Becoming, Coping, My Story, Trauma Recovery, Uncategorized

Words that Kill the Soul

I saw this posted in one of my groups on Facebook. I didn’t write it. I don’t know who wrote it.  But I feel like it needed to be shared. I am looking for the author to give them credit.

Note:  The author is Tim Lawrence. He had a blog for the longest time called “The Adversity Within”.

This post is something I have felt for a long time, but I have been clumsy in knowing how to address these words that kill the soul:

Everything Happens for a Reason

I’ve heard religious leaders say it. I’ve had friends and family say it to me. I have even said it to others before.

Never again.

It’s not until you experience a life and soul shattering grief that you come to understand how painful and harmful these words are to hear.

I had many conversations with my therapist about this. She told me, “you didn’t need this to happen to you so that you could become a better person. You were already well on your way to doing that.” I agreed with her wholeheartedly! I was already into self improvement on my own. I made New Years resolutions, I set goals, and I worked to accomplish them. I worked on myself all the time. I still do.

What is hard for me to swallow is knowing that for everyone who does rise above tragedy, there are hundreds, maybe thousands, who are destroyed by it. How close I came to being utterly destroyed by this is truly frightening! I do suffer from survivors guilt. There is a very fine line where I could have fallen into the abyss of the destroyed at any point. I still could. There is nothing special about me that predisposes me for triumph over this evil that was thrust upon me. I still feel like I barely survive each day. I may always feel that way.

This post on Facebook resonated with me so much! Every word of it is true;

Saying ‘Everything Happens For A Reason’ Hurts Grieving People Instead of Helping

“I emerge from this conversation astonished. I’ve seen this a million times before, but it still gets me every time.

I’m listening to a man tell a story. A woman he knows was in a devastating car accident; her life shattered in an instant. She now lives in a state of near-permanent pain, a paraplegic, many of her hopes stolen.

He tells of how she had been a mess before the accident, but that the tragedy had engendered positive changes in her life. That she was, as a result of this devastation, living a wonderful life.

And then he utters the words. The words that are responsible for nothing less than emotional, spiritual and psychological violence:

“Everything happens for a reason”.

That this was something that had to happen in order for her to grow. That’s the kind of bullshit that destroys lives. And it is categorically untrue.

It is amazing to me that so many of these myths persist. These myths are nothing more than platitudes cloaked as sophistication, and they preclude us from doing the one and only thing we must do when our lives are turned upside down: grieve.

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You know exactly what I’m talking about. You’ve heard these countless times. You’ve probably even uttered them a few times yourself. And every single one of them needs to be annihilated.

Let me be crystal clear: if you’ve faced a tragedy and someone tells you in any way, shape or form that your tragedy was meant to be, that it happened for a reason, that it will make you a better person, or that taking responsibility for it will fix it, you have every right to remove them from your life.

Grief is brutally painful. Grief does not only occur when someone dies. When relationships fall apart, you grieve. When opportunities are shattered, you grieve. When dreams die, you grieve. When illnesses wreck you, you grieve.

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So I’m going to repeat a few words I’ve uttered countless times; words so powerful and honest they tear at the hubris of every jackass who participates in the debasing of the grieving:

“Some things in life cannot be fixed.

They can only be carried.”

These words come from my dear friend Megan Devine, one of the only writers in the field of loss and trauma I endorse. These words are so poignant because they aim right at the pathetic platitudes our culture has come to embody on an increasingly hopeless level. Losing a child cannot be fixed. Being diagnosed with a debilitating illness cannot be fixed. Facing the betrayal of your closest confidante or a spouse cannot be fixed.

They can only be carried.

I hate to break it to you, but although devastation can lead to growth, it often doesn’t. The reality is that it often destroys lives. And the real calamity is that this happens precisely because we’ve replaced grieving with advice. With platitudes. With our absence.

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I now live an extraordinary life. I’ve been deeply blessed by the opportunities I’ve had and the radically unconventional life I’ve built for myself. Yet even with that said, I’m hardly being facetious when I say that loss has not in and of itself made me a better person. In fact, in some ways it’s hardened me.

While so much loss has made me acutely aware and empathetic of the pains of others, it has made me more insular and predisposed to hide. I have a more cynical view of human nature, and a greater impatience with those who are unfamiliar with what loss does to people.

Above all, I’ve been left with a pervasive survivor’s guilt that has haunted me all my life. This guilt is really the genesis of my hiding, self-sabotage and brokenness.

