Tag Archives: growth

Don’t stress about it (I just might take that advice)

Today I was supposed to pick up some stuff from a colleague. Just a few things for me, not something that had to be transported immediately from one person to another or a major part of my job – just personal. This isn’t a ‘several times a day’ kind of thing, but it does happen a lot in my job. People have stuff, need to get stuff out of their space and given to people who can use stuff, stuff is exchanged.

Mind you, I don’t want someone reading this to go into a career in counseling or a related field on the basis of getting stuff. (From what I’ve heard, try being anyone famous for that. Bonus points for famous and someone who makes regular comments about stuff on the computer, radio, or TV.)  But anyhow, while counseling, social work, and the like are not professions filled with free wardrobes or being able to specify what colour of candy in your trailer, they do tend to get you ‘stuff’ on a regular basis.

Some examples:I have a tote bag from my supervisor – she went to a training, was given assorted items with the logos of the businesses sponsoring the training, and didn’t have a use for the bag. I never run out of pens or post-it notes, as long as I’m willing to use ones with ‘Eating Disorder Centers’ or ‘Behavioral Health Services’ blazoned on them, because they give this kind of thing away by the handful at trainings. I got a whole set of leather coasters once at a workshop because the guy giving them away was packing up and didn’t want to have to take a ton of them back (I’ve been decoupaging the labels from really cool drinks onto them). I get stuff.

When perishable items or simply a huge amount of items are given to shelters, counseling centers, housing centers, etc; things that are left over get given to the people who work & volunteer there. (I once left a shelter with as many loaves of bread as I could carry – and then gave some to a homeless guy at the corner where I turned off of the interstate.  So it gets to the people who need it -just maybe by an interesting route 😉  )

Just a note here, please, PLEASE don’t stop donating on the basis that therapists end up with ‘stuff’!  No matter what you have to give, someone can use it. (Except maybe germs. Every winter there’s way too many colds & flus going around every shelter & safehouse & counseling center I know of. We all have plenty of germs. If you think you have a really unusual one, contact the CDC.)  Everything else, though, can be used. Bread & beach balls, lip gloss & lotion, diapers, tires, bus passes – ever considered giving a half-used member ship to the zoo or museum or gym to a safehouse if you’re moving and it still has half a year on it?  A lot of places could make that work for someone!

DO check first – some places don’t take items x, y,or z – they partner with the place down the street who has the room or the freezers or whatever. But we can use anything – except germs.

The thing is, stuff like those loaves of bread expire pretty quickly. Sunscreen & make-up take longer, but they still go off after a while. And we can’t tell you if we’re going to have 87 women who all need ‘coppery sand’ face powder, for example,  or only two or three.  So when things have been given to as many people in need as possible and there’s extra stuff, counselors and caseworkers and the wonderful fantastic people who make the computers keep working and manage the front desk and whoever else get offered stuff.  And your donation is still helping someone. Not having to buy bread for two weeks PLUS giving some to the guy I passed at the corner?  Major help that month!

So I was supposed to meet up with a colleague today to pick up some stuff. I said I could probably adjust my schedule just fine to meet up with her. Until this morning, when my schedule started going a bit sideways. Schedules do that sometimes.  I’m usually pretty relaxed when it happens to other people. I know it happens to everyone. But when it happens to me, it bothers me.

Part of it is that I were left to my own devices I wouldn’t have such a thing as a schedule. In my heart I want to live in a time and place where sun or clouds, warm or cool, day, night, impulse and inspiration drive me, and not just me, but everyone.  I’d love, as I believe I’ve mentioned before, to be the wise woman at the edge of the village. I’d tend my gardens and create my art and when people needed advice or a shoulder to cry on or emotional guidance, they would come out my way, carrying a basket of fruit or a jug of milk or a few eggs or a loaf of bread in payment. And I’d set aside whatever I was doing, or maybe just continue weeding or kneading bread or whatever, and we’d talk.

I’m actually trying to do some of that.  I’m happier when I work on my garden on good garden days, paint on good painting days, bake or make jewelry or go for a walk when it feels right to do those things.  I’m even working on having counseling clients sit outside with me (although not this week, it’s been snowy, blowy, and drippy). I’m working on the idea of clients going for a walk, or how people would feel if they & I worked on knitting or embroidery while we talked. (Although if I’m writing stuff down or drawing a kinda stick-figure version of the brain or something, I need both hands, and my whiteboard.)  And when I’m guiding a client through an art exercise, there are times when I get to do art, too; although it’s whatever supports or guides their project, it’s still art!

But the time and place I live in also requires schedules. The hotline run by the local domestic violence organization is staffed 24 hours. That means for me, and all of us who staff it, there has to be a schedule. Twenty people available on Tuesday and no one on Saturday would NOT be ’24 hour’.  It would also be kinda hard to stuff twenty people into the office, or even into two or three offices!

