Cheetos for Breakfast
Friday, January 13, 2023
On Body Image
Thursday, October 20, 2022
Trauma and the Empathetic Witness
We all hear a lot about trauma these days. It seems to be a sort of buzz word, perhaps becoming so common as to lose its meaning. And yet we are hearing about trauma for a reason. Science is catching up to what so many of us know: that an event or series of events so painful and so profound can change us and even cripple us, sometimes for life.
There are different kinds of trauma. There is what I've heard called the "big T" trauma: the natural disaster, horrific warfare, the unthinkable catastrophe that comes out of left field. That is what most people think of when they think of trauma. And those events certainly fit the bill. PTSD is very real.
And yet there is a different kind of trauma. I've heard it called the "little t" trauma. Sometimes it is developmental trauma. Sometimes it relational trauma. They call what follows complex-ptsd or c-ptsd. And complex it is.
So why do some people cruise through hard events with nary a scratch and others wrestle with the intense mental and emotional and even physical pain and disability for years...or a lifetime? Especially when it comes to the "little t" trauma, what make trauma...well...trauma?
"Trauma is not what happens to us, but what we hold inside in the absence of an empathetic witness."
When I first read this quote from Peter Levine then it all made sense. It is the "in the absence of an empathetic witness" that is, to me, the most crucial point. It certainly has been in my life. When I think of the hard things in my life, the most painful events by far, especially in my childhood, happened when I was utterly and completely alone. There was nobody to turn to. Absolutely nobody. Even now when I try to describe those times, the pain can take my breath away.
I think that some types of family dysfunction are so much more damaging than others because some things are absolutely isolating. There is nobody to turn to.
Let's look at the Adverse Childhood Experiences, the ten traumatic experiences measured the CDC-Kaiser Permanente Study, what do you have?
-Abuse: verbal and emotional, physical, sexual
-Neglect: emotional, physical
-Separation or divorce of parents
-Domestic abuse of mother
-Mental illness of household member
-Substance abuse of household member
-Incarceration of household member
The litmus test for trauma-responsive faith communities is how leaders and laypeople respond to the vulnerable sharing of trauma.
Thursday, September 15, 2022
It never ceases to amaze me how drawn we are to measuring life by the numbers. Not just measuring life but measuring our quality of life. Measuring our success. Measuring our worth.
But quality and quantity are not the same thing.
But we measure nonetheless. We are so drawn to it, sometimes helplessly so, like starving ants to a picnic full of sugary goodness.
We look at the numbers, longing for them to validate our existence on the planet. Our worth in comparison to everyone else. Because we are convinced that we are not enough.
So we measure.
The miles we run.
The trails we hike.
The pounds we lift.
The pounds we weigh.
The number of wins.
The number of sales.
The number in our bank accounts.
The number of children we have.
Even the number of souls we save.
Because we really do think that our worth can be defined by the numbers.
And it is a lie from the pit of hell.
Wednesday, September 14, 2022
Every so often somebody says something that turns your life upside down...or right-side up. The words are so powerful that you remember exactly when it was and where you were and what you were doing when you heard them.
It was last week. I was in the basement. I was painting.
I was listening to the Uncertain Podcast with Katherine Spearing (Hi, Katherine!). She interviews Polly and Bob Hamp and they are talking about abuse and trauma and they basically say this: "Freedom is not about the control of behavior but the unleashing of identity. The beautiful thing inside of you isn’t only to be embraced but also unleashed. The world needs that from you. The world needs what you specifically have inside. If you don’t embrace it then you can’t unleash it."
The world needs what you specifically have inside.
There is something inside of me that I should embrace?
There's something inside of me that should be unleashed?
There's something inside of me that the world needs?
This concept rocked my world. It literally took my breath away.
I have always been taught that all that is in me is wrong. Or bad. Or sinful, even. I have always felt that perhaps I shouldn't exist after all. At least not in my current form.
It has been so easy for me to absorb the messages. The "Why can't you be like ______?"
From early on I was the Bounty Quicker Picker Upper of the "shoulds," from who I should be as a daughter and a student and a friend and a wife and a mother and a professional and a Christian. Everywhere I turned the pressure was there to be someone I was not. Someone I am not.
Perhaps if I can do more, try harder, perform better. Perhaps if I could be less sensitive, less emotional, less opinionated, less exhausted, less vulnerable. Perhaps if I could be more organized, more amitious, more driven, more intelligent, more competent, more upbeat...more "godly", more victorious, more confident, more resilient, more healed.
Perhaps if I could be someone else.
