Archive for chronic depression
Several years ago, I excitedly told my Mother over the phone that I was going to write a book about my process of recovery from chronic depression and dissociative identity disorder. She reacted with strange sort of hesitation. She didn’t ask any questions; she didn’t actually acknowledge this information at all. I was used to her acting this way and I was only a bit more then mildly disappointed that she wasn’t interested. I had been noticing in my recovery that she sucked the joy out of everything I was ever excited about. A few days later however, she brought it up as a sort of “by the way” conversation. She said that if she read anything in my book about her that she didn’t like, she would sue me. I was stunned. I was actually speechless I was so stunned. Why did she think it would be about her? I was so confused about her statement, that I couldn’t think straight. I called a friend of mine who is a lawyer and asked her for some legal advice about it.
When I got over my shock about her reaction and her threat, I was able to look at this in a different way. My narcissistic mother didn’t ask me about the contents of the book. She just assumed it would be about her. Why would she assume that? I hadn’t even thought about talking about her in the book yet. Her reaction is what I call a truth leak. Continued….. Read More→
I thought that my present could be resolved by talking about what was wrong with the present… but it turned out it was resolved by sorting out what went wrong in the past. And I had been told all my life to live for today so …… you can imagine the conflict!
This is one of the most foundational messages that I have to deliver. It is one of those things I just didn’t realize. Living in the present sounded so right and so perfect, I strived for that ideal, never realizing that what was in my way was the unresolved past. We hear things that can back up our belief in these sayings, such as “you can’t change the past” and “live one day at a time” and “live for today” and my favourite of all ~ “If you have one foot in yesterday and one foot in tomorrow, you are peeing on today”. When I look back over the years when I tried so hard to live by these sayings, I realize that they did me no good. I thought that acceptance was the answer, but I really didn’t know what I was trying to accept and so I accepted the blame and responsibility for abuse and for relationship difficulties that were there far before I was ever old enough to be a problem or even a factor in the demise of any one of them.
I got living for today and accepting the past mixed up with the realization that I can’t change the past, forgetting that the goal in healing from the past is not to change the past, it is to resolve it. The goal was to be ABLE to put it behind me in order for me to be able to live in freedom; to be able to LIVE in the present moment.
And I got so used to running from today that I didn’t know I was running. I got so used to thinking that I WAS living in this day, and so accustomed to avoiding those feelings by using any number of coping mechanisms and escape tools, that my coping mechanisms rode piggyback on each other and every time I resolved or exposed and untangled one escape route, my cleaver surviving mind switched and adopted another one. The survival instinct is very strong and I got so messed up that I didn’t KNOW that I was even in survivor mode. I didn’t know that my coping methods were because my brain was so badly wired that it thought the escape tools WERE better and safer for me. I thought the problems WERE the answers.
In order to live in the present I had to be willing to actually LOOK at what I was running from. I had to ask myself ~ why did I disconnect and dissociate. Why did I use food for comfort? Why did I go to bed for days on end? I had to ask myself what I was afraid of feeling. I had to become aware of my survival methods and look at where they came from; what they developed as a result of ~ and guess what??? All those questions led me back to the past.
But when I answered those questions one by one, month after month, over time I was able to stop using all those coping methods. Little by little, as I understood the past and where my desire to run was born they just seemed to fall away and the more that they fell away, the more that I was able to live in today. And not just live in today, but LIVE. THRIVE. Really live with the new energy that I found I had when I didn’t have to use all my energy to COPE so dang much.
For the most part, I live in the moment today. The work that I do with Emerging from Broken is my chosen purpose and in order to shed light on how I found my own freedom, I write about my past almost every day in one way or another, however I do not live in the past any longer because my past is resolved. Today, the past is in the past and I can actually appreciate all those lovely quotes, understanding the true intention behind the sayings now.
Keep going, keep growing and please share with me and the other readers!
Related posts ~ “the problem with living one day at a time”
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Related posts ~ “the problem with living one day at a time”
When I accomplished something I was told in so many ways that it didn’t matter, it was no big deal, or the credit was given to someone else. This was a big part of my continuing depressions; that I was just so “nothing” and that I didn’t count. I was used to it. Although in some small ways I still fought to be validated, I gave up pretty easy. I was used to being “not important”.
