In Which I Break My Own Rule…

Given the admittedly volatile nature of the internet, I have a rule that I have tried to keep – whether in my blog or on various social media.  That rule is that I will NOT discuss politics.  I have so many friends from so many different and varied paths in life and respect them all and the diversity they bring to my life.  Even when I disagree with them, I pretty much just let it go.  They have every right to their opinion as I do.  And I respect them enough to remember that every experience a person goes through molds and shapes them into who they are today.  I can’t say that if I had lived their life, I wouldn’t view the world around me the same way.

Here’s the thing.  I’ve heard a lot of arguments from a lot of sources over Marriage Equality.  And I just can’t take it anymore.  So if you want to know what I think..read on – and pay attention because I’m only going to say this once!  If you’d be just as happy not knowing… here’s a cute picture of a kitten to squee over:  adorable kittens in 3..2..1…

I’ve heard two main arguments against Marriage Equality:

1.  “But it oppresses my religious rights because the Bible and my ‘insert religious leader’ told me all the gays are evil!”

2. “Marriage is ONLY for procreation.”

Ok, so lets go with the second argument first shall we?  Marriage is not solely for the purposes of procreation.  If it were, then couples where one or both parties are infertile (due to age, medical condition, result of injury, happenstance of genetics, whatever the cause) would not be granted a marriage license.  Also, couples who have exceeded the age of being able to reproduce (or lost the ability to any number of causes) would see their marriages dissolved immediately.  We don’t do that.  So can we please finally leave this argument in the dust of it’s hollow grave?

Now onto the questionably trickier argument.  Allowing LGBTQI individuals the right to a civil(LEGAL) marriage, is NOT going to oppress your religious freedoms.  No one is going to force any church or religious entity to perform or even recognize such a marriage.  After all, there are plenty of religions that already DO perform such unions happily – no one has to force those who don’t want to, to do so.

There is not a single “holy book” that has come handed intact directly from the hands of whatever Diety that you choose to worship that has not passed through the hands of hundreds and even thousands of very human, very fallible, human beings!  By that very progress – got news for you, it’s flawed!  There are mistakes.  Anything produced by human hands will have them.  It’s a fact of life.

But the fact remains, that even if there WERE such a miraculous book, the point is moot.  You see in the USA we have this lovely document called the Constitution of the United States of America.  The first 10 amendments to this document are called the Bill of Rights.  The First Amendment ratified in 1791 reads:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

For anyone that needs a refresher – this means that there is no official religion of the United States of America.  We allow the free exercise of every religion with none held above another.  That means that EVERY religion – whether it is yours or not, whether you agree with it or not – is allowed to be practiced without interference.  That means that if your religion doesn’t perform gay marriages – guess what?  That’s OK!  BUT… it also means that if another church, of another religion down the road DOES – guess what?  That’s also OK!

Marriage Equality is not a battle to force churches to perform gay marriages.  Really, folks, it’s not.  It’s about a civil, legal, document that allows two people to enter into a contract to spend the rest of their lives together – that gives rights of survivorship to the one who outlives the other, grants the rights and abilities to visit each other in the hospital and make decisions for each other.

Marriage is not a SOLELY religious rite.  It isn’t!  If it were, then Athiests would not be allowed to marry.  And guess what folks – they do!

The LGBTQI community that is asking for Marriage Equality doesn’t want to storm your church.  They want to be granted the same rights and responsibilities under the recognition of the government of the land separate from the control of any one specific religion.  That’s it.

And for those who may see me in church and feel conflicted about what I’ve said here… I’d like to remind you of a few things that might help you work your way around it:

The 11th Article of Faith states:  We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may.

(in other words – you don’t get to claim that what you believe has more legal rights than what anyone else believes – no matter how differently they believe)

The 12th Article of Faith states: We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law.

(Please see the First Amendment of the US Constitution contained in the Bill of Rights – the US has no official state religion – all religions are granted equal rights to practice – LDS and Pagan and Muslim and even Pastafarian!)

The 9th Article of Faith states: We believe all that God has revealed, all that He does now reveal, and we believe that He will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God.

(never make the mistake of thinking  you know absolutely everything there is to know about everything – I can promise you, if you do, you’ll be wrong)

D&C 134:9 states: We do not believe it just to  mingle religious influence with civil government, whereby one religious society is fostered and another proscribed in its spiritual privileges, and the individual rights of its members, as citizens, denied.

(Please don’t forget in your passion to see your beliefs put into law, that in doing so you may step on the rights and beliefs of your neighbors who do not believe as you do.  Religious law and Civil laws should remain separate.)

