Why Bother Considering What You Say To Yourself?

Why Bother Considering What You Say to Yourself?  

In my not too distant past, I had a bad habit of berating myself. It was easy to do because I fell short of the perfection I expected from myself. If my buttermilk biscuits failed to rise to the expected height while baking, then I told myself I was a lousy cook and homemaker. When there was miscommunication between myself and someone else, well, of course, I was to blame. After all, I was the dysfunctional one. When anything went awry, it meant there was something wrong with me. 

Harsh Words Only Hinder

I don’t know when or why I joined myself to these self abusive critiques. Can I blame my parents? Truly, some things are a mystery and this is one of them. In short, somewhere I picked up the pattern of railing against myself, and for a while, it became a normal way for me to think. 

Who or what helped me to realize this wasn’t a healthy or helpful mindset? How and when did I change my mind about myself? Did I experience a sudden onslaught of positive thinking? Did I awaken one morning with the resolve to stop scolding myself? Did I finally grow up? Did I lower my bar of standards? 

I can’t pinpoint the exact moment or any one particular circumstance that woke me to my need to rethink how or what I thought about myself. There was more than just one event that made me aware and motivated me to reconsider my thinking. 

In brief, I began to notice that I felt worn down. It came to my attention that my habit of belittling changed nothing. Beating myself up only drained all the hope and joy out of me. Also, I started to follow the trail to the source of this self abusive language. It surprised me that it stemmed from the erroneous idea that at some point in life, I’d taken on the role of being the blessed controller of all things. I’d put the weight of the world on my shoulders and believed with all my heart that it was up to me to carry the load. But, I did not mull on these personal insights all by myself. I did not have to. It seems that I was not the only person on the planet plagued by an abusive mindset. Thankfully, I had more than one trusted friend who had also wrestled with the same sort of martyr mentality and could help me out of my quandary. 

Why bother considering what you say to yourself? Changing what we say is not an easy endeavor. But it is a worthwhile one. Once we unhook ourselves from our self-abusive language we find something good to say to ourselves.

Why Bother Mentioning Forgiveness?

Why Bother Mentioning Forgiveness?

To forgive is to excuse, pardon, remit, or cancel a wrong or a wrongdoer. Forgive is a verb, an action that we take. Forgiving is something we do. Forgiveness, on the other hand, is an abstract noun. Unlike a concrete noun, forgiveness is a notion, an idea rather than an object that we can touch. Yet, in my opinion, forgiveness, like love, kindness, or charity, is a gift that can be given to ourselves and to others. Forgiveness is a gift unlike any other. Even if it is not received, the giver benefits. 

    Receptiveness

One of the drawbacks in committing to the task of personal healing was that I never knew what would bob to the surface. For me it was resentment. In my journey toward healing, I became acutely aware of the grudge I’d harbored against my dad. The grievance was old, and ingrained deeply into my core thinking. Holding on to my ill will was  natural. It was a normal stream of thought. I’d believed that my dad was responsible for my unhappiness. After all, if he’d not left me, my life would have turned out so much better. 

But, holding grudges never makes us better; they only make us bitter. But, since I was motivated to become mentally well, it did not take long for me to understand what action I needed to take. I knew I needed to forgive my dad. 

Wondering about forgiving someone who was already dead and gone, I called a friend with a background in counseling. I needed to know, was this idea of forgiveness legitimate or crazy? She assured me that my thought was not an absurd one and was indeed warranted and allowable. 

So, I went forward with the action of forgiveness. Even though I knew a dead man could not reciprocate, accept or respond to the gift of forgiveness, I did it anyway.

As a kid, I used to walk to the cemetery just to sit by my dad’s grave to try and sense his presence. I always left disappointed, because I never felt anything. But, forgiving my dad was an altogether different experience. Forgiveness released me from the encumbering weight of a heavy old grudge. It was a transforming act.

Why bother mentioning forgiveness? Though everyone is capable of forgiving, not everyone is receptive to forgiveness. But, that is okay. The act of forgiving may just be a gift to ourselves. 