On your journey to emotional recovery and wholeness, have you ever spent any length of time living with the validation that YOU WERE actually a victim? It was exploring this fact that changed things for me. This was the real beginning of emotional recovery. All my life I was squished; I was told that I was nothing and that I would amount to nothing. I was told this, not so much in words but in the way that I was disregarded, brushed aside, not heard and mistreated and by the way that I was taught false messages about love and by how I was defined by everyone else rather than accepted and encouraged to be ME.
I had to realize that I had become comfortable with wrong treatment. Being unimportant and always trying so hard to find someone to say that I was important as I had no way to validate myself (I had no frame of reference for that) I became comfortable with being discounted and unimportant.
I started to beat myself up; I started to reprimand myself about the things I did wrong, told myself to try harder, told myself that I was lazy. I took over invalidating myself. And there I sat. Stuck. Wanting someone to TELL me that I was worth loving, but never believing it if they did tell me. The big dark secrets of having been sexually abused and chronically depressed had long ceased to be anywhere near what I thought to be the real problem because I was still very young when I believed that the real problem was me.
I was in my forties when I finally really looked at things from the perspective of having been a victim. Finally, I validated myself as someone that had been unfairly treated; a child who had been violated; an innocent person that had been taken advantage of. A child that had not been empowered to know she had any worth. That was when the real emotional healing began for me.
I stayed there in that place of validation, realizing that I had been a victim and placing the blame of the responsibility in the proper place, (not on myself) for as long as it took for me to get to a new place of understanding. I had to look at my life through a new grid; a more truthful grid and had to validate myself without any self blame, long enough for me to be ABLE to move on.
There were times that I felt guilty and full of shame for allowing myself to indulge in feeling sad for myself and the life that I had lost because of this, but I kept going; it was what I had to do ~ validate myself and the trauma that I went through.
This was a key part of the journey to wholeness for me. I tried to get over it and let go of it for over 25 years… but until I faced it, relived it and validated that it happened, that it was WRONG and it was not my fault etc… I didn’t seem to be able to move forward with my real life.
The point of the process towards recovery and emotional healing is not to blame ourselves. And it is not to blame everyone else either, at least not forever. I had to place blame/responsibility where it belonged long enough to find a way out of that darkness by recognizing the truth about HOW I got to the state of emotional brokenness and chronic depression in the first place.
How do you feel about this first step in your own recovery journey?
Related posts ~ When inspirational material triggers self blame
In the recovery process of emotional healing and overcoming abuse I created a lot of images in my mind that helped me to look at things in different ways. Sometimes I dreamed of images, and sometimes they just came to me.
One of the readers on the facebook page for emerging from broken wrote “and I think the problem starts the moment I convince myself that I can already move on, because the truth is I’m trying to walk forward while looking back.” This is a profound statement which brought me back to a very frequent image that I adopted in my mind along the journey to recovery.
Early in my therapy process, in my mind’s eye I saw a door. It was an eighteen inch thick solid steel door, like the kind you might see on a bank vault or possibly in a prison. This door was firmly closed, and had about seven huge locks; huge deadbolts all in a row, each one of them a different design or brand. This door was impenetrable. Somehow I knew that my freedom was on the other side of that door. My wholeness, my new life and my recovery from dissociative identity and chronic depression was on the other side of that impenetrable door. Emotional healing was just one the other side. And it wasn’t long before I realized that I was the only one that could open those locks and walk through it.
I know it sounds so easy; just unlock the deadbolts and walk through, right? But it was far from easy. Along the course of the journey to wholeness I saw that same door many times, but as I grew in my emotional strength and towards healing, it changed.
As I had my breakthroughs I noticed that some of the locks were disappearing from my “vision” of the door. At first several of them were just unlocked, sometimes with a combination lock like one you would see on a school locker, just hanging open. One day I noticed that there was only one lock left on the door and that the door suddenly had a window in it. It is interesting to note that all these things made me excited and nervous at the same time. I wondered if I should look through the window. It was a scary thought. But I realized later that the window wasn’t for the purpose of looking out into the new world. It was for the purpose of looking back into the old world.
