Grieving my 30th Anniversary

Today I woke up grieving.

It’s our 30th wedding anniversary, and our married life has been extremely difficult. I know anyone who’s been married more than a few months agrees that marriage is hard.

Most people are talking about the usual:

~Men are different than women-Mars and Venus stuff

~Life happens-you go through hard times, job changes, struggles with kids, etc.

It’s one thing to go through these things together. It’s another thing entirely, when you go through these things either together, but in isolation from each other, or opposing one another.

The greeting cards and Facebook posts don’t seem to fit my reality.

The month leading up to today, I paid attention to cards and posts. I know it’s not always an accurate representation of reality, but most of them said something like:

“I wouldn’t change a thing about our lives together.”

“It’s been tough, but we’ve been there for each other through it all.”

I want to gag. Not because I think they’re lying, or I’m not happy for them. It’s just not my reality.

I’ve never been someone who could casually say something if I don’t wholeheartedly believe it to be true.

My husband invited me out for a nice dinner to celebrate tonight. I am excited. I want to celebrate. And yet, I needed to grieve all the hopes and dreams I had for our life that turned out way harder, way more painful, and totally other than what I ever imagined I would have to endure, before I could celebrate. You know what? There are lots of things I would change!  I know they made me (and us) who we are, but I would have liked who I was without them too!

So here’s what I did. I invited my husband to have lunch with me to talk about the hard and crazy times. Through this traumatic life, I’ve learned a lot about grief, and I didn’t realize it this morning, but I needed to grieve before I could celebrate. Maybe you do too. If so, here’s how:

  1. Remember the hard times. They are as much a part of your marriage as the good times. They made you who you are. Don’t just pretend they didn’t happen. I found that by talking about them at lunch, it honored all we had been through. It gave weight to what had happened. It’s real. It’s part of our marriage. We’ve grown and healed and we’re out of the worst of it now. We can’t just gloss over the horrible and jump to the celebration. Maybe some year we can, but not this year.
  2. Grieve the marriage you hoped for, but didn’t have. I remember 30 years ago. I had so many hopes and dreams. Not of specific things or events, but of how our relationship would feel and how we would treat each other. I never imagined having to deal with trauma on so many levels. As I look back, I wish we had been able to deal with our own stuff earlier. Then we could have truly been there for each other, instead of adding another layer of pain to already difficult situations.
  3. Look to the future. Once you grieve the marriage you hoped to have, you can begin to look forward to the marriage you can have. Obviously, if there is abuse going on, get immediate help. There is no future until this is addressed and stopped completely. Look back to your wedding and see what you hoped and dreamed your life would be like. You’re not dead yet, so there’s still time to create the life you always wanted. We’ve worked so hard over the last couple of decades to heal and grow. The pain has to be worth it. We are just beginning to be able to respond in the ways we always wanted to, and to have the marriage we hoped for. The future is very bright.

The card I gave my husband said, “We’re still married, High-five!”

It’s not the most romantic, but it’s real.

p.s. I would be remiss if I didn’t thank God Almighty for the healing He has done in our marriage. He provided healing from trauma that no amount of therapy has accomplished.

Life After Trauma

We had family over for Memorial Day.

So what? Lots of people do this very thing.

For survivors of trauma, it’s a big deal.

For many people, large groups trigger big feelings. Memorial Day can trigger memories of loss and grief, trauma and craziness. Families trigger feelings of anxiety, depression, the way it used to be, the way it’s supposed to be, etc.

Having lived with, and overcome my own post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), I can tell you I’ve experienced all of these things. It is so difficult when you want to be around family, but you can’t. Or you want to invite people over, but you don’t know how kids from trauma backgrounds will be able to deal with it. The tension in your own home is so thick, you don’t know if it will be a good day, or if it will all fall apart.

Have you ever been hurt or sick for an extended period of time? You know how all of a sudden one day, you don’t hurt anymore? You may not even notice at first, you’re just so happy to be able to move and live your life. That’s how it was this weekend.

We went to a family birthday party on Saturday and it was fun! On Monday, we invited family over for a BBQ. I cooked all the food (which I haven’t been able to do for several years). We all got along. There was no drama. No trauma. No chaos.

