Note to Self: Write MORE that’s Real in 2018


More of Everything in 2018

I need to write, but haven’t in a while.

I got a little bogged down trying to create neat, unoffensive packages of psychotherapy. I sort of lost myself, and writing became a chore.

But I’m writing my way back home, thanks to a little rest and time with writerly friends. Now, my true self wants to say something . . .

  • more interesting,
  • more hilarious,
  • more gut-wrenching,
  • more real . . .

The stuff I’d want to read, that enlivens me and pushes me toward the edges of my comfort and into a new way to think.

Stuff that makes me want to get up early and write it.

Idea Garden II, Deborah Cox, Flowers Reborn

For years, I’ve flirted with more candid writing, but reined it in, choosing a safer, more clinical voice. In the therapist’s chair, I listen to your stories, all the while knowing we’re alike in ways that blow my mind. Almost nothing truly separates us.

More Honesty = Less Separation Between Us

. . . and less separation sounds great to me.

My last post, about dealing with a narcissistic mother, brought me closer to what’s real. It felt risky and imperative at the same time. Some of you said, “Oh my God, that’s me too.” We both struggle with how to handle people we love who bring us down. There it is. Just like you, I need help with my boundaries and I need to know that I’m not a bad person for protecting myself.

There’s a censor in my head who says, “Shut up and act like a proper psychologist.” But another voice says, “Trust yourself. Write what you know. Share what’s real for you. Trust the universe. Allow yourself to be known.”

Even though I sit in the therapist’s chair, I’m a work in progress. And although our sessions are about you, sometimes I need to write about me. That feels more balanced, more genuine, more honest . . .

 . . . and scary as hell.

(which is probably a sign I need to do it).

More Spiritual Growth

A few years ago, I wrote a novel about growing up and escaping fundamentalism. It’s fiction – but it hews closely to my emotional truth. Now, more than ever, I think you need to read my story. It’s part of your story too . . . Though you may not realize it yet.

We are spiritual beings who change constantly. We’re all moving toward more mindful spirituality, higher levels of consciousness, less restricted thinking, more love, more connection . . . whether we realize it or not.

I plan to share Wife Material in my 2018 blog, starting with this little scene of the 22-year-old bride, Elizabeth, straight from her Church of Christ wedding reception (Think receiving line, sherbet punch, mixed nuts, and pastel-colored mints.) Elizabeth is me. She’s the reason I’m for you getting free.

As always, I love hearing from you.


1988, from Wife Material: A Novel of Misbehavior and Freedom

The wedding night. My new husband looked like a mound of biscuit dough. He had a surprising lack of body hair and a pale form that slumped when standing or sitting. He had his mother’s hips. Unless you actually saw his private parts, you might not realize he was, in fact, a man. He waited for me under the hotel blanket as I tiptoed out of the small Vanderbilt bathroom in my white chenille robe, reluctantly exposing my skin to conditioned air as I slipped it off.

He smiled like a dimpled three-year-old about to eat pudding. The lights were out except for the fluorescent shafts that wound around the partially open bathroom door. I thanked God for darkness as I hurried into the stiff, clean sheets with him, a bit of moonlight misting in through a crack in the heavy sixth-floor drapes. The clock on the polished nightstand said 1:15 a.m. I missed my mother.

An hour ago, somebody else’s wedding party reveled in the lobby as we arrived at the hotel. The other bride still wore her finery, her updo falling in a sexy droop, and her friends laughed and glistened with perspiration in their cocktail dresses, like they’d been dancing for hours. They looked breezy and comedic, in the way of Eddie Bauer models. A hunky groom stood by her, joking with tuxedoed friends. Her gaiety gagged me—I had no idea why. At this moment in the sheets with Ted, I thought of that bride downstairs. She was happier than me.

Contact Deborah

What Does Freedom Look Like to You?

Revolution 16, Luca Barberini,

We hear a lot about freedom from politicians and life coaches. But freedom seems a bit vapory to me. Freedom to, what, exactly? Last week, I started asking people, What does freedom look like to you?

Here are some of the answers people gave me.

  1. Having the ability and right to make decisions for myself.
  2. The ability to help myself and help others.
  3. Being without addictions.
  4. Being able to set boundaries with others.
  5. Listening to good music.
  6. Artistic expression.
  7. Being able to explore and change my views of the universe.