Eventually as I continued to grow and discover the lies that I had adopted as truth and realized how my survival system had been set in place, the door was actually unlocked and open a few inches. I slowly waked forward and I opened it a bit more. I cautiously crept through the opening, frightened, hesitant, and even on the other side I was afraid to look; I ran back through to the other side from which I had come and slammed the door shut, clicking the lock into place. WAY too scary for me!
My survival system was created to keep me safe. My brain and every fibre of my being believed that my coping methods kept me safe and in this process of recovery, my brain told me that it was not safe to travel to the other side of broken. I was afraid of emotional healing and letting go of those deep depressions because I still believed they were the answer. So even opening that door was a frightening concept. As I began to comprehend it this way, I began to really understand the importance of doing that re-wiring work I always talk about. I also began to understand the fear of just walking through that door and the significance of the locks.
I keep going forward and there came a day when I saw the door in my mind open and welcoming. There was no longer a lock on my side. I took a deep breath and I walked through it and I saw a beautiful garden, somewhat like a jungle, lush with flowers and foliage and bright green grass. The sky was not visible but still this place was beautiful and welcoming. I went a few yards in, but I felt nervous and kept looking back to make sure that the door was still open. I wanted to make sure that I could return to the old belief system if this new one was too scary or too overwhelming for me to stay there. I had this feeling that I HAD to know there was an escape out of the new world. This stemmed from the depth of my belief that the systems I had in place for my survival from abuse, were really what was best for me. My survival methods were all I knew prior to this.
There came the day when I went through that door and carefully closed it behind me. As I turned to face my new surroundings, gone was the lush garden and in front of me was the most beautiful meadow ~ nothing but blue skies and the brightest sunshine, wide open spaces, the freshest air I had ever breathed, and thousands of wild flowers. As I walked forward and took it all in, I noticed that I was on the top of a mountain, that the whole world was waiting for me, that I was free and that this was the other side of broken. I felt safe, excited, euphoric even. I felt as though my life was about to begin.
Forever seeking healing, truth and freedom
It never ceases to amaze me how the world works. Yesterday, my friend Wendy Logan sent me the following poem that she wrote. This poem blessed me deeply and I asked her if I could publish it with my blog post because I thought it went so well with what I am writing about today. Please feel free to comment to me or to Wendy or to both of us!
Eyes of A Prisoner ~ by Wendy Logan
When you look in my heart, what do you see?
Do you feel intense love or a life of misery?
Do you see a place where you can live?
Or a heart that’s just now learning to forgive?
Are you getting confused when you look in my eyes?
Conflicting messages that tell little white lies.
Can you feel a brick wall that sometimes comes up?
You can’t get passed them, and even I feel stuck.
I can’t get out and you can’t get in.
Trust me I know I’ve tried again and again.
You can stand and look from a distance
In that I’m safe, you’ll meet no resistance.
A prisoner in this life, emotions locked up inside.
I’m trying to be transparent but also want to hide.
The chains on my feet, pain’s the ball on my side.
My wrist handcuffed with the enemies pride.
Can you see my hands pressing through the bars?
I’m reaching for help but it seems so hard.
The screams get louder but do you hear?
I’m trying to break free, not walk in in fear.
Emaciated and deprived from a lack of affection.
Every path I could try is the wrong direction.
A never ending road takes me another path
That leads to the mouth of the enemies wrath.
He taunts and toils with me like a rag doll.
Tossing me back and forth like a ragged tennis ball.
The chain linked fence surrounds my perimeter.
Sharp bob wire represents my temper.
I can’t let you in, because it’s not safe
A prisoner to love that turned to hate.
Help me come pass the cold steel bars.
I see hope standing from a far.
As you approached I could this light.
Hope pressed in with all its might.
You carried the keys to my prison doors.
I knew that life had to mean much more.
Unlock it fast, before I change my mind.
The hands in the wall try to hold back time.
They can’t stand to lose yet another victim.
As the enemy screams his final dictum.
Been locked up so long, I’m scared to be free.
Is this another mirage or is it really happening?
Wishful thinking kept me alive when things were dark.
But the darkness has a hold, it doesn’t want to part.
One foot out the door of the prison I’ve known.
No more place of dwelling, no more my home.
