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Getting Comfortable With Discomfort- Your Own and Others

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The look on my teenager’s face was one of complete distraught. She was angry and hurt and confused and fearful of what I would do next.  I was fearful too. I knew the decision I had to make and it was not the one she wanted. I was going to have to dig down and let go of my fear of her feeling the pain to make the decision that was best for her…in my opinion. This parenting gig can be so damn hard.

And I did. I made the call I knew she’d resent me for and she looked at me like there was no one on the planet that could hurt her more than I just did.  She composed herself respectfully until we got into the car and she let me have it.

Anger and tears and “how could you’s?!” spit out of her on repeat.  Seething disgust that I had taken control away from her and made decisions for her. I am raising her to be independent and make her own decisions, so for the life of her, she couldn’t grasp why I would take it away.

I know that feeling. The one where you can’t accept that someone has some level of control over your life. I don’t do well with it either. And I knew it was going to hurt and it did. Both of us…deeply. But I also knew that underneath my fear (of exactly that moment) it was going to get better. I just wanted it better now.

The part of me that doesn’t want to see another in pain wanted so badly to make it go away. To find the quick fix and dissolve it.  But I wasn’t given an answer or an idea that would do that. So we were stuck with sitting with the discomfort and feeling the pain.

After a few hours of separation and her ability to fiercely hold on to her anger and hurt, I felt stuck again when I saw her. The next decision was the hardest.

I wanted to distract her from her sorrow. I wanted to take the pressure off myself. I wanted her to stop being angry at me… but I KNEW that’s not what my job was. It was to be near her, to respect her pain, and to respect mine in the process. It was to give us both space to feel the discomfort and let it be what it is. Uncomfortable.

So I sat with her while she cried and told me how wrong I was. And then I held her…because I knew she was ready. Not a moment before.  And she let me. That’s when I knew it was going to be okay….because it always is.

As a professional counselor, I know the hardest part of my job is when the BEST thing I can do with another person is to sit with them through their pain. To let them wade through the muck and feel the choking sensations of sorrow and offer my hand so they don’t feel alone walking through it.

It is, by far, the most emotionally draining part. It rubs up against the part of the me that does not like to feel helpless, despite knowing that giving them room to feel and know they are not alone IS Helping.  To be their guide in darkness until they see their own light.

I find this much easier when it’s a client I’m working with where the relationships has its established boundaries. When it comes to people I have a close connection with, it’s much harder. It’s uncomfortable to feel other people’s pain as is, but throw in being emotionally attached to the outcome. It’s HARD.  And yet, the practice is the same.

Sit with the discomfort and know, sometimes, that’s exactly what we need.

We live in a quick fix, pill popping, make the pain go away fast kind of society. Why? Because we are uncomfortable with feeling the challenging emotions.  And when we are uncomfortable with our own, we certainly are not going to be comfortable with being around someone else’s. 

We have this desire to avoid and distract and it turns out, that doesn’t actually make the underlying concerns go away. They will continue to return until they are responded to in a way that pleases them.  And usually what pleases them is what makes us curse and complain and question why the same issues keep popping up. Super annoying.

So how can we practice this? How can we get comfortable being in the space with those who are uncomfortable and hurting? By allowing ourselves to feel without attempting to make it go away as quickly as possible.

And that starts with us. 

Get comfortable with you.

When you feel an emotion that is unsettling, lean into it. If its anger, let yourself heat up and get tight and feel the sensations that come with it. Allow them to be what they are.  Listen to the voices that come with them. Who are you really mad at? Who do you feel has your power? And how can you take it back?  Sit with it a little longer, then release it through screaming in a pillow or in a place you are by yourself, or do some physical activity to let it out. Even jumping jacks or shaking out your body in the moment.

If its sadness, let it rise to the top. If there are tears, let them roll out. If you feel like you are being swallowed up, breathe through that sensation. Let it be what it is. The more you let it come up and be felt, the sooner it will resolve itself.

If it’s guilt, ask it questions. What have you learned from it and how will you change your responses and behavior based on what you now know?  When you practice forgiving yourself, you take away the power of the past and bring it to the present. And the present is the only place we can actually create change.  Why not allow yourself to be there?

As you practice becoming comfortable with your own emotions, it will become easier to sit with others through theirs.  Disappointment is a part of life and you don’t want to get rid of your experiences because they make you into the beautiful and unique person you are. Allowing yourself to feel can shorten the discomfort of your clinging need for pain. Relief is always just around the corner.  Keep reading...

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The Story Behind the Story...The Secret to Beating the Dragon

Book Summary:

Andrew and his grandmother are best friends and spend their time together telling stories of conquering imaginary dragons (fear) by being brave (looking fear in the eye). As Gram ages and her life ends, Andrew is left to battle the dragons alone until he discovers that Gram has been with him all along.

Embrace the moments…that’s my focus lately.

My children’s book, The Secret to Beating the Dragon, was delivered to me the other day. My initial reaction was excitement…and then an immediate sense of sadness because my kids weren’t home to view it with me for the first time.  I wished they were…

But I am a firm believer in Divine timing. I do believe life is perfectly timed out for us, even when it makes no sense to us at all. So I questioned, “why must I be alone to see the book for the first time? They love it too!”

