Over recent weeks, in my healing journey, I have been examining my relationship with trust. It first came to my attention when I looked at my business decisions, especially mistakes that I have made over the past 20 years. But, in recent days, I noticed a pattern emerge.
The beauty of recognising patterns of behaviour is that it opens the door for change and transformation. What I’ve noticed is a swinging pendulum in my life between distrust and blind trust. This pattern has cost me thousands of dollars, as well as relationships and creating heartbreak.
It is in seeing my actions and omissions accurately that the doors open.
The truth sets us free.
Let me provide you with some concrete examples:
In my early business days, I hired a friend to run one of my companies. Because I was overwhelmed and swamped with the growth in business and hiring new staff, I failed to supervise her properly. She was struggling in getting everything done, and I wasn’t available to support her. I didn’t ask how things were going, instead choosing to focus exclusively on my own overwhelm. Unfortunately, while she was getting the client work done, she wasn’t invoicing the client for it! By the time I realised the mess in accounts receivable and payable, the client had accrued some $40,000.00 in services they hadn’t paid for. Thankfully, the client eventually paid all outstanding invoices. But it took years to get fully up to date, and I bore the financial brunt of being caught between suppliers and financing a client. When I’m overwhelmed, I shut down, dissociate from the present, and turn to blind trust.
In March 2009, I left on holiday for three weeks to New Zealand. I chose the dates based on the weather (end of summer) and flight costs (cheaper because summer holidays were over and it wasn’t yet Easter). I was overwhelmed and exhausted after restructuring staff following the 2008 markets crash. Unfortunately, March 31st is the end of tax season – which meant that my company tax returns were prepared and presented in my absence. The company accountant and external accountants included a refundable expense in “income”, an extra $54,000 in ghost income! As a result, my income tax bill that year was $27,000.00 when it should have been less than $9,000.00. But, you prepay taxes for the next year, based on the estimates of what you paid the previous year! So, not only was I hit with the current tax bill, but my estimated taxes for the next year were identical, giving me a tax credit for years to come. My blind trust created a substantial financial pinch.
I could provide you with many more examples in my professional life where I have distrusted, micro-managed and controlled every aspect of an employee’s performance, to those moments where I am overwhelmed and shut down, leading to no involvement or supervision at all.
Trust = firm belief in the reliability, truth, ability, or strength of someone or something
Distrust = the feeling that someone or something cannot be relied upon.
Blind faith or blind trust: “unquestioning belief in something, even when it’s unreasonable or wrong”. I take it to mean “trust in spite of evidence to the contrary” or blindly ignoring evidence that perhaps they are undeserving of your complete trust.
How trauma informs our state of mind
Unfortunately, this pattern is not something I learned as an adult, and I’ve been using this pattern since early childhood. When I get overwhelmed, the easiest solution is to shut down and freeze, and this takes me into dissociation from the present moment and avoidance. In these cases, blind faith and trust in others become the only option, and I can’t trust myself.
Hypervigilance at the other end of the pendulum presents itself as distrust, micro-managing every situation as I attempt to control the outcome. Of course, this is exhausting, making me angry (an emotion that I was taught not to acknowledge as a child) and frustrated. To avoid anger, I would rebound into dissociation and shut down.
I never learned how to stay in the middle: in balance, calm and being alert. I struggle on so many levels with trust, and this shows up in my life on every level:
I could choose to sit in victimhood: “this is how I am, because of my childhood“. But I choose not to. I started to look at my patterns as generative learning – an opportunity to grow and change. And I share these learnings with you, because I want you to recognise that you have options and choices available to you.
As I have begun to experience inner peace, the wisdom of trust has become available.
The human experiences that break trust, building distrust
Years ago, I denied being traumatised at boarding school because I wasn’t regularly beaten and abused. Anger and speaking up would earn you a beating, being labelled a Jezebel, or having a rebellious spirit.
I avoided beatings by being “a good girl”, knowing when to shut my mouth and swallowing any anger I felt. The survival skills I learned were to shut down, dissociate, and walk away. Unfortunately, those skills are not very resourceful and helpful in my life anymore.
There are many moments that I wish I were rebellious, angry & unruly. How I wish I had been the wild child that baulked the system and stood up against injustices, daring to question unfair authority. Instead, I chose the safety and security of apathy, withdrawal and indifference. Unfortunately, as an adult, I still struggle with dealing with my anger, boundaries and injustice. As a lawyer, it’s easy to stand up for others. But I shrink instead of standing up for myself. I avoid confrontations of a personal nature, even when they would clear the air.
Through it all, I am entrenched in my independence. Of course, as I know now – hyper-independence is merely a symptom of trauma: unable to ask for help because I can’t trust others. Can I even trust myself?
Taught to obey Church leaders without question:
We had verses drummed into us, which in themselves were not wrong. But was the interpretation of these verses rightly applied?
Under no circumstances were we, children, to question those in authority because they were “appointed by God”. And if God wanted to remove them for wrongdoing, then it was merely our duty to “pray about it” rather than to do anything.
Even the hymns we sang reminded us that we were to “Trust and Obey” rather than stand up for ourselves or others. Helplessness was ingrained, and anything that was not as it “should be” was “God’s will”, and we were to endure it.
