Trail Blazer

Things were so simple in the church. The path was laid out before me like a red carpet rolled out from birth. The stability and security were things I grew to rely on. Predictability has been my best friend! If I would just walk along the yellow brick road then I would arrive at the predetermined destination, and that was an idea I loved!

Immediately after leaving I began looking for people to guide me. I wanted a model to follow and an example of “what could be.” Someone that could show me “the way.” I wanted the certainty of a clear path again! I am not talking about a religious leader, just a friend who had done this before. If someone could have just shown me it would all be ok – whatever that even means – that would have been helpful. I have found several families that are similar ages to our marriage and kids. Their stories sound strangely familiar to our own. Still, there are always notable differences in the stories I hear. Nothing worse or better, just different. They have taken their own path and are still trekking on it. But that is the difference. It is still THEIR path. While their examples have brought comfort in knowing we could make it through this in a healthy way, I have still felt so unsure of how our family would look on the other side. Can’t we just follow them down the same path they have paved?

Fortunately, I see things a lot differently now. That pre-paved walk through life is no longer what I crave. Ralph Waldo Emerson said it so very beautifully,

“Do not follow where the path may lead. Go where there is no path and leave a trail.”

So that is where we are. A year ago we stood at the unmarked trail head of a dense forest and had no choice but to take a step in. I no longer look for someone to tell me how to lead our family. I talk to friends, read, and seek wise words. However, I no longer hope to replicate their life or children’s lives. I want the life of our family to be new, fresh, and unique to us. Sure, we will find protruding roots and rocks along the path we trod and I fully anticipate having to whack some weeds. But in the end we will have a clearly defined trail that brings us to the other side of it all.

I have never considered myself a trail blazer, but I am striving to embrace that honorable title. As a family, we will walk through holding tight to each other, though I fully expect there there will be pinching and teasing along the way. Hopefully, we will also be able to look at each other and smile as we continue moving forward and blazing this trail together.

Fearless Friday Wk 3

I had an interesting phone call this week. I have known this person for a very long time, but as I have begun to transform into this new version of me, our talks have been less frequent. After our general greetings, a new dimension of our relationship was revealed in our conversation.

As we spoke, I recognized that this person is a trigger for many of the feelings I have been working so aggressively to overcome. This is where my focus of ‘Fearless Friday’ is this week:

  1. This week I recognized a trigger through a conversation and immediately opened up to my husband about my fears of falling back into a nasty cycle.

What I learned:

  1. Recognizing this EARLY is huge! I didn’t bottle it up and keep it to myself, which used to be my practice. Because I am willing to work on this immediately and have a great support nearby who is aware, I know I can deal with it appropriately before it becomes a bigger issue.

What have you done to overcome your fears this week?

Guilt is Glue

“Guilt is glue.”

My therapist said these three simple words to me as the guilt and shame of years past seeped from my pores.

I sat there and pondered what she had just said. I do that sometimes during our sessions. I just sit there in silence, fidgeting my fingers and staring blankly at the soft green walls. I tried to digest her words and let them sit for a moment so I could decide if I agreed with her or not. Just because I pay her for her words doesn’t mean they are always right for me. The whole “forming my own opinion” thing was still pretty fresh and I was practicing it as best as I could, and questioning everything is part of that. It didn’t take me too long to conclude she was right. I scribbled down her words in my therapy journal and knew I was going to have to repeat them to myself in the months to come.

The more I thought about it the more I knew I agreed with these three simple words. Isn’t it funny how three words simply strung together in sequence can hold such power and evoke such emotion? They rang so true to me. It was like my whole body embraced them in unison.

Guilt is the glue that keeps us stuck to a person, institution or even thought we may have. It is strong. This guilt stuff takes prisoners regularly and the application process is practically nonexistent – – read: all are accepted and welcomed into its bounds. It isn’t tangible, yet it has such a tight grip and powerful pull in ones life. Based on my personal experience, this glue comes in a variety of strengths. Some people may be dealing with an off brand glitter glue that easily washes away with warm water, while others are covered in gorilla glue that won’t budge. I have four kids, so I know about the real life – non metaphorical strength of glue 😉 As I looked at my life, at my thoughts and motivations, it was clear gorilla glue would be the best to describe what was controlling me and binding me in many instances to my former religion. The strength of this glue is so clear to me in that I found even the fear of guilt can keep me subscribed to a certain paradigm for longer than desired. Just the fear of the guilt that comes with letting people down was paralyzing. It is exhausting to try and pull away from something only to experience whiplash when old thinking habits win and reign you back in.

Gratefully, this phrase lit a fire in me. I determined I was not going to allow myself to be glued to something that was so controlling in my life. Things changed that day. Truly. They changed in a way I hadn’t anticipated. This was but one of a few of the pivotal moments in my healing. I can’t help but wonder if my husband ever saw a turning point in me and my approach to life. The turnabout was so clear and abrupt to me, but perhaps it was less obvious to an onlooker.

