I’m in the mood for something new, so I joined the Mental Illness Advocacy Reading Challenge. You can read about it on Goodreads HERE on on the founder’s blog HERE.
Or I could just–you know–tell you about it. Basically it is a fun way to encourage people to learn more about various types of mental illness by reading books. The best summary is this (from the blog)
“Any book, fiction or nonfiction, that is either about mental illness or features characters or real people with a mental illness counts for the challenge. However, the book must not demonize people with mental illnesses.”
For fun, you can even sign up and choose a “challenge level”.
Because I love to read, I chose Advocate 12 books. I plan to read one a month. Perhaps that goal is too ambitious, after all I do have a couple other things going on in my life–but I can adjust later if needed.
Are You With Me?
There are a couple different ways you could join me:
1) Officially join the MIA Reading Challenge
2)BEST CHOICE–each month I will share what I will be reading the following month, you could read along. I will post a review at the end of the month, and you can discuss it with me.
3) Read at least one book (maybe one I have featured on my blog), brownie points if you tell someone about it.
I hope you are “IN”. I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.
My first book (will start reading in January) will be:
600 Hours of Edward by Craig Lancaster
It is about a man with both OCD and Aspberger’s. The book blurb says, “Heartfelt and hilarious, this moving novel will appeal to fans of Daniel Keyes’s classic Flowers for Algernon and to any reader who loves an underdog.”
They had me at “heartfelt and hilarious” but I also love Flowers for Algernon, and underdogs. That and the many glowing reviews sold me. I hope you will read along with me.
(Oh, and if you are wondering–I will still post my own personal stuff about DID and whatever is on my mind. I’m not turning my blog into a book review blog entirely. I haven’t decided whether I will continue Monday Mitzvahs or not (probably). You could definitely sway me either way by sharing your thoughts in a comment.
I am thrilled to announce that my book, Everything I Needed to Know About Parenting I Learned in Prison, is now available at Amazon and Smashwords, and in a few days it will also be available at Barnes and Noble and other ebook retailers.
The idea for this book came to me about five years ago. I was thinking about a couple things I had learned working as a correctional officer in a men’s prison that helped me in my parenting. The more I thought about it, the more connections I could see. Who would have imagined that working in that environment would teach me things that I would later use as a parent? That’s how this book was born.
So I wrote the book, but then I ran into a snag. It was too short. I didn’t have any more stories to tell and it was too short. What could I do? I “trunked” it which means I stopped working on it and forgot about it for awhile. Then recently I realized that with the emergence of ebooks people are now publishing shorter works–short stories, novellas, and non-fiction shorts. I realized it the time for my book had come.
I took it out of the trunk, dusted it off, and updated it. And ta da! Here it is for your reading pleasure.
Next week, I will return to our regular “Monday Mitzvah” schedule. But until then–leaving a review of a book you like is a great act of kindness. As a reader, I always look at reviews. Books live or die by reviews. And authors? Well, they sweat and fret and hope for good reviews. So if you read my book and you like it, honest reviews are always welcome. Other authors welcome reviews too!
Friends, I know you are probably expecting a “mitzvah” post today. I’m sorry I just don’t have one in me right now. Halloween puts me on edge every year, though I am not exactly sure why. I’m emotionally treading water here and hoping November 1st will come quickly.
I have big plans for November. I recently completed the rough draft of my book Touching His Robe: Reaching Past the Shame and Anger of Abuse and in November I will begin the revisions and polishing. For today I have decided to share an excerpt of the first chapter. Enjoy!
The Jaws of Hell
I looked at the “safety card” in my hand. It was divided into sections: suggestions for coping, kind words from friends, and phone numbers including the suicide hotline. I folded it and put it back in my pocket. It wasn’t enough. Questions reverberated in my mind: Am I God’s Orphan? Did He push me off the train, or just turn away and leave me? I told myself it no longer mattered because I had a plan, a suicide plan. Like Job, I cursed the day I was born.
