The Beauty of a Sorrowful Christmas

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I have always been addicted to Christmas music, specifically the songs filled with sorrow and regret. I still remember the first sad Christmas song I fell in love with. I was five and it was “Hard Candy Christmas” by Dolly Parton.

There was a mystery in the sorrow that I couldn’t solve: how can Christmas be so sad? At the age of five, with dreams of opening a playmobile doll house from Santa, and eating mom’s homemade sticky buns, sorrow just didn’t make sense to me. Fortunately for me, I wouldn’t understand the beauty of a sad Christmas until the age of 27.

I was meeting with my therapist the other day and confessing that I was having anxiety about Christmas. I wanted to enjoy it, I wanted to feel that warm and fuzzy feeling I had as a kid. I wanted to be present with my family, but these days I am constantly fighting a battle with anxiety and depression. These struggles produce symptoms that shut me off from the present world and have me reeling through fears of the future and regrets from the past. I become distant and trapped in my own thoughts. I feel like I can’t really engage with others when this happens. But it’s Christmas! A time to be with others and have happy thoughts and feelings, there is no place for fear, regret, and sorrow.

In situations such as this, I do this thing: I know what I want and I try to make it happen. If my thoughts and feelings aren’t in line with what I want then I think, “I must be living incorrectly. I need to figure out how to fix it, so I can live the right way and enjoy life.” This Christmas situation was no different.

I want: A Christmas filled with love, joy, and peace

What is keeping me from what I want? Anxiety/depression

How do I get rid of these things? Try to fix everything that is stirring up these feelings

As you might imagine, trying to fix everything that causes my anxiety and depression is an overwhelming task. A task that I would have completed by now, if I knew how to do it. But sometimes I forget this simple little fact and I push forward, full speed ahead, into my pile of issues with the hopes of magically making them disappear. This might not seem completely out of line, but what messes me up is the responsibility of the whole situation. This thinking makes every decision seem detrimental to my happiness. If I make the wrong choice I could be miserable on Christmas and it will be all my fault!  I start to analyze every little feeling I have: Is this stomache the beginnings of an anxiety attack or did I eat something weird? Is my jaw tensing up more because I am stressed or did I have too much coffee? Are my new meds making me more or less depressed? I don’t know!! AAAAAAHHHHHHHhhhhh! And then I am hit with anxiety despite my greatest efforts to prevent it.

In these moments I have taken God out of the equation. I have placed all the outcomes in my own hands. I have bought into this false sense of control and I want instant gratification and no discomfort.

But here is the cool part. I went back and looked at what I wanted “love, joy, and peace”. Isn’t the gift of love, joy, and peace the whole reason for the season? Isn’t that what Christmas is all about? Not that we feel these things because we want to, but because God sent his son to earth to give us these things. Feeling the discomfort of my struggles has allowed me to truly desire the gifts that Jesus brings to this earth. Feeling the pain and fear of my mental disorders reminds me of why I need a savior in the first place and why Christmas is such an awesome celebration: A SAVIOR IS BORN!!!

When Jesus was born the earth did not feel instant joy, love, and peace. Jesus’ birth marks the beginning of our atonement. The birth of the spotless lamb that will one day be sacrificed so we may be made perfect and spotless in God’s eyes. It is in this hope that I find peace. It is in this sacrifice (a sacrifice made for me!) that I feel a love so deep I can barely handle it. The knowledge that I will spend eternity with my savior in heaven brings me a joy that cannot be overshadowed by my feelings of anxiety or depression. My discomfort from my struggle is still very much present, but its presence is a constant reminder of my need for Jesus. And the reminder that I need Jesus once again brings me to the thought of Christmas, I have received the best gift in the whole world: Jesus. Alleluia! A Child is born! Let us Rejoice! My fate has been sealed, God has provided.


For those of you that also love depressing Christmas songs, here are some of my favorites:

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When Beautiful Feels Hideous

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They say that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Well I say “who are ‘they’? And why does beauty have to be beheld by the eyes?”