I woke up today thanking God for a chaos-free 3-Day weekend.

If your life is filled with trauma and chaos, I hope this will bring you hope. Hang in there. Continue to seek help and healing for yourself. Life does move on. People grow up. Wounds heal.

If you need help, and don’t know where to turn, click here to schedule a phone appointment for a Life Coaching session with me. I’d love to walk with you as you move to a life after trauma.

 

What To Do With Enormous Pain

When emotional, psychological, relational, physical, or spiritual pain lasts for an extended period of time, what choices do you have?

I’ve discovered people tend to do 1 of 3 things:

  1. Medicate
  2. Numb
  3. Feel

Each of these choices comes with side effects.

Medicate. People medicate in all sorts of ways.

Drugs (prescription included)

Alcohol

Food

Work

Sex

Working Out

Church activity

Control

Money

Choose your poison. You’ve probably heard this phrase, and it’s true! Each of these things may temporarily bring relief, but they ultimately lead to destruction, if abused. We all know people who have struggled with drug or alcohol addiction. I used to think people could only become addicted to substances such as these. WRONG! All sorts of chemicals or activities can end up controlling our lives, and taking our focus off the pain we so desperately want to go away.  Did you know that the hormone released during sex dulls pain with the same impact as morphine? Is it any wonder 70% of men ages 17-34 admit to viewing pornography in the last week?

We don’t want to feel pain, so many people begin an addictive cycle, thinking it will keep them from hurting.

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When we act out instead of feeling the pain, we fall into this cycle. We want the pain to end, so we do something. The pain ends for a time, but we feel guilty for acting out. This causes us to feel more pain, and the cycle goes round and round. Obviously, we’re not actually dealing with the pain, we’re just running from it. So it never gets healed, and we stay stuck in the cycle. We’ve now brought another pain into our life. We have to recover from addiction, and then heal from the pain we originally thought we were “dealing with.”

How about another choice?

Numb. If addiction isn’t your thing, maybe you can just shut down. I know many people who seem wonderful when you first get to know them. They are friendly, sincere, funny, and seem to have it all together. Unless you poke around a little.

If you hit on a topic they haven’t healed from, they will either lash out at you, act as if they’ve never had problems in their life, or make you think you are crazy. They don’t remember. They tell you it’s not important. They try to get you onto another subject. Something isn’t right. Healthy people know their history and have come to terms with it. Avoiders don’t want to talk about it, minimize it, or try to make you think there’s something wrong with you for desiring to talk about such things.

Pain hurts. That’s why we don’t want to talk about it or deal with it. But the unintended consequence of numbing is that you shut out amazing people from your life. When you only deal with surface things, life never goes to the depths of friendship and relationship that are possible when you’re not so busy defending yourself, or hiding from pain.

Feel. No one likes to hurt. Could it be that the very thing we avoid like the plague is the thing that could bring healing and freedom?

Years ago when my life was truly a daily struggle, I made a decision. I didn’t want to turn to an addiction, because I had seen it ruin people’s lives. I didn’t want to shut down, because I watched people become hardened, angry, and resentful. I knew it might lessen the pain if I shut it off, but I sensed I would become someone I didn’t like. So I chose to feel it.

And feel I did! I felt deeply. My heart literally hurt. I ached. The pain was almost too much to live with. In fact, I remember driving on a two-lane country road thinking, “If I just swerved the wheel in front of this oncoming truck…” I wasn’t suicidal, but the pain was enough to mess with my mind. I wanted it to stop. I would have done just about anything to make it stop.

Instead, I learned to grieve. It stinks, I know. John Townsend and Henry Cloud wrote in their book, How People Grow, that grief is the toughest pain we have to deal with because we have to enter it willingly. “Grief is the one (kind of suffering) that heals all the others. It is the most important pain there is.”

The healing continues. The pain is mostly gone, but when it flares up I think, “This is grief. I know how to do that.” It’s not fun, but it is the pathway to a healed, healthy life.

“Weeping may last for the night, but joy comes in the morning.” psalm 30:5

Have you found other ways to deal with enormous pain? Please comment here!

