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

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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

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

Voice Medicine: Connect & Create Change

Saturday was Voice Medicine for me. Not only did I march and yell, I connected with thousands (millions) of others and said, We All Belong Here. It countered the heavy weight of worry and dread I’d been feeling for the last two and a half months (maybe longer), made me feel lighter, less alone, more powerful, more able to speak.

Voice Medicine lets me know I’m not alone in noticing what is not normal.

  1. I breathe more deeply.
  2. I feel hope and humor again.
  3. I sleep better.
  4. I stop eating sweets.
  5. I get my voice back.

. . . which is why you need your tribe: people who get why you feel the way you do.

Build community and find your voice.

Nasty Women, Be The Change

Right now, more than ever, voice builds community.

All those years of sitting silently in my childhood church made me confused, isolated, and mute. But standing up with other women and men, BEING LOUD, lets me hear my actual thoughts and lets others know I’m there for them too.

Here are some steps toward Voice Medicine:

  1. Join (or start) a support group for survivors of abuse.
  2. Meet a new neighbor; find out what they have in common with you.
  3. Volunteer at your local domestic violence shelter.
  4. Seek out like-minded people online. Ask them to tell their stories.
  5. Take a group of friends to a senator’s office to voice your concerns. Tell them you’re paying attention to how vulnerable people are treated by our government.
  6. Make eye contact with people begging for help . Ask them what they need most.
  7. Start an action group to end workplace bullying.
  8. Reach out to someone being harassed or abused; reach across the color or gender divide.
  9. Form a walking group in your neighborhood.
  10. Tell your kids, connection matters; talk to their friends and their friends’ parents.

Tell anyone who will listen: voice changes things.

Please let me know if you are interested in becoming part of an ongoing Voice Medicine group. Be the change.

Contact Deborah

 

No Judgment Here: 10 Things I Love about Group Fitness

 

No Judgment Here

No Judgment Here

No Judgment…but lots of Very Cool Surprises.

Group fitness bears a huge resemblance to group therapy. Who knew? I did not. But doing group fitness at The Bodysmith has changed my life and now I can’t stop talking about it. It helps me recover more quickly from setbacks. It places my fitness in a social context. It allows me to hear from lots of other people about their normal struggles – things we worry about in common and things we’re celebrating or learning to let go or accept: aging, illness, our kids…We come from different backgrounds and generations and occupations, but we share so much, including our desire to be fitter and more conscious human beings.

I LOVE…

  1. That everybody has a different shape.
  2. Burpees: Now I can do twelve of them without stopping.
  3. Mutual soreness.
  4. That I see how we all fluctuate through our lives: leaner, fatter, more and less swollen, depending upon how stressed we’ve been lately. No need to worry about it. I can allow myself to be human and inconsistent. In this way, I’m just like everybody else.
  5. Getting stronger and being able to lift things I couldn’t before.
  6. My friends holding me accountable to come to class.
  7. Learning not to judge myself or compare myself to others. Learning this doesn’t help or matter to the forward movement of my life.
  8. That everybody knows my name there (think neighborhood pub, only without the beer).
  9. That I feel connected to my community: I learn what’s going on around me from people who go to different concerts and read different books.
  10. I bounce back more easily from those weeks of bad food or bad self esteem. It’s never the end of the world.

I’m starting to think group fitness IS group therapy. I’m starting to think you might get more bang from your buck by joining a Pilates class than by doing a traditional talk-support group (not that those aren’t great). I’m starting to see there’s no real separation between body and mind. I’m starting to get that recovery from trauma has to be part muscle, part blood vessel, part neuron, part emotion, and part imagination.

Call me if you’re curious about how fitness and trauma recovery go hand-in-hand. Or talk to anyone at The Bodysmith to learn how you can start this part of your healing.

Contact Deborah

It Must be My Fault

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“It Must be My Fault”

Beth gets the guilt like a reflex if anything goes wrong…..Especially if it involves her partner or her kids.

“If Stuart’s in a bad mood, I assume it has something to do with me.”

She feels responsible for her divorce.

“If I had been calmer and less upset, we might have made it.”

Beth blames herself for her ex-husband’s affair, which ultimately led to their divorce. When she talks about this, huge tears form in her eyes. If only I had been less kid-focused, more marriage-focused, he wouldn’t have strayed.

“I’m a failure at love.”

As we explore her history, we find more events for which she believes she is responsible.