If I’m going to meet with a client, they deserve to have the time for themselves. And since I live in an area much larger and more occupied  than a village, if I decide to go to the store, it’s not very likely that a client will see me go past and wait until I’m on the way home to come out to my office. So I have schedules, and appointments, and even a clock.

If I’m meeting with a group; leading a group, or as a member of a counselors’ support or supervision or educational meeting, or going to yoga or dance, or any group of people, then we all have to meet at the same place, at the same time. We all have to work around individual clients (if we have them) or other groups or staffing the 24-hour phone line or driving clients from point A to point B or whatever we do.  We have to work all of that around errands and families and social occasions and the very important ways we take care of ourselves.  No matter how perfect the day is for a walk along the creek or to stay in with a cup of cocoa, there are some things that have to be scheduled.

I also tend toward being the type of person who tries to take care of everyone else first.  Alongside that need to follow the patterns of the seasons and the weather and my own interests is a strong belief that I should be taking care of you. If there’s a meeting of people, and I don’t strictly have to be at the meeting but it’s the best time to hand out the extra stuff (you never know – I could get more post-its!), then I should manage my schedule to be there, not have you manage to meet me. (Not always. I know. I’m working on it.)

Sometimes, that’s hard. This morning, when I realized scheduling was going to be pretty difficult today, I e-mailed the person in charge to apologize. (Something I’ve come to realize is that people work best with changes in plans if you tell them as early as possible.) I let her know that my schedule wasn’t quite as workable as it seemed the other day when I said I could be there. I said that I didn’t mind coming by to pick things up at another time, but I didn’t want her to feel pressured – she could give it to someone else, instead.

Her return e-mail simply said that she could leave the things in a space in the staff area for me to pick up later, and not to stress about it. “Don’t stress about it.”  What a fantastic sentence. At the intersection of various angles of self-care, care for others, things I need to do, things I want to do, things I said I’d do, things others need to do: ‘Don’t stress about it’.

She meant that this particular errand could be done without each of us having to match times perfectly, but I’m hearing it more deeply.  I’m coming up on having people over for a holiday dinner. I need to tidy up the house. I have things to do for my work. I have things to do for myself. I have things I need to do before I can do other things.  Don’t stress about it.

I need to be reminded of this quite often. As much as I want to live in harmony with myself and my world, I tend to think everyone else needs their needs met first, and it can be stressful. Don’t stress about it. I suspect quite a few other people need to be reminded about this, too. I wonder what would happen if we all reminded each other a bit more. Come over when you can; don’t stress about it. Get that finished as you’re able; don’t stress about it. Happy holidays; don’t stress about it.

I wonder how that would work as a closing in an e-mail or on the phone? Thank you. I appreciate it. I love you. Sincerely. Don’t stress about it.

I just might give it a try as a closing in some of my communications. But I’ll try not to stress about it.


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Seeds of life

A bit of a conversation with a client a few days ago and a bit of a conversation last week with my spouse came together in my brain as a new idea – or at least new to me.  I’m quite willing to believe others have had most of the same ideas I have, and have expressed them much better, but it’s still cool to have a new way for me to look at the world, and to share it with others.

Simply expressed (in 25 words or less): Dreams are the seeds we use to grow our lives.

To elaborate on that, in well over 25 words: I’m referring to dreams as in daydreams or hopes, wishes, or wondering; not dreams as in the rather surreal movies most of us watch throughout our sleep cycles. Obviously I can’t tell you about the conversation with the client, it comes under the ethical and legal right for my clients – for ALL counseling clients, with ALL counselors, to have their information and communication kept private. But it had to do with dreams, and the conversation with my spouse had to do with choice versus predestination.

(Note: If you’re having an issue with a therapist keeping your info private, that’s a different topic from this post, but it’s an important one. If that’s you, I urge you to talk to your therapist, or to talk to a different therapist to get an outside opinion, or to look up your state’s regs & state &/or therapy organization ethical codes to see if your therapist’s treatment of your privacy is acceptable.)

Sorry – that was definitely a digression, but an important one, in my opinion. In any case, after my talk with my client, I started thinking about dreams as seeds.  To give a bit more background info; one of my personal-care, stress-relieving, taking-care-of-me hobbies is gardening.  My garden, like my life, is a work-in-progress. Like my life, there are areas that I thought would work splendidly that are kinda dry or droopy, areas that I didn’t really think would work so well that are amazing, and areas that I just haven’t yet achieved the beautiful, show-off state they’ll be in one day.

