Saturday, August 17, 2019

As If



Brene Brown has a phrase for that feeling, the one that we get after we bare our souls or reveal something we've held close for so long, it's called the vulnerability hangover. Admittedly, this isn't my first go round of waking to this discomfort. As an introvert, I tend to pull back, go inward, and sit with it while it has its way with me. It rolls over as a wash of accusations, shame, system shock, and embarrassment. Did I really just say that out loud? Imaginary faces swim to the surface, nearly cartoonish in their looks of horror, laughter, rejection. It's the backlash meant to silence-- that tried and true, albeit broken response, meant to protect me from ever feeling that raw and exposed again. 

A few years back, I sat around the dining room table with a group of friends taking turns reading descriptions of each number on the Enneagram. We each took the test to determine our number and spent the evening laughing and bemoaning the fact that we were so easily typed, recognizing ourselves in these numbers. 

My number was a six, fear and anxiety driven, security and stability seeking, and divided into two subtypes, it is one of the most complex numbers on the Enneagram. And in spite of my moaning, I recognized myself in the pages of that book. In everything I do, anxiety is my constant companion. Fear driven scenarios play themselves out in my head and tend to cripple me before I can take action in whatever thing it is I'm facing; A direct result of the learned hypervigilance, and too often, rapid firing of adrenaline growing up with an alcoholic in the home. 

On the flip side, the more healed version of being a six, is a strong sense of intuitive discernment, a knowing within, a way of seeing that is a bit deeper and more nuanced than the average bear. A bonus to our friends and loved ones, we are loyal to a fault-- though often to our own detriment. And we always always have questions. We sixes need to know what makes the world tick in order for it to feel safe

We want to understand what you are thinking so that the wool doesn't get pulled over our eyes, or from under our feet. 

An Enneagram 6 has one of the strongest senses of justice of all the personality types, we want and need things to be fair. It is the only way the world makes any sense to us. We feel things deeply. And often for a girl growing up wired to be sensitive, it is the feelings of others we can more readily identify then our own. 

Constantly at war inside, are these two distinct qualities; that need for feeling safe, while the sense of injustice is being challenged. On one side, I am the pleasant, goofy, loyal companion, always ready with a helping hand and a supportive comment. Whatever you need me to be so you'll like me. On the other, I am outraged when I see injustices happening and feel a responsibility, nearly a compulsion, to speak up and lend my voice against the oppressor. 

Waking a few days ago, I felt a blanket of depression hovering over me. Depression has paid me a visit many times in the past and I know how easily I can get lost in it. Manifesting first in a heightened sense of anxiety, whence I can see every potential scenario resulting in my own doom, and that of the world. The long slow descent grows more rapid when I turn on the news. The world is doomed. We are all doomed. Everything is broken. This is when depression really sets up camp. I don't know how to fix it. Fix myself. Fix you. Fix the world, so I pull inward. Deep deep inside and pull that blanket over me, where I can remain detached and insulated from it all. It can be so welcoming and tempting at first. 

But that blanket is heavy and once it settles, it is hard to take off. Life continues all around, but I'm watching it from a great distance. Like a tv station with an undercurrent of static, or the way sound comes to you more slowly underwater. 

Having succumbed to it many times before, I know that depression is a liar. It doesn't offer me the security I desire. It isn't a safe place to hide until danger passes. It simply makes me want to vanish. Be invisible. Depression isn't the source of that message in my life, it is merely the vehicle that delivers it. Clutching at my throat, reminding me it is better to be silent. It is usually accompanied by a hefty dose of shame.

Don't be loud. Don't speak up. Your voice doesn't really matter. It tells me that showing real feelings is bad. Anger is dangerous and unbecoming of a lady. Don't be mad, it's safer to be sad. Don't talk out loud about the unpleasant things. Don't tell someone they hurt you. Be positive and happy and upbeat. Just give it to God. Nice girls say nice things. Don't you want people to like you? 

