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setting up shop… someday

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Excuses, excuses. Aren’t they convenient?  They seem to pop up just in time to save us—or harm us.

I find that I am making excuses. Becoming aware of them as barriers is quite interesting.

I want to open my Etsy shop. It’s been several weeks now, but I keep making excuses.  These excuses grow exponentially. Here they are in the order of their eruption.

  • I’m not ready. First, I need to make some more jewelry.DSCN7834
  • Before I can set up shop, I need to photograph my designs.
  • I need better photographs. I will wait for a good day with natural light .
  • I’ll go buy a full spectrum light bulb.
  • Now, I need to find my lamp.
  • Ok, so maybe I could post the pictures I have. But, I need shipping supplies.
  • I need cute shipping supplies, afterall—this is an Etsy shop.DSCN8066
  • I need to order more supplies to have on hand to meet orders in time.
  • I need to pay my bills before I order supplies.
  • I need to sort through that pile of paper before I pay my bills.
  • I need to catch up on my chores before this weekend. (Its our anniversary.)
  • I don’t want to set up the shop before or during our anniversary weekend. We might go out of town.
  • I need to wait until I order and receive my supplies, to make new designs and to take pictures, because I have worn all my “new” designs and they don’t look “fresh.”
  • I should sort the feathers I have first, just to see what I have.
  • I could write a blog about all the things that are keeping me from doing what’s good for me and my business.
  • What if I mess this whole thing up?

Why is it we come up with excuses to keep us from doing the things we want? Do you find yourself doing the same thing? Doesn’t it just seem silly?

And then we remember “If it is worth doing at all, then it is worth doing wrong.” Then I panic, I don’t want to be a bad shopkeeper! I want to look like I know what I am doing!

Don’t we all…


of wine and wisdom

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Some people have a tendency to avoid the opportunity to enjoy themselves. With quite irrational reasoning, they are convinced that they don’t really deserve it, want it, or need it, they are afraid the let go and share themselves with others, or they are certain that something bad will happen. I am one of those people. My upbringing influences this tendency to deprive myself of good times. But in the rare chance that I let go, the latter reasoning runs pretty strong, especially if enjoying myself involves alcohol.

Living in small town, there really isn’t a whole lot to do when it comes to date nights. My husband has tried to encourage me more than once to go out to the local establishment for dinner and a drink. But the moment I hit the door, my sensory alarms go off—fried food, cheap beer, stale smoke, dim lighting, classic rock—the entire feeling of a bar tells me that this is NOT a place that I want to be. It tells me that this feels like a place that something “bad” could easily happen. I have a very low tolerance for drama. I’m one to cut right through bullshit and tell everyone involved how they are wrong. I’ve been there too many times. So I opt to stay home, where I can cook up just about anything that we can’t get in town and enjoy drinks in a comfortable space.  But still, young parents need date nights! What’s a girl to do?

549356_115586761905745_246648430_nI have been slowly tuning into the local community activities and events. I have been hearing an increasing rumble about wine tastings that are going on every two months or so. I figured that would be a different atmosphere, and while I regrettably know very little about wine (a shameful confession of a self-proclaimed foodie) I might just find some folks to fit in with.  I have an allied relationship growing with the one who oversees the wine club and tasting events. So, I was sure it wouldn’t seem completely foreign and I had a pretty good sense that at least one person likes me enough to be glad I had come.

We arrived fairly early, which is completely out of character for me… but seeing as our babysitter was there, the kids were ready for us to go, and we only had to walk 2 ½ blocks, being early only seemed logical. The atmosphere was so elegant, with tables set up in bistro fashion. But, the feeling was casual. And even though I missed the hidden step in the seating area TWICE, I felt comfortable with being me and meeting other people. This event was a special one in the works, in that only one wine was featured, a common table wine from Spain. But, the wine was used to make three very different drinks. Kalimotxo, Mulled Wine, and Sangria.

After sampling all three, we were entitled to a full glass of one of the featured wines or a selection from the bar. Since this experience is about trying new things, I opted for a selection from the bar and had Vinho Verde.  We returned to our seats (and yes, that is when I stumbled down the hidden step for the second time!) and chatted for a while. Then my husband left to get another selection from the bar and GASP! I was alone. I gathered up some courage and went over to a crowded table of ladies who were busy chatting and giggling to introduce myself.

