Thursday, February 25, 2016

And I'm back!

I've had this nagging feeling for the longest time. It says: WRITE! JOURNAL! BLOG! EXPRESS! RECORD! And somehow whenever I get a free second I am just so exhausted that I end up watching Netflix or going to bed instead. (Does anyone else think watching "Netflix" sounds less embarrassing than watching "TV"? I feel like it's less lazy. Yeah, totally.)

The problem is that I have some serious topics to tackle. So here comes the disclaimer: I'm going to be writing about things that really matter to me. I don't claim to be able to back all of my opinions with procedural, analytical, or statistical data. I may do a couple educated google searches to try to back what I'm pretty sure is backable, but I also just feel some of this stuff.

It's okay with me if you disagree. But to be clear, I really don't mean to open up any heated arguments. I don't mean to convince. I am seeking to understand myself and to give others a glimpse into why I feel the way I do. Please read with some effort toward empathy and understanding. If you can't do that, maybe these entries aren't the ones for you. (Or at least not the ones to comment on).

So here I go trying to be true to myself just like Lilly is true enough to herself that if she wants to hide in the fridge, she just goes for it. I hope to someday be that cool. (Pun intended).

I have been asked some excellent questions and I've never answered any of them to my satisfaction. I'm not always sure if people realize how big their questions are. I try to be sensitive to not overwhelm or bore them with my in-depth and often passionate answer. So I am re-purposing this blog to address some of those questions. Because maybe they really want to know.

So, if you really want to know...
  • Why I'm a feminist?
  • How I can stand working in such a "depressing field"? (I'm a mental health and drug and alcohol counselor)
  • How I'm doing following my miscarriage?
  • Why I haven't left my church despite my many grievances with it?
This is where I'm going to examine those difficult questions as honestly, openly, and vulnerably as I can.

Some of my entries will be essay-like, responding to particular questions. But, I also hope to use this blog to track my efforts to answer my own big questions. These entries will be primarily for me and won't be polished or essay-like at all. And, because un-polished-learning-as-I-go is way less intimidating than trying to produce my most-up-to-date and complete answer to a difficult question, I'll be starting there.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Reflecting on March: Self-Care

For the month of March, I decided to focus on self-care, an admittedly therapisty phrase, but hey, I'm a therapist after all.

For those who haven't heard the phrase, it's probably self-explanatory, but I'll elaborate just in case. Self-care is anything you do to care for yourself, or as my good friends Tommy and Donna so elegantly put it:

I think that in my religious culture of Mormonism, a lot of value is placed on selflessness. While I'm not so sure I love that word, I do love a slightly modified version, charity. Charity, or the pure love of Christ, motivates us to love, not to judge others, and to serve and give our resources, time, and talents. Selflessness means putting others before yourself. I believe there is a time and place for selflessness but I also believe that true charity should apply itself fully to every living being, yourself included.

So in April, I focused on taking care of myself. I intended to do all kinds of amazing things to care for "the whole me." You know, physical (exercise, eat well, sleep well, etc), psychological (study new things, take breaks, breath deeply, etc), and spiritual (pray more sincerely, study the scriptures, meditate, and be more mindful). 

Here's what I learned: While I completely believe that pushing yourself to achieve goals is one form of self-care, I think the best starting point is just DOING THINGS YOU WANT TO DO that are easy to do and require no motivation, because you are naturally motivated.