So the next time you consider the arguments about Marriage Equality, I challenge you to view the issues with compassion.  Compassion for those who simply want to protect a love that means more to them than life itself.  Ultimately folks, it’s about love.  Not religion.  Just… LOVE.

Can You Find The Silver Lining?

I haven’t posted here in a while.  There’s been a lot going on, birthdays, graduations, travels, school concerts and soon dance recitals – mixed in with the other multitudes of minutia that make up life (VA appointments, errands, paying bills – you know what I mean).    And I do have things to share about some of those experiences – but they’re still….taking form and finding the right words to write.

So while that continues to gel, I’m going to take a risk.  I’m going to be blunt about something I almost never talk about, not unless you’re part of a very treasured handful of people.  But maybe my sharing it can help give some solid strength to my shaky legs as I travel this path of healing.  And maybe, just maybe, it can help someone else if I share it.  Even if it’s only to know they’re not the only out there – because in the depth of the dark night when you’re battling against your darkest self – you feel very much alone.  Even when you’re not.

For a longer time than I care to admit to, I’ve dealt with various forms of self-harm and self-abuse.  From purposefully starving myself and denying food until even my body gave up and no longer recognized what ‘hungry’ meant.  To actively seeking to cause myself pain.  In very specific and purposeful ways, with the sole intention being to punish myself.  I still fight with it.

Sometimes the punishment was for things I could point at and say ‘I said this’ or ‘I did that’ or ‘I thought “x.”‘  And I’d use those reasons to justify why I deserved it.  Why I deserved not just the pain I was inflicting on myself, but every bad thing that had or ever could happen to me.  I deserved every last bit of it – and none of the good.  A lot of times, I didn’t even need a reason.  My existence was reason enough that I deserved every bit of pain and punishment I could inflict.

No, I’m not a cutter.  I don’t do anything that leaves marks or scars that can be seen (not past a handful of hours).  And chances are – even if you saw me just seconds after I finished  – you still wouldn’t see anything.  I choose the most sensitive and secret parts to inflict the greatest amounts of pain and punishment on.  Let’s just leave it at that, shall we?  I’m not going to go into any details on what I do, that’s not the point here, and I don’t want to give anyone else who is struggling any ideas on things they have or haven’t tried.

Here’s the thing, if you’ve never experience the need – yes, need – to self-harm, you can’t understand the compulsion, drive, urge, very nearly obsession that takes over your brain until you follow through.  And often times, it’s an escalation thing.  One outlet might work for a while, but you get used to it, so you have to find a new way to inflict pain, or a way to intensify it, to get the same, if very temporary, relief.  And it’s an insidious thing.  It sneaks up on you, even when you think you’re strong and doing well.  It attacks when you’re alone, when you’re vulnerable, when you’re not looking.  This graphic below gives a little insight into the cyclic nature of it:

self_harm_diagram

 

I’m very lucky and very blessed.  I have a wonderful inner circle of supportive and loving people who do everything they can to support me, as I battle to end this cycle.  It’s beyond difficult for me to fathom why they do this.  Why they care so much, why they love me so much, why it matters what happens if it’s happening to me.

When I’m at my strongest and healthiest, I may not understand or think I deserve all they give me, but I accept it and am grateful for it.  When I’m at my most vulnerable and sincerely fighting the urge to inflict very real physical pain on myself almost on a heartbeat by heartbeat basis…I have trouble even accepting it.  I don’t deserve it (in my perception of reality – a flawed perception, I understand that on a strictly logical basis, but there it is – logic has no hand in this reality).  I don’t deserve the love, the concern, the support, the tremendous generosity of these so very loving people.   I want to hide from them.  I want to disappear.  I want to become the nothing that I feel like I am.

I’m trying to help you understand the very warped reality, the darkness that my mind lives in during these times, even while I realize that if you haven’t been there – you’ll never fully comprehend the starkness and desperation of it.

Despite all of this, those special few have never abandoned me to my inner demons.  Despite not always understanding.  Despite the heartache that I know I have caused them at the thought of some of what I’ve done.  They have stood by me, and forgiven me time and again – even when I couldn’t forgive myself.  Even as I’ve stumbled and tripped along my way to fixing what is broken within me, to finding a healthy me under it all.   And because of this, I’ve come lightyears from where I once was.

I stumbled again last night.  I was cruel to myself, and I caused myself physical pain.  Not nearly as cruel, not nearly as much pain as I’ve been known to do at my worst.  After  fighting and fighting I gave in, because I was exhausted.  I was tired, and tired of the fight and wanted so badly for the quiet and the relief that usually comes from surrendering.  And after it was all over I was in tears, because that relief never came.  I’d lost that battle.  And for nothing.