No one I asked mentioned weapons or money. They all described internal states and liberties. Freedom feels internal to me too. Truth. Beauty. Love. Things I have with me no matter where I am or who is in power. Things that cut across religious and cultural divides. I’m able to think fluidly, use my reason and intuition, my senses and hunches and emotions, to guide my behavior and beliefs. I can create loveliness with words or gum-wrappers. I can love others and feel their love coming back to me, even if we’re hundreds of miles apart. I have access to what’s inside. I’m not a slave to substances.

Writing to Get Freedom

For me, writing leads to freedom . . . especially writing about relationships, religious and spiritual oppression, bullying, domination, or abuse. As I dare to write my emotional truth, I explore the dark side of my human experience. I go through the slimy tunnel and out the other side. That’s where I find truth, beauty, and love as I experience them. One leads to the other. Writing the horror and the struggle clarifies the real questions to be answered, Who Am I? Why has this been my path? What have I learned from it? What’s my life’s curriculum?

Going through this process, I get more mentally free.

In the spirit of these questions, here’s an exercise. This might get you started on your own life-writing or social commentary. Get out your journal and pen and start writing. Give yourself five minutes on each question. Set a timer and be sure to stop when it dings.

  1. What do you absolutely have to have in your life, in order to be okay?
  2. Why do you think those are what’s necessary for you?
  3. What is your number one core belief about the universe?
  4. How did you develop that core belief?
  5. When do you feel most free?

Drop me a line. I’d love to hear from you.

Contact Deborah Read Wife Material



Deepening our Relationships by Letting People Know Us

Relationships: Knowing and Being Known

Relationships: Knowing and Being Known

Yesterday, I had a conversation with friends about how we become known inside our relationships. Where and with whom can we be truly ourselves? How much do we share? What parts of ourselves do we keep hidden?

Loneliness and social isolation pose serious health risks. So the question of how we share with the people around us matters to our longevity and overall well-being.

 In my Tuesday morning cardio class, hilarious thoughts spring to mind. The shared misery of burpees takes me back to embarrassing 7th grade gym class moments or a random image of Will Farrell in a Little Debbie Costume or what my butt looks like as I lumber from squat to thrust. Sometimes I share, but in classic introvert style, I keep far more to myself than I ever let loose with anyone. Anyone.

While we all keep quiet volumes locked inside, in relationships, most of us yearn to fling open the doors of our souls and let someone know us completely. This is pretty much universal human need. But we hesitate, analyze, stifle. Relational-Cultural Theory describes this process in detail. We wish for deeper sharing but we keep our most interesting thoughts and feelings unspoken, protecting ourselves from potential rejection and shame.

Even old friends and long-married couples hold back from each other. We fear rejection, hurting each other’s feelings, starting an argument, or just being wrong. Sometimes I coach partners to trust the material that bubbles up inside them. As I do, I realize I need the same kind of coaching to support courageous connection. I grew up with the religious teaching that women should be quiet. Add that doctrine to an INFJ temperament and you get a girl who rarely speaks.

In fact, I still have trouble coming up with spoken words on the spot, especially if I’m standing up and balancing a plate of appetizers. If I could sit and write my part of a conversation, I’d be fine, but who wants to wag around a notepad and marker at a party? As I move through middle age, I need a strategy for sharing more of myself, aloud. It always pays off in the long run: I make a new friend or deepen an existing one; I learn something about myself; I feel less hidden.

So, I say (to both of us): Go for the Mistake: Trust it, and say it Out Loud.

Here’s my plan for letting people know me.

  1. Cartoons: I pledge to draw more cartoons of myself in awkward social situations, especially if they involve verbal faux pas. Use my creativity to turn embarrassment or aloneness into art that can be shared.
  2. Slowing Down: I pledge to take my time and find the words I need in the moment. Keep breathing. Learn to savor saying it…even if it’s wrong…even if people yawn and squirm.
  3. Journal Sharing: I pledge to read selected chunks of my Morning Pages to my partner; maybe even to my friends. Maybe this will encourage them to share their journal writing with me.
  4. Self-Acceptance: I pledge to enjoy my social bloopers and embrace that they’re part of me. Remember that time I said Save the Cork at your son’s bar mitzvah and your family thought I was talking about pig meat? I pledge to take these moments less seriously.

