When Joy is at a Loss of Words

 The world could use more pink fluffy elephants. I know I, for one, could use an imaginary friend like Bing Bong in my life. This is not the first time I have referenced this film and I am sure it will not be the last. It has been far too long since I have used this medium to let readers into my head and heart, but here goes…

I think my favorite scene in Pixar‘s Inside Out is when Bing Bong is grieving the loss of his rocket and he thinks it is gone forever. Joy does what many of us do when we try to cheer someone up and try to change the mood. The fact is we can’t be happy all the time. Sadness steps in when Joy is at a loss for words. She sits with him and gives space for feelings to process. Joy tries to interfere while Sadness shows us she has some magic of her own. Bing Bong embraces Sadness, cries candy tears, and feels ready to move forward with their quest. Throughout the film,  Joy is increasingly irritated by Sadness and quite uncomfortable when a situation presents itself as less than joyful. Like many of us in real life, sometimes the discomfort of grief can cause us to try to rush into any action which would manufacture a smile or break the ice. Negative feelings are often times too difficult for many to process. So Sadness embraces Bing Bong as he cries and Joy looks on to watch this uncomfortable situation unfold. The viewer watches Joy‘s expression soften as Bing Bong wipes his tears, saying “thank you. I feel better now.” Fast forward to one of the final scenes, when Joy and Sadness discover how they can influence a hybrid of memories which are both sad (blue) and happy (gold) memorable moments. Every feeling works hard to ensure that Riley is happy, and looks to Joy as the primary feeling. The more they try to avoid negative emotions, life for Riley continues down a scary path which breaks down the way she thinks and feels about core beliefs.

I remember when my son and I watched this creative masterpiece the same year as his mother’s and my divorce. He was five and I think I got more from the movie than he did. The other day I was able to tell his birth story with actual joy, without getting choked up by pain or resentment. Had this conversation taken place a couple years ago, I don;t know that I could’ve made it through without a negative emotion. Sadness is still there, but joy opted to take the driver seat for me in that moment. This isn’t always the case, and sometimes fear, anger, or sadness are controlling the dials. Some feelings are difficult to process in general and some of us feel things stronger than others while others try to run interference on feeling anything at all.

Today is one of those days I am reminded of fond and silly memories held together with both sadness and joy – one of those gold and blue hybrid core memories. Sometimes experiencing momentary pain helps me appreciate joy all the more. Life cannot always be happy and I’m grateful it doesn’t always need to be sad.

Dear friends, may you allow yourself space to hold the sadness together with joy. Be compassionate with yourselves by allowing yourself to feel whatever you are feeling in the moment, and do not feel pressured to rush into a more pleasant feeling, unless of course, it is causing harm to yourself or others. Allow sadness to work together with joy and fear and anger. There is a reason we are equipped with these emotions. Be gracious with yourself and others while trying not to cause harm or destruction.

joyI recently ended a relationship before feelings had a moment to settle. While I am convinced it was the right decision in the bigger scheme of things, I fear my timing could have been better. It is evident there is work to be done individually should this relationship ever circle back around and healthier boundaries would need to be established.

What is frustrating to me about this is I work with parents who are doing their best to support their youth through moments of crisis and escalated emotions. I am continually having conversations with parents encouraging them to try and avoid logical reasoning or making permanent decisions while in the “Red Zone”. Borrowing behavioral intervention concepts from Zones of Regulation, my colleagues and I are becoming better versed in this tool for helping adolescents develop skills for emotional regulation. It is a model which is also being utilized in more and more school settings. The premise is based on four colors. Green is baseline, yellow is the trigger zone, red is anger or crisis, and blue is more for recovery. I also use this in creating safety plans for  youth with high needs and difficulty regulating emotions.