I have been struggling with body image issues for as long as I can remember. I remember being self-conscious about my knobbly-knees as early as the third grade. I felt awkward and clumsy and my knees were huge – they knocked into everything! Then the awkward stages of puberty started and I was doomed. It felt like everyone else was growing boobs, but I remained depressingly flat until 10th grade. However, I did convince my mom to let me get a padded bra in the 9th grade. During a mother-daughter heart to heart, I had tearfully asked her how long I would be stuck with this board-like physique. Her response included the words “late-bloomer”, which elicited a tearful tantrum from a despairing teenager about the unfairness of life.

I soon found out that if it wasn’t one thing it was another. I finally grew some boobs and my legs filled out so my knees didn’t stick out so much. But now I feared my legs were too large. My thighs rubbed together and one side of my shorts always managed to get wedged up my butt. This phenomenon always intrigued me: why just one side? Is it always the same side? Is one butt cheek bigger than the other? What’s wrong with me and how can I fix it so I’m not always pulling shorts out of my butt? It was that summer that I started dieting for the first time. I thought I was getting too fat. It never occurred to me that the problem may not be mine, but that of the shorts industry sewing crooked seams. It never occurred to me that the problem may not be my weight, but a negative self-talk problem.

Fast forward to the year 2010. My husband and I had been married for a year, and in that year I managed to gain 20lbs. It doesn’t seem like much, but it felt like 100.photo (15)

I felt hideous, unlovable, and fat. I started to hyper focus on everything that was wrong with me – all the reasons why I was ugly. I needed to fix all these things.

For the next four years my weight would yo-yo multiple times. I would run religiously, count my calories without fail, and lift weights. If I missed a workout or ate something “bad” the guilt would rush in and I would start to sink like a ship taking on water. And I would give up and go down with it, eating everything in my grasp. But in the event that I did succeed to lose the weight, the excitement only lasted a week before I started to play my mind tricks on myself again and I once again I was “too fat” and “ugly”. At which point I would give up; it was too hard, I couldn’t do it. And thus, those 20lbs would come right back on.

It was almost two years ago that I consented to attend a Celebrate Recovery meeting with a friend. I wasn’t sure why I was going, but she had bugged me about it for 2 years before I agreed to go. It was at those meetings I started to recognize some major issues in my life. I’m hoping to write my testimony at some point, but to keep this blog from becoming a novel I won’t go into all the details right now. What you need to know is that I started to realize that there was a root cause for my constant struggle with weight, appearance, and negative self-talk: I truly believed I was worthless.

Flash forward to this year. I had been working my recovery for almost 1.5 years and I was starting to see a lot of progress in many areas of my life. However, in the summer I had a relapse of unhealthy behavior (it’s a little harder to spot than taking a drink or a hit) alongside of some really rough times. As a result I had an emotional breakdown. My anxiety was so bad that I couldn’t eat for fear of making the wrong decision on food. My stomach issues had become so bad that food always held a risk of intense cramping for hours after consumption. I practically lived off bananas and milkshakes and my weight melted off. I was impressed with my appearance, but everything about it felt wrong. I wasn’t happy, I was anxious, I wasn’t eating, I wasn’t active, I felt weak, I was tired, and the list goes on.

But eventually my mental health slowly returned along with my healthy appetite and the desire to be active. Only this time I wasn’t obsessing, counting, and burning. This time I did things I loved:  hiking, yoga, walking, etc. without a desire to simply burn enough calories so I could have those 3 pieces of chocolate and a cup of tea at the end of the night. I didn’t count my calories anymore. I ate when I was hungry and stopped when I was full. I started speaking kind words to my reflection, “you’re beautiful”, “your legs are strong and capable”, “There isn’t a ‘right body type’ for this outfit, you can wear it simply because you like it”, etc. When I started this nice self-talk I didn’t really believe it. I still felt ugly and although I had dropped a lot of weight, it was starting to inch its way back on. But I kept the positive self-talk going and sure enough my thoughts started to change. I started to really believe I was beautiful. I started to love my legs! My legs have always been my most troublesome feature. My focus suddenly moved off my stomach ‘flub’ and started focusing on things that had nothing to do with my body image. During yoga I no longer thought “are my stomach rolls showing right now?” I felt like I had been released from a prison cell! Sometimes I find myself back in there, but it doesn’t take me long to realize that the door is wide open and all I have to do is walk out.photo (16)