I need to remember: when I set out bits of my inner life, it’s like feeding the neighborhood cats. I give a gift and an invitation to my friend, my partner, my acquaintance to go deeper with me, trust our connection. I take a risk. And if nothing else, I help somebody else feel better about their gaffs by making a well-intentioned ass of myself.

Writing and EMDR therapy help this process along. Contact me if you’d like to learn more about how life-writing and EMDR therapy can help you strengthen relationships, tap into your creativity, and deepen your knowledge of yourself.

(An earlier version of this article was originally posted on

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Leaving Home to Find My Higher (Grownup) Self

Growing Up Paisley from Flowers Reborn, Deborah Cox, 2016

Growing Up Paisley from Flowers Reborn, Deborah Cox, 2016

I Write to Grow Up

I struggle to differentiate, as we all do. Leaving home is a lifelong process, as described by Murray Bowen, the father of family systems theory. But writing my novel, Wife Material, about the process of leaving home, catapulted me forward. That’s why I so recommend life-writing as part of trauma recovery. If I can create story around the invisible problems of fundamentalist Christian culture, I understand myself better and pull myself further out of that mindset.

And it makes me wonder: why do fundamentalist Christians have such a hard time letting their children grow up and leave home? Take Christian home-schooling for example (I have numerous lovely friends who home-school their children, so please, if you’re one of them, I can imagine circumstances in which home-school makes sense). Take “Christian College” for example (and again, if your kid goes to Harding or Evangel or Liberty, read this with one eye closed). Some of this may be true of your family – but perhaps not. We are so complex.

But to me, home-schooling and Christian college really show the gravitational pull of the fundamentalist family . . . the frightened family. Well-intentioned parents in fundie traditions fear the process of leaving home. They dread letting their kids out into the world where differentiation happens. Because differentiation can be scary.

What if they encounter drugs? Sex? Bad attitudes?

        What if their faith gets diluted?

            What if they develop nasty habits or vulgar language?

What if they stop believing in God?

The Vital Mess of Growing Up and Leaving Home

Fear of differentiation creates the need for schools like Waltham Academy, where my protagonist, Elizabeth Campbell, grew up. At Christian schools, children are sheltered from outside influences, thus restricting their thoughts to a prescribed area that’s been deemed appropriate or familiar. Fear of differentiation creates the need for home-school. Fear of differentiation creates depression and anxiety.

Typically, when you go off to school for the first time, you step into a foreign environment. You make friends with different types of backgrounds, orientations, and lifestyles. You see contrasts with your own family values and you start to question the rules and rituals with which you’re being raised. This is normal, healthy. This is how we leave home. Birthing is painful . . . and so is launching: uncomfortable, necessary, bloody, messy, and real.

When I left Christian college for a liberal (and feminist) state university environment, I made friends with Muslims and atheists and Jews, gay men, lesbians, and transgendered individuals, and people from other spots on the globe. This triggered my realization that my parents did not know everything . . . (nor should they have) which liberated my mind and allowed me to keep growing up. Growing past them.

If I’d stayed loyal to the churched educational system in which I was raised, I’d be dead now (at least mentally). I’d have compressed myself into a small intellectual space and blocked my mind from reaching out for more new information. Root bound. Enclosed. Strangled.

Differentiation is Growing Up

Differentiation is Growing Up

Every parent is limited. I know this like never before, raising a 15-year-old whose vocabulary and imagination surge ahead of mine and leave me feeling like a dusty old relic with my relational theology. But limits are normal. We don’t know everything. Our kids will know more than us. They’re supposed to, at some point. We grow beyond our parents’ abilities to imagine . . . and that is the stuff of this beautiful world.

At its base, Wife Material describes getting free to grow up.

We all desperately need to pull and scrape and claw our way to freedom so that we can leave behind our parents’ ideologies and grow into our fullest, brightest, wisest selves.

Read Wife Material

Writing as Healthy Rebellion

Rebellion is good for you.

Rebellion is good for you.

