Monday, July 9, 2018

I Stopped Going to Church and Started Going to Therapy

Other than prayer, writing has always been my most dependable therapeutic source for resolving internal conflict(s), but during the first half of 2018, the urge to write began to recede; no longer prominent as my cherished cloak of protection. I'd lost my supply of oxygen. Barely breathing, trusting that this would only be a temporary setback, I attempted to confront the matter alone.  

Declaring occupational exhaustion as an excuse, I hadn't been to church since February 25, 2018. But I was still capable of prioritizing everything else. Perhaps there was another reason why I was inadvertently hiding. 

The product of a disciplined upbringing and a newlywed flourishing in not one, but two careers, how could I even fix my lips to complain about something so minuscule as a normal case of writers' block? It'll pass, I hoped.

Roughly six months later, frustrated and unable to create, it felt like a bomb was seconds away from rupturing my entire chest cavity. Losing my creativity was equivalent to losing my mind; I could not allow my heart to be at risk, too. I struggled with the conviction of needing professional assistance. So, I prayed about it. And God connected me with someone who possessed the skills to lure me away from darkness. Still, I wondered if He would somehow be displeased that I did not solely rely on Him for guidance:

Dear God,

Although my faith has been a bit fickle lately, I have not given up. There is no need to even explain my recent mental state, because you know, better than anyone, how much I’m pushing to overcome this undiagnosed condition. And the revelations I have discovered after just three months of therapy are frightening, yet freeing. Upon realizing that cognitive torment was starving my spiritual appetite, I needed to step away from the practices of religious coercion and get to know You for myself. The routine of worshipping publicly for holy deliverance became tiring; and eventually I got lost trying to juggle the upkeep that is required for a Christian's preordained calling. Please cover me as I strive to erase the façade...

"I don't want to be diagnosed with anything. I just need to know why I can't write," I bluntly told my therapist at the start of our initial meeting. A diagnosis would further immobilize me; it'd intimidate the words and prevent them from spilling onto my palette of colorful expression. She understood my concern, although, in the early stages of our discussions, I could hardly articulate the extent of my psychological turmoil. Four sixty-minute sessions later, all of a sudden, I was piecing together often-ignored details about myself.

Not being able to write is equivalent to paralysis, restriction, imprisonment. For months, I suppressed thoughts that were battling viciously inside my head. Now, released from bondage, they have been granted permission to soar and be interpreted from various angles. 

My therapist helped me realize that a new identity was forming as I was approaching marriage; a person I could hardly recognize because she was a combination of what everyone expected me to be. Everyone except my husband. Since falling in love with him almost five years ago, he has never asked for or demanded anything other than reciprocation. So I’m not exactly sure how or why these wild emotional spells seeped into my first year of being legally attached to someone who simply wants me to exist authentically. Nothing about the dynamic of our relationship changed, besides having more consideration and respect for each other’s private space and personal goals. But, internally, things were shifting. The more I witnessed or read about specific spousal behaviors, I would ‘alter’ myself accordingly. As a result of wanting to be in control, my artistry suffered. Early on, I learned that my best writing is unregulated and unscripted. However, the possibility of being scrutinized for non-wifelike tendencies scared me. I am finally discerning why.

I’ve heard, way too many times, that the first year of marriage is the worst. Maybe the anticipation of unknown hardships caused distress, but essentially the hardships were created rather than invited. 

It bothers me when relatives ask “Where’s your husband?” before inquiring about my well-being with a genuine “How are you?” It's as if my existence took a backseat to my new title, causing a separation of self. Wife first. Woman second. No longer an individual, but a remnant of someone else. Some married women overlook this seemingly harmless acknowledgment, but when directed towards a woman like me who’s ambitious and impressively accomplished, it’s borderline insulting. 

“Who shaped your perception of what it means to be a wife? If you don’t live up to that perception, who are you disappointing?” My therapist inquired.
“Lots of people,” I quickly replied, trying to dissect numerous marital concepts in one sitting. The idea of adhering to traditional customs overwhelmed me. I was failing at conforming. But who said I had to succeed at it?

While reflecting on childhood-to-adult maturation, I realized that my parents introduced me to the functions of role reversal, proving that it is possible to maintain a non-traditional union—one that is designed to suit the two souls it encompasses.