  • Her parents’ constant fighting.
  • Her younger sister’s illness and eventual death.
  • Her parents’ divorce when she was thirteen.
  • Her mother’s drinking problem.
  • Her father’s absence, remarriage, new family, and complete emotional cutoff from adolescent Beth.

As adults, we know she could never have caused her sister’s cancer, but she feels as though she did. Part of Beth’s brain, the part that recorded all the childhood traumas, got stuck in a loop of images, emotions, and body sensations many years ago. In fact, the neuro-cognitive self-blame loop formed before she could even talk……way back when Beth’s young parents were struggling to survive early job loss and financial devastation.

Children blame themselves for their parents’ suffering. Children absorb their parents’ emotions into their own nervous systems. Yes, children absorb guilt that belongs to someone else.

The guilt-and-self-blame loop triggers Beth to drink too much, eat too much, and feel like a failure. Beth needs help rewiring her brain circuitry. EMDR (eye-movement desensitization and reprocessing) therapy does this, literally, by jump-starting conversation between the two hemispheres of the brain. The talk between brain hemispheres actually produces new information.

Imagine the lids from two cans of paint – one red, one white. Now picture someone taking a brush and drawing it across both lids – back and forth, until you see lines of white in the red and lines of red in the white….and soon pink paint!

EMDR works like this…..the new information, like the pink paint created in this illustration, triggers neurons (brain cells) to communicate with each other in a different way. New working groups of neurons form. These new neuron groups change the very route through which both old and new information travels, allowing it to produce new meaning and emotion as it picks up new data along its new route through the nervous system.

That new information leads to an emotional change – the ability to feel the truth in what our adult brains know to be true:

  • It’s not my fault.
  • I did the best I could.
  • I was a child.
  • I deserve love.

When I see this process unfolding in my clients, I watch them calm down. I watch them acquire new, imaginative ideas, parent more effectively, and become more spiritually centered.

Call me to find out more about EMDR therapy, calming down, and letting go of guilt.

Contact Deborah

I’m Thankful for You.

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Profusion Purple from Flowers Reborn, Deborah Cox, 2015

Every time I see you, I say a little prayer of thanks that you’re in my life. You help me more than you know. Continue reading

The Submissive Wife: How This Role Damages Boys (and Girls)

How do I keep my son from growing up to be a jerk? How do I help him become egalitarian? 

Great question: How do we raise boys to share power in relationships? The answer lies in your willingness to share power in your own relationships.

The “submissive wife” sounds like the title of a porn movie or a handbook from the 1950s. But it’s actually a one-down female role still prescribed in many families and doctrines. It says the woman in a heterosexual relationship should defer to her male partner in all or most areas of conflict. It says the woman should try not to fight about issues that upset her. It says the man is the head of the household and should have the final say-so.

This article is not a political treatise, but a collection of psychological observations I’ve made over my lifetime – as a child growing up in a conservative community full of submissive wives – and as a family psychologist. Based on what I’ve learned, we really can raise boys (and girls) to be egalitarian. We can teach them how to share power with their partners, which will help them develop more satisfying love relationships as adults.

Yes, the submissive wife still exists. She may tell you she’s a complete person and on equal footing with her mate, but she still blames herself if the marriage becomes tense or gridlocked. She blames her spouse if there are money problems. She stifles her anger. She develops other symptoms (like migraines or other chronic pain) and she spends too much on shoes and Xanax.

The son of the submissive wife has a challenge. He must try to get to know his mother, while she hides much of her true self from view.

At the level of family interaction, here’s what I notice.

Like girls, boys watch their parents interact. Boys follow the flow of dialogue, even about minor, everyday things. They watch their fathers to see . . .
1. if they can share power
2. if they can share emotion
3. if they can admit their mistakes
4. if they can express affection openly
5. if they possess purpose – and how this purpose drives their behavior

Boys (and girls, for slightly different reasons) watch their mothers to see . . .
1. if they can express emotion freely
2. if they can assert themselves
3. if they can express resistance and still be warm and approachable
4. if they can maintain the integrity of who they are in relation to their mates
5. if they have passions and personal agendas and clear wants and needs

I watch my son watching us, my husband and I, as we talk. I see when he looks worried and when he looks relieved. I see when his attention is focused and when he’s free to unfocus it. I listen to the stories of boys and men in my practice, too, and how they tell those stories. Particularly the ones about their parents, so key to their own current love relationships.

“She wouldn’t look him in the eye.”

“They never talked about love.”

“They only disagreed behind doors.”

“She seemed invisible.”

“I don’t know what was important to him.”

“He didn’t say much.”

