Monday, December 27, 2010

In search of the child

One of my favorite quotes is from Melody Beattie's book "Beyond Co-Dependency" which says:

We go back . . . and back . . . and back . . . until we discover the exuberant, unencumbered, delightful and lovable child that was, and still is, in us. And once we find it, we love and cherish it, and never, never let it go."

When I think of that quote, it brings to mind this picture of me. I want to go back and remember the joy of this moment and to embrace the freedom of childhood that I feel I must have had at this age. What a precious picture this is to me, reminding me that I did have "exuberant" and "unencumbered" moments in my life. This other picture also reminds me of my inner child, I think mostly because of the little doll I'm holding. It is sweet to me and reminds me to be a child and cherish little things, the dolls, the moments, it is all so very precious and I lost that for many years.

As long as I can remember, I was "mom's helper," the "second mom" and "mom's angel." While these are sweet sentiments, they are also the cause of my co-dependency. I was an adult at a very young age, I tried too hard to take care of things as a child and was way too serious. I worried always about where my sisters were, what they were doing and if they were safe. Years later, we found out that they weren't safe and that fed into my co-dependency as well, with thoughts like "see, I should have been worrying about them because something did happen to them." I didn't realize that as a child myself, it wasn't my job to be worrying about them and to try to do everything I could to make things clean and sane at home. To my mom and dad I want to say: "I wouldn't have done anything diferently, except maybe I wish I had known how to share my feelings instead of locking them up." To my sisters I have this to say: "please forgive my worries about you, I know some of you thought I was judging you, but I wasn't, in my mind I was your 'second mom' and loved and worried about each of you just as a mother would." To the child in me, I would say: "play, have fun, enjoy this time as you have your whole life to be an adult, laugh and feel every moment."

Do I feel as if I have uncovered the child in me? Not as much as I would like, I am still on that quest. I do have moments, but they are just glimpses of the child in me. I still find myself worrying, trying to rescue and be the adult most of the time. I wish I could see the world through the little girl's eyes above, it is a worthy goal and I will go back, and go back, and go back until I find her and I will cherish her as I should have when I was young. But I didn't know, I didn't know I would lose myself in life. Isn't she sweet, this little baby, it is time to love her and cherish her. To Jim, my husband, Adam and Megan, my children, I want you to know how much I appreciate you standing by me through the last few years and how each of you see me, see when I am doing something co-dependent and call me on it. The three of you have taught me more about myself than I knew. Thank you for letting me take some time for me and to reach back and search for the child in me. I love all of you!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Increasing Our Strength

