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.

Contact Deborah


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!


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.

Contact Deborah Read Wife Material

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


Leadership Monologues: Take Back the L Word

Take Back Leadership

By presta from Tufts University’s Cohen Auditorium. (Flickr) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Leadership (said with a sneer)

I hate the word, “Leader.” It’s lost every shred of meaning it once held for me. Leadership once meant authority and concern for the welfare of everyone in its reach. Now it sounds like a fake word with fake facts to support its nothingness. A poser, posing as a real idea. Maybe I’ve seen one too many bad leaders come into power and spoil the essence of what it means to guide a group of people toward a shared goal.

When Leader falls into the realm of fakeness, every part of society suffers in ways that are hard to identify. People go hungry for what’s real and they get depressed and panicky and eat too much sugar. Then we get fat and we judge ourselves for losing control. Emotional health epidemics have everything to do with dysfunctional leadership, or A Failure of Nerve.

So, I want to take back the word. Remember the Vagina Monologues? Remember how those actors reclaimed the various words used to insult women’s genitals? Like, C – U – N – T. They spoke it and saturated it with specific, positive meaning. I need to do something similar here, for my self, my family, and my clients, with the word, “Leader.”

Because I have to be one. And so do you.

Because, if you parent, teach, counsel, advise, or instruct, you lead. And thank God you do. We starve for your good leadership. Everybody needs a healthy leader (even if they don’t know it and try to sabotage it).

But look for one and you realize how few good leaders there seem to be in the world. The good ones don’t grab the microphone and make themselves obvious. They live in libraries and work in battered women’s shelters. They labor behind the scenes.

We confuse and conflate leadership with a bunch of other things.

To target this confusion, I give you a short list. I hope that by separating Leader from these other things, we can see more clearly what Leader is and cultivate Leader in our selves.

ŠJů, Wikimedia Commons [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Leadership. Does. Not. Equal:

  1.  making money or fiscal policy. But healthy leadership fosters creative growth, which, in time, helps more people generate income. Healthy leaders are patient for this.
  2. politics. Enough said.
  3. a quick fix. Leadership takes a long view of progress (see #1).
  4. controversy. Yet . . . good leaders take unpopular stands when necessary for the good of the whole body. These unpopular stands tend to bring out all our better natures by modeling wisdom in action.
  5. scaring the wits out of – or using people. It isn’t a tirade. Healthy leaders help us calm down and think rationally. Picture good parents here. A wise elder puts things into perspective so we can breathe more easily. “It’s going to be okay.”
  6. focusing on issues. It’s not driven by the anxiety or the problems in the group. Healthy leaders take care of themselves and keep the bigger picture in mind. They listen calmly to the issues of their people, but keep pointing to the transcendent goals of the community . . . what really matters in the long run (e.g., how we treat each other).
  7. neutrality. A healthy leader sees how the system works and calls out any dishonesty or bullying. Real leaders see and address dysfunctional behavior in a responsible way. They prohibit intentional and/or unnecessary violence.
  8. divisiveness. True leaders foster unity, because at some level, we are all one. They help us appreciate each other.
  9. self-aggrandizement. Healthy leaders exude humility in confidence. Yes, that’s a real thing. It says: I don’t know everything, but I can listen and learn.

In conclusion, we need to know the difference between: (A) health-promoting leadership and (B) health-compromising leadership. We need to distinguish between Leadership and the grab for power. We can learn this and do this. Like choosing broccoli over Cheetos. Like telling your kids, friends are more important than money. Like talking to your mate instead of shopping to fill the void. We can exercise our leadership muscles and take back the L-word.

Contact Deborah

Victim Mentality & My Grandfather’s Privates


“Don’t sound like such a victim,” said somebody on Facebook yesterday.

I talk with so many of you in shock and grief about our presidential election. You feel assaulted. You fear saying how raw and threatening it feels, how sick you are.

My throat started burning Tuesday night as I watched the returns, even though I was surrounded by a community of love and support. By midnight, I ran a fever, my head clogged. One friend had a migraine. Another friend’s pregnancy was threatened. The mother of a close friend died suddenly last night. Our bodies took the impact of this unfolding news story as if we were literally being assaulted with fists and clubs.

. . . Just before voting, my mind distracted with worry about a predator poised to take over the White House,  I fell down the stairs and banged up both legs so they swelled up like giant sausages . . . An unappetizing segue to what I want to say today.

It’s okay to talk about being victimized, to cry about being devastated, to write about your fear and anger. It’s important to talk about being victimized.

“I hate the victim mentality.”

“I don’t want to play the victim.”

Where did we get this?

When I was 11, my paternal grandfather flashed his big, red penis at me.

He stepped in front of the TV as I was watching The Price is Right, and he unzipped his polyester jumpsuit and yanked it out. He laughed. I bolted, ran with bare feet through my grandparents’ house, out the back door, over the rocks in the yard to my grandmother. I cried and spluttered and she interpreted me, exactly. She knew, before I could even get the words out.

