growth

Good Tears?

Good Tears? Is there such a thing?

 

I went for probably 20 years without shedding a single tear. It’s not that I never had reason to do so. I had plenty of sad or powerful things happen in my world in those times, and I even felt as though there were moments when I could have cried, but the tears would not come.
That has changed. My tears have been unleashed. It’s starting to worry me.
There have been many things recently that have moved me deeply, and my tears have fallen. It was as I drove through the smoky mountains with my family recently and found myself once again moved to tears that I realized several things all at once.

  1. I have driven here before, many years ago, and I was not moved to tears.
  2. I was in as much wonder and awe then as I am now.
  3. I’m crying a lot lately. It’s starting to feel like I’m crying “too much”.
  4. I’m not crying because I‘m sad.
  5. Crying in awe and wonder at this massive and overwhelming beauty is perfectly appropriate.
  6. Crying in awe and wonder at this massive and overwhelming beauty is richer than not crying.

Somewhere in the back of my head and deep in the recesses of my heart there is still a voice that says tears are risky and vulnerable, that crying means I’m a “wuss” or a “pansy” (these are old words, and I know they are not appropriate in common usage, but they are the words that are there).

There is a lot in culture that reinforces this. My tween-aged son talked about “man-screaming” on a roller coaster recently. He demonstrated gripping the safety bar and clenching his face and teeth without making a sound. He was proud of the fact that he resisted the urge to scream, but it kept him from “cutting loose”. Crying is often seen as weakness. Even the picture above shows a very stoic kind of tears. Sometimes mine look like this.

Crying a lot feels defective.

But these are good tears. These are tears of delight and wonder, of the overwhelming perception of beauty, of physically seeing and experiencing a fabulous reality that boggles the mind, of realizing that what I am in the midst of feels like a fantasy painting but it actually exists and I am here in it.

 

I spent 20 years not crying because I had refused to become vulnerable. I had been trained by many people that to become vulnerable in this way would mean physical and emotional punishment. I had buried other pains and refused to weep over them. I would not be touched or moved beyond my own control.

 

My inability to weep over pain robbed me of the experience of weeping in joy and wonder. We as humans are wired for emotional experience, and we are wired to weep. We cannot turn off one kind of tears without turning them all off. I could not weep at beauty because I could not weep at my pain.

I have been tackling my pain with the help of friends, colleagues, and of course with the help of my own therapist. The releasing of those tears of pain has released many other tears. Good tears. Tears that I relish and love for their potency and magnitude.

These tears of wonder and beauty often surprise me. They catch me up and sweep me away. I could stop them up, but I have learned not to. Let them come. They are good and beautiful… and vulnerable, uncontrolled. In the back of my head, sometimes I think, “Really?! I’m going to cry about this?”

Yes, I suppose I am. And I am thankful.

By Jonathan E. Hart, LPC

Finding Our Jewels Within

Finding Our Jewels Within

Sometimes I find myself so deep in thought that the only way I know how to express myself is through writing.  This poem came from one of those times in my life, when I was growing emotionally and learning more about myself internally. I could sense that there were going to be great benefits to this eventually, but in the moment all I could see and feel seemed covered in dirt.  In my experience, this is where many clients begin when they first come to counseling.  Life may seem blurry, insurmountable, confusing, and gray.

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Jewel

I feel on the verge of discovering beautiful jewels.
Jewels that are more precious than anything on this Earth.
Jewels that would provide refuge & serenity in a world filled with dirt.
Jewels that are buried ~ yet meant to be found.
Jewels that I am made for ~ created just for me.
Jewels that I am meant to share
The jewels are worth the work
and work you must in order to gain them.
They are easily covered by responsibilities, busyness, laziness, forgetfulness
and worst of all: The Enemy.
He tries to snatch them away or bury them further
and even whispers to me that I am not worthy.
His subtle lies invade and paint beauty over in gray.
But Oh, just a small view of the radiant jewel
shows me the lies are simply not true.
One little glimmer provides hours of hope.
What would it be like to hold one?
What would it be like to own one?
These jewels are God-given and for his children.
The journey to gain them is part of the gift.

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As a Christian, one of my sources of hope is in God. Where do you find hope? We are all searching for hope and healing. Whatever avenue you are on, the therapists at Avenues are here to journey with you as you discover jewels made just for you.

by:  Kim Hammans, PLPC

Emotional Reflexes, Bees, and the Artillery of the Soul

Emotional Reflexes, Bees, and the Artillery of the Soul

As children, we build ideas about how the world and relationships work. After an injury when I was small, I was getting stitches in the emergency room. My parents tell the story that while the medical team worked on me, I was happily explaining to them about how nurses grow up to be doctors. That was how I thought the world worked. Someone eventually informed me that doctors and nurses are not developmentally related, and what I understood about doctors and nurses shifted.