This is the loop I so easily get stuck in. Anger and a strong sense of outrage over the things that have been done to me, to you, to the world, rise up and I get close, so close to being able to identify the truth of it. To name the thing doing the harm. Then the backlash, the vulnerability hangover, the lies, come out swinging, pushing me back to my safe place of compliance. Having an opinion isn't an option. When you have little sense of your own worth, it's easy to believe nothing you say really matters

This year, something pretty amazing has been happening. Suddenly I am feeling emotionally stronger. More resilient. Better able to identify my own thoughts, feelings, and needs. I have been able to look at myself with more acceptance and grace. Loving the parts of me I once felt ashamed of and hoped you wouldn't see. Feeling empathy for the things I have done and the decisions I had to make with little in the way of mature guidance. When I see old pictures of myself, or watch myself on video, I've had this profound sense of compassion. I don't hate myself! Wow! A totally new revelation! 

I actually don't hate myself! I like what I see in the mirror. I am not bothered by the worn out and frazzled parts of me. I love the strong voice that compels me to speak. I am starting to think I actually matter. When I get the pushback that almost always happens when I start feeling too comfortable in my own skin, it hasn't been taking as long to come out from under it, and I'm recognizing this comes from allowing myself to be heard even when you might not like what I have to say. From allowing myself to say things even if they aren't polished yet. Standing in the face of potential rejection. 

Fear of rejection has been a crippling force in my life, born of that childhood wound of abandonment, skewing the unique qualities of my wiring, coupled with all the mixed up, upside down signals and cues that a girl can gather over time. So waking a few days ago with that old familiar blanket beckoning me to retreat, whispering its fears of a world gone mad and problems so large nothing I do possibly matters, left me in a state of confusion. Was my awakening too late? Was none of it true? Did I step out too far? Did I make a mistake? A tunnel of darkness formed in the peripheral, the way an old black and white movie announces the end. Anxiety drove a series of everything is doomed, I am doomed, everything is pointless, texts to a few good friends. 

Then a fork appeared in the road before me. 

One direction I saw the tried and true, the comfortable, the safe and the familiar. The other direction looked wild and dangerous. Uncharted territory. I don't have a map for this new path. I don't know what will happen if I continue down this way. What will happen to me if I get lost? 

I sit looking forward, I turn to look behind, voices rise and tug at me luring me to come back! come back! Then something inside begins to rise. A memory of the old days working as a project manager, needing to assert myself to lead a team to get the job done. Unnatural behavior to me, so I learned to act "As if". As if I had confidence. As if I weren't shaking in my proverbial boots. As if I had something to offer. I took the advice I so frequently offered my children when they faced a challenging situation, other people can't see your insides, act as if you aren't intimidated or shy and they'll believe you. 

Acting as if isn't the same as trying to fit in. It isn't pretending. It is acknowledging what I know to be true and what I am trying to nurture inside of me, walking it out even before my legs are fully developed. Acting as if is a way of owning my own power. Of shushing the fearful voices and saying no to that heavy blanket of depression and shame. No! I will not cover myself and hide any longer! I will not give way to the old familiar, dysfunctional, comfortable patterns! No! 

Acting as if allows me the strength to show up and be seen. Only this time, instead of acting as if in order to convince you that I have something to offer, I am acting as if in order to affirm it to me. 











Thursday, August 08, 2019

Seeing My Reflection

Acre Of My Soul - Detail shot,   Encaustic Collage Assemblage by Crystal Marie Neubauer

Seeing my reflection
I broke a promise
and spoke
for the first time
after all these years

In my own voice,

before it was too late
to turn my face again.

~David Whyte, The True Vow

Saturday, August 03, 2019

This is going to be one of those posts...

The Face She Shows detail - shield series by Crystal Marie Neubauer
I'm having a bad day and I need to process it. And you may wind up unfollowing me as a result. I kept telling myself to get out my journal, but here I am writing a blog post instead. 

