Posted in Mental Health, prayer, Recovery

How God Talks

I’ve often wished that God would just text me.

Hey, girl, turn around and say something to that silent person you just passed. She needs a smile. And while you’re at it, tell her she has beautiful hands, because that will make her think of playing her piano, and she’s been missing her music without realizing it. Oh, and by the way, I’ve lined up your next motorcycle for you—you’ll find out about it when you talk to Carrie during book-study. You’re welcome. Love, God

Wouldn’t that be convenient? None of this praying-for-guidance or listening for subtle answers. I’m a literal-minded person; I want instructions dammit! Surely the Almighty Creator of All Things could tap into my cell-service without any problem.

20140131-003602So okay, God has NOT been blowing up my phone. But you know what? He HAS been blowing up my life lately in all kinds of ways. And the guy can make himself heard!

I found myself telling a total stranger (except now he’s not a total stranger anymore—he’s my friend Anne’s landlord) that “God had told me” to ask him about rental properties. While he was buying tile and I was giving him his veteran’s discount at Home Depot. That’s just crazy. What’s crazier is that he didn’t call me crazy. His response? “I believe.”

Now I’ve just finished saying that I don’t have some special dialed-in bat-channel to God. I’m only just Me.

So Anne asked me yesterday, “HOW does God talk to you? How do you know?” Well, all I have to offer are stories. And she knows some of them—they’re about her.

Anne and I used to hang out two and a half years ago, when Jon and I were just married and she and I were both struggling to get Sober again. Her number has stayed in my phone—but we hadn’t talked, or even messaged, for a couple years. Until I took a nap recently and dreamed she called me. And woke up feeling convicted that I needed to reach out. No logic to that impulse, but I texted her. Got nothing back. Kept texting. Again, no logical reason to keep pinging someone who wasn’t responding—but something was telling me to. It was weeks later that she did call me, checking herself into a crisis center with nowhere to go afterward and no one to pick up her calls.

She’s Clean. But she’s broken. And my text messages were the only recent incoming activity on her phone. Left to myself, I had no reason to contact her. So I can only figure God told me to.

Let me take a moment here to tell you (with her permission) a little about Anne. She’s just 31 years old, a disabled combat vet whose complex PTSD and social anxieties stem from horrific traumas in her childhood and her civilian adult life, some of those very fresh. She has lived under bridges, she has thrown herself off a bridge in Portland, she has drowned in her own life countless times and is still (however reluctantly) here to tell the tale. She jumps out of her skin if anyone touches her or makes a sudden move in her direction, rendering her miserably frazzled and disconnected in settings like our church, where everyone wants to welcome her by hugging. One side of her sports an impish smile and a from-the-gut laugh you can’t help but join, while another side of her manifests in stricken expressions and panicked breathing in the face of the overwhelming requirements of simple daily living. She lives in a constant state of fear and anxiety, and sometimes only her OCD (with its attendant attention-to-details) keeps her going with any semblance of togetherness. Her outlook combines deep thinking and childlike curiosity—when we read Bible together I walk away feeling sheepish that I’d never thought to ask the questions she does.

If I had to pick out one defining characteristic that shapes Anne’s life, it would be the fact that she does NOT. Trust. Anyone. No one feels safe to her. Not counselors. Not pastors. Not medical professionals. Not the VA. Not acquaintances. Not family. It’s not “paranoia” on her part; her life experiences have trained her that not even a mother can be trusted to be safe.

That’s Anne. Traumatized, broken, barely functioning, and absolutely alone. Even her service dog was separated from her when she lost her housing in early July.

So when she asked me yesterday how God “talks” to me, I reminded her of the odd impulse that started me texting her in mid-June. Like God was setting something up when he knew she was about to need it.

Even as she acknowledged the point, she was frowning that she doesn’t think God sends her that kind of message. “You don’t think so?” I challenged her. “Then tell me why you decided to trust me.”

That trust has grown with baby-steps, each promise-from-me coming with a reminder that I haven’t broken a promise yet. They’ve mostly been small promises (“I’ll stay with you in the ER,” “I’ll find out how your dog is doing,” “I’ll call you on my lunch break”) but she started out so sure she couldn’t believe them…

IMG-2408
She won’t let me share her smile… Just her story.

The other day she let me stand behind her and braid her hair. If you know Anne, you know that’s an even bigger deal than the Power of Attorney she signed authorizing me to help her straighten out some issues with the VA. So: “Tell me why you decided to trust me,” I demanded in yesterday’s conversation.

She drew her eyebrows down and looked at me sideways and admitted, “Something just told me I should trust you.”

“Well there you go. God told me to call you, and told you to trust me, and here we are.”

Where-we-are includes that she’s been living in the garage section of our fifth wheel for several weeks while we’ve been searching high and low for new housing for her. It’s not a “renter’s market” here, and although she has a perfect rental-history and guaranteed income (disability), her credit sucks. We couldn’t find her anything.

