Archive for the ‘pain’ Tag

The Dark Road   1 comment

This is a powerful picture by a poet/author of the struggle of depression.

It’s the other pole of life, the negation that lives beneath the yes; the fierce chilly gust of silence that lies at the core of music, the hard precision of the skull beneath the lover’s face.  the cold little metallic bit of winter in the mouth.  One is not complete, it seems, without a taste of that darkness; the self lacks gravity without the downward pull of the void, the barren ground, the empty field from which being springs.

But then, the problem of the depressive isn’t the absence of that gravity, it’s the inability to see–and, eventually, to feel–anything else.  Each loss seems to add a kind of weight to the body, as if we wore a sort of body harness into which the exigencies of circumstance slip first one weight and then another: my mother, my lover, this house, that garden, a town as I knew it, my own fresh and hopeful aspect in the mirror, a beloved teacher, a chestnut tree in the courtyard of the Universalist Meeting House.  They are not, of course, of equal weight; there are losses at home and losses that occur at some distance; their weight is not rationally apportioned.

My grandfather, whom I loathed, weighs less to me in death than does, I am embarrassed to admit, my first real garden, which was hard-won, scratched out of Vermont soil thick with chunks of granite, and a kind of initial proof of the possibility of what love could make,  just what sort of blossoming the work of home-keeping might engender.  Sometimes I seem to clank with my appended losses, as if I wear an ill-fitting, grievous suit of armor.

There was a time when such weight was strengthening, it kept me from being too light on my feet; carting it about and managing to function at once requred the development of muscle, of new strength.  But there is a point as which the suit becomes an encumbrance, somthing that keeps one from scaling stairs or leaping to greet a friend; one becomes increasinglly conscious of the plain fact of heaviness.

And then, at some point, there is the thing, the dreadful thing, which might, in fact, be the smallest of losses: of a particular sort of hope, of the belief that one might, in some fundamental way, change.  Of the belief that a new place or a new job will freshen one’s spirit; of the belief that the new work you’re doing is the best work, the most alive and true.  And that loss, whatever it is, its power determined not by its particular awfulness but merely by its placement in the sequence of losses that any life is, becomes the one that makes the weighted suit untenable.  It’s the final piece of the suit of armor, the plate clamped over the face, the helmet through which one can hardly see the daylight, nor catch a full breath of air….

After years and years of resisting, of reaching toward affirmation, of figuring that there must always be a findable path, a possible means of negotiating against despair, my heart failed.  Or, to change the metaphor, we could say what quit was my nerve, or my pluck, or my tenacity, or my capacity for self-deception.

Posted November 3, 2011 by janathangrace in Reading

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Silent Struggles   Leave a comment

I have been struggling more with depression in the last few weeks and it deflates my energy for social media.  I kept trying to process the feelings because it always helps me work through to a better place if I can identify the source of my emotions, but I could get nowhere with it, so I used busyness as an alternative escape.  I think I have finally identified the source… Kimberly’s discouragement at work.  Not only do I suffer because she suffers, but both of us continue to be inspired by the L’Arche vision (even though I resigned a year and a half ago) and we have kept hope alive that this L’Arche community would find its way through the turmoil to a place of genuine L’Arche living.  With Kimberly now having doubts after hanging in there so long, it is the slow death of our dreams for a community that embraces weakness as a core value.  This is why we moved to Lynchburg in the first place, and it leaves a sense of emptiness, uncertainty, pain, loss.

Posted October 25, 2011 by janathangrace in Personal

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Clinging to Grace with Our Fingertips   3 comments

This is where my story gets hard and healing, frightening and amazing.  First the mess.  My needs displayed themselves in a hundred ways that were threatening to Kimberly and her needs.  For instance, I have often used anger and blame to protect myself from looming danger, but Kimberly was raised by a mother who screamed and shouted, so when I honestly expressed my feelings, her alarm tripped.

