So Much to be Grateful For

Gratitude 12.22.18

Every year at work I create a gratitude poster. I hang it in the breakroom, provide a couple of Sharpie markers, and send out the expected office-wide email. I say “expected office-wide email” because I’ve been doing this for 10+ years.

I work at a District Attorney’s Office so we see a lot of heartbreaking, soul-ripping things that people do to one another. Secondary trauma is a very real thing.  So a little gratitude goes a long way in getting through the days in a healthy way. It helps to write down what we’re thankful for as well as read what others are thankful for. It changes one’s perspective. There have been numerous studies done on gratitude and the effect it has on the human mind. It’s one of the easiest and most inexpensive mental health treatments available. I’ve had a ton of positive feedback regarding this poster and we get a little bit of everything written down. Some of them make us laugh–which is therapeutic in itself–some make us ponder, and some warm our hearts. Below is an image of this year’s poster. Enjoy!

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Always grateful. Grateful always.

At times, our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us. – Albert Schweitzer

“Real” Writers Write Anyway. Or Do They?

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This past July was the first time I haven’t met my Camp NaNo goal. What’s Camp NaNo you ask? Read about it here and perhaps you might decide to partake in April of 2020. 🙂

One week into the month and I suspected I might have a difficult time meeting my goal. Two weeks into the month and I knew I wouldn’t reach my goal. Between a family vacation, a heart procedure that required a hospital stay, the devastating deaths of two friends, and the emotional turmoil that accompanied these events, writing just wasn’t “there.” The fire went out.

While it was a difficult pill to swallow (I hate to “fail” when I’ve set my mind to doing something), by the end of the month I’d come to accept it. Rather peacefully, truth be told. But it didn’t happen until I began to believe that I hadn’t “failed.” I’d simply taken a much-needed time-out.

The difficulty I had in accepting it to begin with is something almost every writer likely deals with–others’ expectations of what it means to be a writer.

“Real” writers, I told myself, write no matter what. I’ve read in numerous articles that real writers don’t only write when they “feel” like it. They write no matter what. They sit their butt in the chair and write, by golly.

No. Matter. What.

So I asked myself–if I’m not a “real” writer, what does that make me? A fraud? A wanna-be? And if that’s the case, why bother?

The conclusion I came to after mulling this over, agonizing over the years I’ve likely been nothing but a fraud or a wanna-be, adding to the emotional turmoil I was already going through, is this:

No one–NO ONE–no matter how successful they might be, gets to determine who is a “real” writer. I’ve authored and published six books. I get to call myself a “real” writer if that’s what I believe I am. Even those who haven’t published anything at all, no one gets to decide if you are a “real” writer but you. Only you.

The fact that I needed a time-out (actually, that time-out is still ongoing), doesn’t make me less of a “real” writer, it makes me a smart writer. I can’t imagine never writing again. Never setting pen to the page–or fingers to the keyboard–and telling a story. Now that thought is enough to send me into a panic. Writing and creating brings me joy, peace, and a sense of purpose. It’s writing and creating that makes me feel alive.

But sometimes, we need to take a break from even the good things. We need to tend to what is right in front of us. Only you know what’s best for you and what your needs are. And if a time-out is one of those things, do it.

You’ll still be a “real” writer. Or photographer, painter, gardener, blogger, dancer…you get the picture.

This “real” writer is going to continue taking the time I need to heal and get back to the writing routine when the time is right for me. And I’ll be all the better for it.

Time for some feedback. Have you heard/read any “advice” that keeps you from feeling like you’re something less than what you are? Something that’s made you question your authenticity?

To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.
– Ralph Waldo Emerson

 

 

Welcoming 2019 with Words

2019

In 2015 I joined the My One Word movement. This movement is an opportunity to choose one word that best determines how you would like your life to grow in the coming year. It’s much more realistic to focus on one word for the year than set New Year’s resolutions, only to break them by the end of week two. I admit I still set goals, but those goals circle around my one word. I write out bible verses that address the chosen word(s), and read them frequently.

In the past I’ve chose the words Grace, Love, Listen, Risk, Silence, and Kindness. Being the rebel that I am, this is the second year I’ve chosen two words because I couldn’t decide between them and both are equally important to me and areas in which I desire to grow. Those two words?

  • Mindful.
  • Enough.

Mindful–Being mindful of each moment, each breath, my thoughts, words, and actions. Being mindful of the relationships I choose to nurture and grow, ending those that are toxic. Being mindful of how I spend my time so it’s not frittered away. Being mindful of making each moment count. Being mindful of what I eat, why I eat, when I eat. Being mindful of the words that come out of my mouth, that they may only build others up. And being mindful to love others rather than judge.