The other day I was feeling so beautiful, skinny, and loved. I thought I must have dropped a ton of weight (do you see old Liz starting to creep back into my thoughts?) so I stepped on the scale to see. The number shocked me. I had not lost weight, in fact I was back to the heaviest weight I had ever been (the year after I got married). I couldn’t wrap my mind around it, how could this be? I felt so pretty and healthy. There was no way I was the same weight. But then I thought, “Maybe I have put on some muscle so I look leaner now, while weighing the same.” I went in search of pictures. What I found continued to blow my mind:

me and dean 2010

2010

me and dean 2014

2014

HUGE DIFFERENCE RIGHT? No? You don’t see it? Yea, I didn’t see much of a difference either, apart from my hair (hey, how much does a foot of hair weigh? Just kidding.). So, if my body has naturally returned to the weight I was back then, how could I feel like a complete cow back then and like beautiful creature now?

I am in the process of learning this. I don’t have all the answers. But let me tell you what these pictures don’t show, because I know it has something to do with it (in addition to implementing positive self-talk and working my recovery).

  1. Past -> I believed I was worthless, unloveable, and I had to fix all my problems

Present -> I earnestly believe that God exists, I matter to him, and he has the power to help me recover (This is actually principle 2 of Celebrate Recovery)

  1. Past -> I had spent the evening comparing myself to other women and in most cases I fell short

Present -> I had just finished dancing in a downpour of rain

  1. Past-> My hair was done, my makeup was done, I was put together and yet I still felt ugly

Present -> My hair was soaked in rain water and matted, my makeup washed off, and I was just me. And I loved myself this way. I felt true, authentic, and genuine. (I felt that way before the rain washed away my makeup and matted my hair, but I just want to highlight the fact that I didn’t need those things to feel beautiful).

  1. Past-> My husband stood beside me and I doubted his love for me- how could he love me?

Present-> My husband stood beside me and I basked in his outpouring of love and affection. How blessed we are to have each other.

Do you see the difference now? Like I said earlier, I don’t have it all together. I still have days when I look in the mirror and say “ick”. I still have days that I feel “fat”. I still have days when I over indulge, or find power in not eating a meal. But now I realize I don’t have to fix that to be loved. I don’t have to be skinny to be worth something. God loves me now, just as I am, in all my mess. And the best part is, when I let go of my fear of getting fat and surrender to his love I just feel beautiful. When I fully surrender, my mind is so full of Jesus that I don’t feel the urge to binge on chips or skip lunch. I don’t feel like I have to run 4 miles every day so my husband can be proud of his beautiful skinny wife. I just want to go out and enjoy God’s beautiful creation and sometimes I do get the desire to run, just because running feels awesome and I can do it. My legs can run! I am beautiful, I am a masterpiece, and I am loved!

The Spider

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photo 1 (5)I haven’t been able to write lately. Not because I haven’t had anything to say, in fact it has been the opposite. I have so much to say that I am overwhelmed and a little confused. Do you ever get so overwhelmed you don’t know what to do first? I kind of feel like that, except I am so excited to do everything that I keep changing my mind as I go. And because I keep changing my mind I end up trying to process multiple thoughts at once, hence my confusion. And the weirdest part about all of this is that I finally settled down to write about a spider.photo 2 (6)

Yes, that’s right, a spider. Out of all the wonderful things I had rolling around in my head, I somehow keep coming back to the spider. Believe me, I have tried to write about the other things, because who wants to write about a spider? photo 2 (5)I have the beginnings of at least five blog posts in the works, but alas my mind has found a focal point and it is the spider. Not even a big spider. He was just a small hairless thing. photo 1 (6)Aside from the simple fact that he was a spider, there wasn’t anything remotely terrifying about him. But let me reiterate, he was a spider, and that fact alone makes him scary.

