Still Recovering from Toxic Religion: Pass That Buick in Love

It’s OK to keep evolving.

Here’s a story about being inspired and suppressing it.

This morning I got behind a slow-moving Buick on a major thoroughfare. I encountered the same dark green Buick, ten minutes before, when I was crossing a downtown street. On foot, I got up close and looked inside at three senior women – all probably in their eighties, peering out the car windows as if thoroughly lost and overwhelmed by the traffic. Now, as I now rode behind them, they slowed and stopped at every side street.

I felt bad for them – they seemed lost and confused and I’ve been there myself many times. But I also chomped at the bit – just because the sun was shining and I wanted to sail down the street, unfettered, toward Mama Jean’s Famous Tuna Salad. I thought about passing, but then got a stab of guilt. Why? What’s wrong with blowing by the Buick with a smile and a wave?

This felt familiar: feeling inspired to race ahead into a sunny adventure whilst holding back, tucked behind someone who isn’t ready to race ahead. Then I thought . . .

Why do I still do this? Hold back, feeling guilt for wanting to pass someone or say ‘no-thank-you’ to an unwanted offer or avoid a conversation I know will drag me down . . . ?

I was raised to think other people’s feelings were more important than mine . . .

 . . . that I was selfish and arrogant if I needed to be my age or to just get the hell out of someplace that didn’t feel good.

I learned in my family, my church, my Church of Christ school, that if someone is upset by your behavior, that must mean you’re doing something wrong . . . and if someone feels inferior in relation to you, you should always modify yourself, so as not to offend.

While I’d love it if everyone felt warm and fuzzy, I just can’t make that happen and stay sane.

(Yes, I used to try.) Sometimes, we just want to drive a little faster. We get inspired and seek to create or take care of ourselves instead of prioritize someone else’s perceived needs. Be a selfish ten-year-old or a teenager with her own opinions. Grow into an actor or poet when our original life script says, “blend in and be quiet.”

Being inspired doesn’t make us arrogant.

It’s creativity . . . the Divine spark . . . at work in our lives, pressing us forward into growth.

It amazes me how lifelong is this process of getting free from toxic religion. I need a special 12-step group for this. But the Buick represents yet another layer to shed. A very co-dependent layer. My stifling won’t help anybody live better . . . or help them be inspired.

Pema Chodron says when she sees someone on TV who is suffering, she takes a breath, gives a nod of respect and love in their direction . . . a kind of brief meditation for their well-being. And then she resumes her day. If I apply this to my friends in the Buick, I can pass them with love.

Move far away to follow your dreams. Love someone  your parents don’t want you to love. End a relationship that drains your life force. Start a business, take a risk, or make a mistake. Surging forward into sunshine makes us evolve.

It’s okay to shed the guilt and go.

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Visit Beyond Studio and Nurture Your Inner Crazy Aunt

Beyond Studio makes me appreciate my wild inner self. The one inspired by my favorite aunt.

You know that aunt of yours . . . the one your parents didn’t want you visiting because you came back from her house wanting to sleep outside in your hammock and you wore your plaids and dots together and your cowboy boots with your dresses and refused to eat red meat?

I think it’s time to be her.

Where did I Unlearn the Wildness?

When I was in the second grade, at Lipscomb Elementary in Nashville, Tennessee, I told my classmates I could write their names in Spanish. No, I didn’t speak Spanish. I took each of their names and scrambled the letters and gave them back with a little accent mark at the end. They loved it. They stood in line to have me write their Spanish names on little pieces of card stock and embellish with purple crayon swirls. Until after a few days, one of them figured out my secret and started writing everyone’s names in Japanese. The jig was up.

The memory mortified me at age seventeen and twenty, but now I love the pre-entrepreneurial spirit I showed in that enterprise, even if I was scamming my peers.

Later, this unconventional child got stomped out of me at Christian school. This excerpt from Wife Material shows a fourth-grade Elizabeth, the fictional girl based on my real self, learning to suppress everything natural about her personality as a new student at Waltham Academy.

