering that, of course, came across my path via social media. The image is inserted into this blog. And after the past couple months of internal and external drama, I desperately needed a time of wintering—which also allowed for Christmas baking. One of my favourite aspects of this Solstice season as well as a tried-and-true form of neighbourly gift giving. Wintering also gave me time to play around with a new craft idea that extended into gift giving for a lucky (?) few. 😉

This also means I don’t have any reason not to follow through with my blog of November that kind of left my readers hanging. So, if you haven’t read my previous blog entries, now might be the time to do a quick catch up, and for me to go back into that head space after wintering for a bit. How to pick up where I left off? It was about the choices I have as a responsible adult. Options that I didn’t have as a vulnerable child and teenager.

As I mentioned last month, one of the choices involved grieving the loss of the unmet need for an advocate and to recognize my pattern of over-functioning as an advocate or buffer in the lives of others—a pattern that is unable to heal that inner wound and often exacerbates it. The parameters for advocacy needed to change. I had to set boundaries for myself not to go the extra mile and to sit with the ensuing discomfort. I also had to practice self-advocacy when the need arose. This, too, proves challenging; but like any skill, improves with practice.

Another choice I mentioned previously, is that of not delegating my safety. Meaning it is not up to the male populace to play the hero card. It is my job, as an adult, to keep myself safe—another loss to grieve in that I never felt safe as a child and teenager, or even as a young adult. A felt sense of safety has been elusive for me, whether it be physical, emotional, mental, sexual, or spiritual. It is something I can only generate for myself by the choices I make, the thoughts I entertain, the healing journey I continue on.

My journal makes so many good points (over several days), it is difficult to weed out the truly pertinent ones that may be beneficial to others on their healing journey. I glibly mentioned grieving the loss of unmet needs for advocacy and safety. Yet that is a complex process starting with identification followed by recognition. I craved a buffer from the storms of life; but that was me. That was my job in my family-of-origin. I have to face the unfairness and experience the grief “stages” of denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance for each of the losses.

None of my coping mechanisms can fill the cavernous void left by my father’s inattention (or my birthmother’s abandonment or my stepmother’s blatant abuse). I will never have a dad to step in the gap for me. He will never come to rescue or save me. He will never attend to my wounds (physical or psychological). He will never care about or for me. The harsh reality is that that ship has sailed. The opportunity for my dad to protect his little girl has passed. I am no longer that vulnerable child, but an adult with choices (the mantra of trauma recovery as many of you are aware).

I need to find other ways of assuaging the pain and completing the trauma response loop. I will spare you the summary of trauma response in our bodies for this blog. Maybe next year, it will factor into one. Suffice to say, I can never be abandoned by my father like that again. From my journal: “Granted, he continues to fail to show up and pokes at that wound regularly. However, I am no longer dependent upon him for my bio-psycho-social-sexual-spiritual development/well-being. His (in)actions have damaged me in all these areas of being human. But I am responsible for myself as an adult—not him…I can’t hold him responsible for healing the wound he created…I can either wallow in it and/or continue to seek out male validation. Or I can embrace myself and work towards retraining my amygdala & whatever part of the brain is responsible for relationships…

…I am whole & complete. No one else can change that. My sense of self may be impacted by others, but my True Self is whole & complete. That bright flame deep within. It appreciates—and shines brighter in—the company of kindred spirits. And like every other human being, longs to be loved unconditionally. That, too, has passed in the sense that that is solely a parental responsibility. In a partnership, there is no such thing as unconditional—it must be reciprocal with equal responsibility. That is even tougher to process—the loss of unconditional love. That opportunity can never come again. I can hold out for reciprocal, but not unconditional love. I can also never lose it ever again as I am no longer a vulnerable child. I am an adult who can make choices about being open to and/or finding reciprocal love and not settle for good enough or safe.”

Part of self-acceptance is owning that I deserve a requited love. From my journal: “But I can never go back to a time of unconditional love—not to lose it, nor to fill it. Just as I can’t go back to meet my attachment needs as an infant or a child or a teenager. Best I can do is love unconditionally my infant self, my child self, my teenaged self. WOW. That’s actually pretty powerful—and tough! My development is so embroiled with shame messages that it is difficult to see myself at any age as unconditionally lovable. Yet that is the only way to heal that father wound. My dad was mistaken and misguided. I AM lovable and worthy of love and deserving of love, of consistent attention and affection. He dropped the ball. NOT me—unless I fail to now love unconditionally every former version of myself. That’s a tough one.”