Early in our dating we sat for lunch in a restaurant booth in Arlington, Virginia where I was living.  The man in the booth behind us, apparently a construction foreman, was carrying on a loud conversation on his two-way radio.  I muttered to Kimberly how rude this was, which she feared he could overhear, and then I swiveled around and gave him a “dirty look” hoping to shame him quiet.  When I turned back around, she was visibly shaken and said she did not know whether she could stay in relationship with someone with anger issues.  So began the saga of conflicting needs in the area of self-defense, specifically anger.

The machinations of the mind are complicated, so unless this is your experience, you may not understand the root of my anger.  Anger is the result of feeling disrespected, having my boundaries crossed.  As I grew up, my sense of worth grew dependent on the value others placed on me.  If they seemed to devalue me, I was  threatened at my core.  There are many ways folks can protect themselves from this, and one of mine was anger and blame.  When the crew chief raised his voice, I felt disrespected, and in my insecurity, I reacted to protect myself against this threat.

Is This Going to Work?

From childhood, Kimberly has taken the opposite approach of protecting herself by accommodating every one so that she is liked.  When threatened, I bared my teeth and Kimberly wagged her tail.  She was quite successful in acting in such a way that no one would ever get angry with her.  Underneath was her terror of rage and denial of her own anger.   Both of us were living out of fears that we did not recognize, incompatible anxieties, each person’s defense mechanism triggering the other’s fear.  I thought I needed a mate who would be okay with my anger and Kimberly thought she needed a mate that never got angry.  This did not look like a match made in heaven!

But what we wanted was not what we needed.  Let me put it plainly–we each wanted to marry someone who would help us escape our deepest fears.  Our coping mechanisms were not “working” (protecting us from pain), so we wanted a spouse that would reinforce our defenses, not so we could face our underlying issues, but so we could avoid them successfully.  We were both blessed to have a very supportive and accepting relationship…  except when it wasn’t.  She was not trying to expose my denial (the anger that hid my fear), but in simply being herself with me, and I with her, the truth was forced to come out, and it was very painful.  After all, there were quite good reasons why we developed these protective patterns early in life.  Let me relate a very common interchange

Me: “That jerk just cut me off and then slowed down to turn into Sheetz.  That’s really considerate!”  My insecurity is shouting at me that I have been disrespected.  I don’t realize that I feel threatened and fearful because my anger jumps in so quickly to protect me and blame the other driver.  I think my aggravation is his fault.

Kimberly: “Maybe he was running low on gas and saw the gas station at the last minute.”  Kimberly feels her fear rising at my heat, and she jumps in to protect the person I am attacking.  I feel unsupported and shamed.

Me: “He could have easily slowed down and pulled in behind me.”  My coping mechanism is being threatened.  If you take away my anger, I have no protection from being devalued.  I still don’t realize that my true, underlying feeling that needs addressing is fear.

Kimberly: “Maybe he didn’t have time to think of that.”  I feel the legitimacy of her argument.  I really should not be mad.  I begin to feel shame for my temper instead of sympathy, which would give me the safety to look deeper into the roots of my fear.  I shame my anger away, closing the one door to my true heart’s need, and I no longer feel safe sharing my feelings with Kimberly.

Me: “Whatever!”  an irritated dismissal.  Kimberly senses my disapproval of her responses.  She is deeply hurt by my unspoken criticism that she is not supportive and caring, that she is not enough.  I am challenging her one shelter against shame, her remarkable ability to be supportive and empathic.  Her solution for the world’s problems is “Life is so hard, let’s all just get along.”  To feel safe, she needs me to be nice to everyone, especially her.

This dynamic played out scores of times.  We were committed to honesty in sharing our feelings and in accepting one another “as is,” and this characterized our relationship, so we grew more trusting and secure with each other.  The problems came when our needs conflicted, when supporting her meant denying my own needs. But our commitment to love and understanding in the other parts of our lives slowly began to soften these areas of conflict.  Kimberly moved from “your anger is bad” to “your anger is hard for me” to “your anger is understandable” to “I see how your anger is a vital protection.”  I moved from “you are not enough” to “I feel hurt by you” to “I see why anger is a problem for you” to “wow, you have every reason to fight anger.”  This was only possible by understanding ourselves and one another better.  We had to face into our fears and trust one another to listen, understand, and accept us.  We often failed.  It was messy.


