Denial, Baby, Denial (Series #2 of 5)

So on Friday the Honey and I are grocery shopping. A woman with three kids clinging to her cart recognizes him and we stop for introductions. After answering her question about how long we’d been married, I brace myself. It’s coming. I just know it is. Get ready to smile and play it off.

Any kids yet?And…there it is. Sometimes I wish I were a betting woman. The words rolled innocently off her tongue, transforming themselves into daggers that I quickly deflected with humor before they could reach any soft tissue. Whew. That was close. Moving on to the produce section. No pun intended.

On Saturday night a couple of young mothers from church are hosting “Moms’ Night Out,” complete with the movie by the same title. I’m thinking I’m not a mom. I might just skip this one. You know, slide under the radar and stay home with the Honey. Then I get a personal invitation and a little push from the Hon. “Go on. You’ll enjoy hanging out with the girls.” So I go.

And I’m okay. Really. It was fun! How can you go wrong with popcorn, Twizzlers and theatre-sized boxes of peanut M&Ms in the house? The mommies seemed a little naked without their little ones on their hips, but the dads did great (unlike the movie), and no one had to leave early to relieve them.

Today a friend asked me point blank, no warning, “So how are you doing with the whole kids thing?” Granted, the question was asked in the kindest of tones and by the sweetest of persons, but I wasn’t ready for it. No time to grab my arsenal of codependent denial patterns. All I could blurt was the truth. “I’m in a sad place right now. I feel like I’m giving up on my dream.”Doorway

The truth, God? Seriously? Wow. I wasn’t expecting to blurt the truth. My 12 Step group would be proud. I didn’t hide in denial. I just admitted I am powerless. Step 1. Here I am again.

I was planning to blog a mini-series on denial and Step 1. Did a couple of pieces last week on this topic. I just wasn’t planning to use myself as the guinea pig. Nope. That wasn’t what I had in mind. Guess God had other plans. He does this sometimes – Just keeps repeating Himself until I admit that He’s talking to me. I usually get it on the third time around.

Friday. Saturday. Sunday. Three in a row. If this is a Tic-Tac-Toe game, God, You win!

In my research for this blog series, I discovered these Denial Patterns we may develop in order to survive:

  • I have difficulty identifying what I am feeling.
  • I minimize, alter, or deny how I truly feel.
  • I perceive myself as completely unselfish and dedicated to the well-being of others.
  • I lack empathy for the feelings or needs of others.
  • I label others with my negative traits.
  • I can take care of myself without any help from others.
  • I mask my pain in various ways such as anger, humor, or isolation.
  • I express negativity or aggression in indirect and passive ways.
  • I do not recognize the unavailability of those people to whom I am attracted. (Codependency for Dummies p. 73)

(Anyone else see themselves reflected in a bullet point or two?)

Careforce Ministries states this about denial:

Denial can also be cloaked through minimizing (maintaining that although a problem may exist it is not as serious as everyone thinks), and avoidance (changing the subject; burying oneself in other activities).

Denial protects us from situations we may not be psychologically ready to handle. Sometimes that is necessary, but we cannot stay stuck there, continuing to use denial as a coping mechanism.

We must become unstuck and by God’s grace face our issue, our pain… our heartache head on. Sometimes that hurts worse than the dull ache of denial. We’ll need support. Prayer. Courage to grind through the pain with God until He grants us “the serenity to accept the things we cannot change, the courage to change the things we can, and the wisdom to know the difference” (Reinhold Niebuhr). Take heart! He promises us that with Him, all things are possible. Even this.

So, here I am, God. I’m not laughing. Not avoiding. Not hiding in busyness. I refuse to minimize, alter, or hide how I truly feel. I choose to be real through this season. Please show me how to answer those innocent questions with tact and honesty. Give me space to grieve the death of another dream. How you will redeem this thing I feel I have lost? Do not let any root of envy or bitterness grow inside of me. Keep me close as we work this out together. Amen.

P.S. Please use this piece of painful transparency to touch another life and let them know that they, too, can step out of denial into the pain and that You will go with them through the valley.

 

Stepping Out of Denial (Series #1 of 5)

In two weeks, our 12 Step group will begin again at Step 1. This time around, I’m praying for God to continue to peel the layers of the onion that is my life. May I invite you to take a peek at Step 1 with me?

Step 1: “We admitted we were powerless over our compulsions, obsessions    and addictions, and that our lives had become unmanageable.”

Are we so busy controlling the lives of everyone around us that we forget there are areas of our own lives that are unmanageable? It’s time to come out of the dark. Time to take Step 1. Time to face the truth about ourselves.

