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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October 2023: Haunted House

Posted on Oct 28, 2023

October 2023: Haunted House
October 2023, Pine Falls, MB

In keeping with the theme of August and September blogs, I have decided that October has been much akin to the Haunted House at an amusement park. Not in the sense of ghosts and ghouls bursting forth in gruesome scenarios; but in the sense of fears and phobias jumping out when you least expect it—and being forced to deal with them. No running away screaming, tripping on hidden hazards, adding to the misery. But take deep breaths, recenter, and move-on-to-the-next-one kinda thing.

The month began with yet another father trigger. Only this time, I wasn’t the direct recipient; and I had to help the intended target work through the fallout. It also meant reaching out to siblings, keeping them abreast of developments. However, I was also making the most of the momentum I had garnered at the end of September: vigilantly practicing my ‘one thing rule’ by tackling long overdue honey-do list type tasks (except I’m the honey that gets to do them😉), keeping to morning and bedtime routines, monitoring my self-talk, and taking control of what was within my power rather than obsessing about what wasn’t. Ever on the lookout for what could possibly trip me up and send me spiralling downward into another depressive episode.

So, what does October throw at me? Just the usual kinds of things that could knock me off my game. I do believe Thanksgiving passed by without incident (other than boundary setting with my pushy parents). However, the next weekend got the ball rolling for all things scary with a massive fire across the street from my house. The iconic old school built in 1926-27 was the victim of arson. Full blown panic attack (maybe more than one as the night advanced). One of my worst fears is losing my home to fire (not just this one specifically, any house I have occupied as an adult). I don’t know the roots of this fear considering I have never lost anything to fire; but I am keenly aware of impermanence. And there is nothing so permanent as fire destroying your memories, cherished mementos, place of shelter, or loved ones. To say the least, it was terrifying watching the old school burn to the ground.

Days later, I got a ticket for not turning right in an HOV lane (which I have to fight in November as it was definitely not in keeping with the signage). The cop was unfriendly, to say the least; and I found myself doing my best to stabilize the situation and get the information I needed. I was proud of the dogs for not causing a ruckus in the backseat and of myself for not bawling until the cop left. I managed to drive to my destination and cried in the parking lot for several minutes. This is a more complicated fear; but it’s roots I am very aware of: the fear of getting into trouble.

Now, I know, most people don’t cry when they receive traffic tickets, fairly or unfairly; but I am not most people. 😉 The ticket played two roles: 1) triggered fear of getting in trouble; 2) released backlog of grief from the fire. In other words, the ticket trigger acted as a catalyst to release that buildup of loss as well as the associated shame messages of getting in trouble. It also means an opportunity to advocate for myself rather than rollover to people please and/or avoid discomfort. Ergo facing my fear of failure and rejection. Even the cop told me to fight it and that the worst that could happen was I had to pay the full amount; but it wouldn’t increase or change otherwise. There is potential for an emotionally corrective experience…except I have to provide it for myself. While I tend to be fiercely independent, there are times when I want someone else to swoop in and solve my problems. This will not be one of those times.

But that day didn’t begin and end with a ticket. It also involved a comedy of errors at a car wash I hadn’t used before so wasn’t aware I had to drive onto a track that dragged me through; and I forgot to close the backseat windows of which I could only reach one. Fortunately, not that much water came through the open window on the far side; and the dogs figured out how to stick to the side that was safe. To add to the tragic comedy, it rained on the drive home, making the car wash superfluous. I did well, however, keeping the shame messages (and fear of embarrassment) at bay by being able to laugh at myself and vow never to use that car wash again. 😊

There ends the comedy. Another fear that had to be addressed came next at the doctor’s office. In a stroke of irony, the concerning numbers I saw the technician type in last month turned out to indicate shrinkage of a thyroid lobe rather than growth of a nodule. The nodules are remaining stable. Fear of cancer quelled. The lobe shrinkage indicates I have a thyroid illness called Hashimoto’s Disease. Underactive thyroid levelled up. Continued monitoring and symptom management, here we come!