I began repeating those three simple words, “guilt is glue” regularly. During those moments when I felt scared, wanted to hide, or felt I was only making a decision out of fear, I would and still often do recite these words over in my head and press on. I would envision my fingers glued together and watch as the glue stretched out with each push through the uncomfortable. I would imagine the strands of glue becoming thinner and thinner and more space being created.

It may still be months or even years before all the residue from that bond is washed away. It may never even fully be gone, and I recognize and accept that. However, I am encouraged by the progress I do see. Recognizing that I have the opportunity to make decisions based on my desires and hopes for myself, my husband, and my family, as opposed to that binding force is absolutely liberating – among other feelings. The changes I see in myself every day keep me trying to scrub that glue away. Until I see the gem I hope to find underneath all the rough stuff, I will continue to repeat it on the daily “guilt is glue, guilt is glue, guilt is glue.”

Has guilt ever kept you bound to something or someone? How did you overcome that?

Fearless Friday wk 2

I am struggling to find words for this week’s FF post, which is why it is a day late 🙂

As I have sat and really pondered over the past two days what I have done to push through the uncomfortable to move in the direction I desire to, and how I have faced some of my fears, nothing big has come to mind. I don’t have huge opportunities to bungee jump or dive off a bridge very often – – those two would definitely push me to my limit! The opportunities I encounter regularly are relatively small. So let’s get on with it:

  1. This week I allowed myself to think, even when I was uncertain and uncomfortable

What I learned:

  1. It really isn’t that scary. Once I push through the initial discomfort I can make real strides in exploring various topics and start to form my true opinion. I don’t have to be ashamed of the conclusions I come to and shouldn’t be.

It is short. However, what this shows me is I am moving forward. Each small step at a time shows me I am pushing myself to be who I am want to be. Each drag of my foot gets me a little closer to being out of the mud. Progress is coming and it feels so good.

The Starbucks Shakes

It had been several months since we stepped away from our religion. The roots were still deep though, and I couldn’t shake some of the indoctrination from my active mind. Thirty two years with a steady fill of teachings will do that to a person. Our particular fundamentalist religion has a strict health code which each member is expected to adhere to wherein coffee and tea are strictly forbidden, among other things. I truly took this teaching to heart and kept as much distance between me and coffee as possible. With this mindset, I had always averted my sense of smell when walking by the coffee beans at the store and refused to eat the coffee Jelly Belly’s found in my multi pack. Yes, I was THAT person. Please, feel free to laugh (or cry) with me about this. Growing up, we always bought the big bags of Belly Flops whenever we could because in our family’s opinion belly flops > regular Jelly Belly beans. Who doesn’t like a strange glob of jelly beans the size of 4 all in one bite? We did! Plus, we weren’t shy about eating a whole 5 pound bag in a weekend either. Well, it just so happens that there would often be coffee jelly beans mixed into my chocolate pudding, root beer and much beloved Dr. Pepper flavors and it was sometimes hard to tell the difference. I would try to inspect each one carefully but sometimes a bean in disguise would slip through what I deemed a rigorous inspection process. I have always taken my jelly belly eating game very seriously. If a forbidden coffee bean found it’s way into my mouth, I would promptly spit it out and shove another handful of fruity ones in just to get that wretched taste out of my mouth!

Given this past, I had to revisit my aversion to coffee soon after we parted ways with our imposed health code. “Do I like the smell of coffee?” I started with this simple question first. As I would walk by the beans at the store I would take a few small breaths in to explore the smell. Baby steps. “That’s not so bad” I would think. I would take a deeper breath the next time, lingering just a little long as I pushed my cart past the self serve beans area. It wasn’t long before I thought, “I think I may actually like the smell of coffee!” WHAT? Could this be right? If my life was documented in a newspaper, this definitely would have made the front page headlines reading, “She came. She smelled. She liked.” Or maybe, “Coffee virgin discovers beans won’t melt nostrils when smelled.” Unfortunately, the picture attached could have only been of me staring at the cold cuts beyond the beans and not daring to look at the names of the varieties I had sniffed. I could only risk a small side glance, for fear of running into someone. Anyone.

Sadly, smelling the forbidden beans is far different than partaking of the juice made from them. It didn’t take too long for me to make the conscious decision that I did want to try it, but it was only after much back and forth about what I really wanted to do. I didn’t want to do anything out of anger or frustration and just flip a switch to do everything the church ever told me not to do. I wanted these kinds of things to be thought through and come from my own thought process of what I deem to be right or wrong. I weighed the pros and cons and trying coffee won out. Hallelujah!