From Wife Material . . .

Mrs. Crandall sat at her desk in the beige polyester, one of three outfits she rotated
through each week, watching the flow of children for several long seconds while my jaw locked
and my abdomen tightened. She cleared her throat as the last child exited to the hallway. Then
she swiveled her eyes to me.

“Lizzie,” she began, “I understand you’ve been making nasty noises.” Her voice thickened
with breath. “On the playground.” She clucked her tongue like she’d just eaten peanut butter. “Is
this true?”

Heat-rash at the backs of my knees. I memorized her beef necklace while blood beat
against the inside of my face. I sputtered stupidly. There was no air. My brain reviewed the
scenes of hysteria with Abbie, the loud, forced-air sounds, giggly confessions of Saturday
morning-fabric-store flatulence, following our moms at a safe distance, hiding behind bolts of
crushed velvet and muslin, the crotch-grabbing and the laughter and Mr. McHail. Crandall
cleared her throat and spared me.

“You shouldn’t be laughing about nasty things,” she said. “Do you understand?”

“Yes,” I replied, thinking of Bible story sinners who covered themselves in sackcloth and
ashes. My limbs wilted and wobbled as I fell off the moral high road. All those seventeen
classmates were no doubt disappointed in the new girl who drew horses and laughed at farts. I
wanted so much to be like them: muscled, perky, and pain-free. They had such exquisite control
of themselves.

What was good about me and my friend making rude noises on the playground? We were bonding in our hilarity and our humanness. Just like today. Therapists need to shake loose from the clinic, get a little crazy, bond over lemon curd, draw naughty pictures, hold meetings in the sauna, bring their dogs to work, and paint the floor.

Beyond Studio Team


Beyond Studio and My Inner Crazy Aunt

Bonding over the zany makes me appreciate Sesame Street and Tim Kreider cartoons. It makes me appreciate my wacky yet oh-so-smart therapist friends at Beyond Studio, where I get inspired to make finger puppets and decorate chandeliers with dangling Barbies and race cars. Beyond Studio is a place for combining the serious and profane. I love catching people in delighted confusion, especially when they think they’re supposed to be in a solemn office. And who cares about being correct? Skill can Kill. Rightness is overrated in its ability to produce joy. We lose so much when we try to be good. We (therapists) have more fun, find more love, and experience more exuberant life when we cut loose and open our silly, rude ideas to the world.

Thank you Auntie!


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.

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Joy Lessons from my 5-year-old Niece

Lessons from Linde

I recently took a road trip with my sister and her kids. While we drove and swam and hiked and visited, I got a good dose of anti-depressant wisdom from my five-year-old niece. Linde inspires me because she is full of joy and incredibly herself: no apologies, no pretense, no matter what’s in the evening news. (People in EMDR therapy spontaneously connect with more playfulness and joy, what five-year-olds have in abundance.) Here’s what I learned.

  1. If you’re mad at someone, make up a silly name for them and use it as much as possible. You polka-dotted poom poom! You noosey nooner! It disarms people in a way that also makes them want to laugh.
  2. Every day, present someone your arm or your neck and ask them to tickle you lightly with their fingertips.
  3. Revel in your own skin. Luxuriate in the feeling of your body as it touches fabric or fur or water. Enjoy the feeling of your hair grazing your shoulders. Take every opportunity to run or bounce or wiggle, especially with a glow stick or while wearing a bee costume.
  4. Keep dancing till everyone else drops. Be the first on the dance floor and the last to leave, whether you have a partner or not. Stopping to go to the bathroom is over-rated.
  5. When someone aims a camera at you, assume you’re beautiful and work it.
  6. Make up stories and recruit your friends to play characters. Give them costumes. Dance around them and sprinkle fairy dust.
  7. If you don’t have an answer to a question, just meow.
  8. Don’t give up on people. If you’ve been turned down for an arm tickle, go back in fifteen minutes and try again. Assume they want to snuggle, but carry a stuffed fox or turtle around just in case your important people are busy.
  9. If you don’t like what’s on the radio, sing your own song. It helps if you close your eyes and pretend you’re the only one there.
  10. And finally, when you’re really angry or scared or disappointed, have a good cry or maybe scream. Let it all out, as loudly as possible. Then take a nap and wake up ready to jump on the bed.