  • Wash my hands in warm water: It turns out that my hands are almost always cold. Rather than just turn on the faucet and take whatever I get (usually freezing cold water) I recently discovered that turning the faucet to warm and even waiting a minute for the water to warm up MAKES ME FEEL HAPPY!!! And, somehow, simple as it is, it makes me feel like I'm "treating myself" to a luxurious moment every time I wash my hands. This has become one of my favorite new forms of "self-care" and I have shared it with many of my clients.
  • Be outside:  Without even consciously making this a goal, I somehow started spending at least SOME time outside every day. I found this to be surprisingly refreshing. Even on a cold or rainy day, a quick walk outside makes a world of difference to my mood.
  • Time to think: I have so many thoughts inside of me, it's unreal! Those that I most love to think are the optimistic ones relating to interests I'd like to develop, kind things that I could do, places I dream of visiting, and on and on and on. 
  • Diet Coke: What can I say? I love me a good Diet Coke. There's something about drinking pop that feels like I am "treating myself." Also, Diet Coke is a relatively harmless way to do it.
  • Mindfulness: This one surprised me a bit. I downloaded a mindfulness app on my phone. It is a gong that goes of randomly throughout the day and reminds me to be present in that moment. (Meaning to experience it fully). I found that it was a little challenging for me to be mindful on command, but it did make me more generally mindful throughout the day. One interesting side effect was that I naturally, and with no intentional effort on my part, began to eat better. Being mindful of the signals my body gave me helped me realize that after eating a large serving of whatever, I was actually no longer hungry and didn't even want a second helping. It also helped me notice that certain foods really and truly make my body feel worse and other foods do the opposite. It was no earth-shattering difference, but it was perceptible. Which probably shouldn't have, but DID surprise me. 
  • Prayer: An individual in my religious congregation made a statement in Primary (little kids' Sunday School) that has really stuck with me. It started with something like, "I need you to all show me how you can be reverent and listen..." followed by a self-correcting statement not entirely directed to the kids: "not that it's always about reverence." Or something to that effect. I thought it was funny at the time, but there was also something very profound about it. Sometimes in my faith, we act like "it's always all about reverence." Meaning we should sit down nicely with our arms folded and respectfully listen, to invite the Spirit of the Lord. (Or at least that's the image reverence is often simplified to when we teach the concept to our children). As I pondered this statement, I decided that it really isn't always about reverence. Sometimes it's about LOUD, EXCITING, DANCING FOR JOY PRAISE!!! And sometimes it's about authenticity and being honest, which for me often includes humor which some find to be irreverent. I have begun to allow my prayers to "not always be about reverence." When I'm doing it right, I feel more free to be authentic in my prayers. That means if I'm feeling goofy, I may joke around with God. If I'm angry, I may express that in whatever way feels right, if I'm sad, I may cry, joyous or grateful I may praise...whatever the case may be. I have found this kind of prayer to give me a more intimate sense of my relationship with my Heavenly Father.

Full disclosure: I wrote most of this post on June 12, 2015, months after I completed this goal and months after my most recent efforts to continue my "Perfect Year." See how cool not obsessing about perfection is? Because I'm willing to be "imperfectly perfect" I can just pick up where I left off without beating myself up over several missed months. Ta-da!!!

Monday, March 2, 2015

Reflecting on February: Spirituality

February was unfairly short and left me feeling a little unfinished with my goal of spirituality. I didn't do a lot of what I planned, but instead of focusing on that (because obviously I gained nothing from the parts I didn't do) I want to reflect on "any positive change."

First, I'll share a secret. I have another year-long goal that I'm not writing about on this blog. I have a spiritual question that I have no answers for. I've had it for years and I have never made a serious effort to resolve it because it was discouraging how little is said about this question. I finally decided to put James 1:5 to the test on this issue.
James 1:5-- If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.

 This year I am putting everything I have into this question. I'm going to ask and ask and ask God, but I am also going to show God that I am doing my part to receive personal revelation.

So. What did I do in February? I laid the groundwork for this "other" goal. I searched for resources related to my question and I compiled a list of books, essays, talks, scriptures, etc. to study. I started studying them. 

Matt bought me a special notebook from Hallmark to use specifically for insights that I receive as I study this "question of the soul" as I like to call it. 

And, you may I filling it with insights? So far, each page I study leads me to several other sources that I want to study. So far, I'm filling it with "leads." Not many clues yet, but for the first time I feel like I have leads and that in and of itself is exciting. Having a plan, taking control. It's good stuff. Of course, I hope that God will share in this experience with me and begin giving me clues, and eventually help me to put the puzzle together. For now, I'm just excited to have a starting point.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Why This isn't Really a "Perfect Year" and I'm Okay with That

When I began this project, I chose the order of these first two months carefully, knowing that it is easier for me to feel spiritual when my home and mind are uncluttered. Of course, if you caught my recent video of Lilly that I posted to facebook, you know that the uncluttered clean home did not last. I have been tempted to start this whole year over because I have not been perfect in achieving my monthly goals, but I am constantly reminding myself that in this case, perfection is not my goal. This is not a perfect year and I do not intend for it to be so. Bear with me in the next paragraph here. It may sound a bit rambling, but I promise I'm coming back to the point.

In my career as a drug and alcohol counselor, there is a popular movement away from the all-or-nothing view of abstinence based programs toward a "harm reduction" approach. The idea behind this approach is that many people are not ready to quit using their drug(s). In fact, they may never have the desire or motivation to do so. If we limit their options to "quit or get out of treatment until you can," they miss out on an entire range of potential life-bettering changes that could occur.

For example, there may be a heroin user who will not consider quitting opiates. However, given the resources and opportunity, she may choose to change her habit of re-using old needles. She may choose, instead, to participate in a "clean needle exchange" which provides users with free, clean needles. While she will continue to suffer the harmful effects of the drug, her risk of contracting aids will decrease dramatically. This kind of change is positive and was worth the effort.

I have come to really love this concept, which is summed up by the mantra, "any positive change." To me, this means that perfection (in this case abstinence, in my case perfect completion of my goals) is not the only form of success. (That should be obvious, but sometimes it really isn't).