But it had not always been this way. As a teenager with two alcoholic parents, there was one night my parents didn’t bother to come home. I lay awake frantic that they had either been put in jail, or they were in the hospital. Prayer got me through the night and I began to know my Comforter. From Arizona, where I was born, through my experiences in Venezuela, Alaska, Utah, and Washington, He was my Guide. He led me to a wonderful husband. When a miscarriage at 12 weeks broke my heart, He mended it. When death also claimed a teenage niece and nephew, He wept with me. As my husband’s business failing, subsequent job layoffs, bankruptcy, and foreclosure dropped me to my knees. He was my Staff. When life-threatening health issues frightened me, He calmed the troubled sea in my soul. Truly He was my Bread of Life.
Then, memories of childhood sexual abuse began to surface. I became acquainted with a pain that surpassed anything I had experienced before. And I felt utterly alone. Where was my balm of Gilead, my Savior now? I could not feel Him. I became angry. How could God allow this to happen to me, and why had he forsaken me when I needed him the most?
I grieved the loss of this relationship along with the pain of the past. I turned to the church seeking comfort and answers, but well-intended messages of forgiveness only increased my pain. If I were a better person, I thought, I could forgive. Shame, like a black mold, filled me until one day when I did feel the Savior reaching out to me I turned away from Him. I saw myself as an emotional leper. “Unclean, unclean,” was my heart’s mantra. Without Christ, I was adrift. For a short time, I considered atheism and yet He had been too much a part of my life to let go.
Does this sound familiar to you? Have you felt alone and forsaken? If you have, you are not alone. These feelings are common among survivors. There are examples in the Bible of others who felt forsaken. The story of Job could be our story. Job had done nothing wrong and yet suddenly the jaws of hell gaped after him. Christ, who is our example in all things, was innocent and yet on the cross He cried out, “My God, my God why hast thou forsaken me?”
My abuse started when I was about four and continued for several years. I understand your pain. If I could I would just sit with you and listen to your story. I would hear your pain in as much or as little detail as you want to tell it. And I would say I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. That should not have happened.
But I can’t sit with each of you, so I will do the next best thing. I will share my story, and how I found Christ again. What Christ whispered to me through the scriptures He says to all.
In this chapter, we will talk about the jaws of hell, the feeling of being forsaken, and feelings that cause us to feel this separation. Through the rest of the book, we will talk about scriptures that can help you not only overcome those feelings, but feel a deep closeness to the Lord.
When the Jaws Open
What does it mean to have the jaws of Hell open after you? We can track the phrase back to medieval times. In the Vercelli Homilies (prose believed to date back to the 10th century), Satan is compared to a dragon swallowing the damned. The image was used in medieval art as well. “Hellsmouth”, the entrance to hell, was portrayed as the gaping mouth of a monster. This image was common all over Europe and continued until the end of the Middle Ages. Usage continued later in renaissance theater. An entry would be painted to appear as hell’s mouth and during morality plays actors playing demons would dramatically drag sinners to their doom. Eventually, they simply called any trapdoor on the floor of a stage the hellsmouth. In Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, they called the entire space beneath the stage “hell” and the choir loft the heavens.
The idea continues to intrigue men’s minds. The term jaws of hell can be found in many current day song lyrics. But what does all this have to do with us?
Generally we think of separation from God as being due to our sins. But what if as Job we are separated from God, during a time when we need Him most, through no fault of our own? Could this not be truly called the Jaws of Hell?
Shame is a huge obstacle for us survivors of abuse. Almost immediately as my memories began to resurface, I was overcome with a deep sense of shame. I felt like a rotten apple. People told me the abuse wasn’t my fault. Logically I knew they were right and yet still, I also felt deeply that I was full of worms, invisible to the eye, but spoiled just the same.
Shame did not come into my life alone. It brought a companion, anger. Anger was a really uncomfortable visitor because as a child I had never been allowed to express it. As the spark of anger grew into an inner bonfire, I had no idea how to extinguish it.
