The Winding Path

Counselling Services provided by Barb Zacharias

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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May 2023: Core Beliefs

Posted on May 29, 2023

May 2023: Core Beliefs

This month’s blog is very late. And not for lack of thinking about it. I continue to ponder attachment needs and witness it’s importance in my personal as well as professional life. It is the key, for me, to make sense of the hand I’ve been dealt. Trauma recovery, also, is simplified through this lens. In a way, it forms a worldview for me.

Unmet childhood attachment needs influence the core beliefs we develop to help navigate life. A common one is that if my primal needs go unmet by the (un)responsible adults in my world, there must be something wrong with me. As children, our brains haven’t developed the ability to think rationally or abstractly. The world still revolves around us. So when things go awry, we assume it’s our fault.

We cannot yet use the minimizing statement: my parents did the best they could with what they had. Or lay blame at the feet of the truly responsible parties (and sometimes this is generational abuse/trauma–not only learned behaviours passed down, but also on the cellular level).

The only way our little child minds can understand our basic needs for affection and attention going unmet is to presume that something is wrong with us. Ergo, we try to determine what we can do better to rectify that by such efforts as perfect tests scores or flawless playing of a musical instrument or monitoring and managing the emotional equilibrium in the house. The list is endless. None of this is conscious. It is part of the way our brains develop. Neurons firing and wiring together. Making connections and neuronal pathways that govern how we function in the world as we understand it. Another ‘side effect’ of this process is that our core beliefs become self-limiting and self-fulfilling prophecies. Every failure or bad experience is understood through these filters that we are bad or somehow deserve bad things happening to us. So to our developing brains, these beliefs are reinforced rather than corrected or counter-balanced–hence becoming part of our structural being.

One of the challenges of recovering from unmet attachment needs is to unpack these core beliefs that formulated in less-than-ideal circumstances. As we unpack them, we can determine if they are worth keeping, tossing, or adapting. My work ethic is one I wish to keep but must be adapted to my current reality. Work must be its own reward, not the definition of my essence. As such, I am a recovering work-aholic. It was my crutch against the barrage of internalized shame messages insisting I was worthless unless I could be productive and perfectly at that. I had to ‘prove’ my worth. It wasn’t innate.

When we choose to toss a core belief—such as I am worthless unless I ‘perform perfectly’—we need to create a new neuronal pathway. We have to break the old connections, the old pathway, and get new neurons firing and wiring together. Find a new way to define our sense of worthiness.

One method is Daily Affirmations. These are statements we create that help counter the old messaging by establishing a new way of thinking. Similar to a mantra, these statements are left in a prominent place we see daily, such as by the bathroom mirror or coffee maker. Repetition helps create a new neuronal pathway. These statements are simply read, not argued with. That is a bad habit that is not helping retrain your brain. When the arguing starts, it must be stopped and redirected to the affirmation, the new core belief that is being built and reinforced.

One of the first affirmations I used was: I am worth the effort. Initially meaning my own effort to make positive change in my life (namely trauma recovery which requires a great deal of effort). As I gained confidence, I was able to tackle other beliefs and corresponding affirmations. One that came a few years later (and helped prepare me to eventually leave an unhealthy marriage) was: I count and I matter. This one was primarily geared toward unmet needs in my marriage.

Earlier this month, to my surprise, that affirmation resurfaced. This time in reference to myself. I need to learn how to plan my days with the thought that I count and matter—not just my clients and other people in my life. I tend to put others first, a coping strategy learned in childhood to keep the peace and to convince myself, and others, that I was likeable.

If I truly believe I count and matter, then the time I reserve for activities other than counselling needs to be honoured—not tossed aside simply because someone needs my help. If I have a window in which I see clients, I need to respect that boundary and not give away that time because I ‘could’ help someone. Otherwise, ‘helping people’ risks becoming like my old work ethic. There is more to me than counselling. If I forget that, then counselling also risks becoming how I define my essence, my ‘raison d’être’ (catchy French phrase for ‘reason for being’).

While counselling is certainly one aspect that contributes to how I find meaning in my life, it is not the only way. Like everyone else, I am a composite of interests and abilities. And I must remember that I count and I matter just as much as my clients, friends, and family. Something I did not learn as a child.

