I met a stranger this week who turned out to be a sister.
It had been a particularly difficult day, with a myriad of work and personal matters mounting as they sometimes do.
My method of blowing off steam is to head to my evening Zumba class and jump around like a maniac to pounding music. Shaking up a storm and sweating always helps to re-set my frame of mind.
This particular class started late – at 7 PM – so it was close to 8:30 PM by the time I pulled into my parking garage at the apartment complex.
Frustrating! A space was (oddly) not available on my floor, so I had to go up another level. This had never happened before.
As I got out of the car, I saw a young woman heading to the car parked next to me.
It is always my practice to say hi to strangers, and as I did she said, “I don’t know why I’m telling you this, but I just found out my boyfriend is cheating on me.”
Then she fell into a puddle of tears, and I gathered her into my arms.
It didn’t matter that we were strangers. In an instant, we were sisters.
When her sobs subsided a bit, I asked where she was going. Fortunately, her mom lived close by – but I wasn’t confident that she was in a frame of mind to drive safely. So she handed over her keys and I got her to her mom’s (knowing Uber could easily get me home.)
During the drive she shared her heartbreaking story. Her intuition had told her something was off; he protested…then she discovered a series of salacious texts that confirmed her fears.
He held the financial power, so her only choice was to leave. I held her hand. I told her to feel her feelings (which is the lesson I have been learning.) “There’s no better place to be than with your mom, where you can have a good cry.”
The wound was too fresh to offer more than that…but I did sneak in my sister’s favorite line of comfort: “In a few weeks you’ll look back on today and feel completely differently.” Time has a way of healing wounds, or at least making them less pronounced.
We can sometimes even see that we dodged a bullet by not getting the thing that we wanted.
I held her hand, got her safely home – and marveled at the privilege of being there for her. It was a Divine hand that had provoked me to go to that late Zumba class and that had filled up all of the normal parking spaces, causing me to be at exactly the right place at the right time to meet a need.
I told her, “God really loves you. And just the way he took care of you tonight is how He will always provide.”
And in meeting her need, He met mine. How quickly the pesky matters of the day faded away when I saw a gentle soul hurting.
Really, isn’t this what life is all about? To love our fellow man…and woman. To act as a sister or a brother, even to a stranger?
More on Sister/Brotherhood and the new WOW:
TRUSTING that this week brings you peace, and smiles, and confirmations that “it’s all going to be okay.”
My trip to Costa Rica was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Yes, it was purposefully planned to hit the pause button on my life and to shine a light on the deep places in my heart.
But I didn’t realize how difficult such honesty would be.
I thought leaving my church and leaving my marriage were the hardest things I’ve ever done.
But nothing prepared me for the stark reality of coming face to face with ME.
When I left my marriage, I knew that I had embarked on a new phase in my life – but by no means did I enter into a celebration of freedom.
It broke my heart to leave a man I loved – and for whom I will always have love.
Our story is not for public display; I will only share my journey in the hope that it may help you, too.
Though my life was in upheaval, my spirit was resolute: To embark on this new chapter of my life in a healthy way, a spiritual path – an awakening – was needed, and a key question cried out for an answer:
How did Brenda fall in to a toxic church relationship and jump from that into a marriage fraught with similar toxic patterns?
This answer, I believed, was needed to avoid jumping into any other alliances. And I sure didn’t want to waste any more time sleepwalking into relationships.
After many tears shed, I knew I needed help getting to the root.
Through this very blog (a reader contacted me), a path forward presented itself and was confirmed by my dear niece, Deena, and my sister, Shirlee.
There is a place in Costa Rica, the Iboga Wellness Center, that uses what Americans deem unorthodox methods to address deeply-rooted hurts. The week-long, psycho-spiritual retreat has been purported to produce the effects of 10+ years of therapy.
People I love and respect affirmed that they were truly set free.
Freedom – and answers – were what I longed for.