[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’]http://www.carrieotoole.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/carrie-otoole-headshot-sm-150×150.jpg[/author_image] [author_info]Carrie O’Toole, M.A. is a Board Certified Christian Life Coach, Speaker, Author of Relinquished: When Love Means Letting Go, and Producer of the Documentary Film: Forfeiting Sanity.[/author_info] [/author]

 

Colorado Life Coach: Me Too!

I just returned home from the Refresh Conference for Foster and Adoptive Parents in Redmond, WA.

It was amazing!

Unlike anything I’ve ever seen, this conference tackled the topics needed by parents of kids from hard places.

I don’t have connections to the adoption community in WA, but was contacted by the conference organizer to see if I’d be interested in speaking. The panel I joined was called, “Navigating the rough waters of a failed placement.” It’s not exactly my story, and I wasn’t really sure if I would fit on the panel. After discussing my concerns with the panel leader, we determined I absolutely needed to be there.

Please understand, disruption is not a topic the adoption community, counselors, or the church likes to discuss. It’s ugly. It’s not the happy face of adoption they want to promote. We’d all like to believe that every adoption ends with a healed child, and a happy family. This is just not reality. The reasons are many:

~Children’s histories are often unknown, or withheld from prospective parents, leaving parents unprepared for the challenges (violence, sexual acting out, mental illness, extreme behavior issues)

~Resources and support are lacking

~Finances prevent receiving the level of help needed for children from trauma backgrounds

~Trauma brought into the home (at no fault of the child) ends up traumatizing other family members preventing healing.

~Trauma brings out unresolved and sometimes unknown issues in parents, which are extremely difficult to heal with ongoing trauma in the home.

~Parenting traumatized children requires skills that are totally counter-intuitive to parenting children without trauma. This is not known to the general public. Unless a foster or adoptive parent happens across this information, they could potentially spend years with no improvement connecting to their child. This is not their fault. They don’t know what they don’t know. Many therapists and medical professionals do not understand this issue, so unless parents run across professionals who understand and can lead them in the right direction, parents are left to figure this out on their own.

I arrived at the conference not knowing what to expect. All the attendees were met with amazing compassion, understanding, support, information, and connection with other parents. One theme of the conference was “Me Too!”

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Buckets with buttons saying, “Foster parent,” “Adoptive parent,” “International Adoption,” “Birth Parent,” and others helped connect people to others who could relate.

There were places for pampering…

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and resources: Oh look! That’s MY book in the bookstore 🙂

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My panel was on day 2 of the conference. As I suspected, at the end of the session, many people approached the panelists with the same message: “Me too!” They were so thankful we spoke on this difficult topic. They felt like the failures of the foster/adoption community. The stigma of so many issues was diminished by the general sessions of the conference, but the grief from disruption and relinquishment is still taboo. This was the first time these parents felt they could finally relate.

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I met some amazing parents.

None of them hoped to be in their situation, but it was great to find others and say “Me too!”

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

5 Ways To Survive Suffering Without It Killing You

This is a crazy world we live in (I missed a letter, so I first typed, “This is a ‘cray’ world.” Either fits).

It seems we humans will go to extreme lengths to avoid, deny, or postpone suffering.

I certainly don’t look forward to it. I continue eating poorly, because I don’t want to deal with having to cook different foods. Not exactly suffering, but it shows how far we’ll go to avoid even an inconvenience.

If it’s this hard to do things that will make our lives better, what happens when we find ourselves in a place of true suffering? What’s a human to do?

