Help for Healing

Bitter & Sweet, living daily with grief



Are you hoping for a better 2020 than 2019? I can’t prove it, but I feel like every January I say something similar. Last year was tough, here’s to hoping for a better new year.

I’ve heard it described that sympathy is feeling bad for someone’s pain. Empathy is feeling someone’s pain with them. One isn’t bad and one good, one isn’t healthy and the other unhealthy. They are just two things that are distinct but closely related.

I’m definitely an empath. That is probably the single most important thing that makes me an effective counselor. I call it being fully present. When you are in my office, you have my full attention and I am empathic. But if an empath doesn’t want to sink into the abyss, they have to also know how to detach when they exit the other’s presence.

Even when you can detach in a healthy way, there is still residue. I wouldn’t be human if there wasn’t. I am aware of the good things in life. I’m not oblivious to them and I’m grateful for the good things in my own life. But I’m also painfully aware of the crazy stuff too. Not only does it make me incredibly angry, but it also breaks my heart. There is so much suffering, and there is also so much injustice. Virtually every system in our country is broken. Some have minor issues, others are profoundly broken.

It is a privilege to witness suffering, an honor when someone lets you see. It also blows my mind sometimes. Sometimes I can’t even wrap my head around it.

For example, the legal system that claims to protect children, but repeatedly favors giving parents an endless amount of chances to get their kids back. I wonder if they have any idea the havoc it wreaks on the foster or biological families that pick up the broken children month after month, year after year. The case where the parent overdoses on drugs, sometimes in front of their child, sometimes not. They can repeatedly get arrested and have literally dozens of court cases in front of them and it doesn’t matter. The kids can show every sign of regression from seeing their parent and it doesn’t matter. How do you comfort that family?

The 17-year-old son who lost his mother to cancer and then his father takes his own life? I lost my father at age 51 and I was devastated. How do I even wrap around the thought of being completely parentless, facing the rest of my life trying to figure out how to be an adult without them at age 17?

The mom who finds herself riddled with alcoholism and in relationships with men who beat her. She keeps trying to break the pattern but finds herself back in it, even when she kicks the drinking.

A step-parent who spends decades helping his adult children become more responsible humans but all he gets in return is to be berated, ignored, accused, and have his grandchildren kept from him. How do you comfort him?

The family that loses their pregnant daughter in a tragic car accident?

The parent who has a child who tries to hang himself. Another child that douses himself with gasoline and lights himself on fire. The parent finds themselves crying repeatedly and can’t figure out why because these events happened years ago.

The stories go on and on. I want so badly to help. I want to make the kind of difference where patterns actually change. Where I can make systems do what they are supposed to do. Where I can make people behave the way they should.

But of course, I can’t. Not even close. So I stay present, try to detach. And every once in awhile I just have to scream out loud because the unfairness is so maddening I literally want to rip my hair out. (I would punch things but I’m a baby and don’t tolerate physical pain so well.)

I’m NOT talking about not holding people accountable for their choices. I’m NOT talking about creating a victim mentality. But please offer sympathy to others when you can. Please offer empathy when you can. And for God’s sake, pray for these people, and pray for those of us that are empaths on the front line. I wouldn’t trade it for the world but I need to keep my oxygen mask on.


Same Old

Hate to be negative, but I write best when I write about what is genuine inside of me. Unfortunately, for those of you that prefer the glass half full, I have struggled with depression for years.

I woke up twice last night with hot flashes. It made me wonder if menopause is adding to my decline. I know that the older I get, the less I seem able to cope. You would think that with age comes wisdom and experience. For me, it seems like I just carry the accumulation of blows without ever fully healing. Nothing has changed drastically in my life, I just don’t cope as well anymore.

The last couple of days have been bad again. Yesterday I couldn’t force myself out of bed until 11, and then by 1 I had a full on crying spell. I panicked. I was so scared that I was having another breakdown like I did in August. And I promised myself I would never go there again. What happened?

Unlike lots of depressed people, I don’t isolate when I tank, I reach out. I followed my gut and turned to an interesting trio of people. One was my doctor. The upshot of that, is that we are going to mess with my meds a bit. I am waiting to hear from her today to figure out which option we are taking. I only want to try one strategy at a time so you can know what and if it works.

The second person I called was my former pastor. I don’t have contact with him anymore and I have no idea what made me reach out to him. He called me back relatively quickly. The upshot of that is that he is going to meet with me sometime in the near future. Quite honestly, there really isn’t anything to say that is going to make things better. Yet the alternative is to do nothing but live in the hopelessness. So I am waiting to hear back on his schedule.

