I am really excited to welcome my friend and guest blogger Carla Dippel. Today Carla is writing about a coaching session we recently did. This post is an excellent example of how to dig down and discover your belief system about a specific concept; in this case “love”. As always please feel free to contribute to this wonderful post by leaving your feedback and comments. ~ Darlene Ouimet, founder of Emerging from Broken
Cocahing with Darlene on my Definition of Love by Carla Dippel
A few weeks ago, I was freaking out about love. I felt anxious, confused, and stuck. I had this sense that I was missing something, that I was scrambling in the surface of myself while there was much deeper stuff going on beneath that I couldn’t get at. I described this “freaking out”-ness to Darlene. In her masterful way, she asked me a couple simple questions that changed everything. I really cared about working through this struggle because I really cared about the part of my life that it was affecting. So I decided to be open and reveal the truth as honestly as possible. I had hope that in doing this I would find better answers than the ones I was working with at the time.
First Darlene asked me to reveal my definition of love. She added, “Don’t worry about sounding silly or trying to have the RIGHT answer. Just write what naturally comes out, what you believe off the top of your head.” I had this sense of taking my focus off the leaves of the tree that were sick and shifting it to the soil. What was really down there?… I felt afraid to be so honest. I don’t like feeling vulnerable or sounding stupid (especially). But I went to work. Here is what came out, un-edited and un-analzyed: Read More→
Carla Dippel Co-Authored this blog with me for the first 6 months of its life. I am really excited to welcome Carla back again as a guest blogger! As always please feel free to contribute to this wonderful post by leaving your feedback and comments. ~ Darlene Ouimet, founder of Emerging from Broken
It is easy for me to understand the concepts of recovery on an intellectual level. What helps the truth in my head become real in my heart is action of some kind, and this is something I find really tough. Almost a year ago, I decided to sign up with a matchmaking service. My conscious reason was to engage in the process of finding a life partner. In the last few months, I’ve discovered a subconscious reason: to overcome some of my greatest fears through real life situations in an area that has been one of my greatest struggles: the realm of romantic relationships with men.
Please know that I’m not recommending everyone should approach their recovery in this way. It has its benefits and definite challenges. But this is one approach that I chose for myself. It’s a way that I have found that I “test” my new truth foundations.
A few months ago I met a guy and fell for him head over heels. He was intelligent, cute, confident, and successful. He drove a Porsche (yes, that was attractive to me too!) He was very polite and kind, considerate, not pretentious. He engaged in his world, knew what he liked and what he wanted. He was ambitious. He had stories to tell and goals and dreams to pursue. We dated for a month and a half. I believed I had found “the one.” As it had been some time since I had felt this way towards a man, I fell pretty hard.
All the while, I was absolutely anxious. I chalked it up to “my own issues” and tried to relax. But it never really went away. It’s difficult to be 100% honest with yourself in the midst of falling in love… It was in hindsight that I realized I had questioned from the beginning whether he was equally as interested in me as I was in him. I had gut feelings that I ignored, hoping I was wrong (because I wanted to be wrong). I over-analyzed and panicked time after time because, as much as I so highly admired him, at the very same time I compared myself to him and believed I came up short. I loved that he was ambitious, but was I equally so? I loved that he engaged with his world, but I couldn’t really talk about worldly things like he could… I loved that he was so kind and considerate, and subsequently put huge amounts of pressure on myself to be just as kind, and in the same way as him. I looked at him and believed he was so much better than me. My heart broke when I finally realized this, but in comparing myself to him, I looked at my own growth and emerging identity and felt it was worthless. My anxiety actually turned into mild arthritis in my right hand… And I could sense that I was turning myself off both in and outside of the relationship.
