Battling Fear

Every Wednesday night, I attend a writing group. I look forward all week to this event, excited to read my pages and hear the feedback from my peers and advisers. Every week, I am nearly late, frantically pulling together my pages, my final edits, my nerve-- and heading off to work.

And it is work. I am writing down some difficult memories, to be picked over as a stranger might do a cold plate of french fries after lunch. It is hard for me to visualize some past events with enough clarity to write them down so others can vicariously experience those events, too. Hard because I don't want to relive those times. Hard because old wounds heal slowly, and my flesh is still tender. The critiques are always helpful-- but sometimes they still hurt.

Driving home tonight, I realized I was shaking with the after-effects of fight-or-flight adrenaline. That primed response of our bodies in a state of sudden fear. It is scary to remember a time we never want to repeat. It is exhausting, and emotionally draining, too.

Why do I do this? Why do I keep writing, editing, returning every Wednesday night for another dose of dread? Well... I thought about that on my way home. I realized that the truth I share with my clients also applies to me. If I want to find the lessons that will help me move beyond a bad memory or experience, I have to work through the experience. I have to be willing to go piece-by-piece through my past, and throw out what isn't useful. Claim the lessons. Claim my inner strength, my integrity, my changes and the personal growth that I've experienced since those events occurred.

I am lucky. Writing is, for me, cleansing. Putting down on a page all the things I didn't want to forget, but hate to remember-- It lets me rest from the burden of remembering. It lets me put down the memory without fear of losing or repeating the lesson-- I can re-read it any time I feel a need. I am literally lightening my load at each Wednesday night Writer's Group. Freeing up mental and emotional space one jaw-clenching page at a time. Making room for something new.

Just after a car accident, we are in trauma. When the danger has past, and the person stabilized, there is often a long and painful period of physical therapy. A time when we re-learn how to inhabit our bodies, and work through the pain of healing. And so I look forward to these sessions, knowing I'll be exhausted and in pain at the end. Knowing that it's a good kind of pain, and not a punishment. Knowing that I am re-learning how to inhabit my emotional landscape, learning how best to lean forward into my life.

I have seen friends in crisis who were so scared of the pain they might feel if they acknowledged the hurtful situation they were in-- that they simply refused to get therapy. The fear of the healing process was bigger than the ugly situation they were actually living in. We seem, intuitively, to know just how painful it will be to work through our injuries and our traumas. And yet, so often, we turn a blind eye to the trauma or the situation that we live through every day instead.

Getting help, asking for someone to hold your hand and help you move through the pain toward a healthier life, it's a big deal. I have great respect for anyone who can battle their fear enough to ask for help-- to keep asking for help until they are well. Who uses that extra bit of energy that allows us to learn from old hurts, and old patterns, so that we don't repeat them. So that we understand our own personal process of healing, and are able to fully embrace our individual presence in the world.

Driving home from my Writer's Group tonight, I appreciated all over again the courage and the energy my clients put into their own healing process. I honor their victory and their commitment to becoming fully themselves. Their willingness to come back to the table every couple of weeks, ready for more hard work. And then I sit at my computer, and write another chapter in my own story, getting ready for next week's healing critique.


This is going to sound like a commercial for Happyville.
Really, it's ...okay, it IS a commercial for Happyville.
May you be a frequent guest.

Remember that having fun is just as important as everything else. It is important to take time out from stress and from work-- time to do something just because you enjoy doing it.
Take a walk to appreciate the crisp air and the falling leaves.
Grab a half-court game of basketball with some buddies.
Cook that apple pie with extra cinnamon that takes so long to make.
Take some soup and a cheezy movie to a friend in need.
Try a new sport, or plan to carve pumpkins with family.
Schedule a massage, or maybe an hour at the gym or the dance hall.

These mini stress-releases make it a lot easier to buckle down and get things done in between. They also work well as personal rewards for continuing to move forward and tackle the hard stuff-- one day at a time.

When was the last time you planned something fun into your schedule? So long as you aren't having fun at someone else's expense-- at work, at play, at home, at dinner, at the gym, the bar, the ...

Including friends and potential friends in your fun is a way to spread the good feelings around. And... well, doing something you truly enjoy, with no expectations attached to it-- it gives you a reason to smile to yourself. And that is what the winter season is all about!


Personal Worth

What is your time worth? What is the energy you put into your day worth?

Is it worth hearing the occasional "thank you" from house-mates or coworkers? Is it worth $20 an hour? $50? $10? If you were to receive funding equal to the actual value of your efforts in your job-- be it corporate, care-taking, or creative-- how much would you pay yourself to do what you do?

It's an interesting question. More so, because of the challenges many of us currently face as the job market plummets. We often make-do with work that does not fulfill our potential, or with a salary that does not reflect our contributions. We do this because we have a responsibility to ourselves and our families to provide shelter, food, and other basic necessities. Most of us cannot afford to be laid off or downsized.

And many of us feel that our time is SO valuable, and in SUCH short supply, that we will hire someone else to do the work for us that we just don't find it worthwhile to do. Sometimes, we hire someone who gets more per hour than we do. Often, this is because of the expertise required, or the effort involved, in that hour's work. We just aren't able to plumb the bathroom, lift the broken washing machine, scrub the floor 'till our knuckles turn red, or sit at an aging parent's bedside 24-7.

I often refer back to a book that a friend bought for me several years ago, when I first realized that credit cards were dangerous. It's called "Your Money or Your Life." I'd give you the author, but I seem to have loaned the book to a friend... hmmm...