Increasing our Faith
A couple of weeks ago I was pulling something out of my scripture bag and this little item came out with it.  This is a little mustard seed.  I forgot I even had it.  I don’t remember what class it was handed out in, but it is a reminder of the parable in Matthew 13:31-32 which says:
Another parable put he forth unto them, saying, The kingdom of heaven is like to a grain of mustard seed, which a man took, and sowed in his field.  Which indeed is the least of all seeds; but when it is grown, it is the greatest among herbs, and becometh a tree, so that the birds of the air come and lodge in the branches thereof.
Sometimes our faith is like this little seed, so small it can hardly be seen.  Sometimes our faith grows and becomes the tree.  I believe our faith is something very fluid it grows and shrinks based on how we use it.   Sometimes challenges happen in our life which cause our faith to be tested.  And it’s okay if our faith is small, we just have to take steps to help it grow.  I recently read this story in the book Reaching for Hope about a woman who had a horrible thing happen to her.
“[These are] Mary Blair’s own words as she shared . . . the baby steps she had to take to move herself back into the big picture of church activity.
“When I arrived back at my home, I initially moved in with my mother.  I did not tell her what had happened to me and why I came home because I was so horribly embarrassed and bereaved. . . .  for a number of months I wrapped myself in a blanket . . . and cried.
Yet every Sunday I had a ritual.  Every Sunday, I required of myself that I get up and get dressed for church.  My worship had been a cherished part of my life for years, and I wanted to go to church.  Yet I couldn’t . . . but I got up and got dressed.  That was the best I could do, and I usually cried while I got dressed.  Then I would sit in front of the television and watch a local broadcast of a church service my mother enjoyed.  I did my “get dressed ritual” for several months.
Next I decided to drive to the church building.  My new ritual was that every Sunday morning, I got dressed, got in my car, and drove to the church.  I couldn’t drive into the church parking lot because someone might see me.  Fortunately there was a dental office across the street, so I would drive into the one parking space where the tree branches hung over my windshield and sit and watch through the leaves as the busy Mormons I used to be like scurried into the meeting house.  I did the “parking ritual” for about three months.  It was the most I could do.  And as I watched the people live a life I used to have, I wept softly, but with loud anguish.
Three months later, I was ready for an act of real bravery. . . . So I came up with a new baby step.  The very next Sunday, I got up, got dressed, drove to the dentists’ parking lot and this time nervously waited until I believed the sacrament song was being sung.  I entered that church building with more courage than it would take an FBI agent to enter a building holding hostages.  I was absolutely afraid.  I longed to be back in the sanctuary of peace I had always felt in church. . . .  I did it.  I made it to the foyer during sacrament.  Thank goodness that my old ward still sent deacons to the foyer, because I actually got to take the sacrament.  Victory, I felt so comforted by taking the sacrament.  The fear and pain washed over me yet again, and I fled the building.
But I had done it. . . . I had spent five or ten minutes in the building of my old ward . . . and taken the sacrament in the foyer, and it was the greatest act of Christian courage I had ever rendered.  “It was good.”  It was my widow’s mite.  It was all I had in my depressed soul.  But I did it.
Mary Blair eventually made it to church for the whole three hours and was noticed by a kind counselor in Relief Society, her records were requested and she became an active member of that ward.  It is okay if at times our faith is only as small as a mustard seed and it is okay if all we can do is take baby steps.
In Elder John K. Carmack’s article, “Lord, Increase Our Faith,” in the Mar 2002, Ensign he said,  “In Remembering that Jesus spoke of the enormous power that a tiny seed of faith contained, we must conclude that in addition to belief, faith is also a principle of action and power. . . .  Such faith is a great tool to do the Lord’s work. Men and women can grow in spirituality to the point that they can do mighty things in the cause of the Lord, and when they do them, they operate by the power of faith.”
He mentions other tools in the article such as fasting and prayer, trust, obedience, belief, gratitude and sacrifice.  I would like to add a few other tools to this list. 
Megan and I have been talking about perseverance and I think it is a vital tool in increasing our faith.  I understand that one of the main causes of inactivity is when people feel like they have been offended.  I have been offended by all kinds of people, from people I worked with who were church members, to Stake Presidency members, Bishopric members and various ward members over the years.  Sometimes it has been very hard to go to church because of the things others have said or done to me, but I will not let what other’s do stop me from returning to my Heavenly Father so I come to church each week, I come and I listen and I wait for the words that will help me get through my latest challenge.  I wait for the thought, scripture, story or testimony that is meant for me to hear.  I persevere because I am where I know I am supposed to be.
In the November 2004 Ensign, President Thomas S. Monson said: The boy prophet Joseph Smith sought heavenly help by entering a grove which then became sacred. Do we need similar strength? Does each need to seek his or her own “Sacred Grove”? A place where communication between God and man can go forth unimpeded, uninterrupted, and undisturbed is such a grove.
I think having our own grove is an essential tool for increasing faith.  When I was a teenager my own personal grove was the grounds of the Provo temple.  It was my temple, not only because it was close to me, but I had seen the inside before its dedication and my father had helped build it, so I felt a very strong personal connection to it.  I felt closer to my Heavenly Father when I was there.  We all need that, somewhere where we feel close to him.  I was there one day, sitting on a bench pondering a problem I had and one of the temple missionaries approached me.  He said, “you have a problem.”  I said yes, I did.  He then said, “go home and look in this month’s Ensign on page 33.”  And sure enough, it was exactly the answer I needed. 