The third person I called was my former spiritual director. I haven’t seen her in years. I expected to leave a message but she answered. I found myself unable to spit much out verbally. She told me to come right over.

In the end, she said what I suspected. There really aren’t any words of inspiration to offer. But she was willing to try to help me on an energy level which she did. The conversation did yield one shift in my articulation of how I feel. I have no idea if it is an important shift or not, but it is all I have.

The bottom line is this. I don’t want to exist. Suicide is not an option. Now what?

The trigger has been the same for almost four decades now. I keep describing it the same way. I hate being alone. I am very capable of being alone, just don’t like it. Can’t seem to accept it. But after talking with her, I wondered if it is more accurate to say this: I hate knowing there is no one out there in the world that loves me in the way a healthy significant other loves. Then I realize I sound like a child having a temper tantrum. So I can’t have what I want. That is everybody’s story. Why does it crush me in a way that seems to be so different from everyone else?

I have no idea.

The other thought we touched on, was that maybe fleeting moments is all there is to experience. I had two months with Jay. I had six weeks with the salesperson I dated a few years ago, and I had five months with Tim during the time when he was dying. The most powerful connection was definitely with Jay. That doesn’t seem like much time in a life of 50 years, but maybe that is more than most people get?

I’ve been pondering on that, but the end result doesn’t really change much. I’m still left with where I am at. Which is where I am usually at. Where I have been at most of my adult life. This thing I am missing in my life seems to be larger than the big picture of my life. I see it happening but I don’t know how to change it. I have pockets of good times and experiences, but the rabbit holes are just a matter of time. And the older I get, the less time I have in between the episodes. The episodes result in going to sleep and praying that I don’t wake up the next day.

It’s no way to live, but what choice do I have?


Pharisees and Gay Marriage

It’s Thursday. I’m not into choosing controversial topics to blog about, but this seems to be a theme I keep bumping into. My writing mind won’t let me go anywhere else. My point today, is not to make a definitive opinion on the topic, but to talk about talking about it.

Two weeks ago, I resigned from my church and the worship band. There has been a lot of things that have gone wrong over the last two years, but there was finally the straw that broke the camel’s back. I walked into a conversation in progress. Twenty something year old was discussing his confusion and struggle with the concept that God disapproves of gay love. It feels wrong to him, goes against his instinct. But he has been told that the Bible clearly is a thumbs down, and if you can’t take some of the Bible, well then you have to chuck the whole concept.

Enter forty something year old who has studied a little bit on his own. For me, these are the people who I find most difficult to deal with. A little bit of knowledge can be a very dangerous thing. He started spouting off a bunch of canned clichés (in my opinion) that I heard twenty years ago. I could give the arguments he was giving almost verbatim. I listened patiently for a few and then tried to enter in.

My point was not to say homosexuality was right or wrong. I try to respect the fact that I was attending a very conservative church and it isn’t my place to contradict their views. But if I can tactfully open their minds a smidge, that could be a very good thing. I suggested that perhaps there are other options besides the black and white ones. Perhaps it’s not just right or wrong, perhaps you can struggle with the Bible without chucking it or swallowing everything at surface value. He said, “But that’s what I’ve been told to believe,” and I suggested to him to never let anyone TELL him what to believe. He should always keep wondering, thinking, sorting it out.

But I couldn’t make my point. Young guy has ADHD so he interrupts by nature. Older guy interrupts because he’s a fundamentalist and can’t listen. I finally got angry and lost my composure. I said that my frustration with talking to people with that mindset is that you actually can’t talk to them. I told him he was talking AT me, not TO me. I didn’t appreciate his interrupting and the way he wasn’t even listening to WHAT I was saying. He was too busy spouting out his position. He then made the mistake of suggesting that I should try reading the Scriptures. I promptly reminded him that I went to a Bible college and formally studied the Bible for three solid years in a scholarly institution.

Upon hearing that I resigned, his comment to the group was, “well, it wasn’t my fault.” Nice. Kinda missed the point of what biblical knowledge is supposed to be all about. LOVE.

The next week we attended another conservative church for a family baby dedication. This one had a drawn out section of time dedicated to praying for our decaying society and the atrocity of legalized gay marriage. I actually got up and left the room for a while. It literally made my stomach hurt to hear it. On the way home, I asked Frankie (age 12) what he thought. He said that if there was a kid in the church who is gay, he would probably go home and commit suicide after that. I had to agree. Again, the church missed the point.