But today, with a clearer head, something occurred to me that I need to try to remember more often than I do.  Often times we’re told ‘don’t look back, you’re not going that way’.  And for a good deal of situations, that’s true.  BUT…but…sometimes we do need to look back.  Not to wallow in our past, but to remind ourself just how far we’ve come already – when it feels like we still have so very far to go and don’t have the strength to keep going.  There was a time that I inflicted pain on myself on a daily basis – sometimes multiple times a day or for entire days without rest.

Even counting last night’s stumble, in the past year I’ve only given in maybe a handful of times – in an entire year!  Put into that kind of perspective – I’ve come so very far!!  I may not be where I want to be yet.  But it truly makes me take another look at how far is left to the goal of health, versus how far I’ve already come just to get where I am now.

Now, I know what a healthy mindset is, and can maintain one for long periods of time.  I know the mindset I want to have, who I want to be and am working to become.  And I realized something else.  In not gaining the relief, even temporary as it would have been, the cycle is breaking down.  I may have given in, but it doesn’t mean I’ve failed.  Rather it showed me how far I’ve come, and that my work to fix myself is not for nothing.  I may not be fixed – yet – but the changes are taking effect.  Some of it is beginning to sink in – if slowly and only subconsciously – that maybe I do have a small bit of value.  It has to be, or the relief would have come.

I have no trouble seeing the body as sacred and to be honored and treated gently – for others.  The idea of anyone I love and care about harming themselves as I have done, is horrifying to me.  And yet…that horror is not there when I look at myself.  Someday, I hope it will be.  I’m working to try and see and honor the sacred within myself.  To see my existence as something to be celebrated, not punished.  To see value and worth in myself.  And when I can’t, I try to remember what those I love and trust have said that they see in me.  I rely on their faith and belief in me, when my own faith and belief in myself falters.

It’s been said that you can’t ‘live on borrowed light.’  And you can’t.  But sometimes you need someone else to light your candle when you can’t find that first spark yourself.  Sometimes you need someone else to believe in you and see value and worth in you, before you can see it in yourself.  Sometimes, before you can love yourself, you need someone else to love you even in your broken and flawed self, to know that even you deserve love.  I’ve been so very lucky to have not just one, but a handful of dear people, that have been willing to do just that for me.  Even when I stumble and fall, they still love me, they still support me, and they remind me that it’s not the end of the world.

Losing one battle, does not lose the war, as long as you regroup and fight again.  So, a reminder to myself, and a reminder to anyone else out there fighting their own battles, don’t give up.  Rest, if you need to.  Heal, if you need to.  And then pick up your sword and fight again.  Remind yourself how far you’ve already come, to give you the strength to keep going.

MB-MA123_LRG

Who’d Have Ever Believed?!

Yesterday, Easter Sunday, marked exactly one year, since I began re-attending church.  I’ve kept my return very quiet, even among my friends, because even I have been unsure where it might lead or even if it would last.  After a year, I guess it’s time to be a bit more open.  Since sharing this story does identify some of my family, and I haven’t asked their permission to do so, I’ll only identify them by an initial – our of respect for their privacy.

I was born into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, or the LDS or Mormon church – as many know it.  My mother came over from Scotland to Los Angeles on a green card, and converted to LDS.  I don’t know her exact conversion story, only the rough time period and where.  We attended church fairly regularly through my Primary years.  I do know that when we were struggling a great deal, when I was just a toddler, the church helped us a great deal.  Those struggles ended when we rented a home with my godmother (the rent on our apartment and my godmothers apartment had gone up at the same time, and it was thought a handy way to save money if we could make it work.)

I can remember once waiting for her in a kind of lobby with a kind woman while she was in the temple (I couldn’t have been more than four years old – if that).  Although I only have the one memory.  I’m not sure when she stopped attending the temple or why.

Near the time of my baptism, I found out that a friend of mine, the daughter of the then bishop of our ward, had been molested by the husband of one the primary teachers.  I told my mother, as I’d been taught to do.  She talked to the Bishop.  The man was kept under watch by two other elders during church services.  To my mother’s knowledge that was the extent of anything being done.  The man in question had a long record with the local police for …troubles.  My mother did not feel that she could trust me to be safe while she was away from me, and after my confirmation we stopped attending.  (This is the official reason, though in a moment of unusual bluntness a few years later, she also admitted to “not liking who you were becoming” – meaning me.  I’m not sure if it was because of her vehement feminist views, or that my behavior smacked to much of indoctrination – she’d call it brain washing.)