And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God. Romans 12:2

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Your sight, O Lord, my strength and my Redeemer.  Psalm 19:14

Enough–In November and December I participated in an online bible study with Proverbs 31 on the book Breathe by Pricilla Shirer. It taught me about the importance of Sabbath, how busyness can hold us hostage if we’re not careful and that it’s critical to take time to cease from all activities, to take time to simply stop and breathe. When we’re rushing through the day to cross off our to-do lists and rushing to the next thing, and the next and the next, we’re missing out on enjoying the life we’ve been given. Peace, tranquility, and serenity cannot be found when we’re in a flurry of constant activity. We have to know when enough is enough. It’s important for me to remember that as I am, I am enough, that there is no need to compare myself to others or allow others’ successes to make me feel less than. What I have, I have enough. I have all I need. More only clutters my life so that I don’t see all that I already have. What I do, I do enough, so long as all that I do is done in love. I can say ‘no’ without eloquent explanations and let that be enough. There is no need to continually continue for the sake of staying busy.

God can give you all you need. He will give you more than enough. You will have everything you need for yourselves. And you will have enough left over to give when there is a need.     2 Corinthians 9:8

Keep falsehood and lies far from me; give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread. Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you and say, “Who is the Lord?” Or I may become poor and steal, and so dishonor the name of my God.          Proverbs 30:8-9

                 Be happy in the moment, that’s enough. Each moment is all we need, not more.                       – Mother Teresa

Whether you make resolutions, set goals, or participate in the My One Word movement, I wish you great success. Happy 2019!

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Gratitude

I’ve written plenty of posts over the years on gratitude. I’ve even authored a book called Finding Peace Through Gratitude: The Secret to Healing From Trauma and Discovering Joy in Every Moment, written under pen name Alexandra Benn.

Finding Peace Through Gratitude: The Secret to Healing From Trauma and Discovering Joy in Every Moment by [Benn, Alexandra]It’s in large part because of gratitude that I have the life I have today. It’s gotten me through everything from monumental life events to seemingly infinitesimal daily matters. It’s gratitude that has lifted me from the depths of despair and painful moments I couldn’t see my way thorough. It’s gratitude that has carried me through the death of loved ones and fully appreciating my loved ones still with me. It’s gratitude that makes me focus on all that I have instead of desiring that which I don’t.

Gratitude is a state of mind, a decision, a choice. It’s choosing to look at the glass as half full instead of half empty. It’s choosing to look at what you have with appreciation and thanks instead of pining for that which you don’t. It doesn’t mean you have to be grateful for pain that hurts beyond anything you’ve ever felt, but I promise you there’s something in that painful mess that you can be grateful for.

Death of a loved one? You can be grateful for the time you had with him/her. For the experiences you shared. For the memories you can cherish.

Victim of a crime? Help other victims of crime and feel gratitude that you’re able to use it for good. It transforms you from victim to victor.

Passed up for the job promotion you worked so hard for? Reach deep to find gratitude that you have a job and that you have the opportunity to try again. In fact, express your happiness for the person who did get it, and you will feel like the winner.

Chronic illness? There’s always someone who’s worse off. I’m not suggesting your illness/pain isn’t real and I’m not diminishing it in any way. (I, too, had a long run with chronic pain in my past with fibromyalgia.) But if you choose to focus on and be grateful for the health you have in other areas, it makes it so much easier to bear.

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So all of this being said, it’s this time of year that I love to reflect on the past year(s) and swell with gratitude for all that I have and all that I have accomplished. Every New Year’s Eve I journal these things as a permanent visual reminder of how blessed I am. On those days life is especially hard, when I’m tired and worn, and when it’s hard to see the blessings, I pull that journal page out and review it. And then I’m so grateful for the practice that I’ve cultivated.

What from this past year are you grateful for? 

Gratitude bestows reverence, allowing us to encounter everyday epiphanies, those transcendent moments of awe that change forever how we experience life and the world. John Milton

 

 

Coming January 1st!

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Daily life can take you on a wild rollercoaster of twists, turns, thrills and disappointments. And sometimes trauma hits home, washing away the very foundation on which you’ve built your life.

Finding Peace Through Gratitude will help you navigate the waters of uncertainty. Rather than life controlling you and your emotions, you can control the way life impacts you. Rather than falling victim to life’s circumstances, it’s possible to find peace in the midst of, and following, difficulty and trauma.