Julia Cameron says we all have the right to write, even if someone has told us we’re no good at it. Writing is a birthright that cannot be denied. It brings what’s inside to the outside, a very basic human need.

I’m working on a sequel to Wife Material, the novel I published last fall. If you’ve not read it, it’s a story about escaping religious abuse – and it’s based on my earlier life. Ten years in the making, Wife Material deals with dangerous dogma. Dogma that separates people. Dogma that makes them scared to reveal their inner selves. Dogma that keeps them afraid of hell and each other’s judgment.

The sequel (yet unnamed) has a handful of lifelong Church of Christ women emerging from deep and isolating emotional stupor and coming together to produce change. They discover the power of confession and truth-telling. They uncover secrets that have fostered the abuse of women and children for generations. They transform their relationships into more mutual, sustaining connections and they demand change. The women disobey. And as they disobey, they shine light on the path to healing for a whole community.

This is the change I want to see in the world.

Life Story Re-Write

Changing the story changes the brain. A new idea literally causes different neuronal firing, which leads to new cooperation between neurons and groups of neurons. When you get fresh information or use your imagination to see a different outcome, you create new connections in your nervous system.

People often say: I’m not a good writer. I don’t even know where to start. I have nothing important to say. My story would bore people to death…

To which, I say: That’s okay. You know things. Write what you know. Nobody has to see it but you.

And that’s where it starts. Here’s a set of exercises to help you get things onto the page that can change the world. For each exercise, observe the time limit.

  1. Set a timer for three minutes. Make a list of five issues you care deeply about (e.g., child abuse, poverty, mental health treatment, nutrition).
  2. Set a timer for three minutes. Write a few short sentences about one of the items on your list above. What should we be doing to address it in the world?
  3. Set a timer for ten minutes. Write a short scene from your life. Absolutely any scene. Add description. Add dialogue.
  4. Set a timer for ten minutes. Make a list: ten events from your life that stand out in memory (positive or negative).
  5. Set a timer for ten minutes. Write a scene from one of the events above. Add description. Add dialogue.
  6. Get a cup of coffee. Stretch. Set a timer for twenty minutes. Make up a short scene about a person living one of the issues from list number one.

Notice that when you’ve done these exercises, you have the beginnings of a book or a blog. You have a collection of your deepest observations. You even have a piece of fiction. You have the words of your higher self, recorded on the page, staring you in the face. You have been documented.

Check out my book and get inspired to make up your own story.

Read Wife Material

Find Your G-Spot: Healthy versus Coercive Guilt

Find Your G-Spot

Find Your G-Spot


My clients report LOTS of guilt. Guilt over everything . . . being a rebellious teen (thirty years ago) . . . failing to protect their children from unforeseen tragedies . . . eating desserts . . . not living up to their potential . . . breaking someone’s heart . . . flying into rages . . . majoring in business instead of art. Some of this is healthy guilt. Most of it is coercive guilt.

It’s my fault: . . . I’m not more successful.

My dad died too young.

My parents split up.

My mother stayed in bed all the time.

My brother has so much trouble.

My husband doesn’t want me.

We had to file bankruptcy.

We lost the baby.

 Sometimes I try to argue with them. So, a five-year-old kid could cause his parents to divorce? So, you’re supposed to put your young life on hold to make sure your dad doesn’t die – even though he’s trashed his body and chased away his loved ones?

 Talk therapy only gets us so far: countering this kind of guilt with words is only partially helpful. We need the power-washer of EMDR to clean out old trauma channels in the brain that hold residue from our history and hold back the forward progress of our thinking.

But sometimes guilt is good. And we need to know the difference between guilt that helps versus guilt that hurts.

Healthy Guilt

Healthy Guilt steers us in the direction of becoming kinder, more responsible, more empathic, and more helpful. Guilt is good if it makes us better.

I wish I had not insulted his masculinity.

I wish I had handled my children more gently.

I could have helped that woman down the street with her car.

I should give more to charity.

Healthy Guilt brings awareness and changes our behavior in the future. It notices and then lets go. It illuminates a path not taken and creates experiential learning. It says: I’m human, I’m imperfect, and I’m learning. I believe Healthy Guilt comes from the higher self in connection with divine love.