Why Bother to Take Time to Heal?

Why Bother to Take Time to Heal?

I had a biking accident once. My injuries included a few bruises, some road rash, strained muscles and a concussion. My wounds were not life threatening, but they did require a visit to the hospital followed by a day or two on the couch to rest and recover. When I felt little to no pain, I could tell that my body had recovered enough to get up and move around, albeit slowly. After a few more days, I’d recovered enough to mount my rode bike and ride once again. 

But how do we know when we have recovered from the unseen wound called grief? 

    It’s a Personal Process 

Unlike a skin abrasion, we cannot peel off a bandage to note the closed and healed wound from our loss. Grief is an interior work, unseen and different for everyone. 

First of all, no two individuals or circumstances are identical. I was thirteen when my father ended his life, but I had six other siblings ranging in age from ten to twenty-three. Though we were all in the same family, and shared the same tragedy, none of us were at the same stage of development. We were not all the same gender, nor had identical personalities. Therefore, our grief work was uniquely our own. 

Secondly, not everyone admits their sorrow and without acceptance of grief, there is no way to work through it. Though my mother was an adult with more life experiences than the rest of us, she denied herself along with her children, the liberty to speak about the tragedy. To her, suicide was a moot topic. But remaining silent did not remove her sorrow. It only intensified it. 

Respecting the fact that not everyone begins to work through their sorrow at the same time or in the same manner, reinforces our ability to extend empathy to others who experience a death by suicide.  

My own grief work was delayed by about ten years simply because I lacked the language, knowledge and any guidance through the unknown territory of grieving a loss by suicide. I wandered in the land of desolation and loneliness long enough to understand its depths, darkness and its dead ends before finding a pathway I believed led to healing. 

Can I say I’ve completed my grief work? I believe so. The pain that once encased my wounded heart has disappeared. Also, I can speak about my loss without the fight or flight neurons in my brain firing off their defensive warnings. Though I still have memory of the tragedy, it no longer incapacitates me like it once did.

Why bother to take time to heal? There is no timeline or deadline for grief. It has its own rhythm as well as its own pace. Let it have its way with you and when it is finished, you  will know.

Why Bother Validating the Non conventional?

 

Why Bother Validating the Non conventional?

Suicide is not a “conventional” way for to die. Therefore, the grief that follows in the wake of someone’s death by suicide will not be conventional. Instead, it contains all the emotions of anyone who mourns the death of a loved one in addition to a few more added layers. 

The Uncommon

Shock, denial, guilt, sadness, anger and acceptance are some of the more common emotions we experience when someone we love dies. But, when there is a death by suicide, exclusion and confusion get added to all those other hard to bear feelings. 

Sudden death by accident or even an expected death after a long illness can be explained. Suicide cannot. To mention that someone took their own life does not get the same response as if we said they had died after a long battle with cancer. Conventional death is not easy to talk about, but suicide can leave everyone speechless. 

The news of suicide is rarely written as the cause of death in an obituary, mentioned during the funeral, or penned by writers of sympathy cards. There is no “soft” language for the harshness of, “He hung himself.” 

Consequently the words that explain the cause of death by suicide do not always produce empathy from our listener. Instead we may feel blame and judgment from some. Why people believe the bereaved are somehow responsible for a death by suicide is a mystery. But it does occur. Suicide survivors already erroneously believe they are an accomplice to the death. The unspoken or spoken judgments from others makes the guilt all that much heavier.  

How do we breech that wide and discomforting gap that lies between us and the one who is left standing alone after a suicide? 

We don’t have to know all the details or understand the circumstances to extend empathy toward someone. Death is sorrowful, no matter how a person’s life ends. 

 Standing beside someone with open ears, open arms and a soft heart is a way to begin validating their sorrow. Words may or may not mean something, but our willingness to be present speaks volumes. 

Why bother validating the unconventional? Suicide is on the rise and so are the numbers of those who are left behind. Standing beside a suicide survivor gives them a little hope to lean on. 