Enter Ed, chatting me up while buying tile from me at Home Depot. I inexplicably asked him what he knows about rental properties (thank you, God, for the nudge) and he answered that he has one. He’s just finishing up renovating it (hence the tile) and it would be available in about a week. So I told him about Anne. And I’m thinking God told him something, because the next day we were meeting him at his sweet little rental-house with hardwood floors and bright open windows and sturdy old trees lining the front. No credit-check necessary. She can have her service dog back with her.

Anne is still raw, and fresh to the practice of trusting people (or God, for that matter). She won’t fully believe it until she has the keys in hand. But she’s trying to. And she’s tentatively “letting in” some people besides me. Not all the way in, but she’s opening that door and building a belief that maybe there ARE some people who can be trusted. It wouldn’t take much to make her snap those doors shut… But I’m trusting God has this in hand. I still wish he’d text and TELL me so… But he seems to know what he’s doing.

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Posted in Motorcycle, prayer, Recovery

Taking Off the Training Wheels (in Prayer)

motorcycle training wheelsWhen we were motorcycle-shopping, Jon jokingly threatened to buy me a bike with training wheels—though he then reassured me that he wouldn’t humiliate me like that. I think the issue goes deeper than avoiding humiliation, though—what I need most is to build the gut-level confidence that the bike will, indeed, stay upright even without Jon on the front. And that confidence wouldn’t start growing with training wheels in place.

In a sense, passenger-ing behind Jon has been my “training-wheels” course in motorcycling… I’m SO comfortable when he’s in front of me, and I have absolute confidence in his control of the bike. When I’m his passenger, I’m utterly at ease on a motorcycle.

In my solo parking-lot ventures, it’s that confidence that was wholly lacking the first time I got on the bike by myself. It’s that confidence that I’m building. I’m overcoming my illogical expectation that the bike is somehow going to suddenly fling herself to the ground!

boot on motorcycle peg
feet UP!

Last week I was pretty much walking her around the parking lot in first gear, working on getting comfortable with the friction-point on the clutch, and with the balance and weight of her being mine to handle. Last night I graduated to wide, slow circles around the parking lot, with my feet mostly picked up—so that’s some serious progress in my comfort-level. (Jon jogged alongside calling encouragement to me, just like my grandpa did when I was learning to ride bicycle.) Continue reading “Taking Off the Training Wheels (in Prayer)”

Posted in Mental Health, Recovery

On Vapors, and Vapers

who vs whomLast week CBS This Morning hosted a lexicographer from the Merriam-Webster dictionary, talking about the malleability of language and the ongoing task of incorporating new words into the dictionary. Although prescriptive grammarians (unlike descriptive ones) would have you believe that our language and its rules are static, nothing could be further from the truth. (Sure, I know when I’m supposed to say “whom”—and I sometimes even do it—but these days those rules are largely at odds with actual usage.)

Speaking to new words that have been recently incorporated, the Merriam-Webster editor gave examples like “photobomb” and “binge-watch.”  By this point, “selfie” has been in the dictionary so long it’s old news. I’m fascinated by the cultural commentary afforded by new words…  The one I’m interested in today has only been in the dictionary for a couple years, and won Oxford’s “word of the year” honor in 2014:

vape definition Oxford word of the year

The Merriam-Webster definition adds to the verb definition of vape: “like someone smoking a conventional cigarette.” That definition might already be outdated. Most of today’s vapes have so little in common with cigarettes that they’re not even getting called e-cigs anymore. Early models did look like cigarettes, but these days they range from boxy models to flashy pens—virtually no resemblance to the nasty originals.

Yup, I just called cigarettes nasty. I actually thought so even for the eight-or-so years that I was obsessively smoking them. And there you have the strange face of addiction. Cigarettes are nasty—but I liked them. They were my friends, They were a treat, every time I lit up, even though I hated the lingering ashtray-odor that clung to me afterward. Continue reading “On Vapors, and Vapers”

Posted in Recovery

What Paper Plates are For

There’s a TV ad for an antidepressant that features a paper plate on a popsicle-stick handle with a smiley face sketched on it… Various people are holding it up in front of their faces, which (behind the paper-plate-smiles) are unhappy, disengaged, or entirely expressionless.

rexulti-put-on-a-brave-face-large-2
from the Rexulti “brave face” ad…

That ad speaks not only to the experience of Depression, but also to an odd aspect of our culture. It’s somehow unacceptable to show anything other than the smiley-face, isn’t it?

In that ad, the people only tuck the paper-plate facade into pockets or purses after they have their own smiles back in place.

Maybe I’m reading too much into it, but I also notice that all of these people keep their paper-plate smiles close at hand. One tucks the stick-handle into her pocket, another into the strings of his apron while he barbecues, others tuck them into outer pockets of handbag and briefcase. One of them fingers the plate as she walks away, not unlike a smoker patting a pocket to assure herself of the presence of her cigarette pack.

In addition to its inferred promise that it will put my own smile back, this ad tells me that no matter what’s going on, I’d better face forward with a smile of some kind.