The relationship ended, and I fell into some deep self-loathing and depression which was really scary. I hadn’t felt that depressed since before I started counseling. All the truth I had learned somehow seemed hollow. My friends told me that I ultimately deserved better and that it wasn’t my fault. In my head I understood what they were saying. But my heart only felt the pain of rejection. And the pain of something else… something even more important for me to pay attention to. I started to realize that I may not have been in love with this guy as much as I was desperate for him to fill a certain hunger in my soul. My admiration for him over-rode my gauge on whether or not he was actually a good relationship match for me. As I was subconsciously hoping to do, I came face to face with a belief still echoing from my childhood- that in and of myself I was not “enough.” Still struggling to turn this belief around, I began functioning in the hope that if I could attach myself to this man I admired, all of the qualities I saw in him that I wanted for myself would somehow rub off on me and I would finally become a person of equal value.
It’s like an identity hunger. Seeking this kind of “self defining” from a man makes a lot of sense to me. In my last guest post “Emotional Abuse and Anger” (click the title to visit) I described the nature of the emotional abuse from my childhood. I’ve also described the impact of my relationship with my Dad in older posts published here (check out “The Unengaged Gardener”). Ultimately, I would have grown up knowing that I was uniquely and wonderfully made. I would have learned to take pride in my strengths and consider my weaknesses with compassion. I would have been encouraged to pursue avenues, activities and dreams that really made me excited, rather than learning to perform and achieve for affirmation. I would have learned to engage with my world for enjoyment sake and not be entirely afraid or cynical of it. Though I lacked for little in terms of physical needs, this emotional aspect of my life was not cultivated and my Dad’s lack of involvement left the biggest hole. A vacuum was created in my earliest years that I have presented to many men (not always obviously) in an attempt to have it filled with something meaningful.
I am in the thick of the process of figuring all this out. I have started meeting other men and I am much more aware of this potential pitfall to have them solve any identity hunger. I am feeling excited… interestingly, not only about finding a life partner, but even more so about finding myself… Feeling empowered to do this brought me out of the depression I had sunk into. In facing some of my biggest fears, letting myself struggle with the truth and what I really believe about who I am, I am developing a deeper relationship with myself. I am seeing myself grow to own who I really am, without comparing my unique-ness to other people’s. I am learning to battle the lie of “you aren’t enough” that the emotional abuse/neglect left me floundering in. I am learning to tend to my own identity hunger, to accept exactly who and where I am at this point in my life, apart from what I do, apart from how other people might define me. No matter what the outcome of my dating adventures, I am confident I will emerge with a stronger foundation in the Truth about ME, tried and tested. Bit by bit, I continue on my path of emerging from broken.
With hope that my journey will inspire yours,
Bio: Carla Dippel lives in beautiful Alberta Canada. She loves to cook, dance, write and grow in knowing what is good and true about this life. As Carla has emerged from broken, she delights in being a distinct and adventurous woman, living her life to the full, exploring new possibilities and making her dreams a reality. Carla loves to share reflections of her journey with others and to hear the stories of others in return.
Note from Darlene: If you would like to read more posts written by Carla, please click on her name which is highlighted in blue, under the post title. This will take you to her “author archive” where you can access all the other posts that she has written for Emerging From Broken.
I’ve been thinking a lot about a one of the last comments made on my post “Groomed to Doubt Through Spiritual Abuse.” The writer said in a nutshell that the people who voiced strong disagreement with my posts were people from my real life who really just cared about me. Words like this can be “catch words”, cause us to stop and second guess… especially in the process of recovering from abuse of all kinds which teaches us to doubt ourselves in the first place. It’s not my desire to pick apart readers’ comments, but it’s the idea behind this particular comment that I want to put under the microscope.
I’ve been writing a lot about spiritual abuse, and it strikes me that so much of spiritual and church abuse happens under this confusing umbrella of “we care about you.” We want you to become a Christian because we care about you. We will confront you about sin and reprimand you with Bible verses because we care about you. We will stand you up in front of the church and tell people about your wayward ways because we care about you. We will talk to so and so and so and so and so and so behind your back and ask them to talk to you or send you an email to correct you because… we care about you.