You might imagine that life in Utah, as inactive members is not exactly…easy.  Couple this with my changing schools the next year to a private Catholic school.  The only Mormon in a school filled with kids that felt they were discriminated against daily.  I was the “whipping boy.”  Fortunately for me, my godmother is Catholic.  She was the Mother Superior of her convent before she left.  This meant that in the majority of cases, I understood their beliefs better than they themselves did.  I never pulled less than an A in religion class, and even read in the mass that was held every thursday.  My final solution was to tell any of my taunters that when they could understand their own religion as well as I understood theirs, then, maybe I would discuss mine with them.

Two years at a Catholic private school, and a year at a Lutheran private school, and many….difficulties later, I was back in public school.  The friends I’d once had, no longer had the time of day for me.  I’d been gone to long – and besides, we weren’t active – so we were horrible people, they didn’t want to associate with me.  My friends became the other misfits and the wedge between myself and the church widened.  I chastised a girl who was saying how bad another girl was for skipping seminary one day, by exclaiming that by that rule I must be the devil himself – I hadn’t been to church since my confirmation and leaving the lunch room.  I’m told she shut up pretty quickly after I left.

By the time I graduated high school, I was also no longer identifying myself as Mormon.  It was a gradual thing.  At first, in middle school,  I only claimed to be Christian and would not identify which denomination.  By the end of high school I no longer even claimed that.  If asked, I self identified as Pagan.  I was sick of the discrimination, the double standards and the hypocrisy that had run rampant through my life.  I wanted nothing to do with the Mormon church as I knew it.  You couldn’t pay me to admit to being Mormon.  Mind you, my beliefs on Christ himself, never left…but I wanted nothing to do with any man made construct around him.

I was able to blend my beliefs about Christ quite easily with what I learned about paganism in all it’s various forms.  I did not jump directly to paganism.  I explored and learned about every religion I could get my hands on.  Attending Catholic mass with my godmother, attending the Protestant church, learning of the BaHai, Buddism, Hindu, Judaism, Islam – you name it…if I could find information, I read it.

Understandably, my self cobbled belief system set me apart as an outsider, never mind being lesbian or bi.  I joined the LDS sorority in University, because the majority of my friends were there, and you were not required to be LDS to join.  Lambda Delta Sigma, Delta Omega Chapter.  I was even an officer in my chapter, and received an award for best exemplifying the ideal of Scholarship.  I enjoyed my time with them.

I removed myself from the the chapter however, when I was appointed an officer of the campus lesbian/gay/bi/transgendered/straight student alliance.  I had already experienced prejudice in high school because I’d identified as Bi, when asked.  My reasoning being I hadn’t dated anyone, so wasn’t going to rule anything out until I had reason to.  I didn’t want to make my sorority sisters uncomfortable and chose to leave before they could reject me.  At this time it was not uncommon to send gays to reprogramming camps.  I was all too familiar with those horror stories and would do anything to avoid having to experience them.

I left Utah and moved to Michigan, in October of 1998.  Shortly after moving there, my Aunt R, who I’d managed to get back in touch with (a far longer story), told me that I had family in California and put me in touch with a cousin I hadn’t known I had – L.  Life being what it is, our correspondence would continue in sporadic bursts for the next 13 years.  L knew of my, unconventional beliefs.  Yet, despite what I would come to realize her beliefs and understanding were of what I believed (far different from my actual beliefs) she was always kind to me and treated me with compassion and acceptance.  Never asking me to change or pressing the church on me in any way.

Circumstances conspired in such a way that in the fall of 2011, we wound up talking a great deal more than was usual.  Among other things, I explained better just what it was that I believed at the time.  In a discussion one night of one of the novels I’m working on, I was discussing some of the behind-the-scenes information on the book – what the setting was, what the rules of the universe the book was set in were, how I envisioned things playing out in the story in an overarching sense.  L commented that a part of the of what I was describing was remarkably akin to Mormon doctrine.  Her comment caught me up short.

I was not completely oblivious to Mormon beliefs.  But I had reason to question the validity of some of what I’d been told about doctrine.  However, I’d had no one I trusted to be able to discuss it with.  For one, no one around me was Mormon.  And trying to have such a discussion with anyone who wasn’t – by the time you finished explaining Mormonism 101, you were too tired to launch into your own questionings and likely had even lost the thread of what your original thought had been at the beginning of the discussion.  In short, if you didn’t already understand mormonism, there was no point in even trying to have the conversation.