I’m not quite sure when my fear of spiders started. I always wondered if it was a learned behavior from my mom, a natural instinct (because let’s face it, there are some that can kill you), or a result of trauma caused by my brothers (they chased me around the house with dead spiders in their hands). Whatever the cause, the fact of the matter is, spiders terrify me.

Spiders terrify me so much that I abandoned one of my best friends in her time of need, because a spider was involved. The spider was on her neck, she wanted it off, I ran away screaming. photo 3 (3)You know who you are, and I am so sorry! It was that event that convinced me I needed to overcome this fear. I can still see the look of horror and hopelessness on my friend’s tear streaked face as she pleaded with me to get it off. If that ever happens again, I want to be able to face my fear and courageously flick the spider off whoever it is terrorizing.

God has been giving me many opportunities over the past 12 years to begin overcoming my fear of spiders. All of which involve, yes you guessed it, spiders. However, none of these events involve someone else being terrorized. The spiders are only terrorizing me. Sometimes I am alone, and sometimes I am accompanied by another individual who is equally unwilling to help rid the area of a spider.

I will refrain from telling you the details and posting pictures of these terrifying monsters from the last 12 years, because just hearing about spiders and seeing pictures of spiders freaks me the crap out. I am doing the heeby jeeby dance in my seat as I type this, that’s how scared of spiders I am. That is why the only pictures of spiders in this blog post are drawings. As you can tell, overcoming my fear of spiders is a very slow process. I will say this though, naming the spiders helps rob them of their monster status, and moves them down to a frightfully annoying status.photo 4 (3)

Before I go any further I would like to clarify something, I am not working towards holding a spider, having a pet spider, or allowing a tarantula to walk on my face. I simply want to be able to help a friend in need, if the situation arises. Please do not offer your tarantula for this process, I will not accept, and I will probably tell you we cannot be friends anymore (you know, in case your tarantula escapes its terrarium and hides in the pocket of your jacket and you unknowingly bring it into my house or something).photo 5 (2)

So anyway, about this spider. I’m not even sure why I am telling you this, because when it comes down to it it is a pretty simple story. I was on my deck the other day, enjoying a long yoga practice on a bizarrely hot day in November. I made my way into my final pose, savasana. If you aren’t into yoga, savasana is what my husband calls “yoga napping”. You lay on your mat in a relaxed state and surrender to the silence while becoming fully present in the “now”.  Within moments of laying in savasana my mind was drawn to a tickle on my hand. Due to my long yoga practice, my mind and body were in a place of peace and calm. Instead of defaulting to my frantic, fear induced creepy crawly dance in which I enthusiastically try to dance off whatever is on my body, I slowly opened my eyes and looked at my hand. There sat a tiny spider.photo (14)

(I realize my hand looks crazy…I’m very self conscious about my crazy hands… this is a tracing of my actual hand)

Despite its diminutive size my heart started to race. I took a deep breath and once again the presence of peace overcame my fear and instead of jumping up and freaking out, I simply watched the spider move along my hand. I started to see the spider for what he was: small, fragile, and powerless to stop my ability to crush him.

Eventually he started to move up my arm so I calmly got up and placed him far away from my mat. I moved back into savasana. The events of that day would have been drastically different if the spider was bigger or had hair (everyone knows hair multiplies a spider’s scary factor by 100), but it didn’t. And that was it. I really don’t know why I felt the need to tell you this, but I did. I feel like there should be more of a lesson here. Ok, here is one: before you freak out, take a deep breath and really look at the problem you’re facing – it might just be a hairless, tiny, spider-like problem. But if it has hair, run like the dickens. The End.

photo (13)

This what I imagine I looked like from Harold’s eyes. Oh yea, I named the tiny hairless spider Harold.