Our false smiles (whether or not they’re sketched on paper plates) are like security blankets—we don’t dare show ourselves without them. Why is that? Why are we so conditioned not to let stress or worry show, not to answer the question “How are you?” with anything but a variation of “Fine“?

I’m wondering what we fear about letting our faces be real. Continue reading “What Paper Plates are For”

Posted in Recovery

Taking Out the Trash

housework no one notices when you do itThis week I volunteered to help out a church acquaintance with some cleaning and reorganizing of her house. She’s a single mom with numerous health problems and two active young boys, and she babysits an infant who’s now mobile enough to require baby-proofing of the house—and she was finding the project overwhelming. I won’t lie: I found the project overwhelming when I got there.

I tackled the kitchen the first day, removing bags of trash and recycling, stowing in her pantry the still-bagged groceries that took up the entire kitchen floor, running loads through the dishwasher and tackling the stacks of unwashed pans and pots.

It crossed my mind that this kind of clean-up is only truly useful if it’s accompanied by some changes-in-habit to prevent the same from happening all over again… And that thought brought me right back to my own messes—more internal in nature, but just as daunting. A tidy kitchen-cupboard is not necessarily the mark of a put-together person!

kitchen cupboard cabinet
my RV kitchen cupboards are far tidier than my mind!

I had a session with my counselors that same afternoon, told them about my day, and made the observation that even if I take out my own “mental trash” through counseling, I have to change the way I handle the trash, going forward, if I’m truly going to benefit from the clean-up.

It’s a timely analogy, because I’ve been writing an A.A. “Fourth Step,” which is essentially an inventory of all the garbage I’ve created in my life. A lot of folks “go out” on the Fourth Step.  We call it the “A.A. Waltz:” Steps ONE-two-three & OUT-the-door! It’s a tough thing to look at your own faults honestly and objectively…

The Step begins fairly easily, by listing people against whom you have resentments, and enumerating what you resent and how it has affected you. Oh yeah, we can all happily write about how other people have messed us up, right? The tough part comes with the oft-dreaded “fourth column,” where it’s time to look at your own part in each of those messes. What have I done to contribute to each situation, what wrongs have I committed, how have I harmed other people? It’s heavy. No, it’s excruciating. This is the stuff I don’t want to think about myself, let alone admit to someone else.

cleanBut that’s exactly what comes next. Step Five: We admit to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs. The whole list. Even (especially!) the stuff we least want to cop to. Continue reading “Taking Out the Trash”

Posted in Recovery, writing

Exorcism by Ink

I’ve exorcised a number of demons through the use of ink. No surprise for a writer. But this week exorcism-by-ink took a different twist.

A couple years ago I foolishly married a person who turned out to be a liar and a cheat (and also already-married!) and unfortunately I had already let him scrawl his name across my arm with a  tattoo gun before I figured all that out. That’s right, I let him sign me. (I’m sure there’s a whole psychology-chapter in that.) The annulment erased his name from my ID and social security card, but didn’t erase it from my arm.

imageSo… I just got some new ink. His signature has been obliterated by a lava flow, which pretty perfectly mirrors how I feel about this.

That signature was a demon-claw still snagged in my skin. Today I feel…  unsnagged.  I loosed the demon’s hold with an application of ink.

And now… I’m turning to the more difficult application of ink, writing a “Step Four” I’ve been putting off, which should be the final step of loosing that particular demon’s hold. The fact that I’ve been putting it off is proof that I haven’t finished the exorcism yet.

Posted in Mental Health, Recovery, writing

Changing My Story

T-Rex tape
What does it take to change your story? SMART goals, and maybe T-rex tape.

Sometimes the really simple stuff is the hardest to get my hard head around… How is it, for example, that I can have a goal and know what it is and face no real impediments—yet it doesn’t materialize? When there’s not some external obstacle, why don’t I get that goal accomplished?

Well, it all comes down to ME, doesn’t it? But knowing that doesn’t magically move my goals to the “achieved” column—I still need to take action or make changes.

I was in a group therapy session last night where we were talking about changes. In this Season of Resolutions, it’s an apt topic. I tend to avoid “resolutions” with almost superstitious fervor, and even the list I made the other day was composed quickly and carelessly, comprised of things I’d already intended to be doing…

What’s on the horizon for 2017? I’m going to learn fly-fishing and rapelling, courtesy of my husband. I’m going to read a lot (as always). I’m going to keep writing, now that I’ve started again. I’m going to do some scuba diving in Idaho lakes. I’m going to enjoy hundreds of miles more on the motorcycle. I’m going to pray, and live Sober. I’m going to get new tattoos. I’m going to grin a lot.

Those hardly count as resolutions, do they? Resolutions are supposed to be game-changers, not stuff I already planned and am sure of crossing off.  I don’t “do” resolutions… And yet, here I am thinking of the fresh calendar, the fresh journal I just started, the fresh opportunity to say, “THIS year I”…)

It IS seductive, thinking of a fresh start at things. Continue reading “Changing My Story”