Anger whispered terrible things to me. “If God really loves you, why did He allow this to happen?” I knew all the Sunday school answers about why God allows bad things to happen to good people, but those no longer seemed sufficient. This was not a philosophical question, but a deeply personal one.
With the return of my memories, I lost something else–trust. Trust is huge issue for survivors of childhood sexual abuse. Most abuse occurs by someone the child knows; a family member or friend of the family. When we are hurt and betrayed in such a grievous manner by someone who was supposed to help us, we learn not to trust again especially authority figures, even God.
A Door Opens
Thus far I have painted a very dismal picture, but there is hope. One day, I told my spiritual leader I could not bear the thought of the Savior approaching me with outstretched arms. I preferred to have rocks fall on me rather than face him.
He pondered that for a moment and then said, “Remember the woman who came to Jesus and touched His robe? Maybe you could do that . . . just touch his robe.”
The words resonated within me like a perfect chord on the piano. Yes! Even though I was full of hurt, mistrust and fear, there was a part of me that yearned for the once close relationship I had shared with the Savior. Perhaps I could just reach out and touch His robe.
One of the coping/healing tools that I have found very helpful is Centering Prayer. So today I’d like to share some wisdom from Fr. Thomas Keating, whom I think of as one of my mentors.
Here is a repost about my experience with Centering Prayer.
The other day on the radio, I heard a country song– STOP– Side Bar — my daughter is going through a brief country music phase (let’s hope it’s brief). So I blame her for my few moments of listening to a country music station. Bleh. Something good did come out of it though.
So, I heard a song about a woman visiting her childhood home. Some strangers now inhabited it, but she talked about the bedroom upstairs in the back where she did homework and learned to play the guitar, and her favorite dog that was buried under the big tree in the backyard. She expressed the need to come “home” because perhaps that would help heal the brokenness that had occurred since she had left. I was touched by it. I thought it would be nice if I had a place I could go to, somewhere before I was “broken”.
Yes, I still feel broken in so many ways. There is hope though. I had a really great month which included Christmas. Since my oldest son is 18 and looking forward to leaving home this summer, this was our last Christmas “as a family.” I am grateful for that reprieve. The drawback, and I suppose in comparison it is a small price to pay, is the disappointment I felt at coming back to the pain. Still it did give me hope in a future where there is less pain and sorrow than this place I’m in now.
While I can’t go “home” to some physical place with healing memories, I have found a few things that give me “coming home moments”.
The first is contemplative or centering prayer. I’m LDS/Mormon so this has really not been a part of my faith tradition, but I see no conflict with it. Centering Prayer is a form of meditation with the goal of bringing oneself closer to God. I think of it as the “listening” portion of prayer. It is a mantra-based meditation. I’m really new to it, so likely not the best person to explain it, but I’ll try anyway. If it peaks your interest, I’ll share a couple resources at the end of this post.
First, I want to clarify, when I say “meditation”, I don’t mean deep thinking, I mean meditation in the Eastern sense of attempting to clear your mind of thoughts and be still. I start with a short “traditional” prayer. Much like the way we begin church meetings with prayer. Then I sit quietly and focus on my breath and repeat with my breaths a “sacred word” that I have chosen. The “sacred word” is whatever you chose. At first I used, Atonement, because I wanted to emphasize being one with God again. Later another idea came to me and I am using that now. I want to keep my new word sacred, something that I only share with God, but you get the idea.
During Centering Prayer you try to keep your mind quiet. As you can imagine, that is difficult to do as thoughts creep in and before you know it, you are in the middle of a “mental paragraph” before you remember that you were meditating and return to focusing on your breath, and your sacred word. That’s OK I heard a story of a woman who went to a retreat for Centering Prayer. After one of the sessions, she approached the leader and expressed her feeling that she had failed because she got distracted about 80 times. He said, “How wonderful, 80 times of returning to God.”