We called my dad, who thankfully drove three hours in a flash to be with me. He said, ‘Don’t tell your mother. She could lose the baby.’ I didn’t tell her. In fact, I told no one for several years, until I learned that others in my family had experienced harassment and abuse by this patriarch. Somehow my cousins and I came clean with each other. We needed to validate the disgust and shame and fear we felt.

But I thought, “I’m not really a victim. I’m fine. Other people have worse experiences. I don’t need to tell my mother.”

I cringed, silently, at sausages and hot dogs until sometime in college.

I was a victim.

The Sanctity of Victimhood

If you get flashed by your grandfather . . .

If someone tells you not to be upset, not to think about it, not to notice the impact of this election on your body . . .

If you get grabbed in the crotch by an acquaintance . . .

If your nationality or racial identity gets demeaned . . .

If you get told you need bigger breasts . . .


You’ve been victimized and are, thus, a victim. Even if it was your husband who told you to get breast augmentation. Where did we ever get the idea that being angry, grieving out loud, voicing our shock and dismay means we’re playing a role? How did the notion that a victim should act like a non-victim get started in the first place?

The concept of Victim Mentality originated with people afraid of emotions, afraid of taking responsibility, afraid of hearing your pain. Victim Mentality” came along to silence you. It came from patriarchy . . . a social system that rewards unfeeling, cold, ruthless policies that steamroller those with less power: women, children, people of color, people with disabilities, Jews, other non-Christians, and people with any sort of status that makes them “other.” “Don’t be a victim,” came from people who believe in false memory syndrome, people who refuse to make amends, who blame you for getting hurt.

If you experience abuse, you are a victim. And if you cry and scream and write angry words, the world is better because you share your truth. If you feel victimized by this election, you’re in good company.

Read Wife Material

The Air We Breathe: Panic, Mental Health, & Misogyny


Woman-Hate=Mostly Unconscious Fear of Women’s Empowerment.

One day, in 1992, I had a panic attack. It came out of nowhere. I got up early and dressed for work, made breakfast and started a load of laundry, turned on the morning news while I finished my hair and my (ex) partner snored peacefully. I stood in front of the TV as a string of commercials hypnotized me.

In one commercial, an attractive young woman mopped her kitchen floor, wearing an outfit cute enough for a dinner party or church. She looked so satisfied. Next thing, I was on the floor, my heart hammering. The apartment spun and the oxygen disappeared. I tried to yell for help, but nothing came out. I thought I would vomit or die and I grabbed desperately for cold table legs to stop the flames in my face and neck.

Ten minutes later, nothing. I got in my car and left for the day, wondering what the hell had just happened. Years later, I connected the dots.

A Woman’s Distress and The Fear of Women

Misogyny (woman-hate) comes from fear: fear of change, fear of disruption to the existing social order. Misogyny fills our cultural consciousness right now, because people fear the change that comes with women’s power.

How do I know?

Here’s how: These signs show up in my office and social life every day. A woman’s panic attacks, her sense of being flawed, her belief she is ugly . . . all point to a bigger problem. She is surrounded by other women just like her, with those same panic attacks, that same guilt.

Symptoms of Woman-Hate Culture

Misogyny is a mental health issue. Notice how many of these symptoms apply to you. Now, more than ever, I see the problem of gender inequality and panic in the presenting problems of my clients. Cultural woman-hate creates individual distress.

  1. Child sexual abuse in our family history.
  2. Hating our bodies.
  3. Not being perfect enough.
  4. “Family Values.”
  5. Depression that comes and goes throughout the lifespan.
  6. Post-partum depression.
  7. Guilt about not being nice enough.
  8. Fear of our sexual desire.
  9. Not having any sexual desire
  10. Resenting other women for looking better or accomplishing more.
  11. Panic attacks or anxiety that’s sort of always there.
  12. Fear of telling him how we really feel; fear he’ll leave if he knows how strong our feelings are.
  13. Being called crazy and believing it.
  14. Thinking we’re too sensitive, too easily triggered, too selfish.
  15. Focusing so much on fashion that we don’t have time to write.
  16. Taking care of everyone else, but not getting enough rest.
  17. Fear that we’ll be one of those bitter women.
  18. Fear of aging.
  19. Being bullied by other women. Not trusting them anymore.
  20. Thinking, “I expect too much.”
  21. Thinking anger makes me ugly.
  22. Believing a good leader acts like a man, looks like a man.
  23. Feeling that my very nature is broken, fallen, sinful, and unlovable.
  24. Forcing ourselves to wear clothes and shoes that feel bad, because to refuse them would mean we’re not feminine.
  25. Believing our gut feelings are silly, our emotional responses irrational, our intuition untrustworthy.

Evolution & Health

My list barely scrapes the surface. But you know what I’m getting at. Those perfect images make us feel sick, but pressured too. We panic because we breathe the fear and loathing of women in the air; not because we’re weak or paranoid or mistaken about the world. We didn’t make this up.

But. On the Upside. We Evolve. Whether we intend to change or not. A pendulum drags us through the whipping wind. We feel afraid. And we change. In spite of ourselves. This change is the heart of my novel, Wife Material: one girl’s evolution and empowerment.