If the person saying they care about you has known you your whole life, there’s an extra layer of confusion. Somehow, it seems like their opinion should hold more weight, as if they know everything about you. A statement like that could easily put me into a self-doubt spin. My deeper thoughts flashed through my head:, “Carla, these people say they care about you, that they are confronting you because they care. It’s pretty gutsy of you to doubt them… They’ve known you your whole life, so surely they know the real you better than you know yourself…” These doubts come from that old mentality that didn’t know my own true value and didn’t know how to define myself, myself. When I tune in to my true heart, legitimate questions put holes in their claim of “care”. Do they know me now? Have they bothered to contact me in person and have a real conversation? Do they know my true state of happiness and fulfillment in my life? Have they walked the path with me to see how far I’ve come? No, they haven’t. So when they throw accusations and corrections at my new way of thinking, it strikes me as a flat out lie that they really care about me.
I used to think like them too. I believed that pleasing the “system”, keeping myself and others within its rigid walls, would lead to my ultimate salvation. It felt easier to gauge myself and determine if I was okay or not if I kept following the rules rather than following the adventure of a free willed heart… But the truth was that living in these rigid walls was squashing me. My soul was dying a slow death because as hard as I tried, I could not find my salvation in the rules and constrictions of the system. The system DID NOT care about me. It only cared about numbers and keeping those who were blindly following, blindly following. It only cared about protecting itself.
There have been other people in my life, close friends, who have challenged me. Their challenges have not always felt comfortable. But when I ask myself the same question about them, my answer is very different. I do feel cared for by them, because I know that their aim in challenging me is to help me become all I am meant to become. They have no ulterior motive to keep me thinking the same as them or to keep me in line with their rigid, controlling system. They aren’t trying to keep me boxed in, shut down, small minded, and pliable. They want me to become more myself, stronger, less pliable, more fulfilled and deeply happy. There is a huge difference… and I can feel that difference. Real caring encourages real life, not slavery. Real caring cares about the individual, not the system that the individual is questioning.
As we grow and change, there will be those who will try to lasso us back to where we have come from. They are afraid. They are still trying to find their salvation in the systems they are trapped in and they are protecting themselves and that system. We don’t have to fall for this claim of “I just care about you!” We can doubt them instead of doubting ourselves. We can trust that our feet are taking us in the right direction, deeper and deeper into the life we were meant to live. No one has the power to stop us from reclaiming life giving freedom and reconnecting with our true hearts. No friend, no parent, no sibling, no pastor, no relative, no organization, no leader, no spouse, no in-law. I want to send big encouragement to all of you as you keep pursuing your wholeness. You are worth it and you have what it takes.
A Special Note from Carla
These past seven months have been an amazing journey, sharing my truth and getting to know and interact with all of you here. I have been feeling a strong need to take some time to focus on myself and get more clarity on a few foundational things about “me”. In the theme of true caring, I have decided to take an indefinite writing break from Emerging From Broken. I will still be working a bit “behind the scenes” and hope to share a post from time to time and stay connected. I want to thank Darlene for her amazing support in the process of me making this decision, as it really has not been easy! I also want to thank every one of you for engaging with my posts to this point, and for sharing your incredible journeys with me and each other. With much love, Carla
In high school I wrote a worship song with these words: “Cleanse my motives, make them pure. Change my heart to be like your’s. Fill me with your precious love. Dear Father make me holy…” It was really more like a dirge!
By this time, the religious systems I was a part of had me convinced that my heart was very bad. My heart, the thing inside me that feels and is moved, the spirit that holds the essence of what it means to be ME… colourful, pulsing energy that is unpredictable, passionate, unpretentious, desirous, drawn to the truth. The thing inside that feels the most and wants the most… My life force… I had come to believe that this thing inside me was dangerous.
In my young mind, if my heart was bad and in dire need of correction, then my safest choice was to distance myself from it. Why would I embrace, explore, trust or be lead by something that was bad?? I disconnected myself from its vitality. I put up walls to protect me from its unpredictable, ungaugeable movements, and (though I didn’t realize it then),put up walls to protect it from the outside correction that deep inside I did not understand.