Another tool I use, Elder Carmack mentions in his article: “Perhaps the Savior was teaching us that if we are serious about desiring greater faith, nothing short of maintaining a constant eternal perspective will do. If we place any condition on our willingness to serve the Lord with all our hearts, we diminish our faith. If we have complete trust in Him, our faith will increase, and that means the strength of our belief and our power to act will increase. We will not think we have done our duty and that is enough. We will continue with pure intent and total commitment the rest of our lives.”
Having an eternal perspective on our experiences here in this life can make it much easier to deal with.  My cousin shared with me a saying that has become one of my favorites.  “You have to accept that what you are going through is the only way for you to learn what you need to know so that you can progress spiritually.  Once you accept this it takes the drama out of the situation and puts you back in control.”  Realizing that whatever you are going through is just a moment in the whole scheme of things can definitely change your perspective.
Another tool is taking advantage of the power of the priesthood.  One of my greatest tools is my Pat. Blessing.  In addition to that, I learned when I was young that I could always go to my father and ask for a blessing when I needed it.  To be able to go to my husband and ask for a blessing of counsel and comfort is something I value greatly.  After blessings I like to take a moment to ponder what was said and write down as much of what I heard as I can remember in my journal.  A few years ago I created a special book, I went back through my journals and copied my blessings into this one book so that I can easily review them whenever I need to be reminded of my blessings.
Elder Carmack also said:  “[I]f we want increased faith, such as Enoch gained, we must give ourselves over completely to our Lord, utterly trusting Him and striving to act as He would act in all circumstances.”
I was 19 years old the first time I put my life completely in the Lord’s hand.  I remember it was a Sunday morning and I was in deep emotional pain, the challenge in my life had become more than I could bear.  I kneeled down that morning and prayed, I asked the Lord to end the situation however he saw fit, that I couldn’t handle it any more and to please end it that day.  And He did, I saw the Lord’s hand in it, it ended the way He wanted, not the way I wanted at the time, but I trusted Him so completely and I accepted His answer.  I know now that I can always put my complete trust in Him, I did it once, I can do it again.
Another way we can increase our faith is by using the scriptures just as a friend of mine had done.  Her family was struggling financially and she was deciding whether to pay her tithing or not.  She read Alma 32:27 which says: 
But behold, if ye will awake and arouse your faculties, even to an experiment upon my words, and exercise a particle of faith, yea, even if ye can no more than desire to believe, let this desire work in you, even until ye believe in a manner that ye can give place for a portion of my words.
She exercised that particle of faith, faith the size of a mustard seed and she was well rewarded for using even that smallest amount of faith.
In high school, there were many nights after basketball games or other events where my best friend and I would be driving home in the fog.  We learned to trust the lines on the road.  You couldn’t see very far ahead of you, but if you get your eye on the lines, you always got home safe.  We learned we could go into the darkness and fog without fear, going step by step, line by line.
President Boyd K. Packer said: “Somewhere in your quest for spiritual knowledge, there is that ‘leap of faith,’ as the philosophers call it. It is the moment when you have gone to the edge of the light and step into the darkness to discover that the way is lighted ahead for just a footstep or two.”
And Elder Carmack said:  To summarize, we do not increase our faith by following a formula, although the ingredients of fasting, prayer, and righteous living are part of that process. Increasing our faith requires trusting the Lord with our whole souls. We cannot say, “We have done enough and deserve to rest.” Nor does the increase come through definitions, logic, or philosophy. . . .we can increase our faith, if we desire, by going beyond the minimum requirements of the gospel and developing complete trust in the Lord.
I believe the greatest tool of increasing our faith is the power of prayer.  A few months ago I had gone to the temple with a singleness of mind.  I have been having a hard time believing in my value and as I sat in the chapel that day waiting for the next session, I flipped open the scriptures and read D&C 11:13-14 which says:
Verily, verily, I say unto you I will impart unto you of my spirit which shall enlighten your mind which shall fill your soul with joy.  And then shall ye know, or by this shall you know, all things whatsoever you desire of me, which are pertaining unto things of righteousness, in faith believing in me that you shall receive. 
During that session I was blessed with a powerful witness of how much God loves me.
The final tool that I would like to leave with you is one that the young women are very familiar with and that is the knowledge of our Divine Nature.  Knowing that we are daughters and sons of a Heavenly Father that loves us so much that he sent his only begotten son to save us can increase our faith as nothing else.  I would like to close with one more story from the book Reaching for Hope, it is the story of a 28 year old woman named Ross Ann who had suffered abuse from family members.  This is a moment that happened during one of her therapy sessions with one of the authors of the book:
One day Ross Ann sat with me in a therapy session and repeated her old refrain, “I am just a black sheep.  I will always be just a black sheep.  I will never fit in with the ‘normal people’ of the world.  I am too damaged.”
This particular day, I remember praying silently and fervently, “give me the words that Ross Ann needs to hear to begin healing from the abuse.”
I heard myself say, “Ross Ann, tell me about the black sheep.”
She began to cry softly and answered.  “My black sheep is a lost sheep.”
Ross Ann, who is the lost sheep?”
“I am the lost sheep.”
And again, I heard my voice ask, “Ross Ann, who did the Shepherd leave the flock to find?”
Silence.  Pondering.  Tears.  “He left the flock to go find the lost sheep.”
“And Ross Ann, who is the lost sheep?”
Sobbing.  “I am the lost sheep.”
Our Heavenly Father loves every one of us whether we feel like we are a lost sheep or not, we are his children and as long as we know that, really know that, our faith will no longer only be the mustard seed, but will be the tree.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Heart Pain

