Colorado Life Coach: For The Emotionally Messy

Screen Shot 2014-06-19 at 5.32.55 PMI’m a wreck today.

I used to be a wreck a lot more often, so when the weepiness starts now, I find myself baffled. What happened? Why am I so emotional? No, it’s not hormones.

It’s the trauma…again.

I’ve lived through some traumatic circumstances that lasted for several years. The counselor calls it “Secondary PTSD” (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder).

I call it hell.

I’m a pretty smart person-even though I’ve struggled to believe it most of my life. I know a lot about emotions, relationships, communication, growth, spirituality, boundaries, and living a healthy life. People come to me for help.

And yet, I still get triggered by seemingly little things, and here’s what happens:

~My brain shuts down. I can’t think of how to get myself out of the situation. Even though I could talk someone else going through a similar situation, when it happens to me, I can’t think. I can’t remember details. If you ask what happened, you’ll get a blank look.

~My heart starts racing, and I feel unsafe. It doesn’t matter that I know logically that I’m not in danger. I am afraid.

~I feel horribly discouraged. It’s as if all the work I’ve done (and believe me, I’ve done years of work) doesn’t matter. I’m right back there feeling helpless, scared, and totally unprepared to change my circumstances.

I’m powerless.

Understand, I know in my head that I’m not powerless. I have the degree! I wrote the book! I teach the class! I coach the clients! I get it!

But in that moment, I’m powerless. None of the head knowledge matters. My body just knows the trauma.

It happens in less than a second.

Have any of you experienced the RUUUSH up your chest? The sweaty palms? The brain fog? The terror? The memory loss? The panic?

So, after years of counseling (decades, really), EMDR, Neurofeedback, Theophostic Prayer, Journaling, degrees, certifications, trainings, intensives, etc. Here I am.

I’ve been weepy today, but it’s not easy when I don’t have a place to be weepy. It leaks out in the car.

And so I prayed, “Daddy, help me!” “Help me Jesus!” “I’m so tired, I’m scared, I don’t know what to do.”

Through my tears I hear, “I know my sweet baby girl. I know how much it hurts. I know you’re scared. I’ve got you. It’s going to be OK. I’m not done with you. I have so much planned for you. It’s OK. You’re alright. I’m right here with you and you’re safe.”

So, the tears continue, but now out of relief. The kindness overwhelms me once again. I’m not alone in this. I don’t know how I’d make it if I didn’t have God. I truly wish he would just fix this once and for all. But until he does, I’m so thankful for his reassurance, his tenderness to my wounded heart, and his presence in my loneliness.

Do any of you suffer from PTSD? What’s been the most helpful thing in your healing? Please share with me and others here!

This post written by Colorado Life Coach, Carrie O’Toole.

Colorado Life Coach: Do Christians Eat Their Own?

Screen Shot 2014-03-20 at 2.45.23 PM

Have you read all the blogs on people who don’t go to church very often, or have quit altogether?

The reasons are varied, but most often include:

~Hurt by pastors or church teachings

~Don’t feel challenged

~Don’t enjoy worship time

~Feel like they’ve outgrown it

The responses have been varied as well:

~You should go to church because it’s not about you, it’s about God and being in fellowship, being held accountable, being of service

~God never lets people down, but people do. Don’t put your trust in people, but in God.

I get both sides. I’ve been on both sides. What keeps going through my head (like with most issues that cause controversy) is WHY. What happened to the people who don’t want to go to church? What happened to the people criticizing those who don’t want to go to church? Where is the grace for those who have been hurt? Why aren’t those in church reaching out, instead of judging?

Donald Miller wrote one blog on this subject, received hundreds of comments, wrote a 2nd blog, and received hundreds more.

Some comments were supportive: “Thank you for speaking what so many of us feel, but don’t have the courage to admit.” “The church isn’t a building, and we can worship God everyday of the week.” “I struggle attending church, and find God intimately outside the church walls.” “I’m a pastor and love the church, but don’t judge people who don’t attend.”

Many were negative: “You’re arrogant to think you’ve graduated from church.” “The Bible is clear that we must attend a local church regularly.” “Where does Don tithe?”

My heart has been struggling with this topic for several years. I run a ministry, but I’m not under the umbrella of a local church. I don’t like talking about it. I speak for several different ministries. On the comment card, they ask where I attend church regularly. I leave it blank, and hope they don’t bring it up. Friends from my old church keep asking where I attend now. I’m actually pausing with each word I write in this post, wondering whether I’ll dump it, or post it. I don’t know, yet.