Biblical teachings: the human heart
But that wasn’t the only weapon in the arsenal of submission. In reading the below verses, repeatedly we heard: “The heart is deceitful above all things”. Divine Justice prevailing, to each according to their ways, patterns and actions received little mention. Instead, beatings were justified because our hearts were deceitful.
Those in power were above all of that.
How can I trust myself if I believe that my heart is deceitful? What relationship or trust can I build with others if they are devious and incurably sick in their hearts?
If you question what I am telling you, you lack faith. Instead, you should “pray about it” and “trust God” to solve this for you.
If the prevalent attitude about human nature is one of sin and depravity, then there is no trust.
Maureen Murdock, “The Heroine’s Journey”
Divide and conquer has worked for centuries, both within the church and politics, and it’s as quickly at work today as it always has been. Even today, we hear who to distrust and then expected to place blind trust in authority.
But blind faith means that you have no ownership of your spiritual path or will. It relieves you of responsibility, creating victimhood. And victims are powerless, easy to manipulate.
I am so grateful for learning a new way: what it means to have a healthy trust.
As much as I would like to say that my journey back to trust began with trusting Divine Presence in my life, that’s not the truth of my journey. My transformation started with an exploration of self-awareness for personal growth, and spiritual healing occurred after learning and personal development.
The first step back to trust was:
In noticing my patterns of distrust and blind trust, I could explore what healthy trust means. Emotional and spiritual healing have come together as I worked with forgiveness of myself and others.
My trust in the Divine grows as I let go of my need to micro-manage and control every tiny detail. And in living in the Spirit, I trust my insight and intuition to build relationships with others.
What does it mean to trust me, others and Divine Presence?
The elements of trust
Trust is not something we do from a place of apathy, withdrawal or dissociation. It is active and engaged: trust requires relaxed courage, curiosity, and calm presence.
According to Grant Soosalu & Marvin Oka, in their book mBraining, they identify the four elements of trust (learning to trust yourself):
Other authors and writers similarly identify the basic requirements of trust as:
These authors point towards the same essential characteristics and requirements of trust. As difficult as it is, I have tried to group these together in a simple explanation:
Is all about listening as well as sharing
As Covey says: “Seek first to understand, and then to be understood”
To build trust, it’s necessary to voice your wants, needs, desires and motives. It’s okay to have self-interest, but be open about what those interests are
“intimacy refers to your willingness to share appropriate information about the things that truly matter.”
Trust begins when we are open & transparent – even with ourselves
It is recognising my value and the value of others, leading to genuine empathy & understanding
Clear & heartfelt commitment to my personal wellbeing and the wellbeing of others
Only then can we build trusted relationships
Actions – Consistency & Character:
In order to build trust, there has to be congruence and alignment between what I say and do! This applies as much to promises I make to myself as what I promise others.
Predictable, reliable, & full of integrity
Loyalty, honour & duty
Respect and selfless service
Oriented to values and the vision – not just selfish interest
Clear set of principles, so you can be on the same wavelength
Can be counted upon
Ability – Competency & Credibility:
Mastery – skilled & knowledgeable
Has a domain of expertise and performs their functions well
Will speak up and give their point of view on the matter at hand from a point of knowledge
Stays current & up to date
Self-assured in their competence
Demonstrating progress towards goals
Emotional and spiritual healing: rebuilding trust
When I look back at boarding school and these four qualities of trust, I find those in authority sorely lacking. If they had known better, they would have done better. But they lacked communication skills; they were authoritarian rather than compassionate. When I look at their actions, looking for consistency and character, I find them predictable, but I couldn’t count on them. They were not always congruent in what they said and did, as the rules did not apply equally to all. Perhaps worst of all, they were not skilled and knowledgeable, although they believed themselves to be.
We were left with an expectation of blind faith and trust in authority because the essential elements of a healthy trust were missing.
I now recognise that I have a proactive role in building relationships: I listen to the desires of my heart and trust my gut. I stay engaged and curious, rather than withdrawing. Instead of seeing myself as helpless and needing to be rescued, I recognise that I must play a part in building my future.
True faith is an inner alignment with yourself and with God. It’s a balance of trusting the universe to provide and doing your part to co-create with the Creator.
Letting the Infinite flow in my life: rebuilding trust
The road back to faith, trust and hope is uneven and rocky. Sometimes, it’s the procession of three steps forward and two steps back as I fall into habitual patterns of blind trust or distrust.
I am learning to communicate and listen. As I consistently practise the presence of the Divine in my life, I hear the small, still voice of Spirit. It requires that I quiet my mind – that I sit in Silence and allow my heart to be still. It’s a daily practice in which my mastery builds up each day.
I have to choose to be open and transparent; it doesn’t happen naturally. There are times I want to shut down, and I have to make a conscious choice to be vulnerable and compassionate. When I commit to building relationships with myself, others, and the Divine, trusting relationships open up for me.