  1. Suffering is part of life. I know, it stinks. I wish it weren’t this way, but I’m not God (thank God). I remember going through really tough times. I didn’t know how to handle it. How do I make it stop? All I could think about was how much it hurt, and what I could do to change it. It seemed so unfair. I failed to grasp that suffering is part of life. We all suffer at some point. It’s part of being human. Once I came to recognize that I was in fact suffering, and that it was a normal part of life, I relaxed a bit. I still didn’t like it, but I stopped fighting as much. That’s the way it is with so many non-happy things: Once we realize it’s normal, we stop the fight and begin the healing.
  2. Suffering is painful. It hurts. Sometimes the pain is physical, like when we are recovering from surgery, or going through chemotherapy. Sometimes the pain is emotional, like when the person we love doesn’t love us, or they die. Many times, it’s both.
  3. Suffering can be destructive. Sometimes we are the victim. Nothing we could have or should have done could prevent it. A person with evil intent harmed us. We were involved in an accident. When this occurs, we need to find safe people to help us regain our physical, emotional, mental, psychological, and spiritual health. It hurts, it’s not fair, and it’s up to us to put our lives back together again.
  4. Suffering can be therapeutic. Sometimes things happen to us because we haven’t dealt with our stuff. We have a temper, and we get fired. We don’t trust people, so our spouse leaves. We deny financial reality, and lose our home. The positive from this type of suffering is that we have the power to change it! If we deal with our stuff, the pain will stop.
  5. Suffering is purposeful. Romans 5:3-5 says, “Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” When you’re in the middle of suffering, this doesn’t feel very comforting! After coming through, however, I can say that it’s true. When the suffering is over, we realize we’ve persevered. Now we can handle more than we could before. We are stronger. As we grow, we realize our character is being stretched. Maybe we have more compassion. Maybe we’re more honest. Maybe we can recognize manipulators more easily. Whatever the case, if we let it, suffering can make us better people. Because of this, we can hope again. 

What do you think? Tell me about your experience in the comments below.

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

 

 

Colorado Life Coach: Graduating To New Adoption

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Graduation.

I spoke at the graduation of some adopted children whose trauma has impacted their ability to receive love. These kids came from foreign countries to loving parents. They all suffer from reactive attachment disorder (RAD), which among other things, causes them to fight anyone who tries to get close to them.

This was a heartbreaking, beautiful, holy celebration. This was the end of 9 weeks of art, music and emotional therapy. The families who have been raising these children have been so worn out and traumatized by the controlling behaviors of the children, that they needed to ask for someone else to step in and help raise the children through to adulthood.

Picture the scene:

10 children from the school.

Parents who are relinquishing their child to another family.

New adoptive families with lots of training, taking the children home to be part of their family.

Family, friends, and supporters of the school.

Children’s artwork representing their hard emotional work.

Professional artwork of Rocky Matranga, sold to help families afford the school program.

The ceremony began with children playing their ukuleles, singing and dancing. Some children chose silly songs, but most selected deep, meaningful songs, or wrote their own to express their feelings of wanting to be loved, but struggling to accept it.

Tears flowed all around as one little girl cried, knowing she couldn’t return home due to her behavior and threats, but having the opportunity to begin again with a new family.

Rocky asked me to speak for the graduation. What an honor! What a challenge! All of these people, with their own emotions were in the same room at the same time.

I’ve spoken to all sorts of people, but this group was different.

These children’s lives started in trauma. Their brains didn’t wire correctly. They push away what most of us crave. They are beginning to understand this, and they want to change. Some of them have hurt their families or pets physically. Some have acted out sexually. Some have used emotional manipulation. Most know they have done hurtful things, and are starting to understand why. They are trying to take ownership of their traumatic start, as well as how it played out in their families. After the ceremony, one girl almost blamed her family for needing to find a new family to care for her, then she said, “I understand that my behaviors caused my family to need to seek a new home for me.” So horribly heartbreaking, but so wonderfully healing. I said, “Way to go. If you can keep taking responsibility (not for your trauma, but for your actions) you will go far. You’re healing. Keep going. You have a new chance with a new family.”

The relinquishing families brought a child into their families with their eyes open. They knew their child came from a difficult place filled with trauma. And yet, no one could have prepared them for the day-in, day-out struggles familiar only to those parenting traumatized children. If these parents had any unresolved issues in their own lives or marriage, the children would uncover them, and use them to destroy the parents. It’s something others just cannot understand, unless they’ve lived it. I have lived it. It’s hard for me to even remember sometimes, because of the trauma I experienced through this journey. As I walked into the room filled with attachment disordered children, however, I remembered. I remembered the anxiety oozing through the room. I remembered the panic, chaos, desperation, deception, charm, and inability to breath freely. When you don’t live with this, you absolutely cannot understand. When you’re not in it daily, you forget. I remembered as I participated in this graduation.

