Coming Clean on Toxic Thoughts…

Have you ever found yourself in a less than desirable situation… say… a difficult marriage, a horrible job or been betrayed by a friend, relative or lover? Have you ever been wrongfully accused? 

If you’ve answered “yes” to any of the above, then you probably had “Toxic Thoughts”… you know those thoughts that are rooted in resentment and take on a life of their own as you plot revenge and conjure up scenarios where you triumph over the enemy.


So how did you deal with these Toxic Thoughts? How do you deal with them?”


I got many thoughtful responses to this post I did on my Facebook wall. So many of my friends contributed and participated with such honesty and humanity sharing from their personal journey. People who don’t know each other, whose only connection on my wall is that they know me, supported and cheered on each other. I was sent several inbox messages with those stories too personal to share on a Facebook wall. Some inbox messages were sincere words of encouragement and hope and “Go, Kelly! You can do this!” even though I didn’t confess to actually struggling with Toxic Thoughts in my FB status update. I am grateful. 

You all inspired me to try and pull your collective thoughts and input and experiences together into a playbook of sorts for dealing with Toxic Thoughts. So here goes…

Everyone has Toxic Thoughts at one time or another…
My most mild mannered, easy-going of friends confessed to having these feelings and thoughts. You are not alone.

Acknowledge Them
Face these thoughts. Articulate them. Don’t let them swirl in a murky, ill-defined mass in your mind and soul. 

Then Challenge Them
Sometimes you are simply the victim in the situation through no fault of your own.
Sometimes you are culpable in the whole mess.
Doesn’t really matter in the final analysis though. The net result is a miserable, hurting YOU, weighed down by these Toxic Thoughts that make you physically ill and show on your face.

Decide what you want
Some people hold on to anger and bitterness and use it as motivation.
But I’ve found righteous indignation to be tiring. Guilt is debilitating. The most desirable end state for me is one where I am free, happy and in a place to both receive and give goodness. 
So you don’t want to be constantly ruminating on your victim-hood, or plotting revenge… You want to freely celebrate someone else’s triumphs…You want energy that makes everything you do joyful and purposeful… You want the lines on your face to be from laughing too much, and not evidence of the constant internal grimacing that accompanies your Toxic Thoughts…
Good. Getting there…

Take Action!
Toxic thoughts apparently don’t simply expire over time. They have to be replaced. And replacing them requires some deliberate decisions then actions 

Some Practical Suggestions from my Friends:

  • Allow a set amount of time for rumination then clap your hands 3 times (ok the clapping is my idea!) and then decide enough!
  • Replace the ruminations with other thoughts: 

  1. Acknowledging what is good in your life
  2. Praying to God
  3. Giving thanks to God

  • Positive mantras like Bible verses that promise better days and healing and provision create new focal points and serve a pivots around which your entire outlook and attitude can shift
  • Accept what you cannot control
  • Do the things that make you fell better: Music or Walking or Dancing or Going to the beach  
  • Removing yourself from the situation (several people recommended this!)
  • Seek counselling from trained professionals or wise people who mean you well.
  • DO the opposite of how you are feeling. Feeling lonely? Call someone. Feeling like no one cares? Give someone a gift? Bemoaning how alone in the world you are? Invite friends over.
And remember this…

My wise cousin who knows a thing or two about how peoples minds work, reminded me that letting go and replacing Toxic Thoughts is often times not a one-off event, but rather a process. If you’re headed in the direction of Freedom, then you’re doing good…

“In my personal journey, I have discovered that sometimes forgiveness and letting go is not a one time thing. I don’t know why I always thought it was that way or that it had to be that way. Perhaps it should be that way. However, letting go in increments is still a victory. It’s still letting go. And by this I mean, I often work with people who believe all is lost when we worked through a problem LAST week but this week it popped back up causing distress. This doesn’t mean that it’s all over. It just means that gently and carefully we stitch up the heart again and go about our business. This is life. It’s not perfect. But in the end, that’s okay.”

And so, before I set off to work yesterday, I decided up front not to focus on everything that was not as I wanted it to be. And then as I rounded the corner, I saw this, and I knew that it was a gift to me… a reminder that life is more than I can see at a particular point in time. It was perfect. And it was splendid. And in that moment I gave thanks.
Sunrise over Kingston Harbour….

And nothing changed, you know…except me. I listened as people made their presentations. I heard the half-truths and the selective exaggerations. And as I listened and observed, the less than savory things about certain people still came to mind. But this time I acknowledged them even as I declined to pass judgement. 