There are plenty of godly men and women who are much smarter than I that can make a case for biblical disapproval of homosexuality. But there are an equal number of brilliant and godly men and women that can make a compelling case for the opposite view.

My point is this. If you read the gospels and follow the life of Christ while He walked the earth, one thing is very, very clear. The only people He came down on- and came down hard- were the Pharisees. Who were the Pharisees? The religious leaders of the day. The holier than thou people. The most “godly” people of the day. Christ ripped them up and down on several occasions for missing the entire point of Christianity.

One of the most famous stories in the New Testament is when the woman caught in adultery was brought before Jesus and the religious leaders. ACCORDING TO SCRIPTURE, she should have been stoned to death. Jesus told them, “He who has no sin should cast the first stone.” And what happened? Everyone left. Jesus, the only perfect human, the only one with a right to condemn her, said He would not condemn her. He did tell her to sin no more, but He did not condemn her.

Over and over, Jesus made the point that the religious leaders were using Scripture for the wrong purpose. The bottom line is, until you are perfect, focus on yourself. Worry about yourself. And ain’t no one ever gonna be perfect, so the point is, back off. Get the log out of your own eye. The Bible is not meant to be a hammer.

GOD IS LOVE, FORGIVENESS, GENEROSITY, CARING, and any other love-filled word you can think of. I know I’m being judgmental myself, but I think there are plenty of religious people today that remind me of the Pharisees of old. And I think Christ would be equally as unhappy with them as He was 2000 years ago.

It doesn’t matter what you think about gay marriage. Work on being the best person you can be. Focus on improving your own life. Let other people figure out their own relationship to God and each other. And for God’s sake, if you don’t believe that and find yourself talking about it with others, at least have a little grace and tact. You might do more harm for the kingdom than you will be helping it.

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For the first time ever, I had a request. Last week someone posted on Facebook and asked if I could write about feeling like you have no purpose. I was actually very honored that someone was interested in my thoughts. So I hope I don’t disappoint her 🙂

I thought I would start by looking up Webster’s definition of purpose, but I decided that was too cliché. I just started thinking of ways we commonly use the word. The first that comes to mind is, “You did that on purpose.” Or when we apologize, we say the opposite. “I didn’t do it on purpose.” In that context, purpose implies intention. Action. Plan. Deliberation. Forethought. The opposite of accidental.

The second thing that comes to mind is, “And what was the purpose of that?” I guess its really a nuance of the first use, but it is slightly different. More emphasis on accomplishment. Goals. Achievement.

As I thought about this, purpose is a lot less sexy of a concept than I thought it was. What do I have to do today? Who is counting on me to do what? What do I expect of myself? If you’re a woman, there is probably a list of people who depend on you for several different things. Sorry, guys. Not trying to be insulting, but it’s biologically built into us to take care of others.

My purpose is easy. The list is endless. I have to pay the bills to keep a roof over everyone’s heads. I have to see clients to help them. People read my book and tell me how immensely it’s helped them. I weed the yard so it doesn’t get backed up. I buy groceries so there is food in the house. I put that stupid bag over my foot so it doesn’t get wet when I shower. I shower so I don’t smell so bad or look so bad. The purpose of what I do isn’t so hard to figure out.

The much trickier part- and my guess is, it’s the part my friend is struggling with- is who the hell cares? Why bother?

I think sometimes in our lives, knowing the purpose is enough. Knowing how you impact others motivates you. Knowing what you’ve accomplished keeps you going. But what if you don’t think what you are doing makes a difference to anyone? What if you struggle with depression and knowing how you’ve helped someone else doesn’t really do anything for you internally?

I’ve been there. More often than I would care to admit. And I’m not actually sure that I have a good response for that. I just have this vague kind of response/answer that can’t be pinned down. It’s like being so depressed that ending your life makes much more sense than continuing with yet. And yet you don’t do it. Because you just know that it’s not an option. You just know in your soul- somehow- that you must affirm life. You must keep going.

I think the same thing about finding meaning and satisfaction. Sometimes it just isn’t there. But you get up every day anyhow. Somehow you just know you have to. Somehow you just know there is Something bigger and greater than you are. I think of it as some kind of God-spark. It’s a sense. It’s knowing with a capital K.

So my dear, dear friend. Dig deep. You have that God-spark in your soul too. I know you do. Even though it defies reason, even though it is lacking emotion. You have purpose. And more importantly, you have meaning. You matter. Whatever makes you get up every day and keep surviving- it’s Divine. And it’s 100% you.