Father Thomas Keating who has taught and written books about Contemplative Prayer recommends two sessions a day, 20 minutes each. I have not been able to make that much time in my day yet. And in fact I don’t dare. It is hard for me to sit quietly. Quite frankly, I am afraid of the repressed emotions that will use that time to come forward. This is not unique to me, Fr. Keating talks about this sort of thing happening in his seminar “Contemplative Prayer” (available on CDs). My therapist is encouraging of my meditation practice. He says if I can only start with 5 minutes at a time, that is fine. It’s a start. And so I do.
So far, I have found it to be amazingly refreshing and soothing. So much so that when I am in public and I start to feel stress or anxiety, I will take a couple deep breaths and repeat the sacred word to myself and it helps. It is powerful, and it is more than relaxation. I have used relaxation techniques before that were helpful, but didn’t affect me in this same way. It’s hard to explain how it works, different people have different ideas about this. I will just share how I understand it. I believe that I lived with God before I came to earth, I don’t remember it, but my Spirit does. When I meditate, I believe it is a way to connect with my Spirit, that part of me that remembers God. It is like reaching towards the Divine within myself and at the same time reaching toward Heavenly Father.
Another way I have found to come home is another form of meditation called mindfulness. I feel even less adequate to explain it, except to say that we live much of our lives either thinking about the past, or the future, mindfulness is about being in the moment we are in. And again in a way that is difficult to fully explain, I find it very healing as well. Though I had been introduced to the idea before, my interest really began with a book by Geneen Roth called Women, Food and God. It has really been influential for me. Another proponent of this form of meditation is Jon Kabat-Zinn. He has a PhD and works with patients, teaching them mindfulness to help with chronic pain and stress reduction.
Women, Food and God is about compulsive eating, and Jon Kabat-Zinn uses it to help people with chronic pain. The Buddhists and some Christians (myself included) use it as part of their spiritual practice. And so I wonder, is there any part of our lives meditation doesn’t affect in positive ways? My experience so far is no. It is truly a form of coming home and working to heal the brokenness.
Here are some resources if you would like to learn more:
Women, Food and God by Geneen Roth I love this book. I found it immensely helpful and healing.
Perhaps by sharing my talented friend, Carrie’s, art work in my recent post about art therapy, I have unintentionally given you the idea that you need to be an artist to do this. While it is true that Carrie is a talented artist (you should see her other work), it is not necessary to be an artist to use art therapy effectively.
I’m willing to put my own art on the line to make my point. So brace your self…
This is one of my drawings using the method described in the book Visual Journaling by Ganim and Fox. My notes about this picture say only: Pondering the source of joint pain. Drowning in sorrow-surrounded by pain and anger both from within and without.
This picture from my journal has no caption only the date, but looking at it I can tell I was trying to work through some anger and pain. After all what do you do with the anger and pain of so long ago?
Everyone says, “let it go.” I’m trying!
As you can see by these pictures, the purpose of art therapy is not to create master-pieces, but to help one work through feelings, sometimes very intense feelings. I know my pictures look childish, reasonably so since they depict childhood pain. But I’m okay with that because they are an outlet that keeps me from self-harm. I’m not tempted to self-harm any more, but at one time the desire was very intense.
Besides giving one insight into themselves as Carrie’s pictures and descriptions show so well, or allowing one to release emotions, art can also help one relax.
I enjoy drawing and doodling, though I have never thought of myself as an artist by any means. (If my artwork about hasn’t convinced you I don’t know what will.) So when I stumbled upon Zentangle, I was intrigued. First, I looked at a couple websites on line, and then at a couple youtube videos. Then, off to the library (website) to find some Zentangle books. Not surprisingly they were all checked out, but I put a few on hold. While I was waiting, I created this–with my on-line instruction–Sorry it’s not a very good photograph, but the picture is pretty rudimentary anyway.