I sit in the Silence each morning to reconnect and refill my heart with the faithful love of Divine Presence, for I trust in Divine Love. Each morning I listen to how I should walk and allow my Spirit to submit fully to Spirit
Ps. 143: 8
My understanding of what it means to rely on the Divine entirely has changed: it is no longer helplessness. I am not frozen in fear, unable to think logically or approach life with curiosity. I’m not keeping myself safe by being emotionally disengaged or apathetic. Instead, I am choosing to be fully present and connected.
From this place, I still choose trust, faith and hope.
Place your trust in the Eternal; rely on the Divine completely; never depend upon your own ideas and inventions. Give the Great Creator the credit for everything you accomplish, trusting that Divine Love will smooth out and straighten the road that lies ahead.
Prov. 3: 5-6
Other posts your might find interesting on Blind Faith:
I began a personal healing journey in 2017, with no idea where it would take me. I certainly never expected all the spiritual and life lessons that I’ve learned along the way!
If I had known that I would be in 2021 and the journey would still be underway, would I have had the courage to even take the first steps?
I thought I would get the miraculous healing that when I reached a certain point it would be instantaneous. Instead, it has been a journey of a thousand steps, sometimes on spiralling stairs, rather than giant leaps forward.
Gut health challenges
Since about 2001, my health has been centred around my gut and immune system, with challenges of:
IBS (irritable bowel syndrome – i.e. we have no idea what’s wrong)
Diverticulitis (caused by the Coeliac disease going undiagnosed for 10+ years)
SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth)
All of these are gut issues and are closely tied with the immune system – that part of you that is able to easily mount defences to defend “self” against “not self”.
If I look at this from an mBraining perspective, the gut has the prime functions not only of digesting and processing food, but also influences:
Our sense of identity: “this is who I am”. My lack of authenticity – trying to please other people – broke down my ability to identify “self”;
Our processes of safety and security. This is our self-preservation. It begins physiologically as the immune system, but there’s also an element in there of the autonomic nervous system, which I failed to recognise, leading to an immune system in overdrive and hyper-drive, as I strove to keep myself safe psychologically and emotionally.
Movement and motivation. We know physiologically of “bowel movement”, but if you listen to our language, we clearly speak about the fire in our belly that moves us forward. My trauma-informed dorsal vagal, however, was trained to sedation and hibernation in the face of danger, and while scientists know that this impacts the immune system, they are not quite yet sure of the exact effects.
A personal journey to healing: lifestyle changes
In order to heal my gut, I’ve had to recognise that every aspect of my life impacts how well this heals.
All of this requires lifestyle changes: because it’s impossible to solve a problem with the same thinking, habits and lifestyle that created the problem.
“The necessity of change makes healing a terrifying experience for many people.”
He who knows to do right and does it not, to him it is sin
There were so many pieces to the healing journey and changes that needed to be made. Doctors glaze over quickly the role that stress plays, saying platitudes such as “you need to manage stress better”.
Who doesn’t know that?
The question is: what do we do about it?
Most of us – do nothing.
We ask for the pills that soften the blow of the symptoms, so that we can get back on with life, exactly as it already was. But we don’t make the fundamental changes that are required in order for health and healing to happen.
If we did, the pharmaceutical industry would be out of business. Imagine how many blood pressure medications would be taken off the market if patients would actually follow doctor’s instructions about making changes to their lifestyle.
It’s not that I didn’t know ways of dealing with stress!
Meditation & Silence
Trusting the Divine
Dealing with the root causes of anxiety & depression
Part of me was refusing to look at diet, beyond the obvious factors of avoiding gluten (wheat, barley, malt & rye). But I could do more, like accepting that corn totally irritated me, as well as rice making me feel bloated, and that I needed to adjust my diet to accommodate inflammation and SIBO.
I have been physically active since my early twenties and am no stranger to the multiple benefits of exercise, even when you don’t have energy. I know how good it is for the digestive system (just getting out for a walk helps your gut digest more easily), as well as helping to regulate stress.
Perhaps most importantly, I know the role and importance of forgiveness, letting go and release. What I didn’t know was the depth of work I would need to do, and how much I have buried and hidden away (even from myself), in order to be able to survive.
Part of the healing journey has been accepting that sometimes it feels like I’m stuck in a loop, when I am really on a spiral stairway that keeps coming round to the same issues, just at a different level. It might feel, at times, that I am just going around in circles, but progress is not always in a straight line.
Bad habits are decisions we refuse to make
Take a moment to write down, for yourself, three habits that you have right now that are impacting your health and wellness, and that you are making no attempt or haphazard attempts to change. How would healing be possible if you made these changes?
I’m going to mention a few habits that most of us have (at some level) and that we know better, and yet it’s easier to continue doing it, than to change. We give ourselves all kinds of excuses.
Eating on the go
Who doesn’t know that eating-on-the-run is bad for their health? This might be that you are eating:
fast food while driving your car
standing in your kitchen while fixing food for others or doing some chores, or perhaps
sitting at your desk or computer, working.
There’s the risk of falling into a fast-food trap – with unhealthy ingredients, high sugar and high sodium. But it’s not just the ingredients, it’s the very fact that we are not allowing the body to go into “rest and digest” while we eat, but rather we are still eating while in motion (and quite possibly under stress).