In short, my pain has never been eradicated, I’ve just learned to channel it into my work with others. I consider it a great privilege to work with others in pain, but to say that my losses somehow had to happen in order for my gifts to grow would be to trample on the memories of all those I lost too young; all those who suffered needlessly, and all those who faced the same trials I did early in life, but who did not make it.

I’m simply not going to do that. I’m not going to construct some delusional narrative fallacy for myself so that I can feel better about being alive. I’m not going to assume that God ordained me for life instead of all the others so that I could do what I do now. And I’m certainly not going to pretend that I’ve made it through simply because I was strong enough; that I became “successful” because I “took responsibility.”

There’s a lot of “take responsibility” platitudes in the personal development space, and they are largely nonsense. People tell others to take responsibility when they don’t want to understand.

Because understanding is harder than posturing. Telling someone to “take responsibility” for their loss is a form of benevolent masturbation. It’s the inverse of inspirational porn: it’s sanctimonious porn.

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Personal responsibility implies that there’s something to take responsibility for. You don’t take responsibility for being raped or losing your child. You take responsibility for how you choose to live in the wake of the horrors that confront you, but you don’t choose whether you grieve. We’re not that smart or powerful. When hell visits us, we don’t get to escape grieving.

 

This is why all the platitudes and fixes and posturing are so dangerous: in unleashing them upon those we claim to love, we deny them the right to grieve.

In so doing, we deny them the right to be human. We steal a bit of their freedom precisely when they’re standing at the intersection of their greatest fragility and despair.

No one—and I mean no one—has that authority. Though we claim it all the time.

The irony is that the only thing that even can be “responsible” amid loss is grieving.

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So if anyone tells you some form of get over it, move on, or rise above, you can let them go.

If anyone avoids you amidst loss, or pretends like it didn’t happen, or disappears from your life, you can let them go.

If anyone tells you that all is not lost, that it happened for a reason, that you’ll become better as a result of your grief, you can let them go.

Let me reiterate: all of those platitudes are bullshit.

You are not responsible to those who try to shove them down your throat. You can let them go.

I’m not saying you should. That is up to you, and only up to you. It isn’t an easy decision to make and should be made carefully. But I want you to understand that you can.

I’ve grieved many times in my life. I’ve been overwhelmed with shame and self-hatred so strong it’s nearly killed me.

The ones who helped—the only ones who helped—were those who were there. And said nothing.

In that nothingness, they did everything.

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I am here—I have lived—because they chose to love me. They loved me in their silence, in their willingness to suffer with me, alongside me, and through me. They loved me in their desire to be as uncomfortable, as destroyed, as I was, if only for a week, an hour, even just a few minutes.

Most people have no idea how utterly powerful this is.

Are there ways to find “healing” amid devastation? Yes. Can one be “transformed” by the hell life thrusts upon them? Absolutely. But it does not happen if one is not permitted to grieve. Because grief itself is not an obstacle.

The obstacles come later. The choices as to how to live; how to carry what we have lost; how to weave a new mosaic for ourselves? Those come in the wake of grief. It cannot be any other way.

Grief is woven into the fabric of the human experience. If it is not permitted to occur, its absence pillages everything that remains: the fragile, vulnerable shell you might become in the face of catastrophe.

Yet our culture has treated grief as a problem to be solved, an illness to be healed, or both. In the process, we’ve done everything we can to avoid, ignore, or transform grief. As a result, when you’re faced with tragedy you usually find that you’re no longer surrounded by people, you’re surrounded by platitudes.

What to Offer Instead

When a person is devastated by grief, the last thing they need is advice. Their world has been shattered. This means that the act of inviting someone—anyone—into their world is an act of great risk. To try and fix or rationalize or wash away their pain only deepens their terror.

Instead, the most powerful thing you can do is acknowledge. Literally say the words:

“I acknowledge your pain. I am here with you.”

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Note that I said with you, not for you. For implies that you’re going to do something. That is not for you to enact. But to stand with your loved one, to suffer with them, to listen to them, to do everything but something is incredibly powerful.

There is no greater act than acknowledgment. And acknowledgment requires no training, no special skills, no expertise. It only requires the willingness to be present with a wounded soul, and to stay present, as long as is necessary.

Be there. Only be there. Do not leave when you feel uncomfortable or when you feel like you’re not doing anything. In fact, it -is when you feel uncomfortable and like you’re not doing anything that you must stay.

Because it is in those places—in the shadows of horror we rarely allow ourselves to enter—where the beginnings of healing are found. This healing is found when we have others who are willing to enter that space alongside us. Every grieving person on earth needs these people.

Thus I beg you, I plead with you, to be one of these people.

You are more needed than you will ever know.