As I write this, I recognize by body awareness (paying attention to what I sense and feel in my body) that I have more grief and inner child work in this area. Also like everyone else, I want to gloss over the painful feelings and jump to restoration. Which reminds me of my house. If I don’t first pay attention to what’s wrong, I cannot properly fix it. I cannot simply paint over structural issues in my walls and expect my house to stand another hundred years.

As in renovation as well as recovery, we want to ‘make it pretty’ for a quick sale or get on with life. However, buried problems always rise to the surface. We all know how avoidance tends to exacerbate issues rather than resolve them. Sometimes we have to remove what isn’t working before we can make it better. In recovery work, this means holding the pain long enough to recognize it, understand where it comes from, then let it go to make room for improvements.

Recovery also requires taking a hard look at our coping mechanisms (which tend to be automatic) and determine if they are helping or hindering us. Once we establish what isn’t working, we can then choose to learn healthy coping strategies to strengthen us structurally—and improve quality of life. For that’s what the hokey pokey is really all about it, isn’t it?

What core beliefs improve your quality of life and which ones need refurbishment or outright discarding?

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April 2023: Hollowness

Posted on Apr 19, 2023

April 2023: Hollowness

This blog entry may have a more clinical tone than my personal intention set out in January; but its undercurrent or raison d’être is purely personal. In order to share in my healing journey, an understanding of therapeutic theory can be helpful. So what follows is the “primer” on Attachment Theory: essentially what I tell clients when putting their experience into context.

Attachment Theory is relatively new on the therapeutic scene, sprouting in the 1960s from the likes of John Bowlby and Virginia Satir (if memory serves) from seeds planted in post-war Europe when orphanages were overwhelmed with infants. The nuns would care for their basic needs as best they could; but even though the wee babes were fed, clothed, and sheltered, these infants kept dying. The theorists claim the babies were dying from lack of attention and affection in the form of eye contact while being held secure in the loving arms of a caregiver. There simply wasn’t enough staff or hours in the day.

Modern medicine now understands, even embraces, the concepts of skin-to-skin touch, eye contact, heartbeats, and loving embraces (but as we know, this was not always so). Scientists and modern imaging techniques have discovered that the lack of consistent attention and affection can detrimentally impact brain development. Establishing safety and security is an integral developmental stage.

Attention and affection are not luxuries or indulgences, but primal needs every infant innately understands at birth. However, I will spare you the brain development details even though I find it fascinating and revelatory. Developmentally speaking, we always have these needs for attention and affection (or physical contact and emotional connection). We just no longer face risk of death if they go unmet as we mature.

But unmet needs do have a way of expressing or manifesting in a myriad of ways from mental illnesses such as anxiety and depression to physical ailments like compromised immune function. The dogs who reside with me beautifully illustrate this concept. I will expound on this if there is suitable space. Entire books have been written on the subject; and I’d be happy to recommend one or two upon request. Most popular is how our attachment style affects how we relate to others—particularly in the context of romantic relationships.

So, where does my healing journey intersect with attachment theory? As noted in the previous blog, I was not blessed with affectionate nor attentive parents which deeply impacted the expression of my genetic predispositions for anxiety and depression as well as the development of OCD and PTSD. There is likely also an argument for a correlation between my developmental deficiencies and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (an autoimmune disorder like fibromyalgia or lupus).

The irony of unmet attachment needs is that it leads to relationship difficulties, but healthy connection with safe people is the only way to heal these childhood woundings. When we have anxious, avoidant, or disorganized attachment styles, we tend to sabotage relationships instead of finding the healing we so desperately need. And due to subconscious drives (which I may blog about another time), we are not drawn to those who can provide secure attachment as it is so unfamiliar to us.

As one can imagine, I fall under disorganized attachment; meaning I am both anxious and avoidant in relationships. Unfortunately, I married someone with an avoidant attachment style which was not good for my psyche but rather perpetuated the already flawed belief system under which I functioned. It has taken a lot of deep reflection to unpack the unmet attachment needs of my childhood, as well as my marriage, in order to find a semblance of healing. This is something that surfaces from time to time, with a particular resurgence in the past couple months.