I had never had reason not to trust L, but the circumstances that lent themselves to our getting to know one another on a far deeper than surface level, had increased my sense of safety.  I tentatively explained that I knew the correlation to mormon doctrine that I thought was veiled in the story.  Certainly no one before her had caughtened on to it.  I asked if she would mind if I occasionally discussed the church and my frustrations and confusions with her.  That I meant no disrespect to the church or her beliefs, but there were things I was unsure about – and I had no one else I felt safe to discuss them with.  She very kindly agreed.

My cousin is a dear woman, one of the kindest I’ve ever known.  She gave me a new way of being able to see the church.  Not only that, she gave me a new way to view being a member of the church.  She redeemed it for me, made it safe again, and even helped me heal and reconcile many of my differences with the church.  This was not a quick process.

A few months of many discussions later, I had not only confessed my secret (that I had still hidden deep within, a small but scared and scarred belief in the church that had not been beaten out of me) but had also started to reread scriptures on my ipad.  A few chapters a day.  The inevitability of these many discussions, that I can not begin to do justice to the otherworldly essence of, culminated in my watching General Conference, and steeling all of my courage to walk back in the doors of my assigned ward on Easter Sunday of last year.

I had never requested my name to be removed from the books.  It took the church a long time to find me after I moved to Michigan – over ten years – but they did.  And when they had, I was assigned a ward and received a handful of mailings from them.  I knew where I was assigned.

Even though I felt at the time, that I was literally risking everything, I felt the need to return to church.  If I felt unwelcome there, so be it, I could choose not to return again.  I prayed that my wife would not leave me for it – a serious fear at the time – and I returned.

The conversations with my cousin didn’t stop with my going back to church.  Heck, even now, while they’ve tapered down a great deal, they haven’t stopped. She’s been one of my biggest supporters and advocates through this journey, and always with the unasked for reassurance that if I couldn’t continue down this path – she would still support and love me 100%.  I don’t think I’ll ever be able to express just how grateful I am to her for that, among so many other things.

I wasn’t alone in my fears when I returned.  My cousin was very protective and terrified for me, the day I walked back through church doors.  Afraid that someone might be unkind or openly homophobic towards me.  My wife was terrified that my return would lead me to leave her.

All our fears, it turns out, were for naught.  I was more than blessed in the ward I was assigned to.  They have been nothing but accepting and welcoming of me – even of my wife the handful of times she’s attended sacrament meeting or an activity with me.  My wife has not left me, and there is no danger of her leaving me either, nor I leaving her.  Rather, we have in some ways grown even closer, even as we have made some sacrifices for my beliefs.  This Easter Sunday, marked a year from my return to being an active member, and my life has changed in some ways I could never have foreseen and would never have believed.

Indeed, even a year and a half ago I never would have believed any  of the above would have ever happened.  And if you’d told me I’d return to church – I’d have laughed at you.  What a difference a year can make!  It’s been a year of risks, of fear, of courage and of blessings.  And while it’s been far from easy, it’s definitely been worth it.  I’ve become a better person, a more authentic person, for it.  And yes, even though I still get scared, I still push through the fear and more often than not – find the fears were unfounded.

That is the short version of the story, anyway. 🙂

 

 

Has it really been a year?!

This week, I’m facing a rather remarkable and personal milestone.  One that even a year and a half ago, I never would have believed I’d be facing.  This has my mind distracted and thoughts a bit sporadic, as I contemplate all the changes that I’ve gone through in the past year.

I’m not quite ready to talk about it though.  And since I’m trying to do a bit better at keeping up with regular updates to this blog, I don’t want to leave you with nothing!  Some of you know that I’m a writer.  To some of you this may be new information.  So, to give you something to read, and in the process give me a spur to force me to finish one of my current works-in-progress (WIP’s)…here’s a snippit of one of my short stories.

I hope you enjoy it!

 

THE VOLUNTEER

by Courtney Galloway

“We need to begin testing on human subjects.  You can only go so far with lower mammals,” said the man in the steel blue suit.  He was seated at the head of a large mahogany table.  Around the conference room the other members of the board all squirmed uncomfortably.

A smallish woman with nut brown hair spoke up. “It’ll never get approval, Mark.  This level on testing on humans…”

“Is not illegal,” Mark interrupted

“Only because no one knows it’s even possible, ” protested an older man with a ragged mop of white hair falling everywhere, as though it had never seen a comb.

“Irrelevant, Charles.  It’s not illegal.   It’ll take them years to push through the legislation if someone does figure it out.  If we start now, we can have the research done before the ink is dry on any future laws,” Mark stared down any person around the table who would dare to meet his eye.  Satisfied, he continued.  “If we pick a sufficiently economically depressed area, we’ll have volunteers queueing up without even asking what they’re volunteering for.”