Why does this matter?

mom-riley-dad-inside-outBecause, in spite of the fact that I work in this kind of environment on a daily basis, I am also presented with situations which remind me of the humanity of myself and others, and my own regulation skills are put to the test.  I have the tools and forgot to use them. I could’ve benefited from my own advice. I became frustrated and tried to tighten a bolt by enforcing the hammer. This all happened last week when I was provoked by someone I love to meet them in the Red Zone and none of the tools in my toolbox came to the rescue. Like Riley’s internal reaction when dad threatened no dessert. While being verbally attacked and emotionally spewed upon are not acceptable behaviors, I panicked and made a decision to cut-off the relationship in the heat of the moment. I felt there was no other choice. I was feeling pushed to my limit and I didn’t feel as though my boundaries were being respected. While it is important to set healthy boundaries, my timing could have been better. Had I waited until we were both out of the Red Zone, there would have been a better opportunity to listen to respond and not just to react. A friendship could still exist, and a process of healing could potentially have been reconciled. Even if I had made the appropriate decision, neither logical reasoning or concrete decisions need to be made in haste. For this I am truly sorry. There are those moments when communication receptors are malfunctioning, all the feelings are fighting for control, and anger takes a lead at the control booth. I regret this is not the moment for making permanent decisions, not to those we love.

Time and time again, hurt people hurt people, despite the best of intentions. While there are lessons to be learned through love and loss, and patterns to pay attention to, I sincerely wish this did not result in a lost friendship or miss the opportunity to walk with them in pursuing their own personal health. I am saddened Bing Bong wasn’t around to change the mood and that my tools and learned skills didn’t come to the rescue in a moment of feeling pushed to my limit. Perhaps taking personal space would have been a better route to take.

I know I am not alone when I wish there were certain things which cease to exist in this world. Trauma depression, personality disorders, and the entire slew of mental illnesses would not be allowed in my Utopia. This would just be the beginning, I can go on and on about equality, justice and pink fluffy elephants. Nonetheless, as you and I are living in this world of pain, we can always do our best to start again and shine a light to move forward. We don’t need to fight against feelings as they surface or try to by joyful all of the time. We can allow feelings to be processed and hold space for one another. We can allow joy to embrace sadness and inspire healing and growth from here.

Good night, my loves.

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Happy Ever After

hydrangea

To the woman I once loved,

Happy Anniv.…[ahem] …Happy ever after.

I want you to know that today was more than just another day.

Today would be thirteen years from the moment we made a commitment to each other in front of hundreds of family and friends. As tradition goes, we stood with the minister exchanging vows and knelt before the table taking our first communion together. Today was a Sunday and this time I came to the table alone. I took the bread and drank the wine, alone. And you better believe I did not pick from the gluten free plate. ; )

I am still standing here, but a changed and better man. I did not choose the breaking of our vows. Lord, knows how hard I tried to hang on. But I am a new person, for the better, with growing confidence which reminds me daily I AM worthy of love and companionship. While the healing process has been long and painful, I honestly cannot remember the last time I shed a tear over losing you. It is incredible how a heart can heal in such a way where the love still exists, but the feeling has passed. Through the severing of the relationship, the feelings of desire and emotional connection to you have died along with the feeling there was still a ring on my finger years after I finally took it off. In the same moment I can look at you with gratitude as the mother of our son, I see a stranger or someone I thought I knew once upon a time. Is this what it feels like to heal?

Now we are living our ever after, and today was much more than just another day.

Today I stood with a healed and stronger heart, praying I might have the chance to experience that feeling once again. I only hope to share it with someone who is able to love and be loved by someone like me. I do not know if entering into another marriage covenant is in the cards for me, nor how I even feel about matrimony for me. But I do know I have a lot to give and I am a better man than the one you married and more whole than the one you left.

To me, today was much more than just another day.

As I reflect on what this day was and what it now is, I consider how wonderfully grateful I am for the gift of our son. Without this day in history, and without whatever what once was, he would not be. And I cannot imagine this life without him. He is a constant reminder I am not destined to be alone. Today we went fishing and got our haircuts together. We brought home what we caught and made dinner with a good friend. From a distance (i.e. social media) I celebrated the anniversaries of other friends and along with the marriage of my cousin and his new bride.  This day could have been another painful reminder of what once was, or it could have just been another day, but it was so much more.