A lot of my garden is based on what I call ‘confetti gardening’.  (Who knows – maybe one day I’ll write a book on my gardening methods and have it be a best-seller on ‘Confetti Gardening’ – so you heard it here first!).  I love to gather seeds from wildflowers I enjoy – if they’re growing wild in the same part of the world I live in, there’s a good chance they’ll do well in my garden!  I gather seeds from plants grown by friends & neighbours.  I discreetly gather seeds from plants in community flowerbeds or local areas of greenery in front of stores, downtown, by the library… By ‘discreetly’, I mean that finding someone with the authority to say ‘why yes, go ahead’ is really difficult in many cases – does the manager of any store in a shopping area know who is in charge of planting & caring for the little decorative flower & shrubbery areas throughout the parking lot?  Sometimes I can’t ask, but I also don’t, Do Not go out & rip up plants.  I wait until a group of flowers I like has finished blooming & started going to seed. Then I gather a few seed heads or loose seeds and take them back home.  The gardening services for these areas typically come through and ‘deadhead’ – cut the dead flowers off the plants – at intervals. So I take what isn’t needed for the plant, and only if I can’t find someone to ask.  If you plan to emulate this strategy, be SURE you know when the plant has really gone to seed, only take a little bit, and if you have any questions or misgivings, don’t do it unless you can find someone for permission.

I gather seeds from gardens of strangers – with permission!  A personal garden isn’t like a decorative planting in a space in the sidewalk downtown. A personal garden belongs to someone. ASK if you  want some seeds. They’ll likely be delighted to give you some – and you might make a new friend and start swapping plants & gardening advice, but ASK!!!

Back to my confetti gardening, I take the seeds (bought, traded, harvested) that I want or hope will do well in a particular space, and sprinkle them down.  Yes, I do start some carefully in small pots, yes, I get cuttings of plants and I buy growing plants, but a lot of my garden is from seeds I toss in areas they just might do well in.  And then I wait. Several years ago I carefully planted some lovely dark pansy seeds in a particular flower bed. Nothing happened. No pansies from those seeds grew that spring, or summer. The next spring (yes, after a whole previous spring of care, a summer of not bothering to care for a space that didn’t have a plant, a fall of caring for other, actually growing plants, and a cold freezing snowy winter) one of the pansies sprouted. And it bloomed. It did better than a pack of pansies purchased already in bloom from the store. This spring it came back (the ones I plated from the store pack didn’t).  Seeds work like that.

These are a lot like my dreams – and I hope, like everyone’s dreams. We dream the likely (I’d REALLY like to get a couple new outfits for work soon), and the plausible (I want to start taking regular bellydance classes again).  We dream the maybe (Wouldn’t it be cool to get to go on a white-water rafting trip) and we dream the way out there (What if I adopted a kitten with wings?).  These dreams are the seeds of life. They get tossed out into life – hoping to buy a new outfit without spending too much and maybe go on a cool trip and how the heck would I keep my indoor plants safe if I did have a winged kitten – and we see what happens.

Some of them sprout. Some start to sprout but aren’t in a good place to be nourished. Some aren’t viable no mater what. Some wait and surprise us long after we thought anything could still happen.  The more dreams, the more possibilities of new, interesting parts of life are available.  There are easy, obvious parts of life, and the dreams that sprout and grow so large & take up so much space that other dreams might not get as much of a chance.  My own sprouting career as a counselor is definitely taking up space that an alternate dream of being a rock-star can’t use now; it’s hard to be available every week to talk to clients and touring Europe with a bunch of musicians in a cramped tour bus at the exact same time. 😉

Some dreams end up requiring more care than we can put into them.  The reason I prefer seeds from established plants is that I know they’ll have a better chance of growing in my garden. I want plants to be beautiful & growing well and I’m not the sort who wants to be out making a separate little climate for each plant.  I live in Southern Colorado along the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. Summers are usually dry, winters get snow, and have days that dip below 0* Fahrenheit. Rain is wildly different from one year to the next, and I prefer to semi-xerisacpe, where my plants get nearly all of their moisture & climate needs from the climate we have, not from carefully covering, watering, shading, warming…

My life is the same way. I’m willing to do a lot for a dream that matters, but it has to be giving back to me, and sustaining itself as a part of my life.  When I get those new clothes for work, they need to be comfortable to wear, and coordinate with things I already have, and fit who I am – physically and emotionally and suited to my lifestyle.  My dream of perfectly polished fingernails clashes with my dream of spending time working the garden regularly.  Some seeds don’t grow well next to others.

The large, established ‘plants’ in my life (my marriage, my house, the years I put into my college degree) and the ‘climate’ of my life (having a chronic illness, a passion for art & creating, my values & spiritual beliefs) strongly affect what new dreams can more easily take root & grow. This is the part that relates so well to the conversation my spouse & I had. We were comparing free will to destined events. He pointed out that previous choices direct what happens in the future.  It’s not impossible to change course, but the older & more experienced you get, the more energy it takes to make a radical change.  At the time he said this, we had just taken the ramp off of a street onto the freeway (car rides are awesome for personal conversations. You’re basically a captive audience for each other, there’s not a whole lot else to do, and there are time limits, depending on how far you’re going).  It was a wonderful serendipitous analogy. We were swerving onto the southbound ramp (Onto I-25 off of Colfax, for those who drive in Denver), every second getting further from the northbound option. It would have taken a heck of a lot more time, energy, and fussing with side-streets if we’d suddenly decided to turn & head north.  Our journey south wasn’t ‘predestined’, but once we turned, it would have been a LOT harder to go north, especially given the roads in that particular area.