It never occurred to me that I should not only embrace who I am (ok, kind of keeping it to myself) but that I am to unleash who I am. And why? Because the world needs it. The world needs who I am? The world needs...me? The world needs...ME!
How is it that I am almost 59 years old and I am just hearing this? Never mind. What matters is that I am hearing it.
I want to embrace. I want to unleash. I want to believe that the world needs what I specifically have inside. Even if it is unconventional. Even if it's messy. Because it's beautiful.
Get ready, world. Get ready to meet Ginny Unleashed. 😃
Tuesday, July 19, 2022
I just finished Stick Figure by Lori Gottlieb. It took me all of two days. It is written with the words from the author's own diary from 1978, when she was 11 years-old, and chronicles the development and details of her eating disorder and it hit way too close to home. But it was also an incredible reminder. A reminder of just how hard it is to be a girl at that age. A reminder of just how powerful the messages are that we send each other. A reminder of the incredibly powerful hold that diet culture has on females. A reminder that things really haven't changed all that much in 45 years.
I remember it all. I remember the message that being fat was the worst possible thing that could ever happen to you. I remember the shelves of diet books in our home. I remember the ways we would compare if our legs touched at the tops or our collarbones stuck out. I remember when our weight was on our drivers license and the heavier among us, or even just the self conscious, would scribble out the weight with a pen. I remember comparing waist sizes on our Levis. I remember EVERYONE wanting to be thin. I remember finally losing weight and getting the thin body people always wanted and finally, finally, FINALLY I was good at something.
And I remember the fear. The intense fear that no matter how much weight I lost, I needed to lose just a little bit more in order to have a "buffer." I remember the horror of gaining a pound, which meant that I was blowing up, uncontrollably, and my life as I knew it was over and I would be one of those sad, fat women who nobody loved.
I remember being so stuck and so hopeless. This book brought it all back.
It has been 41 years since I hit bottom. I never, ever, ever want to enter that hell again.
So when you see me pushing back...pushing back on the diet culture and the fitness culture (because nobody wants to admit to dieting to be thin any more), it is because I remember. I refuse to jump on any bandwagon, be it the organic one or the keto one or the intermittent fasting one or the vegan one or the "sugar is poison" one (it is also delicsious). I refuse to go with the special supplements that will fix all my ills except for those of my bank account (they are always super expensive).
The reality is that the horrific diet culture of my teens is still out there. It has just grown up. Now I go to the menopause support group on Facebook where I think I can find camaraderie for my achy joints and my saggy skin and the fact that I am indeed a brainless wonder with no ability to remember anything whatsoever and, while I do find some comfort with my menopausal travel companions, I also find an awful lot of women pushing their solutions to weight gain with "before" and "after" photos and descriptions of their insane personal training agendas and I am 14 all over again. And I.WON'T.GO.BACK.THERE.AGAIN.
Listen, people. The messages out there that say that you won't amount to anything unless you attain a certain body size and shape are just toxic. Yes, I know it is important to be healthy. But you can be healthy in a lot of different sizes and a lot of different ways and what good is a rock hard, super fit, thin body if your life is consumed with what you eat and how much you move? (I have to say this because I always get pushback from people who think I am encouraging them to "just be fat and not try.")
Eating disorders are real. Body dysmorphia is real. Exercise obsessions are real. And they can all be horribly destructive. They can literally suck the life right out of you.
I am staring 59 in the face and weigh the most I have in 35 years and that's ok (even though every article tells me how I have to stave off menopausal weight gain). But sometimes I have to revisit my former self to remember just how ok I am now. There is nothing out there worth the obsession over weight or diet or exercise.
And there is a lot to be gained (pun intended) in letting it go.
Friday, July 15, 2022
"STOP COMPARING YOURSELF!"
Tuesday, June 21, 2022
The Spectrum of Fatherhood
I made a Facebook post on Fathers Day that caused quite a ruckus. Many who read the post either misunderstood what I said or didn't read what I said or disagreed with what I said or felt that what I said was entirely inappropriate for the day. One person took my words as an opportunity to lash out at me personally. That post has since been taken down but the sting lingers.
Here is what I said:
Wishing some of my friends a Happy You-Are-No-Longer-Under-the-Iron-Thumb-of-Your-Tyrant-Father Day!
You know who you are. 😙
Here are some of the reactions I got:
-I ruined Fathers Day for everyone else.
-I was making others feel guilty for posting positive things about their fathers.
-It is hard to be a father and we need to give fathers grace.
-Good fathers are so important for the functioning of society.
-Absent fathers are behind many mass shootings.
-Praise should be public and criticism should be private.
-I caused fathers to wonder if they are good dads or not.