All of these habits lead to:
increased risk of cancer;
risk of heart disease
high blood pressure
issues in the immune system
and even memory loss.
Our bodies were created to rest and relax while eating, to enjoy the aroma and visual appeal – so that we get the digestive juices flowing. We allow ourselves the time and space to savour and chew. And to notice what we are doing, rather than having our attention focused somewhere else.
A lot of problems can be solved just by removing some people, some food, and some habits from your life.
Our sedentary lifestyles
We’re warned enough about laziness and sitting around in Proverbs, but more than just being couch potatoes, it’s even the way we travel to work and the conditions in which we’re working that create challenges.
Sitting for so many hours a day, whether it be in a bus, on a train, in the car, at your desk is exhausting mentally, leaving us wanting to stay sedentary when we finally get home.
What does this create?
high blood pressure
type 2 diabetes
Exercise – or more importantly regular movement – helps us with our digestion as well as improving the blood flow to the brain. It naturally helps our body keep our blood sugar under control, and possibly most importantly helps produce oxytocin – our “happy hormone” that is produced naturally in the body.
Do you really need me to tell you all the ways that this shows up? Perhaps you snack when you’re not actually hungry, you give into cravings, or you are just eating too much generally. Eventually, your body stops sending you the hunger signals (since you ignore them anyway) and just lets you know the cravings.
We create our own health challenges through over-eating:
These are just a few.
It could be as simple as wolfing down your food too quickly, so that you fail to notice the message that you are full. This, unfortunately, can lead to bloating, gas and acid-reflux.
If you’re eating too late, it may be interfering with your ability to get a good night’s sleep.
Not drinking enough water
Our bad habits are as simple as failing to drink water, and instead replacing it with energy drinks, soft drinks or coffee. But your body is 60% water, and we need the water for regular bowel function, optimal muscle performance and even for our skin.
When we fail to drink enough water, we run into:
risk of stroke
moodiness & irritability
All because we haven’t built a habit of drinking water.
Skimping on sleep
I’ll sleep when I’m dead.
Yes, I have said that. I would burn the candle at both ends and then drink coffee (not water) to keep going. Skimping on sleep does more than just impair our judgement and compromise clear-headedness in decision-making.
It also causes:
heart disease, heart failure & contributes to heart attacks
high blood pressure
weakens immunity and the immune system
increases stress and cortisol levels
causes weight gain
increases the risk of diabetes
I justified to myself the choices of burning the candle both ends and continuing with my lifestyle choices, even daring to suggest that this was Biblical (Proverbs 31 – the Virtuous Woman). She gets up while it’s still dark, her lamp does not go out at night, and she does not eat the bread of idleness. But I’m pretty sure that she didn’t drive herself into the ground either!
My personal healing journey: lifestyle changes
All five of these issues came up for me in my healing journey, to different degrees. But when we talk about “go and sin no more” – what we each have to address our the habits we have that are holding us back.
Each one of us has strengths and weaknesses (and for many our strengths are also our weaknesses), and it’s a personal journey of discovery and transformation.
In my personal journey, there were four principal areas that I had to address, most of them more than once and in different areas of my life:
gluttony and over-eating
murmuring & complaining
laziness & failure to take responsibility, and
holding onto anger, resentment and bitterness, rather than letting it go with complete forgiveness.
Gluttony & over-eating
I’m not going into sharing a rift of Bible verses on gluttony. It’s the internet – you can look them up for yourself.
My personal definition of Gluttony is slightly different, although it is certainly an excess of eating.
But what I consider an excess might be much more strict that what you are accustomed to seeing or hearing as “excess”.
So, I invite you to consider what your definition of excess might be.
the power of suggestion – “I see food, so I eat it”
When I’m hungry, it’s perfectly possible to postpone eating for thirty minutes or more without getting hangry. Cravings and emotional eating, on the other hand, demand to be attended immediately. The question is “how do I choose to attend to these demands?”.
If I acknowledge that my body is a temple, how am I maintaining it with discipline?
If I’m not hungry, am I willing to deal with the root issues and causes that lead me to the fridge, rather than eating and stuffing all my emotional and mental issues right back down again, swallowing my tears, and refusing to sit in the discomfort of what I am experiencing?
Stress, especially chronic and ongoing stress, causes our body to produce cortisol. In a healthy situation of stress (i.e. where you literally ran away from danger), cortisol will make you hungry, so that you refuel your body. Unfortunately, my stress is not the result of running away from a tiger! The hunger signals are false, and I know this if I actually check in with my stomach.
What needs to change? When I’m honest with myself, this is about lifestyle, beliefs and choices that are keeping me in a state of stress.
Where’s the inner peace that passes understanding?
What happened to the faith that allows me to trust that things are truly working out for my good?
If I eat, I can ignore these questions, rather than addressing the root problem: one of faith. It’s very similar to eating when anxious. If I eat, I can focus on something away from the anxiety.
But aren’t I supposed to be “anxious for nothing” and instead to turn my requests over to the Divine and surrender? Eating bypasses the anxiety, rather than addressing the beliefs and faith issues. How do I expect physical healing when I am not addressing the spiritual?