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Denial, repression, and how to keep from losing your mind

I’ve always had a fear of dementia. It started on a visit to my great grandfather in the nursing home and I heard him mistake his daughter (my grandmother) for someone named Betty.  Fifteen years later, the same thing started happening to my grandmother and I watched her un-become herself over a period of six or seven years. Forgetting to turn off the stove led to forgetting to go to the bathroom and then forgetting the face of her daughter.

Horrified, I wondered why my relatives “lost their minds.”  Was I destined to do the same?

Now, I have a theory.


Fast-forward to 2017, sometimes I deny what I’m seeing and feeling. I hear you doing it too.

I could be reading too much into this.

It’s probably just my imagination. I have a tendency to overreact.

He says _____, so I need to believe him.

We pretend things are fine when they’re not. Sometimes the truth of my own feelings frightens me more than the shared pretense that all is normal. I keep a straight face to avoid conflict. I may even hide exuberance.

But suppression is costly. Denying emotion compromises our cognitive ability. When we stifle our thoughts and feelings, our mental processes turn against us – like the auto-immune system in overdrive. Denied emotion distracts us and prevents clear observation. It gobbles up energy needed for mental and physical processing. More here on denied anger in particular.

If we make a lifelong habit of denying what we feel, we end up in old age staring at The Price is Right, locked in fragments of our past, unable to learn anything new. I can’t prove this, but a review of my deceased relatives (especially the Christian fundamentalist ones) shows a strong correlation.

If I want to stay as lucid as possible as I age, I’d better say stuff out loud, show it on my face, let the tears fall, admit I’m uncomfortable, walk away from stifling conversations. I better swing at a punching bag and yell obscenities. And I better sing and dance and flaunt my joy as well.

Contact me to learn how EMDR therapy promotes clearer thinking and access to our true emotion.

Contact Deborah



Transition and EMDR: No such thing as a wrong turn.


By Khunkay (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Spring brings rebirth and color and joy. It also brings pollen, tornadoes, and allergies. My life transitions like the seasons, and even though it scares the crap out of me, I know it’s a good thing.

Something gets stale, stuck, or sour and I know it’s time to think differently. I get an urge to do something – an urge I ignore at my own peril. If I ignore my urge, the message of my higher self, I tend to get sick or depressed. EMDR helps me clear the cognitive clutter and make a change.

Maybe I need to:

Cut my hair

Nurture a child (fur baby or human)

Say yes to a trip

Leave a job

Leave a relationship

Lose my religion

Seek the company of a certain friend

Start a new venture

Get rid of things I’m not using

Change my behavior in relation to someone

Change my behavior in relation to myself

Get into therapy

Complete something I’ve postponed

Abandon a task I thought was essential

Trade couches with someone

Grieve and let go of an old belief that blocks me from growing

There’s always a reason for the urge. It comes from a place I can trust.

Over the years, I’ve learned these transitions always pay off in joy and growth and prosperity, even when it feels like I’m being shoved through a revolving door and lose my shoe. In fact, even when others disapprove of my change, I grow and my life gets better. I have no regrets for any of the detours or U-turns or shocking, hair-spiking, neon-sign-wearing changes I’ve made. Through EMDR, I’ve learned to pay closer attention to how my higher self talks to me, how transition shows up, and how I can allow it.

There’s no mistake, only my path. I welcome the change.

Read Wife Material

Calm Receptive Mode: Get calm and find the good stuff inside you.

Idea Garden II, Deborah Cox, Flowers Reborn

Your higher self knows how to calm you.