Unmet attachment needs can also look and feel like a cavernous void that needs to be filled. It is no small miracle that I am not addicted to a chemical substance to “drown my sorrows.” All addicts have been traumatized, but not all those traumatized become addicts. Or what I call obvious addicts. We all develop coping mechanisms to manage the void. Sometimes I use food. Other times it’s music. Sometimes it’s maintaining a clean house. OCD is essentially a behavioural addiction that develops to appease the shame messages that haunt us: If we get “this right,” then bad things won’t happen… Once again, fodder for another blog entry. I mention addiction in an attempt to invoke compassion for those caught in its ugly embrace.

Unmet attachment needs left a huge void in my psyche: a sense of hollowness. I hadn’t really thought of it as such until I no longer felt hollow after the inner child work I’ve been doing the past couple months. I can’t explain what happened exactly. But the image that comes to mind is of turning a key in a mechanism, hearing the interior workings falling into place, and suddenly the music plays, the lights come on, and the dancer twirls.

At its most basic, it is like trading a hollow Easter bunny for a solid one. Remember those days? Fundamentally I remain the same and continue to function with my alphabet soup of conditions. I have not experienced a miracle cure or transformed from a wooden puppet into a real person. It has more to do with a felt sense of integrity in a structural sense. I feel less hollow, more solid. Less rickety, more stable. Less fractured, more sound. I feel less likely to blow away in a strong wind or crumble under extreme pressure.

The other image that comes to mind is that of a scab being ripped off a partially healed wound, allowing pus and ooze to escape. Applying the salve of inner child work (with imagined hugs, reassurances, and bearing witness to her painful experiences) has helped ease the inflamed wound. The opening is closing once again. It is less tender. I never know what will tear off the scab of a psychological wound. But if I pay attention, I can find solace from a variety of sources: from deep within myself to seeking comfort from others who have proven to be safe and trustworthy.

No developmental stage can be skipped. I’ve had to complete several long past their “best before” dates. I’ve no doubt there is more of me to develop and/or blossom. It is a wonderful sensation to feel less fragile and better able to meet what each day brings—including the positive. In my disorganized attachment style, I tend to gravitate to the muck and mire. I need to be open to the security of sunshine and rainbows as well. Not all that glitters is dangerous. 😊

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March 2023: Skeletons

Posted on Mar 16, 2023

March 2023: Skeletons

The skeletons in my closet(s) have been rattling around so loud lately, I’m sure they can be heard outside my own head. 😊 One never knows what’s going to get them movin’ and groovin’ in there. And I’m not even sure where to start with trying to get those bones sorted out and re-assembled. My skeletons might look more like a Toy Story revision than their former selves. 😉 Of course, there is always the consideration to just toss them; but something tells me that isn’t a viable option. I have to find out why they’re occupying mental closets to begin with before eviction notices can be served; otherwise, they’ll just be back like a bad case of a recurring infection.

At one point, I thought I was dealing with two separate skeletons. And then it was conjoined twins—with enmeshed siblings—which turned into conjoined triplets with siblings—to a mass grave of skeletons (and the horrors a mass grave implies). So many factors play into this mass grave that it is near impossible to tease them apart. Just one corner alone contains quite the scene: imagine the promo pic for the film Women Talking (making Oscar buzz right now) of the cast of characters (in “traditional” Mennonite attire) sitting on bales in a barn. Now add Marilyn Monroe, Jane Fonda, and Sally Field to the conversation they are having. That’s kinda what it’s been like in my head lately. Hence, I had to expand the skeleton crew to more than conjoined twins. 😉 Just Marilyn and her pals take up a whole closet!  While on the subject of films, I highly recommend the documentary on Netflix called This Changes Everything which contributed greatly to this process.

Now my challenge is figuring out what to share with you about the process of skeleton identification and reassembly. I feel a bit like a forensics anthropologist—and not everything that goes into the report is needed by the detectives, journalists, or grieving family. There is also still such a thing as respecting privacy—my own and that of the key players—who, even though alive, have skeletons in my closet. Some belong to truly dead people. Most are associated with my life experiences as I internalized and remember them. And I certainly remember a lot of mixed messages, confusion, and shame.

Regardless of the bones that kept surfacing and begging for identification, I knew it was more important to find out the reason they were all there. As I was dealing with what surfaced while looking at a photo of my 18-yr-old self (that is a blog unto itself), I stumbled upon the concept of mirages and what I have in common with the actresses mentioned above. I identified with Sally Field because of the cute factor (I hated being called cute—especially when I was angry. Uh oh. That hit a nerve. Guess that skeleton has a live wire yet!). However, there is much more to both of us than cuteness; and we both struggled to be taken seriously.