And it hit me….the night I wrote the story I was home alone for one of the first overnights my kids were with their dad after our separation.  I missed them and it gave me the opportunity to sit with myself and feel. Let’s be honest, that is not something we typically enjoy. But I wanted to embrace it and felt inspired to write.

I sat in my kitchen, notebook in hand and let the words fill the page.  Crying as I wrote, I felt the emotions of love and loss and strength and courage. And then I text the story to my cousin, Andrew, whose relationship with my grandmother inspired the story to begin with.  Along with him, I cried some more.

The story is heartwarming and I knew I wanted to share it.

The moment has come full circle.

But the day I held the book…that moment was for me. And Andrew. I text him the picture of it immediately. He is the primary reason I wanted this story to come to life. His love for his grandmother...and hers for him. Beautiful and inspiring and the kind of love that makes you remember why you love---because it feels amazing. Also, the kind that reminds you why it’s hard to let go---because it feels amazing.

The night I wrote the story, I felt their love so strongly.  I felt how he missed her and how he did everything to make their time together the best it could be. And I felt how much she appreciated it…how much she appreciated him.

She was living with Alzheimer’s disease in her home in the middle of the woods of Maine when Andrew moved in. My grandfather had died a few years prior and she had been living her life to the fullest since, but with the onset of Alzheimer’s, no one wanted her to be alone. My brother lived there for a period as well. Both he and Andrew cared for her as long as they could as they were going through their own life transitions.

Her vibrant spirit and strong independence was shifting. She was going downhill and life was hard for her. I would call her on my way home from work and tell her the same jokes each day because I knew she didn’t remember them from the day before. And she would laugh- every time. Same jokes, same response.

I just wanted to make her smile.

She would complain that she knew her memory was going and it was so frustrating. I hurt for her. It hurt me that she hurt. So I told her that she was living the dream…she was living in the moment, because that’s all she had.

But for me, it was painful.  I just wanted to take her pain away. I loved her so very much. The idea of her suffering was awful.

I was grateful Andrew was there. His humor, his personality, his dedication to our grandmother was unmatched. He would come home from his job on the ambulance and tell Gram of his adventures in the field. Having volunteered on an ambulance herself after retirement, she was eager to hear his stories.

She craved adventure as much as he did and they would share a glass of whiskey as he told his tales of the day.  And Andrew, the charismatic and funny man that he is, is an excellent story teller. No doubt she took it all in, happy to live through the bloodline she created. Appreciative to experience life through the eyes of love and admiration.

I tear up nearly every time I read the story. I’m sure at some point I won’t. But for now, I still feel the intensity of the love and the loss and the exquisite beauty that comes with it.

While the book was coming to life this past fall and early winter, my beloved aunt, Andrew’s mom, was dying. I’ve accepted that I cannot find words that best describe my aunt. Her pure spirit and genuine kindness frame the most giving soul I’ve ever met. She is simply- love- in its truest form.

The kind of love that makes you remember why we love---because it feels amazing. Also, the kind that reminds you why it’s hard to let go---because it feels amazing.

I can’t capture the magnitude of her loss- it runs too deep- but I can say that the timeliness of having our family together to help me critique the character images in the book was impeccable. Sharing our views as we bonded over our pain while I saw my beautiful aunt for the last time----Serendipitous.

Again, Divine timing at its finest.

The journey of bringing a vision to life is quite an adventure. And I love me some adventure. Even the sucky parts.

I’m thrilled to share the legacy of my family. One of immense respect, loyalty, love of living and an unwavering commitment to make our dreams come true.

Thanks for sharing Gram and Andrew. Love you from the deepest parts of my heart.

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How To Climb Up When You've Hit Financial Rock Bottom

I was on hold for over an hour…no one was picking up.  I had the phone on speaker so I could work on other things, but I was a little taken back by how much effort it took to get someone to help me.  I was applying for the Snaps program, ‘Food Stamps’, state aid to feed my children.  It was awkward enough as it was and I just wanted to get it over with, but instead I had to wait. Was it this difficult for everyone?

I had just resigned from my job and had next to no income while I took a couple more classes to be eligible for a license in professional counseling.  My father suggested I apply a few weeks prior and I nearly scoffed at the idea. I didn’t see how I could apply for aid, I made a choice to leave my job. I chose to reduce my income temporarily.  I chose to take a risk in hopes it would give me a greater gain.  I didn’t think I earned the right to ask for help.

His view was that that was what the program was for...temporary help to get by. And more importantly, it wasn’t just about me. I had two children I had also made a choice for.  They had to live with my risk and decision.  For that reason alone, I decided to apply.  I made a decision to live without, but they had not.

Lots of paperwork, several more hour long phone calls, an interview and escorting my pride out the door awarded my children a monthly allowance of financial food aid.  I was not personally awarded aid initially since I had made a choice to leave my job, but my children were not penalized for my choice.  Somehow, that made me feel better.

As my bills rolled in and my income did not, I was incredibly grateful for the help we were given.  And yet, I found myself uncomfortable every time I was at the grocery store checking out.  Because of that, I swear, my card didn’t work and the cashier would have to override and punch in the numbers several times often asking if I was sure there were enough funds available. I was sure. I kept careful track. And I was embarrassed, every single time. 

I reminded myself that it was me judging myself. It was me who didn’t feel deserving. I wasn’t doing anything wrong and asking for help is more than okay.  But I still squirmed. I still questioned what they thought of me.  Keep reading...