Next fear to tackle was that of trusting my truck and my driving abilities on a 4×4 adventure for my birthday (aka my-favourite-things-day). I have long wanted to explore this old logging road that is much used by ATV and snowmobile enthusiasts. Seeing as I don’t have friends with those kinds of benefits, I gathered up my fierce independence and decided to drive the logging road myself once I discovered it was also okayed for trucks. After all, I have seen a car on it. I admit, I did have to talk myself into it as my OCD came up with all kinds of worst-case scenarios from tire blowouts to engine failure.

It was definitely an emotionally corrective experience, of my own making, to drive my 4×4-capable truck down this unmaintained logging road with only two dogs to keep me company. No one was there to question my abilities, criticize my driving, or tell me what to do in any given moment. Except the dogs worried expressions. They thought I had lost my marbles and were actively looking for them. 😊 They made the most of every chance they got to get out of the vehicle and explore—without finding my missing marbles.

It was an emotionally corrective experience on another level as a dash light came on when we were nearly back to the parking area. Having been informed to check my gauges and note that my battery was “off centre,” I knew what was wrong before opening the hood. I suspected with the all the bouncing that a battery terminal had come loose. Sure enough, all I had to do was grab it by the cap and place it back on giving it a little pat. Back in the truck, warning light was off; and we were mobile once again (which reminds me, I need to tighten that post). 😉 I was extremely proud of myself that I did not panic and fixed my problem without issue.

The final Fear Factor challenge that October has thrown at me (fingers crossed the last one as there is a couple days to go) involved my professional realm. I have been at a stalemate with a certain caseworker for quite some time. I caved to one of her demands which caused some distress to myself and my client, only to learn that it was all unnecessary. I had to face my fear of being found incompetent and, once again, fight my inclination to people please in an effort to avoid getting in trouble. On the plus side, it proved a worthy trust-building exercise with my client and confirmed my hunches—so in a way it was a trust-building exercise for my Self as well. I grew up in a gaslighting environment; hence it is “business as usual” for me to second guess and doubt myself. I think that has been one of the hardest things to unlearn.

And maybe that is what this entire Haunted House of a month has been about—facing what jumps out at me (my fears) in yet another effort to unlearn what was instilled in me since childhood—that I am not trustworthy. Can’t be trusted to own a home (threatened by fire), to follow the rules (traffic ticket), to be well (health risks), to handle myself and/or my truck in tough situations (logging road), to go with my gut and my take on things (professional stalemate). In essence, to know my own mind. I realize there isn’t a direct correlation between all these fears and reality; amygdalas (danger detectors) only need hints of things to activate the fight-flight-freeze system based on past experiences (usually emotional memories). The point isn’t even that my amygdala has been taxed this month. The point is that I deem myself trustworthy. To stop the second-guessing and self-doubt. To work with what is instead of what might be. I can trust myself to work through my fears and worst-case scenarios.

Quite frankly, no matter what the Haunted House threw at me this month, I handled it. I’m still here. I haven’t succumbed to utter madness or descended into impermeable darkness. I have more challenges ahead due to these fear factors (like self-advocacy and boundary setting); but I can do them. Tempting though it may be to run and hide, it will not be in my best interest to do so. I may have been terrified out of my wits; but my wits returned. My marbles were found; likely thanks in large part to my two emotional support dogs who wouldn’t let me wander far without them (my marbles or their furry company).

May you find the courage and tenacity to face whatever life throws at you in the coming days. It can’t be worse than a Haunted House after all. 😊

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September 2023: Biker Babe

Posted on Sep 26, 2023

September 2023: Biker Babe

Disclaimer: Hang onto your hats/devices, this is a long one!

I am not a fan of country music, per se; but I do enjoy the music of certain country musicians. In fact, there aren’t too many music genres that I don’t appreciate at least in part. However, when I am unpacking some emotional baggage, usually it is a variety of the blues-rock genre that helps me process. It took me by surprise to find it was the 1998 self-titled album by Faith Hill that came to the forefront starting with the lyrics of Me. But I am getting ahead of myself.

