The Winding Path

Counselling Services provided by Barb Zacharias

August 2023: Glimmers

Posted on Aug 29, 2023

August 2023: Glimmers

The month of August has been like riding a Tilt-A-Whirl at the amusement park. Exhilarating, terrifying, disorienting, frustrating, fulfilling, confusing, rewarding, depressing, satisfying. You name it, I felt it. The whole gamut of emotions. No wonder I feel worn out. And now I ask myself, where does this leave me on my healing journey?  I think I’ve made progress. Deep internal wounds have been opened, but so too, opportunity for healing. Clarity did emerge out of the confusion. Fulfillment out of the frustration. Glimmers amongst the triggers.

New concept that crept into my social media feed: Have you hear about glimmers? They are the opposite of triggers. A glimmer is a tiny micro-moment of happiness; a sign of hope. One you begin to look for them, they will start to appear everywhere. And appear they did. But first I had to make the discovery of an underlying core belief that came flying forward on my Tilt-a-Whirl ride.

The month began with a heaviness that I just couldn’t shake. Early morning musings revealed a sense of being judged and found wanting. Disappointment in me, my dogs, my work, my preferences, my choices, my actions. Pressure to perform. Pressure to make others happy, meet the needs of others. But it was the word judged that really resonated—which translates in my brain into not good enough and that pervading sense of shame. Fear of disappointing others is a heavy burden to bear.

I think it was a sense of judgement from several sources that triggered this trauma-like response. Still that dang need for external validation to counterbalance the shame and judgement. As I was processing what I needed in order to heal this deep wounding, the image of dad with us two kids at mom’s graveside came to mind. Watching her casket being lowered into the ground. I think that impacted me more than I’ve given it credit. I left for the morning walk mulling this over…

Realizations surfaced one on top of another. The first was that dad was supposed to “be there” for me—his little girl, when her mom died—not the other way around. Dad was supposed to help with the confusion and sadness and shame; but he didn’t—and sadly the pattern continues to this day, unless I set boundaries.

The next realization was that no one has ever shown up for me. People I thought were my allies turned out to have ulterior motives—and only saw me through the lens of my birth mother or as a problem child. No one was there for that frightened, confused little girl—and later, adolescent and young woman. I feel compelled to gaslight myself and say it wasn’t that bad/actually like that, etc. But the more I sit with it—my lived experience—there really wasn’t anybody “there” for me. Not in ways that I desperately needed.

That’s when I realized I was a huge disappointment for simply existing. People wanted my birth mother, not me. And people did NOT want to be reminded of their loss every time they looked at me. Supposedly, my loss of a mother paled in comparison to their own sense of loss. That hurts to the core. Now I understand why I felt unwanted wherever I went. I was a symbol of what had once been—not what I was or could become. Didn’t matter that my birth mother was unwell—that was her shame which was literally and figuratively passed onto me.

All those thoughts and feelings I was told to deny were really true. And the sense that I wasn’t good enough was repeatedly reinforced in school, church, college, peers, marriage, in-laws. I could never shake it. How does one heal that sense of insufficiency? How do I complete the trauma response? I understand that little girl cannot be abandoned by her mother and father ever again. Or by the myriad of adults who failed her. I sense there is something unfinished in recognizing dad’s failure. Dad can’t abandon his little girl ever again—but he has repeatedly done so through every stage of life. It’s hard to heal a wound that keeps getting reopened.

However, maybe I can complete the trauma response to the belief of being a disappointment for simply existing. That one, too, is tough because I remind so many people of the wife, sister, aunt, friend, other mother, and their own loss and pain. A belief that spirals into: I am a scourge upon the planet. I perpetually remind people of someone I am not.

And once again, it was a social media meme that gave me pause: It’s not who you are that holds you back; it’s who you think you’re not. However, I had to apply it differently than intended; namely that I am not my birth mother even if our lives and personalities have run parallel to each other. What’s holding me back is a significant sense of “not-ness.” People are equal parts relieved and disappointed that I am not my birth mother. I have never known who I am because I have never been given the gift of being my own person.

In my journal I was able to itemize my “not-ness” from the obvious to the subtle, the general to the specific— such as, I am not: my birth mother, a symbol of all that could’ve been, a representation of betrayal, a scourge, a complete and utter disappointment, a perpetual existential crisis, just to name a few. I might remain a disappointment to others as a symbol of their regret; but it is NOT my disappointment nor my regret.

I need to find a way to shed all that not-ness and walk into the brilliance of my own beauty and grace and light. I am a work-in-progress with my own healing journey to traverse. I am not the be all/end all for everyone else and their pain. In my journal, I also listed what I am including: imperfect and make adjustments as needed, a spiritual being having a much-flawed human experience, a person with legitimate needs and concerns. A few “nots” filtered through; but they were validating: I am NOT a dutiful daughter, nor a drama queen, nor a performer of any kind. I am my own person, loved and lovable as well as seen and heard by a few, dismissed and neglected by many. I simply am. I exist. Embraced in grace.

