The Coolest Nun You’ll Ever Meet

Vintage-Holland-Mold-Praying-Singing-Nun-Figurines

I was thinking about writing the third part in ‘The Journey of Freedom,’ but as I thought about what I wanted to write, so much of it came back to one person. A nun. Her name is not Sister Mary Clarence unfortunately (I used to pull Judah’s onesies ‘til they stopped over his wee head and say, “Sister Mary Clarence, is that you?” It was the BEST game), but her name is Sister Marie (pronounced Ma-rie). I met her in 2012 when she became my counselling supervisor in Christchurch. She was roughly 70, always wore a woolly cardy, and was one of the most remarkable people I have ever met.

I don’t know about you, but I have always found nuns absolutely fascinating. I feel like I have so many questions about the monastic life, especially regarding habits…like, are they super uncomfy?!. I never really got to ask Sister Marie these questions, not because I think she would’ve minded, but because she was such a consummate professional, and we were there to talk about me, not her.

The order she belongs to is one that is specifically devoted to serving the poor in the local community. She started her professional career as a teacher, and then re-trained as a counsellor in transactional analysis. She worked out of the Salvation Army in the lowest socio-economic suburb in the city and would ask between $5-$20 an hour as a donation. One of the things that I loved about her, is that in order to preserve people’s dignity, she would hand her clients a plain brown envelope to put their donation in; no-one ever need feel embarrassed if they could only afford $5.

It was Sister Marie that helped me get a handle on anxiety. I had experienced several episodes that were like constant mild panic attacks that would last for sometimes weeks at a stretch. My breathing was shallow, I felt dizzy, and unable to come down off the edge. It was horrible. Sister Marie helped me to understand that anxiety was the culmination of years of feelings that I had not allowed to be felt; left to their own devices, they banded together and took my attention by force. She taught me that if I stopped pushing anxiety away, and instead, stopped and listened to what it was trying to say, it would no longer need to arrest my daily life.

Sister Marie also taught me that in order to face the terrifying abyss of inner pain, I only needed to tip-toe up to the therapeutic window, take a peek, and tiptoe away again. With a trusted guide, the trips to the therapeutic window became less scary, and eventually, the carnage I witnessed became less and less alarming, and I could begin to make peace with it.

One of the biggest lessons I learnt from Sister Marie was one of her favourite mantras, “The only way through the pain, is through the pain.” It carried weight when she said it; the weight of someone who is qualified to say such a thing because they speak from experience. She told me that when she started her counselling training, she committed thoroughly to working through her own issues, aware that she could only lead people as far as she herself was willing to go.

But more than what she taught me, it was who she was that left such an impression. Up until that time, any notable moments on my healing journey were reasonably dramatic…punctuated by loads of emotion and quite instant tangible results. The journey I took with Sister Marie wasn’t like that. It was slow, and steady, and peaceful. Much like Sister Marie herself. I have never met anyone more grounded, secure and unflappable. She was very kind, but I also got the impression that she could be faced with the scariest, meanest person in the world, and not back down an inch. It was as if through a lifetime of silence, liturgy, devotion and surrender, she had discovered who she was and what she was called to do. There were no qualms, no ‘what ifs’, and no striving to climb the ladders of success, self-promotion or chasing ‘something out there’. She was completely settled within herself.

Those many mornings spent in her sparse, yet cosy, office were a game-changer for me. Sister Marie, in her humility, groundedness, kindness, and honesty, allowed me to see that the while the flash-bang of emotional healing is wonderful and a such a gift, the long-game of quiet, consistent plodding in a healthy direction is just as necessary. I want to be like Sister Marie when I grow up.

 

Much love,

Deb xx

A Journey of Freedom – Part II; Gollum

Gollum

I have to smirk; a few people commented on my tricky trickery in leaving you all hanging at the end of my last post. I have a confession to make: it wasn’t intentional. I’m not that clever. I just didn’t want to bore you all to tears, so I decided to stop writing. However, for those of you waiting with bated breath, here is part two. (Those of you waiting with bad breath? I can’t help you there…).

Gollum.

As mentioned in my first post, the voice of ‘the dread’ finally got so intrusive that I could no longer ignore it. Whether it became that way because my life was increasingly contrasted with my deep longing to be free, or because it was yelling louder and louder, I do not know. Or possibly because I had started to make some concerted efforts on a journey of freedom, the lid of the can had started to give way and the proverbial clat of worms started emerging. (On a side note, did you know that there are four possible collective nouns for worms? Bed, bunch, clat, and clew. Drop that into the convo next time you want to impress someone. You’re welcome).