In my journal, I noted that it’s like people are enamoured by a mirage and demand that’s all we be, yet expect the mirage to quench a deep thirst, and are disappointed when we’re not who’ve they’ve “imaged” us to be. That’s what male attention is for me—a mirage—that appears able to quench a deep thirst—but disappears upon closer inspection. That deep thirst (yet another void I’ve tried to fill) cannot be quenched. No male’s attention/validation/approval can replace or heal the deep wounding left by a father. That was a tough realization to make.

I used to think my abandonment issues were rooted in my birth mother’s death. Now I see they partly were, but maybe reinforced by my father’s daily abandonment. And mom thought we needed a better mother! We needed a better father. ☹ I was abandoned by my father long before my mother chose to leave (for those who don’t know, she died by suicide, which I don’t begrudge her if her horrific mental prison was anything like mine). She felt abandoned by my father, too. And her parents, her church, her sisters. Like me, I’m certain she experienced so much shame. I feel my mother’s pain, as well as my own, because it is in me on a cellular level. I have had to heal her wounding as well as my own thanks to generational trauma.

Unbeknownst to me, I have been searching my entire life for my dad—who was metaphorically never involved to begin with, but physically around. My dad is the mirage. And every bit of male attention has been similarly a mirage—just as I (like Marilyn, Jane, and Sally) have been a mirage to many males. But the mirage is not my True Self (my core, my divine spark or breath of life). I have spent my life chasing mirages as well as being one—and thinking there was something wrong with me rather than the perception—a trick of the eye and atmosphere.

A mirage is an illusion—it can’t satisfy. Mirages also aren’t safe. They are actually dangerous. In chasing mirages, I missed the oasis I was searching for. So, what to do about that unquenchable thirst? (aka unmet attachment need—not sure if I’ve explained that concept in a previous blog) How do I find an oasis? In talking with a client about this, we realized she already had an oasis within herself as well as within her “chosen family”—her circle of safe people. Of course, we can’t skip the grieving process either. We have to own what we needed and didn’t get in order to let it go of the pain and to be open to the oasis that surrounds us. In a sense, “we’re already there.”

But my journey doesn’t end here. I went from the mirage as the reason for the skeletons in my closet, to thinking it was the imbalance of power, to shame. My suspicion is that the relationship between shame, power, sex, and love/attachment is the lynch pin; which is far too intricately complex for one blog, more like several chapters in my book!

Suffice to say, what most of us with unmet attachment needs crave, is to be seen and heard. To be loved and cared for. To express our needs and have them met, without shame—and not to be shamed or pressured into meeting the needs of others. This blog can be viewed as an attempt to be seen and heard without shame. Maybe it is part of my oasis?

This convoluted mess is “my book,” my life story—right from day one: attachment needs twisted into the web of power, shame, sex, and love. Imagine my surprise to find that it’s a web that keeps the skeletons in the closet. How apropos! Cobwebs and skeletons inside my spooky psyche! 😊 There is much work to be done yet in processing this mass grave of skeletons. This is just a mid point on a long journey through the desert (my apologies for the mixed metaphors, but they do lend to each other well). Hopefully I will find an oasis whenever I need refreshment—being ever mindful of the role shame plays in preventing me from quenching my thirst at a legitimate source. And as each skeleton is seen and acknowledged, maybe the associated ghosts will be able to find peace.

As a PS: I am sorry for the delay in reading and responding to comments. The program no longer sends me an email, and I forget to log in to check. As well, the program doesn’t email you to let you know when I respond. But I do love people interacting with what I write. Please keep doing so.

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February 2023: Bargaining

Posted on Feb 20, 2023

February 2023: Bargaining
Sept 2007, Limestone Lookout, Alberta

For this month’s blog entry and healing journey update, I have decided to go with a journal entry from earlier this month. It was rather poignant at the time; and I’m sure it will be revisited. As such, the verb tense will shift, but you’ll get the drift. In the first few days of this month, I found myself once again grieving the loss of wellness, getting stuck in the bargaining stage.