But if it hangs on, keeps us awake at night, or paralyzes our ability to feel joy or to take action, guilt has morphed from healthy to coercive.

Coercive Guilt

Coercion involves force or threats – direct or indirect. So Coercive Guilt comes from some experience (past or present) in which we were induced to feel bad about ourselves for disappointing someone else. Coercive Guilt steers us toward depression, rigidity, anxiety, and less enjoyment of life. Coercive Guilt gets passed down the line, creating anxiety for younger generations. Guilt is bad if it is used to coerce others or make ourselves sick. Guilt is bad if it hangs on in spite of our changes, our apologies, our restitutions. Coercive Guilt comes from an outside influence that says we’ll never be enough, no matter how hard we work or how much we deny ourselves.

Coercive Guilt activates false family-of-origin beliefs.

  1. I’m a bad person.
  2. I make people angry, sad.
  3. I don’t give enough.
  4. I’m selfish and ungrateful.
  5. People who move far away from family are selfish and cold.
  6. If I take care of myself, I can’t be good (enough) to others.
  7. If I speak my truth, I will hurt people (and that would be bad).
  8. If I do what’s in my own best interest, I will have failed someone else.
  9. I should have known better. I should have seen it before.
  10. I’m not enough.

I wonder how the world would change if we all began to shed our coercive guilt. I wonder what would happen if we wrote about where it all started, how it’s limited our life adventures, and what we’d love to do if we weren’t so guilty.

Contact me if you’d like to target your Coercive Guilt with EMDR therapy or talk about re-writing your life story without all the apologies.

Contact Deborah



What’s Your Spiritual Story? (And why it matters to your life.)

I purged my childhood belief system and started over. I ran to psychology. It explained everything, including all those simple minds who still drank the Kool-Aid. Continue reading

Write your Life Story and Heal from It.

Flowers Reborn

Flowers Reborn

Wife Material, my new novel, started as a memoir before it became a work of fiction. I wrote it because I could not- not write it. In the beginning, I tried to expose the dark side of a religious sect – the one in which I spent my childhood. In the end, I’d made up whole scenes from scratch. I made up characters that fit, emotionally, with the true life events in my memory. I made up events that fit, emotionally, with the culture that shaped me. And pretty soon, the made-up story felt more accurate than my facts-only version.

But what compelled me to put my life on paper in the first place? Why go to all the trouble, take a decade, weep over pages of trauma, keep a notebook handy at all times, put paper drafts in the freezer for years (in case of a house fire), sit at the computer thousands of hours, subject myself to critical feedback and revision and rejection and multiple rounds of editing?

Because. My history exists for a reason. And getting it into a readable story form allowed me to turn nasty experiences into art. Someone reads my shameful pit of despair and says, That happened to me too. Then, suddenly, I’ve reached a person with my words. I have an art piece instead of a bad memory. A whole room full of sculptures instead of twenty-three years of mistakes and trouble.

My dad hurt me, physically and emotionally and spiritually. As I put him in context, story him as a suffering person who acted out, I see myself as an innocent child – not a worthless object or a bad thing, undeserving of protection or nurturing. I remember the moment I realized this shift, as a stared at a page in my journal where the handwriting convicted him of child abuse. I held that journal out away from my body. I threw it to the floor. I put it in the trash. Then I got it out, rewrote the event in the form of scene, on the computer. Now there was distance between me the person, and that true-life trauma that left me drenched in shame and loathing for so many years.

I suggest Life Writing for my trauma therapy clients. Writing allows us to lay claim to our experiences in ways we can’t otherwise. It forces us to make sense of events that were confusing. It re-orders scattered clumps of memory and draws them into meaningful wholes. It takes trauma and externalizes it, there on the page, so it moves outside us.

Life Writing also facilitates the process of EMDR therapy and adds to our overall health and well-being.

Especially with child abuse, your story informs you as it informs the world. How you were handled as a child lives in your body. Putting that experience on paper, seeing it in words, in black and white, sharing it with trusted others, even fictionalizing it, helps to get the horror out of you and into a piece of intellectual property. That creative property helps you see yourself as a character in a story – one who deserves empathy and love.

Call me if you’d like to learn more about writing and healing from trauma, EMDR therapy, or how writing improves our mental health.

Contact Deborah