I felt like the awkward high school girl approaching the popular table. I suddenly became aware of my lack of self-esteem. Little did that inner critic, full of cynicism and lies, know it was about to get a jolt of a lifetime.

In some of my previous posts, I have eluded to the dysfunctional families in which I grew up. I use the plural form of family because the two sides were so extremely different from each other, that it is no wonder I often felt bipolar. But as I learn more and more, I see that fundamentalism and alcoholism are not that different from each other.

The denomination of Bible Believers Baptist that predominately influenced my understanding of spirituality had some very distinct “rules” when in came to women, family, and obedience. The underlying theme of self-sacrifice was apparent in the dressed down “modesty”, the simplicity of wool and denim fashion, and the common mannerisms that made me feel like I was going to burn in hell for using the slightest element of slang. Dancing was a path to temptation and drinking is not even spoken of. I learned that as humans we are worth nothing without the light of Jesus to guide us. I learned that any other version of spiritual understanding that did not align with the gospel of God’s word was as good as evil. I learned that it was my responsibility to help those who were lost on the path of life become saved. That is an overwhelming amount of responsibility for a child to bear. Especially, when deep down I wasn’t comfortable with living the way of life that was set before me.  I could not accept the rhetoric that said enjoying oneself led to the temptations of Lucifer, that being submissive to men is the best place for women, and that disregard to the worldly things will bring eternal happiness in the glory of heaven. Amid the promises, something was missing. Something very important was missing.

And the same thing was missing on the other side of the spectrum.

In alcoholic systems the rules were more complicated, they were not written. In the mind of a child, they felt something like this—life is miserable, drinking makes it bearable. But don’t drink too much and don’t get angry, because that is when things get broken and people get hurt. And don’t ever tell anyone else if that happens, because we don’t talk about our mistakes. Don’t call the police, because someone will get taken away. Don’t state the obvious. Don’t try to ask for anything to change. Never ever try to argue with someone who is drunk. I could have easily fallen into that trap as well: as humans we are not worth the possibilities of life, being destructive is the only way to maintain control, and silence is the only way to ensure that no one gets hurt.

Now that you know the rules, lets go back to the wine tasting event, shall we? I was approaching the table of ladies, feeling nervous, scared, and certain that something was about to go wrong. Instantly, I connected to a woman who has lived here in town just a little less than myself. We shared a little about ourselves, talked about the wines we liked (or maybe didn’t like so much), we joked about how bad we were at organizing and maintaining a routine. I teased my husband—“If I ever have her over for afternoon tea, I’ll be in trouble… the house will never get clean!” She chimes in, “Yes, but we would have a wonderful time! And that is what is most important to me is the relationships and the connections.”

That was what was missing in the dichotomies of my early existence, the value of relationships! That’s why I studied anthropology and ecology! That’s why I fell in love with my husband! That is what I wrote my thesis about! That is what kept me going when I was burning out! THE VALUE OF RELATIONSHIPS! Even more, the value of myself in relationships! I still want to scream it to the world and drown that cowering self-esteem forever.

The rules have changed. The rules never applied. I didn’t believe in them, but I was still grossly in tuned to them. What shattered all this in the moment was not just what this woman said, but who she was. She had come to our town to serve as the pastor at a church, she had worked as a missionary in Japan, she was drinking wine, she valued relationships, and she was beautiful and vibrant. She did not preach to us. She appreciated us for who we were. I wanted to hug her at that point. (And maybe would have if I had one more glass of wine.) She gave me another version of reality that I didn’t fully realize was possible. She gave me permission to enjoy myself and my own spirituality, in a way that worked for me.

We walked home, unchilled by the subzero temperatures, enlivened by the world around me, and holding on to the words that kept me afloat as I bounced between dysfunctional extremes. Grandpa Pepper would tell me, almost every time I saw him, “You are so special to me, Rachel. God made you special because he loves you.” I didn’t understand how that would all work out when I couldn’t foresee myself going down the paths ahead of me, but it gave me a secret weapon against that inner critic of mine, some bit of truth that I could believe in. And even now, as I am getting more and more comfortable with being myself and sharing that true self with the world, Grandpa’s words remain in my heart. I am worth something. I am something worth sharing.

