Can We Fix It? No We Can’t!: 5 Good Questions for the “Fixer” to Ask.

I have a confession to make: I’m a Fixer.

On the surface, this sounds good.

It’s great to want to fix things, right? It’s good to want to help people!

Look at Bob the Builder. He’s always fixing stuff. He seems cool, right?

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Well, there’s an important difference between me and Bob here. He can fix whatever comes his way. I can’t. Because a) I am not a construction worker, and b) this is reality.

The truth is, the things I usually try to fix are precisely the same things I don’t have any control over, or any business trying to fix, solve or change, mainly:

  • Others’ Emotions: Instead of just feeling things with people and entering into someone’s challenge, hurt or discomfort, my knee-jerk reaction is to make those negative feelings stop by “making them feel better”. This inhibits my ability to empathize appropriately and may keep them from exploring and learning from what they are feeling at their own pace.
  • Others’ Circumstances or Situations: Again, this comes from what is probably a very normal feeling: not wanting others to experience pain or difficulty, wanting to protect people I care about, etc. But I too often get it twisted and jump in with unsolicited advice or plans that may not be what that person wants or needs.

Both of these can- and usually do- create an unhealthy dynamic of codependency.

I have been a “Recovering Fixer” for years, and it is a tendency I still have to do battle with daily. When it is at its worst, this compulsion to “help and fix and make better” leaves me feeling confused, and under an immense amount of pressure.

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Thankfully, my former therapist gave me some great advice, which I try to use anytime  someone I care about comes to me with a problem, a difficult emotion, or a need for input. She said, instead of giving advice right away, ask questions. This will help the other person take the lead without you making their choices for them, but it still puts you in a position to help in an appropriate way.

The questions she suggested are written on an index card, which I carry in my wallet to use as a reference. This way I don’t have to rely on my memory in the heat of the moment.

They are:

  1. What are your options?
  2. Which option seems best to you?
  3. Can I help you?
  4. What Do you need from me?
  5. How can we get through this together?

I have found these questions- and similar ones that flow naturally from the answers to these questions- to be an immense help. They put my loved one in the driver’s seat, keep the friendship healthy and not too one-sided, and still allow me to help in almost every case.

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I have by no means “arrived” when it comes to this struggle. I still find my well-intentioned yet bumbling, knee-jerk responses to the difficulties of others trying to take over almost daily. But I am committed to practicing ask first, advise later (if needed), and so far it has made a big difference.

I would love to hear from you.

Are you a Fixer, too? If so, what strategies help you?

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Fear & Shaming in Nashvegas

Calvin & Hobbes by Bill Watterson

Hello. I’m Beth.  And I am afraid.

I am afraid I am not really a writer because a real writer wouldn’t be afraid to write, or wouldn’t wonder whether or not she was a writer.
I am afraid that other people don’t think I am a writer, either, because anyone can blog.
I am afraid I am not a writer because writers are artists, and sharing your opinions, struggles, or personal stories is not art.
I am afraid of my own opinions about social and cultural issues: that they are too too lax or too controversial for my religious friends, too intolerant for my friends who are not religious or who are not a part of my religion, incorrect, inaccurate, biased, or in some other way wrong.
I am afraid when my opinions are popular, because that makes me a conformist, a sheep, godless, or one of those weirdo Christians (depending on the day, and the issue or topic being explored).
I am afraid when they are unpopular because they might be off-base, informed by some unknown bias, or outright wrong.
I am afraid to have conversations or to post writing about these opinions on social media because I am afraid of being judged, criticized, or proven wrong in a way that makes me feel small.
I am afraid to send my posts to Huffington Post anymore, because one piece that took me months to write drew pages of criticism and trolling.
I am afraid to post to my own blog anymore, because who calls themselves a blogger that never blogs, or: who the heck wants to read a blog about someone who just talks about how afraid she is of literally everything?
I am not a good enough writer because I am not a strong-stable-or-together enough woman, an independent-enough advocate, or a smart-enough blogger.

***
I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.- Nelson Mandela 

“There is no fear in love. Perfect love casts out fear.”- 1 John 4:12

I realized recently- after a series of debilitating panic attacks and depressive episodes- that so much of what I did (or don’t do) was driven by fear and its close cousin, shame. This realization wasn’t due to some philosophical epiphany or accrual of great wisdom, but because whenever John or another loved one asked me what was wrong, my answer would invariably start with either “I’m scared [or worried] that. . .” or with a litany of things I disliked or even hated about myself.