Today is still a magnificent and glorious day.

On a day I would otherwise be wishing you a happy anniversary, I simply wish you a different kind of love fused with gratitude, forgiveness, and a new life to a better you

– from a better me.

Today was more than just another day.

Happy moving forward.

Happy ever after.

You Are Not Alone In This {part two}

For the past few years, and largely to do with personal experiences, I have been thinking more and more about the influence of loneliness on mental health, and recent research is confirming my assumptions. According to an NPR article dated May 1, 2018:

“A nationwide survey by the health insurer Cigna underscores that. It finds that loneliness is widespread in America, with nearly 50 percent of respondents reporting that they feel alone or left out always or sometimes.”

While I was not at all surprised to read this, I also find it ironic. We live in a digital age where we can literally communicate with anyone across the globe. Not to mention that this planet is more increasingly populated by humans than ever before. And many of us feel more alone than ever in history.

According to this study, “More than half of survey respondents — 54 percent — said they always or sometimes feel that no one knows them well. Fifty-six percent reported they sometimes or always felt like the people around them “are not necessarily with them.” And 2 in 5 felt like “they lack companionship,” that their “relationships aren’t meaningful” and that they “are isolated from others.”

ALONE

Two years ago, I moved to a larger city in hopes to not only experience a broader worldview, but also to increase my friend base, my community, and my tribe. I immediately joined a faith community, and began working with an incredible team where some of my closest friendships have been cultivated. In the fall of 2016, I joined a support group to process my grief and loss of my marriage, relationship and death of a dream. I currently live where I have more people within one square mile of me than I have had my entire life living in a small town and rural communities. Even here in this place there are times I feel completely alone, and yet I know I am not alone in this.

Last week my good friend and I were discussing this feeling of loneliness. She is in the best dating relationship she has ever experienced, and she feels so alone. I can identify because even in my ten year marriage, I felt severely alone and isolated. That is one of the most interesting and scary factors of this phenomenon is that we can be in the best of relationships, surrounded by other people, having the time of our lives and still experience this feeling of complete isolation.

It is possible that my personal experience with loneliness may be primarily situational as I begin my journey of facing, accepting and treating my own attention deficit disorder or the fact that I am divorced and still learning how to be content in my singleness. But I would like to suggest that the problem is much larger and has more to do with societal influences and environmental stressors. When I walk through my city, scroll through social media, turn on the news or sit in a pew, I can see I am not alone in this.

I have heard many theories and ideas about the causes. Social media may be a common denominator, but I suggest it might be more complicated than this. Some suggest it is our independent society and our lack of physical touch or hugging. Some from my faith background may argue a lack of faith as being a cause. While I have found some comfort in my faith through difficult times, I cannot deny the fact that some of my loneliest seasons were while serving faithfully in a growing church community and much of my time was spent praying, reading scripture and “fellowshipping” with others on a daily basis. There were even Sunday mornings I distinctly recall from my memory giving a message to a congregation of 500 plus and walking to my car to return to my home feeling completely defeated and alone.

In my personal journey, I am learning that it matters less about a relationship, religious affiliation, a city’s population, or how many “friends” and followers you have on social media – loneliness knows no boundaries.

I do not intend to share this heavy topic as a doom and gloom observation, but more of an acknowledgement that we have a problem and the solution resides in each of us. While there may be larger societal contributing factors which need to change, change starts with you and me. Yes, the problem is bigger than you or I, but the solution can start with us. I am on a personal mission to address this epidemic by discovering helpful solutions and by doing all that I can to make sure others around me feel less alone. It is important that each person feels cared about and no amount of care is too much. We are never too much and always enough. I hope you find as much encouragement in this as I am feeling writing these words.

