Look for the Blue Marker?

“I see one up ahead. Thank God, we’re not lost. We’re still on the right trail.”

I often use my blue marker metaphor with couples and individuals. You know. Those painted blue lines on random trees that offer relieving reassurance that you are not lost in the middle of the woods. That even though you feel directionless, as if you are walking in circles going nowhere, you indeed are still on the path going forward. Hope remains alive.

Those blue markers can be lifesavers. Particularly, as you walk deeper into the unknown. Whether to create a new marriage, one never ventured, with no specific blueprint. Or, to evolve into a deeper, souped up you. All signs that point to progress and positive change are welcome.

Furthermore, the blue paint might be all we are going to get. Yes, we might wish to be at the end of the journey. Or at least have a guarantee that we will get there in one piece. But, the life we get to live doesn’t offer a known outcome. We are living in the middle of a thick-treed now.

So, give up the end game and keep searching for painted blue signs of momentum and passage. That’s how you will know you are on the right course.

What is Your Trigger?

What is your biggest trigger?

You know. The event, incident, button that when pushed, your insides explode. You lose all sense of rationality. Your grounded adult self flies out the window like a large pink gum wad onto the passing highway. Your regressed inner child takes over the wheel and quickly steers you off the road into a trench. You are hopeless to stay moderated and sane. That train has long left the station.

We all have these triggers. You are normal that way.

Furthermore, these bubbles of ours tend to burst at the most unexpected times. And most often with the folks we are closest to, those we rub elbows with as we pass in the hallway, rushing to beat to the bathroom – our partners and children.

Yes, we all have these triggers because we all have unhealed emotional wells deep within. They are sitting, waiting for your attention. Desperately wanting you to notice so that they can finally be recognized enough to be repaired. So, any opportunity for them to jump out and say, “There. That. Listen to me!” they will. They are pleaded with you toward a better you.

Learn to identify your triggers. It’s the first step in both managing your reactivity and healing your pain. Believe me – your spouse and kids will thank you.

One tip to helping you pinpoint what sets you off: if it’s hysterical, it’s historical. Something leftover from childhood haunts you. Yes, you are pissed that your teenager lives like a zoo animal. And yes, you are sad that your favorite character was killed off on Game of Thrones. But if the feeling is over-the-top. Out of proportion to the situation. Outsized and outweighed. Then you know that something else is going on for you. You have been triggered.

So, listen to yourself with gentle curiosity. No shame, no blame. Just be the wise, safe guide that chooses to grasp every chance you get to be the best you possible.

Definition Day: Shame vs. Toxic Shame

Definition Day:

Guilt: The painful feeling of regret and responsibility for one’s actions. I did/did not do something wrong. I shouldn’t have eaten the whole box of cookies. I should have gone to see my grandmother before she died. Guilt motivates me toward action. I will exercise more today. In the future, I will prioritize relationships in my life. Guilt is appropriate and moves us toward positive behavioral change.

Toxic Guilt: Guilt that comes from self-judgments regarding something done wrong when there is no actual wrongdoing. Such guilt is inappropriate and self-induced, often stemming from old messages we internalized from childhood. Toxic guilt is not helpful to anyone – you or someone else. It can move us along the continuum into shame.

Shame: The painful feeling about oneself as a person – I am bad. I am wrong. The central object of negative evaluation is the self, not the thing done. When shame arises, I am motivated to hide. I want to put a bag over my head and escape to the corner. Don’t look at me for I am not worthy. A dose of shame is healthy and necessary. It allows me to stay human. Without it, I am a sociopath – unable to humbly admit fault and feel empathy toward others.

Toxic Shame: Think shame multiplied. I live in a state of perpetual worthlessness. I am flawed, diminished and never measure up. Such an emotional state can ruin your life and relationships. For when I live in this dark place, I am locked in my own self-centered bubble. I cannot see beyond me to acknowledge another person. Like being stuck in quicksand, I am lost in my feelings of depravity. I am enclosed in self-reproach.

Want to know the cure for shame? Air. Yes, when we dare to talk about our feelings of worthlessness and they are met with compassion, we heal. Shame cannot survive in the light. It feeds on darkness.

So, talk. Come out, come out, wherever you are. It’s just me. Another human being. Trying to make it one day at a time, just like you. It’s life’s damnest secret – that at the deepest core, we are all the same – we are all in this together.

Losing My Mama-Mama

I lost my mama this week. Not my mama. But my mama-mama. The woman that raised me. The one that shielded me. The one that fried chicken in Crisco (with milk gravy on the side) and made strawberry cake for my birthday. The one that hugged me every morning, so tightly that I can still smell her love. The one that watched her stories as she ironed my school uniform and sang gospel songs as she hand-crafted our family’s dinner for the day. The one from whom I threw away cigarettes from her purse because I couldn’t afford her to die and leave me without my fried chicken and strawberry cake and life-giving embrace.

Grief is a perverse bastard. She stays faraway unless, of course, you choose to love. Loving requires letting go and that is grief’s opportunity to steal center stage. That bitch grandstands, swooping in and taking over, like an Oklahoma twister that grips your body and soul without rescue.

Yes, love is costly.

But, in the case of my mama-mama, I can’t fathom my childhood without her. Her consistent love, disguised in southern cooking and enthusiastic affection, was beyond price.

Rest in peace, Mrs. Russell. Wherever you are, it’s your time now. Put your tired feet up and let the Universe love on you as you loved on so many of us.