“There’s…well, there’s always Detroit,” said the small woman reluctantly.

“What about Detroit?” Mark asked.

“Well, since the crash of the automotive industry, lots of people are out of work and losing their homes.  There’s a lot of desperate people there.  But, really Mark, what about the moral implications of this?”

“Morals don’t apply until after you’ve proven the good you can do Claudia.  Don’t bother me with morals.  Find me more information on Detroit.  And get someone from marketing to meet me in an hour.  We’ll tailor an ad to run in all the major papers to attract the test subject that would best suit us.”

#

The advertisement in the paper was simple:

 Volunteers needed for research study.  Qualified participants will be well compensated.  Must be available for two months – all living and research related expenses covered. Serious enquiries only.

Apply in person at:

4524 West Jefferson Ave

Detroit, MI

 Chris put down the paper and took another sip of his coffee.  Helen had already left for work, giving him a kiss on the cheek and wishing him luck in the job hunt on her way out.   That’s down by the harbor terminal.  Slowly he circled the ad in red.  Jobs of any kind were hard to come by these days.  He couldn’t afford not to check out every option.  Helen was already picking up every shift she could, and it was beginning to show.  And then there was the baby to think of.  A research study.  Doesn’t sound like terribly hard work.  And if I can get some decent money from it, I can be a guinea pig for two months. 

Fight or Flight….Which Shall It Be…

“If you’re going through hell, keep going.” – Winston Churchill

I don’t know about most of you, but I take comfort in my daily routines. I don’t cling to them. I can change around the order in which I do things – or even skip some things for a day here or there. But most of the things that are my “daily’s” are things that help me feel more calm and balanced and ready to take on the world – regardless of what my current challenges are. Lately though, I’ve been avoiding them. Massively. And the kicker of it is – I don’t fully know why.

I started my routine about a year or so ago. It grew as new elements got added in until it reached the form it has today – that I’m currently avoiding in it’s near entirety. It would start with some affirmations, proceed to writing three pages of long hand, stream of consciousness type of journaling. The pages were for many purposes. To give me a safe place to vent, to help me be more aware and tuned in to my inner thoughtscape, to help me learn to turn off my inner editor to aid in the other types of writing that I do. And at the end of my day, I would list the things I was grateful for, for that day in one journal, and in another, I’d place an image of something/someone I was grateful for, and roughly three reasons that image invoked feelings of gratitude that day. Those were the nuts and bolts of my routine.

Interspersed in all this was also lots of reading: leisure reading, slush pile reading, beta reading, and self-help and/or spiritual reading. (add in there research for writing topics or other tasks as needed). Then add in trying to make progress on or finish various WIP’s (works – in – progress)  – novels and short stories. And of course, a loving wife to look after (if you know my wife, you know that alone is a full time job with never a dull moment!), furkids to take care of, and the sacred inner circle that I connect with daily. Sprinkle liberally with friends, any attempts at a social life, the more love letters monthly campaign, and various other fun/interesting/stressful challenges that life sees fit to throw my way.

It sounds like a lot, when listed out like this – but it was something that I handled without a second thought. But of late – I’m avoiding it. I’m paying a price for this avoidance. My headspace is less well behaved, my sleep is not as restful, I’m more moody. I know returning to my routine would solve the greater majority of it all. And yet…and, yet… I don’t.

So, what changed? Nothing, and everything. I got hit with an emotional curveball that skyrocketed my stress levels. I caught the latest version of the plague, that had me unconscious more often than not, and led to a lapse in my routine. I got over the plague, but never got back to my routine. Not really. A day here or there, but not the steady daily work that had so marked my last year. A year that was filled with the most growth, the most challenges, and was the most remarkable year I’ve lived yet. Filled with blessings and turns in the road I’d never have anticipated in my wildest daydreams or what-if’s. So why did I stop?

About the best I can figure it out is this. I got scared and I got tired. The final stress curveball that hit me, was the straw that broke this camel’s back. It’s made me scared to hope. Scared to count my blessings for fear that it’ll make it easier to steal them away from me. And as for facing myself in the pages? I haven’t been able to bring myself to do it. Because what I’d have to face is pain and raw and fear. After facing pain and raw and fear for a year, I’m tired. Even knowing all the growth and good that‘s come from it, hasn’t been enough to make me go back. The raw has been too large. The fear has been to entrenched. The pain has been both too old and too new all at the same time. I’ve even avoided this blog – which I’d been doing better about updating on a regular basis.