You may be reading this and some of what I have shared is resonating with you and your experience. I hope you can find comfort in knowing you are not alone in this. We may find it helpful to turn off social media for a while. We might consider picking up the phone and calling family or a close friend. Perhaps hugging more might be helpful. The other day, when dropping my son off at school, I asked him if he would like a 10 or 20 second hug. I was so delighted he chose the latter. There we stood in full embrace for 20 solid seconds when interrupted by another parent who had been holding the door for us. As embarrassing as that moment, the parent remarked he would hold the door for a hug any day. Check in with your loved ones on a regular basis.

Just know, dear friend, that you are truly not alone. There is hope and we must believe there is more than this.

You Are Not Alone In This {part one}

DEPRESSIONLast week millions mourned at the sudden loss of a prime time icon. Known for his sense of adventure and connecting his viewers to unknown places around the world. Not only did he gain followers by his boldness in trying all kinds of foods which may disqualify a fear factor competitor, but he was known by his ability to engage strangers from all cultures and become their friend. He was charismatic. He was talented. He had friends literally across the globe. And he died alone by suicide. How could such a loving and well respected human take his own life when he had the world at his fingertips?

I remember in 2014 hearing about the loss of another Hollywood icon who always presented confident and over the top hilarious.  I grew up watching Mork and Mindy and one of my favorite movies was Hook. Robin Williams remains one of my favorite comedians to this day and my heart breaks for what pain was lurking beneath the boisterous surface.

Tomorrow will be seven weeks from the morning I woke to the most painful call I have ever remember receiving. “Are you okay?” The person on the other end asked? “Are you in a good place?” “Do you have people around you today?” Chills ran through my body. I was home alone, and, no, I was not in a very good place, and I just wanted the person to say the inevitable.  I replied with something to the nature of, “Please just tell me what is going on.” ……………………………….

“She’s gone”, said the broken voice.

I don’t remember the rest of the conversation very clearly as I tried keeping my voice calm and attempted being collected for the other person. Yet upon hanging up the call I nearly dropped my phone and fell to my knees in the middle of my living room floor as though the wind had been kicked out of me completely. When I finally caught my breath, I began wailing and sobbing so loudly, I am surprised I didn’t concern the neighbors. My young, talented, outgoing, tenacious friend lost her battle the morning following her senior prom. I would have attended my young friend’s graduation last week. But instead, I attended their funeral just a few weeks prior. “This is not how it is supposed to be”, I shuttered to another young friend who accompanied me to the graveside. “Not. It isn’t” she stated in a quiet and reserved voice. Hope reminds me, I am not alone in this. I cannot help but wish my dear friend was able to just hang on to this hope a little longer. Sometimes we all need a little hope to get us through the darkest of storms.

How does this happen? We are often left with more questions than answers in these moments. As a trainer in Mental Health First Aid, I am instructed to teach trainees that there are always signs and symptoms. Similar to CPR, we practice assessing for risks and how to provide support for someone in distress until professional help arrives. We attempt to educate parents, teachers, clergy, law enforcement, and the general public on discerning signs and symptoms. We provide opportunity for individuals to increase their confidence by rehearsing asking the big question. We provide information and resources available to help prevent such situations. And finally, we strongly emphasize that in some cases, in spite of all our efforts, there may be some who will still die by suicide.  It is important we not shame ourselves in the process. This is easier said than done when there is no limit to our desire to care for those who are hurting.

According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention website, Suicide is now the 10th leading cause of death in the United States is estimated there are 25 attempts for every completion.

It is time we pay attention.

Instantly woven into the news release of Anthony Bourdain’s death, on all the major networks, were the words, “If you are struggling, please reach out.” Reaching out is not as easy as it sounds for those who struggle and depression is not as easy to detect when some have developed the ability to appear strong or utilize humor to mask or deflect the pain. I can tell you this from personal experience.