The incessant teachings I learned about knowing “God’s will” for my life compounded this dynamic. We were taught that we might have a certain dream, we might desire to get married or climb Mt. Everest or be successful and rich. BUT that- might- not- be- God’s- will- for- you. Because we couldn’t trust our hearts, our deeper motives for any dream had to be analyzed, questioned, examined. We might just be wanting ourselves to look good, or feel important or pursue a dream only for our own satisfaction. Rather than finding our way by getting to know what was inside, we were taught to find God’s will by the signs in the sky or by what other people told us. I was steered into the confounding pain of feeling desire, but not trusting it. Of trying to find my way, but anguishing that if I did something I enjoyed, I might be doing it for the wrong reason. And if I really found JOY in what I was doing, well then I wouldn’t be finding my joy from God alone and that was an unpardonable sin. Somehow, God had to tell me exactly what I should do with my life so that I would not get it mixed up with my own fulfillment and satisfaction. Somehow, I had to contort my heart to match some altruistic, non “self-serving” aim.
This is an extremely anxious way to live. I’m not trying to say that we should follow every whim we feel or live without contemplation, wisdom and learning. But the core of this anxious state for me was being divided against myself… Not feeling I could trust that anything within me was good. It felt impossible to move forward or chart out a satisfying life for myself. I couldn’t trust my heart, but trusting in outside “signs” or other people to tell me which direction to go was incredibly uncertain too and made me very vulnerable.
Abusive religious systems want people to remain disconnected from their hearts because that’s how they can keep controlling them, keep them “hanging” in uncertainty with the need to come back again and again for direction. At the heart of the journey of wholeness is becoming free to connect with and value our true hearts, uncovering the lies that scaled over our eyes before and recovering the life we lost long ago. To me, this process is the true “rebirthing” of the heart and spirit.
~ Carla ~
** Special Announcement!!!**
We want to let you know that tomorrow, Friday July 9th, Darlene will be interviewed by Diane Viere (“Setting Boundaries and Finding SANITY”) on LIVE blog talk radio! The interview will air at 11am Mountain Standard Time and 12 noon Central Standard Time. If you’d like to hear Darlene’s incredible message in person, this is a wonderful opportunity! You can visit this link for more details: http://www.blogtalkradio.com/settingboundarieswithyouradultchildren/2010/07/09/challenging-your-belief-system
I was a very esteemed member of the small private school I graduated from. Most people might have considered me to have been lucky, been jealous of my “status.” My peers looked up to me. My teachers applauded me. I was valedictorian of my class and won the “Student of the Year” award numerous times. I was told I was very gifted and would do “great things” for God. I was chosen to go to Leadership Retreats. I seemed happy and confident, was attractive and intelligent. I was a “shining example”… But inside, my own light was so dim.
I was heralded as a leader at my school. In reality, I was a teenager who was starving for validation (of my true self, though I didn’t know it then) and acceptance. It is easy to look at teenagers who are “trouble-makers”, who break the rules and rebel, and think “Wow, they have issues.” But my experience was exactly the opposite. I had some serious issues, painful doubts about my value and very little sense of my identity. But I just chose a different way of trying to mend those issues. I chose to mend them by excelling and being the “Golden Girl.” I found myself in a system with rules that I found easy to follow. Because I followed them so well, I was heralded as a leader.