 Here’s a short list of symptoms in our lives that there is possibly something deeper going on. We often look at the symptoms and stop right there, never getting to the root of the problem. Do you see yourself or someone you love anywhere on this list?

  • Shame-filled
  • Addicted
  • Depressed
  • Angry
  • Exhibiting poor self-esteem
  • Feeling powerless
  • Dealing with unexplained physical issues/illness
  • Battling suicidal thoughts or behaviors
  • Continually dealing with damaged relationships
  • Having a tendency to isolate

If you see yourself here, you are not alone. Many of us get stuck in a cycles like this. It’s like a roller coaster ride that never ends. We feel like throwing up. Life is no longer fun. We scream, but no one seems to care.

The first key to getting off the ride is coming out of denial. There are many ways to deny the truth about our issues. Denial is basically refusing to acknowledge that a problem exists, despite plenty of evidence to the contrary.

One way we do this is by intellectualizing. The creators of The Door of Hope program  (http://www.careforcelifekeys.org/pages.asp?id=53) define intellectualizing like this:

Intellectualizing – “When recalling the abuse, denying that the abuse had any emotional effect on them. We can think about it, talk about it, analyze it – but never take a step forward in the healing process. We can think we have dealt with it, but all we have done is thought about it.”

Consider this an official invitation to come out of denial today. We can prayerfully ask God for insight as to why we behave in certain unhealthy ways. He will reveal the root to us. Only then can He begin to truly heal.

“This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.” 1 John 5:14 (NIV)

Step 1 Meme

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Father in heaven, please open my eyes today. Show me the areas of my life where I am in need of Your healing touch. Reveal the truth about why I behave the way I behave and feel the way I feel. Please forgive me for intellectualizing my pain. I am ready to allow You to heal me. I choose to trust You. In the name of Jesus, Amen.

I’m Not Codependent!…Am I?

I’m one of those strange souls who enjoys taking quizzes and tests. Nothing thrilled me more as a student, than the week of standardized assessments – no homework, extra recess time! My teachers often allowed me to read a book when I “finished early.” As an avid reader, I would race through the test questions so I could get back to Anne of Green Gables.

Decades later, I still like to fill in the blanks and pencil in the bubbles with a sharp no. 2 pencil. Always a sucker for instant gratification, computerized tests with immediate results thrill me even more!

While sitting in church a couple of weeks ago, a friend leaned over and whispered, “What are you on the Meyers-Briggs?” When I told her, she laughed and replied, “Only personalities like us actually remember!” Perhaps she’s right. Those four letters are seared on my brain like a tattoo. (If you’re unfamiliar, you can read about the assessment here: http://www.myersbriggs.org/my-mbti-personality-type/mbti-basics/)

What about you? Do you like to discover yourself in personality quizzes? If, like me, you have loved someone who is addicted to something, perhaps a little codependency quiz may be a helpful reality check. I think I paid $70.00 for my first reality check – with a therapist. I was so desperate to speak with someone that I didn’t care that it took the electric bill money. I needed to know where I stood on the emotional Richter scale. The minor tremors could no longer be controlled. I was headed for a major seismic meltdown. I needed help.

When I look into eyes that reflect the familiar pain that used to haunt me in the mirror, I cannot walk away. This weekend I sat across from a pair of hopeless eyes and wept the tears she could not yet cry. I know, my friend. I get it. You are too numb to weep, too tired to leave, too angry to stay. You need respite. A place to grieve, to think, to pray…

That conversation reminded me of how it feels to be stuck – unsure whether I’m making a mountain out of the proverbial molehill; unsure whether what I’m seeing and feeling is justified by the on-again-off-again “love” of my significant other. For anyone out there who feels this way or knows someone who does, these, and similar behaviors collectively have a name. Codependency. There are support groups (Al-Anon, Celebrate Recovery, or Codependents Anonymous (http://coda.org/) who can help us to see ourselves when the mirror is foggy. Codependency for Dummies

Self Check:

Do I…

  • Assume responsibility for others’ feelings and behaviors?
  • Feel guilty about others’ feelings and behaviors?
  • Minimize, alter, or deny how I truly feel?
  • Compromise my own values and integrity to avoid rejection or others’ anger?
  • Put other people’s needs and desires before my own (to the detriment of my own physical, spiritual, emotional or mental health?)
  • Worry about how others may respond to my feelings, opinions and behavior?
  • Value others opinions and feelings more than my own?
  • Judge everything I think, say, or do harshly, as never “good enough?”
  • Spend my energy on someone else’s problem or life?
  • Feel loyal to someone who is hurting me?
  • Fear being left or rejected?
  • Adapt to others’ tastes of point of view?
  • Rescue, enable, or support a “bad habit” in someone I love?

