Rebuild: Loss after laying it on the field

Caring about football is new to me. I grew up in a boy-house, so I had lots of opportunity to be a fan, if I had wanted that. A father and two brothers who love sports meant that our weekends and Monday nights were filled with games on TV. But it wasn’t until my girls started attending Baylor University, and I got caught up in their underdog team, that I became passionate. I am now a crazy fan who has lucky Baylor clothes and I admit to having screamed, cheered, prayed…all on behalf of a team, playing a game.

Having my team go to the championship game, in my girl’s senior year, was something I predicted their freshman year, and I have been anticipating the game all season. When my Bears lost their first string quarterback early in the game, to a concussion, I was praying for a miracle. We almost got it. I really thought we had it, when our third string QB passed for a touchdown tying the game. Losing in overtime, after watching those boys lay it all on the field was heartbreaking.

In those final seconds, when it became clear that the game could not be won, I had an aha about how this relates to everyday life.

Have you ever laid it all on the field of life…in a relationship, a job, or a dream…only to lose in the final moments? Has your heart been broken by situations or by people, in a way that impacts you for a long time? Have you, at those times, felt defeated in a way that makes you question if all the hard work was worth it?

Broken hearts and broken dreams can either steal our hope or empower us for more. It all depends on how we process and learn from those seasons of life. I have brokenness in my past. I am refusing to let it ruin me. How about you? Do you have situations that need reframing, and healing so that you can move forward with wisdom, learned skills, new dreams and vision for your future?

Experience tells me that when we allow healing to take place, the new relationships, new dreams and new possibilities can wow us in a way we never thought possible! But we must let the good in! What, in your life, do you need to embrace as part of the journey so that you can move into new life?

As always, let me know if I can help. But don’t call on January 1… I will be cheering for my Baylor Bears who will, no doubt, be even better on the field than ever!

With love,

Sonia

Learned anxiety?: Learn Faith

Part of being a new client, when beginning therapy, is a general intake form. These entry forms have questions about your mental health history, including past counseling, identified diagnosis and current symptoms. Most clients, who are ready for time on the counseling couch, feel ready for outside intervention because their life situation has caused enough anxiety, enough depression, enough anger…whatever it is…that they are driven to counseling, by that symptom, that is starting to feel unbearable.

Some anxiety and depression are healthy!

Anxiety and depression naturally accompany hard life situations. Who wouldn’t feel depressed or possibly anxious after the death of a loved one, loss of a job, strained relationship with a child, ongoing illness or any variety of trauma? Some anxiety and depression is actually a sign of processing hard life things WELL…it is when you can’t get off the couch for days, can’t go to class without heart palpitations, or you feel like fainting at inconvenient times, that we intervene to make life manageable again.

Anxiety, in particular, can be limited by learning your body signals, using positive self talk in the crisis, changing up life routine, and even taking medication if you need a reset. But once you feel a little more yourself, there might be some talk therapy surrounding how living life, feeling just a bit out of control, may not be the worst thing imaginable. In fact, it might be a little healthier than the I-have-all-my-ducks-in-a-row model. (Those ducks-in-a-row people have issues too, just so you know.)

Right now, there are a number of self-help gurus, who have large audiences believing that if you just work a little harder, stay a little bit more positive, create better mojo/karma/tribe, your life will instantly improve and all your dreams will come true. I am not against any of those things, but in my experience, anxiety and depression aren’t eliminated just because you try harder.

So, what if, instead of beating ourselves up that our lives aren’t perfect, we embrace a little of the chaos, as part of the larger plan? I for one, have worked hard, have been positive even in some really dark times and have an amazing tribe, and yet…life is still freakin’ hard.  BUT…that difficult stuff is the stuff that allows me to do my calling well. I have a calling to counsel people in dark places and my personal chaos is sometimes the best tool I have…empathy and compassion rarely come from easy peasy lives.

If you are in control of your destiny, is it your destiny?

