24. The Work of the Living

Well, I had intended to post this weeks ago but, as I was still working through much of this content, it took me a little time to be fully ready. 

The rollercoaster of life continues to swing from big highs to deep lows (I’ll give an update on grad school at the end, for those who didn’t get the new via social media), but I try not to put too much stock in my feelings. My very awesome and incredible therapist reminds me often to pay attention to my thoughts and try to be intentional in the ways I direct them. For instance, that last sentence should be rewritten to eliminate the word “try” and simply say “be.” Because, apparently, words matter. OK, not apparently. Words matter. Period. 

The multitude of closed doors I’ve encountered have forced me to think a lot about who it is I want to be… and what it is I want out of life. Recently, I journaled a sentence that turned out to be a huge revelation. It was this… 

“I never really chose who I was going to become. I simply became without direction or intent, rolling my life out according to the narrative I had grown up with.”

That is likely true for most of us. We often simply assume the selves we were told to be while growing up… or the selves we were told we were. It never really occurred to me until recently that we can, actually, choose who we are going to be. Like… every day. 

As I began to think about who I actually wanted to be, I found myself hitting a wall. While I have no problem producing a long list of my faults and flaws, I found it much harder to define my gifts and strengths. Each time I approached it, I felt panicky. When I attempted to articulate who I wanted to be… who I AM… in a positive light… my mind would freeze up. It’s like it refused to accept any entries other than the ones it had already logged. 

I pitched it to my therapist. Why couldn’t I get clear on this? 

We backpedaled a bit. Who did I currently believe myself to be? What was the dominant narrative taking up space in my mind? What words did I apply to myself on a daily basis? 

Chaos-maker. Rebellious. Inconvenient. Bitch. Idiot. A pain in the ass. Screw up. Argumentative. Ungrateful. Needy. Demanding. Insufficient. The reason things went wrong. Unable to abide by the rules. Difficult. Anger-inducing. Exhausting. 

This is the narrative that had evolved throughout my lifetime. I never questioned those beliefs. I incorporated them into my being as something to apologize for. I approached every situation anticipating that the world would eventually discover these ugly pieces of me, knowing I would simply have to clean up whatever mess came when it did. 

I suddenly understood why applying for jobs has been so absolutely and utterly exhausting. I wrote each cover letter with the unconscious apology that anyone should ever have to have me as an employee. 

It’s why I didn’t date. 

It’s why I shied away from positions of leadership. 

It’s why I second guessed every parenting decision I made. 

It’s why I assumed that if anything went wrong in my life… anything at all… it was exactly what I deserved. 

I had been walking through my life with the inarticulable sensation that I was tainting the world with my existence. 

My therapist utilizes an incredible model of therapy called Internal Family Systems. (If you’re interested in learning more about it, you can hear an interview with founder Richard Scwartz on one of my favorite podcasts- Ten Percent Happier. It has been an invaluable part of my recent journey.) Essentially, we revisit pieces of ourselves stuck in a part of our developmental history. We get curious. What role do these stuck pieces play in protecting our present selves? What do they need in order to feel safe and leave the past? What beliefs do they perpetuate?

We all have these pieces. They’re sneaky. We become so used to their narratives that we no longer notice or question them. 

In the earliest years of my childhood, I was a joyful and rambunctious kid. I was a giddy, giggly firecracker- talkative, animated, extermently energetic. I was determined, sensitive, silly, empathetic, and highly interested in the components of right and wrong. 

When I look at myself that way- as the earliest, most likeable version of myself- it’s easy to see the thin line between who I was meant to be and who I was misconstrued to be. 

That’s a really powerful idea. 

Together, my therapist and I visit those misconstrued ideas. (Sidebar: I realize I’ve now begun several sentences with the words “my therapist”, which puts me solidly in the category of every New York Yuppie who’s ever written about themselves- even though I’ve never lived in New York and don’t consider myself a yuppie. I’m sorry. It just can’t be helped right now!). We pull a specific feeling from the rolodex- one that has been acute more recently- and then to go back in my memory to see if I can pinpoint its origins. Can I remember where I was standing or what I was doing the first time I felt that way?  

One by one, I visit the intersection of where my personal attributes were turned from positives to negatives. I have conversations… actual out loud conversations… with myself at whatever age I became stuck in each belief. I get curious about what that little person- or teen or young adult- needs… about what hurts, what’s confusing, what’s being protected. I tell my small self the truth of who I really am. 

It is unspeakably liberating. 

He offers counternarratives to replace the misbeliefs. In place of “I create dissonance, chaos, and scarcity,” I say, “I create peace, harmony, and abundance in my life and the lives of others.”  Almost immediately, something inside me levitates. I feel light and joyful, free. Yes… absolutely. I want to be someone who creates those things… for myself but more importantly, in the world. He reminds me that the spirit of God does not exist in chaos or dissonance or scarcity and that also, the spirit of God dwells within me. 