Taking it back around to seeds, or dreams: Growing one plant determines the likely success of others. I have a beautiful blue spruce in my front yard. It was probably planted when the house was built – it’s certainly been there for decades. It’s beautiful, it’s growing well, and I have no desire to change that!  My spruce is big enough and established enough that it quite literally foreshadows what else will grow nearby. Planting seeds that need full sun too close to the tree strongly ‘predestines’ those plants to do poorly.  A few feet further away where it doesn’t cast so much shade, the same seeds have a much better chance.  And it’s possible that a few could defy the odds and grow happily in the shade anyhow – but not as likely.

If I wanted to change that aspect of my garden (and I do NOT want to do this, this is strictly for sake of an example) even taking out the tree wouldn’t simply change things for the garden.  Spruce trees, like most evergreens, are slightly acidic. The needles & cones that fall every year put some of that acidic quality in the soil.  Some plants, like roses & blueberries, LIKE acidic soil.  If I get the chance to grow blueberries, I should either put them near the tree or scoop up some of the fallen needles to amend the soil for the blueberries.  But other plants don’t like acidic soil so much. If I had seeds for a plant that strongly disliked acidic soil, I’d likely not get much growth from planting them near my tree, even if they liked the shade and the other characteristics of the soil. Even if the tree was gone, the soil would be very acidic after years and years of needles composting into the soil around it.  The tree is more than just shade, it’s soil structure, water use, and shelter from wind & rain.

My dreams are the same way. I cast them out into my life, and some get too close to shade, or don’t like the place they land. Some don’t even try to grow until conditions improve. Some break down or blow out of my life entirely. Some need to be consciously moved or tended to, and some take too much work.  Some are even ones I can pass along!  I was given a beautiful ring in a previous relationship. When we broke up, I didn’t want to wear the ring anymore, but it was a perfect style and great fit for my sister-in-law. I hope she’s still enjoying it as much as she did when I gave it to her!

I don’t always, or even often, know just what a seed or a dream will need to thrive. Plenty of times I only find out some detail when it’s too late to change it.  I had a lousy crop of potatoes last year, and found out this past February when reading about companion planting in the garden that potatoes don’t do well near squash. My zucchini were right next to the potatoes! So it goes.

So it goes. Companions and light and shade and nutrients. Direction and size and competition for resources. Only one thing in one space – the next one has to be moved over at least a bit. This is why I want myself, my clients, everyone I know to have many, many dreams. Some won’t grow, and you may never know why. Some may be perfect for the space under a tree, next to a squash, or in a sunny corner; but those things can change.  Dream many, many dreams. Collect spare ones from books and music and conversation. Harvest new dreams from successful ones that are thriving.  Toss them into your life now, or wait until the time seems right, or carefully nurture them on sunny windowsills until they’re big enough to make it on their own. I don’t want to have nothing left to plant if my career became unmanageable, or if someone close to me passes on or moves away –  I’d rather be able to mourn the loss but still be able to plant more seeds.  Always plant more seeds… always plant more dreams.


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How’s your dashboard working? More on trust

Soooo… a few posts back I promised to write more about trust.  It’s a huge topic, and I don’t think I’ll get to the end of it any time soon. But here’s the next installment…

I believe I stated previously that so-called ‘negative’ emotions like fear or anger aren’t actually bad things – they’re like all emotions, and emotions are signals to tell you what’s going on – like emotional dashboard lights.  Are you in the right gear?  Do you need to add oil to your car? Is the door shut?  Emotions are designed to work the same way; they ‘light up’ when there’s a ‘go ahead’ or ‘don’t do that right now’ or ‘proceed with caution’.  That’s a good thing, and even when we wish the situation was different, knowing what’s ahead is usually better than stumbling in with no warnings.  However, emotions don’t always work properly, and even when they do, they don’t always agree with the emotions of the guy next to you.  When that happens, it can be a problem.  It can be a BIG problem.

Continuing with the ‘indicator light’ analogy – have you ever driven a car that has a permanent indicator light on?  Or one that flickers on  off regardless of what’s actually going on in the engine?  (If this has never happened to you, feel free to buy me a new car whenever you want 😉 )  For those who haven’t driven older cars, or who don’t drive (or who never bother with looking at the dashboard); cars have a LOT of potential indicators. Nearly everyone relies on things like the speedometer & gas gauge.  Many years ago when I was just old enough to be out on my own, the car I drove had a broken speedometer. As far as it was concerned, you weren’t going any miles (or kilometers, for that mater) per hour at all.  That meant you had to pretty much guesstimate based on how fast other traffic was going, and slow down just in case if there was a cop around.  Things like the speedometer & the gas gauge tend to be passive – if they’re broken, they simply don’t register anything.  Emotions like that are more like some kinds of depression – everything is flat, and it’s hard to know what’s really happening, because not much is showing up.

