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Why Living is Always Worth It

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My 12 year old son came home from school recently and mentioned he wrote a poem for class that had two of his teachers in tears. I asked what it was about and he said, “After your mother’s death.” 

My mother, who had committed suicide.

“Really?” I asked, “what about it?”

“Oh nothing,” he squirmed and then no longer wanted to talk about it.

That always drives me nuts. Reel me in to push me out. Frustrating.

But what I’ve learned is that IS him letting me in. He is only willing or able to so in small doses for heavier subjects and the only thing I can do is wait until he is ready to share.

With that said, I keep asking. Also in small doses. But to let him know I’m paying attention. A couple days later, he brought home his poem….and quite frankly, it blew me away.

“Did she have to go?

Could she have stayed?

What would it be like on this day?

Did she think she wouldn’t be missed?

After all that is what she thought?

Some have overcome this death,

When others mourn in thought.

Some have never met her.

And never will.

So maybe just maybe she could have stayed.

Did she have to take her life?

Just throw everything away?

What about the people to come?

Her family that was so big,

Did she not know we would love her anyway?

So why throw it all away?

The one action, the one thought,

That changed so many lives to this day.

Only if one thought changed, one thought shifted,

But it didn’t and it took her life away.”

He expected tears from me and they came. They always come. Even easier now as I see the gift of their arrival rather than the shame of being so sensitive.

“That was amazing. Your perspective is inspiring to me. It reminds me why I do what I do. Thank you for sharing.” I said to him.

Still squirmy, he was unsure if I’d be upset. He was looking for reassurance that his words, his voice, had value. At that moment, I could only give him half of my own thoughts. I had to sit with the feeling that came with them.

Being the child of a parent who committed suicide is not really a category I live in. I wear no badge of ongoing pain, or talk about the experience of how damaged I am because of it.

Although, in truth, I am. Damaged is not a fair statement, but touched…changed…strong because of it. 

For me, I made a decision long ago that I would use the experience to enhance my life, not ruin it and use it as an excuse to keep screwing up and saying that life owes me because I’ve been hurt…by the will of someone else.

The victim mentality makes me edgy. And feel powerless. Its not a place I’ll let myself live.

Instead, I’ve used my scars as motivation to prevent someone else, like me or my mother, sensitive and imperfect beings, from feeling stuck in misery and worry. The kind that allows fear and frustration to rule the days.

I used to. I had to try it on first. But even during that time period, I knew it would not last for me. I couldn’t live like that. Being miserable bores me. I become impatient with my woes. I get lost in my symptoms of depression and anxiety and I am dedicated to finding my way out of the maze to make it easier for the next time I enter.

And I will. Its part of my human experience. I’m not immune.

I’m filled with dysfunctional patterns of protection I’ve had to unravel and re-wire in my brain and in my choices. Those come with the experience. My inner optimist wants to ignore them, but the realist in me says, you’ve still got shit to work on. And I do.

But I also won’t be held back.

My little boy’s beautifully expressed thoughts reminded me that life does go on. That we continue to grow and thrive after great loss, but we don’t forget and we don’t move on unchanged.

He never met my mother, his grandmother, but he has seen the way her life and death changed mine and in turn his.  Had I not been so motivated to change, he would have a very different mother. Had I not been so vulnerable to face my demons, he would be experiencing them by default.

I knew when I had children I would have to teach myself to mother them. I knew I had to dig into myself and find the courage to learn to love without limits and not protect myself from the fear of loss or pain by holding them too close.

When you lose someone you are attached to suddenly, it has a lasting impact on your ability to trust. And yet…I’ve chosen a life where my purpose is not only to learn to trust more, but to teach and inspire others to do the same.

I have been surrounded by suicide for the majority of life. Mostly the loved ones left in the wake. From friends to close connections to clients, I’m well versed in the feelings and understanding of what it’s like to experience the guilt and sorrow and anger and confusion, after someone ends what we find to be so precious.

I know what its like to be lost while trying to make sense of it all.

As a Licensed Professional Counselor, I’ve also worked with many who let the obsession of not wanting to be here take over their lives. Those who have attempted to die and those who just wish it would happen so they could move out of their internal hell hole.

My question of the why’s have been answered. I can see how and why people get to the brink of wanting to end the pain. Its heavy and its real.

But I’ve also seen and felt what its like when the corner turns. When the one thought changes to a new one of hope. Of opportunity. Of light in a very, very dark tunnel.

Anything is possible. I don’t just believe this, I live it.

I laid down with my son that night before he went to sleep and told him, again, how much his poem had touched me. 

I told him how I could hear his own “what if’s” in his words and feel the questioning that life often brings…and that I will always walk with him to help him find the answers he seeks. Its what we do for those we love.

I reminded him that Hope is the driving force behind my life’s work and Trust has changed me. And that Support is available to all of us. We just have to ask. 

He hugged me close and said, “I love you, Mom.”

And once again, I knew, its always worth it. Life, the work that comes with Living…always, always worth it. 