In the church, we often strive for perfection. Christ himself set the bar pretty high when he said "be ye therefore perfect even as your Father which is in Heaven is perfect." This sounds like it would be a very pleasant achievement, but I think Jesus knows that's not going to happen in this lifetime. I have felt the Spirit confirm to me that "any positive change" is a concept that pleases God. After all, the more harm reduction we do, the closer we get to the ultimate goal of perfection.

So, friends, I am not starting the year over so I can "do better this time," partly because then I would have to decide between waiting until January 2016 or counting 12 months from March, which just doesn't feel right (perfectionism dies hard), but mostly because I am meeting my goal of "any positive change" and I count that a success worth celebrating.


Sunday, February 8, 2015

January: De-Cluttering my Life

Matt, the girls, and I were lucky to have a nice long break for Christmas this year. We, emboldened by our success last year, decided to drive to Utah to visit family. The drive there was shockingly pleasant. We left in the evening shortly after I got off work and drove through the night. The girls fell asleep around 9pm, we took a short nap in the car at a rest stop from about 2am-4am and stopped for meals. The trip was a blast. We got to spend a week at my parents and a week at Matt's mom's. While at Isabel's (Matt's mom) I came across the book that I mentioned in my last post, "The Happiness Project" and read most of it on our vacation. I finished it a few days after we got back and started my own project, which I'm calling "The Perfect Year." (Not that I intend to aim for perfection in the same way I do with my perfect months, I just like the sound of it.)

Tina enjoying one of our McDonalds play-place breaks from the long drive.   

Roommates reunited!!!

Cousin Sleepover at Grandma's

The Pinball Wizard

So, I decided that the first month should be something that would motivate me and give me energy. For me, my living environment makes a huge difference to my mood and energy. So, month one was dedicated to 1) De-cluttering the house--I gave away several large grocery bags and boxes full of STUFF that would not pass the "would we take it if we moved" test. and 2) Decluttering my mind. I made lists for the three major areas of my life right now (Home, Work, Church) of all the "nagging tasks" that I've been avoiding. You know the ones, make a dentist appointment, change the oil in the car, etc, etc. and started working my way through them.

I set a goal to get rid of at least one thing a day and to try to cross one nagging item off my list per day. While I failed pretty badly at the "daily" aspect of this goal, we have several empty shelves and extra storage space now and things are easier to find. (And remember, despite my misleading choice of a name for the project, I really don't intend for these to be "perfect" months. I'm just hoping for any positive change).

I don't feel like I ever met my BIG goal of the month of starting the next month with a "fully cleaned" house, but we are stepping on unidentified sticky chunks much less than we were a month ago. I call that a win.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

The Perfect Year...wait, WHAT?

I'm back and since I apparently got bored with perfect months, I'm going for a perfect YEAR. (Kind of.)

Over Christmas I had the rare luxury of reading for pleasure when I noticed a book at Matt's mom's house that caught my attention: "The Happiness Project" by Gretchen Rubin. Obviously any book with the words "happiness" and "project" are right up my ally, so I picked it up. 

Here's the basic premise: She studies everything she can about happiness, and develops a plan to make her life happier in 12 months. It is loosely based off of Benjamin Franklin's 13 Virtues (Emily M now H, I now know what you see in the man). Each month she charts herself on daily goals based on the virtue of the month, adding each new month to the previous months on the chart. I, being a goal and chart loving person myself, was drawn in by the idea and I'm now one month in to my newest self-improvement endeavor. I am not necessarily shooting for perfection on these goals in the same way that I did for the Perfect Month, but I am shooting for perfect charting and accountability. I will also plan to update this blog once weekly on Sundays to report on my progress.

Please follow me and leave comments. It will be a HUGE help in motivating me.

If you're curious about the book that inspired me, feel free to check out her blog:

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Days 14-20: Accountability

There have been a few times now that I've not filled out the chart the same day. I'll go back and fill in the last few days. This does not work! I am realizing that the power of accountability decreases if the accountability is not timely. (Woo! A lesson!)

Something strange has come of this goal. While I haven't necessarily improved in all categories, the category of keeping the house clean has improved drastically! I guess the thing that most needed work weaseled its way to the top of the priority list when I started looking at my list every day. (Another lesson?)

Today, after baths, we all got in our PJs and went for a "family pajama walk" in the woods. Lilly loved it and I really enjoyed it, too. I decided it may be a fun family tradition to have occasional evening "pajama walks."

Now for some totally unrelated photos from the last couple of weeks:

Lilly found my old sponge curlers and asked what they were. I told her they make your hair curly. "Like my daddy?" she said. And boom. It was a done deal. She wanted me to put them in her hair.