Between the lines of these stories, I hear these grown-up boys craving some signs of the emotional life of their parents. They need to know who these people are – so that they can figure out who they are too.

Here are some tips for modeling egalitarian relationships in your family. These tips assume a non-violent relationship. So if there is any physical aggression of any kind happening between you and your partner, please seek immediate professional assistance to create safety – before you address the things on this list.

Tips for Modeling Egalitarian Relationships

(assuming a non-violent relationship)

1. Allow some of your conflict to be seen and heard. Don’t hide it all behind a closed bedroom door. Children need to see their parents resolve arguments . . . or at least attempt to listen to each other’s points of view.

2. Even if you divide household duties in gender-traditional ways, make the division of labor overt. Talk about who does what – and why. Don’t allow the unchallenged assumption of “women’s work” or “men’s work” to prevail in your family’s culture.

3. Regardless of your gender, if you’re the dominator in conversations, tone it down a bit. Practice doing more listening than talking. Allow your mate to get the last word. Model a quieter approach to arguments. If you bluster (that is, raise your voice and stomp around or become physically menacing), take deep breaths and focus on helping your partner feel comfortable enough to stay in the argument with you.

4.  If you’re the one who normally gets quiet in an argument, practice staying emotionally present during conflict. Don’t retreat to a corner. Stay there. Make notes about how you feel. Share them. Out loud.

5. This one goes without saying, but I’m saying it again anyway. Absolutely no violence whatsoever should be tolerated in your relationship: no verbal, physical, or sexual violence – and no destruction of property. If this has been an issue in the past, please seek help from a licensed professional. If you’re the recipient of aggression by your partner, the previous four tips don’t yet apply to you. Seek safety first, then you can recruit help to address the balance of power in your relationship.

6. Talk about power openly. During times of low stress, when you and your mate are feeling relatively satisfied, discuss how power is shared between you. Allow your kids to observe if you feel comfortable enough.

7. Talk about your interactions – in real time. It’s hard to overstate what a gift this will be for your kids. (Can you imagine yourself as a child, listening to your parents calmly discuss their power relationship or the heated exchange they just had?). Bringing covert emotional operations into the open air allows your children to avoid the trance-inducing effects of experiencing a power-imbalance but having no words to describe it.

Leap of Faith, Part I: Trust your Gut, Talk to your Partner


It’s not easy to reconnect with your partner after months or years of relationship stalemate. But with a little guidance, you may be able to build a bridge to your lover.

Remember when you knew which color popsicle to choose, just because red felt better than green? Remember when you knew what your best friend was thinking before he told you? When the suppressed shock on his face said it all and you two burst out laughing in class? Remember when you were newly in love and in perfect sync with your mate? When you just knew what that special person wanted from you?

Gridlock happens in every long-term love relationship. According to intimacy expert David Schnarch, this is part of the natural evolution of committed coupleship. We hit walls of conflict and stress and can’t resolve them. Over time, these unresolved conflicts turn into an emotional resin that seeps into the partnership and makes us wary of each other. We seek the old closeness we had, but our partner has changed – and we’ve changed – in response to the thousands of everyday hassles and major traumas we’ve faced over the years. Grief and anxiety stiffens between us and starts to calcify. It feels like stone. We can’t see how to pierce the buildup without losing our selfhood or compromising our values. We miss each other but we stay on separate ends of the couch, separate sides of the bed.

Somebody has to soften and give. But we don’t want to be that person. We want our partner to change – stop drinking, become more responsible with money, have sex with us, be more sensitive, stop undercutting our parenting. We’re scared.

It seems like we have a lot to lose here. On the one hand, if we make ourselves vulnerable and reach out to our partner, we could get rejected, we could do it wrong, we could be more obviously alone than we feel now. But on the other hand, if we keep up our end of the stalemate, we risk more distance, and ultimately, we could lose our partner altogether.

I want to suggest something you may not have considered. Here’s an exercise that will get you started in a different direction.

1. Start by getting comfortable in a chair or at your desk. Light a candle. Get some tea. Get your notebook and pen ready.

2. Take several long, slow breaths. Make your exhale longer than your inhale.

3. Write to your higher self, your conscience, or your higher power. Start a letter that sounds like this: “Dear Creative Force” . . . (this one is suggested by Julia Cameron, for people who have trouble with traditional prayer).

4. Ask a question, like, “How do I reach out to Jennifer?” or “What can I do to help us get closer?” or “What does my partner need from me right now?”