Fatigue and being tired:
Another chemical process happens in our body when we’re tired:
Our gherlin goes up (produced to let us know we’re hungry) and
Our leptin goes down (produced by our fat cells to let us know we don’t need to eat – as it decreases our feelings of hunger).
So, when we’re tired, no matter the cause of our fatigue, our body asks for either rest or more fuel.
But what if the reason that we’re tired is because of bad sleep habits? It my case, it was caused in part by gut problems (bloating and discomfort, which lead to light and interrupted sleep). One habit that was effective in fixing this: eat before 6 pm, so that I sleep better. But do I change my habits and honour health?
We can feel the difference once again in our stomach between tired and hungry. If I really am tired, is what my body really needs healing rest?
Comfort eating and sweets:
Perhaps we eat comfort foods because they remind us of “being loved”. Or we need more sweetness in our lives, so we give into our sweet tooth.
But if what we need is comfort and connection, perhaps what we need to do is hop on the phone and call home. Are we hungering for a spiritual connection?
Whatever the reason for our cravings, when we eat, we block the request. The request has been attended to, but the underlying need remains unsatisfied.
Eating past the point of hunger into fullness
The challenge is not just to eat when hungry, but to stop at the right moment: when I am no longer hungry. There’s no need to eat into “crowded” or “full”, much less “stuffed”.
So why do we eat more than our body asked for?
I’m enjoying this too much – we have scarcity and deprivation thoughts related to food or enjoyment
procrastination – I don’t want this to end, because then I will have to go and take care of… On a more subconscious level we know: if I eat too much, I’ll be sluggish and tired, and have the perfect excuse.
I was told to clean my plate as a kid, and I’ve never adjusted this belief around being able to leave something on the plate
I feel the pressure of friends or family to “eat up”, especially when they want to offer a second helping.
But what if, instead, we chose to:
Deal with what I’ve been avoiding?
Accepted that there is abundance and I can have more enjoyment at another moment.
I give generously to those in need and don’t have to prove it by clearing my plate.
I serve myself smaller portions, so that I can finish with nothing left on the plate, and
I told the people that I love how I feel about them and how I appreciate them, so it’s not necessary to show this by eating more.
Unmet needs, desires & wants:
All of these examples simply go to show that we have unmet needs, desires, fears and wants. These may be mental, emotional or even spiritual.
The lifestyle change that was required for me is being willing to tackle them, rather than choosing to stuff them down with food.
It is so easy, especially when your illness comes with physical pain, to allow our grief and pain to turn into bitterness, anger, reproach and despair.
We are told to bless those that curse you. How about blessing your body and your pain? If you feel cursed, because you are carrying an illness or disease – are you blessing it?
Are you cursing your body or that part of your body that appears to be letting you down?
Is your heart raging against the Divine because of this cross that you have to bear? Are you raging against yourself for all the life choices you’ve made that lead to this point?
Perhaps complaining feels easier!
Ask and you will receive
In her book, “Unbound: A woman’s guide to power“, Kasia Urbanjiak talks about how behind every complaint is an unspoken request. We complain because it feels more acceptable than asking for what we really want.
Where is my faith in
“ask and you will receive”
“making your requests known”
“asking according to Divine will, because the Divine hears” and
“you do not have, because you do not ask”?
Of course… perhaps I’m not willing to take up my bed and walk! Maybe I’m too scared to get out of the boat, in order to walk on water.
It’s so much easier to murmur and complain, rather than to ask and then be responsible for my actions.
Let’s be honest – complaining is socially acceptable!
“Nothing unites people more strongly than a common dislike. The easiest way to build friendship and communicate is through something negative.”
Complaining impacts your health!
Health impacts of complaining:
creates more stress
worsens anxiety & depression
it rewires your brain – in a bad way! The habit of complaining reduces the number of neurons in the hippocampus, the part of the brain used for problem-solving and cognitive function. Actual shrinkage!
Neurons that fire together, wire together – and you are creating a habit of complaining. So, you are likely to be creating new things to complain about and attracting to you people who like to complain!
And so, you find yourself in a place – that you have built – clinging to resentment, pain & trauma. You have become what you have focused on.
What would you like to focus on?
But as I said, you don’t receive, because you don’t ask. Complaining reinforces the idea “I’m a victim and there’s nothing I can do to change this situation.”
“Complaining does not work as a strategy. We all have finite time and energy. Any time we spend whining is unlikely to help us achieve our goals. And it won’t make us happier.”
Professor Randy Pausch
I finally reached a point where I had to ask myself:
What if this disease is happening for me, not to me?
Can I search for the blessing, strengths and lessons that it has to teach me? What might I be grateful for in this journey? How does Divine Presence show up in my life through this illness?
And this takes me into the third thing I had to address: being willing to take small steps forward.
Synonyms for laziness are indolence and sloth. Indolence derives from the Latin indolentia, ‘without pain’ or ‘without taking trouble’. Sloth has more moral and spiritual overtones than laziness or indolence.
Anyone who’s taken time to read Proverbs or Ecclesiastes knows what they say about getting stuck under the covers! But sometimes, with chronic illness, there’s more than laziness to deal with.