The beginning of this journey mainly consisted of spending a lot of time lying on my bedroom floor, arms splayed, listening to Christian music of some variety and bawling my eyes out. It wasn’t sophisticated or cognitive. There was something about opening my soul to that of the Spirit of God that I think allowed a lot of unidentified grief to be aired. I cried and cried. And then I cried some more. For years, actually. I cried in my room, in church services, on altar calls, in prayer times…you name it, there I was, knee deep in tissues, and with the worst panda-eyes you ever did see. (One would think if I was going to cry for half my life, I would have at least worked out my mascara game). It was deep, painful, and therapeutic. It was also unquantifiable. I’ll never be able to measure what those times did in my heart, but I know for sure that they were essential to my journey of freedom, and that I would never have been able to move forward if they hadn’t have happened.

These encounters created a fog-clearing effect; it was necessary for the smoke to lift so I could see in sharper focus what was behind it. And what lay behind it terrified me; a Gollum-like creature that had the power to torment me. It was so hideous, yet it was hiding inside me. It seemed almost demonic, yet, much like Gollum, once I got to know it, I realised it wasn’t what I initially thought. In fact, given some vitamin D and a good hearty breakfast, it could even be called cute. It wasn’t scary, it was scared. It was a fractured part of my personality, a small Deb, that having experienced a frightening childhood experience, had hidden in a cave, and stayed in there, scared stiff, yelling to big Deb until she finally got my attention.

I was well into the 20-year journey of freedom before ‘the dread’ could finally carry another name. Nowadays I think of her as ‘little Deb’, and far from being my tormentor, she is someone I have come to care for. As you can well imagine, it wasn’t an easy, fun or straight road to get to that place. In fact, it was one of those things that if I knew what it was going to be like at the outset? I’m not sure I would have had the guts to take the journey. But I really, really needed to. And I’m really, really glad I did.

If you’re still reading by Part III, I’ll share a little of how I managed to make friends with my captor.

Much love,

Deb x

A Journey of Freedom – Part I; The Beginning

Bird

For those that know me, emotional wholeness is something I am extremely passionate about. It’s what led me to study counselling, and something that I could discuss ad nauseum – even at 11pm when exhausted from a long day. Just ask Caleb. He loves it. One would think that I would for sure have blogged about it by now…but I haven’t. It may seem surprising, but it’s a topic so dear to my heart that I couldn’t do it justice in one pithy blog, and no-one wants to read an 11-page diatribe on the subject, so I’ve demurred until now. I’ve decided to write a wee mini-series about the subject. I want to share a bit of my story, in the hopes that may be of some help or encouragement to some of you.

In the Beginning

By most standards, I had a pretty good childhood. There was no significant trauma, my parents loved us and each other, there was always a roof over our head and healthy food (read, not nearly enough treats), I had a good education, friends, and a church family. But I was always plagued by what I guess I can only describe as a feeling of unease; ‘the dread’. It’s like there was this cavern deep within me that sent unsettling and frightening echoes into the atmosphere of my life from time to time; a small, very scared, dark voice. From a really young age I can remember thinking, “I want to be free”. I just didn’t know what from.

‘The dread’ impacted more than I realised at the time. Probably the most obvious impact, was that I found it intolerable to experience solitude. I loved my alone time, but I always had to be reading, listening to music, watching something, playing a computer game or sleeping. I slept a lot. If I allowed myself to be undistracted, ‘the dread’ would start to beg for my attention, and it was way too freaky to focus on, so I had to stay busy. I remember my dad once saying that I was too future driven. I now know that it was because the present was too painful, and my constant hope was that the next conference, camp, holiday, project, outing, opportunity or potential relationship might hold the key to freedom.

I say ‘potential’ relationship, because ‘the dread’ impacted that area of my life too. I always had a crush on some poor probably not-so unsuspecting guy. I cringe now to think about how intense I was with those crushes, my wee heart was right out there on my sleeve, and deep down I was looking for something to soothe the disquiet within. The cruel irony, is that the odd time that someone began to return the interest in any way, I ran for the hills, freaked out of my tree. ‘The dread’ badly wanted attention and affection, but it couldn’t handle either.

My life was far from a social failure, but even though I had what many would consider an enviable circle of genuinely amazing friends, I was plagued by the feeling that I was never really ‘in’. On top of this, I would experience these super unfortunate bouts of blushing. Not the rosy, sweet, feminine, pinch-your-cheeks sort of glow. Oh no. This was the ugly sort of mottled scarlet that started somewhere at the base of the neck and spread with horrifying rapidness to my whole head. The sort of fire-engine red that has people asking if you’re okay and getting ready to seek medical attention on your behalf. I hated it. So. Much. I knew deep-down that I was a confident person, and it killed me that I had to leave conversations, or stop speaking out loud in class when I felt it happening.

I really wasn’t sure how to get free from this stuff. I just knew that my life was not peaceful, and that somewhere in the recesses of my soul, was a small, caged girl. She felt powerless, unlovely, alone and invisible. She was trying to get my attention, but it was too unbearable to listen, so I ignored her, until she got so distressed that I could no longer avoid it.

I’ll continue the story soon.

Deb xx