Why Bother Cutting Ties With Unforgiveness?

Why Bother Cutting Ties With Unforgiveness?

What keeps us tethered to an attitude of unforgiveness? Why is it so rewarding to maintain a stubborn stance, refusing to give in?  How can we become aware of those occasions when we don’t want to release our grip on a long held resentment?  What gives us the courage to step out and be the first to forgive, to let go, and to cut ourselves loose from our unforgiving state of mind?                              

Getting a Clue

From personal experience, I had no idea of the unforgiveness I carried. Not only was I clueless, but I was also unconscious of how this attachment to personal grievances influenced me.

Since we cannot quarantine our thoughts, my personal vendettas influenced all of the decisions I made, tainted the truth about others, and infected the ebb and flow of my life with bitterness. 

Though I had an inkling that there was something amiss, it was not easy to identify as an attitude of unforgiveness. Every time I thought of my father, my mother and my oldest son, discomfort arose on my insides. Still, connecting the dots, that all three had let  me down, and I had feelings of resentment toward them, I had no idea what to do about it. 

Though I did not think that the thoughts surrounding these  people were considered healthy thoughts, I still had no trouble justifying my point of view. 

I trusted them and they disappointed me. This proved to me that they were untrustworthy and somehow unworthy. Another concept I validated was if they had not hurt me, then my life would be much happier. Consequently, I blamed them for my unhappiness. 

It is only when we come to the conclusion that we need to change our thinking that our thinking begins to change. 

We can think differently about the same old scenario, but not without some effort on our part. Toxic thinking is never isolated to just one small thought and bitterness does not remain benign.  Instead, toxic thoughts and bitterness bleed into every part of our being making the process of changing our minds anything but easy, quick or painless. Transforming our minds requires persistence, patience and consistency. Difficult, but not impossible. 

For me, the transformation began with forgiveness. As soon as it occurred to me that my grudges were actually the heavy weight I constantly felt in my heart, I wondered two things. First, I tried to imagine what it would feel like to let my grievances go. Secondly, I considered whether or not it would be a difficult action to take. 

I did not linger or ruminate too long on either one of these ideas. I was finally tired of doing the same thing over and over again expecting something different to happen. I took the risk and released my personal vendettas. 

Did the heavens applaud? If they did, I missed hearing the clapping. Did the people with whom I’d felt offended by change? No, but I certainly did. 

Why bother cutting ties with unforgiveness? Holding onto our grievances changes nothing. Letting them go does. 

Why Bother Letting Go of Guilt?

Why Bother Letting Go of Guilt?

In the aftermath of my father’s suicide, there was the guilt. When the shock of his death gave way, guilt was one of the first thoughts on the scene. I was caught off guard by the personal accusations I so willingly accepted. It took years for me to finally settle on the truth of the matter: it wasn’t my fault.

  Why We Blame

As a child, I did not know that blame was a natural response to someone’s act of ending their own life. Yet, during one of our twice a month Macek Maverick calls, my siblings and I discussed the topic of guilt and blame. I was not the only one who’d accused myself. Five of the seven in my family had also felt that they were somehow at fault for our dad’s death. “If only I’d…” was a common thread of thought among us.  

Though my family is notorious for thinking we are the blessed controllers of all things, none of us were in control of the final action our dad chose to take when he ended his life. 

It is natural for us to want to understand tragic events such as suicide. We want to connect the dots so we can make sense of what seems so senseless. Our reasoning goes something like this: If we can pin the blame on someone or something, then we may think we can  understand why it happened. But, it is actually crazy for us to think we can simplify something so complex as someone else’s thinking process. We have no idea what happens in someone’s mind when they conclude that there is no other option other than to end their life. 

For the longest time, I did not want to think that my father was responsible for his own actions. It seemed too cruel of a thought. Yet, when a friend suggested that his death was not anyone’s fault, least of all mine, it made sense. My dad made a conscious choice all on his own. 

