I don’t want there to be any false pretenses about my healing journey that I’ve been on these past few years. I haven’t done this on my own. Like at all. Sure, I soul searched and dug deep, and I recognized the need to rip off the bandaids and truly clean out my wounds once and for all. But for that last part, I needed outside help. I knew I for sure needed God in this process, because without Him, how could I heal and make real changes? I also knew I needed to take it one step further: I needed professional help. Husbands, friends, and family are amazing to talk to and gain perspective from. Don’t get me wrong, because I need those wonderful people in my life. But I needed someone who was a trained professional. Someone who would have courage to call a spade a spade. Sometimes family and friends don’t feel they can tell you when you’re out of line or need a kick in the pants. A professional can, and in a professional way. I needed a neutral place, one of zero judgement or strings attached. I needed wisdom and truth. I needed to feel safe.
I was blessed to get an appointment with a very busy family medical doctor/therapist. Let’s call him Dr. Smith. He’s pretty hard to get in to see, but I squeaked on in! (I feel like that’s just me. Somehow I always end up worming my way into people’s lives. Haha!) After my first appointment, I wanted to quit. Ripping off bandaids and cleaning out deep wounds sucked. And it HURT! My husband encouraged me and reminded me that this is what I wanted. And that I shouldn’t give up. I’m extremely glad I listened to him, because let’s face it, I can be a brat and do the opposite of listening.
I told Dr Smith how there are people I know and love who have at times withdrawn and closed themselves off from relationships. I never understood why, but after pondering it, I questioned if I should just quit and withdraw. It’s my tendency to put a lot of effort into my relationships (inside and outside of my own family) and how I sometimes feel like it’s not reciprocated. I will end up hurt or disappointed because I feel that my friends and family don’t care about me and my family like I do about them. I feel like sometimes it’s one-sided. If I don’t make the effort and reach out or plan things, then my kids and I lose out. I told my therapist that maybe I should just focus on my own little family and kind of pump the brakes with everyone else. It’s safer that way, isn’t it? In response to the tangent I went off on, Dr Smith calmly asked me, “How many ways are there to do the dishes?” I didn’t know what in tarnation he was talking about. And what in tarnation did that have to do with my tangent?
Dr Smith answered for me because he saw my deer in the headlights look. He said that are two ways to do the dishes. He told me that I could “do the dishes” out of guilt, anger, hurt, retaliation or frustration. I could mutter under my breath that my family is always making messes and that I ALWAYS have to clean up after them. I could do it begrudgingly and resent my family for not helping. Or, I could see it as an opportunity to bless and serve my family. Doing the dishes is giving my family a gift. It’s giving my love.
I loved this analogy. I work well with analogies and in this instance, this analogy could be literal. How do you actually do the dishes? This helped me rethink how I bless my family with keeping my house clean and free of “noise”. I don’t love doing the actual dishes, but I do love how the end result of a clean kitchen positively effects my family.
To take it further than the literal question, he had me thinking about my motives of withdrawing. Would I be withdrawing out of hurt and disappointment? Would I do it to punish other people? Or would I be pumping the brakes out of a healthy desire to regroup (hello expectations!) and reprioritize what truly matters? I had to think of what was best for us! My own little family truly matters most, but I can get a little distracted at times. This was a perfect reminder for me.
This analogy also helped me think of my “why”. Why am I saying yes to so many things? Is it out of obligation or guilt? Or is it because I genuinely want to say yes?
I had an epiphany one day that goes along with this analogy. I must give a little back story first. My husband and I have very different languages of love. (Fun fact: I’ve never actually read the book The 5 Love Languages cover to cover, but I want/need to!) I’m more of a Words of Affirmation and Physical Touch kind of girl. Keegan is more of an Acts of Service and Quality Time Together kind of guy. We tend to give our love in the way we want to receive. This can cause complications. And it has. I communicate my love to Keegan in the way that’s meaningful to me, but unfortunately not as meaningful to him. And vice versa. Sometimes, I’ve focused on what I’m not getting, instead of focusing on what’s in front of me. Keegan wasn’t always telling me he loved me with his words, but he absolutely showed me with his actions.
One day, as I looked around our house, something hit me hard. I saw evidence of Keegan’s love EVERYWHERE! It was a real humbling experience for me! I was able to see through a different lens. I saw that Keegan truly serves me and our family and it was humbling. He’s a finishing carpenter, and he did the finishing work on our house. Literally, I could see his love everywhere. I looked at the garbage can that was put outside for the garbage truck to pick up. He takes it out every Wednesday. I looked at our manicured lawn (or was it a shoveled driveway? I can’t remember because weather is crazy here.) I saw my van parked in the garage. Keegan makes sure the garage is cleared out on my side so I can park inside. Meanwhile, he parks outside and contends with rain or snowy and icy windows to clear off. I saw our full fridge and pantry and recognized that Keegan was the reason I could keep our family fed. The list goes on. He does so much for me and my family. I just needed to open my eyes a little more to see it in a different light. I try to show gratitude, but this taught me something different.
When the magnitude of Keegan’s love and service hit me, I got pretty emotional. I texted him, and said, “You do love me so much. Sometimes I don’t see all the ways you show me you love me. I’m trying way harder to recognize it. And I’m seeing it everywhere. You’re kind of obsessed with me.” (I actually searched our text history for this quote. It’s kind of weird to quote myself.)
I’m telling you, this was paramount in our relationship!!! It completely changed how I was being filled up. Because I could finally recognize Keegan’s love language, I could feel how much he loves me. Keegan has always been so devoted to me. It took me many moons to see it. Heck, even in his dreams he’s devoted to me. (In real life I’m devoted, but not in my dreams. Insert shifty eyes and awkward laugh.)
Fast forward. I look for ways I can show Keegan I love him, in his love language. Sure, I still give words of affirmation and affection, but I’m trying more than ever to SHOW him. I’m trying to teach our kids that, too. For Father’s Day this year, their present to their dad was decluttering their toys. Then I helped them sell their toys. With that money, they took him out for ice cream. Now that was meaningful to Keegan.
I am forever grateful for God’s help along the way. I was able to give my burdens to Him. There’s so much more I could say about that and all the tender mercies. For the time being, I’ll add my gratitude for how He helped me recognize the need to go to a therapist. I’m forever grateful for Dr Smith and his insights. I’m grateful that he called a spade a spade and wouldn’t let me get away with an easy out. The decision to seek out professional help is sometimes not supported by family members, for whatever reason. I’m forever grateful for a husband who supported and encouraged me to see Dr Smith.
I know that it’s okay to not be okay. After my mom died, my world was shattered. I wasn’t okay. But I took time to feel everything I needed to. I didn’t rush through my stages of grief. (Have I mentioned that anger was a stage I lingered at for a while?) I didn’t suppress anything. And after that, I was able to take charge of my healing and seek spiritual, physical, emotional and mental help. I’m forever grateful for that. Nuggets I’ve learned along the way, like the two ways to do the dishes, have truly given me a chance to change. The ability to change is a true gift.