And when you find yourself in need of those people, find them. I guarantee they are there.

Everyone else can go.

 

Stay Sweet, Be Strong

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The Cupcake Warrior

Becoming, Coping, Trauma Recovery

Unpacking the Scriptures

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Scripture Journaling is nothing new.  However, it was new to me.  It is one of those “good things” that has come to me during this experience. The Lord knows what I need, when I need it.  I believe he sent this as a gift to me right now because he knew I would need it so desperately.  I have always been committed to serious scripture study, but like everyone, my dedication to it waxes and wains according to my circumstances. Sometimes I am just better at it than I am at other times.  Let’s face it, life sometimes just gets in the way.

But, right now, I am in a place that scripture study is vital and necessary for my survival.  It is as important for my spiritual and emotional wellbeing as breathing is to my physical wellbeing. Never in my life have I so desperately needed to feel connected to my Heavenly Father.  To hear His voice, to seek His will for me, and to feel Him near me, have never been so critical to me as they are now.

In the first year of this journey, I read my scriptures, but it wasn’t helping me.  I wasn’t feeling anything.  I was too panicked, too anxious, and too flooded with emotions that I couldn’t feel the delicate feelings of the divine. During my greatest hour of need, I felt totally and utterly abandoned, even by God.  Everything was so dark when I desperately needed to feel the light.

And then along comes Amy.  Amy is a long time friend that just seems to resurface when I need her the most.  She just seems to know.  Out of the blue she contacts me to attend a long weekend at a women’s retreat.  I will always be grateful for friends who listen and respond to promptings of the Spirit.  She told me that she was inspired to reach out to me and that I needed to go to this retreat.  The funny thing about trauma is how humble it made me, and desperate to feel better. I agreed to go even though my anxiety was on overdrive.  Meeting new people at that point was NOT in my wheelhouse. Even at my best, this is a struggle for me. But I was in a desperate place.  Desperate times call for desperate measures, right?  I went.

It was Amy’s class on how she studies the scriptures that impacted me the most.  Can I say, “It changed my life?” Is that too over-the-top?  Well it did!  I can’t send you to a retreat, but I can share with you what I learned.  I hope it will also impact your life the way it did mine. Nothing about it is revolutionary.  It’s not new!  But the way it was presented, that changed me. It connected me back to my Heavenly Father and gave me back the access to his Spirit and Power in a very dramatic way. If you feel disconnected and distant from God, this may be what you need.

“If you want to talk to God, pray.  If you want God to talk to you, read your scriptures.” John Bytheway

There are as many ideas and templates for scripture journaling as you could ever want. You will find everything imaginable under that sun. All you need to do to find what you need is to Google “LDS Scripture Journaling.” The method you use doesn’t matter.  It is the process.  So go find a method that speaks to you and use it. Really, all you need to get started is a notebook, notebook paper, pen and colored pencils.  I downloaded mine from The Redheaded Hostess (in case you are wondering).

I also started studying by topic.  That is what works best for me at this time in my life.  But you can study along with your Sunday School curricula or Seminary Class.  Study chronologically or jump around.  It doesn’t matter!  That is what I loved most about this – the flexibility to do what I NEEDED for ME. It’s not about the method, it’s about the process.

Set Aside a Sacred Time and Place

Once you have all the tools you need.  It’s time to get started.  The first thing that is important to set aside a time to do this.  Make an appointment with your Heavenly Father. It doesn’t really matter when, pick a time that works for you.  Amy suggested getting up early to study. Making this the first thing you do, shows Heavenly Father that He is a priority in your life.  She gets up at 5 am.  I can’t do that.  But if you don’t have time during your day to fit it in, going without an hour of sleep is probably your best option.  And as important as this is, it is a sacrifice worth making. If early morning isn’t your thing, don’t stress.  Setting a time, any time, will be acceptable to Him.

Remember, this is a sacred time, a date you have and keep with only Him.  In addition to a time, have a place.  Dedicate a space, with a prayer, to be a sacred spot that you connect with God. Once you have a place and a time, keep your appointment with Him. Everyday.

What is the price you will pay to know God?

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Start With Heartfelt Prayer

Just this one change in my study habits made a huge difference, but there is more! Start each study session with prayer.  Pray with real intent.  Pour your heart out to God in earnest prayer.  I have since added a meditation to my study that clears my mind to prepare me for prayer.  I close my eyes and focus on my breath.  Breathe deeply, in and out, count “one.” Breathe deeply, in and out, count “two.” And so on, all the way to 10. If I can get to 10 without my mind wandering, I am ready to pray.  If not, I start over.  Focus just on the breath, and clear your mind.