I booked the trip in June and in the three months leading up to the retreat, was weaned off of Zoloft. Iboga is an ancient medicinal root that originates in Africa, and it does not mix well with pharmaceuticals.
It fights and weeds out toxicity. The first treatment focuses entirely on removing toxins from your body – and following that first dose I was flat on my back for an entire day.
It was hard. This was no spa resort. For much of the time it was me – and my bed – and a pail to catch vomit.
That first recovery day, I had severe panic attacks and considered fleeing. There were no distractions; I was face to face with ME for yet another five days.
Midway through the journey, a river cleansing ceremony was held. Imagine Eva Gabor on Green Acres, trekking down a slippery 15 foot embankment in a pounding rain.
Just making it down to the river was a victory for my psyche. The ceremony itself was powerful – my hurts were named and seemed to wash off of me as the rain poured down. Next, my intentions and dreams were also voiced. The river took them, too and I sensed that the current would take them to fruition.
I cried healing tears.
And was ready to go home.
My body didn’t want to face another Iboga ceremony. I reasoned with myself: “There’s a hurricane coming; I need to get home to prepare.” I questioned the process, “How much more can I look inward? I’ve gotten some release – I want to get back to my soft bed.”
Yet I knew there was more, and I wasn’t about to let fear talk me out of what I traveled there for.
The second journey involves a guided meditation.
All I can say is that I came face to face with little Brenda; the child who so didn’t want to upset anyone that she kept all of her fears and hurts locked up.
I had a bird’s eye view of my soul, shrunken down and diminishing with every passing year.
I saw that because my true feelings were never expressed, they lied dormant, unfulfilled. To cope (and not upset the apple cart), I learned over the years to suppress feelings of anxiety, depression and insecurity because they were “bad.” I became adept at psyching myself up into a false optimism.
This worked for a while, and I even enjoyed some success – but the false front is not sustainable. Eventually you crack.
The church had built on this faulty premise, teaching that feelings were bad and you couldn’t give them any credence. It was a sin to be sad.
And my soul continued to die inside of me.
The performance that became my life – surviving the church, trying to present an image of the happy marriage – mostly, trying to present the image of a happy Brenda, nearly destroyed me.
All I wanted to do was make everyone else happy.
And I realized I couldn’t.
Happiness or not is a choice we all make individually. No winning the lottery or taking exotic vacations can shift a person’s paradigm from dark to light.
Least of all, mine.
As the facilitator guided me back through my life, I SAW me…little me…crouched down and crying soundlessly.
I recognized her and my heart welled up with such love for her. I held her in my arms and said over and over again, “I love you. You matter. I will never silence you again.”
My soul is now free to feel. Decades of feelings are now validated and by doing so, I no longer need to look to external sources for validation.
I am valid.
I am whole.
If saying those words out loud to yourself is uncomfortable, I pray for your own healing.
We are destined to have a great love affair in this life…and it is with ourselves.
How can we enjoy a healthy love with anyone else until our own souls are restored?
Yes, I took drastic measures to have a drastic change in my life.
And I got what I went to Costa Rica for.
I recorded this week’s video before my trip. I look forward to what comes out of me in the future, now that I have had a major life healing.
When I feel un-moored, I am so grateful to now have practical tools to get me back to ME.
My thoughts on Kindness and the new Word of the Week….
Ah, SURRENDER. Yes, it’s uncomfortable to let go, yet so freeing to open up to something beautiful and new.
By the way, if any of you have questions about my week at the Iboga Wellness Center, please ask. What I’ve written here is a condensed version, but there are volumes more to tell.
I wish for each of you the freedom that comes from healing the little soul on the inside so she (or he) can grow up into maturity and strength and power.
This is NOT a manifesto against anti-depressants, but tells of MY journey to true clarity and the role that Zoloft (Sertraline) played in clouding matters.
You know that close to four years ago, I stopped drinking. Haven’t had a glass of anything since November 11, 2013. (Note: It gives me goosebumps that I quit on 11:11, which is a power number. It seems the universe parted the waters that day, making a clear path for me to exit tipsy-land.)