This book explains how to calculate the actual dollar-payment that each of us receives for our efforts in the job market. It includes things like dry-cleaning bills, transportation costs, etc... And if you read far enough into the book, you apply that dollar-per-hour figure to your whole life. Is it worth 4 hours of my time to buy the expensive lipstick for $16.95? Is it worth 27 hours of work each month to watch cable TV?

On a personal level, I've been struggling with placing a dollar value on the work that I do as a Consultant. Not just the calculations, but the person-to-person communication that is required to explain that value to the people who utilize my services. Healing --the healing that I do with my clients-- is so vital to well-being. If I had the resources, I would offer it for free. But I realize that unless I can balance out the dollar-value of the things I need to buy with the dollar-value of the extreme amounts of energy I put out in any given session... I won't have the resources to heal anyone at all.

I do work on a sliding scale. And I recognize that it is my own responsibility to uphold the value of my services-- to say "Well, we've had our 90 minutes, but we could do a lot more work together today. Should we wait until our next session, or are you able to pay for another hour of my energy today?" But... it sounds so calculating. So disrespectful of the humanity that is the basis of the work I do. And I struggle with the challenge of truly valuing my own personal worth.

And... knowing that so many people currently struggle to make ends meet, I don't want my services to be unattainable. I'd rather receive a lower payment than make one of my clients wait another six months to see me-- when the market begins to improve. NOW is when my work is needed the most. NOW I have time to give. ...but as a good friend of mine is fond of saying... "A Girl's Gotta Eat." How do I balance that out?

I suspect that there are many of us who face a similar struggle. Many of us who have chosen to receive lower wages rather than risk receiving no wages at all. It frustrates me to know that even when the market was booming, women regularly faced this choice. In most professions, women can still expect to receive between 15-35% lower wages for the same or better quality performance as their male counterparts. I'll be interested to see how that challenge trickles down now that so many businesses are struggling.

And I am grateful for the opportunity to help. We do not face the struggles in our lives alone, unless that is the path we choose to take. Life is full of possibilities, and opportunities to share what we have with those who have less. Like the ant who shared his summer harvest with the grasshopper, in exchange for friendship and music to feed his soul when winter came, we each have within us the seeds of nourishment for someone else.

The challenge of the seed is to step forward with joy for the journey, at a time when none of us truly knows what lies ahead. The wise gardener plants many seeds, never knowing which will grow to nourish her family down the road. I am learning to value each seed, and to step forward with appreciation for the harvests I have already enjoyed.

And it is through this process-- the process of stepping forward blindly, because I am busy looking at where I have already been-- that I begin to appreciate the true value of my gifts. The true value of the energy I have expended in service to others over the years. The opportunity to plant seeds that might someday grow and provide nourishment for someone else-- that is the true value of my work. And at least in this, possibility is every bit as motivational as results.

I value you. Thank you for sharing a piece of your journey with me. May your Autumn Harvest see you through the restful Winter, and on into the fresh possibilities of Spring.


For Yourself

Why is it that it is harder to say NO to someone you love-- or even a stranger-- than it is to say YES to yourself, and making time or designating resources to meeting our own needs??

Because for most of us, it is a really hard thing to do. I also know another group of folks who are so busy indulging themselves that they don't take the time to examine WHY they need all this self-time to feel good about living their lives. Either way, we are choosing not to have a deep and respectful relationship with our inner Self. We are choosing not to work through our life challenges, but are attempting to ignore the problems by working until we can't think, or by feeding our addiction to "feeling better," with whatever our personal external balm becomes.

Food? Doctor appointments? Pedicures? Sex? There are a huge number of things that are REALLY GOOD FOR US TO DO FOR OURSELVES... as an act of self-appreciation... but are just another way to throw money at a problem if we do not also make time to heal and to find that self-appreciation on the inside, too. It's a balancing act, and a personal challenge, for each of us.

My personal example is that I am working to heal an old neck injury. My doctor tells me that it is worth the extra few cents on my electrical bill to keep the heat turned up at night as well as during the day. That hunching and clenching my muscles either from cold, or from the weight of all the blankets on the bed, is one of the worst things I could do to my neck/shoulder as I am working to heal-- and probably for the rest of my life.

My personal challenge is twofold-- First, it's hard to set aside time for the yoga and exercises that will increase my flexibility and strength during this healing process of mine... and Second, I'm living in a space with no central heating.

I'm having a hard time justifying either the time to exercise or the expense of buying and continuously running a heater in my bedroom this winter. And yet, these are the two basic things that I can do for myself in order to truly heal. It is time for me to heal. And in order to do so, I have to put myself first. Literally. In my budget, and in my schedule. Even though what I really WANT to be doing with my free time is watch silly movies that help me relax. Even though I've promised myself that I will live within my means, and a new space heater is not in the budget.

Because what it comes down to is this: If I can't function, I don't have a life. Yes, my budget and my down-time are important... But I have to be able to work in order to sustain the budget, and I have to have a healthy and fit body in order to really benefit from down-time, and relax when I watch a movie.

What keeps getting shunted to the bottom of your "for me" list? What are the three things that will make the most positive impact on your whole-life experience, if only you commit to doing them for yourself? What are you spending time and money on, with the excuse that it makes you feel better-- but you can't say that doing it makes you feel better ABOUT YOURSELF?

It's time. Change is in the air, in the leaves of the trees and the clean cold rain. Take the opportunity to do something wonderful for yourself. Even if that means NOT doing something part of the time.