Cars also have a bunch of lights &/or sounds telling you things like your oil is low, your engine is too hot, you need to get the engine looked at (nice vague warning there).  They might make noise if a door is open or a seat-belt unfastened – some even have a recorded voice telling you just what’s happening.  My current car has the ‘check engine’ light permanently on.  In this case, it doesn’t mean anything except that the car is coming up on being old enough to vote and over time even cars that are well cared for get some quirks. I can ignore that light. It’s small, it’s unobtrusive, and I know it’s not a problem. But what if…

What if I was driving a car that had Every Single Light on? Or if every light randomly went on & off many times in even a short drive? That would include the turn-signals, that also make a click-click-click noise, and the ‘open door’ dinging sound, even if the door was closed.  Add a random beep or a voice that was supposed to signal a loose seat-belt (my car doesn’t have this, but many cars do) – but did it just on a whim, regardless of seat-belts actually in use?  I don’t know about you, but I’m thinking that a short trip, just a mile or two away, would be driving me nuts.  I kinda think I wouldn’t want to go out in that car unless it was an EXTREME emergency.

This is what it’s like for people whose emotions are too sensitive.  Instead of useful spikes & drops & flows of feelings that help gauge a good (or bad) day, it feels like EVERY day is flickering and dinging and beeping and pretty much, you just want it to stop!  There’s currently two common diagnoses for this kind of feeling. One is Anxiety Disorders – situations where all the worry lights, fear sirens, anxiousness beeping are all going off – and you really don’t know why.  It could be in the middle of the frozen foods or at the park or in church – often the emotions don’t seem very related to actual problems at all.  What they do relate to is messages from way back in the brain that made sense at one time.  There are different kinds of anxiety disorders, but they all refer to having a brain that’s not giving emotional feedback properly & usefully.

The other common diagnosis is ADD, which stands for Attention Deficit Disorder.  It used to be called Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD) if lack of attention made someone hyper, and ADD if it made them zone out.  Then the powers that be changed the name, and now it’s all ADD, with different subtypes (hyperactive is one, lack of attention is another, and so forth).  There’s a lot of controversy about whether ADD is real, if it’s overdiagnosed (especially among children who naturally need to run around and whose attention spans aren’t very big yet).  However, for people who do have it, it’s more like different indicator lights going on & off.  Instead of overwhelming emotions on full force, ADD is described more like ‘okay, I’m interested in math… no, wait, I’m tired.. no, I’m too hyper, and anxious… and so forth.  Interestingly enough, some research suggests that kids & teens who have anxiety disorders often act more like someone with attention problems than anxiety problems.  If you’re anxious or can’t trust your own signals, you’re going to be pretty distracted!

Bringing this back to the real world, feeling emotions instead of a dashboard full of lights – what do we do about it???  This is a situation that isn’t about a rational way to trust someone else, it’s about trusting yourself.  How do you trust yourself to know what you need and want when your ‘dashboard’ is that screwed up?  Where did it start?  Why is it doing this?

My own perspective is that most people start with something that actually does provoke a real emotion.  There are theories that all anxiety or ADD are entirely based on brain chemistry and can be fixed with medications, but I think that most often, a real incident came first.  Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), for example, is considered a type of anxiety disorder, and it is by definition cased by going through a traumatic situation. That’s a fairly obvious example, even if the recovery part isn’t nearly as simple. There are other situations, though, that can provoke ongoing anxiety without being as obvious.

When I was a kid, my mom gave me a strong lecture on not trying to catch bees.  I was young, I was interested in bugs & birds & animals & plants and was in general just the kind of kid who would try to catch a bee and end up stung.  So she told me not to catch bees, that bees would sting, that stings were ‘ouch’.  I developed a bit of a phobia of bees for a while. It was like my emotional ‘look out for the bee’ light went off if there was a bee anywhere nearby, not just if it was close enough to cause a problem.  Eventually I worked at getting over that fear (aided partly by being a teenager who didn’t want to look scared in front of my peers).  But a mild phobia of bees was also likely very helpful when I was a child.

What if it hadn’t stayed mild?  What if my brain had decided that beetles look kind of like bees (and start with the same syllable), so I should be scared of them, too?  What if I had then noticed that an awful lot of bees, and beetles, were found outside and decided I shouldn’t go outdoors?  If events in my life had gone in a different direction I could have all-out agoraphobia (fear of being outdoors), and I wouldn’t have any idea where it came from.  My ‘warning system’ would be going off too often for too many reasons; but it would have had a starting place, and things that bumped it up along the way.