I want to leave you with a little thought provoker…for those of you who are looking for purpose, looking for a way to feel whole, wanting life to mean more… Do you believe in calling, destiny, or a “reason you were put on this planet”? Are you struggling to feel like you are doing “it” because your life feels out of control or a little messy? What if feeling in control of your destiny means you aren’t on the path to your destiny? What if destiny HAS to come from the outside and be a bit of a struggle? In my case, my purpose is God-driven…He dictates my path. Is there a higher power dictating yours and you are busy trying to organize, plan, hustle, team build and in that controlling stuff, you are missing your purpose, and as a result…feeling depressed, anxious and messy?

My friend, Hunter, texted me this morning with an “aha” from a book she is reading. Paul David Tripp says in New Morning Mercies, “What is the lie? It is the lie that life can be found outside the Creator.” Hmmm…now that is something to think about!

As always, let me know if I can help.

Love,

Sonia

Broken Things: God can’t use perfect people

I always wanted to be a counselor. From the time I was just a kid, I found myself sitting on couches, listening to people’s stories. When I suggested the idea to my parents prior to heading off to college, my dad seemed confused by the idea of it. He was the son of immigrants, grew up in a gang in East LA…he did not get the concept of sharing your story with a STRANGER. Plus we had church, which was supposed to be where you got that kind of support. So instead of focusing on an actual profession right at first, I attended a liberal arts college and studied Communications and Political Science and got a Masters in Education so that I could teach high school history and government. I loved teaching but even then, my favorite part of the job was building relationships with students and mentoring them in life. My revised plan became to continue in the field of education and be a school counselor someday. But marriage and my girls and a few moves across state lines changed all that. I now realize that our journeys are not completely our own, and there may have been just a tiny bit of wisdom in the madness of God’s plan for me.

When I finally went to seminary to get a degree in Clinical Mental Health, in my forties, I was actually thinking that I would use my degree in a ministry setting, since at that time I volunteered in those capacities on a regular basis. I was going to grad school again because I had a number of life experiences by this time that gave me some wisdom to speak into other people’s lives and I wanted to enhance that life experience with some big time book knowledge. But my time in my second-time-around grad school, mostly outside the classroom, broke me in so many more ways. Once again, life journey often outweighs book stuff. I have seen things now…hard things. I know now, all that real life was so that today, I can sit across from almost anyone and empathize with their situation, using an emotion I have once experienced, maybe not in the exact way, but similarly. It took me awhile to fully understand that it isn’t the perfect stories that minister to people, but rather brokenness and rebirth that encourages the downtrodden and broken hearted in their pain.

Have you ever been weary? Are you broken hearted now? Do you wonder what you have to offer anyone? My guess is that if you have endured trials in your life, you are more than prepared to be a mentor, a soul mate and an encourager. You might be just getting started in leaving a legacy of helpmate and friend. When people are perfect, they really have nothing to offer the hurting world. Who wants to be told how to live by someone who has not faced struggles? Are you ready to accept the challenge of taking your brokenness and turning it into service to the world?

When I look back at the times in life that I felt broken…when I was lonely, depressed, struggling in relationships, financially wrecked, betrayed and overcome with grief…I never felt that I had something to offer anyone. But once the wounds began to heal, because of God’s mercy, good counsel, the elapsing of time and support of other encouragers, I started to realize the power that comes from overcoming the battles of life. Do you have some power that has yet to be tapped into?

 

This morning, I was listening to this song…and I once again was reminded that in brokenness, we are simply in training for our calling. Are you ready to join in the hard work of turning your sorrow into dancing?

As always, let me know if I can help.

With love,

Sonia

You did me wrong song: Boundaries after forgiveness

As I walk beside people in the counseling setting, I have found that forgiveness “in the moment” is difficult for most of us. It is hard to look the other way when someone has made us hurt, or move on from a toxic situation where we keep getting burned. There is a struggle between wanting to get over a situation and wanting to give it every available inch of your mind space, 24 hours a day until you feel good and ready to release it. Sometimes that inner dialogue is hard to turn off when you are feeling pooped on.

It is important to understand that forgiveness can walk right alongside the execution of good boundaries, allowing people to forgive almost immediately. It is possible to feel confident to move on from blows that are bound to come, if you live in this world where miscommunication, unfortunate life circumstances and dishonesty in relationships can bring painful interactions. I have found that it is possible to forgive, even forget (although not at the risk of losing the wisdom that comes from remembering what you have learned). No bill-paying, full-fledged adult has to put themself in a position to be clobbered by the same person or situation if they choose not to! Forgiving and walking away is an option!