My compulsive need for external validation of my existence makes much more sense now that I’ve delved so deeply into the wound. The wound is still raw; and I remain susceptible to craving external validation. Time to cherish my Self which doesn’t mean unlimited self-indulgence, but nurturing my well-being. My existence IS valid simply because I live and breathe. I could be a forest nymph that never encounters another soul and still be “valid.” It is my choice to make something of my life—no one else can deem that valid or not. No other human being can validate my self-perception or unique existence. The proverbial “they” can enhance or hinder my lived experience; but they are not a parking authority validating the space I use.

As I look back, how did I survive? Nothing short of divine intervention—even if it didn’t come when or how I expected. My life has had a trajectory to follow for it to be truly meaningful. So many lessons learned that had to build upon each other. Always sprinkled with those glimmers of grace and hope. They appear more frequently now; or at least, I see/recognize them more.

Dealing with the triggered core belief of being a disappointment for existing created an opportunity for a glimmer to appear: a sign of hope. Seeing myself as all the things I wasn’t will hopefully free me to be all that I am, delving into deeper being (inspired by Madeleine L’Engle’s words: “…the Maker of the Universe who has Named us into being is there, waiting for us, calling us into deeper being.”). I have felt more alive these past few days then ever before. Now that’s saying something. I had to bear (& bare) the burden of heaviness so that I could set it down and walk away from it. As I tell my clients, you have to hold it to let it go.

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July 2023: Discomfort

Posted on Jul 21, 2023

July 2023: Discomfort

How much discomfort am I willing to endure to get what I want? This is the question that popped into my head while I was picking wild raspberries at the edge of the woods near where I live. I was surprised when my brain connected it to the blog idea that has been percolating this month.

I have been working as a counselling therapist for over a decade. In that time, I have seen little, if any, improvement in accessibility to mental health services. Whether that be subsidies, income tax benefits, insurance reimbursements, or attitudes and stigmas. We all know systematic change occurs at a glacial pace. Plenty of lip service has been given toward making mental health services a priority and/or accessible to all. It’s an empty political promise. But my frustration isn’t only directed at governing systems. I am also fascinated by society’s attitude that mental health services are only for the insured, wealthy, and/or desperate.

We treat our vehicles, houses, and pets with better care than our own psyches. Mechanics have been known to charge an hourly rate higher than my counselling fee (which is on the low end, to be fair). And while folks complain about vehicle and housing maintenance costs, they do follow through with takin action and paying the bill. People save up, go into debt, or splurge on houses, vehicles, motorized toys, clothes, beauty treatments, etc. We don’t bat an eye on spending money to look good; but many balk at the idea of investing similar amounts of money into their own Selves. I wish we could normalize the idea of seeking assistance for, splurging on, or investing into our mental and emotional well being as easily as fixing a car or getting our hair and nails done. I know for many there really isn’t any “extra” money for the “luxury” of counselling which is sad on so many levels. For the remainder, the funds are technically available, but spent on “normal” or “socially acceptable” expenses like clothes and cars.

So how does this relate to berry picking? Focusing on our mental and emotional well being makes people uncomfortable, and spending money on it, even more so. We don’t, as a society, value improving how we think and feel or relate to others. We take daily functioning for granted. I wish it were normal for folks to see a therapist on a monthly or even quarterly basis. Just to check in with ourselves and see how we’re really doing. I wish it wasn’t considered an odd or unusual thing to do. I wish people were comfortable with the idea of being uncomfortable. Short term pain for long term gain.

As I picked berries, I thought of all the ways that berry picking resembled the counselling process. For starters, one must be prepared for discomfort by anticipating it. Insect repellent if there isn’t a breeze to keep the bugs away. Dressing appropriately, as I don’t recommend berry picking barefoot in a bathing suit. 😊 Picking in the bush, not a groomed orchard, means long pants, socks, and sturdy footwear (like hiking boots for the ankle support). Footwear is key given the terrain where I live in the Boreal Shield. Rock outcroppings. Hidden holes. Tangled underbrush. At one point, I slid onto my bottom down a rock embankment in order to reach the tantalizing red fruit. The biggest deterrent for most berry pickers is the prickly thorns.

So, to answer that initial question, I am willing to endure the discomfort of insects, awkward picking positions, and prickly thorns to acquire fresh, juicy raspberries! They are my favourite fruit, next to Saskatoon berries—which also require most of the above (minus the thorns).

Like berry picking, accessing the benefits of counselling requires anticipating discomfort and being prepared for it: be it financially, mentally, emotionally, relationally. The berry picking process is fairly straight forward once you are prepared with a bucket and appropriate attire. See ripe fruit. Pluck it into the bucket. Usually a gentle tug will do. If it doesn’t loosen readily, it is either unripe or dried out. In the case of unripe, move on to the next berry. If hardened from age or the elements, it can be picked and discarded. For the more a berry bush is picked, the more it will produce the following year (weather permitting) plus sweeter and juicier! I was taught at a young age to pick “everything” for this reason. It didn’t matter if the rejects fell into the bucket or onto the ground because the next step is “cleaning” the berries in cold water. Not individually with a tiny brush, mind you. 😊 But a sorting process. Scoop a few berries into your palm. Pick out the bugs, leaves, twigs, and “bad” berries (Bird taste tested or bug infested. Dried out or under ripe).