Within this past year, I had a bout where I could not fall asleep and all I felt was alone, hopeless and empty. Though it was situational, I honestly have no memory of what triggered this episode. There wasn’t even a prayer or hopeful thought which I could grab onto to get me out of this funk. All I remember is my thoughts were racing between calling a friend or checking myself into a hospital. These thoughts were accompanied by not wanting to bother my friend in the middle of the night and feeling completely paralyzed by my anxiety that I could not move to even pick up the phone. (I have since learned that there are seemingly basic over the counter allergy medications which can increase these feelings and I caution anyone who takes any medication to pay attention to the potential side effects.) While my moments have been momentary and situational, I cannot imagine the pain of those who live with this on a daily basis.

Growing up in the evangelical church, I was somehow taught to believe mental illness had more to do with a spiritual problem or not having enough faith. I have since learned to view the validity of various mental illnesses as any other illness. Would we tell a cancer patient that their lack of faith is the reason for their illness? Or someone who lives with diabetes or an amputee? While I do not intend to question anyone’s beliefs about faith and healing, I do propose we approach mental illness like any other. If you are one who prays, we can still offer prayers while encouraging a loved one to get help in the same way we might encourage one to see a doctor if they are experiencing adverse physical conditions. We pray for the wisdom of doctors and for the “Lord’s will be done”, and we can do the same for those pursuing treatment thus helping to reduce the negative stigma.

I have a theory about a cause of depression and other mental health diagnosis which I will share in the second part of this post tomorrow. For now, I do not want to leave you with a heavy ending, but rather speak up for those who are struggling. Reaching out for help is an up hill battle. For those who are struggling, please know you are not alone and recovery IS possible. Cultivate hope where you can. Find the silver linings. Know your coping skills. Take deep breaths. Write. Read. Exercise. Drink more water. Do whatever you need to do to be safe. The other day I pulled a good friend aside at work and told him I would have a significant stretch of days where my son would not be with me in a few weeks. I expressed that I needed him to check in with me periodically on those days because those days are the most difficult for me. Reaching out can be really hard, but it can feel easier.

For those on the other end who might have concerns, but are not sure what to say, please do not worry about jeopardizing a relationship or not knowing the right words. If a loved one crosses your mind and you feel compelled to reach out, I can only imagine it is not an accident. There is nothing wrong with “Hi. For some reason you have been on my mind and heart and I thought I would give you a call. How are you doing?” I believe strongly in intuition and serendipitous experiences. If someone comes to your mind and you think for a half second about reconnecting, please, without any reservation, dial that number or send the text. You may never know the power of letting someone know you are thinking of them. I look forward to sharing more ideas around a contributing factor of mental illness in my blog tomorrow. But for now, good night, and may you find rest in knowing you are more than enough.

Out of the Dark: Day One

Double exposureThis week I took a big step, at least for me. But I imagine it is a big step for anyone.

I have known for a long time that I have been “gifted” with this special disposition which some call a “disorder”. Somehow, I have found ways to manage or work around it. Some behaviors may not be the healthiest of coping mechanisms and other healthy skills have been developed.

I know I am not alone in this. Some have developed skills to self manage and others seek treatment.

The irony is I work in the mental health field helping others access treatment while I continue struggling. Unfortunately, it is not something which can be treated through osmosis.

Initially, I thought it might have been adult onset, until I began seeing similar traits in my son. Sometimes it is like raising myself. I am not suggesting he has the same disorder, just a few characteristics which remind me of my struggle from an early age which I somehow managed to work through.

When my dad would take me to ice cream or Bi-mart to pick out a candy bar, I would become overwhelmed by all the options. Like, seriously anxious. There were far too many choices and I would become flustered and, at times, utterly and completely ambiguous. Must I only choose one? Ambiguity plagues most of my thought processes.

For those who know me well, making a decision is one of the most difficult of challenges. My friend, Chris, still tells stories of when we worked together and I needed to see multiple options before making a decision and I still could not make a solid choice.  I lose everything. Multitasking is nearly impossible. Maintaining focus has also been a struggle. I have started so many books I’ve never finished. I interrupt my own thoughts constantly and forget what I was originally talking about. I have so many amazing and creative ideas which I can never seem to execute, and let’s not even mention the incomplete projects.