5. Close your eyes and take several more deep breaths. Listen. It’s okay if you don’t hear anything right away. This process may take a bit of practice.

6. Start writing again. This time, let yourself write about the relationship – no holds barred. Just let it rip. Be as brutally honest as you can.

What do you notice? What messages do you get when you sit very still with this question on the page? What changes do you notice in how you feel? How your body feels?

Next, write a few opening lines for yourself. These will be how you start a new conversation with your loved one. They might sound like this:

“I’ve been thinking about us, as a couple. Can we talk about us?”

“I’ve been thinking about you – and what you need to feel better about our relationship.”

“When would be a good time to talk about you and me, reconnecting?”

Scary? Yes, that’s normal. Remember to breathe. Remember that your partner craves this conversation and may be just as scared as you. Your reaching out probably comes as a huge relief to her/him. However, they may seem to push away at first. They may seem put off by your suggestions. That’s normal too. Keep breathing and press on.

Have faith that you’re doing the right thing.
Have faith that you are good.
Have faith that your higher power is watching over you, understanding your anxiety, understanding your loneliness, wanting good things for you.

It’s going to be okay.

How Friendships Improve your Love Life

“I don’t really hang out with people anymore.”

Most people I meet who are in distressed relationships say they have few friends outside their marriage or partnership. Especially the men. Continue reading

Disconnection & Depression in the Wider World

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What does it mean to be “disconnected”?

Maybe you see the title of this article and you get the spiritual meaning, before reading another line. Yes, I feel disconnected: from my kids, my partner, my neighbors. Detachments and interruptions make us lonely and depressed. They steal our natural zest for learning and experiencing. And depression closes us into our smallest and least hopeful spaces.

But depression and disconnection occur on multiple levels throughout our world – in ways you may not have considered:

  1. interpersonal (between us and other people  . . . even our dogs),
  2. intrapersonal (disconnection from our true selves – real feelings and desires and opinions, our bodies’ true cravings for nutrients, movement, and rest),
  3. environmental (between us and the earth or even our home or backyard), and
  4.  spiritual (between us and our higher power).

We create artificial separation from important people in our lives – in order to maintain our sense of safety (“If I pretend his drinking doesn’t bother me, he won’t get angry with me.”). We cut off connections with our inner selves by ignoring our gut instincts, our needs for rest and closeness. We withdraw from Mother Earth and look the other way as she is raped and pillaged by human practices. And we stop the flow of spiritual energy in and around us by working too much, resting too little, ignoring urges to help others, and allowing anxiety to command our waking moments.

All this separation leads to profound depression.

Here’s a short list of signs you may be living a disconnected life.

  • You have trouble thinking of a person who knows your deepest wounds and imperfections and loves you anyway.
  • You avoid finding out where your recyclables go when they leave your bin.
  • You have no idea where your hamburger meat was raised or how.
  • You need a few drinks or a pile of ice cream or a few cigarettes to help you unwind after a long day.
  • You can’t remember the last time you sat quietly outside and listened to the crickets and frogs.
  • You avoid spiritual traditions because they’re fraught with hypocrisy, flawed people, and general weirdness.
  • You have trouble admitting when your feelings are hurt by someone you love.
  • You have trouble putting words to your emotions. If asked, you mostly say, “I’m frustrated.”
  • You have no idea where “palm fruit oil” comes from.
  • You believe your anger is a waste of time.
  • You think it’s up to the government to monitor our use of the environment (e.g., fracking, deforestation, waste disposal).
  • You have trouble taking a deep breath.
  • You feel vaguely guilty or worried about something, but can’t specify what.
  • You back away from civic and political engagement because you have no time to help kids, educate the community, or improve the environment where you live.
  • You feel burned out and bored with your life – trapped in a job or relationship that doesn’t meet your needs for creativity, closeness, and spontaneity.

What to do about it? Just Notice.

If you’ve read this far, you’ve taken a first step toward reconnecting your life – allowing the natural links between you and your environment to show up in your consciousness. We are all connected to every other being in our surround. But we deny this out of deep societal conditioning.

Now, just notice . . .

Notice the mysteries of what goes into your body; this starts a process of inquiry, even if it’s just reading grocery labels.

Notice your relationship with your pets; this opens a new awareness of how your moods affect them and how their natural play helps you relax.

Notice how you pull away from closeness with your partner; this begins a subtle change process that could lead the two of you into deeper conversation.

Notice the similarities between an oak leaf and the palm of your hand; this starts a re-valuing process that can draw you into greater awareness of – and closeness to – all things good and beautiful.