I was so inexperienced I wasn’t even sure what I should order or HOW to order. As anyone looking to discover something new, I took myself to google for tips on what to order. All I knew was I needed to go to Starbucks cause that is THE place to get coffee, right? Plus, there are at lest 5 within two miles of my house. There I was pulling into the drive-thru line practicing over and over again what I would say to the barista at the intercom. I knew I didn’t know what I was doing, but I didn’t want HER to know that.

Suddenly I was face to face with my former villain; coffee, disguised as a vanilla latte. It was in my car, the smell permeating the air. This was it. It took some positive affirmations from my husband, but I took a small sip…and it was absolutely disgusting. My taste buds couldn’t understand how people actually liked this stuff! Perhaps it is an acquired taste? Or maybe I just didn’t order a sugary enough drink?! It’s true I didn’t add any creamer, and only a single pump of syrup. I just didn’t know! I pressed on, continuing to take small sips for the the next hour in the hopes that the next taste would magically be better than the one before. I finally waved my white flag and that small cup found its way into the trash can still 3/4 full. Little did I know, I just needed to order a tall skinny mocha to wet my coffee pallet. It turns out it wasn’t Starbucks fault and I just didn’t know what to order! 🙂

I tried again a few days later and this time I went to Dunkin’ Donuts. I felt so paranoid, like someone I knew would see me in the drive-thru or find the cup in my trash can. Fortunately, this time my empty coffee cup was safely disposed of in my garbage can at home. It is great at keeping my secrets.

The Dunkin’ Donuts coffee was much more enjoyable than the first. It didn’t taste nearly as harsh to my taste buds, which was a pleasant surprise! I thought to myself, “Now this I can get on board with.” A little creamer and I was happy to enjoy my cup and move along with my day uneventfully, though still surprised I had actually taken this big step!

Honestly, taking this small step was a little hit to the ego, but exciting at the same time. It is hard feeling like a kid when you step away from something that had you so confined. There are so many things I have felt ignorant or childish in. It seems so minor to not feel like I could order a steaming cup of coffee, but for myself – – and many others I have talked to – – I just felt so embarrassed to be so completely ignorant about something as simple as ordering a cup of morning brew.

I have since spent time studying different types of coffee, where the beans are grown and how that effects the flavor of the product. I have purchased a french press, was gifted a Keurig, bought a milk boss to attempt making alluring lattes, hosted coffee dates with friends, tried dark, medium, and lights roasts, iced coffee, and a healthy number of flavored creamers to top my ever growing coffee roast collection and branded K-cups. I have found drinks I love and drinks I wouldn’t order again. It didn’t take me too long to grow fond of this forbidden drink or to ask what I had heard so many times before, “Why can’t you guys drink coffee?” with true confusion as to why this simple, natural drink is off limits. The flavor combinations are endless and that is a part of the appeal to me. That, along with the beautiful boost of energy that allows me to be far more productive. I am not going to lie, that is amazing!

Perhaps, one of the strongest appeals to me is the mental taste of coffee. Is that a strange thing to say? It may not taste like anything special to you beyond the caffeine buzz, but that is where we differ. It has a strong tasteful meaning to me now. There are days that I sit down with my mug and with each piping sip that crosses my lips I simply think of the word “freedom” and smile inside. And nothing tastes better than that.

Fearless Friday Wk 1

My therapist and I have had lengthy discussions about how I am going to overcome the anxiety that rises in me when I find myself in different situations, or even in just talking about potential circumstances. While she gave me a healthy handful of tools to use when I feel my thoughts beginning to turn frantic and my palms start to wear, she also gave me some difficult advice. She has said that the best way for me to get over some of these feelings and fears I have is to push through the uncomfortable. Given the reasons behind my reluctance and nervousness, stepping out of my comfort zone will allow me to expand and grow…or so she says 😉

So, here I am on week one of doing what scares me. Let me tell you, just writing these little updates scares me! After my initial Fearless Friday post I had a little case of vulnerability hangover. Not only sharing my feelings, but some of my strongest insecurities isn’t easy for me. I have also been unsure about the format of these posts. I am still not sure how I want them to look and feel yet, but I suppose I have to start somewhere. So here I am. This won’t be the most polished or beautifully written, but I can be ok with that.

As Brene Brown says,

“vulnerability is our most accurate measure of courage”

So this is me being courageous. Showing up, like I said I would, to share some of the things that have pushed me further in personal progression not only this week, but over the last few months.

Making friends used to come so easily to me. I would make friends wherever I went. Or so I thought. As it turns out, I made (and still make) many acquaintances. I have known lots of people wherever I have lived and am friendly with them all, however, I have had very few in my current town over the last 10 years that I felt like I could call for a dinner out, or when I just need to talk about what is bothering me. There is something comforting about having a pal you can just pick up the phone and call at any given moment without that awkward “can I help you with something?” read: “why are you calling me?” Part of this is that I tend to get nervous putting myself out there. If I don’t make an invitation then there is no chance of rejection. The math seems easy here, right? Well, that also doesn’t help me to develop and grow relationships either, now does it?