Then I started connecting the dots. I hadn’t produced anything creative in months upon months, in spite of yearning to write to you all to share my stories about my totally rad new marriage, my struggles with the unpredictability of nonprofit sector employment, or my resolution to read more books (which I am actually keeping, because I barely read any books last year: score!).  I had stopped stirring the pot in conversations and on social media, and was posting way less satire or evocative writing from others I admire. People were asking me questions like “How are you doing. . . really?” and making their best concerned faces.

“Fine,” I would say. But I was really just a time bomb composed almost entirely of frustration, tears and calling myself names that I would never call someone else.

In my rush to keep my negative emotions and struggles with shame, fear, and self-loathing a secret (so I wouldn’t burden anyone, or be perceived as a weak, weepy, weirdo, etc.), I kept the joys and triumphs a secret, too. I numbed and closed off all my emotions (because you can’t pick and choose what you numb), and kept connection and intimacy at bay across the board.

I finally got to the point where I was afraid of how ashamed I was, and ashamed of how afraid I was. “That’s enough. This has got to stop.” I actually said those words aloud, and that was when the clouds began lifting.

In addition to leaning in to the rigor of the Lenten services and prayers, I began reading and discussing (amongst a few loved ones) Daring Greatly by Dr. Brené Brown.

[Note: although my theology shares a lot of common ground with the principles in the book, it is research-based and practical in nature: I would highly recommend it for your personal enrichment, Lenten or otherwise.]

I admit, I was embarrassed to buy a book from the self-improvement section, but to say my self didn’t need any improvement would mean I should also be buying books about lying.

Anyway, Dr. Brown gets into the nitty-gritty of shame and vulnerability and how they cripple creativity, relationships, and self-worth. She unpacks over a decade of research, and suddenly I found myself saying “I am scared of everything, and that is a problematic situation in several ways. It’s science!” That was when I really started to grasp that fear and shame were not only holding me back from being creative, but were suffocating and hiding entire parts of myself and my struggle through the joys and the difficulties of life. I was fed up with who I had become, and the fact that I neither knew nor recognized her.

So I decided to take baby steps by posting a detailed account of this battle for you and God and everyone else to read about and weigh in on via the Internet.

This doesn’t mean I can say I will blog every week or every month, or that those fears I listed up at the top have stopped, or will stop anytime soon. I haven’t figured it out, I haven’t vanquished any foes. I have just realized that all of these things, even if they are huge and scary, can be pushed through, can be voiced, and their power over me can be diminished.

I don’t want to deprive anyone of my creativity or my individuality, or of my regular ole weird self, because I would rather look back and say, hey, my writing was worth it to me. Or, hey, at least I pushed through it. Being brave doesn’t mean that you’re not scared of the monsters under the bed, it means you call them out and fight back. This is a vulnerable process and we have to do it in some way every day. But I’m starting to see just how “worth it” the fight is.

What we give to the world out of our uniqueness is our art, whether it is a painting, a blog, an academic paper, a good meal, or an honest connection to another person. Whatever you do to be your true self is worth it, even though doing it is scary. You are not alone. Success is not having no battles to fight, it’s fighting and and strengthening and pushing through that makes us better in the long run.

There’s no way I could end this post saying “That’s it, I’m done with fear.” But I am done with being ruled by fear (and shame). I’m done with making excuses, with disconnection. I want to be myself, and for people I encounter through my writing or in my life to actually know who that is.

Don’t Let the Bastards Get You Down

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A few weeks ago, I found out that myself and 11 other coworkers will be losing our jobs after December 31 [Happy New Year!] The agency that we subcontract with is backing out of the contract 3 months early for their “convenience” and as a direct result of our constant advocacy for systems change in a program hampered by bureaucracy and disconnect. The way our organization has been treated makes it harder and harder to get up to go to work as the end of the year draws near. It was, and is, an infuriating example of callousness. 

Around the same time, there were people very dear to me [including my Someone] whose friends weren’t acting like friends. Multiple stories of unkindness, judgmental attitudes, and impatience were in the air. With all that, a busy schedule of work and teaching, and the constant ache of Transatlantic lovesickness, morale on Team Beth has been at an all-time low lately.

But through it all, I have found solace in some advice my stepdad gave me several years ago, during my 3-year-long struggle to find a job, after yet another rejection letter had left me angry and in tears at the kitchen table.

Illegitimi non carborundum,” he said cryptically.

“Huh?”

“Don’t let the bastards get you down.”

People can, in fact, be mean just for the sake of it. People hurt each other, even when given the benefit of the doubt. People are unkind, even when they have been shown kindness. It is normal to let it frustrate me. But I can’t let it get me down. Because when I stop at anger and begin to carry only anger around, no one wins. When I let it get me down and believe the things their words or actions are saying about who I am, they win. 