Each chapter ends with a hands-on challenge for the reader as well as a meditative phrase to practice. Watch as your life is transformed by the completely free and utterly powerful gift of gratitude.

 

Food Detoxing

Medication and illness don_t own me anymore. I own my life. And my life is spectacular!

This week’s post is kind of off topic from what I usually post about, which is either the writing life or striving to live a life of love and grace. But it’s a topic that has made such an enormous difference in my life that I have to share.

Feed Detoxing.

From as far back as I can remember—from the time I was 23-years-old, to be exact, but we won’t say how many years ago that was—I’ve battled anxiety and panic attacks after a traumatic event. Shortly after that I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia, living daily with pain. Some days were much better than others. I was on a number of SSRI’s throughout the years, discovering that they were also prescribed for fibromyalgia, exchanging the side effects for being able to live a functional life. I was also on a pain medication for “my” fibromyalgia.

As the years progressed, I also battled hypoglycemia, sometimes having spells so severe I was near fainting. Add to that IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome), typical of someone with anxiety and/or fibromyalgia, and I was living a cautious life of what I could and couldn’t do, where I could and couldn’t go.

Finally, I got fed up with the pharmaceutical industry and my need for a drug to help me live this gift of a life I’ve been given. I wanted to live it fully and completely, without abandon, without worry, which you can imagine is difficult when you have GAD. (Generalized Anxiety Disorder)

Just another label I was determined to kick to the curb.

No Labels!I’d decided to no longer own these diagnoses by calling them my anxiety, my fibromyalgia, my IBS, etc. They weren’t mine at all, and I was done telling myself they were or allowing the medical profession to lead me to believe this.

Please note, I’m not saying medication for illnesses, mental or physical, is a bad thing. Sometimes medication is necessary. But I think it has become a crutch, a way of making life easier rather than better. Easier and better are not synonymous.

I’d done some research on nutrition and made the decision to use food as medicine.  Two 90-minute sessions with a nutritionist changed my life in unimaginable ways. She taught me what foods aggravate the conditions that plagued me and which helped. She looked at my blood panel and showed me what supplements my body was lacking, further aggravating the conditions.

For three weeks I was to cut out all gluten, all dairy, all processed foods, all sugar, and coffee, eating only clean, whole foods. It was a complete change from the way I’d been eating and took some getting used to. Sugar was by far the most difficult. It felt like I was an addict craving my fix. Sadly, that wasn’t far from the truth.

I was given a specific regime of supplements to take, among them magnesium citrate, 3000 mg daily of fish oil, 5HTP, zinc, methylated B-12, L-Glutamine, and digestive enzymes. Since I’m not a big meat eater, she suggested a plant-based protein drink as well, since dairy was out.

Fully committed, I stopped off at the health food store on my way home from the first session and purchased what I needed to get started. (I had already begun weaning myself off of my pain medication and SSRI weeks in advance.) During those three weeks of abstinence from all of the possible trigger foods,  the pain and anxiety all but disappeared.

I’d never felt better in my life!

After three weeks was up, I began re-introducing each of the potential trigger foods I cut out at the beginning of this plan, one at a time, to see which affected the symptoms of each condition. It took one day to see that dairy was a culprit. Pain took up residence once again. During this process of reintroducing each of the foods, I found gluten to be another culprit. I found too much sugar to just make me sluggish and not operate at my best capacity, which seemed to instigate pain.

With my new way of eating, no dairy or gluten and limited sugar, and taking my supplements, I’ve been completely off of all medication and have never felt better. I live the life I’ve always dreamed of, and since I sleep better than I have in a very long time, I now have energy that had been lacking for years. I go where I want to go, when I want to go there, and do what I want to do.

Sunrise

Another bonus? I no longer use food for comfort. When I eat, I pay attention to what each food item I’m eating is doing for my body and how it’s helping me. It’s changed my attitude about food from that of comfort to sustenance and nutrition.

Medication and illness don’t own me anymore. I own my life. And my life is spectacular!

 

Pet Therapy

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Man’s best friend.

While this may seem to be a bit off-topic from what I typically write about, it ties into well-rounded health, peace and happiness.

If you own a pet–or if a pet owns you, as is the case in my house–it’s easy to see why there are careers in pet therapy, facilitating healing through the love of animals.  Not only do animals make us happy, they can make us healthier.

Studies have shown that animals can help with depression, anxiety, fatigue, aid in the healing process and coping skills from mental health illnesses, heart disease, and even cancer.

They’re known to help and bring comfort to hospital patients, victims of crime, and military vets.

