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suicide

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How to Love Yourself First

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My 15-year-old daughter sat next to me in the passenger seat as I drove, curiously opening the pile of notes before her wondering what each one would reveal. We had just been given a box of memorabilia from when I was a young child.

“Dear Mom, I love you and you are the most loveable person in the world and wonderful. I love you very, very much. xoxoxoxoxoxo Love, Lynnie

“Day by Day, I Love You. Night by Night, I say, “No matter what will ever happen, I’ll always Love you anyway. Love, Lynn”

“To Mommy, Just want to say I LOVE YOU. Love, Lynn.”

One after another expressing my love to the person who I knew needed to hear it. My mother.  A woman who suffered from Manic Depression and struggled to manage her debilitating highs and lows as she attempted to live a “normal” life. 

It appeared I needed her to know…to feel…Loved. I did my very best to shower her with proof that she was important and thought of with warm and loving thoughts.  What I couldn’t do was convince her to feel the same. I couldn’t get her to see what I saw or felt, but that didn’t stop me from trying. 

My efforts were strong, but her will won out. She committed suicide right before I turned 15 years old…the same age as my own daughter reading my love notes from childhood.

“That is just another example, ” I told my daughter,” of how people can’t receive what they don’t feel. We can love someone with every part of our being, but if they don’t feel it for themselves, they won’t be able to feel it from outside of them either. It has to start with yourself.”

I’m a professional counselor. I’ve heard myself say those words many times before, but not when describing my mother. Even as I said the words they began to sink in more.

There was nothing I could do….

Suicide brings on a complicated kind of grief. All the typical cycles are present…the denial, the anger, the sadness, the regret…on repeat. The “what iffing” that joins in is one that seems to have it’s own relentless voice. 

“What if I had…what if she had…what if he had…what if they had…?” 

Over and over again. What would have been different? Even when we’ve accepted the WHY, we still struggle to not keep asking “But what if?”

I’ve dedicated my life’s work to helping people enjoy life more. I’ve dedicated my own effort to doing the same for myself. I know crippling anxiety. I know the heaviness of depression. I know what’s it’s like to question, what the hell am I doing here? 

I also know what it’s like to want to feel loved and appreciated but put myself in positions over and over again that gave me the opposite feeling. I know what it feels like to keep trying to prove myself and not feel accepted in return. I know what it’s like to assume life is never going to actually improve, despite my desperate desire for it. 

But I also know that life has a way of giving us what we need and feeding us our worth when we open ourselves up more and let it in. And the only way to do that, is to start with how you feel about yourself.

What Happens When You Start to Love Yourself First?

If you don’t think you are good enough, then you won’t accept the compliment. If you don’t like the way you feel, you will look for the validation of your value outside of yourself over and over again, but you won’t be able to fully absorb it. It will fill you briefly, but then you will be hungry for more soon after. It won’t be enough.

And that’s because you can’t hold on to what you don’t fully believe.  If you won’t take it in then why would you ask for more of what you want? If you don’t feel confident enough, then why would let yourself be in a relationship that feeds your desire to be loved? Really loved with actions that prove it.

In order to own it, truly own the love and acceptance that is given to you, you must love yourself first. The way you view your life, your value, what you give to the world and the people in it. You’ll benefit from looking inside of your own heart and identifying the pains and the voices that keep you down. And you will really benefit from challenging them!

You want proof that you have something to offer? That you are enough? Then spend some time getting to know the you you want others to see. The scared parts, the lonely parts, the protective parts, the angry parts, as well as the loving parts, the proud parts, the compassionate parts, the optimistic parts who see hope clearly and the light of a cloudy day. Get to know those parts, all of them. And befriend them. Accept them, feel compassion for them and learn to let them really be loved and honored for who they are. 

Those parts want to be seen, heard, understood and accepted, as well acknowledged for the gift they are that makes up amazing you. 

Take out a piece of paper and list out the parts of yourself. Give them names and their dominant characteristics. Introduce them to each other. Ask them the questions you’d ask someone you were just meeting. 

When do they show up in your life? Where did they come from? 

Who do they remind you of? Who are you drawn to the most? Who irritates you the most? 

How are they protecting you? How are they harming you? Ask them why. 

Get to know them each as the parts of you who make up your amazingness as a whole. We are not looking to abolish them, but accept them. All of them. They each have a purpose. Learn what that purpose is and how you can learn to work with them, not against each other.

If you can’t understand why you don’t feel loved or why it comes so fleeting into your life, start with you. 

All of you.