Posted October 5, 2011 by janathangrace in Personal

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How I Cope   3 comments


Before I share how Kimberly and I grew in our wonderful, painful, scary and supportive relationship, I need to give some context regarding our perspective on coping mechanisms.  

All of us are wounded because we are born into a broken world with broken people and broken relationships.  In order to survive emotionally we develop methods for protecting ourselves.  These include the happy face, the sad face, the angry face, the cute face to hold off the dis-grace of others.  We use control, manipulation, confrontation, and every other form of avoidance (procrastination, withdrawal, acquiescence, drugs).  The list goes on.  We use these methods unwittingly, settling into a pattern that works best for each.  Many children would be emotionally destroyed if they found no means to cope.

I was at one time convinced that coping strategies were evil because they shielded us from the truth and taught us to live a lie.  They do shield us from the truth, but this is not necessarily an evil.  As Jack would say, “You can’t handle the truth!” or in Jesus’ words, “I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear.”  Our coping mechanisms act as crutches, and if we see them as such, we can slowly mend and get back on our feet.  The problem comes when we either deny the injury and pretend we have no crutch or stop going to physical therapy because it is too painful and decide we’ll just sign up for a disability pension.  I used to try talking people out of their coping mechanisms, kick their crutches out from under them so to speak, until I realized how powerfully beneficial these protective shields are.

My major coping mechanism for feeling better about myself is trying harder.  I thought I was practicing discipline, obedience, godliness, but increased effort was really my means to block a sense of shame and unworthiness.  I only discovered this truth because my method of coping didn’t “work” sufficiently–I still felt too much like a failure.  The more energy I used to escape my negative feelings, the more I realized it wasn’t working, that I could never make it work.

Once I realized that this was a coping mechanism, I tried to “overcome” it.  It was a lie that I had to cast out…  only it had stopped deceiving me once I recognized it for what it was.  When I realized it was a crutch, I could use it as a crutch.  For instance, I feel inordinately bad about failing to meet expectations (the inordinate part is a major clue).  When I did not recognize this as a coping strategy, it controlled me subconsciously.  Now that I realize it is a crutch, I am tempted to throw it down, but the problem is not so much my behavior (trying harder) but the reason behind it–working to earn my worth.

The Dark Hand of Shame

So my second temptation is to maintain my hard effort while changing the underlying thought patterns, but the effort itself supports the wrong mindset.  I am running late for a meeting, and as I drive I tell myself, “It’s okay.  Everyone is sometimes late.  Calm down,” but all the while I am driving like Jehu.  I find that I can’t maintain the same level of diligence without operating out of a sense of urgency, a drivenness that comes from my insecurities.  The more I try to give myself a break, the less I meet expectations, and the worse I feel about me.  These voices of condemnation have indoctrinated me and shaped my feelings, and barring a miracle, it will take a long process of reorienting my perspective.  In the meantime I do not have the emotional resources to simply stop all effort to meet others’ expectations and hold back the resulting flood of shame.  I would be overwhelmed by the voices against me feeding my shame.  My coping mechanism allows for my frayed emotions to be soothed as I slowly push into my fear and break free.

So I take baby steps, put a little weight on the foot.  I put in a little less effort while working to offload the shame that I would normally feel, turning a little more towards grace.  I share with others my fears so that their power is reduced.  I find gracious people to support my faltering faith.  And slowly I find myself growing whole from this deep wound.  Healing of long established problems, both physical and emotional, takes a lot of time, gentleness to the injury, support and protection.