A lot of times, we develop beliefs about relationship based on how relationships happen around and to us. As young children when we got into trouble, Mom or Dad might have said, “What were you thinking!? What’s wrong with you?” Being children, we don’t have the ability to challenge the notion that there might be something wrong with us. To a child, Adults define what “Normal” is. So we begin to believe that when we make a mistake, it is because we are defective somehow. If we were “normal”, we would have known better.

Fast-forward to adulthood. If nobody ever explains this scenario to us, if no one ever reshapes that belief or tells us otherwise, chances are that we still believe it on some level. We likely operate as though what we do is a direct indication of who we are. If I lie, then I must be a liar. If I fall for a trick, I must be a fool. If you don’t like me, it’s because I’ve caused you to dislike me. If you hit me, I did something to deserve it.

These defaults operate consistently and automatically. When I was small, I got stung twice in the eyelid by a yellow-jacket. It was very painful, and my eye was swelled shut by the next morning. I have never liked anything with wings and a stinger ever since. I still have a powerful physical reflex when I hear a buzz near my ear. I learned that bees are dangerous.
As an adult, I know that bee stings are not as painful as my emotional reflex tells me, but I do know that they can still hurt pretty bad. What I know, however, does not matter when I hear that buzzing sound, especially when it’s close to my head. I still have a tendency to run away while swatting at whatever was making that noise.

These defaults are powerful things. We don’t choose them, we just live by them. The trouble is that sometimes, these defaults are simply not true. They are real, and they are potent, but they are often based on faulty information. The fact is that the mom or dad mentioned above was wrong: making a mistake or doing something foolish was not matter of something being wrong with me. It was a matter of being a child and not knowing how the world works. They reacted and spoke as though the child should have had the knowledge and foresight of an adult.

When I was in the military, I was assigned to an artillery unit. My first night on a live-fire mission was pretty awful. Every time the crews fired the cannons, I nearly jumped out of my skin. After a while, I could anticipate the commands that led up to the pull of the trigger, but try as I might, I just couldn’t get my body to quit jerking around when the shot went off. My body was reflexing to the concussion as if to say, “Something is coming for you, kid. You are gonna die.” It took a while of rehearsing and experiencing the concussion and the jumping, but eventually the jump reflex passed. My body had to learn that this sudden noise and the accompanying shockwave were not actually a threat to me.

Unlearning our emotional reflexes can follow a similar pattern. We can come to understand and truly believe that mom or dad was wrong, but the emotional reflex is still there, and it is still powerful. The feeling will still kick in, and sometimes we have a hard time remembering that it is real but not true.

The unlearning happens through practice. We can eventually grow to recognize the lie and speak the truth to it: (my identity is not actually based on my performance). We will still have the reflex, and after a while, we learn that this feeling does not actually have the power to define me. I can make mistakes. I can even look like a fool, and I will still be OK. All of our efforts to avoid the feeling actually prolong it. I *have* to feel the concussion over and over again in order to learn that it doesn’t actually have the power to harm me.

I’ll say it plainly: this process sucks. It almost never happens as quickly as we want it to, and it is almost never linear in healing. We go back and forth. We continually recognize new areas where this same old thing is in play. We have to keep fighting with this painful feeling, and we often feel like the fact that we have to fight this hard with it means that we are somehow defective. Then we realize we’re doing it again.

But eventually, with work, with awareness, and with the help of trustworthy friends and lovers, we come to believe the truth, and the reflex fades in potency. We experience a freedom and confidence that we never imagined, and eventually that freedom becomes our new “Normal”.

By Jonathan Hart, LPC

You need therapy. Everybody does.

You need therapy.  Everybody does.  Really. You do need therapy if you’re a human being like my colleagues, friends, family, clients and me.

 

A few weeks ago I read a wonderful article entitled, “Why Everyone Should Be in Therapy (Including You)” written by two men with extensive backgrounds in pastoral and clinical counseling, Chuck DeGroat and Johnny LaLonde. They base their brazen assertion on the fact that secular and Christian thinkers through the ages have agreed on the importance of “knowing thyself” by self-examination.