It is life-changing. 

When I feel a wave of anxiety presenting me with the belief of my not-enoughness, I repeat the mantra. “I create peace, harmony, joy, and abundance in my life and the lives of others.” In doing so, I am able to worry less about what vocation I land in and more about putting myself in situations that enable me to live this truth. It roots my parenting efforts. It roots my contributions to my friendships. It roots the direction of my healing. 

And that brings me to my most recent update. I did not get the assistantship for grad school. The initial news of that felt like quite a blow, even though I knew it was very competitive and that my chances were slim. I was most disappointed that I didn’t even get interviewed… a common theme across all areas. But, while it was hard to close the door on the idea of grad school- at least for now- it also felt like somewhat of a relief in that:

(a.) I finally have an answer and 

(b.) it just really, really feels like with so many closed doors, something very intentional and specific and GOOD is coming my way. Because seriously, it’s impossible for things to just suck this much just for the sake of sucking. I truly do believe it’s leading somewhere. 

In the past two weeks, a picture of something else has begun to form. A little tiny seed of a something that might bloom into more. In time. I’ll have to hold you in suspense on this one for a while. But I am beginning to create a vision of who I am and who I want to be in this world. 

And it’s good. It’s very good.

4 thoughts on “24. The Work of the Living

  1. I seem to recall that, when you went to the island, you were going to try and get in touch with your true self, your authentic self. You’re right when you say that the Spirit of Elohim is in you, and apostle Paul says somewhere in Romans that the Spirit of God bears witness with your spirit. Bearing witness simply means communicates. While I don’t want to interfere with the work your therapist is doing, my experience has been that those communications from Holy Spirit, which meditators call the “still, small voice” (although it’s not a voice as we normally think of it), those communications will guide you to your Destiny. But only those who have spiritual organs of perception can receive these communications. You’ll remember that Jesus taught in parables, because the secrets of the kingdom were for a select few who had a penchant to acquire these organs – Scripture calls them “ears to hear, and eyes to see”.

    I learned something very interesting about Destiny lately. Destiny is what we were created for, and includes our purpose, our mission. I’m hearing you say a lot about what YOU want to be – have you considered what Elohim wants you to be – what you were created to be? All those things you’re drawing out of your memory – they’re what’s often termed Karma. Karma is simply cause and effect. And Karma is formed when we get in the way of our Destiny, and must be lived and learned – it’s a universal law (there is one exception, and that’s Grace, when Someone takes your Karma upon themselves, like Jesus did on the Cross). If we would stay out of the way and allow Destiny to have its way, by hearing the still, small voice, we’d stop creating more Karma for ourselves, and we’d naturally become what we were created for – and it may not be what we have in mind for ourselves. Problem is, we get our own ideas of what we want to be – shaped by many things – parents, peers, education, societal mores, religion, even our own desires. If you don’t mind being the proverbial hamster on the wheel, then keep producing more Karma for yourself. But I hope you’ll start moving towards your Destiny.

    Don’t mention this to anyone, because if people realized they have all the answers within themselves, there would be no need for therapists. As I said, I have no desire to interfere, but am sharing what I’ve been learning.
    I sure wish you’d visit our online study group – it’s been changing lives since 1931. It’s called A Search for God, but could just as easily be called The Creation of a New Man/Woman, because that’s what happens – renewed lives. And again, keep this to yourself, but it’s free of charge (except for the contribution of your time).

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    1. Dana, I love your musings. Thank you for sharing yourself. I have never seen the negatives in you that you do. I’ve seen a bright, beautiful, articulate woman who wants to make a difference. You will get there. I, too, have been working on developing a focus. I have found online assessments helpful. This free one, https://www.viacharacter.org/, if you look at the top four traits, if you can nurture those, it will aid your happiness levels. Unfortunately, my top trait is fairness. Fairness is not under my control. Life was brutally unfair to me last year and I am rebuilding. But you may find some nuggets in this assessment. The one I’ve gained the most from is the CliftonStrengths. I did pay $20 for my top five. There is endless info about the results. All of my top 5 are about strategic thinking. Yet I have never held a job that valued those traits. I am finally thinking strategically about my goals. I wish you well, Dana. I’d love to hear a “hello” from you.

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  2. This post makes me think of a novel read in middle school, The Door in the Wall. You deserve more than a one-line comment, I apologize it’s all I have right now. Never stop striving.

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  3. You are definitely on your way to understanding that Elohim has some excellent plans for you which will make your heart sing. I can almost hear the music now🎶❤️ New beginnings start with understanding just how much you are loved, as you are and as you are becoming. You are loved with an everlasting Love.

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