For those not familiar with the five stages of grief, which are not linear by the way but more of a spiral, they are: shock/denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. We can experience all of these in a single day or even a moment and cycle through them at various times in our lives and/or be triggered by other losses. Active grieving means spending time observing what is happening rather than fighting or ignoring it. As such, here are my observances.

In my bargaining stage, I found myself asking: What if I could work a “real job”? What if I had steady employment [aka income]? What if… and If only… My options in life would be much different. I think I have also been in the grieving stage of depression: sad that my options are so limited; feeling helpless and powerless. Abandoned.

Then Gaia [another name for Mother Earth or the Divine Feminine] reminded me that I’m not alone nor completely powerless or helpless. After all, I am part of the Great Goddess Sisterhood [a feminine reframing of the masculine Trinity Godhead]. I think I need to let that sink into my bones. What does that mean for me to be part of this Sisterhood? But I feel I’m digressing as I haven’t properly addressed the bargaining stage issues.

Obviously, there is a part of me that resists having a chronic, physical illness, let alone the mental ones. There is some piece of radical acceptance I am missing. In my mind, I cannot have a full life if I have a chronic illness, or two, or three. Now that I see that written down, I think that’s absurd! But there it is none-the-less. A self-limiting belief that I am less-than and certain aspects of life are out of reach. In some regards, yes—like mobility and energy—but that doesn’t mean “everything” is off limits. Adaptations may be required. Compromise: give a little to get a little -or- give a lot to get a lot.

Perspective. I can have a full and satisfying life. Just this morning, I was musing that I have had a good/full life. A hard life, but a good life. I have endured much to experience much. My life has not been empty or even boring! My life isn’t perfect nor idyllic; but it is pretty good. A quiet life, yet a full life. I have to remain open and hopeful and receptive to what is all yet to come…

I have to let go the “what if’s” to embrace the “what’s next.” Just because my life hasn’t followed a “normal” trajectory does not make it less meaningful or worthwhile. I was dealt a very unique hand in life—and I like to think I’ve played the hell out of it.

Watching old episodes of “Who Do You Think You Are?” has prompted me to consider the job of professional genealogist. I would have loved that! Following clues, putting pieces together, connecting the dots. Another “what if.” What if I had known about that option when I was considering careers? Maybe I could’ve had a “normal” life of a livable career. A profession that didn’t take too much out of me but could still pay the bills.

However, I did feel called to counselling. A calling is a difficult thing to resist! There is something to that. But I think genealogy would’ve been fun. Not sure what training is involved. Maybe it’s still an option? But I saw myself in rather limited ways back in the day. I did not see my options as limitless. I didn’t have exposure to all the ways we can earn a living. Life was suffering. It wasn’t meant to be fun. And then there was the silence about my birth mother. Obviously my life wasn’t meant to go any other direction than what it did. Doesn’t mean it can’t change direction now. Something to look into. Didn’t’ see that one coming! To do what I love, live within my means, and within my limitations.

I have lived my life for other people—making them happy. I have given very little consideration to what makes me happy. I think that’s what these past five years have been about. What do I want? What brings me joy? What is pleasurable for me? And I think it’s been a bit of  shock for certain members of my family to not have this same dedication—to in fact have the opposite approach: I don’t care what makes you happy.

My life has been about duty, service, keeping the peace, accepting suffering, relieving the suffering of others. My life has not been about me per se—as per my indoctrination/upbringing. So, it is new for me to consider what makes me happy, what is my life all about. What do I want to do with my time, and energy, and money, and gifts, and abilities, and skills. Hmmm. That last line. My gifts, abilities, and skills. I don’t think I’ve taken ownership of them before. They’ve always been for the use and benefit of other people or systems.

…As I reflect back on what I wrote in my journal earlier this month, I am intrigued how my observance of the bargaining and depression stages of grief led to musing about what makes me happy, what brings me joy. I am still spending time with this. But I have certainly sensed an internal shift which is difficult to explain. What comes to mind is the healing journey from fragmentation of Self towards integration. I actually feel less fragmented, as weird as that may sound.

So, I am curious to find out if you have spent any time paying attention to what brings you joy. And if so, what sets your heart alight? What makes the day more bearable? What is worth exerting your precious energy? Or spending your hard-earned dollars upon? Feel free to share in the comments, or any other anecdote about becoming an Integrated Self.

Happy Trails! Or as the dogs would say, Happy Tails! 🙂

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