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Embracing the Freedom of AND

When asked why she cried so often, author Glenn Doyle Melton replied, “For the same reason I laugh so often. Because I’m paying attention.”

Lately I’ve been hearing a lot of stories in my counseling office about loss, grief and disappointment, and I’ve been processing some of my own losses as well. The further I’ve dug into the idea in my own life, the more I believe: if I’m not walking through a degree of loss regularly, I’m probably either 1) not very well connected to other people and what they’re going through or 2) I’m being particularly adept at stuffing my feelings down and not addressing them. I’m not paying enough attention. The former does a disservice to the people in our lives, and the later does a disservice to ourselves.

I love this idea of both/and. Melton says she laughs AND cries OFTEN. As humans we can tend to get stuck at one end of the spectrum, when true health is freely experiencing both. The problems come when we pick an end of the spectrum and camp out there. Certainly, people are aware of the risks of unaddressed depression and anxiety, but I would suggest that forced positivity is equally devastating to an individual. With so much cultural pressure placed on constantly being “soooo excited!!!!” about every day life and on experiencing life as constant “adventure,” (check out any popular Instagram feed to see support for this cultural observation) it seems like dealing with loss and disappointment can feel very foreign and even out of style. All of the focus on (forced) positivity feels pretty unkind to ourselves, as it severs off about half of the human experience. In Christian culture, this sounds like, “I’m so blessed!” and “God is good!” We most certainly are, and He most certainly is, but not to the dismissal of the hard things in our lives.

Some of us may think that if we lean into the negativity at all, it will over take us — almost like we’re afraid of falling into the dark hole, feeling like we’ll be unable to get out. I find the opposite to be true. I’ve learned that if I can pay attention to my negative feelings and give them the space they deserve, they pass through me more quickly, and I don’t experience the ongoing negative effects that “stuffing” can bring to a person. And, if I can offer the people in my life the space to experience their own losses and disappointments instead of rushing to help them find the silver lining, I’m honoring their human experience as well.

To experience the full gamete of being a human is to make room for the AND in life. It’s joy AND sadness. Contentment AND longing. Peace AND struggle. Laughter AND tears. If you try to only attend to the positive in life (be it yours or the lives of those around you) you will find yourself in a pretty shallow existence with surface level friendships. (As a side note, if emotional health isn’t enough of a reason to not live this way, the medical research also indicates that living an emotionally suppressive life opens yourself up to a full range of chronic health issues.) Be kind to yourself and honor those around you. Embrace the AND. Therein lies your power, health and freedom when you stay present in the moment as life unfolds.

So, if living with the tension of AND is important, how do you live there if you’re not used to it? Two thoughts: 1) slow down…notice instead of rush and 2) build into your daily schedule a time to reflect on the good and the bad of each day.

If you’re thinking this sounds good but you’re not sure how to make this a practice, I’d love to set up a time to discuss it! You can get ahold of me here.

 

Riding the Roller Coaster

Everyone experiences grief and loss regularly, yet few know how to tackle it effectively. Let’s look at some ways people make grief unnecessarily hard for themselves and also how riding the roller coaster of grief can be one of the healthiest and most freeing experiences of your life.

Grief and loss can come in all shapes and sizes. Big losses, little losses. Losses that anyone else would consider minuscule that feel huge to you…or that anyone else would consider huge that feel minuscule to you. Lies from a friend, a layoff, death, divorce, a break-up, abuse, raising a child with special abilities and needs, an affair, a miscarriage, the loss of sense of safety, loss of hope…I could go on. Even disappointments are losses that need to be grieved to some extent. Too often we take the “man up” approach to processing these losses, thinking the best thing to do is move on quickly. Or, perhaps we feel entirely overwhelmed and confused by how to process our grief well…it seems too big of a task to handle with no clear road map as to how to get there.

The process of grieving rarely makes sense and hardly ever progresses in a straight line. I’ve sat in counseling sessions with people who recount their fifth adoption falling through as if they’re reading from a newspaper but the same individual crumbles into pieces on my couch telling about the death of their pet bird. Grief doesn’t make sense. The way we express it doesn’t make sense. The way we process our losses doesn’t make sense. So why do we expect the experience to be nice and tidy? The only thing of any real worth in grief is intending to stay on the path of processing our losses as they come…not avoiding them, not intellectualizing them and not making an idol out of them. There are tons of ways to grieve well. The only way to do it wrong is to attempt to not do it at all.

How do people grieve “wrongly?”

Attempts at avoiding the grief or intellectualizing the loss are what I see most often. “My dad died last week but I took a day off work dealt with it so I’m ready to move” would be an example of someone avoiding grief by attempting to rush through it.  Additionally, people tend to diminish the severity of the loss and minimize it (“It was Only my uncle…dog…foot…whatever.” or “It could’ve been worse…other people have gone through worse things.”). Both of these techniques negate the impact of the event on your heart, shoving your emotions to the side. Please be assured: if this is your technique of choice, your emotions will pop up again in one way or another…not at a time of your choosing or in a way you would want. Anger, depression, anxiety, irritability, isolation, addiction are all ways that unexpressed emotions can make their presence known in your life.