The rules in the religious system of my school were: you have to know the right answers about God and Christianity; you shouldn’t trust your own humanity or desires; you must be well behaved good people who don’t swear, smoke, dress promiscuously, have sex, watch bad movies, or listen to bad music; you must sacrifice your life for God and find his will for you (which, to my young mind, meant I might have to do something I hated for the rest of my life… but God would be pleased); you must be an example to the WORLD of how great God is (by being academically superior, by being good kids, by making a difference). We were under eighteen years old!! Speakers came and told us how the world needed us to be heroic Christians so we could make a difference for God. We were taught about other religions and how they were wrong in what they believed- we were taught how to “defend our faith.” We were taught to be good examples when we played sports with “non-Christians” (don’t lose your temper, be nice, be positive). We were told (in a nutshell), “You are free to pursue any kind of life you want, even outside of Christianity- BUT, wait and see how unhappy you will be if you do…” We did performances at other churches and schools to show how amazing we were as a school and as students. The more “godly” we were, the more applause we got. I excelled at doing all these things.
I learned to gain my value from “system pleasing” at school. The better I became at “system pleasing,” the more I was applauded as a leader by the bigger leaders and the more I gained my sense of value from THAT as well. PLUS a huge feeling of responsibility that other people’s spiritual growth depended on ME… PLUS the pressure of having to keep up the “perfection” facade so I could keep getting the approval I thirsted for so I could maintain my threadbare, patched together self-esteem. The sad truth was, I was not a leader. I was actually a supreme follower who had found a powerful way to gain approval. A system that is concerned primarily with its own survival more than it is concerned about the people in it easily takes advantage of that kind of a “leader.” I was taken advantage of in being valued more for what I could offer the system than for just being me.
A healthy system would have encouraged me to cut myself some slack; it would have nurtured me to become my own individual beyond exalted, “Christian” achievement; it would have offered their version of the truth, but also welcomed opposing ideas and “outside the box” thinking. It would NOT have applauded me for being a copy cat or a puppet. A healthy system would have helped me learn that how I really felt or thought was GOOD enough and that I was accepted for more than just my accomplishments and good behavior. A healthy system wouldn’t have put so much pressure on kids to be heroes for God (heroes as defined within its own rules). A healthy system would have said, “You can bring God glory by being YOURSELF. Not by squashing your own desires to death under the microscope of ‘is this God’s will’?” A healthy system wouldn’t have propped a girl up as an example only because she mirrored everything the system was teaching her.
In this religious system I blindly followed the lie that I was valuable for serving a system outside myself, not valuable for being me. I walked a tightrope of good behavior and spiritual achievement which ultimately left me hollow and disconnected, anxious with so much responsibility and the need to be “right and good” to help someone else’s cause rather than for my own benefit.
After I came home from Bible College I decided to volunteer at the church I grew up in, leading a group that met to design the services with more creativity. There was a certain song that our pastor had blacklisted from being sung. During one of these meetings, I brought in an article written by the composer of the song explaining his meaning and intention behind it. The pastor said he had already read the article and felt it proved even more that the song wasn’t “theologically sound” and that the composer was in error, valuing our emotions more than our minds (that being the main problem). I challenged his point, highlighting a quote from the article itself which contradicted exactly what the pastor was saying. Eventually the tension peaked in the room and the pastor exploded at me: “So you think that what we FEEL is more important than what we THINK????” I had heard this message in many subtle ways throughout my church life, but never so explicitly. It wasn’t just his theology that whacked me over the head that day- it was his tone and the vengeance in his words, the condemning message that said, “How stupid and wrong are you to think that your emotions are valuable in some way? Don’t you realize they can’t be trusted??”
I do still believe in Jesus and how he is portrayed in the Christian Bible. One of the things I take away most from the stories about him were that he asked so many people this question: “What is it that you want?” He engaged with their hearts. He stopped and listened to their answers. It doesn’t seem like he asked the question with furrowed eyebrows and suspicious eyes… He didn’t hint that he knew their answer or expected a certain response. He asked in such a way that people opened up and really shared what they felt inside, what they wanted. He gave them the freedom to be real. Because of this, people were empowered to know themselves better and had the opportunity to navigate and embrace a fuller life.