Is this a dream or am I really free?
Scared to look in the mirror and see the new me.
With the past behind and the future at hand
There’s hope for tomorrow, a new right to stand.
An escapee from a prison of a life of hell
To a place of freedom, a new place to dwell.
Wendy Logan February 10, 2009
I got a comment the other day from Cassie and it has been haunting me ever since so today I am going to answer one of the questions in her comment.
Cassie wrote an in depth and pain filled comment about being stuck in depression and feeling guilty about not being fulfilled as a Mom. (to see the entire post and comment please click here) and her comment ended with this question:
“How do I get past the day-in- and day-out pain that haunts me with memories that wind inside my head like a foggy, black memory monster?” Cassie
It was in looking at the events through different eyes and putting it through a different grid of understanding that I was set free from the daily pain and increasingly difficult memories. I learned to take apart a memory. The next step after that was to keep going forward righting false beliefs about who I am “supposed to be” in favor of becoming who I really am.
Honestly looking at a memory;
Taking apart a memory has a lot of aspects to it. The biggest part of the problem with the memories I had was the way that I understood them. That was a problem because I understood them “wrong”. I understood them the way that the abusers wanted me to understand. I was trained to take the blame, taught that I was a bad girl, that I was unworthy of better and that I was a problem. I was also taught to doubt myself and told that I remembered it “wrong” and sometimes even told that it didn’t happen or couldn’t have happened. Sometimes I never told because I learned that I didn’t matter.
These teachings that become part of our beliefs are not always taught to us in words, sometimes they are taught by actions, or results. Sometimes they are taught to us by the way that we get looked at, a disapproving frown, or being ignored and pushed aside. Sometimes our feelings and our fears are completely disregarded, and we are given answers that make NO sense but we try to make sense of them. Answers such as “well you know how she is” a father might say when we tell him mommy hits her. OR “well just try to be a good girl” and we take that to mean that IF we can be a “good girl” then we won’t get hit. Adults will tell children who are being emotionally abused “you have to respect your elders” or “I am sure it didn’t happen that way”. Looking at the truth of these things meant realizing that they were wrong to have given me these answers, NOT that I was wrong to have had those problems.
I didn’t realize that abusive events can piggy back on each other when it comes to how the belief system is formed. Not being believed or protected when someone beat you up at school can have an impact on the next trauma that you experience. It was very important for me to look at the things that happened AFTER the trauma. For instance, after my mother’s boyfriend came into my room at night when I was a young teenager, my mother acted like she didn’t trust ME anymore. I didn’t question whether or not I deserved her lack of trust. This was a result that went on for years but I had not thought about it when I processed the event itself. In my next post I am highlighting this whole event, how I processed it and the beliefs that developed because of it.
I had all kinds of mixed up beliefs that I didn’t know I had because my experiences and the results of those experiences had become my truth, so I didn’t know any different. I had to be willing to learn a new truth. I had to realize that the way that I was raised was not right, and that some of the things that happened to me had actually resulted in serious depressions, post traumatic stress and dissociative identity disorder either because they were never dealt with or because I was falsely convinced that these things were normal, that I deserved them or brought them on myself, that I liked them or that I was lying about them. And this is not a complete list; there are many more ways that we can be falsely taught and convinced that mistreatment was not “wrong” or was no big deal. Each one of these things however, contributed to the way that I formed my world view and each had to be looked at through a new lens. I had to take apart one memory and look at all the aspects of it. I had to try to remain neutral as I looked at it; trying to put aside all the baggage that came with it or as a result of it until I had the details on the table. I had to believe myself. I had to be willing to take a look at the possibility that people who “loved me” didn’t do right by me. I didn’t have to accept it right away, but I had to be willing to just look at it.
I know this sounds overwhelming but remember that I only took apart one memory at a time. I didn’t have to look at every single incident in my life; I only had to look at about 3 big events where I was mistreated, devalued, unprotected or traumatized, in order to begin to see the pattern that formed my belief system. Once I began to see that pattern, I saw where all the breakdowns for me began; I was able to identify the roots of my serious depressions, post traumatic stress disorder and dissociative identity disorder and I was off and running towards healing and wholeness.