 Am I…

  • Afraid of being hurt and/or rejected by others?
  • Afraid of my own anger, yet sometimes erupt in rage?
  • Afraid to express differing opinions or feelings?
  • A perfectionist?
  • Extremely loyal, remaining in harmful situations too long?
  • Controlling?
  • Lacking boundaries and have difficulty saying, “no?”
  • Continually justifying and explaining myself?
  • Unable to get over losses or break-ups?
  • Staying in a relationship I’m not happy with because “something is better than nothing?”

The above lists were gleaned from Celebrate Recovery resources and Codependency for Dummies by Darlene Lancer, MFT. (If you’d like a more “official” online quiz to feed your inner test-taker, you can find one here: http://www.codependencynomore.com/

Although these are only partial lists, and behaviors almost everyone exhibits at times, I invite you to prayerfully consider whether they are red flags in your life. If so, don’t wait! Find a trusted person to speak with about your situation. Read further about codependency. Find a counselor. Ask God to deliver you from the bondage of your own lowered expectations for your life and personal relationships.

I claim this promise from God for you today, “…I redeemed you from the house of bondage…” (Micah 6:4). Be redeemed! Be free! Be whole!

 

Love Rescued Me

He offers a piggyback ride out of the mess I created. Shards of glass glisten on the tile as morning sunlight spills into our kitchen. I stand barefoot in the middle of broken glass, afraid to take a step in any direction.

It’s all my fault. In my usual hurry, I hadn’t taken time to thoroughly dry my hands. When I lifted a full quart-sized glass mug, it slipped from my grasp, shattering on the edge of my cast iron skillet Glass and water splashed across the stove and counter top. Larger pieces shattered again when they met the tile floor. Within seconds, it was over.

Are you okay?” Honey’s voice beats him to the doorway.

Yes.”

Don’t move. Let me get you out of here.”

He rescues me and cleans up the disaster. It takes almost an hour to restore our kitchen to its normal safe-to-walk-barefoot status. His voice and mannerisms remain calm. Not once does he scold or chide. His only concern is for my safety.

It is me who huffs and puffs on the inside. I am the one spewing and blaming myself for being a klutz.

This is the first of three broken-glass dramas within the span of a few days.

The next time, in a hurry to get out the door, I knock my Voss water bottle into the corner of a thick piece of glass that covers an antique sideboard in our entryway. The moment the sound of glass on glass hits my ears I know that I have cracked something. Closer inspection reveals it’s not the water bottle. Voss

Frustrated and disappointed, I’m quick to glance at my husband’s face for condemnation. Finding none, I continue to beat myself up about it as we head for the car. Through the maze of our neighborhood, I berate myself for being so careless. He holds my hand as always, acting as if nothing has happened.

Finally it’s Friday morning. I’m making a quick breakfast so Honey can head out to a meeting when I knock a Mason jar, filled with homemade spaghetti sauce off the refrigerator’s top shelf. “NO!” I holler as it heads for the tile. Instantly our kitchen looks like a slaughterhouse.Sauce

Lord, what is going on here? A roll of paper towels later, I’m still waiting for His answer. It comes quietly as I sit alone in the house, reflecting on my husband’s responses to my bull-in-a-china-shop ways.

“Through the LORD’s mercies we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not.” I continue reading from the open Bible on our kitchen table. “They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness.” Lamentations 3:22-23 (NKJV)

I realize that I have had false expectations of God and my husband. When I repeatedly mess up, I’m waiting for someone to shout at me, blame me, or remind me of the other times I’ve failed.

In retrospect, I’m the only one doing that. I’m the one insisting, “I made this mess I need to clean it up.” I’m the one remembering how many times I’ve already failed. I’m the one pointing spaghetti-sauce-covered fingers at myself.

During a moment of quiet introspection I ask, Why must I insist on doing something to help, even after someone who loves me has gently removed me from the danger of broken glass on bare feet? Is it a way to alleviate guilt? Why am I the only one remembering how many times I’ve already failed, when 1 Corinthians 13:5 tells me “Love keeps no record of wrongs?”

When we have suffered neglect or abuse in our past, lack of trust can haunt our present. If humans have made statements like, “You’ve made your bed, now you must lie in it,” we may subconsciously begin to believe that’s what God says, too. He doesn’t.