In all my years of church and Bible school attendance, a question like this was never asked without some kind of agenda or hook at the end. Out of the hundreds of sermons and chapels I attended, my desire, my heart, my feelings came with me but were most often pummelled or corrected to death by the time I left. Verses were sliced and diced from the Bible to condemn our anger, our jealousy, our doubt, our fear, our desires, and even our joy (be careful WHY you feel happy), our pride, our grief (God has a purpose for everything that happens to you, so feel sad for awhile but you better get thankful again soon). We were TOLD what we SHOULD want. “You call yourself a Christian? Then, you should want to read your Bible every day. You should want to pray a lot. You should want to ‘evangelize’ and give away all your earthly goods to the needy. You should want to tell everyone about God. You should want this, you should want that, and if you don’t then something is really WRONG with your faith, with your belief, with YOU.” I spent years agonizing over whether my feelings on the inside qualified me to be a Christian (even a PERSON) and filled a dozen journals with my doubts and anguish. At the root of it all was the lie that my humanity could not be trusted and had to be controlled in order to be pleasing and good.
My emotional landscape was blazed away like a fire on the prairies over and over again and I still struggle with this part of my recovery. The lies I learned in church about the evil lurking in my emotions were like blow torches on the prowl, snuffing out spontaneous inner life here and there, teaching me to fear and correct myself all the time. The hope in living whole and free from those lies means I can let this inner landscape come back to life. Just like Jesus, I can practice asking myself “what is it that you want?” and know my honest answer.
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…
Have you ever felt this way? It’s a feeling of running free in one direction and then suddenly being whipped around or tripped by something across your path. One minute you feel confident and know where you’re going; it feels good. The next moment you feel jarred, disoriented, suddenly confused. In these kinds of moments, we are vulnerable to believe what is not true about ourselves because we suddenly doubt if we can trust our own direction, our own selves. Insidious lies can take root in these little moments of vulnerability. I grew up going to church every Sunday, and one of my strongest memories of this kind happened to me there. I have to use some religious phrases as part of this story, and I hope they won’t confuse the heart of what I want to say.
I was sitting at the table in the kitchen of the church basement, where my Sunday School class met every Sunday. I was probably 8 or 9 years old. The church I grew up in was very focused on “spreading the gospel.” As kids, we were taught in Sunday School and special summer camps that we should tell our friends about Jesus (aka “spreading the gospel”). We were taught about it in simple terms: there was heaven and hell, and if a person prayed to Jesus (also called asking Jesus “into their heart”) then that person would go to heaven. We were encouraged and rewarded if we brought friends to church or special church events. We were taught that if we really cared about our friends, then we must tell them about Jesus somehow. What if they died and they hadn’t asked him “into their hearts”?
My sensitive heart took these teachings very seriously. I cared about my friends and when I thought about them not going to heaven, I felt so sad and so responsible. And how ashamed would I be (or rather, how ashamed would other people be of me?) if my friends missed out on heaven because I was too afraid to tell them the truth that I knew! So I did my best to tell them. I even went so far as to start a “church” during recess at my elementary school.
I had a best friend at school, and I don’t remember if she came to my “recess church” or not, but I do remember that one day during recess I helped her to say a certain prayer and ask Jesus “into her heart”. I was so excited… I remember getting off the bus at home and telling my Mom all about it. I felt happy that my friend was going to go to heaven… And I felt happy that I had helped her. I was a little girl trying to do what I was taught was a very good thing.
Sitting around our Sunday School table that morning, the teacher asked us about our week. Though I was usually shy, I excitedly shared with her and the class that my best friend had asked Jesus “into her heart” and how I had helped her do it. I was running along with that happy confidence… I had innocently and with simple faith acted on what I was told was a good thing to do, out of the goodness of my heart. Expecting a joyful, excited response, I was crestfallen when my teacher simply snapped, “Well, YOU didn’t actually do it Carla. It was GOD who did it.”
To a little girl or boy who goes to church every Sunday to learn about God, pastors and Sunday School teachers are pretty much God… They are older and teach from underlined, well-worn Bibles; they must really know who God is, what he is like and how he relates to us. Translating my teacher’s response in my 8 or 9 year old’s mind, the words I really heard her say were, “Carla, watch it… Don’t think that anything good can come from yourself. Don’t be proud or pleased with yourself, and don’t you dare take credit for something good because only God does good things.”
