Lessons about suffering that fit on an index card

I had been reading some books that were jiving well with my worldview, “The Shadow Effect” by Deepak Chopra and “Snake Oil” by Becca Stevens. Deepak was making a case for a collective unconsciousness and Becca was advocating for the most beautiful form of community.  Both spoke on suffering, but due to the work Becca does with Magdalene and Thistle Farms*, she has seen more than her share.

I finished her book and I sat up in bed and wrote my most profound epiphany onto a notecard in felt tipped pen. I wrote my best explanation of why suffering is necessary, (basically to force us back to our community) and somehow what I wrote made me think that if I could just read it over and over I might welcome future suffering a little more and fight it a little less. I used the notecard as a bookmark and it ended up in my brief case and somehow got wet which meant the pen bled and it is hard to decifer now…

When I pulled the index card out and found the smear of words I kind of laughed to myself. What a great representation of what goes on with my brain. In a quiet, inspired moment I was able to find one of my deepest truths, but I didn’t record it with appropriate significance in my brain.

There is an episode of Parks and Recreation  where Ron Swanson has to watch a recording of himself explaining why he should run from Tammy II. Ron knows she’s no good for him at most times, but in the middle of a Tammy Tornado, he needs that clarity that can only come from hearing it from his own mouth.

That’s kind of how I envisioned my index card working. I was moving it from book to book only because I loved the tickle of delight I got reading it and thinking, “Oh, that’s good.” I thought that if I kept it nearby, it would pop up when I truly needed the reminder but not because I’m in the middle of a suffering storm and particularly need it. What kind of reminder will my smear provide?

After thinking of the irony, I started to feel some fear. There are lessons each bout of suffering will teach us, but knowing anything about suffering is not going to prevent it from happening. I wondered if the message was also that I’d just have to relearn the truth next time.

I don’t want to go back to square one. I have been working hard to build myself into a strong woman. I am practicing gratitude. I am paying attention to people who show me how to find grace, peace and love while enduring it. By creating difficult goals and then achieving them I am bolstering my self image as a strong person. In a race or a tough workout when I think, “I’m not sure if I can hold this for very long” I work with that fear and practice focusing on each minute.

Maybe I will forget how suffering can teach me important things and send me where I need to be. Maybe it will just be so tough next time that I’ll have to sit in some darkness. No matter what, I’ll have the memories of these beautiful, happy times and all those skills I’ve built for myself.

 

*Becca Stevens runs a home in Nashville, TN called Magdalene for women who would like to leave a life of prostitution and drugs. The women follow the 12 steps program while re-building their self esteem in part by having a job creating products for Thistle Farms. Most women have seen intense suffering in their lives and Becca believes that love can heal anything.

Grief – Desire for Control of Surroundings

Grief – Desire for Control of Surroundings

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Since first watching the BBC miniseries of Pride and Prejudice I have been an anglophile. My Aunt Linda has the same interests and has always passed me books and movies that enhanced this obsession. Shout out to Charles Dicken’s #1 fan Linda! Linda is a curator. She has this amazing talent for bringing people new things to experience. She planned a trip for herself, my Aunt Bethie, my Mom and I to go on a bus trip around England, Scotland and Ireland. The trip was truly once in a lifetime. I’ve always loved books because they let me travel the world in my mind and here I was able to go THREE countries.

The trip began about 9 months after we lost Adam. If you have never travelled oversees or on a sightseeing vacation there are some things you should know. You’re not always going to be the most patient person. There’s this thing called jet lag that will steal your joy. Because we were doing a bus tour, we were frequently driving with 30 other people.

We were travelling with Rose.

Did you read that with a voice dripping in loathing? Well you should have. Rose was an elderly woman who just wanted to see some of the world in her retirement. Poor Rose was Canadian and probably because of the universal health care system, was not able to arrange to have her knee replacement BEFORE the trip. I don’t know if you know this, but there are steps leading onto a bus. There are steps leading up to castles. There are steps leading into restaurants—lots of steps—steps that will cause her to have a panic attack in front of them and leave the ENTIRE REST OF THE BUS waiting out in the street when all we want after a long day of travelling is just to sit down and eat. Boy, I did not give her any grace. All this friggin perspective you’re getting of her point of view and how hard it was for her—there was none of that in my brain or in my heart. I wanted to throw her out the window. I kept thinking, “Why should she be ok with ruining the trip for the rest of us. It’s just complaining all day every day for her.”

Rose was just doing what everyone on the planet tends to do each day. We are each struggling with our own battle and we’re not inclined to think of how it’s affecting others. It’s natural.

What wasn’t natural was my expectation that people SHOULD be more aware. You see, I have this intense desire for fairness. If Rose can vomit her struggle onto my day, why don’t I get preferential treatment for mine? If they knew what I was dealing with they might leave me in peace. Can’t we skip the part where I have to explain what I’m dealing with and jump to the part where everyone is just super nice and understanding with me?!

This was THE biggest theme of my grief. My logic was this: The world is cruel and dangerous. People should be kind and if they can’t be kind they should allow me peace.