This is going to be one of those posts I warned you about- not my usual bubbly, optimistic, always a lesson to be learned, or a moral to the story, kind of posts. But one where I'm in the midst of it all and don't have a resolution yet. The kind where I may not make you feel good with the stuff I write. The kind where I might just sound like a victim, or an angry woman, or someone who has not got her shit together. Yet.

I posted some pretty art here to cushion the blow. Like one of those chipper songs on the radio that lures you in with it's upbeat tune and then smacks you between the eyes with morbid lyrics. 

You have been warned. *resisting the urge to use a smile emoji here, you know, so you might see me smiling and not as an angry hostile woman. 


The Face She Shows- detail   by Crystal Marie Neubauer
It's not one particular thing. It's a lot of particular things all at once. It's everything. Or maybe it just feels like it. It's one thing that happened on top of these things.

I woke today with runny eyes and snotty runny nose, all achey, and chilled, and fevery. Masto symptoms flaring from a reaction to something in my house that could still be mold. Or it could be the enzyme the landlord just used to fog for mold, fingers crossed. 

On top of feeling pretty damned crummy, I got some unwelcome news with one of the labs that just came back from the last round of tests. It wasn't a complete surprise because I knew this particular thing was a thing I'd be dealing with eventually, according to one of my lupus doctors who nonchalantly mentioned it years ago. There have been symptoms lately, so I knew it was flaring. I just didn't know how much. I'm not really ready to share too much yet. I'm still rolling around with it. Rolling with anger and sadness. Why now??? There will be other doctor appointments and another specialist and more meds and doubling down on eating clean - well okay, I haven't been doing such a hot job with that lately. Since it's been so hard to find foods that don't trigger me, I've been a bit permissive in some of the choices I've made. 

Don't judge. 

Or do. I don't think I care anymore. 

Okay, I don't want to care anymore whether you judge or understand or not. I want to be comfortable in my own skin. In my own choices and decision making. I'm getting there. 

I need to be well. I have a new grandson set to make an appearance any day now. I have the privilege of getting to stay with my granddaughter when mommy and daddy are at the hospital. I'll get to be there when baby brother comes home. I'll get to see my daughter and her husband have the joy of introducing him to big sister. Can life get any better than that?? 

I can't be sick. I've been hanging low on the couch today willing myself to be well, giving in to the feeling of defeat. With the housing situation. With the health issues. With the overwhelm of trying to drum up enough work and sales to pay my bills when just getting out of bed is a major accomplishment most days.

I've been posting things on facebook to make you laugh and to give you a lift. To make you stop and think about things bigger then you and me. It's what I do. It is the face I tend to show the world. Humor is my default. It feels good to laugh. 

And also you won't think I'm such a loser. 

I think we all do that on social media to a certain degree. We want to see the pretty and the polished lives of others. It gives us something to measure ourselves against. If one post makes us feel like a shitty person, we can keep scrolling until we find another post that helps us feel better about ourselves. 

It's not all that bad, but we do that so easily, don't we? Compare our insides to other people's outsides? 

And boy howdy do we all love a victory story. 

I love a feel good weepity weep victory story too. I watch them on tv and the movies. Read them in the books I choose, listen to them on podcasts. We just love to be inspired by the overcomers. But we are so uncomfortable when there's still so much to overcome. We don't want to watch the struggle. We want a two second version of the mess that comes between the challenge and the victory. And we want our victory stories to fit in a tidy box. 

Sometimes the chipper, positive vibe, prayerful, well meaning people can make it so much worse. When I first talked about my diagnosis I got the gamut of responses. It has been an eye opener to all the ways I've blown it when I was the one faced with being there for a friend going through hard times. I am as guilty as anyone of trying to "fix" the other person's problem with helpful suggestions without being asked for advice. I have also been guilty of being too chipper in the face of another person's crisis. Like that neighbor on The Simpsons - boy how diddly doodly, turn that frown upside down - everything's going to be just fine!

One person's first words were a chipper "wow! What an opportunity for God to get the glory!" 