If August was a turn on the Tilt-a-Whirl, then September has been that ride that suspends you high above reality only to plummet you back to earth, jerking you skyward again before landing back on solid ground. I don’t know its name, nor have I experienced that firsthand…only the healing journey variety. From the highest of hopes to the depths of despair. The month started off well, but took turns for the worse as it progressed. The usual flow of clients dried up (hopefully temporarily 😉) and things escalated from there. As it turns out, the lack of clients was a catch22: while I could’ve used the distraction (and income), I wasn’t in the best head space to help anyone else. However, it also triggered my financial scarcity mindset which, combined with other factors, spiralled into a major depressive episode.

While I work hard to manage the anxiety, it does require effort when I don’t have extra to expend. As noted, the inexplicable lack of clients ended up being an act of grace given the many “interruptions” this month: an eventful long weekend filled with activity and people, plumbing fiascoes, and hormones wildly gone awry. My thyroid had its annual ultrasound session; and some of the numbers I saw the technician type in were a bit concerning. Results next month. Any potential concerns have to be tabled until then. But if it’s gone off the rails, that might explain some of the health challenges I’ve had lately. When I get stuck in the financial scarcity mindset, I’ve had to remind myself that the Universe is limitless.

The hopelessness in the midst of a major depressive episode is the hardest to manage. It’s been a while since I’ve experienced one that severe. Not sure what made it finally break. Maybe it ran its course, or it was the coping strategies of the ‘one thing’ rule and focusing on what is in my control instead of what isn’t. Daily walks in nature with the dogs also keeps me grounded when life is chaos. Abbie is definitely my unofficial emotional support dog. Every dog I’ve had the honour to call my own has served this purpose for me. They have been my life savers each in their own way. The Faith Hill song, You Give Me Love is playing as I write this paragraph. Very apt lyrics, especially the chorus.

When the world is cold
And I need a friend to hold
You give me love, you give me love, baby
And when my hope is gone
And I feel I can’t go on
You pick me up
You give me love, you give me love…

Sometimes I wonder what my brain and life would be like if I had had a safe and secure upbringing. Those dang unmet attachment needs. Fortunately, the Universe sends emotionally corrective experiences along the healing journey. I talk about them quite a bit with clients. It’s a tad unsettling when I have to process them for myself. Luckily, the heavy clouds of my major depressive episode had cleared by the time I had an opportunity to go for a short motorbike ride, even if the actual sky was overcast.

It was a fairly emotional outing for me for a few reasons. The most evident was missing my brother and motorbike rides with him. It’s been 20 years since I’ve been on a bike ride with my brother. We also used to mountain bike together when we both lived in the Yukon. Life has pulled us in different directions (geographically and metaphorically). I miss the closeness we once had. So, it was a bit nostalgic for me. It was also weird because I haven’t ridden with anyone else. I had to work hard not to let my brain obsess about what would be the ‘right’ way to ride with another person (not screwing up, embarrassing myself, that sort of thing). Somehow I managed to quelch the anxiety, and for the most part, be in the moment. I thoroughly enjoyed that short bike ride! I lack the words to describe the sensation being on the open road surrounded by the vibrant colours of fall.

Putting this profound moment-in-time into shareable words is challenging as it was an emotionally corrective experience on many levels.

  1. Someone being kind and attentive out of the goodness of their heart;
  2. Staying in the moment and not giving in to the shame spirals;
  3. Side stepping the people pleasing coping mechanism;
  4. Showing up instead of hiding;
  5. Reclaiming abandoned dreams.

Essentially, an emotionally corrective experience is one that challenges or corrects the pattern of behaviour you have come to expect or a no-longer-helpful core belief.

It was an emotionally corrective experience to have someone attend to me for a change without any ulterior motive (no strings attached and/or not being a burden, an imposition). And I need to savour it—to feel the feels and not push them away as self-indulgent or undeserved. Usually in therapy, we have to feel the feels of grief and pain. This is bizarre for me to feel the feels of positive experience. My instinct is to shut it down in an effort to prevent a shame spiral or avoid internal angst. And it is mind blowing to consider that it could have been a pleasure for the other person to provide this experience for me. That idea messes with my head. It is easier for me to believe that I am now beholden to this person for going out of their way for me or that the gig is up. They have glimpsed the real me and will vanish from my life. I still have to process that one a bit.