I’ve been on dates where my date would get frustrated because of my inability to concentrate on the conversation because the atmosphere was over stimulating. During which I was just jazzed to have finally found someone who I felt comfortable going on a date with and who was mutually interested in me. Friends have expressed frustration by my struggle to maintain a two way conversation and coworkers have called me out on interrupting and blurting out random thoughts. When I do have something to say, which is more often than not, I get the death stare and people will sometimes graciously prompt me to “get to the point”.

I want to believe that I’m a quality “nice guy” and one of the kindest people you would ever meet, and yet I have these behaviors which have been difficult to manage and might make me seem like someone who is rude or disconnected.

Some of you might be thinking: “don’t be too hard on yourself”, “everyone has a lot on their minds”, “everyone loses things” or “men always have difficulty listening “, etc.  And while you these things may be true for many people on occasion, this is a daily reality which has made daily life more difficult than it needs to be. It is true that some of these are just unique characteristics of my personality, which is part of what has kept me from seeking professional help. I do not necessarily want my personality and creativity to go away, but I desperately need to find a way to manage the internal chaos. This amoeba touches every area of my personal life, relationships, goals, dreams, and my work life, and I am ready to face the darkness with light.

In her book, Rising Strong, Brene Brown references a scene from The Empire Strikes Back:

“Walking into our stories of hurt is like walking into that cave in Yoda’s swamp. It can feel dangerous and foreboding, and what we must ultimately confront is our self. The most difficult part of our stories is often what we bring to them – what we make up about who we are and how we are perceived by others. Yes. maybe we lost our job or screwed up a project, but what makes that story so painful is what we tell ourselves about our own self-worth and value.”

She continues: “Owning our stories means reckoning with our feelings and rumbling with our dark emotions – our fear, anger, aggression, shame, and blame. This isn’t easy, but the alternative – denying our stories and disengaging from emotion – means choosing to live our entire lives in the dark. When we decide to own our own stories and live out our truth, bring our light to the darkness.”

I do not intend to paint a doom and gloom picture, because, as mentioned before, I have found ways to work around these and developed some healthy coping skills in the process. Most of the time I would consider myself a happy and resilient person, and other times it gets the best of me and I become anxious and depressed.  Underneath this smile is a hurting, lonely person.

All the while I am walking with others through owning their stories, I find it more difficult to face my own. I want to believe I am a decent guy with the best of intentions. I am doing the best I can with what I have, and I know I can do better.

I am tired of misunderstood intentions. I am tired of losing literally any object I hold onto. I am tired of my inability to focus and listen. I am tired of unmet goals and incomplete projects. I am tired of being tired. My brain is tired from racing thoughts and my body is tired from all the stress.

A couple weeks ago, I listened to a lecture by Dr. Gabor Mate’. While I struggled to focus on everything he said, I remember his sharing of his personal experience of discovering his Attention Deficit Disorder (ADHD) diagnosis. After the conference, I went to Powell’s city of books to pickup a copy of Dr. Mate’s book, Scattered. Ironically, I have not been able to focus enough energy to read more than twelve pages.

So I finally met with a psychiatrist. He completed that assessment with a smile and chuckled the words, “Yep! You definitely meet criteria for Attention Deficit Disorder (ADHD).” While I didn’t need a doctor to confirm my diagnosis, there was relief in learning there is something which can be done about it. He speculated adult onset, while I can look back on multiple childhood accounts where this may not be the case.

Today is my first day on a prescription stimulant. So far so good. I have been able to be remarkably more present and patient with my son, Ezra. I have managed to complete this post…almost. I’ve been able to focus for the first time since I can remember. I feel present and genuinely relaxed in this moment.

Today is day one. We’ll see how tomorrow goes. Thank you for enduring this raw and vulnerable post. Thank you to those of you who have endured patiently and loved me through these symptoms. I do not expect to be a completely different person, but hopefully a little better version of myself. If you are reading this and feel my story resonates with yours, I would welcome you to comment or reach out as we walk this journey together.