Still, it was a bit of a personal wrestling match for me to let myself off the hook. Guilt and blame were something I’d grown accustomed to, their weight was familiar to me. I did not know what to expect if I let go of the load. But once I did, I realized I’d held something against myself that did not belong to me in the first place. 

Why bother letting go of guilt? Though it might feel a little shameful at first to unhook ourselves from our blame, once we do then we’ll realize it wasn’t ours in the first place.

Why Bother to Contemplate?

Why Bother to Contemplate?

My parents taught me to pray in a particular way. First, one had to have the right posture: kneeling without slumping your back. Secondly, hands were to be folded and eyes were fixed on an icon, such as a crucifix or a statue of one of the saints. If you closed your eyes while praying, people would think you’d gone to sleep.  

I still remember the words and gestures to the sign of the cross and can say it in Polish. I recall the blessing we used to say before every meal, and the“Our Fathers” and “Hail Marys.” During lent, we said part of a rosary every night as a family while kneeling down in front of a statue of Mary. This routine made my back tired and my eyes sleepy. 

I do not doubt the good intentions of my parents. They wanted to instill in their children the importance of prayer. But, whether I prayed or not, it seemed to make no difference to God or to Mary.  

Ponder Anew

Later in life, when I was drawn to return to what little faith I had once possessed, I found myself visiting different churches. These places of worship also had a particular way of praying. Kneeling was no longer required nor was the folding of the hands. Instead, I could stand with eyes wide opened or closed, the palms of my hands facing upward or arms raised overhead. In these churches the only icon was an empty cross. Instead of ending prayers with an amen, now I learned to say, “In Jesus’ name.” 

Though praying no longer involved scripted words, except for the three charmed words, “In Jesus’ name,” it still seemed my prayers changed nothing. I’ve never doubted the existence of God, yet touching base with him through my prayers, seemed futile. Then I began to muse, to wonder, to mull over, and to imagine. I began to contemplate.

Contemplation is simple. Neither special posture or words are required and there is no abracadabra to it. To contemplate means I remember what is true about God. He is present, a perfect father, who loves me perfectly. To contemplate means to rest because all I need I already have. To contemplate means to wait. There are no instant changes, but at the same time, everything changes about me. 

Why bother to contemplate? To think on what is true is not a slam dunk prayer, rather it is a lifetime practice.

Why Bother Judging a Book by Its Cover?

Why Bother Judging a Book by Its Cover?

The little idiom, “Don’t judge a book by its cover,” is to warn us against forming a conclusive opinion about someone or something based on its appearance. But unless we are blind, we can’t help forming an opinion based on what we see. 

The Picture 

Thankfully, more than one person has complimented me on my book cover and how well it goes with the title.  It was not an easy process to come up with a title and picture that work well together. 

First, the publishing company sent me three book cover choices, none of which represented the idea I had in mind. Even though I was not 100% sure of what I wanted, I knew what they’d sent me to choose was not what I wanted.  As a result, I searched the world wide web for that one image I had in mind. 

When I finally saw the one I wanted, there was no way I could use it without permission. Though I tried multiple ways and multiple times to contact the owner of the photo, I could not. Resuming my search, I found the same photo of the curvy road with the fall colors and this time, I did not need permission to use the photo. I sent the publishers the image, and although it was more costly for me, I believe it was worth it. 

The Title

My original title for my book was Snapshots. Even though I did not like this title, it was all I could think of at the time. When I sent off my manuscript to a friend to read, she told me, “You need a better title.” She was right. Thankfully she had a few suggestions and I chose one she recommended and it fits.

Putting the title and cover together took more time and effort than I had originally thought, but, I know from experience that we all can’t help but judge a book by its cover.

Why bother judging a book by its cover? What we see speaks volumes and we don’t have to deny that. 

Why Bother Telling the Truth About Suicide?

Why Bother Telling the Truth About Suicide?

Recently, a friend called to tell me the sad news that she’d lost her father to suicide. Knowing she has a preteen son, I wondered if she’d tell him the truth about his grandpa’s death. Thankfully, she did. 