Ahem -let's all have a crash course in empathy, shall we? First words when someone shares life altering news, or any news they feel upset about? Maybe just start with something sincere like "I am so sorry this is happening to you."  Period. You don't have to say anymore. You don't have to do anything. But if you feel like offering prayer or help or support. You can simply ask them if you can offer them prayer, or help, or support. 

You can listen to what that person says they need. It is probably something they really need. Like when I asked you all to help me pack and you came. You packed. You laughed with me and made me feel loved. Or like how so many people sacrificed financially in a really big way when my friend started a gofundme. She graciously waited until I had a chance to be more comfortable with it before she did it, and you graciously responded. That made me realize how very many of you are out there. How many of you actually feel connected to me in one way or another and wanted to show the love in this really amazing tangible way.

It's hard to remember, I know. I have years under my belt of getting it all wrong. Of saying all the wrong things when I really wanted to be there for a friend. I just told you a bit about that. 

There have been implied between the lines judgements that I have not prayed hard enough. That I am resistant to trying the right treatment. There have been quick change artists who are masters of talking about any subject other then the hard one you just tried to share with them. 

Damn this post really is turning into a pity party. It's not too late to walk away. Go now! I'll be fine, I promise. Save yourself! Run!

Oh, still here? Okay. Here's the real story. 

This week out of the blue an old "friend" texted me to say she's been thinking of me and praying for me and just wanted me to know that. Isn't that an absolute sweet thing to do?

Friend is in quotation marks, because 5 years after the last conversation with this person, I am able to look at it with more clarity. It was not a friendship, it was one of those weird situations where someone comes along and takes an interest in you precisely because they think they can save you. Because they think you need saving. The dynamics were never equal. It was always as mentor to mentee that this person would respond to me. I might have an amazing revelation or insight on my own and there was always some sort of correction to let me know I wasn't quite seeing things right. And there was encouragement. She was great at encouragement too, but it always felt like a teacher to her student, or big sister to the daft but loveable little sister left in her charge. But 5 years ago, when the long slow unraveling of my marriage began in earnest, I hadn't been able to fully acknowledge that yet. I was trying to shift the dynamics of this friendship to an equal peer to peer relationship, but we both had a load of toxic waste from our pasts getting in the way of making that transition happen. 

So just when I needed my friend the most, this person decided to ghost me. She didn't like that I was leaving my husband. Didn't believe I had reason to as a good Christian woman. Because you know in some of those circles it doesn't actually matter how the husband behaves, the onus of responsibility for keeping that marriage together is typically on the wife. So I was in process of making that decision, to leave what was a very unhealthy situation. And to make a long story a little shorter, after several conversations and many tears in which she tried to convince me I was making the wrong decision, she just ghosted her way out of my life. 

It didn't start that way. It was one of those honorable situations where good Christians tell the wayward sinner that they are on the wrong path and try to warn them to turn. (I was the sinner in this scenario). Then they bring two more friends to put in their two cents about the error of your ways - because verbally abusive toxic apathetic underfunctioning men just need their wives to be kinder, and more loving, and compliant. That's how they are shown Gods love -by their wives standing in the face of the unfaceable, no matter what. Don't even think about protecting yourself by leaving. 

You know, I sat in a tiny church service once and listened to the pastor tell a story about a good woman who was being beaten by her husband. She didn't yell and scream back- she stood silently and took her beating. She just stood there and took it and her loving demeanor afterwards actually changed her man. Her silence allowed him to see the love of Christ. And if Christ didn't run from his beating, then by golly who the hell are you to think you should? Yup. I shit you not. I sat there in the basement of that place knowing that this sermon was pointed my way, my shame pinning me to that seat. I wanted so badly to be a good christian woman. And things weren't so bad. I wasn't getting a physical beating. 

I tried. I worked hard at getting counseling for my own problems. Came to some hard reckonings about my life. And little by little I was healing. But this thing that kept me trying in this marriage, taking all the responsibility to fix it - that was a hard one to let go of. And I'm not saying he wasn't trying. He just hadn't come to his own reckoning yet. 