Allow me to clarify, that when I talk about the desire to stay as a couch potato and be lazy, I am not referring to:
Chronic fatigue and the need to rest
Clinical depression and how it drives you to inactivity
Shutdown caused by the dorsal vagus nerve
Resting to recover from illness
While I mention that my healing journey has required that I face my personal laziness, it would be unfair to myself and others to write everything off as laziness.
Most people with chronic illness deal at some point in time with chronic fatigue. I’m not talking about ME, also known as chronic fatigue syndrome, although I can identify with every one of the symptoms listed for it:
brain fog, problems with clear thinking, memory loss, and even muscle twitching
Being diagnosed with ulcerative colitis and Coeliac disease, these are all part of the fatigue I’ve had.
Another symptom (commonly found with other chronic illnesses also) of Coeliac disease and ulcerative colitis is depression. For me, this was caused by two things:
a natural side effect of having a disease in the gut that affects the ANS, immune system and gut microbiome.
ignoring my grief and sorrow, trying to soldier on, without allowing myself to acknowledge what I felt I had lost.
For many years, I attempted to fore happiness and pretend nothing was wrong. “I’ve got this”. I was pretending to be strong, rather than finding inner strength. And if you’re any good at this, you can do it for years.
During this time, I failed to acknowledge all the sources of my depression: gut health & microbiome, emotions, mental, chemical and even the dis-regulation of my ANS.
Shutdown & avoidance as self-preservation
Until recently I didn’t even know that one of my primary survival instincts (those habits you create to survive, that later become your Achilles heel), was shutdown and avoidance. The body is an amazing thing – survival first.
While some people go into fight-flight when faced with danger, I learnt as a child that those were not options. The safest option was to be neither seen nor heard. It’s freezing like a possum that plays dead or the turtle that hides safely in its shell.
So why on earth, if I’m battling these three challenges, would I even mention laziness as a habit to be overcome?
Being lazy: disinclined to activity or exertion
It’s so easy when life is overwhelming to get stuck in “there’s nothing I can do about this”. As I said before, if I had known that returning to a healthy life would take so long, would I have even tried?
In most cases, it is deemed painful to expend effort on long-term goals that do not provide immediate gratification. For a person to embark on a project, he has to value the return on his labour more than his loss of comfort.
I was not completely helpless. There were things I could do that would make a difference, but that required some effort on my part.
Intentionally resting: rather than watching TV or playing computer games or mindlessly scrolling social media, I needed to sleep deeply, giving my body a chance to heal. To do this, I had to remove foods that interfered with deep sleep, remove caffeine and add in magnesium.
Find out which supplements, vitamins & minerals would restore health. Some of these tackle inflammation, while others support the nervous system and neuro-processes, giving me clearer thinking and raising my energy levels.
Build my own personal support network and groups.
I wanted people around me that were positive and believed restored health was possible. I needed accountability, not people that would listen to me complaining. Most importantly, I wanted to be surrounded by those interested in “being healthy“, rather than those whose mindset was “how do I live with this illness?”
I want to be healthy in spite of this illness
It takes exertion, motivation & discipline to make the changes (habits & lifestyle) that restore health & wellbeing. I constantly battle my innate survival mode of withdrawal and hibernation.
“I’ll deal with the mental, emotional and physical issues later – right now I’m just going to finish binge-watching this series on Netflix.”
“I’m sick. There’s nothing I can do about it.”
“I can’t run, so there’s no point in going for a 5-minute walk.”
“My joints & muscles hurt, so I’m just going to stay here.”
If I listen to that, I don’t even bother going to the kitchen to take the supplements that help relieve the inflammation & pain.
Laziness doesn’t just refer to being “a couch potato” – but it’s the state of mind of being stuck, unable to even move a single rung up the ladder.
Yes, I still want the magic pill of miraculous healing that allows me to bypass all this work and all these individual steps! But would I really have made the changes and addressed all these issues any other way?
Change the habits & lifestyle, so that the miracle can happen!
Medically speaking, it’s impossible to heal Coeliac Disease and ulcerative colitis. So far, they are vastly improved, but not healed. I’m not sure if it will be possible, or whether my personal healing journey will simply be one of discipline & habits.
But I finally reached a point where I am willing to continue the journey, irrespective of the final outcome.
And so I come to the last healing lesson I want to share with you: forgiving myself and others.
Learning to Forgive: letting go of anger, resentment & bitterness
Forgiveness and reconciliation are two entirely different concepts. Unfortunately, as a child I learnt a very skewed example of forgiveness and reconciliation.
We were made to say “I’m sorry“, with the threat of punishment hanging over our headif we didn’t. And if we received this unrepentant sorry, we were equally forced to say “I forgive you“, with that very same threat of punishment. At least we were equally afraid of the punishment that would be meted out if we failed to say sorry or I forgive you.
What lesson was that really in forgiveness?
There was not open-heartedness or vulnerability. There was no true desire to repair the relationship. We merely feared the greater punishment that awaited if we failed to say those words, no matter how meaningless.
I grew within myself a heart of stone, because it wasn’t safe to be vulnerable and open. Feelings were not safe and were certainly not to be expressed.