The new families sat nervously, knowing other amazing families had already given this child their best, for many years, and now it was their turn. Would they have what it took? Would they be able to make a difference? Would their training be enough? Would their family make it through this adventure?

This blog has taken me 10 days to complete. I have kept coming back to it, trying to figure out how to write what I experienced, while holding each of these groups of people (the children, relinquishing families, and new families) in my heart. I want so desperately to be able to convey what happened in that room with respect and dignity. I hope and pray that my words will be taken with the heart with which they were written.

These children are brave over-comers. There is hope for them. They are, and have been loved. I told them at the graduation that on behalf of humans everywhere, “I’m so sorry for what you’ve been through. No child should have to live through abuse, neglect, trauma, and abandonment.” I continue to pray they will be able to accept love, and have lives filled with true relationships.

These relinquishing families are devastated. Their hopes and dreams for their families, children, marriage, and future have been dashed. Most likely, they are financially, emotionally, relationally, spiritually, and psychologically depleted. If you know a family like this, please understand: they’ve beat themselves up far more than you ever could. Please offer them kindness and compassion. Understand they’ve lost a child, and they are grieving. Bring a meal. Send a card. Notice their pain, without blame.

These new families need help and support. If you know an adoptive family, especially those adopting older children, please offer to help. If you have any experience with attachment issues, offer to babysit. Make sure you do it without falling into the trap of triangulation. Bring a meal. Offer to drive to activities. Ask how it’s going, and believe what you hear, even if it sounds crazy. Support this family for the long-term.

Thank you so much for reading this post. It was hard to write, and I know it may be hard to read. Thank you for taking the time.

This post written by Carrie O’Toole, M.A.

 

 

Colorado Life Coach: Moms of Disruption/Relinquishment Retreat

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For several years, I thought I was the only one.

I had never heard of an adoptive mom who let her child go, for their own good, and the good of her family. I truly believed I was the only one. I felt alone, ashamed, guilty, grieved, hollowed out, dirty, cast-out. I felt undeserving of forgiveness and love.

What kind of a mother does this?

As I’ve healed and continued to seek answers, I’ve discovered there are many moms like me! I am most certainly not the only one!

I’ve met moms who have had to let their child(ren) go:

~For their own safety

~For the safety of other children or pets

~For their sanity

~For their marriage

~Because the child would never make it in their family, but they might make it elsewhere.

These are regular moms, like you and me.

They love children. In fact, they love children so much, they adopted a child, or a sibling group. They went through hours of training. They read books on parenting, adoption, attachment, and trauma. They prepared (or so they thought). They spent tons of money, worked the system, some of them traveled to other countries, and worked so hard to bring a total stranger into their home. They tried to become a family.

When it didn’t work, they were devastated.

Before this happened to us, we never would have imagined being one of “those” moms. We’ve all become members of a club none of us wanted to join.

We are the moms of adoption disruption, dissolution, or relinquishment.

And we hurt.

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Over the last several days, 8 of these suffering mamas met with me in Breckenridge, Colorado. We came together Sunday evening to meet each other and share some wine and cheese.

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They were nervous. Some of them said their husbands gently forced them to come! They all had different stories, but similar endings. Each believed they were the only one. Each believed they were bad people. Each had been judged, misunderstood, accused, and held accountable. None had received grace, validation, compassion, or help with their grief.

We worked on tough stuff.

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Fear, Anger, Sadness, Depression, Guilt, Shame, Isolation, Loneliness, Bitterness, Resentment, Denial, Protesting, Hurt, Grief, Letting Go.

At the end, I asked them how the retreat impacted them. Here are their words:

“Cathartic-being in the presence of other women who have been through the same thing.”

“Able to let go of the anger, and dreams that will never be.”

“Healing, tools, advice, answers, support, hugs, kinship, clarity, self-compassion.”

“I made myself feel.”

“I have the ability to work through tough stuff.”

“Helped me get closure.”

“Validating, healing, emotional strength.”

“I forgave myself.”

“Hearing others’ stories helped me know it will be OK. I’ll be OK.”