When I choose to be kind: I win.

Before you call me a Pollyanna: I can tell you right now that I am not always kind as I should be [or kind at all] in the moment of offense, and it is not always possible to go back and be kind to the same person who was unkind to me.  I also can’t [and shouldn’t] pretend like nothing is wrong when I’ve been hurt or mistreated.

So, when confronted with outright meanness, what’s a girl to do? Here are three things I will try my hardest to do going forward to help get myself through the end of the year [or at least through tomorrow]:

 

  • Shut my mouth. It is entirely possible I won’t have anything nice to say, and shouldn’t say it at all.
  • Pray for that person [or more accurately my lava-hot anger towards that person], and for something or someone else to focus my attention and energy on. After all the Good Book tells me that “Love Your Neighbor” does, in fact, include my enemy.
  • Be kind to someone else, the next chance I get. 

The truth is, no matter how mean someone is to me, no matter how small that the behavior of a Jerky-Jerkface makes me feel, being mean back does nothing but mirror their behavior and make me angrier.

And as soon as I let unkindness keep me from being kind, the Bad Guys win.

So don’t let them win.

Be kind, as best you can.

Don’t let the bastards get you down.

Let them make you kind of person the world needs: a better one.

 

blogging the life fantastic

I don’t do nearly as much reading as I used to. In order for me to read something all the way through nowadays, I have to be transfixed. Captivate me. Make me think. Challenge me. Throw me into the fray right alongside the hero. When I write, it is no different. Whether you love it or hate it, I want you to feel something when you read it. I want to share what I see with you, whether it’s pretty or ugly.

So, why haven’t you heard from me lately? Is it because Moonrise Kingdom just came out on DVD, and I’ve been holed up watching it on constant loop? No [although that is an excellent guess if you know me well at all]. Is it because I’ve been working on a masterpiece to rival all previous blogs? As a matter of fact. . . no.

Moonrise Kingdom, original fan art by Adam Juresko

I haven’t written lately for the precise reason I should have: my life has been challenging and exciting, exhilarating and heartbreaking, romantic and infuriating. There has been so much fodder for creativity in this emotional tour de force that I should be crowding your inboxes. But I have been painfully silent.

For that, I apologize.  I am careful to avoid details on these posts that may make others uncomfortable, and the situations themselves are nothing unique to human beings. But the honest truth, nonetheless, is that my life has hurt lately. It has made me angry, and it has confused me to no end. I have been knocked off my feet, cried many an ugly-cry, eaten too many things that weren’t good for me, and listened to the saddest folk music imaginable. But, amidst the maelstrom, I noticed something.

I was still waking up each day, still going to a job and coming home to an apartment, and still surrounded by the love of God, and the people he has given me to talk to, buy me beer, and bake me cookies. My life has managed to keep going, despite my complete uncertainty of how it will do so, or where it will take me along the way.

I recently watched an incredible film, two days in a row, that came onto my radar at the right time. In Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (for the Elderly and Beautiful), the owner of the hotel says, “In India, we have a saying: everything will be alright in the end. So if it is not alright, it is not yet the end.” Thanks for the knowledge bomb, Focus Features. I sat there on the couch, ruminating. Curses, I thought, I have officially been indie-schooled.

Even crazier was the thought that, not only would things eventually change for the better, but that there were already so many things in my life that had. When I stopped and began to think about it, I realized it very clearly. I slightly amended Joe’s little prayer in Joe vs. the Volcano tonight as I was winding down for the evening: “Dear God . . . thank you for my life.”

This doesn’t mean I’m loving every minute. There are still things I regret, and things I would change in a second if I could. There are moments when I wish I was a different person, and entire days where I want to be in a different place. My insides are still a whirlwind. I’m lucky if I can utter a clear “Lord, have mercy” some days. But it’s my life, I’m glad I have one, and I’m doing the best I can with it.

To everyone who has loved and supported me this past month, near and far, I say thanks. To everyone who has taught me with their silence, I  say thanks. And to all of you who have allowed me to be myself, even at its most frazzled, I owe you big time.

Thank you all for listening. Next time I won’t wait so long to tell you more.

it takes all kinds.

I have been debating whether to write this for weeks now. And once I decided to write it, I turned over and over in my head the question of whether or not to share it with anyone [and everyone, as the case may be].