I have been forcing myself to face and deal with the curveball – with all the new knowledge and wisdom and strength the past year has given me. But it’s taken everything I’ve had and left me feeling like a husk each time. Only to start the process over again a few days later. And I’ve been afraid to look in the mirror that pages provide. Afraid I’d find all that I thought I’d learned about myself were just so many pretty lies. Afraid I’d find the old wreck of a girl I used to be. That I’d only watch myself deteriorate back to that lost little girl. If I didn’t look, then maybe it wouldn’t happen. I could keep up the facade of “ok”, the lie of “fine.”

But I’m not ok, and I’m not fine. I’m scared and scarred. I’m trying to protect myself and yet at the same time lay down my sword and shield. Never before has my old motto of “hope for the best, expect the worst” been more true or harder to bear. I’m scared to hope, and even more scared of what the worst could be. And while I know that this time things are different in very profound ways, memories are wicked and cruel beasts that will cut you to the quick at your most vulnerable and unexpected moments. I know that I’m not alone, that friends, loved ones, and that sacred inner circle are all around me – if I but reach out. And yet….and, yet….my hands are tied.

Others can listen and support and cheer me on, but ultimately only I can walk this road. For good or bad, in some very real ways I have to go through this alone. While it’s nice to know that others think I’m capable. That they believe I’m stronger than I was, and that I’ve “got this.” I don’t have their same confidence. I want to. I’m trying to live up to the vision they have of who I am…and clinging to it, when I can’t see myself at all.

You’d be surprised how often I can’t. I’ve avoided the mirror, scared I’d look and find no one there at all. Worse than a reflection of all the worst that’s in me, I’d find no reflection at all. I haven’t dared hope to see a reflection of the good – to see the reflection those who care about me have assured me is really there. Afraid to find the confirmation that I’ve just had them all fooled all along. And with the confirmation all the good in my life would evaporate along with the reflection until nothing remained in the mirror at all.

But I can’t keep it up. Something’s gotta give. And the truth of it is, I can’t bear to go back to the black pit of depression and all that it brings with it. I’ve never really counted myself a coward, and I’m not going to start now. So foolish at may feel to take the risk of seeing hopes dashed, I’m taking a deep breath, closing my eyes, swallowing hard and believing in the hope and faith and love and good that those I love and trust have told me is there.

Tomorrow I go back to my routine, and face what pains are waiting for me. I’ll patch and bandage my cuts and bruises, and return to fight the good fight. I’ve avoided and avoided and gotten nowhere. Let the blows fall where they may. Better battered and bruised and true – authentic and alive – than to return to being little more than a wisp of a ghost, vanishing in the morning’s light. I’m going to avoid avoiding. Sew up these last few stitches, pick back up my sword and shield, and then, dear friends, once more into the breach. Pray for me?

Angels and Demons the Following Day…

“One may tolerate a world of demons for the sake of an angel.” – Doctor Who ‘The Girl in the Fireplace’

With Valentine’s Day right around the corner, it’s easy to get caught up in the hoopla of holiday. The kids need the requisite cards to hand out to their classmates (yes, even the kid that smells funny, or the one that picks on them…yes even that one kid…you know…the weird one, who’s family is just….strange). Trying to explain to the little ones that everyone needs love. Or the pressures of dating or being solo or married/partnered. When they said they didn’t want a gift…did they really not want one? Or did they secretly want one but not want to have to tell you they wanted one? Or , or? To the point that we lose focus on the really important things in life.

Valentine’s Day, history and Hallmark aside, is meant to be a reminder of one of the greatest gifts humankind has. The capacity to LOVE. Love is a word that has probably one of the broadest ranges of definitions of any word in the English language. It has at least 27 definitions to express everything from a score in a tennis match, a term of endearment, and fondness for objects/activities, an affection for another person (anyone from parent/child, friend, to the intensity of romantic/sexual partners), the act of intimate relations, even a feeling used to relate the fondness of deity for it’s creation! It can be conditional. It can be unconditional. It can be short or last a lifetime. It can be returned or not. So why do we limit our focus in February so narrowly? Why celebrate only romantic love?

Sure, in it’s best form, romantic love is meant to embrace and embody a perfect union of (at least) two souls – in an unconditional, life long, enduring, passionate affection. But how many of us these days can honestly say to have found that ideal? How many of us compromise? How many of us are afraid to give of ourselves that completely – thinking it will never be returned as fully? How many of us limit our capacity and definition of love? Why? How often do you say “I love you” because you don’t know what else to say? Or because someone said it to you and you don’t want them to feel bad? Or even without really thinking about it because it’s just become so much habit – like saying “hello”?

