Farewell to 2013

The final day of 2013 is often times a day of reflection. My Facebook has been full of good memories and vows to make the most out of the New Year. 2014 is just around the corner and as I sit here in my living room in Oregon I find myself decidedly underwhelmed, but glad.

2013 has been a year of self-discovery. From beginning to end I have had experiences that have reminded exactly who I am.

My friend Tom has a blog and he picked a word for the year. His word was identity and strangely enough I think it is my word, too. It is really the only one that appropriately sums up the year for me. Facing down the New Year I believe I understand who I am just a bit better than I did when I was waiting eagerly for the clock to strike midnight and 2013 to arrive.

2013 was a year of friendship. I got the chance to live surrounded by people who accepted me, encouraged me, and loved me even when I didn’t necessarily love myself. Through friendship I got a glimpse about what it means to be accepted and finally figured out it is okay to accept myself, too.

2013 was a year of accomplishment. I lived out of state for the first time on my own. I paid rent, bought groceries, and worked nearly full time in two jobs. In the fall I began my own research project. I TA’ed in two classes and learned that I loved teaching and am not half bad at it. I graduated from University. I moved back home.

2013 was a year of challenges. This one is kind of a misnomer because every year has its own challenges. However, this year I faced some new ones. I felt severe loneliness (often self-inflicted) during the summer as I lived on my own for the first time. My grandmother passed away. My dad had a stroke. I had to move back home after graduation to a post-stroke father and a mother with an injured ankle. I have been challenged in many ways but have persevered and learned.

2013 was a year of freedom. I celebrated four years of no self-harm in early December. I learned what it meant to love and be loved. I realized that I did not have to fit a specific mold, graduate on time, get a certain job, or go to grad school right away. I found peace in the fact that the life society thrusts on people from the very start often isn’t attainable and that more often than not life never fits the standard mold.

Finally, 2013 was a year of finding purpose and meaning. The most valuable lesson was one I learned from Viktor Frankl in his book Man’s Search for Meaning: every situation has purpose and meaning, even the bad ones…and as long as there is meaning then despair has no place.

What will 2014 bring? I don’t know. A new adventure, perhaps. A new job, I hope. More friendships, accomplishments, challenges, freedom, purpose and meaning, I expect.

So bring on the New Year. Let’s do this. 

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Four Years of Freedom

I don’t really like to talk about self harm. Strangely enough I’d prefer to discuss pornography and the Church than talk about self harm.

Today, though, I get to celebrate four years of no self harm. So I’m going to talk about it. 

I have a difficult time being proud of that because there is always a little voice in the back of my head that tells me it is a dumb accomplishment. Every year I feel as if I’m able to conquer that voice just a little more and this year I’m shoving this blog post in its face because four years of no self harm is something to celebrate.

So if you haven’t figured it out yet, I used to be a self harmer. I had some dysfunctional family dynamics growing up that led to some unhealthy coping mechanisms. One was porn, which I’ve blogged about before, but another was self harm. Out of a place of utter desperation and frustration I used to cut myself. It is hard to even type that because it seems so irrational. Even as a former self harmer I have a difficult time explaining exactly why it helped. All I know is that it did. It was not healthy, but it got me through moments where I felt like I had no other choice.

There are a lot of stigmas surrounding self harm. The biggest one is that people self harm for attention. I hear a lot of people use this one when they see teenagers hurt themselves and it breaks my heart. Even if there is some truth, maybe it is time to give that hurting teenager positive attention, because if they need attention so badly that they resort to harming themselves then odds are there is a deeper issue.

Don’t just dismiss the deeper issue because someone is doing something for attention.

Another one is less of a stigma, more of an assumption. When I talk about self harm most people think it refers to cutting. In my case that is true. It is not, however, true in all cases. There are many other ways people hurt themselves and unfortunately a lot of them are easy to hide. Some people bruise themselves (“Oh, I just ran into a door”), others burn themselves (“Yeah, hurt myself baking again”), others pull out their hair, bang their heads into things, claw and pick at their skin, and a million other things that constitute self harm. Self harm is more than cutting.

So on the fourth anniversary of my sobriety, I wanted to bring attention to something that is very much a problem. I also wanted to share because I know there are strugglers out there who need to hear that they are not alone and that there is hope. I won’t lie and say that everything is perfect. There are moments where I feel like I am spiraling out of control and all I want to do is track down a knife and cope in my old unhealthy ways…but those days are few and far between, and thanks to the people in my life I don’t have to go through them alone anymore.

My biggest advice to anyone struggling, whether it is with self harm, pornography, or anything else that hinders your ability to find joy in life and brings you shame, is to reach out. Tell someone. E-mail a pastor anonymously, post it on an anonymous board, tell it to your dog, to your hamster, or if you’re brave tell it to a friend, an adult, a parent. The first step to learning how to cope in a healthy manner is this: Learn to cope with people, not alone.