If we stop for a moment, like the woman caught in adultery and dragged before Jesus, and allow ourselves to look up into LOVE’s face, we will hear these precious words: “Where are your accusers?”

Sometimes we make repeated mistakes. Sometimes we break glass. Sometimes we break hearts. Whatever it is that’s broken in our lives today, we have Someone who wants to rescue us from our mess, clean it up and let it go. We can continue to beat ourselves up because we’ve made poor choices in the past, or we can move forward with a redeemed and forgiven future. The choice is ours.

I choose LOVE.

Hands Up Don’t Shoot

“The measure of your compassion lies not in your service of those on the margins, but in your willingness to see yourself in kinship with them.” Gregory Boyle

1 John 318Us and them. It happens in every stage of life.

First grade girls giggle behind tiny hands as the new girl enters the playground. How do they instinctively know that she’s somehow different? Is it her clothing? Her way of speaking? Her downcast eyes? Whatever it is, the new girl instantly becomes one of “them” while the “us” group sticks together like Legos.

Us and them. High school’s unwritten rules keep cliques from crossing over. Decade after decade, teens separate themselves into social groups – jocks and cheerleaders, punks and nerds, this gang and that one – whatever the new trends or groups. No one wants to be a “them” so every Freshman hustles to find an “us” to identify with.

Adult versions of “us” and “them” perpetuate through generations, eating the heart out of a tiny but powerful thing called unity.

I grew up in the South in the 1970’s, where train tracks separated “us” from “them” in almost every town. I cringe to recall the wall-building words that flowed so freely from the otherwise loving lips of church-going relatives. Words used to alienate “them” from “us.” Words so ingrained in our Southern culture that they came out of mouths that simultaneously proclaimed the love and grace of God.

How can God accept worship from hearts segregated by the railroad tracks of skin color, language, income or education levels? Does He really sit quietly on His throne while His children derail one another with hatred? Or does He passionately love us – one and all the same, commanding us to do likewise?

Can we truly love one another while something ugly boils beneath our churchy facades? Ferguson is just one tragedy among millions that take place daily upon our planet. The heart of God is pierced by Every. Single. One. Were we more like Him, our hearts would be pierced as well.

I wept through a deeply touching film last week. It’s the story of a Jesuit priest who moves into Latino gang territory and becomes a conduit of God’s love to effect lasting change in the lives of those who are touched by that love. Father Gregory Boyle not only says, “The measure of your compassion lies not in your service of those on the margins, but in your willingness to see yourself in kinship with them” – he lives it.

In my former life, as the wife of a crack-addicted spouse, I came face to face with my own issues with the “us” and “them” mentality. I was part of the “us” who choose not to snort, shoot up or smoke illegal substances. He rode the fence. Sometimes he was like us – clean-shaven, church going, hard working, and tax paying. When he fell off that fence, he instantly (in my mind) became a “them.”

I could not identify with the lifestyle that accompanied his binges. Nor could I accept his almost pleading statement that his druggie girlfriend was “just like us.” In my mind, she wasn’t like me at all. She was (insert any number of ungodly words that a wounded wife might use), but definitely not like me.

In the drafting of my personal memoir on addiction and redemption, I struggled with some of these thoughts as I processed the truth of God’s healing mercy and redemption of all things lost. Although at the time, the fence-rider’s words caused a scream-and-throw-things reaction, hindsight proves him right. She is just like me – a broken sinner in desperate need of God’s grace. I am no more deserving of that than she.

I can no longer sit in my high and mighty seat looking down on her, or “them.” Whether they are different from me because of genetic makeup or lifestyle choices, we are still kin. The blood of Jesus turns us all the same color. His sacrifice makes no distinction between drug addiction or food addiction. All can be forgiven and restored.

May I invite you to join me in laying down our arms (pointing fingers, judgmental thoughts, words and actions) and holding up our palms in “don’t shoot” solidarity with humanity’s masses? Will we serve the marginalized from a place of compassion because each human being is part of the human clique called “us.”

Jesus shed His blood for each one. Can we be like Him and love without condition? Can we be like our brother, Father Boyle, and see ourselves in kinship with those who differ for whatever reason?

My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth. 1 John 3:18 (KJV)

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Thank you, Father Boyle (a.k.a. G-Dog), for your example:

If you’d like to see the movie trailer, it’s here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0mYEAwtdsYo

You can find his book, Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion here: http://www.amazon.com/Tattoos-Heart-Power-Boundless-Compassion/dp/1439153159