So coming to that place 5 years ago of actually making the break, that was something of a major victory for me. Yes it's true that I gave it another whirl after a couple of tough years on my own. I told you it was hard to let it go. It was hard as holy hell. And I needed support and I needed love. Not the tough love of a church that had told me often I was family, until they disagreed with my decision. And especially not the tough love of a friend who thought that she was on some high spirit led road following scripture by putting this lowly sinner out of the circle in order to bring me back to the flock on my knees. Fuck that.

To this day there hasn't been one iota of ownership from her. Not one peep to indicate she felt bad for her decision or had come to realize she errored in abandoning me. Nothing to indicate any sense of remorse for the way she handled it so shittily. so very shittily. Oh did I mention how they all, her included, rallied around poor pitiful him after I left? They poured out their love and support and their prayers over him for the abandoning thing I did. Good women just don't leave. They don't even dain to talk about what goes on behind closed doors with their husbands. It is up to us to protect our mans reputations at all costs. 

Do I sound angry? God it feels good to let it out. This is not my dirty secret to keep anymore. Toxic relationships were my specialty. With my church, my friends, and my marriage. 

Sidebar: Because I still do care a little too much what people think, and I still have my fair share of insecurities, let me stop here to defend myself a bit...

I've never walked away from my faith. I have a freaking amazing counselor who has been helping me to heal all of the wounds that kept me in very sick and very unequal relationships. And I have finally come to understand that my walk doesn't have to look like yours. I have a different audience and different circumstances then you. If I have any sort of testimony that Jesus wants me to tell, it speaks to different people than you. They get it. And I'm not disqualified because I swear or left a toxic relationship or have a fucking illness that God has not healed me from. To God be the glory - indeed. But He gets to decide what that looks like in my life, not you. So if I am not getting a miraculous healing and if I haven't had a perfectly hey-diddly-oh chipper attitude about every single thing I have on my plate right now, it doesn't mean I am lacking in faith. Good Lord have you even read the bible? Not everyone escaped their circumstances scot free. You are following a prosperity gospel if you think every sick person in your life just hasn't found the right way to pray or wants to hold on to their illness for some sinful godforsaken reason. What a terrible thing to think about someone.

Also you are a bit of an asshole. You hurt people with that attitude and that plain sucks. God doesn't need that kind of representation. Thankfully for both of us he has immeasurable grace.

God that friend liked to warn me about taking advantage of grace. 

Back to that "friend". Let me just give you all a bit of advice from my indignant and chaffed perspective. If you have ever ghosted a friend for any reason - disappeared out of their life for years on end because you couldn't deal with it, or you judged them for something, or like my story, you thought that some tough love would help bring them back to their senses, and like that parable of the prodigal son, you've likened yourself to the father waiting with open arms for your friend to return dragging her mud stained pig slothed self back to beg for your mercy, do not send random texts out of the blue to let her know you are praying for her and just wanted her to know that. You only made yourself feel better, or more righteous. Just go out and get a can of salt and pour it into the wound, why don't ya? 

No, do everyone a favor and go get your good self into some counseling and figure your own shit out. Then when you have a little humility and can actually own up to your own wayward way of handling things, and if you really think that person you ghosted needs to hear from you after all these years, start the conversation with I'm sorry I abandoned you. Own your shit. I am not the only one with wounds that make me do stupid or ugly things. 

Don't skimp on the counseling. The world needs you to be healed too.  

Gah - I warned you it was a bad day. Don't worry, I won't stay in this pit very long, I'll be able to tell this story with less vitriol and more grace one day. This is just the messy middle. I'll wind up on the other side of this with a deep appreciation for the new perspective I found in the midst of it. I always do.  


Shield Series L-R; The Eyes Have It, Selah, Tell Me No Lies, The Face She Shows
Encaustic Assemblage Shield Series by Crystal Marie Neubauer

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

To Get To The Center


Have you ever had that feeling you've been someplace before? 