In life, there are situations that occur when people you think have your back, just don’t. Depending on how much you invested in the relationship, the pain of betrayal can feel like a big ol’ kick in the stomach. I feel like I have had this experience in life plenty…enough to know that the pain is real. But I also know that it does not have to be debilitating. To be clear, I can look back and remember times where I was so debilitated by people wronging me that I experienced situational depression…bad enough to sit and stare at a wall for days on end. But not today…not today. Forgiving and walking away is an option…did I already say that?

Forgiveness is not saying that what happened is okay. Forgiveness is the acknowledgement that we all screw up at times and grace is an important gesture if we are all to live, work and grow side by side in the journey of life. But any person with good boundaries has a responsibility to self protect after the extension of grace and in some situations that means it is best not to interact for a time or for forever.

When forgiveness and boundaries work hand in hand, a person who is trying to spend less time lamenting and more time living life, can forgive whole heartedly, but also realize that there are times when people and situations are not meant to be. Sometimes we can forgive from across the room, or across the city or across an imaginary world from the person who betrayed us. Sometimes the best way to keep the situation from taking over our mind space is to literally move on with life by acknowledging that hurting people hurt others, and you can choose to not be the human punching bag for the family member, friend or co-worker who makes you their target. Removing yourself prevents the toxicity from taking over your life….it gives you freedom to be the positive-you that you want to be.

When I counsel people, I liken this to standing on a train track when there is an oncoming train. The first time it hits you, you might blame the train. Maybe the conductor didn’t see you on the track or tried to put on the brakes but not in time.  But if you stand in the same spot and get hit again, the responsibility might lie on you to get off the tracks and get out of the train’s way. People who get hit over and over by the same oncoming train might need to get away from the train. Yelling and screaming at the train, thinking they will for sure stop THIS time is not healthy for anyone. Remember:  Forgiving and walking away is an option. (The teacher in me knows that if you read this 3 times, you might remember it for the test. The bold print should help with that too!)

Being able to forgive and move on is freeing. It enables even the most wounded of people to remain positive and life-giving in a world that can be exhausting. Forgiving others allows you to get your sleep back and enables you to focus on the people and situations in your life that motivate and encourage you. If you have a situation in your life that is taking up your mind space and keeping you from being all you were made to be, ask yourself if it might be time to get off the train tracks…

As always, let me know if I can help.

With love,

Sonia

Marriage Seminar #6: Date Night

When I started doing things socially with my husband of 27 years…back in 1990…we were not really dating. We had known each other in high school (yes…you all know…he was my high school boyfriend’s friend…it is a story but not what you think) and we were simply hanging out a lot because we were back in our home town, working, without many people we knew who were our own age. I was teaching at California High School and he was in an entry level sales job…fresh out of college. We had money to spend because we were young and didn’t have a lot of expenses. He liked high school football and I liked having a super cute someone to go with me to those games. It took us at least 2 months to finally admit we were thinking it might be a relationship worth investing more in…

Mike and I were raised a little differently. I was raised in the Christian-live-by-guilt home where we were always having to consider the starving child in Africa or China when we bought something not on sale or didn’t eat our peas. Mike’s family knows how to party. There is always a reason to celebrate. When Mike and I started to actually call our relationship something more than “besties”, my heart was overwhelmed as he treated me to dinners, an evening at the ballet (I had never been!), a concert that was not something he necessarily would choose, and a bunch of other super fun stuff.  He would say, “There is a place I think you would like…”

When dating ends and real life begins, there is often a shift in marriage relationships. That may be why counselors often encourage suffering spousal relationships to re-instigate “the date”. Obviously there are major challenges to this when you have kids or are just super busy trying to build a future or a retirement fund. But bringing back the date has saved many relationships from stagnation or becoming that “we are just roommates” horror!