“Who are you trying to impress?” My therapist continued to probe. A question my husband had asked me before. 

“I don’t know.” She’d warned me in our very first session that this was an unacceptable phrase. 

For some reason, I’ve always aimed to impress choreographed cheerleaders, faltering supporters and phony friends who constantly boosted my ego. Validation became a necessary drug. And I was in desperate need of rehab.

As the days pass and my one-year anniversary ticks closer, I can sense the relief. Although I was claiming defeat, I have thrived at adjusting to a new life that most convinced me to believe that I was too busy and too unavailable for.

“You have to choose—career or love,” I’d imagine them whisper. How did I allow the nagging voice of society to become my valued blueprint?

When I began preparing for marriage, I immediately started feeling like I’d have to sacrifice every part of myself that I'd branded before my husband in order to be a “good wife”, whatever that means. But many hardly seek to comprehend the intellectual disposition of a goal-digging woman. We’re not built to just submit and vanish into the background. Few men are willing to truly encourage our desire to maintain an identity amidst their presence, but I’m grateful to have a husband who is supportive of my endeavors, while gently asserting his needs.

Nevertheless, even while on the verge of my breakthrough, I was still nudging my way past discomfort and sleeping away doubt, until I watched a short documentary entitled WTFIMH (What the F*ck Is Mental Health?).

“We can’t heal what we don’t reveal,” a line that was uttered which allowed me to become secure in sharing my pain, my flaws, my shortcomings. Specifically, my addiction to social media and reliance on complete strangers to substantiate my achievements, whether personal or professional. Moving in silence only serves me well if I’m actually being productive, but overlooking the fact that I’d been depicting a filtered image of perfection was devastating. Disclosing this truth outwardly and initiating conversations with family members to learn more about the generational history that is the structure of my reality was the first step to long-term healing.

Who am I? is a rhetorical question that is only answered within the day-to-day acceptance of my right to just be… without the added pressure of satisfying others. During my search for uninterrupted understanding, God has reassured me that it is OK to live my best life on my own accord, disregarding who I might offend in the process. That’s the way it should have always been. That’s the way it shall remain. 

Furthermore, I ended my spiritual drought by attending church yesterday and the worship energy struck me as soon as I crossed my legs inside the pew. Any confusion that I may have ever had about my beliefs dissolved instantly as the Word seemed to be designed just for my predicament.

My notes on the subject From Wilderness to Promise:
  • There had to be a test. God had to see if you were worthy of what He was getting ready to do in your life. If He elevated you where you were, He would have lost you.
  • God needed to destroy your plans because your plans weren't big enough. He has more for you than 'that'.
  • Before God can bless you, He has to break you. Sometimes God has to beat you to get your attention.
  • God doesn't just bless you for you; He blesses you to be a blessing.
  • You don't get messed up going through. You get messed up holding still.
  • It would be crazy to give up now. Double or nothing!
  • God meant it for your good. Everything you went through has you where you are right now.
  • You are standing at the wall and the wall is separating you from your greatness. 
  • Start marching! God's not going to show up until you walk it out of your system.
  • Walk into peace, into joy...

Coincidentally, this timely message corresponds with the very song I listened to almost daily as motivation for extracting myself out of a period that posed a threat to my sanity. I needed to stand firm in my own beliefs, knowing that my desire for God's anointing was a primary necessity rather than a secondary inheritance of other people's principles.

"God will break you to position you, break you to promote you and break you to put you in your right place. But when He breaks you, He doesn't hurt you. When He breaks you, He doesn't destroy you. He does it with grace..." 
- Tasha Cobbs Leonard

It is assumed, by some, that therapy and religion cannot simultaneously reside in a domain that effectively contributes to one's healthy growth. My present experience refutes that misplaced judgment. Prayer and monitored meditation, when combined as two respective, equally essential methods for personal development, have the power to forge an impactful shield that defends us from the world's chaos, while permanently curing the invisible scars we are usually afraid to examine. 

Let this vulnerable disclosure represent illustrated proof of how the Lord works, obviously and mysteriously. Tears are beginning to flow as I've finally overcome the confinements of this crippling creative anxiety to conclude the most transparent thinkpiece I have ever published. More aware of my Godly assignment(s) and fighting fear with every fiber of my being, I will cease running from transparent expression and continue addressing my failures head-on. Despite the losses I have endured, I am a gracefully broken chosen vessel and the promise awaits me.