I was tripped and vulnerable and that’s when the lie wedged itself in there. It is a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” twisted lie which shows up in all kinds of abuse. It says: Carla, what comes out of your own heart is not good enough. What you want, what you decide to do, is not good enough. You thought doing this was a good thing, but you didn’t do it right, you took too much pleasure in it… Be ashamed for being proud because God is not pleased with proud people. Even if you do your best, you cannot trust yourself.” This lie taught me that I had to dance a certain way (a very narrow, restricted, apprehensive way) in order to be pleasing to others and to God, and eventually, even to myself.
In “Cutting Ropes and Sailing Free” I described the roots of my recent depression and the process I was going through to break free. I wouldn’t have had the strength to cut ropes unless I let myself feel what it was I truly desired.
I was born with sails. The ropes that I attached to other ships happened out of necessity, out of a need to stay safe, to stay afloat, to not be abandoned. The belief systems I inherited from my parents, from the church I grew up in, from other survivors notched so many conflicting beliefs into those ropes stretched out to one ship and another. I believed I shouldn’t shine too bright. I believed I had to be happy or successful so other people wouldn’t be disappointed in me. I believed my ship was inferior to others. I believed I needed others to make decisions for me because I couldn’t make my own (good enough). I believed it was selfish to set sail and go after what it was I really wanted…
As I got older, another coping method formed. I chose certain ships to follow. I knew that I wanted to sail and leave the harbor. But I didn’t know how to do it on my own. So I set my sights on one ship than another, trying to live my life just the same as them. I even did this with characters in books I read, people on TV, in movies, as well as the real people in my life. The open seas were too terrifying to sail all on my own. I believed if I could step in the exact steps of others, I could get a piece of the same fulfillment that they had. If I couldn’t feast for myself, I would settle for crumbs from their feast… But, this isn’t how it works for us. The fulfillment I enjoyed was superficial and the crumbs only bore frustration.
I have that unique lantern burning deep within me that holds all the stuff I need to sail my own ship. My desire dwells here. My Mom recently contributed her very honest story of how she wanted to “get into my skin” when I was younger and live my life for me better than she thought I was living it myself. Her belief system about happiness was skewed. In a way, she truthfully saw my capabilities and my gifts and she wanted me to take full advantage of them. But her plan of helping me become truly happy was coming at the process from the wrong angle. The roots of the process of happiness start with validating that burning lantern deep within us. It doesn’t begin with the appearance of our ship, how it is better than other people’s, how fast it is or how pretty. It doesn’t begin with having perfect destinations in place to sail to in a certain time-line (church, accomplishments, early marriage and plenty of children…) The belief system my Mom was trapped in neglected that burning lantern. My Mom bought me dolls to play with, taught me home-maker duties. When I was little, I loved to pretend that I was a business woman coming home from a busy day at work. I pretended I was serving coffee up and down our driveway, pouring water from a watering pot! I loved playing store, counting the money, adding things up on the adding machine. These things that I loved to do spontaneously were coming from that unique burning lantern deep within. These things reflected my true desires. Even deeper beneath these activities was the fundamental desire to love and be loved for who I uniquely was.
After a lifetime of not trusting these desires or paying attention to them, it felt very difficult at first to see them and believe in them. It’s like trying to see the vibrant life and colorful rocks at the bottom of a murky, muddy lagoon. It takes time. But learning to pay attention, to focus my eyes differently, to keep asking myself “what is it you truly desire?” is the process that has connected me to that burning lantern and fuels my own amazing journey. It was the process that gave me confidence to pursue counseling in the first place. In that process is the key to my true happiness. Harnessing its power frees me to furl those sails and gives me the courage and hope to cut away the ropes that I no longer need.
We have what it takes to sail our unique journeys!
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.