“I did a lot of grief work, and I needed that.”

“This was huge!”

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They left knowing better how to continue to heal. They want to grow. They want this to matter. They desire for their pain to have purpose. They want to live again. They want their families back. They want their children to succeed in life. They want to be whole and healthy again.

One mom shared this analogy: We are all running a relay race. For some of our children, we carried the baton for as long as we could. Then we passed the baton to someone else.

 

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We won’t be the ones to see them cross the finish line, but we ran our part of the race. We did the best we could, and we’re so thankful for the others who stepped in to help our children finish well.

It’s not how we dreamed it would be, but as we accept reality, we can dream again.

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

 

Colorado Life Coach: Dear Church

pic of churchPhoto credit Keeva999 from flikr

Dear church,

I know you mean well. I believe you want to help people find a saving relationship with Jesus, and that goal is part of your mission to exist. Most of your members have good hearts (the new regenerated ones, anyway), and truly think they are doing God’s work.

Here’s a problem that bothers me a lot. In fact, I’ve been trying to figure out how to talk to you about this for a few years. I’m asking you to bear with me, even if you disagree. Hear me out, please. There are people depending on you!!

Many people in your congregations (or formerly in your buildings) have been hurt very badly. In fact, many have actually been traumatized. This could have been before they met you, maybe in their early childhood, in another country, by their parents, by a spouse, by a stranger, by a broken system, by their family, or maybe even by you. This trauma has caused them to be broken, scared, and scarred.

Victims of abuse, neglect, accidents, disasters, prolonged illness, addicted parents, mental illness, violence, etc. struggle with trust. They may have heard that you have some answers. They came to you desperate for help and hope.

Then you brought up their sin.

Over and over you told them that is the issue keeping them from Jesus. What you are missing, is that for many people, this doesn’t compute. You see, they may have been so damaged by OTHER PEOPLE’S SIN, that they can’t see their own… yet. They need to be held, bandaged, and cared for, not preached at.

~Do you see it?

~Have you wondered why some people come once or twice, but don’t return?

~What type of training does your prayer team have? Do they point out the person’s sin, ask them to memorize more scripture, or somehow blame them for the troubles in their life?

~Where do you send them when they come to you broken?

~Have you thought about whether you chase people away from Jesus?

I was a bible study leader at a large church, along with a friend of mine. I remember vividly sitting at a coffee shop with her after our groups one day (we taught different studies). She literally pounded on the table in anger about the “sin” in the world, how people were messing up their lives, and how it grieved God. As she worked herself into a tizzy, I asked if she ever wondered what happened to those people to cause them to sin.

What little girl grows up thinking, “I’d really like to sleep around and jump from man to man, never being able to sustain a healthy relationship. That’s my dream!”

What boy thinks, “I hope to grow up to be addicted to pornography, so it distorts my view of sex, and causes me to see my wife as an object instead of a beautiful woman.”

My good friend and former counselor, Mary Ellen Mann was my guest on a podcast last year. She asked pastors to stop using the word sin in sermons, because it causes people who have been sexually abused feel shamed. 1 in 4 girls will experience sexual violation before they turn 18. 1 in 3 women will be violated during their lifetime. Pastors and youth pastors consistently teach, “God loves you. You’re a sinner.” Do you know what these women hear? “You’re a sinner.” Instead of helping them find the hope they desperately need, they feel shamed. They hear:

I can’t satisfy God.

God is not pleased with me.

I disappoint God.

I am bad.

I am part of the problem.

What did Jesus do? He attached first. He took care of us first. Then after a year or so, he could say, “if you get rid of your sin, you could feel my love more.”

He didn’t poke people right in the middle of their shame. He overwhelmed them with his mercy and grace.

Dear Church,

What if our message became, “God will go to the ends of the earth to find you.” “Someone has to pay for the sin of humanity, and that someone is Jesus.” “God adores you.”

What if you listened to people’s stories and truly heard their hurt?

What if you validated that what happened to them was horrific and they didn’t deserve it?

What if you didn’t blame them, or point out their sin?

What if you just cared for them, until they were healed and healthy enough to hear what you have to say?