Dealing with an overwhelming ‘dashboard’ of emotions is NOT easy!  By the time everything is signalling, it’s pretty hard to trace it back to one bee.  Sometimes people can, and need to, and other times they can’t, and shouldn’t. There are quite a few tools to help, but it treatment can still be like a baffled mechanic trying each thing in turn to see if it makes a change. The important thing is, you aren’t crazy, you have some very sensitive emotions, and even better, your brain can help fix itself!  A car has to rely on a mechanic, but a brain can learn to re-work its emotions. Some people need to know what caused the problem, and others just need to work toward the solution.  Both methods are okay, and when I’m working with someone whose emotions are overwhelming them too much, we can do either or both – whatever seems best.

Part of that process ends up dealing with trust.  There’s knowing why things got screwed up, there’s helping the brain learn or re-learn how to give feedback in ways that are useful and functional. And then there’s learning to trust yourself – both to trust your emotions, and to trust that if you have a bad day it’s not the start of a bad life.  Healing from anything is going to involve some times that feel all wrong. Sometimes you even learn more when things go wrong, because you can see what they are and what happened NOW, instead of trying to untangle possibilities from way back when!

Trusting yourself to trust.  That’s an awfully big job, but it’s one that’s so very worthwhile.


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Wow! It’s been a while :)

Wow! It’s been a while :)

Hello everyone.  So it’s been nearly a month – oh my!  I’ll get some longer posts out soon; but for today, no, I haven’t forgotten everyone.  I’ve been adjusting my schedule, I’ve had the opportunity to go to some workshops and trainings and similar things (most counselors go to several trainings, workshops, symposiums, and similar gatherings ever year.  We want to know more, we want to treat our clients more effectively, and, yes, I thin every state and country requires ongoing education – although most of us would go even if it wasn’t required. We really do like this or we wouldn’t be doing it!.

So I’ll pull myself back to my computer a little bit more frequently in the upcoming weeks and continue with posts on trust, tell you what’s going on with me, and write about anything else that comes to mind 🙂


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Enough trust to dance on

I am primarily a visual and kinaesthetic learner. This means that my favourite ways to really learn & understand something are seeing & doing.

(If you’re interested in how you learn, the VARK test is an easy online questionnaire that can give you a lot of insight. Go to – you can take the questionnaire, read about different learning styles, all kinds of stuff!)

It also means that a lot of what I write uses metaphors that refer to seeing & feeling.

Lately the subject of trust has come up in several places in my life. It’s come up with different clients, it’s come up when talking with my spouse, it’s something I’m thinking about; so I wanted to give a good look at one of my favourite analogies.

To me, trust is like a floor. Ideally, it’s a good, sturdy, solid floor. It has enough space to move around on, at the very least – maybe more. When someone has grown up in a good family, been cared for and loved and guided and given discipline when needed and plenty of praise and knows where they stand, so to speak, that person has a floor. They do know ‘where they stand’, or to put it another way, they have an under-standing. They have something their life is based on; usually some combination of family, friends, social understanding, spiritual beliefs, and ideas about who they are as a person. That understanding is where trust comes from.

When something happens to damage trust: divorce, or a horrible fight; having a partner cheat, going through the death of a loved one; being raped or attacked or assaulted or a home robbery or natural disaster or so many other things smash a hole in the floor. It may be a case where a few boards need replaced (if we’re thinking of a hardwood floor), or where concrete or stone need to be fixed (if it’s a harder material). It could be so bad it damages a support that holds the whole floor up, or it could be a minor nick that can be buffed out. It might even be a dent or scar that’s left in place as a memory or a point of pride in survival. But when things happen that affect our basic trust, our base, they damage that base. They damage our floors.

This first example assumes that someone starts with a pretty strong floor. When someone has been abused in childhood, though; or neglected or abandoned; or has any major traumas as a child that aren’t dealt with then; their floor doesn’t get built very far or very well. A survivor of childhood abuse or neglect is more likely to be balancing precariously on a few boards, or trying to reach everything in their lives while standing on a plastic step-stool. Not only is it hard to move forward with no floor to walk on, but it’s so much harder to fix the problem when there isn’t a floor there, or the floor is rigged together from mismatched bits and pieces.

In an ideal world, a child starts out not needing their own ‘floor’. An infant is literally carried. They share their parents’ floor. Healthy parents with good parenting skills provide the materials to build a solid base, a good support, and the child starts seeing what goes where as they grow. A toddler is figuring out how to stand in a metaphorical sense as well as a literal one. They discover just what kind of flooring, what shape and size and strength they will need as they explore climbing onto a couch, over a dog, onto a shelf (with parents frantically chasing after). Toddlers discover that falling down hurts, and that they really love spinning in circles, and rolling down hills is fun. And that healthy child has parents and others who realize that their child’s view is of a strong foundation. The child sees what they build as amazingly large and amazingly strong; because it is so much bigger than it was the day before, and the day before that. But these caretakers also realize that a child often has a weaker foundation than they think they do, and they still hold their child next to them, sharing their own trust, their own ‘floor’, to keep their child steady as they explore.