Wednesday, October 4, 2017

He Put A Ring On It, But When Can I Take It Off? 

"Don't you take that ring off!" My elderly aunt scolded me as I was about to twist off and preserve my precisely-cut diamonds while preparing to devour a messy meal. It barely pinched past my knuckle before settling back into a secure position... 

What about when I'm cleaning raw meat? 
Washing dishes? 
Shampooing my hair? 
Working out?

Her matter-of-fact rebuttal: "Wear gloves!"

Out of all the marriage tips I've received — "Keep God first", "Talk it out", "Stay in love" — none of them resonated as much. Too cliché and apparent. But on a random day, just shy of 6 weeks as a newlywed, I was given an order that I immediately obeyed.

I'd come to my own conclusion about when it would be appropriate to take off my ring—anytime I didn't want it to get dirty or damaged. The consensus was that my band would stay put under any circumstance. The rock, though, had to be protected against all odds. Guarded from dried up soap and lotion residue. Right-hand only eating for finger foods. Inspected in natural lighting on the hour, every hour. You get the point... 

Borderline obsessed with keeping this expensive symbol of love intact, I quickly realized that, like my marriage, my ring must endure some hardships in order to prove its value. 

Someone not as wise as my aunt told me that getting married doesn't change anything. Obviously, it changed my name. But marriage is also changing the way I desire my husband. Our four-year relationship has sustained the conditions of long distance through monthly and annual deployments. However, our first separation while married has activated some unfamiliar feelings. Unlike most couples, we aren't guaranteed the comfort of daily physical affection. Or the excitement of a lunch break check-in. He's often in a different country, functioning on a different time zone. And I'm at home, striving to stay productive while eagerly counting the days until his overseas responsibilities are fulfilled (also utilizing his return dates as deadlines). For an ambitious dreamer and a habitual world traveler, this works.

As an Author/Editor/Publisher/Educator, one would wonder how I'd even prioritize being a Wife. It's simple: the occupational titles define what I do; the latter defines who I now am. 

I've been known to smother myself in my passion(s). It was much easier and understandable as a single woman. As a spouse, the dedication to my craft is presently a little unbalanced. My husband has always supported me and encouraged me to live my dream, literally since the first day we met. Last month, he jokingly reprimanded me for not remaining disciplined with a 30-day social media fast. Instead of writing, I was scrolling up and down timelines, supposedly seeking inspiration for ideas. Two hours later, my phone was still cradled in my hand and I fell asleep next to a fully-charged laptop. Because we're both learning how to profit from our respective habits/addictions/weaknesses, this type of failure nurtures our competitive spirits and amplifies the satisfaction of overcoming difficult challenges, together. 

Fortunately, our unusual union allows us to become originators of what a healthy marriage should entail; every reconnection offers fresh emotions for us both to unpack and enjoy. Likewise, we have the privilege of getting creative with our expression (no choice when marrying a writer, duh), as well as the option to travel and experience other far-away areas when home just seems a bit mundane. Time spent apart is a mechanism for strengthening our communication and it also gives our minds the freedom to process what we appreciate most about each other. I am extremely appreciative of my husband's ability to listen and retain information, whether important or useless, paying attention to me and absorbing everything that I care to acknowledge. I am admittedly forgetful and aiming to be less selfish. A battle with career-related perfectionism constantly stunts my personal growth. Still, he put a ring on it.

Beyond the legal paperwork and the professional pictures, my ring is a welcomed reminder that I belong to a man who claimed me as his prize, recharged my purpose by altering my identity, and granted me a vow of never-ending companionship. Removing such a gift from my finger every time I'm trying to avoid harm to its appearance feels very vain. Thinking out loud: Would scheduling bi-weekly cleanings with the jeweler be vain too? Perhaps that's another rhetorical question undeserving of an answer...

Nonetheless, this post serves to formally introduce myself as Mrs. Lewis (smiles and waves). Furthermore, to also inform readers that I will continue to publish under my maiden name (Liltera R. Williams). I've been full of words since my life completely changed on 7.15.17. And this rush of creativity is suddenly beginning to spill over onto my WIPs (Works in Progress). I promise they will be worth the wait.