First, the primary audience of my post: I have a number of friends who grew up in the patriarchy movement. This is a movement that elevates the father to king and ruler supreme of his home and family. While some of these men may be very kind and can handle this level of absolute rule, other men use this as an opporunity to rule with an iron fist. Along with this patriarchy movement has come an especially odd thing called the Stay at Home Daughters movement. This movement views female offspring as possessions of their fathers. These girls are raised that their only function in life is to serve their fathers until their fathers hand them over to their husbands. The girl goes from the possession of one man to the possession of another. In addition, the only viable life option for these girls it to become a wife and mother, therefore homemaking is really her only needed skill in life. Therefore, no higher education is needed. I have friends who had to take college classes in secret because their fathers would not have allowed it. Most often these men hold control over their families, not only financially, but with threats of spiritual danger or doom should someone leave the fold. If this sounds like a cult, BINGO!
I know women who have fought long and hard to get to a place of freedom. As you can imagine, Fathers Day is a hard day for these women. A kind, loving father is beyond their comprehension. Of course, there are guys who grew up under such structures as well who have their own issues with that system. I'm sure Fathers Day is a minefield for them as well.
I also know plenty of people who grew up in families that weren't part of the patriarchy but where fathers were quite abusive in a variety of ways. They, too, may feel relief at not being under the control of these men.
So, I wrote that post for these friends. An "I want to acknowledge and celebrate with you" post. In no way was a saying anything else.
In no way did I say that all fathers are bad.
In no way did I say that it is wrong to post about fathers.
In no way did I say that fathers need to be perfect to be celebrated.
In no way did I say that fathers aren't important.
Anybody who has read anything else I have written knows just how strongly I feel about the role of fathers. Shoot, I preached an entire sermon on June 12 about the impact a father has on one's view of God. And on this very Fathers Day I posted a tribute to my own husband who was and is a kind and good father to our children.
In reflecting on what caused all the ruckus, I boiled it down to a lack of spectrum thinking. We need to be able to see much of life, including fatherhood, along a spectrum. At one end is the perfect father who doesn't exist but who many may aspire to. At the other end is the tyrant: the abusive father who devoirs and destroys his children in any variety of ways, using them for his own ends. And in between are all the other fathers, working at various levels of effort with their individual temperaments and gifts and skills and ideas and saddled with their family histories and traumas and life experiences and particular circumstances.
It is incredibly important to understand the spectrum lest we put everything into categories of black and white. When we see things in black and white, we ten interpret a mention of a tyrannical father as saying that fathers are bad or unnecessary and that the only way to not be a tyrannical father is to be a perfect one. That's just not true.
For years I have walked alongside a number women who have been in abusive marriages. One thing they regularly run into is that, in trying to explain to others their situation, others will say, "Well, my husband and I had this problem and ......" or "Well, all marriages are hard....." or "Well, what on earth were you expecting???" and so on. Leslie Vernick, a therapist who specializes in working with people in destructive marriages has a wonderful article I regularly point people to. In this particular article she points out the difference between a Diffucult Marriage, a Disappointing Marriage, and a Destructive Marriage. And there is indeed a difference. A huge difference. If we refuse to acknowledge that difference then we will try to understand our friend trapped in abuse as being in our same situation of a difficult marriage and we will minimize the severity of the situation and try to thrust on this friend our own pat answers. We have to understand that marriages are on a spectrum from the very healthy to the horribly abusive.
It is the same with families.
It is the same with mothers.
It is the same with fathers.
If you don't understand this then it is time for you to do what I call "expanding your frame of reference."
I expand my frame of reference by asking questions. By listening to people's life stories. By reading memoirs. By educating myself in a variety of ways. This is impportant so that when someone says, "My husband and I are having trouble in our marriage," I know to stop and ask questions and gently draw out what she is saying rather than offering a pat answer of what has worked for me.
If you think that when I say "tyrant father" I am talking about some guy who wants so badly to love his children well but yelled at his kid out of fear or overreacted to a poorly cut lawn, then you don't know what a tyrant father is.
If you think that my congratulating my friends for being out from under their tyrant fathers means that I'm demeaning the role of father, then you don't know what a tyrant father is.
If you think that it is inappropriate for rejoicing with my friends at their hard-won freedom, then you don't know what a tyrant father is.
If you can wrap your head around what the difference between all the other fathers out there and those fathers who use and abuse and rape and pillage and manipulate and maim and control and enforce and all, more often than not, in the name of God Almighty, then you should be thrilled, as I am, that those people who grew up trapped in such oppressive systems are finally free.
I was trying, in my own imperfect way, to redeem this holiday for them with a nod to their freedom.