One last question, Dear Church,

Could you shift the dynamic from the problem of sin, to one of God searching for you?

Maybe it’s just me, but I believe you’d have to add more services if that was your message!

This post written with love for the church by, Colorado Life Coach, Carrie O’Toole, M.A.

If you’ve been hurt and would like a coach to help you find healing, click here.

 

 

Colorado Life Coach: Going Through Grief

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photo courtesy Flikr

I love the ocean.

Wave after wave.

It’s so calming when I look at the waves coming in. I could watch for hours and never grow tired. In fact, staring at waves is one of the ways I clear my soul. I connect with God as I take in the sight of the never-ending waves. They remind me that God’s love is never-ending. He’s always with me. He will never leave me.

I’ve needed that reminder many times through my life, but especially during times of grief.

We all experience grief during our lives. Some grief is light, and momentary. Some grief seems as if it will never end. In my experience, grief is like the waves of the ocean. But instead of sitting on the beach staring and receiving the renewal my soul desperately needs, I feel like I’m in the undertow, dying to catch my breath.

Have you been through a really difficult time in your life? I have. For some, it’s difficult to understand how so many things can happen to one person, and it’s hard to stay in the presence of a person who’s grieving for long periods of time.

My grief began about 16 years ago with the sudden death of my dad. He was only 57, a pastor, and healthier than most his age. His death took my innocence. I realized at age 34 that grief will eventually hit us all. I know many of you lived through grief at a much earlier age, and I feel for you. Before the loss of my dad, I found myself mourning some broken relationships, moves, and the loss of pets, but his death hit at a level I had never experienced before. I’ve often wondered if watching a loved one die over a long period of time is more difficult than having them taken unexpectedly. I imagine they are both horrible in their own way. With the first, you grieve and prepare for the loss while the person is still alive, but you have to watch them suffer. With the second, you know their suffering is over quickly, but the shock is so difficult.

Grief is hard. It feels like a wave trying to knock you off your feet, and drag you under water.

My dad’s death was the beginning of a 16-year journey of grief. I didn’t realize my schooling in this area was just beginning with the death of my father.

~2 years later my Grandmother died after a 6-month battle with cancer.

~During the next year, we began what was to be a joyous journey through adoption, as we travelled to Vietnam to adopt our 3-½ year old son from an orphanage. Our journey became much more of a war for the heart of a traumatized little boy, who had experienced so much neglect and abuse during his short life, that he would do anything in his power to survive. We learned first-hand about the sad, painful diagnosis of Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD), as well as many other acronyms to fit the various medical, emotional, and psychological ailments that came with our son.

~Due to our son’s issues, as well as unhealed patterns from our own childhoods, my husband and I had serious marital and family struggles, causing us to seek help from numerous counselors, pastors, and anyone we thought could help.

~Extended family members, friends, and our church family deserted us in the middle of our trials.

~I’ve struggled with sleep issues since our trip to Vietnam. My psychiatrist has been fabulous, but I’ve suffered through long bouts of sleeplessness through the years.

If I could go back to the ocean analogy for a moment, I felt like I kept getting hit with wave after wave. I couldn’t catch my breath. I couldn’t explain what was happening. The pain was so horrific, and the events happened so quickly, I couldn’t swim to the surface. It took every ounce of strength to gasp a mouthful of air before my head would be pulled under again. This continued for years. Not days or weeks, or even months.

~6 years ago, we made the heart-wrenching decision to relinquish our son to another family from our church. I felt like I was dying from the 8 years of parenting, trying to stay afloat. I knew if something drastic didn’t change, I wouldn’t make it. Losing my son was the most traumatic loss of my life. I love him. I wanted him to be part of our family forever. You can read my story here to understand RAD and what it can do to a family.

~After my son was gone, my husband and I separated for a few months. All the issues that we hadn’t been able to solve due to the constant survival mode of the 8 years of parenting our son had taken their toll.

~During the aftermath, and long years of recovery, I suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). I learned that raising a traumatized child traumatized me.

Where is the hope?

I asked this many times, and came to understand what Proverbs 13:12 meant, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick.”