We all want to find calm receptive mode. But not everybody wants to get a massage (although we should – there are people who can make us feel safer and less awkward). Some of us need action. We need to be out in a kayak or running a trail. Some of us meditate and we know it works. We may need some yoga or tai chi. Some of us tap. Or we turn on some Fauré and close our eyes. And I know at least a couple of people who get barefoot and put their feet in the grass and feel the earth beneath them and take big breaths of outside air.

Maybe you’ve tried to get away or go out in nature or just sit still and you got scared. I’ve been there. You started to feel lonely and edgy, even though you knew you needed solitude and quiet.

What am I doing, anyway? Shouldn’t I be doing laundry? I’m wasting time. I can’t do this. I’m full of crap.

So you gave up, started cleaning, turned on the TV . . .

But your higher self knows what YOU need in order to get into Calm Receptive Mode . . . and it may be different from what your spouse or best friend needs.

Calm Receptive Mode = calming our minds enough to know what’s inside us, struggling to get out.

. . . The good stuff we’re waiting for. The part of us plugged in to divine energy understands us completely and wants us to get access to this good stuff: our creativity, our ideas, our epiphanies about how to live more joyously.

Try this tapping exercise:

  1. Tap the sides of your knees, lightly, left-right-left-right, etc., on the spots that feel most sensitive.
  2. Repeat these phrases:

It’s okay for me to be calm.

My higher self knows what I need to quiet my mind.

There is good inside me.

  1. Take some deep breaths. Repeat as often as you can tolerate it.

. . . Let me know how it goes for you.

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Ready to Receive: A Valentine’s Mindset

I just learned something: getting more of what we want happens when we shift into the right mindset to receive . . . Receiving Mode. We want intimacy, creativity, close friendships, satisfying work, a healthy family . . . a healthy community, nation, and world. Receiving Mode allows us to draw the right people, situations, and energy to us, creating the opportunities and relationships that ring all our bells and generate happiness all around us. Life is chock full of miracles and love.

I sort of knew this part. But I forgot, in the heart-stomping of this historical moment.

Here’s what I just learned: we practice Receiving Mode by getting a scalp massage. When we spend time in Receiving Mode, doing easy, our feet in the grass – our faces to the sunshine, we get ready to receive. As we get ready, those happy outcomes, love, beauty, friends, and even money, flow naturally toward us.

So in honor of St. Valentine, patron saint of happy couples, I make a new kind of to-do list, to get us ready to receive love.

  1. Get a pedicure (doing this right now).
  2. Go outside and breathe.
  3. Meditate 10 minutes before bedtime.
  4. Walk for pleasure in a beautiful place.
  5. Sit with our furry friends.
  6. Get some EMDR therapy.
  7. Do nothing. Stretch. Do more of nothing.
  8. Stare at the moon and know it’s a personal gift.
  9. Do a little yoga.
  10. Get out the watercolors and mix a new shade.
  11. Close our eyes and listen to Mendelssohn.
  12. Make a list of our favorite people.

Get ready to receive your heart’s desire. Even if you can’t see it now. Get ready. It’s coming. You are loved. Happy Valentine’s Day.

Contact Deborah

Political Despair? Focus on the Journey.

You’re safe. I’m writing to you: my Republican and Democrat and Independent friends . . . my companions on this journey. A series of conversations yesterday made me realize: We’re all stressed by the changes . . . yes, all of us.

If you lean to the right . . . you see masses protesting and feel disgust. Why do those people think they’re better than us?

If you lean to the left . . . you think, this cannot be! Does my voice matter? I need a martini. Let’s move to Banff.

You have trouble sleeping; your anger and hopelessness spike in public or when you watch the news. You watch your words. You have trouble tearing yourself away from social media. Waves of worry or despair get worse after dark. You lose friends.

If you have brown skin, it feels ten times worse. Your presence here is threatened (and threatening). You worry about being surveilled. You feel iolation and terror.