If we – both those who grew up naturally and easily building a secure foundation and those who have put one together later in life and those who are still working at it – look at the resources that someone with long-term abuse or neglect or trauma is dealing with, it’s pretty easy to see how difficult it is to trust.   Someone whose floor is badly damaged, or never built well at all, is likely to keep on having difficulties. We have another common idiom for this. We say that they ‘fall through the cracks’. Their own floor is full of not just cracks, but gaping holes, places mended with sub-standard material, and dangerously weak places, because this is all that person had to work with.

Then they try to get help from various agencies and centers and assistance programs – and these programs are often not well esteemed in society. They are not well-funded; they can’t afford enough staff, enough space, enough resources for everyone who needs help. Not because they don’t want to be, but because resources have to come from somewhere, and it may be hard for someone with a firm foundation to compare their own under-standing to another’s. These agencies do their best to collectively create a strong, sturdy floor for their clients, but it doesn’t stretch out far enough to hold everyone who needs it. There isn’t enough in the budget to always keep it in repair. Most of all, it’s hard to line up the bridges and corridors linking one agency to another. And clients slip through their own cracks and through the cracks in the organizations that try to catch them.

When I work with a client on trust, I like to bring up the analogy of a floor. I like to start with the idea that each of us needs to begin by finding a few bricks or boards of security in ourselves. We need to create a space of trust that’s big enough to stand on, to sit on; maybe even big enough to lie down on. Those materials come from being trustworthy to ourselves.

Yesterday evening, I knew I was low on milk. I knew that I’d want milk the next day (I really love my tea in the English style, with honey & milk). After my last clients of the day left for their homes, I put on my walking shoes and my coat, and went out to get a gallon of milk. That action created a brick or two of trust in me for me. I can trust myself to go get milk. I can use those ‘bricks’ to expand my floor, or to support an edge that might be a bit weak.

I’m gonna need it. I have an interview this afternoon that will hopefully result on getting to work with more clients. To get there, I had to trust myself to contact the group I’m interviewing with. I had to believe that my resume & question answering was good enough. I had to ask people if I could use them for recommendations – and that meant I had to have extended enough of my floor earlier to reach people & met people so I had people to ask. Today I have to trust that whatever I wear, it’s the right thing (or close enough). I have to get myself to the appointment, I have to talk to the interviewers, I have to present the skills I have that would be an asset to their work.

That’s a lot to ask from one small brick. It’s not all on that brick; I have others from previous times that I trusted myself to follow through, to care for me, and then did. I have more from learning to trust a few others, and to receive bricks or boards or building suggestions to make my floor stronger – strong enough to let me take a bit of a reach without falling through.

Let’s rewind, though, all the way back to when I was a teenager. I’d been in several foster homes, because my parents weren’t trustworthy. Not in a teenage ‘my parents are idiots’ way, but in a way that adult counselors and social workers agreed were not trustworthy. I needed to get an after-school job to start saving money for when I was out on my own. I didn’t have many ways to get to places that hired teenagers (if you’re thinking ‘every fast-food place out there’ – you’re right). I didn’t trust myself enough to present myself well. When I did get a job, every single day scared me. It wasn’t a job I liked (no surprise there). It barely paid enough that I could afford my share of the rent in a shared apartment. My meals featured a lot of leftover fried fish from said job.

In that time, I was building some of my floor. I was learning who I could rely on, and who I couldn’t. I was finding ways to make my money and time stretch farther. But I was also putting enough pressure on my floor to break perhaps 2 or every 3 boards I added. Bicycling to work (I didn’t have a car), physically hurt. Leftovers from a fast-food restraint aren’t very nutritious or very appetizing. My trust in myself and in other people had gaps and weak places and splinters and places that tripped me every time. That meant that in trying to add, to extend, to strengthen, I was handicapped before I even started by a very messed up sense of trust to stand on and reach out.

I was discovering just how many places there were to fall through the floor that was supposed to catch me; such as not being able to go to college. My social worker arranged that I could stay with my foster family until I graduated high school, but I turned 18 several months prior to graduation. That meant my legal guardian from my 18th birthday on was me, but financial aid paperwork insisted on either the information of the parents/guardians who would be supporting me in college (none), or the signature of the same parent or guardian stating that they would not be supporting me through college – still none. I was also failing to discover places to get help. Before you can ask for help, you have to know that help is there and you have to be able to reach out far enough for someone to reach back. It took a while to build those first shaky bridges out to others.