DeGroat and LaLonde went on to cite the likes of Socrates to Calvin to Dr. Phil. Then the authors claim, “what we learn from the best therapists…is that knowing your blind spots, becoming aware of your stories, seeing the ways in which you sabotage relationships and much more is where real growth happens.” And growth is not merely changing behaviors, but it is, perhaps, a more honest way of living this life. Costly and extensive. Courageous and rewarding.

Avenues Counseling

Further, DeGroat and LaLonde discuss the “care of the soul”, suggesting “life’s struggles were not seen merely as obstacles to be overcome as much as opportunities to know God more intimately.” So not only knowing yourself but also knowing God is the goal of therapy.

In my youth, it seems that counseling was so stigmatized by churched folk, as if diving deep into ourselves would tempt us to water down Scriptural truth or that going through counseling identifies me as crazy or faithless… or both! Fear, yes. Reality, no.
Imbedded in the article, LaLonde briefly explains what to look for in choosing a counselor to take you on your journey of self-discovery and going deep with God. He hits on great advice. Find a therapist “who will honor your request for a behavioral fix, while inviting you to much more… a counselor who is acquainted with pain and grief and can sit calmly in the presence of your pain.”

I’m a new member of the team here at Avenues. Please take steps to take that journey deep into your soul with one of us.

You need therapy. Everybody does.

by: Frank Theus, PLPC, CSAT(candidate)

Getting Pruned

by Jonathan Hart, LPC

I have a Dieffenbachia.  It’s a tropical houseplant I’ve been growing for a few years now.  When I got it, it only had 4 leaves and stood maybe a foot high.  I stopped counting the leaves a long time ago.  It now stands three to four feet high.  Maybe I should say “stood”.  I have recently learned a great deal about the plant’s nature and needs, which resulted in my cutting it almost in half.  Let me explain.

The Dieffenbachia is also known as “Dumb Cane”, apparently because of it’s poisonous sap, which will cause throat constriction and even death if ingested.  “You’re dumb if you eat this cane”, I think is what the name means.  I, personally, call it “dumb” because it will grow itself into oblivion.  If you let it go, it becomes too tall for the root system to hold upright and it falls over, uprooting itself.  In order to properly care for the plant, one must cut off a fairly significant amount of growth.  New, healthier, growth sprouts from below the cut, and the plant is sturdier and more balanced.

I must confess, pruning seems counter-intuitive.  It feels destructive to me to chop off parts of the plant that are doing well, from which new growth is continually sprouting.  It seems wasteful to simply drop those leaves and stems into the trash.  (I actually planted the severed portion to see if it will take root and propagate.  I’ll let you know what happens, maybe.)  Yet the overall health and continued success of the plant depends on this process of cutting back.

Why the horticulture lesson?  Because this seems to be a beautiful, if unsettling, analogy for the human condition.  We are all about growth.  We love to get stronger, taller, to spread more leaves and challenge new heights.  Growth is good.

We don’t seem to like the idea of pruning much, though.  First, it means experiencing pain, and nobody likes pain.  I’m sure my plant was terrified as I approached with my knife.  Second, it means understanding that not all growth is necessarily good.  There is a kind of growth inherent in humanity that turns into pride, an appearance of strength that leads to catastrophe.  I love to see new sprouts on my plant, but I was utterly dismayed when I returned home one day to find that the plant had toppled over onto its neighbor, damaging both plants in the process.

There is a kind of pain that originates in our own actions and attitudes.  I am not speaking of the pain that comes from death, natural disaster, or the predation of others upon us.  I am speaking of the kind of pain that we experience as a natural overflow or consequence of our own actions and words. These actions and words grow from attitudes and a sense of entitlement that feels like strength; in other words, from pride.

The moment we believe we have overcome a temptation, that we have succeeded in surpassing the weakness that used to trip us up, we have entered a kind of denial that we often label as growth.  “I’m better now.  I wouldn’t do that! It’s no longer a problem for me.”  Pride is the language of “I’m better than that”.

I celebrate when I see anyone overcome a temptation or weakness, but I also cringe just a little, because I fear that in the certainty of having surpassed the actual behavior or attitude, they may come to deny that the core weakness to it still exists.  It is the core weakness that will topple us, for in the moment we believe we are proof against it because we have “come so far”, we let down our guard and open ourselves up to it all over again.  None of us is as strong as we think we are.

Wise is the one who will open him- or herself to pruning when it comes, who will humbly acknowledge the truth that their heart whispers to them and reveal it to a trustworthy helper.  It hurts, it’s scary, it changes things irrevocably… and it spurs new, real, balanced growth.  Those who resist pruning head for a far more painful tumble when the overwhelming weight of “growth” tumbles them from their pot.  The damage is greater, the recovery longer, the hurt done to self and others deeper.  The very hurt we fear from the pruning is intensified and broadened.