Freedom is on the other side of broken,
Stay tuned for part two ~ I take a look at one abusive event and take apart the memory step by step and talk about the pieces that I understood at that time. In part three I will look at the pieces that I didn’t look at.
I was stuck for so long believing that if my family could just see me for who I really am, that I could BE who I really am. This was a lie that kept me down for many years. Because “they” my family taught me who I was; because they had defined me and I my identity was grounded in the definition of “me” that they gave me, I did not realize that I could define myself. I felt like I HAD to get their agreement to be me, before I could be me. I felt like being someone that they didn’t think I was or didn’t want me to be was somehow a betrayal of everything they wanted. As though my life would have no meaning and I would be no one if I stood up to them. I felt like I HAD to be who they said I was, or I would be rejected. This was such a big part of the cause of my depressions and my struggle with depression and identity crisis.
This was all tied in with my childhood belief that I could not live without my family. That I would die without them because I could not survive out on the street by myself. When we are children we have to believe that our family is right, because if we believe that it is them who are wrong, there is no hope for us. I could not find my own food, my own shelter. I was scared of rejection and rightly so. I knew that I would not be able to survive without them therefore I would surely die out there in the world by myself. I could not make them change, so I tried to change; I tried hard to be what they wanted me to be so that I would be loved. I wanted to be who (the identity) they wanted me to be but at the same time because I was not recognized as ME or valued for being me, I was no one. (Identity Crisis) That might just be my definition of depression or at least one of my definitions of depression. And that was where it got so confusing.
Somehow I thought that their approval was actually love and I tried to live by their definition of love, which is about compliance, obedience, respect and acceptance of them however they are. I grew up and kept trying harder to be loved (approved of). Even as an adult I didn’t see that my family, and subsequent controllers and abusers did not love me according to their own definition of love; I never realized that they didn’t accept me, they didn’t approve of me the way that I had to approve of them. I never realized that they didn’t accept me, my decisions or my choices, the way that I was required to accept them and their decisions and choices ~ and without question I might add. See how confusing this is? Is it any wonder that I struggled with identity crisis, depression and mental health issues?
At the age of 17 I moved out of the house and I took my childhood belief system with me and all of my damaged self esteem and I moved in with my boyfriend and now I was trying hard to be loved by yet another person who wanted me to love him out of his false definition of love, and wanted me to be who he dreamed the perfect girlfriend would be and I was STILL trying (longing, wishing, praying, hoping, and telling myself that I didn’t care) to get acceptance, approval and love from my family too. And that is a great recipe for depression.
I had grown up not knowing that I was enough, not knowing that I was lovable, that I deserved better then what they offered me then and what they offer me now. I did not trust myself to make good decisions, and everything I did, every choice I made I subconsciously put through a grid of “will this meet with approval from “them”? If the answer was no, I tried to hide my decision or I made some brave “rebellious” stand for myself, feeling so smart and smug, all the while dreading the eventual judgement.
I had been taught and conditioned to believe I needed their approval before I could approve of myself. Realizing this truth was the first step on the journey to self love, self acceptance and recovering my self esteem. I am no longer in any kind of identity crisis; I have discovered the ME that I am and I embrace that truth. Realizing this truth and re-wiring my belief system was how I found my way out of chronic depression and dissociative identity disorder.
As always I look forward to all your comments!
You are the only you there is ~ do you know who you are?
It is devastating to realize how little regard parents can have for their own child when that child is you. It is deeply wounding; I was filled with self doubt about why they felt this way. They planted that doubt; they made me question my value all along. This is a difficult cycle to understand and even more difficult to escape because the roots go so deep.
One of the things that I realized in the process of recovery was that the fear of losing my parents love was still very real. Even as an adult, the thought of standing up to my mother about our dysfunctional mother daughter relationship filled me with dread and could cause my heartbeat to spike with an anxiety that I never understood. No one wants to be rejected by their own parents. What I didn’t realize is that I still had the fears from the view point of a child.
When I was a child I was pretty sure that if my parents rejected me that I would be left to die. I could not survive in the world without them. That’s not just a fear; that is a reality. I didn’t think about someone else taking care of me. I think this is why it was easy for me as a child to take the blame for things that went wrong. If it was my fault, I could try harder. If I blamed my parents, and they rejected me, then I had no hope. So I tried harder.