With her wonderful instructions, I started to “get” it. I have to warn you here–it’s only right that I do–tangling is addictive. I can’t seem to stop. It really is relaxing, inspiring and fun. I can’t get enough of it.
One day I showed my pictures to a friend, previously I had never let anyone but my therapist see my “art”. The friend, who happened to be an art teacher was very generous with her praise, so I let other people see it. Before I knew it people were saying to me, “I didn’t know you were an artist.”
Believe me, I didn’t either. Actually, I still don’t think of myself as an artist, but simply an art yogi. I’m kidding.
What I want to say to you is this:
If you have any desire at all, to try art therapy, then do it! Don’t worry if your creations look childish–those seem to be the most therapeutic anyway. Who knows, you might just find a new addiction–err–hobby, as I have.
We have art in order not to die of the truth. Friedrich Nietzsche
Art therapy has been an important part of my healing journey. Sometimes it helps me deal with difficult and painful emotions, sometimes it’s a vehicle for my unconscious to speak to me, sometimes it’s just plain fun.
It started early in my regular therapy. When my therapist went on vacation, it was really hard for me. On the outside I would say, “No problem.” But on the inside I felt this urge that roughly translates to throwing myself on the floor, holding his leg and crying, “Don’t leave me.” (Boy is it embarrassing to admit to that.)
Obviously, I couldn’t stop my therapist from going on vacation, so I needed to find a way to self-soothe. My first thought was art. I had heard of art therapy and the idea really intrigued me. There are therapists who are specifically trained in art therapy–but decided I couldn’t afford my ‘regular’ therapy and art therapy. So I did the next best thing. I started checking out art therapy books from the library. I continued looking at different books until one day, I found it. The book that for me is the perfect art therapy book:
Visual Journaling: Going Deeper than Words by Barbara Ganim and Susan Fox
From the book: “Visual journaling speaks a language deeper than words, drawing from within our beauty, our truth and our wisdom. It brings to paper the landscape of our life’s serenities and struggles, joys and tears, passions, fears, and dreams.” Linda Hill-Wall
In this book, which I highly recommend, they combine a sort of mediation with art and the result is fascinating. My drawings are rudimentary and childlike,which is alright. They serve the purpose of helping me understand myself.
But for this post I would like to share my friend Carrie’s drawings. I was so enthusiastic about this book that I told Carrie about it and she decided to give it a try. I love her drawings, but that is not the main reason I am sharing them. I asked her permission to share her drawings and her comments on them because I really like the way she explained how the process worked for her: what she was thinking as she drew and how the outcome managed to surprise her. She really captured what I am trying to share. So, here’s Carrie.
“Here’s my first one! I was going to not bother doing it, but I remembered saying to you that if you don’t give the other parts a voice, they don’t have one – and I knew the ‘right’ side wanted to say something. I remembered you saying that you have to silence the left side in order to find out what’s in the right side. I found that I had a box of craypas, too! And I used my left hand, and although of course the left brain wants to chatter away, I also held an image in mind of a little girl drawing without talking. I asked her what she wanted to draw, and it was amazing how this thing “I” meant to be just a black ball turned into a girl in a fetal position. And how she had to be all the way over to the side. And waaaaaay over there is a wall, a brick wall, with a tiny opening (one brick high). And she has this beautiful flower she’s growing, with many layers of colors. And it keeps getting big, so big, and she’s just curled up trying to hold onto it. But all the good things, well, all the other good things, are all behind that wall. You can’t see it, but that’s where the cozy houses with lighted windows are, full of people enjoying each other’s company and listening to each others’ stories. And there are big overstuffed chairs there where men sit. And things smell good and look pretty, and gardens grow and people cook together from them. And where people care about what you think and feel. Oh, and most important, no one has to pretend. Doesn’t it sound heavenly? But the only way in is this teeny tiny mouse-sized hole. And she doesn’t fit in. Isn’t that amazing? I knew the hole had to be small, but I didn’t know why till I was all done, and then the title came to me.”