Let me re-think the use of the word “tipsy.” It is a euphemism, as is buzzed, to describe an altered state that numbs you from the pain of life.
Such words make you feel better about being a drunk.
I quit alcohol because every bad decision or regretted remark or action in my life emanated from a booze-fueled state. Tired of being embarrassed, I no longer wanted to be voted “Most likely to break something” at every party. Some major falls led to a serious reckoning with how simply dangerous it was to navigate steps and life with a high blood alcohol content.
For me, clarity came when I heard in my spirit “If you keep this up, this is how you will die.”
So 2013 marked a new phase of clarity in my life.
Clarity is not for sissies. You begin to observe things that didn’t bother you before; overlooked slights now hurt. Suddenly, there’s fight in you, because you start to believe that you are worth better.
Sobriety and self-respect go hand in hand. As my self-worth grows, my capacity to tolerate disrespect shrinks.
Wait, Brenda – I thought you were going to talk about anti-depressants?
Sobriety fueled my recent life decisions. What may have seemed to outsiders as a crazy, “Where did THAT come from?” action when I left my marriage, those who know me know I’ve never been more in my right mind.
But that action was just a beginning.
I’ve been on a quest for HONESTY.
As I continued to ask myself the questions necessary to peel away layers of dishonesty, I kept returning to a nagging question mark: My 10-year affair with Zoloft.
In the beginning years of my marriage, we went to Christian counseling. The only thing I got out of it was a prescription.
Truly, that first 50 mg pill seemed like a magic bullet. Perhaps psychosomatic, nevertheless, I felt instantly happier, more able to cope, less irritable and more tolerant.
When entering menopause, the script increased to 75 mg. When we moved to Florida, my new doctor upped it to 100 mg.
Patients should obey their doctors, right?
I visited my sister last year and one of my little blue pills fell on the bathroom floor. She found it and, with trepidation, asked me what I was on.
I thought nothing of telling her – after all, my healthcare provider prescribed the drug!
The counselor had drawn a little cartoon that showed how serotonin re-uptake inhibitors (SSRIs) would build a little bridge to my brain, helping the happy feelings get back where they belonged.
Shirlee, unimpressed by the analogy but without judgment, encouraged me to read about the impacts of these drugs and to consider weaning off of Zoloft. It took many months, but for me, the evidence was clear. If I didn’t get off, I’d be on this drug for the rest of my life.
Thus began Brenda Clear Phase 2.0.
My doctor, knowing of my pending divorce said, “Do you really think this is the best time to detox?”
Taking control of my own body and decisions that affect it, I said, “Yes. This is the very best time.”
Since early June I have been on a steadily-decreasing prescription of Zoloft and last week, went to zero.
Clarity is not for sissies.
My body revolted angrily against the disappearing drug. Irritation has returned, flu-like symptoms, aches and pains, sleeplessness, headaches, cramping – yep, it’s been a real joy ride. But here’s the flipside: I FEEL again.
Yes, the difficult feelings were numbed, but so were the GOOD ones. I now laugh more, cry more, and am more deeply touched by music and words and people.
I am alive.
Eventually, the physical symptoms will disappear. It’s worth it to plow through them to get to the REAL ME.
I’ve missed Brenda. It’s wonderful to get to know her again.
Here are my parting thoughts on CLARITY and the new WOW:
Hot diggity! (Wow, there’s a first-time use of THAT phrase.)
Let’s be INSPIRED this week.
Oh, and if my anti-depressant story has tugged at your heart, let me add that you should never cold turkey SSRIs. There’s a careful way of weaning that your doctor can guide you through. If INSPIRED to make a similar decision, I’m rooting for you.
And if you are not, please do not feel judged. Everyone is on a different journey. Some people have experienced great relief in temporary use of these drugs to get over a rough patch. However, in my case, I found myself ten years later using the drug as an emotional crutch.
After finally ditching the crutches, I am learning to walk – and I hope to eventually fly.