I also keep a prayer list.  I have a list of names of people and their needs. I pray for each one of them by name and for their need. I have also changed the way I pray for myself.  The scriptures teach us that God knows what we need before we ask it and that He is already working on the solution.  He is way ahead of us!  It occurred to me that if he is already working on sending me the blessings, shouldn’t I be grateful for that?  So instead of asking him for the things I need, I am already thanking him for the things I need, even if I have not yet received them.  Does that make sense? For example; if I am sick and need to feel better, instead of asking him to heal me and help me feel better, I say, “I thank thee for healing me from this cold and helping me to feel better.”  Because I know that He loves me, and knows what I need before I ask it, why shouldn’t I thank Him for the gifts he has already prepared for me that I have not yet received?  Isn’t this the very essence of faith?

Become His Disciple

Also, as I pray, I ask the Lord to help me be an instrument in His hands that day.  I want him to use me to bless the lives of those around me.  This is a mark of discipleship; to submit to His will and become His servant to bless those around me.  Praying to be an instrument to help others is also very healing for me. When I pray for this, I am listening to the promptings I get during my scripture study and writing down those thoughts that pop into my head in the margins of my journal.  I may not be studying anything that has to do with calling my sister, but if I get that thought, I write it down. Here is the key though – follow through!  If you get a thought, idea or prompting and write it down and then do nothing about it, the Lord will stop sending you the messages because He knows you are not serious about following through. Being a disciple means to have discipline.  Discipline yourself to be devoted and responsive to the Spirit.

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Unpacking the Scriptures

Now it is time to study.  I have to admit, my scripture study used to be boring.  I was studying, alright.  But I was putting too much pressure on myself. It wasn’t fun and it wasn’t instructive.  I was my own worst teacher. I love this idea of unpacking the scriptures. When you open a box, a gift or a suitcase, you take things out, one by one. Sometimes you unpack these things taking everything out looking at it one at a time.  We turn some thing we find particularly interesting, over and over in our hands to get a better look at it.  We delight in some things, and pass others by, only to find them just and interesting later on.  Some things are beloved and familiar.  Some things are new and exciting. We can do this with the scriptures as well.  Slow down.  Take the time to really look at a verse.  If you need to spend more than one study time on one verse to understand it better, do it!  Here are some ideas for unpacking:

  • Look up words you do not understand
  • Journal about how a scripture touched you or impacted your life
  • Memorize a new scripture each week
  • Take time to ponder ways a scripture applies to your life
  • Draw a picture or doodle to help you remember an insight
  • Underline scriptures that have meaning and make a note of why in the margins
  • Use stickers to make a point
  • Use LDS.org or the LDS Citation Index app to search for talks that used a scripture you are trying to understand
  • Go deep into a topic or single scripture, spend a year on it, if you need or want to. When I was YW President last year I spent an entire year studying everything I could find that related to the theme for that year.
  • Teach yourself the way you wish others would teach you! Make it fun, exciting and interesting to yourself.
  • Share what you are learning with others.

Leave me a comment below if you want to share your experiences with scripture study and scripture journaling.

Stay Strong, Be Sweet!

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betrayal, Trauma Recovery, Uncategorized

Everything Does NOT Happen for a Reason, So Stop Saying That!

“Well, everything happens for a reason.” My friend says with a sigh.

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I know she means well. The comment is meant to bring me comfort, and help her feel that she is connecting with my pain, on some level. It is the sort of thing people say when they don’t know what to say. But this is an assumption that doesn’t make sense, and it doesn’t make someone experiencing the grief of a tragedy feel any better.

I recently read an article that more closely resembled my feelings that ‘not everything happens for a reason’ and some things are just senseless. I was able to codify my feelings in my therapist’s office last week so I will share them with you now. I told her how this comment really upsets me when anyone says it, to anyone. Her response both surprised me and helped me to connect with her. She gets me.

“I know! People used to say that to me too and it made me so mad! This did not happen for a reason!”

Yes! Bingo!

Someone cheating on you over and over doesn’t happen by some grand design meant to make you a “stronger person.” Like my therapist said, “I was a good person already, I would have ‘gotten there’ on my own! I didn’t need this to make me a better person!”

Yeah. Me too.