“Recovering a Sense of Power”

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I started writing this blog to share my dreams, but also allow myself to talk about some of the more difficult challenges that arise in this human experience of mine– particularly the trials of overcoming addiction. The topic I am reading this week in Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way is “Recovering a Sense of Power.” Julia discusses how many of our creative voices were stunted earlier in life, often out of reoccurring shame. I found it a moving chapter and have a daunting set of tasks ahead.

“Those of us who get bogged down by fear before action are usually being sabotaged by an older enemy, shame. Shame is a controlling device… Making a piece of art may feel a lot like telling a family secret. Secret telling, by its very nature, involves shame and fear. It asks the question ‘What will they think of me once they know this?’ This is a frightening question, particularly if we have ever been made to feel ashamed for our curiosities and explorations… Art brings things to light. It illuminates us. It sheds light on our lingering darkness. It casts a beam into the heart of our own darkness… Art opens the closets, airs out the cellars and attics. It brings healing. But before a wound can heal it must be seen, and this act of exposing the wound to air and light, the artist’s act, is often reacted to with shaming… If a child has ever been made to feel foolish for believing himself or herself talented, the act of actually finishing a piece of art will be fraught with internal shaming… A lifetime of this kind of experience, in which needs for recognition are routinely dishonored, teaches a young child that putting anything out for attention is a dangerous act….”

And so even writing this blog can sometimes feel like a dangerous act to me. “Uh-oh, I’m putting myself out there. What will people think of me?” When my topics are a little less than enthusiastic, I feel hesitation to post it. Just as I feel as I write this. But, through all my struggles I have wished that there was someone I could have looked to who was willing to talk about the things I couldn’t. So, as I struggled to work through so much, I feel it is necessary to share it with others. Because I know I’m not alone.

It was an awful feeling to admit I was depressed when I had a lovely home, a wonderful husband, two healthy children, and a successful career. What did I have to complain about? I feared that admitting my depression would cause everything to fall apart. I tried to push through. Then the further I pushed, the more I fell apart. Every night I cried and cried. My home was the safest place I had ever known, I didn’t understand how I could be so unhappy. Little did I know that the security of my home and my relationships was what allowed my to begin unloading the baggage I had carried around for so long.

Often I was able to keep my adolescent and early adult memories of intense anxiety, sexual assault, domestic disputes, financial crisis, drug and alcohol abuse, unstable relationships,  and emotional neglect at bay by burying myself in my work. In ways, working on a reservation felt familiar, it felt like a distant home. I was baffled as students felt so at ease with me, as I did with them. Sadly, this put me in a situation where I began to hear familiar and heart breaking stories. I wasn’t just hearing their stories, I was hearing my own. They were still there.

DSCN7811Breaking through denial and addiction is the only way to really get through to the truths, not shame them, but accept them. Writing has been the way for me to do this. I’ve been writing in personal journals for almost two years now, resulting in a shelf full of realized fears, anger, frustrations, guilt, and shame. My journals became a safe place in which I could be honest with myself, in which I could explore the tangled web of emotion and turmoil that existed within.

The addiction to work is an old one for me. It goes back fifteen years to when I first began working. It didn’t take long for me to realize that work was a place I could act like everything was okay, even if it wasn’t. Soon, I was working as many hours as I could– 25-35 a week, through high school. I would take someone’s closing shift in a heartbeat, just so I wouldn’t have to walk into a potentially explosive environment. Sometimes I’d arrive at work, dry my tears from the crisis earlier in the day, and proceed to give the best service I could to my customers.  It was an easy trap to get into: I achieved an emotional high and received better tips by entering this state of denial. This pattern easily rolled over into academia, where I could escape into a world of possibility and gain positive feedback through grades. Eventually, this pattern stopped benefiting me.

This pattern of addiction wove itself into a fabricated existence, a blanket of denial in which I wrapped my overwhelmed soul. I continued to deny that any pain remained, that any anger was warranted, or that any fear was related. As I began to work through my issues, I saw the signs of denial and addiction so obvious in the words and actions of others. They end up getting stuck in the same problems over and over again. They’ll need help but say, “I’m not the one who needs help.”

I am ready to say that we all need help. We are all human and hurting for some reason. If your first response is, “I don’t want to talk about that stuff. It’s too painful.” Then all the more reason to bring it into the light, release the shame, and recover the power.