Every empowered woman helps us all evolve. She makes the world a healthier place for all of us.


  How to Cope with Woman-Hate Right Now

  1. Know that change is happening for the better.
  2. Try to relax, breathe deeply from the belly.
  3. Look for good in the women you know. Even the ones you don’t trust.
  4. Repeat this mantra: I embody goodness and love.
  5. Make eye contact with as many people as you can, regardless of their gender. Send them love.
  6. Meditate on all the art and music being made in the world.
  7. Focus on something beautiful.
  8. Do physical anger work. Whack a punching bag and hurl obscenities. Let it out of your body.
  9. Get as much rest as possible.
  10. Know that it’s all going to be okay.


Contact Deborah


Read Wife Material


Book Review – Wife Material

The Cover of Deborah L Cox's Book - Wife MaterialSome in the 70s missed ERA and the end of Vietnam. Among them was Elizabeth Campbell, the heroine of Wife Material: A Novel of Misbehavior and Freedom. Cocooned from the larger world of feminism and anti-government rallies, Elizabeth was well-prepared for domestic rather than political action. Growing up in a small town and attending the church-related Waltham Academy and then the college, moving to Texas and through marriage, divorce and professional development, Elizabeth finds her way in life’s journey. Although drawn from one person’s experiences in the Church of Christ, Deborah Cox’s autobiographical fiction speaks to many who came of age in conservative communities and church life.

Readers will come alive with remembrances of the familiar – or with shock at the strange. Whichever it may be, their feelings should also include gratitude that Cox has rendered an account which needed to be told, with all its unsettling surprises about family, school and church; authority, marriage and independence; curiosity, wounds and caring. In short, Wife Material is about what it means to be human and living in the midst of challenging, overbearing, and sometimes abusive relationships. Cox tells the tale with neither anger nor shame—just poignant insights. Brava!

Etta Madden, author of “Damanhur: Sustaining Changes in an Intentional Community,” in Spiritual and Visionary Communities: Out to Save the World (Ashgate 2013).

Relationship Disconnect: How it affects our health.

Relationship disconnection is trauma.

Relationship Disconnection is Trauma.

Everyone I love needs to read these four books.

  1. The Birth of Pleasure, Carol Gilligan
  2. The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron
  3. Proof of Heaven, Eben Alexander
  4. How Connections Heal, Maureen Walker & Wendy Rosen (Eds.)

These books have all changed my life. But today, I want to focus on #4. How Connections Heal is written for therapist-types, but it explains the basic nitty-gritty about relationships and should be required reading for every high school senior and should be in every hotel nightstand drawer and every dentist’s lobby. I think it’s that important.

It’s about Relational-Cultural Theory (RCT), which posits that when we have mutually-affirming connections, we feel understood and valued. We thrive and get more creative and do our best work. We feel energy and excitement. We take better care of ourselves.

But when our relationships (even just one of them, if it’s important) make us feel diminished or one-down, when we lack equal power and voice……we suffer. We become depleted, depressed. We feel lost, lonely, bloated, unattractive, unstable, dull, unwanted, and out-of-touch. We eat and drink too much, shop too much, stare into our devices and stop looking forward to things. We feel unliked and unlovable. We wear gray and withdraw from social life. We doubt our sanity.

Relationship Disconnection Is Trauma. Here’s a story of non-mutuality (disconnection) in a friendship.

Sabine and Rachel’s friendship changed suddenly, and Sabine was confused. Rachel seemed distant and stopped returning calls. Sabine felt her friend pull away, but when she asked about it, Rachel waved her off and said, “Nothing’s wrong. I’ve just been super busy.” Then the distance got even worse over the course of six months and Sabine found herself excluded from gatherings of Rachel and their other friends. She felt abandoned and ashamed with no idea how to address the obvious rift in their connection. She thought, it must be my fault. She wondered, how do I feel so hurt when Rachel obviously feels nothing? Sabine got sick. First, a bronchitis that hung on for two months. Then, shingles. When she came to see me, she was having panic attacks and thoughts of suicide.

condemned isolation

Condemned Isolation Is Trauma.

Disconnection and non-mutuality happen in marriages and work relationships and families. If I (like Sabine) consistently share more, express more vulnerability, reach out more, make myself more available, I will probably, at some point, feel bewildered and blame myself for being needy. If my feelings or perceptions are brushed off or laughed off, I will start to lose essential energy: an emotional hemorrhage that I can feel in my body. In RCT terms, this is Condemned Isolation and it causes us to doubt our essential worth in the world.

Condemned Isolation Is Trauma.

If this pattern sounds familiar, you may have traumatic disconnection in your relationships. Your body responds to condemned isolation like it responds to a physical assault. Contact me if you’d like to talk more about how to bring mutuality back into a relationship – or how to recover from this type of trauma and rebuild your confidence and zest for life.

On Turning 50: What Matters Now?


My husband keeps asking how I want to celebrate my dreaded 50th birthday. He means well. But nothing sounds quite right. Continue reading