Telling the Truth

Telling a child the truth about a relative’s death by suicide is not easy. Being sensitive to their age is of course paramount, but eventually, they will want to know the story behind the death of the one they knew and loved. Speaking from experience, keeping someone’s death by suicide a secret only adds layers to an already complex and confusing set of circumstances. Eventually, children grow into adults and will stumble upon the truth for themselves. Then they will wonder why no one ever told them the truth.

I am not sure what motivated my mother to mute the truth of my father’s death by suicide from me. She revealed the sad ending of our dad’s life to my three oldest siblings, but lied to the rest of us. In so doing, she allowed our imagination to fill in the blanks. 

Before I heard the real story behind my dad’s death, I’d conjured other fanciful scenarios. First, I envisioned Dad leaving Mom because she’d had an affair. I thought that perhaps he was still alive and just living somewhere else. Another fantasy included mom’s jealous lover murdering my father. These myths filled the void until a few days after his death when I had the chance to ask an older sister to tell me the truth. 

Withholding factual details only constrained my grief process, limited my opportunity to voice my grief, made me feel as though I was an anomaly and created a chasm of distrust between my mother and me. Telling the truth is not easy, but lying only encumbers something that is already  awkward and difficult.

My friend now carries her own load of grief along with a huge responsibility. Her responses to her father’s death by suicide will teach her son how to grieve when there is a loss by suicide. He will be watching her and he will notice.

Why bother telling the truth about suicide? Although hearing the truth is painful, it is better than living a fantasy.

Why Bother Giving Second Thought?

Why Bother Giving Second Thought?

My life has sped up somewhat since publishing my first book. Though I thought the hard part was writing and finishing my memoir, I now realize that was easy compared to what came next: marketing the book. Selling my book requires me to process a lot of information and make wise choices in a short amount of time. I cannot count the number of emails and phone calls I have to respond to on a daily basis while at the same time, keeping my day job as a fourth grade  public school teacher. It is only during the quiet hours of my morning, before booting up my phone or computer, that I have the luxury to think slowly to ponder, ruminate and meditate. Though I do not regret having written and published a book, I’ve had some second thoughts about why I wrote it in the first place.  

      Think Time

Our brains are amazing organs. I can’t even begin to understand how they work, but I know this much, a brain needs time to process information. Thoughts and memories do not make an appearance simply by giving them command. Rather, I’ve found that they surface when given the freedom, room and time to do so. 

One of the questions an interviewer asked me was, “Who did you have in mind when you wrote A Heart’s Journey to Forgiveness?” At first, I thought I was writing A Heart’s Journey, for myself, but when I shared some of my memories with my siblings in order to verify them, it opened up conversations that we’d never had before surrounding the tragedy we shared. 

Later, given more time to think, I thought that perhaps if sharing my story with my siblings opened the door to engaging with each other about the experiences surrounding our dad’s suicide, then it maybe this story could also help others through their tragedies as well. 

But most recently, I’ve given second thought to both of those answers. Yes, writing my story opened up conversations between my siblings and I and I do hope my story does help others through their shock and confusion as well. Then another concept made its way to the surface of my brain, one that I’d never considered before. The reason I wrote this story is because my father actually planted his story in my heart before he ended his life. 

I recall the scene so vividly that I am a little dumbfounded that it took me this long to understand its depth. It was a cold winter afternoon the day my father took me out to the front porch of our house in Durango, Colorado to tell me he would be going away to get well. Those words occupied my mind more than the next words he spoke. But he told me that someday I would grow up to be someone special. Those words seemed too far-fetched, ethereal, belonging to a time I could not imagine. 

Yet, now I believe that time has come to fruition. It was at that moment that he may have seen his own demise, and that I would somehow be the one to remember and recall who he was. That the memory of who he was, would not be forgotten. 

Why bother giving second thought. Though life calls us to make split second decisions, it is also important to consider, mull, and ponder those speculations that lie beneath, just waiting to have their say.