When someone has been hurt, or just doesn’t fit in with the local church (they don’t like the music, sermon style, programmatic feel, etc), where do they turn? Sometimes they get loaded down with a bunch of “shoulds.” You should want to go to church. You should want to serve because it’s not about you, you’re selfish. Stop being a baby and get over yourself. You should be over the hurt by now.

My entire family was seriously hurt by members and staff of the church we attended for 7 year. I taught women’s bible studies, attended others, tithed, supported and taught at the school connected to our church, enrolled our children in youth group (one child attended the school) and encouraged them to volunteer. We attended regularly. It was our family…until our family fell apart. I look back and still don’t know exactly what happened. I needed my church family so desperately, but felt we kept getting passed to someone else. No one really wanted to deal with us. The lead pastor told us to take it to our small group. The small group leader told us we needed to take it somewhere else.

We felt like we were in the spiritual ICU, and few came to visit. I know many people who have experienced similar things. They’ve been hurt, but members rally around the leader, leaving them on their own. I read an article on titled, “Is Post-Traumatic Church Syndrome Real?” It states,

PTCS is “a severe, negative — almost allergic — reaction to inflexible doctrine, outright abuse of spiritual power, dogma and (often) praise bands and preachers.” She lists both emotional and physical symptoms, such as withdrawal from all things religious, failure to believe in anything, depression, anxiety, loss or desire to walk into a place of worship. Physically, sufferers of PTCS may have sweats, nausea, heart palpitations—as she notes, “the symptoms are as varied as the people who suffer them.”

I don’t know whether this is a real syndrome, but I have felt the symptoms.

We heard the gossip, and felt the judgment. We had served. We had given. We loved. Now it was our turn to ask for help, but we were denied.

We stopped attending because the anxiety about walking in the door to our own church became too much to deal with. Life was so difficult through the week, and the added tension on Sunday became too much to handle. God met us at home, through friends, through recovery groups, counselors, books, Christian radio, music, camping, bike rides, etc.

After about a year, I made an appointment with a different pastor. He apologized for how the church handled our situation. I felt such relief…until he told me we’d be welcome back at any time, “But it would be a tough road for you.” I still don’t understand. Why? Why wouldn’t he help us walk through that? Why would it be so difficult for a broken, but recovering family to make it in a church that claims to meet people where they are? Why?

I am a Board Certified Christian Life Coach (BCCLC) with training from the American Association of Christian Counselors and a masters degree in Marriage and Family Therapy. Many of my clients have been horribly hurt through experiences in church (spiritual abuse, guilt, opening up and having their vulnerability used against them, pastors who didn’t deal with their own emotional, spiritual, or relational growth). If I talk to them about church, they get quiet and defensive. If I talk about God the Father, some won’t come back, because their own earthly fathers were abusive, and they haven’t worked through the pain, yet. It doesn’t mean they won’t, they just haven’t been able to, yet.

Back to my point: Could we have compassion for hurting people, instead of piling on guilt and judgment? Could we ask “WHY,” and try to become part of a solution? Could Christians who attend church regularly love those who don’t unconditionally? We’re all the church anyway. Could we act like it?

This post written, and maybe posted, or maybe tossed in the trash, by Colorado Life Coach, Carrie O’Toole, M.A.






Colorado Life Coach: I Don’t Want To Settle

Screen Shot 2014-03-12 at 12.01.28 PMWhy can’t you just be happy?

Isn’t it ever good enough?

Do you ever struggle with these questions? I sure do!

Whether it’s a relationship, a career, health issues, friendships, or my family, I find myself longing for more. It’s not an ego thing. I just happen to believe Jesus when he said, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10)

So here’s the question: Did Jesus mean it? Does it still happen today? Is he talking about heaven or here on earth? Ok, that’s 3 questions.

From the time I can remember, I’ve always had big dreams. This was before I developed too much in the way of arrogance, or wanting to show off. I was just a kid, and I believed life was full of huge, wonderful opportunities. I could do anything I wanted, if I tried hard enough. And I did, throughout my childhood.

I had the occasional disappointment, but life pretty much went as I hoped.

Until I grew up.

Then life got really hard. I found that many times I didn’t have the tools I needed to navigate difficulties. I didn’t have good boundaries. I didn’t know where I ended, and someone else began. I lost my sense of who I was. Life rolled me over, and I lost…big time.

Can you relate?

Maybe your childhood was much rougher than mine. Maybe you came from an abusive, addictive, or neglectful home. Maybe you only had one parent, or grew up in foster care. Maybe you suffered horrible loss early on.

Whatever the case, don’t we all, at some point or another, begin to settle.

Maybe this is all there is.

What if my health, family, marriage, weight (fill in the blank) NEVER gets better?