So, what I want to say is this: all the current events, all the devastation and disgust . . . none of it is real. Manipulation makes us fear each other. We’re not actually on different teams.

What IS real? The journey itself. The spiritual, relational space between us. How we treat each other. The rest is hologram, a stage set designed with challenges to grow us into maturity, if we stay awake to how we love.

A writer friend shared this poem with me today:

You have been telling the people,
That this is the eleventh hour.
Now, you must go and tell the people,
That THIS is the hour,
And there are things to be considered.

Where are you living? What are you doing?
What are your relationships?
Are you in the right relationship?
Where is your water?
Know your garden …

It is time to speak your truth.
Create your community,
Be good to each other.
Do not look outside yourself for a leader.

There is a river flowing now very fast,
It is so great and swift.
That there are those who will be afraid,
They will try to hold onto the shore.
They will feel they are being pulled apart,
And will suffer greatly.

Understand that the river knows its destination,
The elders say we must let go of the shore.
Push off into the middle of the river,
Keep our eyes open and our heads above water.

And I say; see who is in there with you,
Hold fast to them and celebrate!

At this time in history,
We are to take nothing personally.
Least of all, ourselves!
For the moment we do,
Our spiritual growth and journey comes to an end.
The time of the Lone Wolf is over!

Gather yourselves!
Banish the word ‘struggle’ from your attitude and vocabulary.
All that we do now must be done,
In a sacred manner and in celebration.

We are all about to go on a journey,
We are the ones we have been waiting for!

-Thomas Banyacya Sr. (1910-1999);
Speaker of the Wolf, Fox and Coyote Clan
Elder of the Hopi Nation

Contact me if you’re interested in a support group to deal with this leg of our journey.

Contact Deborah

How Lies Put Us Into Trance and How to Stay Awake

lies and trance

Adi Holzer [Attribution], via Wikimedia Commons

Lies often come from authority-figures. When I was growing up, preachers told the story of Abraham and Isaac: the one about how Abraham takes his child to a mountaintop and prepares to stab him to death as a sacrifice to God (whose ego must have been puny).Every time the story was told, a part of me screamed, ludicrous!!!! Another part of me got drowsy and tried to forget this awful scene on a big rock and the boy who saw his dad raise a machete to plunge into his chest.

I no longer believe that Abraham, following divine orders, set out to do away with his only child, only to be stopped at the last nanosecond by the hand of the almighty. And even if it IS true, I refuse to take it as some exemplar of righteousness, as I was taught. I see it as a pretty horrifying cultural myth . . . or a kind of lie.

How Lies Work

A client of mine was told she was “disgustingly ugly” by an older boy, when she was twelve. This lie persists in her psyche, at age 45, even though she’s beautiful by all cultural standards.

Turns out, it hurts us to believe lies. Even a little exposure to falsehood causes us to spend mental energy processing a piece of information that never completely goes away, even if we’re shown that it’s completely false.

This happens to survivors of bullying and abuse, all the time:

You don’t know what you’re talking about.

You’re too sensitive.

She didn’t mean it.

Boys will be boys.

Every child gets spanked.

You weren’t abused.

You deserved it.

You’re making a big deal about nothing.

You know I love you.

Lies infiltrate our thought-systems, sneak their way past our defenses and better knowledge. Lies become partially accepted at an unconscious level. We start to believe things that have no basis in reality – or things that a bully or perpetrator wants us to think, instead of trusting our own perceptions and conscience.


When we ingest information that fails to match up with other things we hold true, our brains go limp, trying to deal with the discrepancy. Senses dampen; energy drains. The more often we hear untruth, the more we trance. The more we trance, the more vulnerable we are to accidents, assaults, or forgetfulness (e.g., leaving your wallet at the restaurant).

Please fight trance in yourself and others. Write something on paper every day. Listen to your thoughts. Say them aloud. Keep your eyes and ears open. Stay awake. Listen to each other.

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