How Does Your Garden Grow?

Did you grow a garden this summer? That is one skill set I have yet to cultivate but always wanted to. Maybe in my next life I can dig in the dirt, plant a seed with that first anticipated sprout and harvest enough flowers and vegetables to fill my table. Sounds divine. I guess I am too busy tilling the soil, weeding, pruning and praying that other gardens in my life might flourish.

A wise woman, from many chapters ago in my life, always compared our primary partnership to that of a garden.

One option is to plant a few seeds and let it go. See where the elements take it. I am guessing it will get overrun to the point that it will be no longer recognizable. Thus, it’ll have to be dug up and begun again, probably with some new shiny promising partner.

Conversely, if our relational garden is to thrive, we’re going to have to attend to it. Constantly. It’s gonna need weeding, watering and trimming on a regular and consistent basis. Laziness, avoidance, inertia and an attitude of “we’ll just see where it goes” are not a garden grow.

I was having an interesting discussion the other day with a friend of why folks change after they marry. One guess is the unconscious thought that once we have planted the garden, agreed to stay within the fenced boundary, we’re all set. No more is necessary. Commitment alone will satisfy all requirements.

Ha. There is no promise of outcome, even in marriage. Results are not guaranteed and gardens don’t thrive on their own.

What the commitment of marriage does mean is that we are agreeing to the process of work. That on a daily basis, we are willing to roll up our sleeves, get our fingers dirty and do our part to beautify and expand the field of “we.”

So, get some sturdy gloves. Prepare for drought and flood. Accept the fact that you have no idea what the end result will look like. But if you are willing and your partner is too, I am betting you will soon enough be the talk of the neighborhood – in a good way, of course.

Our Not-So-Friend, Anxiety

Are you living in the wreckage of the future?

Such is a descriptive depiction of anxiety. A world we make up in our heads about what could happen or will happen in the days to come. According to anxiety, this imagined world is grim. Only the worst comes about. In turn, we aren’t okay. We aren’t safe. We aren’t going to make it.

Thus, as we indulge our fears, we engage our fight-or-flight survival mechanism. We become stuck in a perpetual spinning cycle of what-might-happen. We are hyper-vigilant. Like security guards with guns engaged, we prepare for any and all danger. Because anything can happen at any time and it ain’t going to be pretty.

So, we stop breathing. We stop creating. We stop playing. For, we are at war with the unsubstantiated wreckage of the future.

Rightly so. The world can be dangerous. Pick up a newspaper, turn on the radio, look back at history, ease drop on conversations … the world is unpredictable and often very cruel. Havoc is real and security uncertain.

Not to mention the fact that many of us were raised in households of trauma – some of us with a capital “T” Trauma and some of us with a lowercase “t” trauma – but trauma all the same. As children, we weren’t protected enough during our most impressionable years. We experienced moments, days and even years when our safety was not guaranteed. Thus, anxiety became our much needed companion. Better to prepare for the ills of the future than be left in the throes, vulnerable and caught off guard.

But, we are grown up now. This once needed anxiety during our powerless state of childhood may no longer be necessary. In fact, it is probably taking more than it is giving. It’s zapping our living fully in the moment because we are always living in the next moment, waiting for the other shoe to drop.

What to do about this suffocating beast of nerves that threatens to take away our life?

  1. Breathe and breathe deeply. All the way into the bottom of your belly. This act alone will deactivate the stress response in your body.
  2. Reassure yourself that you aren’t powerless – you have made it this far. You have options and can navigate unwanted situations.
  3. Ground yourself to the present moment via your senses – what you taste, see, touch, feel and hear.
  4. Redirect your energy to the present tense of now. You are okay right now.
  5. Check your irrationality with factual data – what is actually true and what are you making up in your head? What is a current fear vs. a past fear that is flashing back?
  6. Give anxiety its due without indulging it. See if there are other feelings underneath that you’d rather avoid or cover-up with your tried-and-true anxiety. Feel those instead as your authentic truth.

Lastly, thank your anxiety. It really just wants to help. Thank it for its concern. Then invite it to shut-up.

You surely don’t want it ruining your future before it even happens. Besides, you got this. You are gonna be just fine.

The Disempowered Child

He couldn’t have been older than seven or eight years. He walked with a large backpack, weighing down his already sagging shoulders. His eyes were downcast. His spirit vacant. She was right behind him screaming, “Don’t you ever do that again!” or “You’re going to get it when you come home from school!” or some semblance of the verbal abuse de jour.

Every morning, just as the sun rose, this scene played out. Right in front of our apartment window. Right outside the walls of our living room.

I wonder where this boy is today. I wonder where he’d be if I had the courage to call Child Protective Services or at least brought him a hot chocolate while he waited for the school bus on the cold New Hampshire mornings after receiving his daily dose of projected hate. My heart grieves for him and what he had no choice but to internalize.

Sadly, this scene, although available in many variances, is not uncommon. We are experts at disempowering our children. Because we are bigger, stronger, older, wealthier, more powerful, in charge and just because we have the opportunity to unload, we pass along our self-hatred. Like a hot potato we want to discard, or shit that rolls downhill, we split off what we don’t like about ourselves and can’t own enough to heal and we cast it to those that are innocent and powerless, vulnerable and unprotected, those beneath and below – our children.

As a result, the receptacles of our shame – our children – become like us – shame-based. They psychologically craft a foundation of feeling worthless, flawed and defected. Their self-esteem nose-dives into a one-down position where they don’t feel entitled to their human wants, needs and feelings.

As they become incapable of holding internal warmth and a moderated, healthy sense of self, they often take one of three coping paths: (1) Become the aggressor. Hell, if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. So the child grows into the one, like his or her parent, who doles out the abuse. This result can wear many costumes – control, judgment, rage, violence, passive-aggression, etc.; (2) Stay the victim. Resign, withdraw, people-please, approval-seek, manipulate, become depressed; (3) Flip-Flop between the aggressor and victim, depending on what might “work” in the moment.

However, none of these responses to a shame-inducing parent are healthy and functional. All they do is continue the generational family legacy of self-loathing. Like a tried and true family tradition, shame just continues on and on down the pike. That is, until someone has the courage and fortitude to stop the perpetual cycle. Until someone stands up, speaks the truth, intervenes and carves out a different path – one of health – for him or herself and the generations yet to come.

Were you the small child at the bus stop?

Were you the parent who only knew how to unleash ill repute because that’s what was done to you?

Wherever you might be, it is never too late for you, your child and the legacy you are passing down. Brave to be the one who stops the shame and the continuance of disempowerment. You may not have written the beginning of the story but you certainly have the power to write the ending. Be the one that turns the tide toward an upward evolution of emotional health.