You know the feeling, same experience, different circumstances. Or exact same circumstances, different life stage. Or exact same life stage, exact same experience. 

How many times do I have to go through this? How many times do I have to learn this same lesson? Am I ever going to get this right? Will this thing ever stop tripping me up?? Why do I have to deal with this again??

Why am I here again???????????

You know the feeling. When you're lamenting to God and he simply says "look up". 



Saturday, July 27, 2019

For Mature Audiences Only (Or for those who need to hear they are enough)

It’s been interesting watching myself dance around being as authentic and honest as I wanted to be in my writing. Having made a triumphant announcement in a sort of public way, by broadcasting live on Facebook, my intention. 

It was never about being able to say whatever popped out of my mouth unfiltered. God knows, I do plenty of that. It was about an awakening I’ve had through this process of creating my shields series. Awakening to the realization of the number of ways I edit myself. In person and online, in order to present a more pleasing and acceptable version of who I am. 

So with that awakening came conviction. I want, need, must take off the masks, put down the shields. You know the ones, the faces we carefully craft to show the world a polished up version of ourselves, the shields we construct from learned behaviors that have helped protect us for a time. 

Protection seems like a strange choice of words for this particular shield. Adaptation to early conditioning in order to gain approval might help you understand. We grow up in home environments that teach us different lessons throughout early life. 

Shake Your Money Maker        Encaustic Assemblage Shield by Crystal Marie Neubauer
Other little girls grew up being told they were the apple of their daddy's eye. One strong image of a little girl being tossed in the air and twirled around the room in her daddy's outstretched arms while he looks at her adoringly stays with me. Not a memory of my own experience, but memory as witness to my childhood friend and her father when he returned from work one evening. The kind of reception I craved from mine. 


Shake Your Money Maker-detail     Encaustic Assemblage Shield by Crystal Marie Neubauer

Messages other girls grew up with might have been on their beautiful smile and bright eyes. Perhaps they were told they were beautiful, smart, funny, curious, strong. My messages were always directed toward my body. I was clumsy, awkward, knobby kneed, flat chested. My messaging repeated throughout the years from my father included an encouraging "so lucky you got your ass from my side of the family" and "she doesn't need a bra, she needs a box of bandaids."

Puberty brought unwanted attention from drunken old men, eye's waggling as I trailed behind my father, chortling gleefully after me- "she's such a tease, jail bait, that one is". and "don't worry honey, I'm more of an ass man myself!"  


Shake Your Money Maker      Encaustic Assemblage Shield by Crystal Marie Neubauer

Girls growing up in the 70's and 80's were bombarded with messages about our bodies. Sure, we could bring home the bacon, but we damned well better fry it up in the pan wearing something pleasing. And for god's sakes eat a salad! Look at you, just packing on the pounds! How are you ever going to keep a man like that?

Girls growing up in dysfunctional family systems got the message compounded, mixed thoroughly, shaken, stirred, and offered up on the rocks. We knew what our worth was. We knew what was expected and we knew how to be accepted. Like many women my age, I grew up believing it was only skin deep, needed to be outfitted in short skirts, and flaunted. You caught your man looking sexy, and you kept him by being pure. Be rugged and outdoorsy and learn all the drivers names on the Nascar circuit. Sit entranced with the boys during the boxing match. Fix him his favorite snacks on Super Bowl Sunday.  And be in the mood at the drop of his pants. 


Shake Your Money Maker      Encaustic Assemblage Shield by Crystal Marie Neubauer

Inspired in part by the visually graphic coin purse placed in the center of the shield, (a symbol made iconic by artist Suzanna ScottShake Your Money Maker represents all the ways I learned to use my body to find safety in an unsafe world. Safety, I believed, that could only be found within the confines of marriage. The number of shields that I've had to put down before this one could be unearthed was surprising. 

But the biggest surprise in this awakening has been the shift from believing my body was my worth to understanding that my whole being is my worth. That my being is not weakened or missing something vital without a man. That indeed I am powerful and whole. 

And enough.