As for me personally, coming home at the end of the day to find my little Pomeranian anxiously jumping on her hind legs as I come through the door, nothing but sheer excitement to see me, brightens my mood from the most difficult day.  It can lift a fifty pound boulder right off my shoulders and crush it to a pile of silky sand at my feet.

Ninety-nine percent of the time I make it a point to come home on my lunch hour as well. Yes, to let her go outside to do her “thing,” observe and explore the back yard, and get some fresh air, but equally for a shot, my “fix” of the pure joy she brings to me.

It’s on those mental health days I’ve mentioned in an earlier post that snuggling under a blanket, good book in hand, and cuddling with Roxie, who is overjoyed with having me home, giving me kisses and unconditional love that only animals have a way of giving just perfectly, that heals and strengthens my heart and mind.

She sees me at my ugliest, physically and emotionally, and loves me anyway. Complete acceptance and forgiveness. Her enthusiasm for morning play as she bounces and buries her nose beneath the covers, burrowing her way across the bed like a groundhog, brings that first smile to my face to start my day.

In the midst of a bad day, I’ve never been able to not “turn that frown upside down” and smile when an email pops up with pictures of animals and babies.

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A heart can’t resist smiling, tensions easing, gratitude bubbling to the surface, when we see the innocence and feel the peace from such pure love. The kind of love God knows we crave.  And the kind of love that He provides through His wonderful creations, finding joy when His children are filled with joy.  Amazing God.

All is Grace.

Mental Health Days

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If someone hurts your feelings, it’s unimportant unless you persist in remembering it.”

I’m taking the day off from work today as a mental health day. With difficult things coming at me from all directions lately, I’ve decided to disconnect from the world and re-connect with God. When my boys were in school, I used to give them two mental health days each school year. They used them so wisely, planning very carefully when to use them, and usually saving them until the end of the year when their mind truly needed a break. I was so proud of them for using those two days as they were intended.

After I finished my time of quiet meditation, prayer, and Bible reading this morning, my mind traveled to my job. For most of my life, whenever things got tough, I was a “quitter”.  That’s changing.

I work in a large company that has many women employees. I’m not sure what it is, but this has been, by far, the most difficult job I’ve ever had when it comes to relationships with others. The cattiness and pettiness are brutal, the gossip rampant, and sometimes it feels like I’m in a shark tank.

That being said, I have been at this job for seven years now and I have not quit, as has been my history.  Not that I haven’t wanted to several times, but I have stuck it out. Many people would argue that life is too short to be miserable.  And I fully agree with that sentiment. However, this is what I have learned by sticking it out:

*     Others cannot make me miserable unless I allow them to. Joy comes from within me. That means I can find joy wherever I am and whoever is around me. If I allow others to make me angry or rob me of my joy, I’m giving them power over me. That can only happen if I allow it to.

*     Looking back through the events that have led me to this job, I truly believe that God has placed me here to make a difference. To learn how to be happy and thankful despite circumstances and to practice persevering through hard times. It has made me stronger, more resilient, and more compassionate.

*     Meditation is really such an easy thing to do, but so darn easy to forget in the midst of a struggle. Placing a reminder in front of me like a simple acronym that only I understand, reminds me to take time, even if all I have is a moment, to take a deep, slow breath, focusing on something I’m grateful for. Practicing meditation during all circumstances has made me much more proficient at it regardless of the noise and activity around me. It centers me, brings me back to God, and quiets my mind, making me more intact internally when externally things are nothing less than crazy.

*     When those around me are talking about someone, not only do I not have to participate, but I don’t have to listen, or even pay attention. It’s okay to get up from my desk to make copies, get a cup of coffee, or even make a point of walking by the person being talked about and show compassion with a simple smile.

*     When I’m on the receiving end of the gossip, and it reaches me, if I have done what is being said and it was wrong, I can take it as a reminder to not do it again and make amends if necessary. If I didn’t do it, then I have nothing to worry about. I can take the high road, knowing the rumor doesn’t have any foundation.

*     I don’t have to please anyone other than God. Having struggled with being a people pleaser for most of my life, this has been huge. And I get constant practice at my job. Not only is it okay, but commendable, to do the unpopular thing if it means pleasing and serving only God.

*     Not to take things personal. If someone is having a bad day, or women are whispering around me, it’s highly unlikely about me at all. Everything is not about me. And there is such freedom in remembering that!

I am grateful to work in a place where my immediate supervisor believes in mental health days. In working with victims all day, she understands the importance of taking care of ourselves. And that is something I’m so grateful for.

All is Grace.