Many other problems can grow out of this mindset though. When we have been kept down this way, it is easy for other people to treat us the same way; like we are less important than they are because we accept that we are less important and this sort of opens the door to other maltreatment. This was something that I fought accepting for a very long time but when I began to understand this concept I began to realize how my life was like a big sticky mess that kept snowballing into a bigger sticky mess. Everyone seemed to disregard me and there were times I was shocked at how I was treated by people.
So it was time for the untangling and rebuilding process. The tricky part was that I had to learn to refuse to be treated like I was less than anyone else. The first step was believing that I was equally valuable by exposing all the lies I believed, and replacing them with truth and then I had to learn how to draw boundaries. Now that was scary but I came to realize that if I didn’t do it, I would stay right where I was and my new growth and my hope for excellent mental health would be stalled.
Although I became aware of the way that I had been devalued by my mother and the damage it caused, for several years afterwards I continued talking to her and just ignored her jabs. I think I believed the new me would finally be good enough. I still wasn’t ready to deal with our dysfunctional mother daughter relationship but my life had already begun to change. I was speaking in mental health seminars about my recovery from Dissociative Identity Disorder and Chronic Depression and I was good at it. I was impacting people and inspiring hope that they too could overcome their mental health problems. I was impacting mental health professionals too.
I was invited to do the content edit on a book being written by a therapist about the destructive nature of power and control. I was SO excited to tell my Mom. She wasn’t impressed at all. She wanted to know why he asked me. She wondered (out loud) if I was having an affair with him. Something snapped in me. Ever since I was 6 she had communicated to me in various ways that the only thing that I was good for was sex or something to do with sex. That realization had been a big part of my therapy. Now, I was building a professional career and I had gone back to school. I was speaking regularly in seminars about recovery and my Mother, my own Mother, decided that if someone was noticing me, it couldn’t possibly be because I was smart or that I had a talent in that area; it had to be because I was having an affair and that any man who saw value in me really just wanted to have sex with me. I was so stunned that I didn’t say anything. I was silent and didn’t stand up to her. I knew that I didn’t deserve that kind of treatment and I thought long and hard about what to do about it. In my therapy process, I had taken a close look at my trust issues with others, but what about the trust issues that I had with myself? I knew that it was time for me to take action; to honour myself and step into my new belief; that I was worthy.
I was already aware of my fear of being rejected by her if I told her that she couldn’t treat me that way anymore but I also knew that if I didn’t tell her what my boundaries were, and stick to them, that nothing would change. The time had come.
Exposing truth one snapshot at a time,
As children we have a childlike faith. It just is. Faith that our parents are always right and acting in our best interest. Faith that we can take things at face value and learn to operate in this world based on the feedback we get from the prominent people in our lives. In my childhood, I also developed a very simple kind of faith in God. I grew up going to church every Sunday and my experiences there constructed another faulty corner of my belief system. In my last post I shared one of these experiences, and now I want to describe a recurring church experience that fueled the belief that I could not trust myself.
Every Sunday that I went to church, I took with me this simple and childlike faith in God. It was a natural, simple belief that just was. I didn’t try hard to make it happen. I sat in Sunday School and church and took in everything I was taught about what it meant to believe in and love this God and what it meant for him to love me. I believed everything they told me because as a child, I didn’t have much else to compare their teachings to and didn’t learn to question it.
In my early teenage years, a new pastor came to our church. He was charismatic at the pulpit and presented himself very humbly and earnest in person. In his sermons he went into deep detail about all the ins and outs of the Bible. Our church esteemed him as our all-knowing leader who was very close to God. I pretty much took everything he said as golden truth.
Sunday after Sunday I listened intently to his sermons. By my teenage years, my depression was becoming more uncomfortable for me and I started hungering for comfort. Sitting in those services, I was the epitome of vulnerable… A hungering heart, a simple faith, an obedient listener. Sometimes I found comfort in the sermon. I would grasp at some words or phrase or Bible verse that assured me that I was loved and that I was accepted, that I was good enough. But this doubt about myself and my faith kept growing within me. It was a confusing, gradually consuming “merry-go-round” feeling. I would leave church feeling lighter and assured, but over the week more and more doubts would grow. I didn’t have the perspective at the time to understand why. But now I see the huge twist that was happening.