Love can be so much more than we allow it to be. Rather than getting caught up in all the circus, why not spend some time to really think about those people in your life that you truly love? In all their varied forms and roles. The friend that you haven’t spoken to in years, because life gets busy, but you know if you called them on the phone right this minute crying they would immediately drop everything for you. The sister/brother of the heart – even if the stork did get lost and make the delivery at a different house. The people in your family, who would be there for you no matter what – even to tell you the things you don’t want to hear when you really need to hear them. Your partner/spouse. Your kids. Your parents. Anyone who can lay even the smallest claim on having a place in your heart.

I’m not saying all these relationships are perfect, of course they’re not. We’re all human and therefore all fallible. But what if we tried just a little bit harder? If we gave just a little bit more? What if we treated even a total stranger as we would those we hold most dear? How would that change the world? What if we treated ourselves with the same love that we give others? How would that change our own happiness? (Or if you’re really good at self love – treat others with the same love your show yourself. How would that change how they feel? How would it change how you feel?)

No matter our circumstance or personal histories, everyone knows and experiences what it feels like to be unloved. If you’re really lucky and fortunate, you only have to feel it once. Maybe a first crush that wasn’t returned. If you’re less lucky, you know other ways in which the absence of love can prick and sting even the seemingly hardest of hearts. But the presence of love, can be just as powerful. It can melt through the coldest walls of self protection a person can raise. Applied persistently and with care, it can create miracles. Love makes us feel good. It makes us happy, more positive, and healthier. So it makes sense that a person lacking such feeling would be more negative, sad. It’s been proven that going long enough without love can even cause death.

Love can make us do stupid and embarrassing things, sure. It can also bring out that which is the best inside of us. We are moved to sacrifice and endure for others, what we would never do – even for ourselves. As stated so aptly above in the Dr. Who quote “One may tolerate a world of demons for the sake of an angel.” Who would you tolerate a world of demons for? For who in your life, would you be willing to face down the bowels of hell itself? Who is the first person you think of when you wake? Who is the last person you think of as you drift into sleep? Who, at the merest thought of, can make you smile and instantly make your day better? Who knows the one thing that can always make you laugh? Who is the guardian of your secrets and will take them to the grave for you? Who never leaves, even when you’re not very lovable? Who prods, cajoles, gives you crap – because they want to see you succeed at be your best?

There are no right or wrong answers here. You may have a different person for each of those questions. You may have a small handful. You may have just one person. Whatever the case may be, I challenge you to do something this month for anyone that comes to your mind in answer to any of these questions. Send a postcard, give an unexpected hug, just listen when they need to vent. Something, anything, to show that they’re important to you and that you appreciate them. In other words – show them some love. You may be one of many that love them, or you may be the only person in the world that loves them. Does it really matter? To them it will. Who doesn’t like knowing that they matter to someone – even a little.

Try showing even a stranger a little love. I promise you it makes a difference. Whether it’s picking up the tab for someone behind you in line at 7 Eleven, helping someone with their bags at the grocery store when you see they’re overwhelmed, leaving an anonymous letter somewhere for someone to find that simply says “You’re Great!” The smallest things can have such far reaching effects – we can all make a difference. And here’s a secret: Helping someone you don’t even know – can even help make you feel happier! Where can you start to make a difference? Where can you take an extra five seconds to give a stranger a smile or hold a door for someone who’s hands are full? Who can you cheer up? Where can you spread a little more kindness, a little more softness, a little more love in the world? Where can your presence lend a little more grace and goodness to the world?

Sometimes, the biggest thing we can do to lift another, is letting them help us. Is there somewhere in your life, that you could let someone help you? It can take a little stress off of you, it makes them feel trusted and important, and can make both of you happy. When someone offers help, instead of declining out of hand, think about it. Would helping you help them too? Do they maybe just want to be able to be a part of your life for a few minutes more? Do they maybe feel unnecessary or unwanted? Saying yes, might change that.

It’s not always about what you do or don’t do. It’s about how our actions and words affect others, from those who are most important to us to the stranger we pass without even noticing. It’s not always the big things we do that make an impact on people. It’s not the once a year charitable donation. It’s not looking good at church on Sunday. It’s choosing to be kind instead of first. It’s choosing to help instead of hustling by. It’s living as though every thing you do matters. Because it does. Small everyday things often times have the biggest impact. Some of the things you do that may have the biggest effect on the life of another, may be things you never hear about or even gave a second thought to.

Applying love to our life, in all it’s wonderful and varied forms, should not be something for just one or a handful of days a year. It should be something we live and breathe everyday. Where can living and breathing love improve your life and the lives of those you care about? How can we start seeing more angels and fewer demons?

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