When couples come to me for marriage counseling and I ask about their dating life, 9 out of 10 times, the role of planning anything social has become the wife’s responsibility. And in most of the relationships I am asked to weigh in on, the wife feels like if she didn’t care about connecting emotionally, no one would care. Did you read in my last blog that emotional connectivity is what leads to physical connectivity????….keep reading.

So hubbies out there! Hear me! This is such an easy fix! If you did it well once, you can do it again!!! Date your wife or lose her forever!

Dating as a married couple can actually be easier if you think about it! You already know that your spouse will say yes! You also know what kind of activities they like to do, what kind of food they enjoy and what their calendar looks like most of the time! If you plan time for just the two of you now, the message is simply, “I WANT TO SPEND TIME WITH YOU AND YOU ALONE.”

Here are some guidelines:

Have a date night idea jar: Sit down with your spouse and come up with things you wish you would do together, what restaurants you would like to try, etc. Write them on pieces of paper and fold them up and put them in a jar. Pick one out at the beginning of each month and let the planning begin.

Now that you are married, try taking turns with the planning: We all get busy with life but the job of saving a marriage through time spent together should never fall on just one person. If you are the one planning date night, you also have to get the babysitter. For some reason, a common complaint that I hear is that it takes so much work to get the date organized that it takes the fun out of it. If you alternate the planning, one person gets to just show up!

These times together can be inexpensive or you can choose to splurge: Set a budget for your dating life so that it doesn’t get tossed aside just because the bill for Johnny’s hockey or Brooke’s dance popped up and you can’t justify it. Keep in mind that your kids will be happier in the long run if their parents stay married and they miss an activity as an 8 year old. Also, sometimes saving money one month by just grabbing a coffee or going for a bike ride can put pennies aside for a fancier dinner out or a concert that reminds you of when you met!

Be present emotionally and physically on date night: Remember the effort that you put into date night when you were first going out? You wouldn’t dream of not choosing your outfit carefully or brushing your teeth. You were sure to look your special person in the eyes and talk about more than your crappy day at work. Be a person that is engaging, flirtatious, interesting and a friend who asks good questions. You might be surprised how much fun you have!

My married clients know that I believe that the most important relationship in the home is the one between the two people that are married. There is no other relationship in the home that should compete with it. A family where the parents are working as a team are the happiest families overall…and when there is discord at the top, it is felt by everyone, even the pets…so rekindle that love in one of the easiest fixes out there…date night.

As always, let me know if I can help.

With love,

Sonia

Panic Attacks: What are you doing to empower yourself?

Personally, I have had one panic attack in my life. It was a horrible experience. It occurred when my father was hospitalized near the end of his life, my husband was out of work, I was in my last semester of grad school and I got my breast cancer diagnosis. I remember feeling like I was suffocating and needed to lay down, which occurred more like a faint than sitting down gracefully to catch my breath. I knew to put my head between my knees and regulate my breathing but honestly, I wasn’t sure if I was going to make it out alive. I have to say I am grateful for the experience, as it has given me a point of reference for the clients I serve that have ongoing, debilitating occurrences. 

Having a panic attack can make you feel like you are going to die.

Panic attacks come on fast. There is a general feeling of being overwhelmed that leads to a temporary paralysis both mentally and physically. Often the person experiencing a panic attack feels a shortness of breath. People report thinking that they were dying, feeling cold, losing feeling in a limb or rapid heartbeat. If you, or someone you love, experience panic attacks, there are many strategies that you can put to practice that can help you get to “the other side”.

Here are some of the basics:

1.  Breathe: deep, not shallow, inhales with slow exhales, head between your knees if needed.

2.   Identify the “triggers”: Know the situations, or people, that cause you to feel overwhelmed and plan for those experiences in advance.

3.   Calm yourself ahead of time: Meditation, prayer, quiet time, yoga, long walks are all good ways to spend time processing life, making stressful situations more manageable.

4.   Write the script: Once you know the triggers, practice the scenarios through imagery to give yourself confidence. Remind yourself how you have survived in the past and that whatever you are encountering is temporary. 

5.   Identify your support system: Trusted friends, support animals, mentors or professional counselors should be used to provide accountability and for traumatic moments where you need to be “talked off the cliff”.

As always, let me know if I can help.

With love,

Sonia