Cameron says, “Many blocked people are actually very powerful and creative personalities who have been made to feel guilty about their own strengths and gifts… Made to feel guilty about their talents, they often hide under a bushel for fear of hurting others. Instead, they hurt themselves.”

I am tired of hurting myself. My creative core is tired of being abused. I refuse to carry baggage of a shameful past, in which I need no reason to feel shame. I’m ready to be honest with myself and share myself with others. Perhaps my words can help loosen a the grip of fear for someone else. So here, I declare, without shame: Yes, I have lived in denial. I was raised in a dysfunctional family. I don’t have many fond memories of the holidays. I called 911 on many occasions.  I smoked marijuana for twelve years with varying degrees of habitual dependency. I was raped and sexually assaulted as a teenager. I attempted suicide more than once. I lost many friends because I did not know what healthy relationships looked like. I felt ashamed at school. I relied on addictions to numb out the pain. I let myself remain in romantic relationships that were degrading. I practiced self-loathing.

I’ve admitted something was wrong. I’ve been in therapy. I’ve been learning to be honest. I’ve been learning to draw my own boundaries. I’ve been learning to share with others. I’ve been learning to care for myself. I’ve been learning to accept and let go of the pain, rather than numb it. I’ve been learning to love myself. I’ve been learning to accept that others love me. I can say it has been and continues to be a difficult path. It doesn’t have the comfort level of denial or the highs of addictions. But there is joy in living in the present. That makes it worth continuing no matter how dark the memories are or how painful it becomes.

This week’s tasks in the Artist’s Way are designed to look back at some of the childhood times. Many of which may have elements of joy and shame. It’s a process of becoming honest and having the courage to recover the power lost to shame.

  • Describe or sketch my childhood room. What was your favorite thing about it?  I had several rooms growing up; I might have to sketch several to find out which one felt most like mine.
  • Describe five traits I liked in myself as a child. This requires the kind of love an acceptance I give my own children.
  • List five of my childhood accomplishments.
  • List five of my favorite childhood foods. Buy myself one of them this week.
  • Take a look at my habits. Many of them may interfere with my self-nurturing and
     cause shame. List three obvious rotten habits. What’s the payoff in continuing them? Some rotten habits are more subtle. List three of my subtle foes. What use do these forms of sabotage have? Be specific.
  • Make a list of friends who nurture me— that’s nurture (give me a sense of my own competency and possibility), not enable (give me the message that I will never get it straight without their help).
  • Call a friend who treats me like I am a really good and bright person who can accomplish things.
  • Explore my inner compass. This is the instinct that points us toward health. It warns us when we are on dangerous ground, and it tells us when something is safe and good for us. I will take an hour to follow my inner compass by doing an artist-brain activity and listening to what insights bubble up.
  • List five people you admire. Now, list five people you secretly admire. What traits do these people have that you can cultivate further in yourself?
  • List five people you wish you had met who are dead. Now, list five people who are dead whom you’d like to hang out with for a while in eternity. What traits do you find in these people that you can look for in your friends?
  • Compare the two sets of lists. Take a look at what I really like and really admire— and a look at what I think I should like and admire. Note the differences.

what matters most

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So I survived Friday’s business consultation meeting! After an hour and a half of analyzing projections, profits, and losses, to say that I was feeling discouraged is an understatement. Suddenly, the optimism that had been fueling me for the previous ten days had given way to a world of self-doubt and uncertainty. I wanted to go straight home and either fill out all the paperwork in an effort to find my enthusiasm again, or perhaps find my place in a warm pile of heavy blankets.

Fortunately, I noticed that I was hungry and made a stop at my favorite place for lunch. I sipped iced tea, waited for my grilled chicken breast on whole-wheat with cranberry chutney and greens to arrive, and logged into my email. What I found awaiting me was a wealth of support from friends and mentors. Apparently people had been reading my blog and they were moved, inspired, and interested. Mentors had wonderful questions for me and friends had meaningful words. I was overwhelmed, and recharged. It made me realize that the thing that matters to me most is that I honor my strengths, surround myself with supportive people, and follow my intuition. No matter how this all turns out, I still have the opportunity to explore and celebrate the experience.

All too often, I have neglected my creative inclinations or used them in problem solving and crisis management. Those are old ways of doing things that I hope to do away with. No one appreciates being used or neglected! I think instead my creative core would welcome love, encouragement, and a chance at the wheel. I’ll do my best to nurture it along!