{Just a note: A few years later the FAFSA – the national financial aid form – was adjusted to allow the option of checking the box ‘I was in foster care or a ward of the state at the time I turned 18’ just for occasions like mine. But it meant that despite being accepted to college, I couldn’t go straight from high school, I had to go later on. I fell through that crack in that floor, and I believe it was significantly harder to climb back up, repair the crack, and go forward again.}

Adding up each person who wasn’t given the emotional supplies, tools, & guidance to build trust – that’s a lot of people. Then we need to add the ones who have had their trust damaged later. We’re social creatures. We reach out. When we find someone that we think we can care for (as a friend or romantically or as part of the family, it doesn’t matter), we tend to try to extend our own floors to meet with theirs. Sometimes it’s a narrow bridge – maybe even with a gate in the middle.

Other times we meld our floor to theirs, creating one unbroken expanse… but what if that person breaks our trust. The edge of our floor is now jagged, ripped up, damaged. It takes a lot of work to re-build that edge so it’s strong and smooth, and longer to make it truly strong enough to join to someone else.

If we’re attacked, raped, mugged, robbed; suffer injury or illness or a fire or a flood, our trust in the world and in ourselves is damaged. It could be a few dents, or it could be a crater right in the middle. People say to ‘pick yourself up’; to ‘keep on going’. They say ‘hasn’t enough time passed’ or ‘you can’t let what happened rule your life’. It takes more energy to keep on going when you have to detour around a hole in your foundation, or to avoid the jagged edges. It takes even more energy to go on going on AND to find the materials to replace that hole in your floor – in your trust.

In going on, in avoiding the cracks and holes where possible and pulling myself out when I do fall in, the goal is to have a floor big enough and strong enough to dance on. One that’s strong enough to hold others. One where I can invite others to come close enough for a dance – and one that’s mine so I can invite them to leave if necessary, too. I want a floor that will support walls if I want some spaces just for me, and other spaces to share. I want to be able to join my floor to others’ if I choose; but I want to have the insight not to join to someone who will rip up my floor because they decide to detach theirs. I don’t want to trick myself into standing on someone else’s floor, I want my own.

I am a person a counselor, a journeyer, a gardener, an artist. I love and I am loved. I am a dancer, and I want a floor that I can dance on.


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I hope I don’t see my shadow

I hope I don’t see my shadow

When I look out into my garden, I feel a lot of sympathy with my plants.  In most of the Northern Hemisphere, nearly everything is dormant, resting and waiting. A lot of it is even growing roots, some slowly, some surprisingly quickly. When we have a week like this one, I imagine my plants are just desperate to peek out and feel sun and sky. To grow. Colorado tends to be all over the place, weather-wise.  If you study geology & meteorology it’s because of the mountains. Different kinds of weather roll down the peaks just like water does, so we have weather coming and going rather quickly around here.  If you think a different way, well, the Gods of Weather get a big box of weather delivered each day, and they parcel it out to each area. At the end there’s 5 minutes of rain, a handful of snow, a few cups of wind, a pinch of sun… That all gets mixed and dropped on Colorado; especially the part right along the foothills.

Even without mountains, though, somewhere around the final week of January or the first week of February there’s a warm week or so. A thaw that makes you think spring.  A time that has been known for centuries as a standard part of winter. It’s the thaw that makes groundhogs peek out to see what kind of weather it is, and if the warm week is right around the 2nd, we’ll probably have more snow after. If it’s finished by the 2nd and back to being snowy, maybe it’ll be done sooner. It’s the thaw that makes people impatient to see growth.

I don’t know what day or time to look for any indications of growth for me, but I wish I did.  I, too, am waiting to push through, to leaf out and grow taller.  I can actually label some of my growing roots.  The physician who wants to send some clients my way, but wants to meet first so we’re on the same page… and just had to reschedule.  The organization that I was supposed to meet with on Wednesday who also had to reschedule. A group I’m running that’s in the ‘struggling to get a good day and time worked out’ phase.  A phase that was not helped at all by last week’s weather, which was the kind of snow that made everyone want to stay home and warm, and which made me hope no one did come to group, because I worried about them on the roads. I’m betting there are other roots, too, that I can’t see clearly but are growing all the same.

Lots of roots growing, and I itch to put out shoots, leaves, even flowers.  I don’t know if other therapists feel this way (although I hope they do), but I didn’t choose this for a lot of benefits – it’s not that kind of calling. I chose it, or it chose me, because I need to be there for people. To listen, to walk with them on their journeys, to sit with them when they cry, to laugh with them when they laugh. To explain things in a new way. To teach ways to cope, to express, to grow.  I want to see more clients, work with more groups, go to more retreats or lead more workshops.

Right now, I don’t feel like I’m doing much of that. I know that a good root system is essential to have strong growth. But just like my garden, I’m waiting for warmth to coax me out into growth. I hope I don’t see my shadow next Monday, so that my own spring gets here faster. I’m ready for more leaves.


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