Through all of this, I sensed God telling me, “I’m working, I’m healing, hold on, I’ve got this, don’t give up.” But the waves never stopped. Every once in awhile I’d have a respite for a few weeks or months, but the undertow always returned.

In spite of it all, I believed God. When I was desperate, I reminded him, “You told me you were healing this. You promised!”

Gradually (much more so than I would have preferred), God healed and even restored. We’re not done yet. I’m not done yet.

I believe healing does not come with time alone. Healing comes from a loving God who provides counselors, doctors, pastors, teachers, coaches, and friends to help us along our way. We need to deal with our own character issues, and truly grieve the losses, or they keep on stacking up on top of each other. Then we have complicated grief, and it’s much more, well, complicated to deal with.

If you’re grieving, please:

  1. Take care of yourself physically, emotionally, and spiritually
  2. Ask for help from a pastor, friend, counselor, or coach
  3. Work through past grief that may have become uncovered. If you don’t, it will come out in your behavior and your friends and family will have to deal with it.
  4. Journal or talk about your anger, sadness, and hurt over what you have lost
  5. Joy will return. I don’t know when. I don’t know how long it will take, but it will happen.
  6. Lean into God. Call out his name. Ask him to show you what he’s doing, and what you might learn from it.
  7. Be open to walking alongside others who grieve. So many of us feel alone when grieving. Having someone who truly understands is such a blessing. Watch for opportunities to use your suffering to bless others.

What about you? How have you moved through grief? What have you tried that might benefit others?

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

Colorado Life Coach: Disappointment

6038735179_718a51a52b_oWe all experience it…Disappointment!

It hurts. Sometimes, it really hurts.

Maybe I thought by this time in my life (meaning, by the time I was this old), I’d either be used to disappointment, handle it better, or able to dodge it, but I’m not.

It still hurts, and sometimes the surprise is what catches me.

If I were able to predict and prepare, maybe it wouldn’t hurt so much. Maybe if I walked around waiting for the next shoe to drop, it wouldn’t hurt so much, because I’d expect it. Then I’d just say, “Oh, there you are again.”

The problem is, I’m an optimist. I believe God. I look for the good. I believe things will work out. I believe the pain is worth it. I keep trying. Someone once told me I’m loyal beyond what I should be.

So I get hurt when:

~Someone lets me down

~Things don’t turn out the way I hoped

~Plans change into less than I was told

~Someone else gets asked to do something I wanted to do

~Friends don’t call

~People don’t care or like what I’m doing

~Someone else does what I’ve done and they get a lot of recognition, but I didn’t

Sometimes life moves along smoothly, but disappointment always returns. And I’m always shocked.

I know people who use humor in everything they do. When life is hard, things don’t seem funny to me.

I’m sad. I’m lonely.

I listen to uplifting music, pray, talk to friends, and go to counseling. I eat high protein, low carb food, and exercise regularly. I even do neurofeedback, get chiropractic care, and an occasional massage. I practice self-care.

I have a degree in Marriage and Family Therapy. I get this stuff!! I teach this stuff. I can help others navigate their way out of this stuff. And here I sit, disappointed again.

The bible says, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but desire fulfilled is a tree of life.” Proverbs 13:12. I think the problem is it takes so long to fulfill the desire, that sometimes the heart is too sick.

I know many Christian friends who would say that we’re not going to see true healing until we die. I get that. I believe that to a point. But, Jesus said that he came to heal the broken-hearted. He didn’t say he’d heal them after they died. I believe him. I love this verse. I live by it. Sometimes it’s just hard, because my heart longs so deeply for the desires I believe God placed there. It’s hard to wait.

I once heard about a woman who had been married for 60 years. She was asked how to have a good marriage that lasted. Her answer: “Sometimes you have to get through a hard decade or two.” Wow!

That’s reality.

And even in the midst of disappointment, I got an email from a friend. It’s a devotional by Liz Curtis Higgs on Leah from the Bible. My friend even highlighted the areas that I would highlight for you:

When no one else sees, God sees. When no one else cares, God cares.

God sees. God hears. And God’s timing is always perfect.

Thank you God, and thank you friend for the reminder today!

How about you? How do you deal with disappointment?

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


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