How do people grieve “correctly?”

The best way to process losses…big or small…is to just ride the roller coaster. This doesn’t mean you have to be a complete zoo as you work through your grief. What it looks like practically is to let the waves of anger, sadness, hilarity, desire for connection, desire for alone time, etc. all unfold as they come. Don’t judge yourself for where you’re at in the process. Just be where you are and continue to ride the roller coaster until it comes to a stop. If you allow yourself to experience grief on its own terms, the roller coaster will come to an end much quicker than if you continually deny the impact of the loss or attempt to rush through the process. Losses take time to heal and in most cases, life will largely go on while you’re riding the roller coaster. It’s more of an attitude of inward grace and bravery as you don’t shy away from looking at the pain. It’s a kindness to yourself to let the weight of the loss rest on you as long as it needs to. It won’t stay forever, but if you let it touch your soul, it could be one of the most freeing experiences of your life.

Anytime you are stuck in a loss and not sure how to continue processing your emotions, please either talk to someone you care about or set up a time to come in for a therapy session. You’d be surprised how helpful another set of eyes can be on an issue like this. I’ve only just begun to unpack some of my thoughts on this diverse topic. Check back soon for a post on how all losses live in the same building in your head, why we tend process grief in spurts or chunks, and what I think the point of grief ultimately is…my answer may surprise you!

 

 

Clearing Out Emotional Clutter

imageOn January 1, 2016 I woke up and looked around my house and thought to myself, “I need to throw some junk away.” Thus began the 2 day period that I’m calling “The Great Purge of 2016.”

I’m what some might describe as “comfortable” with clutter. I don’t like things to be dirty but I’m ok with a pile of papers. As you might imagine, this can lead to some pretty creative organizational methods. Where is my light bill right now? In the stack of papers furthest to the left on my kitchen island. I know exactly where it is and when it’s due, but someone else would have trouble finding it. Sound familiar?

It’s obvious to see…there are many problems with this particular organizational method. For starters, I can get accustomed to the piles and not realize how much harder I’m making things on myself by living this way. One of my goals for 2016 is to increase simplicity and productivity, so streamlining my house and organizational processes falls under that resolution. As I walk around my house post-purge, random items that need to find new places to live are sticking out like sore thumbs. I think to myself as I scan a room, “just because I’m used to seeing this here doesn’t mean it belongs here.” Then I gather up those items and either toss, donate or put them where they need to be.

It occurred to me that the same can be said for things that clutter up our inner lives. Just because we’re used to something doesn’t mean it needs to be there. Isn’t it interesting to think how you may have grown accustomed to something (or someone) and assumed you’re stuck with it…but what you really need is a plan to purge it from your life?

You may be used to negative self-talk, anxiety, irritability, un-forgiveness or an unhealthy relationship, but that doesn’t mean it really belongs in your life. Maybe it’s something more physical and chronic like headaches, worsening eye sight, and stomach problems? Regularly, I hear from clients who are experiencing symptoms like these. They assume there is a medical cause (not a bad guess!) only to be told by their physician that there is nothing wrong with them. Only then do these individuals start to wonder if perhaps the cause of their symptoms is more rooted in their inner, emotional life.

What about you? Does any of this sound familiar? This is a great time of year to assess if there’s anything in your life that you’ve grown accustomed to that is keeping you from living your best life. A vibrant life full of freedom and peace is available to those who are willing to put in the work to purge the unnecessary and pursue better things. Why keep clutter that you’re comfortable with when a better way of doing life is available?  Start the journey today!

Staying On Track in 2016


 

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been preparing to hit the ground running in 2016. Like most people, I’ve been reflecting, making goals, considering how I can pursue simplicity, efficiency and productivity. And honestly, I’m pretty excited about what’s ahead in 2016!

Goal setting is the hot thing to do this time of year and you can find advice on this topic everywhere you turn. I do see a lot of value in reflecting on where you’re at and setting new goals. I believe in the old adage, “if you don’t know where you’re going, how will you know when you get there?”

All of this thinking about goals and productivity makes me feel awesome about myself! And I hope and plan to keep on target. But let’s be honest…I tend to be somewhat “spurt-y” in pretty much all of my pursuits. So guess how upset I’ll be if in a few weeks or months if I notice that I’ve let up on my goals? Zero Percent! And I’ll tell you why…

My theory is: life is a marathon, not a sprint! The important part is to keep heading towards the finish line…pacing is not the tell-tale sign of success. Some people run the whole way through the marathon. Those people are called “superheroes.” 🙂 But if you’re like me, sometimes I run and other times I get caught up in other things and realize I’m only walking towards the finish line. At those moments when I realize I’ve let my pace slip, I just figure out where I am in relation to my goal, why I’ve slowed down (there may be a good reason that rest is necessary) and then I get back to it! No guilt. Just start back running again. Any moment is a good time to kick it back in gear!

So remember with me as 2016 gets rolling: As long as you keep on the race route, you’re doing great!

Don’t let the guilt of missed goals or regrets keep you from enjoying the race. Set up a counseling appointment to talk if you need help shaking the negativity off in 2016! The best is yet to come.