And to all my fellow OCDers and over thinkers out there: for goodness’ sake, don’t try to actually pick ALL the berries. And if some escape to the ground (it’s usually the perfect ones), let them be! Some ground dweller will be delighted with the unexpected treat at their feet. And the birds will find the remainder. Yes, these are notes to self. 😉

Also, be sure to practice gratitude. Thank the bush or tree and/or mother nature for providing this delicious and nutritious fruit for you. Treat its branches with respect. Pull weeds that may choke it out. Make its life easier in whatever way you can. I even apologize when branches get trampled or bent. I somehow think that if we treated nature with more respect, maybe that would translate into treating human beings better.

So, to summarize, in counselling as in berry picking, we need to keep adapting and tweaking to be our best Selves. We need to be mindful of our inner workings and outer surroundings as well as be open to new opportunities. Just as berries can be many things (jam, pie, eaten fresh with ice cream…), so can human beings if we attend to our well being. Discard that which isn’t working for us, allow time and space for what needs to mature or come to fruition, adapt to our surroundings (bend a little or stand our ground), and become comfortable with being uncomfortable. Growth isn’t easy or pain free; but it is worth every discomfort for what we can become.

What discomforts are you willing to endure to get what you want out of your one precious life?

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June 2023: Essence

Posted on Jun 23, 2023

June 2023: Essence

My healing journey this month took me on a detour I wasn’t expecting. At first, I assumed it was just a depressive episode hovering, waiting to land, due to having dysthymia (a low mood disorder with major depressive episodes now and then). While that may still be the case, there was a trigger: Father’s Day.

In the meantime, I managed the hovering depression with physical labour (working on projects for my 1926 fixer-upper house) and music. I also was open and up front with certain people about what was going on for me. Normally I turtle. I hide. I isolate deep within myself until the episode passes. Not this time. I wasn’t worried about making people uncomfortable or trying to fix me. They simply understood where I was coming from and respected any boundaries I may have set. I wasn’t pushed to be anything other than what I was in the moment.

As I write this, I realize that was an emotionally corrective experience for me. In the past, my depressive episodes were considered a weakness and not to be acknowledged, something to overcome and get out of the way as quickly as possible. Other people were not to be inconvenienced by my depression. Yet, depressive episodes are not “all bad.” When my depression was its worst, before it was diagnosed and medicated, I was the most creative. I wrote poetry and short stories. I made attempts to draw and paint. That creativity has dimmed as I’ve aged; but it’s still there, dormant. Or emerges if there is a practical application for creativity. I have yet to rediscover being creative just for the sake of being creative.

Depressive episodes are also times of deep reflection and introspection. If I pay attention, depressive episodes have potential to heal cavernous inner wounds. That is, if I don’t get sucked in to the shame messages that also lurk in the darkest shadows. But if I pull those shame messages out of the murky depths, then I can inspect them and decide if they get to stay or not. In the better times, they get thrown out and the depression lifts—maybe not completely, but definitely the darkness lightens.

It took about a week to let the depression “do its thing.” I spent quite a bit of time yesterday journalling. It didn’t completely clear the air; but the depression is hovering a bit higher up. Reminding me to keep paying attention. To try different coping strategies. To be open to emotionally corrective experiences, giving people a chance to respond differently than I’m used to. I’m going to have to sit with that one a bit more: the idea that I don’t have to worry about people being inconvenienced by my depression. And yes, that does tie in with Father’s Day as a trigger.

My family dynamic history is far too complicated to dive into for a public blog. You will have to wait for my memoir/self-help trauma recovery book for that. I will write it when I’m ready to write it. I recognize I have a few more healing hurdles to overcome. Suffice to say, being depressed was not “allowed” around my father. Still isn’t; but it’s the past tense of that condition that negatively impacted my development. I couldn’t control the depression. It was simply a part of me that I learned to hide as best I could in all contexts. But I was quiet and withdrawn. I have no idea if that was the depression or my personality or trauma response, or all three.

Now I try to use friendliness to hide my social anxiety and overall insecurity. I have not yet found that place within to hold myself safe and secure. But it’s coming. Lately I have had reason to look through photographs from 20 to 30 years ago. The darkest days of my existence. I pull away from that girl, adolescent, young woman. So much shame attached.

In talking with a client recently about our essence, I realized I need to explore that more for myself. I need to look at those photos and see the essence emerging and/or hiding. The essence that I am connecting to these days is the same one buried within my younger self. I have to unlearn hiding my essence (my True Self as it were or the Divine Spark), and discover ways of expressing my essence. We are all bio-psycho-social-spiritual-sexual beings. As such, our essence has a myriad of avenues to be expressed via our human bodies.

There is, of course, much more that I touched upon in my journal writing. However, to unpack it all will take some time. Hopefully as I do, the depression will keep lifting and my essence will burn that much brighter. As the uncredited image and quote assures me: In times of doubt and confusion, the phoenix symbolizes strength, transformation, and renewal. For only from the ashes of who we were, can we rise up to become who we’re to be.

How profoundly accurate. Rise up my fellow phoenixes. May your essence burn brightly today.

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