This is not a one-time realization. It is something I must remind myself of frequently in order to retrain my brain, get new neurons firing and wiring together. Also from my journal: “I cannot be abandoned, left behind, ever again—not as a vulnerable child. And as a responsible adult, I always have choices. I think I’m still missing the part where as a responsible adult, I never leave behind my vulnerable child self. I have tried to abandon her, leave her behind, many, many times. Fortunately, it’s not actually possible. The “worst” I can to is fragment her and/or bury her. I need to welcome her back, to embrace her, to never let her go. To integrate her into my psyche….

…My mission, should I choose to accept it, is to become a unified whole. Integrated. No fragmented parts. Little Barbie was abandoned by her mother, rejected by her father, and resented by her stepmother. I will no longer abandon, reject, resent, or shame her. She is loved, welcomed, encouraged, validated, affirmed, deemed worthwhile, accepted by responsible adult Barb and our True Self. Both child and adult Barb need to be integrated into our True Self. I can only imagine what that unity could feel like, become, achieve. I still have more sorting re: the kindness of men (which to me is an oxymoron). But I think I’m beginning to grasp that it has nothing to do with my True Self.”

In my journal, I explore the concept of trauma bonding of which I believe there are two kinds: 1) shared trauma experience; and 2) a relationship based upon rewards and punishments. But for the sake of this blog, it is enough to acknowledge that my adult choices involve engaging in the grief process for what happened to me as a vulnerable child/teenager/young adult. And accepting that those losses can never occur again given I am no longer in a position of vulnerability. It is now up to me to find ways to meet my needs whether by keeping myself safe, self-advocacy, loving myself unconditionally, or being open to reciprocal love. It is very difficult to explain how liberating these realizations have been or how they are part of completing the trauma response. At any rate, it is helping my amygdala to reset. My danger detector can focus on present/real threats instead of perceived or past ones.

As I work on “rewriting” or “rewiring” my modus operandi, I am better able to set boundaries with self-respect. I am able to empower myself to live my own life instead of one conditioned in me. I am able to slow down the automatic reactions in order to consciously choose a response. And I am able to love all versions of myself unconditionally (I felt an inner cringe, so evidently there is more healing work to be done! 😉).

As we bid adieu to 2023 and welcome 2024, may you find healing for you mother-father wounds and embrace your whole & complete selves to live your magical lives that only you can live.

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November 2023: House of Mirrors

Posted on Nov 30, 2023

November 2023: House of Mirrors
Telus World of Science, Edmonton, AB, 1997

I had assumed my healing journey update for November was going to break the overarching theme, from the past few months, of amusement park rides. So I was humoured somewhat by the realization that this month’s journey update suits the concept of a house of mirrors. To recap: August was a tilt-a-whirl, September – a drop tower, and October – a haunted house. My house of mirrors this month conveniently dovetails with the counselling concept of mother and father wounds.

We all have mother and father wounds, even if we grew up in stable and relatively happy homes. No parent or guardian is perfect, after all; which means some of us have mere scratches to contend with, others flesh wounds, and yet others have gaping, oozing sores that seem to get re-infected just when we think they are beginning to close over. If you’ve been following my story this past year, you’ve already guessed mine are of the third variety.

As we’ve gone along together this past year, I have talked about attachment theory, mirror neurons, and our parents being the first reflectors of what they see in us and what we’re about. I use the word parents loosely as the people who raised us. We all have biological parents, whether we know them or not. Generally speaking, they are the same folks who raise us. However, in today’s age of blended families and adoption, it is not uncommon any longer for people other than our biological parents to raise us.

In my childhood, it was rather uncommon to have a stepmother. It also wasn’t advertised by my family; so many people didn’t know that fact outside of extended family or close friend circles. There were a few others in high school with stepparents; but we didn’t form a club, so their identities are not necessarily known to me. In retrospect, it might have been helpful if we had formed a club (aka support group). 😊 However, club or no club, it is tough to grow up not knowing who you are or having skewed images reflected back to us. Hence the house of mirrors.

I know I have previously broached the subject of changing my self-perception by choosing not to see myself as my parents see me. Their view, and therefore mirrors, haven’t altered as I’ve grown and branched out. My parents continue to reflect back their skewed images of me. It’s a bit disconcerting at times, as I try to clarify my self-perception, only to see distorting images staring back at me. I must do a reset and/or refuse to look whenever I encounter that house of mirrors.

When we grow up with skewed images of ourselves, it contributes to the formulation and subsequent healing of mother-father wounds. I have dealt with my mother wounds in the past in various contexts, most prior to my blogging efforts; and back in March 2012 it was far too raw when my dog Gracie died. And this month did stir up the stepmother wound in dealings with an obstinate caseworker. A long, tiresome story for another time. However, it didn’t take centre stage; which really seems fitting now considering how my dad loves to be the centre of attention.