Every Sunday, at the end of almost every sermon, the pastor would challenge all of us. He would challenge us with this kind of question: “Now, you may have told God that you want to follow him. You may have prayed at various times throughout your life for his forgiveness. But, take some time now to look deep in your heart and ask yourself, are you sure? Have you really made the decision to follow God? You may think you have, but today, why don’t you be sure? Make that commitment anew. Show God, once again, that you are serious and genuine in your belief.”
It seemed like a good admonishment on the surface… It seemed like the pastor wanted us to know God and that’s why he challenged us. It seemed like a good thing when people would go to the front to pray, crying and contrite. It seemed like it was good because, well, of course it would be good to want to be sure that we were following God… Who could argue with that? But how come myself and the other people there weren’t jumping out of our pews joyful and alive every week? How come, for me, my depression grew worse and worse and I grew more and more anxious about my faith? My doubts about the genuineness of my faith grew so strong that at one point I went to talk to the pastor and asked him for help with it… I told him I was so doubtful about whether or not I really did love God. He took out a pamphlet of The Four Spiritual Laws and walked me through it. He assured me that if I had faith and believed, then I was okay. In his office he validated my faith; but from the pulpit he didn’t.
The twist worked away at my soul. It is the same twist at the heart of all kinds of abuse, the twist that teaches us to doubt ourselves through contradicting messages. There I sat in church, with my simple faith, along with hundreds of other people with their faith (why ELSE would they be at church if they didn’t have some level of desire to know God??) and Sunday after Sunday, the pastor shot arrows, challenging us to MAKE SURE that we were serious about following God. Our actions showed we were serious. But the faith that we were already demonstrating was ignored. Instead, we were admonished to be better, to believe better, to decide stronger, to commit more deeply.
The questioning started digging underneath my faith, slowly hollowing out a pit of self doubt and confusion which easily spread to every area of my life too. I was groomed to doubt all of my feelings, all of my “simple faiths” about anything else. It was one of the most powerful, churning lies at the root of my struggle with depression.
My next post, “Spiritual Abuse and Emotional Ravaging” will put a spotlight on the emotional damage that happened to me at church…
I’ve been working my way through a depression over the last few weeks. Maybe “underneath” is a better word… Sometimes the journey to freedom feels easy and the truth is crystal clear. Risks don’t feel so risky. There is a strong pull forward. It somehow feels simple to make decisions based on what I know is true. Over the last few weeks I’ve felt a pull downward, a pull to just stop where I am and hibernate for awhile. Some relationships in my life have become more distant and I have felt so afraid. I think the fear of being alone, of being rejected, is one of the most powerful fears we face in our lives. I found myself listening to old voices (much clearer this time around) that said, “See, you just can’t do this. You don’t have what it takes. If people abandon you, you will die. If you are rejected, you really MUST be messed up. You can’t survive on your own…”
I’ve learned this fear comes to revisit me in varying degrees along the journey of healing (I used to believe that if I had dealt with it once, I shouldn’t have to face it ever again.) I know this depression has some very real reasons behind it. In becoming whole, some things must fall away and others will grow stronger. In my survival, I was a ship that had attached myself to many many other ships around me. One rope here, another there, spread out like a giant spider web. These ropes felt like my lifelines. I sent out distress calls and survived by interpreting the feedback I got from the other ships. As I become whole, those ropes gradually get cut or fall away. Some just shrivel up and die. Others have to get snipped more intentionally. And I don’t mean that these ropes are only connected to “people”. Some of them were attached to old belief systems that kept me stuck. Some were religious, some were cultural “norms”, some were family belief systems. But one by one, I have freed myself… I became free to focus on my own ship and start listening to what it was all about, where it wanted to go.