Not all growth is real or healthy.  Often it becomes an illusion of strength or competence, while on the inside we deny the toppling sensation we feel deep down.  Better to bring it out voluntarily and deal with it sooner -to submit to the pruning knife –  than to let it continue until we fall.

Wisdom from Calvin and Hobbes

by Courtney Hollingsworth & Calvin and Hobbes

Change can be scary. It can be hard. It can be painful. It’s risky. It’s dangerous. Ignorance can be all of those things too. Neither option eliminates risk. You can choose to walk into the risk and embrace the scariness of it. Or you can choose to close your eyes, walk forward, and pretend it isn’t scary at all. Ignorance isn’t bliss. But don’t take it from me, take it from Calvin and Hobbes:



Theology Now

or, “When Faith Kicks in for Real”
by Jonathan Hart, LPC

I went on a 20 mile hike with my 9 year old son last weekend.  We took a couple of days, camped overnight, and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.

Except the last four miles.

It started with two rumbles of thunder.  The rain turned on like a faucet. This was not wholly unexpected.  The forecast had predicted “scattered storms”.  We donned our ponchos and put away our lunches.  We, wisely or foolishly, chose to hike through it, since we were pretty close to the end.  I believed the storm would be over quickly.

I was wrong.  The rain persisted.  Thunder and lightning rolled, becoming if anything more frequent.  We hiked off the hilltop and were working our way down into the valley.  My son was nervous about the rain and the lightning, especially the close ones (I was too, but I tried to keep a brave face on for his sake).  Half an hour into the storm when the hail started falling, he became terrified.

We found a  fairly large bent tree trunk to hide behind.  It was enough to deflect most of the hail, but not all.  Both of us took a few hits. That had to have been the longest ten minutes of the whole trip, when dime-to-quarter sized chunks of ice were falling around and on us, lightning blasting overhead followed by deafening thunder and torrential rain. I seriously considered getting out our cooking gear and wearing the pots on our heads.

I knew that hail typically lasts only about 10 to 15 minutes, if that.  I did not know if we could expect larger hail than that which was currently pelting us. I didn’t know if there was a tornado in the vicinity.  My son was crying and starting to seriously freak out.  I was well on my to “Really Frightened” myself.  One of my most immediate thoughts was, “REALLY, God?  This couldn’t wait another hour or two?”  And then I thought, “What have I done to my son?”

I had been praying since the rain began.  Finally, faith kicked in.  I had a “Theology Now” moment.  I took my son’s face in my hands, looked into his eyes, and said (speaking as much to myself as to him), “As much as I love you, and would do everything I could to protect you and keep bad things from happening to you, God loves you more than I ever could.  He doesn’t always keep us from getting hurt, but he Always, Always loves and protects his children.  He is looking out for us right now, even though it might not seem like it.”

The hail stopped a few minutes later, as I knew it probably would.  The storm continued for another two and a half hours.  We survived, though we were thoroughly soaked and very, very tired of rain and lightning.

Theology Now is when the rubber meets the road in faith-land.  It is when what you say you believe meets up with what you really believe deep down.  It is the moment when the truth of doctrine pushes on and stretches our limitations and grows our capacity for real, honest-to-goodness trust.

The funny thing is that these moments don’t usually happen in the sunshine.  They usually happen right in the middle of an obnoxious storm.  We must be challenged, stretched, and tested painfully in order to grow our faith.  In this way, God often allows storms and painful times into our lives because he loves us. We must come to the end of our own strength in order to find and believe in His strength on our behalf.

–JH

Giving Yourself Grace in Change





by: Courtney Hollingsworth, PLPC



This humorous clip is obviously an example of very poor therapy that is unlikely to be helpful. People are just too complex for such a simplistic and one-dimensional approach. I certainly hope that you do not have anyone in your life who interacts with you in such a way. But how many of us have internalized this ungracious and callous voice? How often do we grant ourselves little patience and understanding in the midst of our circumstances and our attempts to change? Oftentimes, we are the harshest critic of our progress or our performance.

In what areas of your life do you need be more patient and understanding with yourself? What words play in your head on which you need to turn the volume down? Grace is not only for shortcomings and failings, it is for growth too. And lest I fall into the same trap I am speaking against, here is your reminder that changing this way of thinking will require patience and grace for yourself. When it comes to warding off contempt in order to more fully embrace grace, you cannot tell yourself to simply “STOP IT!”