**Update: I’ve managed to read four chapters of Scattered, complete a chapter in another book I have been working through, clean and organize my place of residence and spend focused quality time with my son. I have done these things while also taking time to breathe and be present.  Also, I have yet to experience restless leg syndrome in the past 24 hours. Now off to tackle projects I have been procrastinating.

Love is a Battlefield

alone

Courtosy of pixabay.com

This evening I had an experience worth taking time to sit here and process. I have recently decided to start my own version of a bucket list, only slightly different. This list is similar in that the name of my list rhymes with “bucket”, but is compiled of hard things which have the potential of knocking one to the ground but I overcome.  This list is compiled of big things and small things. Things which are intentionally or unintentionally presented to take you down, but you end up rising above it. Resiliency occurs when you experience something potentially crushing, but you find a way to see the light in the darkest of moments and find a way out of the predicament. Tonight was one of those nights.

I will not disclose to you the name of this list, although I am certain you can figure it out. What I will tell you is the most recent experience I can now cross off the list. Tonight I prepared myself mentally and physically for a first date with a recent match on a dating sight. This is part of my life now. Not my proudest of moments, but certainly not my worst. While I never ever thought I would be single again nor imagined experiencing the dating scene, this is where life has taken me. I am learning to be more than just okay with this season. I no longer regret nor despise this space I am in and am actually learning to enjoy it. I am learning so much more about myself, my wants, my needs and what I like and what like and what I do not. So much of my life has been about putting others first that I have forgotten about my own needs and desires. I am learning better ways to communicate. I am learning to walk wholeheartedly into vulnerability and developing resilience.

So there I stood waiting in the line at Por Que No? in the Missippi District letting people behind me pass by while I waited patiently to meet my potential match. After twenty minutes or so I was left with an internal conflict: Should I stay or should I go? For whatever reason, I was stood up by a beautiful woman who I was really looking forward to meeting. I know this happens to people all of the time, but I had yet to experience it, and I think I passed the test. Without much time to process, I made the best decision I could have. I stayed and enjoyed the best tacos with one of the best guys I know. Yours truly.

This has been one of my greatest barriers to overcome on this journey of singleness, that is, learning to appreciate spending time with myself more. I have experienced a lot of firsts including going on dates with myself while my greatest fear stares across the table at me: the fear of loneliness. What was once as terrifying to me as looking into the dark nothingness of the grim reaper, has become a familiar friend who I am becoming more and more comfortable with hanging out with. This morning I told a coworker that I loved my rather crazy brain and how it works. In all of my eccentric tendencies and social awkward behaviors I have found someone who is kind, compassionate, and really enjoyable to be around. I need to continue enjoying these moments of solitude for several reasons. But there are a couple more specifically worth noting:

I need to face this fear of being alone. A couple years ago I went on a solo outdoors adventure for a few days in the Wallowa Mountains. The closest towns were quiet as the summer tourists had returned to their busy lives and left the locals to go back to the simple and laid back northeastern Oregon life. The sidewalks of the small town of Joseph were rolled up, so to speak, and the quietness was rather eerie and disturbing. This trip was one of the single most dark and lonely experiences I have ever encountered. It was a month after the finalization of my divorce and the beginning of a new season of self discovery. The adventure was simultaneously beautiful and incredibly lonely.

During my hike into the Eagle Cap wilderness, I did not see a single soul, neither human nor wild animal. I was sincerely hoping for a deep spiritual experience or a revelation from God. At least a word of hope and encouragement would have been appreciated, but all I heard was silence. What I encountered even more pervasively was the sound of silence and the pain of being utterly and completely alone. Some seek out solitude on purpose and can go several days without a single interaction with another person. I am not one of those people. But lately I have been taking myself on intentional solo dates. Somehow I feel the need to face my fear of being alone and, perhaps, come to appreciate this person who lives inside this body. Rejection, insecurity and shame have worked really hard to diminish the value of this incredible soul, who I am learning to appreciate.