Some people love freedom when they first taste it. For myself, freedom has not been an easy experience (yet!) Living so long with my ropes tied to other ships, I had so little sense of my own direction, of where my own sails wanted to take me. Cutting those ropes has sometimes felt absolutely terrifying. How will I know where to go? How will I know that I’m going the right way? What if I cut these ropes and sail off to sea all by myself? Will I ever be close to others again? How can I be close to others if we aren’t tied together?… My depression was a way of coping with these fears. If I could just turn the voices down, or just fall back into the old belief that all of my pain really is my own fault, maybe this would feel easier… Maybe I could go back to coasting alongside someone else… or just hole up in the harbor again, or maybe find some isolated island to call my permanent home…
Deep within my own ship is a lantern, burning with the truth about who I am, with the life and the unique journey that is mine to take. Throughout this depression, I have felt its presence. As loud as those old voices and fears have been, my own presence has been loud too. I know that it is there. But I have felt such angst, running back up to the main deck, peering at the ships I used to be tied to, fearing my “aloneness”, fearing that the lantern with my own light isn’t bright enough to trust, isn’t good enough (now I ask, good enough for who?) It’s the most life squishing lie of all time.
My soul won’t give up. As tempted as I have felt over the last few weeks, the light inside wants to win. To keep walking forward into what feels terrifying is what my whole self wants so much more than to fade away back to the place that feels deceptively safe and familiar (it’s not the same back there anyways). I have always wanted the open sea. Facing old fears is part of learning to sail well, and I am on my way.
“And a woman spoke, saying, ‘Tell us of Pain.’ And he said: Your pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses your understanding. Even as the stone of the fruit must break, that its heart may stand in the sun, so must you know pain….” ~ Kahlil Gibran
We are learning to struggle well. Our desire speaks to us of a new place, a place we have belonged all along but for so long believed we didn’t… Wholeness. A place of validity, entirety, freedom, fulfillment, excitement, promise, purpose.
People and events told us we didn’t belong in this place, we didn’t deserve to go there, we weren’t good enough for it, we had to work harder to earn the right to be there. We got broken. And then we got tangled up in trying so hard to make ourselves “righter”, make ourselves more worthy so we could get there. We got sidetracked on our way in all kinds of other places that promised peace but only delivered disappointment and anxiety. We doubted ourselves. We questioned if we should keep trying to get there…But continually burning deep deep down inside, we knew that we belonged there; we wanted to belong there… Even if at first all we heard was a whisper, a longing, a puzzled feeling, the “click” of a moment when we realized, “hey, this and this and this that I’ve believed all along about myself doesn’t really make sense…”
A dawning starts to happen. And the light draws us toward it. The warmth we feel says, “Yes, this is the right direction. You do belong here. You are stepping in the right tracks.”
The tracks are not always easy. Some feel very painful.
Pain feels like something is wrong, and if something feels wrong our old belief system tells us that we are wrong. We try to avoid the pain because of this misconception, one we have suffered under for so long. We avoid the pain because we are afraid that it will tell us that we really are mistakes after all… But now we see the misconception for what it is. We connect with the new truth about ourselves that is gaining life deep down inside. We see the lies woven into the misconception that fuels our fear and we decide that we don’t want to agree with those lies anymore.
Pain invites us to look deeper, to look through. It is not telling us that we are wrong, just that something is wrong. It draws our hands to feel around us, to feel at what confines us. It draws us to open more windows, to let in more light here, then more light there, so we can see more clearly, bit by bit. It says to us with matter-of-fact assurance, “I can’t leave until you really pay attention to me.” It wasn’t our brokenness that was the problem; the real problem was what caused the brokenness. And what caused the brokenness was not of our making.
We work to understand this. We peel back the layers of our past, we uncover the lies that were whispered or shouted to us. We learn the truth. We realize that all the work we have done to earn our worthiness, the crawling and striving we have done towards feigned acceptance, was not required of us. It was work done for other people’s benefit, not our own. We feel the pain of being deceived, of being discounted, being taken advantage of. We feel the pain of disbelief, of sorrow and grief. And sometimes after we have gotten to this new place of wholeness, we feel the pain of learning. We feel uncomfortable because it is so new. We sometimes still slip into those redeemable ruts. And we are invited into one journey after another of rebirth.
Our pain is a corridor. A place of deep movement towards where we truly belong. It is the breaking with the past, the hope of new growth and new life, the acceptance of reality all rolled into one. It is part of the process that helps us to keep moving forward.
Courage and love to you on your journey…