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Self improvement is my middle name. I am the sort of person who sets goals, and achieves them. I read self-help books. All the time. I want to be better, to do better, at my core. I believe in becoming. It’s in my DNA. It is who I am. I didn’t need some bonehead dumping my world upside down to accomplish what I was already in the process of doing. In many ways, he derailed me, and set me back…years. What I needed was a committed companion to take my hand and help me on my journey. I needed love and support. I needed to be nourished, not hit upside the head with a two by four. I needed to feel connected to my core foundation, my primary relationship attachment.  My husband. Not to suffer atrocities of his own making.

There is no doubt that I will learn some lessons along the way.  There are lessons to be learned in every experience. I do not want to discount this. But betrayal? Infidelity? PTSD? Shock? Grief? Are these the lessons I really needed to learn to grow as a person? Did I need this? Really? Was this somehow a part of God grand design for me? No. Absolutely not! I do not believe this for a minute. It is milarky.

Let’s talk about the suffering of the innocent. Shall we?

Every person on this earth will suffer needlessly at the hand of some careless idiot. Or worse. Someone who is evil at their core. We see it happen everyday. Mass shootings, betrayal, assault, abuse and exploitation, to name a few. All of these things are hideous and senseless. They should not happen. Ever!

But they do. The Lord knew this and he provided for it. Bad things happen because Heavenly Father values agency above nearly everything else. The freedom to choose is paramount to our salvation. We have to be FREE to CHOOSE HIM…or no. Because of this, some people’s choices hurt other people. Profoundly. But I do not believe these lapses in judgment are somehow part of God’s grand design. No. If it were so, I would be experiencing a crisis of faith, because that would mean that God is not loving, but punitive. He would be rightly accused of picking winners and losers among His children. Playing favorites. That is not the kind of God I could trust with my pain.

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But I have it on good authority that God is as upset as I am over the abuses I have suffered at the hands of my ex-husband. Alma teaches this principle very plainly in the Book of Mormon.

Alma and Amulek were missionaries who experienced great success. So much so, that the government rulers were angry at the faithfulness of the people Alma and Amulek converted. The rulers decided that if these new converts did not denounce their new-found religion they would kill all their wives and children, and throw scriptures in a fire with them for good measure. And to make it all the more evil, they would make these faithful men watch it all! How horrific. I can think of very few things that are worse than this. The Lord is very clear in showing this example how he feels. Causing others to suffer because of their wickedness is not acceptable to Him! It isn’t part of HIS plan! It is outrageous!

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Evidently, that is how Amulek reacted as well, and he wants Alma to stop this atrocity. He knew that the power of God could stop it! But Alma is restrained from stopping it by the Spirit, and he explains why:

“The Spirit constraineth me that I must not stretch forth mine hand; for behold the Lord receiveth them up unto himself, in glory; and he doth suffer that they may do this thing, or that the people may do this thing unto them, according to the hardness of their hearts, that the judgments which he shall exercise upon them in his wrath may be just; and the blood of the innocent shall stand as a witness against them, yea, and cry mightily against them at the last day.” Alma 14:11

In other words, the Lord allow bad things to happen to good people so that He can justify punishing the bad people. It was explained to me this way –  If someone wants to kill their brother but never does it, they could say to God at the judgment day, “Well, I never actually did it. No crime was committed.” Even if God knows the thoughts and intents of the heart, he has no proof of the desires of the wicked brother because he was never allowed to act on the intent of his heart. But, if on the other hand, the evil brother acts out his wicked desires, boom! He is so guilty! God is justified and his punishement is just.

So the awful things humans do to each other are not part of God’s grand design. They are the consequences of the agency of another person. AND it allows God to justly punish the wicked.

God did not do this to me to teach me some cosmic lesson. He allowed my ex-husband to do this to me so that He would be justified in punishing him, should my ex never repent. My ex HAS acted out the evil in his heart. Now his job is to turn away from what he did and REPAIR the damage – four fold. (See D&C 98:44-45) If he doesn’t, the consequences for him will not be pretty. Justice will be served up.  Eventually.

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As for me, Heavenly Father has my back. He is giving me all the help and comfort I need right now to get past this, not so I can learn some unfair lesson, but so I can heal from experiencing something I never deserved. Yes, I will end up being a better person for it, maybe, because that is how I roll. But too many people who go through things equally frightful, or worse, and they won’t  be better for it, because it destroys them. Utterly and completely destroyed. Being destroyed doesn’t make you a better person. Suffering at the hands of someone you loved so deeply isn’t a life lesson that improves you. It changes you. Forever.  And not always for the better.  Betrayal isn’t a classroom the Lord uses to school his children. So please, don’t say this to your family and friends who suffer at the hands of a wicked person’s heart. It’s not true. And it certainly isn’t helpful.

Stay Strong, Be Sweet!

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The Cupcake Warrior