I don't know how else to describe it other than heart pain. My cardiologist said it is like a headache, but just in the heart, a heartache. I can't really remember the first heart pain I had, I remember waking in the night with my heart hurting and wondering if I was having a heart attack. It was really scary, but after a few minutes it subsided. It was a long time before I had another one, then I started having them during the day, on the way to work and I would be so scared, should I pull over, should I call 911, I didn't know what to do, then it would be gone. The heart pains started coming more often and increasing in intensity. It was early one morning in 2007 that my husband had had enough, he gave me a blessing and took me to the emergency room. I was mad because I was missing my daughter's gymnastics meet while I sat for hours in an emergency room. The emergency room was crowded that morning and I was left in the hallway with a few other patients while I waited for the test results. All that time, money and missing the meet had me really upset, but then hearing the doctor tell me everything was "fine" just took me over the edge. He encouraged me to see my regular doctor for more tests. I was just mad and didn't want to do any more tests, but my husband insisted. I got another blessing and was assured the doctors would find what was wrong. It was a few days later after having a halter for a 24 hour period and a slight murmur showing up on it that they did a sonogram on my heart. The first thing out of the technician's mouth was "there it is." They could clearly see I had a Mitral Valve Prolapse. This is where one of the valves in the heart doesn't close properly and blood can flow back into it. I found out there are quite a few people in the country with a MVP and it never affects them at all, a small number of people have symptoms such as chest pain, palpitations, panic attacks, anxiety, fatigue, migraines and more. My doctors wanted to take me off all stimulants, but I had only one vice, chocolate, and yes they took that away (I still have some now and then, who can live without chocolate). My mom sent me some websites on Mitral Valve Prolapse Syndrome where the above symptoms have become a real problem for some people. These websites had valuable information for me. I have frequent heart pain, but have noticed that it is especially bad closer to my period (something to do with the hormones), when I am stressed and, unfortunately, if I have had too much chocolate. MVP Syndrome has a strong hereditary tendency and is more prone to be passed on to daughters. My mom has had symptoms as well as several of my sisters. So the cardiologist asked me what I was going to do if I had these symptoms off and on and if this was something I could live with. For me it was just huge knowing what it was, knowing that I wasn't having a heart attack. It's just heart pain. In all my reading, I learned that the best things to do are eliminate caffeine and sugar, drink a lot of water, reduce stress and do a minium of 30 minutes of exercise a day five days a week (yoga and breathing exercises are especially good). One of the biggest complaints of MVP is fatigue and on one of the websites I read this: "Fatigue begets more fatigue, the less you do, the less you feel like doing. The cause of the fatigue may relate to blood volume changes noted with exercise, to a high resting heart rate, or to other physiological factors." It is hard to convince yourself to get up and exercise when you are so tired, but it is the best thing for the MVP. Stress is my number one factor in my heart pain and I'm still not very good at reducing the stress (this is where my co-dependency problem comes in, I'll save that story for another day). Some days the heart pain can be so much that I feel like I can hardly breathe and I have to close my eyes and tell myself to breathe, just breathe and remember, it is just a heartache.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Beginning of the End