I’ve had to come a long way in my own journey of forgiveness, leaving meaningless words behind and delving for myself into the heart of the matter. I no longer rush to forgive (going through the motion) or minimising my emotions and feelings. And I don’t need the other person to even be aware that I am forgiving them.
In order to truly forgive another, you have to acknowledge what you’re feeling. And those feelings might no be pretty. They might be more than pain and hurt or disappointment. Perhaps you feel angry and resentful. Worse yet, you might have allowed it to fester and turn into bitterness.
But until you can actually unpack your emotional baggage, and hang it in the sun to air and for you to see clearly, you won’t truly forgive. All of the feelings that you stuffed down, stowed away, and hid in the darkest corners of your memory have to be released and let go.
Forgiveness isn’t just spiritual, it’s also physical:
If we want to heal physically, we have to practice forgiveness – of ourselves and others. Whatever it is that we are holding onto.
…unresolved conflict can go deeper than you may realize—it may be affecting your physical health. The good news: Studies have found that the act of forgiveness can reap huge rewards for your health, lowering the risk of heart attack; improving cholesterol levels and sleep; and reducing pain, blood pressure, and levels of anxiety, depression and stress. ,,, Chronic anger puts you into a fight-or-flight mode, … changes in heart rate, blood pressure and immune response. Those changes, then, increase the risk of depression, heart disease and diabetes, among other conditions. Forgiveness, however, calms stress levels, leading to improved health.
When we hold a grudge, our attention stays focused on the past and it plays a role in the present moment, even in depression. This anger or resentment, when stored for long enough in our body, can even show up as pain or more illness.
Studies show how suppressed anger – that which we haven’t been willing to even acknowledge, much less vent – is showing up in cases of patients with cancer. Suppression takes a toll on our bodies, as we pretend that we aren’t hurt and angry. (Anger and Cancer: Is There a Relationship?)
On the other hand, when we hold a grudge, we create the feelings each time I mind replays the situation. So, now when I think of “forgive and forget”, I am turning off the “replay” switch in my mind. It’s not that I completely forget the situation, as if it never existed, but rather that I refuse to give the reruns “air time” in my mind.
I refuse to relive the stress of the memory over and over again in my body. I will not rehash – in this present moment – an event from the past. That is simply poisoning the present.
Among the many harmful effects that this loop has on your health is cognitive decline, dumping cortisol (the stress hormone) back into your blood stream, and affecting once again appetite, sleep patterns, heart rate and blood pressure.
“Living in a chronic state of tension disables your body’s repair mechanisms, increasing inflammation and the stress hormone cortisol in the body.” “Forgiveness engages the parasympathetic nervous system, which helps your immune system function more efficiently and makes room for feel-good hormones like serotonin and oxytocin.”
I recognise that I’m still not done with the this process. But I’m finally willing to sit with emotions as they arise. I’m finally able to see how the spiral works in healing, no matter how long the journey.
And the truth will set you free
Not just knowing it… but truly living it! I started off with a video by Stephen Levine, where he talks about healing, not just physically but also emotionally.
Over these past four years, as I’ve worked on restoring my physical health, I’ve had to admit to the truth of where I am at and what changes and habits I have not been willing to change that have delayed the healing process.
I finally have begun to understand Jesus’ admonition to the man he healed “go and sin no more” – because I realise the effects that my lifestyle had (emotionally, physically, mentally & spiritually) on my health & well-being.
This has been the greatest gift of this illness: recognising that I have choice about how I choose to live in the presence of the Divine and how I choose to let it shine for and through me.
As spiritual beings having a human experience, we get attached and tied to things, relationships and stuff. In fact, we begin to measure our own value by that attachment. And then, when a relationship breaks, or we fail at something, we somehow believe that we are a failure. We are no longer worthy.
Attachment is the source of all suffering.
People, places and things can ruin us unless we can learn to live in a state of detachment. Not detachment as “I don’t care”, in a disconnected way. But detached in the sense of no longer needing to have control over the outcome. That place where you can honestly say, I trust that all is well.
Let go and let God.
Can you enter that place where you release your perceptions, beliefs, expectations of how things should turn out? Can you experience life as it is, even when that’s not how you hoped it would be? In some cases, this means feeling your emotions, then letting them go. It might include establishing emotional boundaries, rather than giving away your power to others.
Can you detach from the material world and simply trust that all is well?
The love of money is the root of all evil.
Take a moment and consider your spiritual practices – whether it’s prayer, meditation, singing, chanting, study or silence. What is the purpose of your practice, and how has it helped you heal?
Contemplate how you can practise healthy detachment from relationships, situations or even thought patterns and habits because of these spiritual practices.
Are they really working for you?
Or are you merely going through the motions of being busy in spiritual practice to avoid doing the deep work of facing your shadows, pain, guilt and shame?
What is spiritual bypassing?
A spiritual bypass is a defence mechanism we use, which effectively distracts us from experiencing the present moment. It’s what we do when we get busy so that we can ignore our feelings.
Do you find yourself using spiritual bypassing to shield you from the ugly truth of what you really feel? Perhaps you keep telling yourself, I obviously need to pray more, because I shouldn’t feel this way. You stuff it or swallow it down so that it doesn’t show.