Because she was so intrigued with the first experiment, she decided to try it again.
“I started out asking myself, what color do you want? And I picked gray. That immediately turned into a castle in my mind. But then I just did some scribbling in a castle-like direction, and it started to take shape. But at first it was up in the air, and I thought, no, it has to have stairs up to it. And the stairs have to reach the ground, because I absolutely have to be on them. And then the air was just not right, it had to be grass, and that turned into a mountain. And when it all filled in and I looked at it, I realized my mind had done one of those pun things – it’s an illustration of a quote from Dan Siegel, talking about how he got along in medical school: “Medical school was my mountain, and I wanted to climb it.” So the caption to my picture is “This is my mountain, and I want to climb it.”
If you have ever thought about art therapy, I recommend giving it a try. You don’t have to be an artist. As I hope Carrie’s comments show, in art therapy, it’s not about the art, it’s about discovering you.
We’ve all done it, someone is hurting and we say the wrong thing. Many of us have been on the other side too, having the wrong thing said to us. When sad things happen, and life is full of them, sometimes it is hard to know what to say.
This happens most commonly with funerals and serious illnesses such as: cancer. And it gets even more complicated with less common tragedies such as suicide, and sexual abuse/assault. When faced with these situations too often we either say the wrong thing or say nothing at all.
There is a reason for this. Empathy is a skill that does not come naturally to most people, but you can learn it. You have to work at it though. Brene Brown taught me this in her book, I Thought It Was Just Me. She talks about how to cultivate empathy. Apparently colleges try to teach this skill to people majoring in psychology and social work.
This explains something my therapist said once. I had asked him why it felt like only the “professional people in my life knew how to help” and by this I meant show empathy. (These have been a few exceptions of course). He said, “Maybe that is why they are the professionals.” I couldn’t figure out the connection. To me empathy is a way of showing love…I thought everyone could do it if they just tried…but apparently I was wrong.
So if you feel like you are lacking in the empathy department (and most people are unless they have consciously cultivated this skill), I have a few pointers to get you started. I know you are busy so here are some suggestions that take various degrees of commitment.
First, if you need help now here’s the key in a nutshell: don’t talk, just listen. Yes, it really is that simple. Too often people say the wrong thing because they start trying to solve a problem when they don’t really know what the problem is because they haven’t listened. One of my favorite things about therapy is that my therapist doesn’t try to solve my problems for me. He listens, and he asks questions to help me find my own answers.
Key #1 When you don’t know what to say, just listen.
The next step is more complicated, but so worth it to learn. This tip comes from a LA Times Op Ed piece, brilliantly said. In “How Not to Say the Wrong Thing” Susan Silk and Barry Goldman explain the “Ring Theory”. As they explain in the Op Ed piece, you write the name of the person who is suffering and then put a circle around it. Then write the name of someone close to them, i.e. a spouse, parent or child write that and circle it to from an outer ring. Keep going until you find the appropriate ring to place yourself.
Then Comfort IN, Dump OUT….if you are talking to someone in a circle smaller than yours, you mostly just listen. They get to vent, scream, cry, and you listen. If you also need to vent, scream and cry, do it with someone in a larger ring than your own. Simple but so powerful. I highly recommend you click on the link and read the article from the LA Times.
Key #2 Ring Theory: Comfort IN, Dump OUT
Finally, if you really want to help others, and help yourself as well, read everything Brene Brown has ever written. Ok, I’m teasing. Seriously, start with I Thought It was Just Me. She discusses empathy as part of shame resilience. If I could, I would buy a copy of this book for everyone I know. I believe if everyone read it and applied it we would not only be happier, but we would be better parents, spouses and friends. Seriously, it’s powerful stuff.
Key #3 Cultivate the talent of empathy
Learning to truly listen and show empathy may be the best acts of kindness you will ever give.
Monday Mitzvah’s were inspired by Linda Cohen. Check out her page HERE or read her book 1000 Mitzvah’s