I have been grappling with the father wound off-and-on since last December and a disastrous family web chat for which I take full responsibility. Something snapped in me, and I exploded. It wasn’t pretty. I can’t remember if I blogged about that previously. The fallout hasn’t been particularly lovely either; which I know I haven’t blogged about directly as it is too dark and complicated. Plenty of unwritten material for my book.

I am not certain what shifted or triggered the father wound to become front and centre—to the point of wondering why my mother wound seems less severe given the circumstances of abandonment and abuse. From my journal: “Why is it so much deeper than the mother wound? Why is the knife of betrayal so much sharper? Maybe because there were always women on the periphery; but no men to step in and fill the void. The void was glaringly obvious due to dad’s presence rather than (birth)mom’s absence. Dad was physically there—and did nothing. I have been seeking dad’s notice—his attention—since I was an infant, let alone a little girl. Dad refused to step up…How do I help heal that father wound? How do I hold it and let it go? How do I grieve the loss so that I can move forward?”

I had to delve further into my journal to pick up the thread as it had subsided without my noticing. And I found far more content for just one blog! Several threads were tugged as I explored this father wound including: safety, romantic transference (I know there is a therapeutic term for this, but it escapes me at the moment), familial and cultural covert sexual abuse, abandonment, advocacy, and many frayed ends off those tugged threads. For this blog, my goal is to tease out the threads relating to the house of mirrors.

Some of what was reflected back to me was definitely absorbed subconsciously, such as the beliefs about safety. As I pondered, a hidden drive surfaced that applies to all human interactions, but particularly with males: Please make me feel safe because my dad never did. Growing up, my safety meant a twisted circus act where I had to balance the emotional equilibrium at home. I was never truly safe in that environment. If mom was angry, I was to blame, and dad was unhappy. It was my responsibility to try harder to please. I still do that in all relationships. Try hard to please, and I will be safe. If I fail to please, connection and attachment is lost. An adjacent thought has to do with pleasing clients. Keeping them happy to keep myself safe.

I wanted dad to see me and the situation from my perspective. I wanted him to advocate for me—not the other way around. There’s the rub. Why I loathe advocating for myself and why I’m so quick to do it for others. I know what it feels like to be left abandoned. Not just at my mother’s gravesite, but in the kitchen amidst the volatility that was home. That is definitely the worse abandonment. I didn’t count, I didn’t matter—only as a means to an end for dad. He saw my purpose, my reason for existing as a prop for his own needs—make him feel good, look good. If stepmom said I was in the way of that, then it was as she said. He never once sought my perspective, my lived experience. They saw my mental & emotional well-being (or lack thereof) as totally separate from themselves.

I internalized the absence of dad’s care and concern as something being wrong with me. Makes sense then why I perceived any unwelcome attention or awkward relationships as being my fault, my failing. My needs weren’t met because of me. And if I had something good and lost it—also my fault—not the nature of the relationship or other person. I was abandoned because I was bad. My abandonment issues are not solely due to the death of my mother. Yet it’s the father wound that somehow crushed me—my confidence, self-concept—even more than birth mom choosing to leave.

What our parents reflect back to us, what we internalize about ourselves, becomes our operational manual for living. In a catch22, however my modus operandi came to be, it is my responsibility as an adult to make changes when I recognize some aspect is no longer working or serving my best interests. I pondered a great deal about those questions posed earlier: How do I help heal that father wound? How do I hold it and let it go? How do I grieve the loss so that I can move forward? All questions that stare back from the distorted images in my house of mirrors.

The answers to my own questions filled pages of my journal and far exceed the acceptable lengths of a blog. To summarize, I had to grieve the loss or unmet need of an advocate. Someone to act as a buffer from the storms of life. I had to recognize how my flawed coping mechanisms can never fill the gaping wound left by my father’s inattention. I can’t heal my father wound by advocating for others or by delegating my safety. I also have to accept that I am no longer a vulnerable child, but an adult with choices. And those choices are for the next blog.

I recognize that this blog may feel a bit open-ended. Perhaps I am giving you an opportunity to practice increasing your window of distress tolerance—managing the discomfort of unknowns or loose ends. Perhaps it’s an opportunity to consider your mother or father wounds before expounding on what to do with them. Perhaps I said too much or too little. It is after all, challenging to be one’s own editor. 😊 And perhaps this is about me not being comfortable that this blog isn’t wrapped up in a neat package to present to you.

So, feel free to share you feedback via this blog or email or messenger or your preferred platform provided we share it. 😊 What thoughts or feelings spring to mind that you would be comfortable sharing?

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