You deserve the time, focus and energy it takes learning to accept and appreciate yourself and all the sustainable joy that comes with it.

The original post is on Purpose Fairy.

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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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Forgiveness on the Road to Freedom

I woke up early this morning watching the warm shades of red and orange fill the sky over the horizon from my bed. The view never gets old for me. Each sunrise boasts of possibility, of hope and promise of another opportunity to embrace the adventure of this life, never quite knowing what is coming next.

I have always been a lover of the early morning. I feel like no matter what happened yesterday, I have the chance to start over today. It’s my choice of what I want to do with it.

Today was feeling especially auspicious and once I noticed the date, I knew why. It’s my mother’s birthday. This day has come and gone 27 times since the day she took her life.  It slips in right in the middle of the holiday season and nudges me to reflect.  For 27 years, I’ve felt waves of sadness and remorse, anger and regret, riding on top of a guilty sense of relief underneath.

Occasionally, I’d lightly share this remembrance with someone, but for the most part, I kept the memory just out of reach of my heart and my mind….never quite knowing what to do with it. 
In 19 days, it will be the anniversary of her death, and then five days later, my own birthday. A day I’ve struggled with since her exit from this world. 

This past birthday was especially challenging for me.  I woke up angry.  I mean I was really angry.  I had taken the day off and was setting out for an adventure and instead of feeling gratitude, I just felt enraged…at my mother. 

Once I realized I was mad at her, I became mad at myself.  Why was I feeling all this anger so many years later? I felt like I had hashed out and released all my pent up emotional junk. How could there be any left? And why now? I didn’t understand and that just made me judge myself even more harshly.

But man, I was ticked. I sat in my bathroom and cried, yelling at her, asking what kind of mother takes her life and leaves her child only days before their birthday. How could she have been so selfish, so insensitive?  How could I not have been important enough? Old feelings of not being good enough flooded me. I sat in a puddle of my own misery. The hurt little girl who just wanted to be loved was fully exposed.

A few hours later I bounced back.  I always bounce. My rational brain took over and put all of my feelings in perspective, but I was still emotionally sore from being stretched so far. I knew why this year was different.  This was the year I would outlive my mother. She died when she was 41 years and 19 days old, and I had just turned 41.  In my rage, I was going to be damned if I was not going to continue to make it my ongoing goal to live my life as fully as possible.  Happiness was mine to have. I earned it and I was determined to keep accessing it in myself.

As it winds down, I can see that 41 has proven to be one of the most transformative of my life. I’ve spent more time digging into the deep parts of myself to uncover my long held patterns of resistance, self-sabotage and feelings of lack.  I’ve re-evaluated all of my relationships and assessed how I interact, how I invest emotionally…or not, and how I run in fear when my heart feels remotely threatened. 

About two months ago, an opportunity developed for me to look at myself when the threat of loss once again stared me down questioning what I was going to do about it. I dove down again, identifying deep seated patterns in myself, dating back to early life with my mother.  I saw my fears, my resistance, and how my unconditional love for my mother turned conditional when I sensed her time here was short.

I saw how I pulled away and shut down and left her feeling unclear how I felt about her when she died. I felt my old guilt slam into me, devastated by the loss. I saw all the reasons why I held on to the anger, to protect me from getting hurt again. I let it come up and pour out of me, overflowing waves of sorrow and regret. And then…I saw it all for what it was and forgave my mother for not being what I wanted her to be and for myself wanting to protect myself.  She was, and I was, in fact, human.

And that feeling, letting go of the anger and guilt, was the freedom I’d been craving for a very long time. For the first time, since my mother’s death, I felt my mother’s energy in a very different way. It was light and flowing and a soft pink. I felt her embrace me as I let her in. She wanted to support me and I let her.

I could go on and on and explain how our early relationships with our parents and caregivers impacts every other relationship in our lives. Any dysfunction that exists begin the patterns that last until something proves important enough to stop us and realize we don’t want to repeat them. And it’s not until we change ourselves while also accepting ourselves that our lives and our experiences will change accordingly.

These revelations are a culmination of the work I’ve spent rebuilding my relationship with myself. Getting to know the real me. The scarred parts that continue to heal and the eternal optimist who has made peace with her internal masochist. The one who is always striving to be the best and most authentic version of herself. 

She is real and she is spectacular.

(Seinfeld anyone? I simply cannot help it)

So today, I am celebrating the new relationship I have with my mother, as well as myself.  The birthday of new beginnings, the dawn of opportunity, the celebration of all things learned that brought me into this fascinating existence that is my life.

Happy Birthday Mom! Thanks for getting me here. I Love You.