Secondly, I am learning to love myself better. For years I have made the needs of others take precedence and have somehow managed to lose myself while catering to the needs of a partner. I am not sure I have ever really loved and valued myself , at least, not very well. It sounds incredibly selfish to talk about loving myself, but I am learning how important of a quality it is. I do not need another person for me to see my worth. I am also learning that I unknowingly train others how to treat me and if I want to be loved and respected, I must love and respect myself.

A wise man once said that we are to love our neighbors as ourselves. Talk about the perfect opportunity for a mic drop. Such a statement begs the question, How do we love others if we don’t really love ourselves? Whether it was religion, growing up in the ministry or generational trauma and insecurity, I never learned to love myself. It has always sounded to me the opposite of what we are supposed to be doing as humans: that is to live lives of selfless love for others. I often wonder how it was possible to love others if I am more worried about number one? However, I am learning the importance of re-framing this quandary into: How can I love others well if I do not first learn how to love myself?

Loving others like ourselves is perhaps one of the greatest social experiences of all times. To many, including this guy, it feels like an oxymoron and an impossible feat. I know some proud and egotistical people who love themselves too well. (While it is often the case that such behavior is a mask of their own insecurity or unmet need.) I do not want to be so self-absorbed, but I do have to detach from this self-loathing self and find the lovable person who is worthy of being loved.

Tonight I am grateful for the beautiful woman who stood me up. Not only can I cross the experience off my list and devour some ridiculously delicious tacos, but I wound up going on a date with one of the coolest guys I know.

Friends, if you find yourself in a moment of loneliness or loss, please know you are not exactly alone. Whether in a relationship or single, we all face this extremely real and often painful feeling. Love is certainly what the song refers to as a battlefield. What an opportunity we have to search inside ourselves to discover whatever it is we are learning from the experience and who we are created and destined to be. Could this moment be a blessing in disguise? I do not know your current situation, but I do know you are loved and never completely alone. I hope you will take care of yourself and come to know the amazing beautiful person you are. Nurture your soul and be easier on yourself. Trust the process. Give space to heal before giving away a piece of a broken heart. Trust me, I learned this one the hard way.

Love is certainly a risky battlefield, but it is not lost on broken hearts and dreams of whatever we imagined it to be like. Love and facing our fears are opportunities for hope to grow and resilience to be strengthened. You know the anecdote, “whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” Yep. It is still true.

You Belong Here.

7b37a8709d1fdacd845ef86aafd65cf3Within a week, I have had three teens on my caseload, in one way or another, contemplate or make attempts at harming themselves or even ending their lives.

The story they tell themselves is that, somehow, their friends or family would be better off without them. This is the furthest from the truth, and yet many convince themselves that coping with life and all it’s challenges is just too much. Not to mention the implications of adding depression, trauma, anxiety, or other mental health challenges.

I encouraged one young man with this: it is time to change his narrative of himself. Due to a history of trauma, he did not get to this place all by himself. He certainly is not alone, no matter how isolated he may feel in this moment. Sometimes we need to change the narrative of what we are telling ourselves and what we perceive others are telling us.

This morning, Ez and I were watching “The Book of Life”. It is an artistic and colorful film with both lighthearted and heavy themes. When the hero feels he has lost everything, including the woman he loves, he is pictured in the middle of an empty arena with his guitar singing a rendition of “Creep” by Radiohead.

Instinctively, I began singing along: “I’m a creep. I’m a weirdo. What am I doing here? I don’t belong here.”

Ezra interrupts and says, “What?! You DO belong here…and I belong here.” I stopped singing and we exchanged hugs, tickles and giggles with words affirming one another’s belonging.

I love the simple wisdom that comes from the mouths of children. They often don’t realize the power of their observations and words.

Friends,
You DO belong here.
I belong here.
We belong.

Reach out to someone today and remind them:

YOU BELONG HERE.