Sunday, October 12, 2014

Do you wear your heart on your sleeve?

Happy Sunday Morning! I opened my eyes for the first time this morning a little after 2:30 a.m. This is typically the time I get up so my body clock wakes me up at about the same time each day. Today, though, I was feeling really tired; worn out from all the traveling this week, so I rolled over and snuggled back in to the bed, thinking I would just lie there another ½ hour before getting up.  Well, a ½ hour turned into two hours and when I woke up the 2nd time, it was 4:30 a.m. I was in an immediate panic. I jumped up and began to frantically get to the kitchen for coffee. “I’m going to be late for work: I’ve only been late one time in 8 years and that was when I got a flat tire on the way to work,” was my reaction. It was a hectic beginning of the day….UNTIL…I realized that it was Sunday, not Monday, and I had several hours before I needed to get ready to go to Mass this morning.  I poured myself a cup of coffee and settled into the lazy boy to begin my day, a bit frazzled from the hectic start of the day.

I’ve been sitting here thinking about my overreaction to the clock and the very “real” perceived stress that was attached to that overreaction, and I’m actually amazed at how silly and ridiculous it was.  Even if it WERE Monday morning, it was only 4:30 a.m. and I don’t leave for work until shortly after 7:00 a.m. Certainly, I could shower, dress, and eat breakfast in 2 ½ hours to go to work!  Yes, my morning routine would have been altered, and the things I like to do each morning before work may not have gotten done, but so what?  I am alive this morning; it’s a new day; and obviously, my body was tired and needed the extra rest.  So….what’s the big deal?  Nothing; that’s what. I’m still awake several hours before most people I know.

Overreacting….responding with more emotion than necessary….is one of those characteristics that I continually work on. You’ve ­­likely figured out that I’m a deeply emotional person: I wear my heart on my sleeve, if you will. I have a difficult time keeping the feelings of my heart from being expressed on my face. I’ve always been that way. I have many baby pictures that show me with a sober look on my face; likely, the sign that I was annoyed, hungry, or tired.

 Adults don’t like it when kids don’t smile. If fact, we don’t like it when ANYONE doesn’t smile. One of the first things we wait for when a baby is a few weeks old is the day that he/she begins to smile….and then we spend hours trying to make them do it all the time. Sometimes we’re offended when we can’t make him/her smile and we assume the baby doesn’t like us, when in reality, he/she may just be tired or hungry. Maybe she just doesn’t WANT to smile.  The process continues throughout life:  SMILE for the camera; SMILE to show you lost your first tooth; SMILE and say, “Thank you,” to Grandma for the cookies; and so forth.  We quickly learn that if we smile, others will respond to us favorably, and that other expressions, or none at all, are not ideal; regardless of how we feel. This can be difficult for those of us who feel deeply, are emotionally expressive, AND want to please others, because it often leads to phoniness. I learned to hide my pain; sadness; and feelings behind a smile, regardless of how I felt, to make others around me happy.  And so began the emotional journey of Theresa.

When my father died when I was a small child, I was devastated inside, not just because he was no longer physically present in my life, but because for many years I felt responsible for his death, “because I wasn’t a good girl.” (Another story for another day) It was hard to hide that pain behind a fake smile, so I began to spend a lot of time alone. In the comfort of my own room, I could think, feel, and hide. I didn’t have to pretend there. Everywhere else, I pretended that everything was okay, but at night, I would cry myself to sleep. On the outside, I smiled; on the inside I wept…..and I ate a cookie….or several. Somehow that seemed to help….for a little while anyway.

This became my motto: Never let them see your pain (instead of never let them see you sweat, like the TV commercial). Later, when the kids at school teased me for being fat or called me names, I pretended that it didn’t bother me; that I didn’t care; but it did. It hurt deeply, but I pretended that I didn’t care that I was the last one picked for the team.  I wanted everyone to like me; so I did what I was taught: I smiled at them, even though I was hurting inside. And I’d go home and eat a cookie…or several. Somehow that seemed to help.....for the moment anyway.

 I had a lot of friends in school, likely because I did a good job pretending and trying to make people happy.  I became active in things at church and spent the majority of my free time helping out there. I taught my first Religious Ed class at about 14 or 15 years old and helped with bake sales, stuffed bulletins, stapled papers, and just about anything else that needed to be done. I joined a prayer group; I joined the youth group; I volunteered….and through it all, I smiled. People like it when others smile….so I smiled and pretended….and I went home and ate a cookie….or several. It was easier that way than saying, “No, I’m not okay.”

You get the drift. This overly emotional girl….the one in which the world taught in Nat King Cole’s famous song……, “Smile, though your heart is aching…smile though you feel like dying…..smile through your pain and sorrow” learned to PRETEND, SMILE, and EAT COOKIES…..and when I became too tired to do that….isolate myself. Instead of facing the emotions, acknowledging the hurt, feeling the sadness…I fed it.  It’s no wonder I ended up at 400+ pounds when I felt like my world was falling apart! 

 But fortunately, by the grace of God alone, I’ve been set free from all that.  When I say that I truly am a walking-talking miracle, I mean that sincerely. How I was able to sort through and process all the “stuff” in my head and heart; the emotions that were feeding my addiction to food; and allow God to begin to heal and transform me from within…..WITHOUT intervention….is truly a miracle!  I wouldn’t recommend that you try to do it alone though; had I sought counseling or joined a support group or something many years ago, I would have likely spared myself years of grief, and perhaps, would have never gotten to the place I was at a few years ago.  I firmly believe, however, that all of this is part of God’s plan….so that I might somehow be used for His glory to help someone else, but admittedly, I could have done things differently when I first recognized that I was struggling to deal with the pain of loss.  Pretending…..Isolation…..and Food……worked for a while; in fact, most of my life…..but eventually it caught up to me and nearly cost me my life.  There are better ways, and it’s not too late for you. 

These days I embrace and control my emotions much better. While I might feel them inappropriately, (really, Theresa…so what, it’s 4:30 a.m. instead of 2:30…..it’s not a big deal), I handle them differently. I allow myself to feel them; I express them verbally or in writing; I ‘walk’ them off or “pull them from the garden in the form of weeds”; I weep; I frown; I rest……I embrace them.  Sometimes, I give into them and I feed them…..but NEVER, EVER cookies: Watermelon…yes, absolutely, but not cookies, or chips or cake.  Mostly, I surrender them to God. 

These days  I SMILE….a lot……but not a phony kind of, “I’m fine” smile, but a real, genuine expression of a deep-down, bubbling over kind of joy and peacefulness that comes only from God kind of smile. Certainly, I’m happy about being thinner and being able to walk without a cane or walker, but my real joy comes from being free from fear, sadness, and despair, not just being free from the excess weight.  Yes, I wear my heart on my sleeve….but I wear it on my face too!

So, my friends….today, I encourage you to think about your own reactions to life.  Are you pretending to be someone or something you’re not?  Are you hiding pain, sadness, disappointment, jealousy, resentment….behind a phony smile?  Are you feeding your emotions…..or your body?   Before you eat anything today, ask yourself, “Are you hungry….or hurting….or happy?” If you’re not hungry….walk away. Trust me, cookies will help for a little while….but not for very long!

I hope you have a wonderful day today…. and I hope you find A LOT of things to smile about….real, true, genuine smiles, and unlike the way I began my day today….you avoid overreacting to silly stuff!