Posted October 5, 2011 by janathangrace in Personal, thoughts

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A Burden Too Great   2 comments

Gregory Boyle, a priest who works in gang territories of L.A., tells this poignant story:

I knew an inmate, Lefty, at Folsom State Prison, whose father would, when Lefty was a child, get drunk and beat his mom.  One Saturday night Lefty’s father beat his mother so badly that the next day she had to be led around by his sisters, as if she were blind.  Both eyes were swollen shut.

On Sunday, Lefty’s father and brothers are sitting on the couch, watching a football game.  Lefty calmly goes into his parents’ bedroom, retrieves a gun from his father’s bedstand, and walks out to the living room.  Lefty places himself in front of the television.  His father and brothers push themselves as far back into the couch as possible, horrified.  Lefty points the gun at his father and says, “You are my father, and I love you.  If you ever hit my mother again… I… will… kill you.”

Lefty was nine years old.  He didn’t kill his father, then (or ever).  And yet, part of the spirit dies a little each time it’s asked to carry more than its weight in terror, violence, and betrayal.  (From “Tattoos on the Heart”)

That last sentence is so achingly true.  Every child is forced to handle situations that exceed his or her capabilities, and each such experience incites fear or shame or distress.  I have discovered in my own life that my greatest emotional reactions to situations as an adult invariably spring from the wounds of my boyhood.  Have others found this to be true?

Posted July 26, 2011 by janathangrace in Story

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Anguish   18 comments

It does not cost me much to report on my experiences and feelings after the fact.  It is more difficult for me to share in the moment, to invite others into my journey when I am still in the quagmire.  I am more vulnerable in such times, so I ask those who leave comments to this post to be especially gracious in what they say.

I have been in a great deal of turmoil the last few days over my expected visit to Calcutta.  India was my emotional Waterloo, an inescapable, pervasive black hole.  I’m pretty sure these current feelings stem from very deep, unresolved issues while I was a missionary that tapped into an ocean of inadequacy.  I did not learn Bengali well… I was so ethnocentric, seeing their culture as inadequate… I failed to make any significant impact even though I nearly died trying… I was arrogant… I was stupid… I was closed to input….   “I’m a failure, a failure, a failure” was the heavy drumbeat that struck against my soul throughout each day.

I had no weapon with which to challenge these beliefs, no argument great enough to disprove my self-condemnation.  I thought my self accusations were a mark of true and deep repentance.  Here is an example from the journal I kept in India, castigating myself for sleeping till 5 a.m. instead of rising at 4 o’clock to pray:

Oh, Lord, break me.  Break this wicked pride so steeped in deceit. Break the great evil of my indiscipline – great because it keeps me from knowing you and seeking you and loving you with my whole heart.  Lord, how can you possibly use me in this city, or in the lowest ministry, if I am not wholly given over to the infilling, anointing and outpouring of your Spirit?  Oh, Lord have mercy on this foolish and hopeless child of yours. I have no strength of my own, Lord.  I know I am completely bankrupt.  I know how many times over and over I have failed you in the same things.  It is a wonder that you still love me Lord.  What an amazing love is yours!  How much you deserve a better child than I.  Make me fit to bear your name in this world or take me out of it, Lord.

When I returned from Asia, I was so broken that my only hope of functioning was to push all thoughts of that time aside, not deal with them, ignore them as best I could.  I quarantined that huge section of my heart because I was too soul sick to deal with it in any kind of healthy way.  Of course those self-condemning thoughts did not simply disappear, but festered in the dark, chewing like termites on my spirit.  The less aware I was of them, the more easily they could undermine my sense of worth.

And as I open that Pandora’s box again, I find my life energy draining away and a settled anguish taking it’s place.  I feel I am picking up a burden too great to bear.  I thought I was emotionally ready (barely) to visit Calcutta again.  I wonder.  Perhaps this is God’s divine timing to draw me into facing this great vortex of shame.  I would ask for your prayers as I wade into the river Styx

Posted June 30, 2011 by janathangrace in Personal

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