Newsflash! People aren’t living their lives to make YOU feel a certain way. If you are waiting for them to treat you the way you deserve—if this is the standard of a good life to you, you will be severely disappointed. Even people who love the crap out of you are not going to be able to hold that standard for very long. Please, take it from me, if this is your expectation you will be very angry when it is slashed every damn day.

If I could mentor myself, I would tell that Sarah she needs some coping mechanisms. A great coping mechanism for this situation would have been gratitude.

On the trip I tried using my journal to vent my frustrations, but venting didn’t release them. I was still stuck in a cycle of “It’s not fair I have to deal with this.” When your mind is spinning on a loop like that, you need to reverse the direction completely. If I had sat and picked three things I was grateful for I might have been ready to release the frustrations. Maybe I could have focused back on what was important, which was the quality time with my family in these amazing places. Instead I internalized my frustrations and it made me even less patient; as a result I fear I was just another Rose.

5 Easy Steps for Weight Loss Don’t Exist

Losing weight is hard. I have made this handy graph as a visual representation of why I am no authority on advice for losing weight.

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In case that wasn’t compelling enough, look at how much my body has changed:

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I follow some great sites for workouts and healthy inspiration. Frequently they will run a story with the headline, “5 Steps to finally lose the last 10 pounds” or “5 Ways to finally change your body”. Sometimes I think “Click bait!!!”

Everybody knows what they have to do. What I’m interested in is why we don’t always do it. Yes, you may be able to organize a list, but unless “FIGURE OUT YOUR SHIT” is on that list, it’s not gonna work for you.

When you lose a good portion of your body weight people ask you, “What did you do?” The answer for me has always been, exercise and eat right. It feels good to hear their admiration—as if I’m someone who figured out a secret they don’t know yet.

About  a year and a half ago I decided I needed to lose weight in order to have enough energy to be a good mom. I got up every morning at 5:00 am to ride on my recumbent bike and watch reality tv or read. I had a calendar for the month and I had a pack of gold stars. My goal was to create a streak of 30 days where I had a star on each day. I had to prove to myself I could do it. Once again, I lost 30 lbs.

I DO know how to lose weight, but I’m also pretty good at gaining it too.

Every time I’ve gained weight, I’ve been going through some difficult stuff. I use food to cope and I spend all my free time in the company of my husband and my books. Nothing about that is so bad. It’s just imperfect.

This year I’ve been AMAZED by the progress I’ve made with running. I set goals and I accomplish them. My body can DO great things, so why do I still care so much about what it looks like?

Last weekend I was on a #runcation with my husband. We were going to run a 10k, a goal I had set that terrified me. You have to understand that when you’ve never been able to push past 3 miles in your workouts, doubling that distance sounds like a feat that will require morning, noon and night workouts and rock hard abs.

It didn’t take quite that much work (although I could’ve been better if I had accomplished those things too). I knew I had what it takes to run 6.2 miles. In training I had run 9 miles. This weekend was supposed to be my celebration. “You did it Sarah! You worked towards this and now it’s here.”

But I look at the pictures we took and I criticize my body. I say “You look so thin in the starting line picture and so swollen and whale-like in this one.” I say “Look at the spare tire around your waist! No one is going to even be looking at the cool boat you’re sitting on.”

I know these are horrible things to say to and about myself. I want to do what I know I SHOULD do, which is focus on what my body can do more than how it looks. I think the main reason I can’t is because I’m terrified that if I’m not vigilant—if I don’t watch the scale for any little uptick, if I don’t worry about losing more and lowering my body fat percentage—then I will gain it all back again and then what is all this work for?

Even the memories I’m creating of someone who is strong and determined… I would be too ashamed to reflect back on them because I’m ashamed to be fat again.

The truth is: I love myself even when I’m fat.

Being overweight is what I am, not who I am. The difference is, now I know that if I stay curious about how I’m processing my emotions and dealing with my struggles then I know I can try each day to be better.

This means that even if I have a lot of days strung together in which I don’t do so well at working towards that goal and I gain weight back again, the things I’m learning by PAYING ATTENTION and trying to be an impartial observer of my own life, those things will help me string together good days again.

You may be thinking (and you wouldn’t be wrong), “Yeah, but you’re not super fit, so the distance to fat isn’t that far off and you should be vigilant.” Guys, even super fit runners like Amanda Brooks (@runtothefinish) admit they are critical about their body after losing weight. Maybe she feels the same way.

Here’s the tough spot I’m in. I know my weight gain is related to me handling my life imperfectly. I also know that I will never be perfect. I could react by becoming a neurotic perfectionist and continue to strive for perfection. That’s not what my plan’s gonna be.

My plan is to be kind to myself because I’m trying to do my best. I’ll ask myself “Could you have been better today?” and if the answer is yes, I’ll try again tomorrow.

If we all try to do this maybe we will have a community of women who freaking love themselves instead of obsessing about what they would change to be perfect.

(Shout out to Pink!)

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P.S. This pic is from a special episode of Billy on the Street called Billy in the Air. It’s amazing.