I have made some new friends since our faith transition, and I really enjoy talking and spending time with them. I haven’t opened up to them about where I am coming from, however, there is a comforting side to that. It is like I am coming to them with a blank slate and they have no preconceived ideas about me. It is nice that I don’t really have to explain anything to them unless I want to.

Ok, that is enough blabbing – here are my stand out, push the limits, do something scary events from recent days:

  1. Extending several invitations to a few different events to people I hope to develop stronger friendships with
  2. Attending a celebratory party for a friend by myself where many women from my old congregation would be
  3. Opening up to my husband and therapist about some issues that I hate to talk about, but are pertinent to my well being

What I learned:

  1. Other people appreciate invitations as well. We all need to be the ones to extend an invitation sometimes. A ‘no’ isn’t a rejection of me personally, so try again.
  2. If I don’t act weird, they won’t act weird. It is sometimes good to have an “escape route,” but you may be surprised when you don’t need to use it.
  3. Even if it leads to a vulnerability hang over, it is important to talk things through. Getting help early on will make for a much less painful recovery.

What have you done this week to step out of your comfort zone?  What did you learn from it?

Gratitude and a Missing Receipt

“Why are you feeling emotional right now, Ashley?” Her eyes staring, waiting patiently for my response.

“I am not sure. <long pause> I think…I think I just feel so much gratitude to be able to look back one year ago and see how far I have come.”

I met with my therapist for the first time this year and as we spoke, the conversation naturally evolved into all the things that have changed since we met. She saw me at my lowest of lows, bawling and lost, to this day almost exactly one year after we spoke on the phone. I blubbered nonstop during that first phone call which, thankfully, is starkly different from this conversation. This was a conversation where I couldn’t help but smile, even as I dabbed the tears welling up in my eyes.

It almost felt like a graduation, or maybe like defending a thesis. I was telling her all the skills I had learned, and providing evidence through the stories I told in the hopes she would give me a passing grade. Occasionally, even I would stop in my thoughts and actually feel proud for how far I had come!

It took the entire year of 2018 until I could honestly express my gratitude for my experiences. I have heard one individual call it the “gift of the faith crisis.” Most of the time I just wanted to return that so-called gift, but the receipt was nonexistent.

Now, I actually feel grateful for where I come from. Truly. Are there things I would change? Well, surely there are. But who doesn’t feel that way no matter how you grew up? I am who I am today because of the cards I have been dealt; all I have seen, felt and experienced. Oh yeah, and because of how I have embraced and risen above those challenges.

In many respects, I have become a new person. Who I am is still unfolding, and will continue to change for the rest of my life. I am so grateful to feel comfortable with that now and to actually be happy (shocker!) about that beautiful truth. Why would I want to remain the same from birth to burial having not matured, grown, and expanded?

I am grateful I can be me. I don’t have to hold back, or try to fit in a tight little box. I can be the quirky, silly, introverted, cautious, loving, honest, sensitive, rule-following, motivated person I am and be very much ok with it. I used to give some of those words negative connotations, but thankfully I am moving beyond that now. I sure wish I could have learned this part 20 years ago!

Graffiti Park, Austin, TX

I am grateful for all the small steps that got me here. I didn’t skip any along the way, even though I so desperately wanted to and if I am being honest, I tried to. But skipping the necessary steps just never works. I even had to travel backwards sometimes, but that is ok too. I could always remember where I had been and knew it was attainable to get back to the greener grass I had once visited.

The hope of a better, brighter, kinder future kept me going. I am immensely grateful for hope. I desperately clung to the hope. The hope of actually making it through this and being happy again was all I wanted. There were days I genuinely wondered if I would ever again feel any sense of joy in my life. So, of course being even happier than before wasn’t even on my radar. I just couldn’t imagine that at the time. I was often taught that people outside of the church or those that leave aren’t happy, or that they only think they are happy because they just don’t know TRUE happiness. Yeah…so grateful I proved this idea wrong.

I am grateful for the kindhearted, openly loving people who I have in my life. Those who lent me a hand to pull me out of the depths of darkness I found myself wallowing in. I am grateful to know who those ‘I love you no matter what’ people are in my life. We all need them and gosh, I am grateful to know I have more than one!

I am grateful for the beauty in this world that continues to help me see that, perhaps, the whole “gift of a faith crisis” thing might actually be real. I am grateful I was open to accepting such an -initially- unwelcome gift. So now, instead of searching for the receipt in every fold of my purse, I just want to say “thank you.”