One of my conditioned beliefs is that anyone doing something nice for me either wants something or they’re just being polite (not sincere or genuine). The coping mechanism to counter my suspicious mind has been to become a chameleon, adapting to every situation as I sensed what was required. Also known as people pleasing. Some of the inner thoughts I battle when experiencing something new usually start with the following. You may recognize some from your own experience.

  • When they really get to know me, they will reject/abandon me…
  • Always needing an escape route…
  • Not giving the wrong impression…
  • Not misreading a situation/”stepping in it”…
  • Acts of kindness can’t be trusted….
  • Being teased, shamed if I show up…
  • Being too much, not good enough…
  • Not imposing…

So when the offer of a bike ride was made, something I really wanted to do, I was tempted to turn it down in order to avoid dealing with the internalized shame messages. To hide, instead of show up.

Attachment needs of consistent attention and affection as well as the development of mirror neurons are critical to developing a healthy sense of self. I never knew where I stood with either of my parents. And neither parent ever provided positive feedback in the form of reflecting back the good they saw in me. What my mirror neurons received was that I was the bane of their existence. I learned to be overly considerate of others—anticipating needs, moods, and desired behaviour—in order to prevent bad things from happening (such as rejection). Hence, my sense of self has always been based upon perceptions: what I sensed (rightly or wrongly) from others. I am still working on strengthening my sense of self.

Showing up (not hiding or blending in) means being open to rejection, as well as acceptance. I am conditioned to anticipate rejection, judgement, criticism (believe me, it’s been circulating in my cranium). I am not as well prepared for acceptance. Being a chameleon is easier. But as I strengthen my inner core and practice showing up, the words to Faith Hill’s Me begin to become my own:

That’s all I have to give
What you get is what you see, yeah
No second guessing, no pretending
… all I ever have to be is me

Another layer of this emotionally corrective experience is the resurgence of dreams. It occurred to me on the morning walk that I still don’t believe I “deserve” to ask for things or accept them when offered or visualize more in my future. Always paramount is the other person’s experience (making sure they are not inconvenienced). This morning’s realization was that I do deserve to have my early attachment needs for consistent attention and affection to finally be met. I have been hyper-focused on the grieving of losses to the exclusion of dreams. Another catch22: grieving the loss of attachment needs, yet too guarded to have any of them met. While it may appear to some as just a bike ride, for me it was a crack in my armour and an opening for hope that all may not be lost.

My dream to obtain my motorcycle license was shelved due to health and balance issues; but with the new trikes on the market, I may have to put that back on my imagined vision board. It’s just in my head right now; but I may have to develop a tangible board to remind myself of this juncture on my healing journey. I had also given up on having my need for consistent affection and attention to ever be met (partially or completely). Believing it was out of reach, not meant for me. The image came to mind of raising my hand to say ‘yes’ to something I want and having my hand swatted down. I have more work to do in addressing the shame associated with taking advantage of opportunities let alone being honest with myself about what would bring me joy. But there is a crack, an opening. The challenge lies in being terrified of humiliation while remaining open to emotionally corrective experiences.

From my journal:

Genial invitation to go for a ride. No strings attached. But I look for the strings, the ulterior motives, the hidden agendas. Best way to avoid embarrassment and shame and rejection and disappointment is to keep to oneself and not participate. Limit expectations. Maybe it’s time to expect more from life, not less. Open myself to joy and emotionally corrective experiences that break the old patterns of being. Life isn’t all or nothing. There is kindness and generosity still to be found. It might be exceptional instead of common, but it is there.

If I keep myself closed, I cannot experience it when it surfaces. I can only attract what I am open to. From hiding in the shadows to stepping into the sunshine. There remains a ways to go, but at least I know I still have love to give, and life to live. Far cry from what I was thinking and feeling in the depths of my depression. Winds of change blowing away the brain fog and self-doubt and self-limiting beliefs. There are many more of those to unpack yet. But at least I can own my needs and wants, hopes and dreams. I can ask, leaving opportunity for both no and yes. No does not mean rejection or failure. Yes can be pure and not tainted with baggage.

I don’t know how my dreams will one day be realized, but at least there is renewed hope. After the month I’ve had, it’s nothing short of a miracle that I can sing along with Faith Hill that better days are coming.

Better days are comin’ around
I know you feel like
The whole world’s gone and let you down but
Better days they’re comin’ for you

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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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