As always, my e-mail inbox is open to anyone who needs to share: rdlenix@yahoo.com

Above all else I give thanks to God for being with me every step of the way. Here is to year five. 

The lie of loneliness

I am a student worker in two departments at my university. The first one I was hired in, and where I have been working for two years, is the Department of Learning Technology. It is the department that nobody really knows about, but everyone needs something from at some point. It is a funny little department but I love it with all my heart. Tonight we went out, the five of us, to happy hour in order to celebrate my boss’ new job (even if it means leaving us). As we sat around the table laughing, eating, and being merry I realized something that should not have taken me this long to realize:

The biggest lie I’ve ever told myself is that I’m alone.

Ever since I was a kid I’ve isolated myself from people. There are a lot of factors that play into it, including part of my upbringing, but the bottom line is that I have consistently chosen to be alone. Perhaps I didn’t have those founding relationships that are so important to children and I never learned to really talk about what was going on in my head, but that does not excuse the fact that I have always had a choice to speak out. I have always had the choice to accept kindness. Yet I so rarely do because I have somehow convinced myself that no one could understand where I’m coming from and even more so, there is no way anyone could love me as I am.

Oh how wrong I have been. Twenty two years and I’m still figuring it out.

Tonight at dinner it hit me: Every time I’ve struggled, every time I’ve had a bad day, every time I’ve hidden away and avoided people, and every time I have needed someone there have been people within arm’s reach. If I needed to sit in my boss’ office and vent it would not have been a problem. If I needed to sit in a co-worker’s office and cry, any of them would have sat with me in it. These people that I have been able to laugh with, play with, work with, and enjoy life with are not just in it for the good times but would be there for the bad ones as well.

Why? Because that is what family does, and these people are definitely family. Of course we all have our imperfections, our unwillingness-es to reach out, and our own insecurities that leave us feeling threatened and isolated, but they pale in comparison to the love and affection we have for one another.

For all the times I’ve told myself I’m alone there have been people waiting at arm’s length, ready to be there for me if I would just ask.

So to anyone who feels alone, you’re not. To anyone who feels like their problems wouldn’t be understood, they might not be right away, but with time even the most complicated problems can be understood. To the reader out there who feels like their problem is too big, too scary, too dark…it isn’t. People care. It is hard to believe it and even harder to reach out but I have found that sometimes we just have to push through the difficulty, do what doesn’t come naturally, and allow ourselves to be surprised when it works out in our favor.

Would you turn away someone you know who needed you in a moment of vulnerability? No?

Odds are the people in your life won’t turn you away either. 

The Problem with Life’s Carbs

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The end of the school year has always been an interesting time for me.

It means saying goodbye to friends who are going to their respective homes for the summer. It means a break from the structure that school provides. At the end of the school year there’s no more homework, no more papers, and suddenly more time than I know what to do with.

I have a hard time with not being busy.

When I’m busy it is easy to live. When I have a set schedule, when I have to show up to classes at a certain time, when other school obligations keep me hopping from one thing to the next, it is easy to drift on by. Structure keeps me from having to stop and just sit and be “un-busy.” Structure keeps me safe.

I’ve found, however, that it is in the times I step out of this structure I’ve built for myself that I grow and learn the most. Classes are great, school obligations are great, even work is great. However, none of them will ever truly fulfill me on a deeper level. They fill up my time, they take up space in my head, and they keep me moving but in the end they are just empty carbs. When they’re all burned off they leave me just as hungry as I began.

So as I’m looking at the summer that lies ahead of me I can’t help but wonder how I will handle being outside of the structure. When I stop eating carbs, what will fill me up? What will take the place of the hole that is left when everything that school and business brings crumbles away for three and a half months?

It is going to be the relationships I step into, the things I do because I’m passionate about them and called to them that will fill me. The good leafy greens and proteins that will help fill me and build me up will be the memories I make engaging with people instead of a textbook. The good stuff will be the times I get to go and just exist for a time. I will be filled by those moments where I get to be a human being instead of a human doing as an old pastor of mine used to say.

Being outside of the structure is going to be hard and won’t always taste good, sure. After all, sometimes the stuff that is good for us isn’t always the most rewarding from the get go. Who wants broccoli when they could have a warm, right-out-of-the-oven chocolate chip cookie? Alright, I know a few people, but I think the majority would agree that the cookie is far more tempting, even if it is far less filling. Yet it is broccoli that is going to give my body the vitamins and minerals it needs and in the same way the harder things in life are going to be the most edifying.

In the end, when in previous years I would dread the oncoming summer, I find myself in a different place. This summer will be challenging, no doubt more-so than all of the ones preceding it, but I have a feeling that it is going to be one where I will come out of it feeling full of new lessons, new friends, and new experiences.

And of course every now and again I’ll snack on a cookie, bask in the structure of work and educational pursuits, and that will be okay too.