I was at work on a Tuesday morning in August, 2007 and things were so very bad at my job. The heart pain I have written about previously was getting worse and worse as the stress at work got worse and worse. I couldn't even drive toward the town where my job was without having extreme heart pain. But there I was in my boss's office when a whole new feeling started, I felt like my chest was being crushed. My boss was talking to me and all I could think was "breathe, Renae, breathe." Then thoughts of needing to get out of there as fast as I could were overpowering my head. At one point my boss asked me if I was okay. I wasn't okay by any means, I got up and walked around, sat back down, got back up and at one point even said, "I can't breathe." My thoughts were on only two things, trying to breathe and getting out of there. I finally said I had to go pick up my daughter from school and got out of there as fast as I could. The next morning I quit my job. It was a few days later when I was telling someone what had happened that they said that it was a panic attack. Over the next few months I started having bad dreams about my old job (a few days after I walked out they closed the doors and many families in the community lost hundreds and some even thousands of dollars). Another friend was telling me about her therapist and something inside me said, "you need to go see her." So I got the number for the therapist and made an appointment. My first appointment was in November, 2007 and I proceeded to tell her all about the horrible job, how badly it ended and about the bad dreams. The hour was up and we didn't even get to what I could do about the bad dreams, so I rescheduled. It was at the next appointment that I found myself talking about childhood stuff, weird I didn't expect to be doing that, but it just came out. It was around Chrismas that I was talking to my sister Sharon about my bad dreams and the childhood stuff that came up at the appointment. She said that maybe I was co-dependent. I didn't know much about co-dependency and pretty much thought it was just someone who enabled others to do drugs, etc. I casually mentioned my sister's comment about co-dependency at my next therapy appointment and my therapist gave me the book "Co-Dependent No More." I took the book half-heartedly thinking this really wasn't me. Later when I started reading the book I was shocked, there I was on every single page and I could see my boss everywhere in the book as well. One of the hardest things for me after quitting my job was trying to understand how I could have gotten sucked into my boss's mess and not seen what was really going on and there it was in black and white, I was a co-dependent rescuer and I had been trying for years to "rescue" my boss and her business and just about destroyed myself in the process. I learned that co-dependency wasn't "enabling" it was "rescuing." In trying to understand co-dependency I have read many books and many different descriptions of it. My favorite description is "self-destructive unselfishness" from Wendy Ulrich's book "Forgiving Ourselves." But it was in that first book, "Co-Dependent No More" where I read about the "Karpman Drama Triangle" that my eyes were opened. This is the co-dependent cycle: rescue, persecution, victim. This cycle is repeated over and over again with different people, different situations, etc. First you "rescue" a person or thing, this is doing something that you don't necessarily want to do, but you feel like you have to, that no one else can do it, so you must; then you feel "persecuted" here you are doing something you didn't want to be doing in the first place and lastly you feel, once again, like a "victim," you were used once again. Oh, that "triangle" I could see it over and over again in my life, big triangles, little triangles, but the biggest and most destructive one so far had been the one with my last boss. It was a few weeks later that I took my daughter to see "27 Dresses." I thought it would be a cute, funny movie, little did I know that the main character would be co-dependent. You can see the day it starts, her first wedding after her mother's death and it just goes on from there. I sat there and silently cried and half-way through the movie my daughter (who was only 13 at the time) leaned over and and said, "Mom, you're her." She could see it just as clearly as I could and it made me sadder. They say that you can't stop doing something until you are aware that you are doing it. Well, I had become aware in a really big way, I was so co-dependent and it was time to change. This was the beginning of the end, the end of being unaware of my co-dependency and the beginning of a whole new way of being. It has been a very bumpy road trying to change these behaviors but with each co-dependent discovery and even relapse, I learn how to be better and different and more me. I never could have imagined I would be dealing with something like this later in my life, but here it is for me to challenge and conquer little by little.