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Resentment: The Kiss of Death in Relationships...and How to Let It Go

One of my oldest friends called me a few weeks ago to get together. She mentioned it had been 2 years since we had seen each other. That seemed like an awfully long time to not connect with someone who had been such an important part of my life.

I had felt the distance between us for some time and I told myself that this was just another loss I was going to have to accept.  There seemed to be so many. As I changed, the faces of the people I spent time with did too. I know friends drift apart, but I also knew this one felt different. I knew…but I didn’t ask. I didn’t ask because I was scared. If I asked, then I’d have to deal with the discomfort. And that rarely is motivating.

We opted to go for a hike after our 2 year hiatus. The conversation was easy. We caught up a bit and shared some of our recent highlights.  And then the pause…”I’ve been wanting to talk to you about something for the past two years.”  She continued to tell me how hurt she had been when I was not as supportive towards her as I could have been at a time when she needed it. And she was right. I wasn’t. I was juggling so much at the time and what she needed from me was something I was not in a place to give. And instead of telling her that, I kept it to myself. I retreated. I said “I’m here if you need me,” and waited for the request.  But the request didn’t come.

What I didn’t know was that she didn’t want to have to ask for help. She didn’t want to ask for my support. She didn’t want to have tell me that she needed more than I gave. She wanted to “be strong” and deal with it. And that- that feeling- I know oh so well.

So instead, she held it in. She held in the hurt and the resentment and the frustration of unmet expectations. She let it sit in the compartment that keeps us from trusting the ones we love. I hurt her. Was it intentional? Of course not. But I did.

When I told her my angle, I was honest. She had believed I was a good communicator and I am. But not always with the people I’m closest to. It took some deep digging into myself to see it. The more I attach, the more I fear being left and the more I will avoid conflict.  And if I sense conflict or the risk of being rejected, I will detach.  It’s a lifelong pattern I recognize and work through.  The human thing is tough!

But I was also in a place I was not able to be what she needed me to be. Take out my faulty communication, I was still going through some really tough stuff myself. So much so that I didn’t even notice that I was a less than impressive friend. I was wrapped up in my own internal drama. And I also didn’t see it.

We say hindsight is clear and it is. I am grateful for it. Because listening to her hurt reminded me of how painful it is to hold on to resentment towards those we love, or once loved wanting them to be something they are not or can’t be. Or wanting what they are unable to give us at a time because of their own limitations.

I know this feeling. I have held on to strong expectations of others they could not meet. I have felt abandoned many, many times. I have been let down even more. I have detached from those I once loved instead of communicating how I felt. I have retreated and shut down when I could have made another choice….to speak up, to ask for what I need, to be vulnerable and to be loving while doing so. It doesn’t HAVE to be so hard and so painful. There is another way.

And my beautiful friend reminded me of this. By being brave and honest and bold.

How many times have you shut someone out instead of talking to them? How many opportunities have you ignored because they seemed too uncomfortable and you told yourself- I just don’t care. Bullshit. You do care. We all care.

You don’t have to change. I don’t have to change. But what if we did? What if we started to talk to each other regularly with compassion and honesty? What if we shared what we felt instead of shoving it down in hopes it will just go away? What if we spoke out of love instead of out of fear? What if we forgave each other for not meeting our expectations—the ones we can barely meet ourselves?

What would THAT be like?

Being open and vulnerable requires trust. Trust in yourself. Trust in the people around you. It doesn’t always come natural to expose ourselves. But the more we practice and open up, the more we may learn just how good it feels to be authentic…to be true to ourselves…and to feel confident enough to live and love as we are.

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Using Writing to Work Through Your Fears

There is a real push to encourage each other to think positively.

Flipping our situations and circumstances to make them work to our advantage…and that is very good advice. Personally, I do this often to reduce my own stress level and it’s what I emphasize in my work with others. Reframing challenges into opportunities for amazing growth feels awesome. However, retraining ourselves to think positively after habitually focusing on the obstacles and excuses in our way rarely comes easily.

There is a conscious practice that comes with it to strengthen our abilities to create a new habit of thinking that has us living our lives filled with freedom and awesomeness.

Most of what we struggle with comes from our fears. Fear of the unknown stemming from fears of rejection, abandonment, pain, failure, dependence, loss…and the list goes on. In order to face these fears it’s to our advantage to look at them, feel them, understand them and work with them to move through them.

Because we have so many thoughts going throughout the day, it can be hard to keep track of what it is we are really afraid of when the sinking feeling hits that stops us dead in our tracks.

An extremely helpful technique to work with our fears is to write them down.

It doesn’t matter if you write them in a journal, on the computer, in your phone, on a napkin, or the back of piece of junk mail and then burn them…the key is to get the thoughts out of your head.

You can list them situationally or in general. Write your fears and where they come from. You can rank them in priority status or by which ones are strongest. It doesn’t actually matter as long as you get them out.

After you write them out, question them further.

Is there a solution? Can you problem solve? If not, what would it be like to let it go and release the need for control? What would it feel like to trust that it will resolve itself?

Write out the worst case scenarios.

How will they change your life? Will you still have your family? Your friends? Your dignity? What could you possibly lose that you can’t gain back?

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