At the risk of sounding a bit Doom and Gloom, I have to level with you guys and say this is the hardest, weirdest, most difficult Lenten season I have had yet. There has been lots of uncertainty, sadness, fear, brokenness, and anxiety. There has been a little reprieve here and there. But even that seems strained and out of place.

So, if we haven’t talked in a while, forgive me. I haven’t known where to start, and I haven’t wanted to trap you under a fast-flowing stream of molten Sad.

It’s the strangest feeling; it’s not just introspection. It’s something like isolation. Lately, I feel like I am a million miles away from how my life used to be. And not in the inspirational, empowering chick pop kind of way, either. And I feel a million miles away from figuring any of it out. In spite of the love I know surrounds me, it seems the comfort of even my closest friends is still somehow out of my reach. My whole life has that feeling you get when you realize you are light years away from the stars.

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Philo of Alexandria [or Plato, or your mom] once said, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle.” Everyone. The guy that cut you off in traffic, the girl who is mean to you at work, the annoying close-talker seated next to you on the bus. Every single person you come into any kind of contact with has it rough in some way. Sounds kind of emo, right? But held up to the right light, it can be comforting to know we’re not alone, even though it is easy to feel that way when the going gets dodgy.

We’re all getting tested this time of year. Lent (and life, to an extent) seems to be the kind of thing where, if it’s not difficult, you’re probably not going about it the right way. At least that’s what I’ve been telling myself lately.

But we have the solace of Grace to comfort us, even when it seems very dark. And when it’s difficult to discern its coming from Above, we can do our best to share it amongst ourselves. In other words, hang in there. I love you. You’re doing just fine.

O, Lord and Master of my life

Grant me not a spirit of sloth, meddling, lust for power and idle talk.

But grant unto me, thy servant, a spirit of integrity, humility, patience, and love.

Yea, O Lord and King, grant me to see my own faults, and not to condemn my brother,

For Thou art blessed unto Ages of Ages. Amen.- the Prayer of St Ephrem

Super Topical Vlog: Thanksgiving Edition!

Knowing the word “topical” was going to be used in the title of this post meant that I had to try to resist the barrage of impulses to say something about a “topical storm”. . . Sorry. It was right there. It was too easy.

I am not going to bore you with details about my day-to-day, other than to say it remains relatively unchanged, and I am doing what I can to press forward and make the best of it.

I am not going to write anything about Plymouth Rock metaphorically landing on any particular person, group, cause, or sentiment.

I am not going to post recipes. God knows you could have guessed that.

This is all I came here to do:

Refresh/replay as needed.

Love you all.

hey, bert. you awake?

I have just made an interesting stride in self-discovery. It seems that- in terms of personality quirks and interpersonal tendencies- I have found my proverbial mirror. And here he is:

That’s right. Ernie. If you have ever wanted insight into my personality or behavior patterns, but have for some reason been lacking the courage to ask me, look no farther. You have found your answer[s]. Here are a few similarities I noticed when conducting some research on the matter [And yes, it is a lot of work looking through pages of genius vintage Sesame Street on YouTube for the perfect clips. But for you guys, it is a sacrifice I am willing to make]:

Ernie can be a bit overbearing.

I admit it. I like to talk to my friends. . .  often. I like to keep them abreast of my goings on. It’s very important to me that they are involved in my life. . . and sometimes it seems like I can’t live without them. In the end, they are very patient and gracious. They remain “just a phone call away” no matter how many times I call.

 

Ernie is sneaky [and snarky, at that].

Ernie will sometimes go to great lengths- even if he has to trick Bert- in order to be able to his favorite things. And he tends to exhibit a bone-dry wit while doing so. But, you have to admit, he’s so doggone cute no matter what! And that’s what matters, right?

Ernie can be noisy/messy/clumsy and otherwise not-so-glamourous.

He’s loud. He’s boisterous. He’s socially heightened when no one else is. He likes to stay up past his bedtime, and expects everyone else to do the same in order to keep him company. I tell you, the more I learn about Ernie, the more I understand what I must be like to live with- and the more I appreciate the kind and gentle souls who do.

In the end, he just wants to help.

As silly as he is, as not-quiet as he is, and as many hairs as he may have caused his friends to pull out by the root, Ernie just wants to help in the end. He just wants to spent time with his best buddies, or tell them a great story, or get them out of a jam. His approach may be unorthodox, but it is sincere and genuine.

So, as usual, the credit goes to all of you for putting up with so many of my antics so often and for so long. In case there was any doubt in your minds, you are all my best buddies. And I couldn’t be who I am if you all weren’t right there with me- willing to be in the same boat.

What can I say? The Street can teach us a lot about ourselves.