Why even hope anymore?

Here’s the rub: I want to be a fairly happy person, even in the midst of difficulties. I don’t think it’s normal to walk around singing after horrible news. That’s not what I mean. I just don’t want to be depressed, cranky, and horrible to live with. But I also desire more.

So, how do we walk that fence? How do we accept life as it is, and still hold out hope for more?

I actually believe Jesus meant we could have the abundant life here and in this life.

I’m not talking about money, although I do believe that we can use money for great purposes for ourselves and others. I love the opportunity to travel with my family, and I see God’s blessing all over that.

I know that some people have disabilities or injuries that will not be healed in their lifetime.

And, I still believe Jesus when he said we would have abundant life. I believe him so much so, that I used to yell at him, “This is not abundant life! You promised! I’m holding you to it. I’m not going to stop bugging you, until you honor your promise!” I’m holding on for abundant life.

My definition of abundance has changed over the years, and through the turbulent times of life. I’ve learned that I feel overwhelmingly blessed when I share something intimate with God.

~When I write in my journal and ask him questions, and I just sense him smiling, or I actually feel an answer to my question, I feel abundantly grateful.

~When everywhere I go, I run into little “coincidences” that could never happen if God didn’t arrange for it to happen, I feel abundantly loved.

~When things I’ve hoped for and dreamed about my whole life start finally happening, I feel abundantly happy!

It’s not all the time, or in every area of life, but I am living an abundant life. And in the areas I still hope for more I refuse to settle, not because I’m entitled, but because God loves me.

And he promised.

This post written by Colorado Life Coach, Carrie O’Toole.

Colorado Life Coach: You’d have to be crazy to think that!

Screen Shot 2014-01-28 at 2.53.12 PM

I disagree with lots of stuff people post.


I really respect most of the people posting. It takes a lot of courage to put yourself out there and speak about something passionately. I don’t care what the issue is, I am starting to see that the perspective of the person writing must be taken into account. They truly believe what they are writing, and there are reasons they believe it.

I’m not sure what to do about the great divides in our country today (or on Facebook).

I’ve lived enough to know that sometimes even when I was so sure I was right on an issue, maybe I was only half right, or maybe I didn’t have all the facts, or maybe I was just plain wrong.

I don’t post much political stuff because I know I’ll offend about half the people who might run across what I write. I’m not worried about offending, but when people write you off simply because of your beliefs, sometimes the relationship dies too. Now you can’t even have a discussion.

I feel very strongly about many issues. I am friends with many people who feel the exact opposite about these issues. I’ve learned to stay quiet online. When I have spoken up, I got blasted as ignorant or intolerant.

Sometimes it seems unfair. I feel those who have opposing views truly believe my way of thinking to be backwards, immature, or invalid. They never ask why I believe what I do, or what evidence I have to back my beliefs. I am just shut down.

I’m not a screamer. Oh, I’ve got it in me alright, but I’ve learned that people don’t listen when you use force.

So, many times I see posts I’d like to comment on, but choose not to. I watch. I read. I think. I talk to friends one-on-one, but I don’t comment.

I want social media to stay social. I’ve reconnected with lots of old high school friends (many of whom I totally disagree with politically), and it’s been amazing. I really enjoy people. I don’t want to open Facebook and be bombarded with posts that totally offend me. But that typically happens when election time rolls around. All of a sudden, posts turn hateful, demeaning, degrading, and offensive.

I’d love to have some conversations.

“Why is it you believe what you do?”

“Do you want to know why I believe what I do?”

“Can we respect each other in the process?”

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this matter, but only if you’ve read this post, can stay calm and state your position without calling anyone else names, and are willing to read a few thoughts from someone who may think differently than you.

This post written by Colorado Life Coach, Carrie O’Toole.


Colorado Life Coach: Columbine, Aurora Theatre, Arapahoe High School

Screen Shot 2013-12-23 at 10.18.56 AMScreen Shot 2013-12-23 at 10.18.56 AM

As we drove down Dry Creek and approached University, the lump in my throat grew until I couldn’t contain the tears. We parked on Franklin and walked to the memorial. I signed the banner along with literally thousands of others. There were banners from my elementary and middle schools, from many other high schools, from churches, and even from a school in Wisconsin. The words “Pray for Claire,” formed by white cups in the chain-link fence, stopped me in my tracks. I prayed for Claire. I prayed for the students, teachers, and community.

I grew up in Littleton, Colorado.

I have friends who graduated from Columbine High School.

My kids almost went to the Batman midnight premier at the Aurora Theatre.

I graduated from Arapahoe High School in 1982.