Are you “checking out” by studying more, reading more, and learning more, instead of checking in with your feelings? How long do you think you can go on saying “I’m fine”, rather than acknowledging that you really aren’t okay?
Perhaps you tell yourself it’s self-care, even, when it’s really just avoidance. You become a Pharisee, busy following all the rules, without ever really experiencing the cleansing flood of tears and true healing.
The reality is that spiritual healing doesn’t typically happen when you are reading, studying, in prayer, singing or in meditation. Healing occurs in the middle of an argument – when you remember to pause before you say something hateful. Rebuilding yourself comes after a breakdown or loss, walking down the beach, crying silent tears. In the middle of life, you find grace and mercy to cleanse your soul, heal your emotions, and refocus your thoughts.
Bypassing your unresolved trauma, wounds & issues
While you might try to outrun the pain and forgetting it, spirituality is not about “feeling good” or “being positive”. Pain in life is inevitable, and your spiritual practice is not intended to numb the pain but to truly heal it.
Have you noticed that 40% of the Psalms are about pain suffering and lament? When was the last time you read Job or even the book of Jonah?
And yet we tell ourselves:
Don’t be a Debbie Downer.
When we live in a culture that says “just use your positive affirmations”. Claim your power. All the while, you fail to acknowledge that you are angry, fearful and irritable. Because we hide it, we side-step the healing process for emotional, mental and psychological wounds.
Perhaps you are telling yourself “I forgave them”, but still feel the resentment, hurt and anger. And in your confusion of “I shouldn’t feel this way”, you bottle it up and swallow it down, rather than acknowledging the truth that you haven’t done enough work to forgive and release. Sometimes there is much deeper healing work that needs to take place, but it makes us too uncomfortable, so we settle for the spiritual bypass that lets us off the hook.
The potential harm of false positivity
I believe in positive affirmations. They are intense and influential; they have a fantastic role to play. But you can’t fake healing! It’s like painting over a structural crack in the wall: the paint job just won’t hold the building up!
If you want to grow and flourish, you can’t avoid the painful experiences of life. More often than not, it’s not in deep meditation that you find your growth, but when you’re angry, frustrated and upset – and you breathe for a moment. You recognise that you have space to choose your response. That’s where your growth happens.
Of course, you can only achieve this is you have the awareness to acknowledge that you are feeling angry, frustrated and upset. Have you created a safe space in which you can feel pain, sadness or even depression? Is it okay, in your world, to not be okay? Can you admit and ask for help when you need it, whether it be therapy, coaching or spiritual counselling?
We don’t need to hear any more “you shouldn’t feel like that” – but rather the helping hands that say “I see that you feel this way”, now let’s help you move through this.
I love one of the acronyms I learnt through mBraining (most likely from Vikki Coombes, who probably learnt it from Grant Soosalu):
PAIN = Please Acknowledge Information Now
When you are feeling pain – what is the information that it is inviting you to acknowledge?
Shadow work and healing
Are you scared of the dark? Are you afraid to face your guilt and shame, hiding from the pain and ugly aspects of your life? Do you tell yourself to move on, without really doing the work? There is a moment when we stop digging and move on. But not by studiously ignoring it when it needs to be addressed. Not through spiritual bypassing.
Can you explore your inner darkness, sit with it and then release it?
To start on the healing process, we have to acknowledge it exists. Stop denying a part of yourself and turning a blind eye to those parts of yourself that you don’t want to see.
You cannot heal what does not exist. So, your first step in the healing process is to allow it into your awareness, acknowledge it, feel it. Carl Jung referred to this dark part we deny as the shadow self. It might be anger, lust, envy, pain, sadness, anxiety or depression. Generally, these are emotions we feel and thoughts we have, that we have labelled as “wrong”. We tell ourselves “I shouldn’t feel this way any more”, and so we begin to hide them, even from ourselves.
Detachment is what happens when we acknowledge it, but don’t get caught up in it. Be willing to see it, and see yourself experience it, and then allow it to go, rather than engulfing you.
Allow yourself to ask these questions:
What do I feel?
When did this start?
What were the events that triggered this? Which events in my present life are continuing to trigger this?
Why am I ashamed of feeling this way?
What part of my identity – who I think I am – requires me to hold onto this? Who would I be if I released this?
Let go and let God
Yes, it’s cliché. But it’s also healthy detachment.
You are not your pain. Or your anger. That is not your identity. It is an emotion you have felt or are continuing to experience. Can you feel it and then let it go?
Can you see yourself disconnecting from that emotion that controls your life? Could you take it one step further and see yourself disconnecting from the people that trigger this response in you and allowing them to control your life?
It’s easy to mistake connection and attachment. Connecting with others is essential. Attachment, however, brings in elements of control and expectations. We get tangled in a web and lose our identity.
Detaching allows you to step back, and see how you can connect with others compassionately, without attachment. With no control or expectations of what should be. It allows you to say “I don’t need you, but I can love you, compassionately“.
In this very same way, can you look in the mirror and see yourself without expectations? Could you acknowledge the shadow self and love yourself just as you are? This is where the healing starts.