One of my friends shared this on  my wall in response to my question on Toxic Thoughts. Think on these things…

From Nelson Mandela’s “Long Walk to Freedom”: In the Foreword written by former US President Bill Clinton, he notes: “I once asked Mandela to describe his long walk from prison to president. Mandela’s reply was: “When you are young and strong, you can stay alive on your hatred. And I did for many years.” Then one day after years of imprisonment, physical, and emotional abuse, and separation from his family, Mandela said, “I realized that they could take everything from me except my mind and my heart. They could not take those things. Those things I still had control over. And I decided not to give them away.” 

President Clinton, like any rational person, could not readily wrap his mind around what Mandela was saying, and so he pressed for more: “Tell me the truth,” he said to Mandela, “when you were leaving prison after 27 years and walking down that road to freedom, didn’t you hate them all over again?” and Mandela replied, “Absolutely I did, because they had imprisoned me for so long. I was abused. I didn’t get to see my children grow up. I lost my marriage and the best years of my life. I was angry. And I was afraid, because I had not been free in so long. But as I got closer to the car that would take me away, I realized that when I went through that gate, if I still hated them, they would still have me. I wanted to be free. And so I let it go.”



You can either focus on the walls around you or you can simply look up and see the endless possibilities…your choice. Photo Credit: Rachael McIntosh







Sail into Tomorrow…

“Sail Into Tomorrow” by Olivia Newton-John

If a ship of dreams bid me come, would I board it?
If I had their gold in my hands, would I hoard it?
If I knew the trials I must face, would I carry on at all?

Sail into tomorrow, living day to day
That’s all I can afford to do and all I’ll ever pay
Is a song to sing to thank you for making me alive
And a prayer to bring me comfort – Lord help us to survive

If his pretty eyes shone my way, would I leave you?
If I wasn’t sure he would stay, would I deceive you?
If I had to melt you with promises, would they stand or fall?

Sail into tomorrow, living day to day
That’s all I can afford to do and all I’ll ever pay
Is a song to sing to thank you for making me alive
And a prayer to bring you comfort – Lord help us to survive

If time should call me a fool, would I laugh or would I care?
Sail into tomorrow, living day to day
That’s all I can afford to do and all I’ll ever pay
Is a song to sing to thank you for making me alive
And a prayer to bring you comfort – Lord help us to survive
I fell in love with this song as a little girl. It was one of the cuts from Olivia Newton John’s album “Clearly Love” (1975). There was just something very haunting and wistful about this song…the words, the melody, Olivia’s pitch perfect voice… to my then 8 year old mind and soul.
Fast forward to Boxing Night 2015. I was in the shower getting ready to go watch The Force Awakens and out of the blue I found myself humming this song! I had not heard it in decades. 
I startled my own self. Wrapped in my towel, dripping wet perched on the edge of the bed, I snatched up my phone and searched for the lyrics. I just knew there was a message in there for me. And sho ’nuff, there was. The central theme resonated with me in a very real, a very strong, a very organic way: moving forward, in the face of uncertainty, taking it one day at a time, with faith, relying on Someone bigger than me. Here’s the thing…
Each new year has always represented for me, an opportunity to take stock, celebrate wins small and big, and anticipate the future. I’ve had difficult years. I’ve had great years. And I’ve also had non-eventful years. But on the eve of every new year, I pause and try to map out in my head and heart, always hopeful, the New Year coming. It has been no different this time around.
Many people pooh-pooh the notion of New Year Resolutions. No problem. I make no prescription for anyone here. This is simply my own story, my own heart.
  
I had hoped to end 2015 with a very clear picture of the trajectory of my professional life in particular. I thought that at this stage in 2015 I would have had at the very least, sharply defined options all in a neat and tidy row. Not so at all. It’s fuzzy. 2015 went by in a blur and here I am at the edge of what appears at this time to be a new year that looks burdensome and wearying based on  my current reality. 
While not one of those keen and avid goal setters (and nothing wrong with being one of those!), I must confess that I prefer to have in hand, timetables, plans, road-maps and context in order to feel settled and to provide direction. In order to be in control. There… I said it. So coming to the end of 2015 without any of the above in hand I was feeling a little out of my comfort zone and a little sad that the status quo seemed set to remain. 
But here’s the thing, events in my 47 years of life have taught me to chill: I don’t know everything. I can’t see around corners. There are so many things outside of my control. And He is able to do “exceedingly abundantly above anything that I can ask or think”.  My life lessons had brought me to a place where I was not as depressed or worried as I might have been say 10 or 15 years ago. I acknowledged the following to myself:
1. Even though I’d love to know, I don’t know what the future holds…
2. And I’m fine with that, as I know with certainty, that there is no randomness in my life. 
3. And I yield to that Higher Plan, all the while following the promptings within to prepare and to       get ready to switch course if necessary
And so I think that this song popping into my head from nowhere on Boxing Day was a gentle sign of reassurance that I was right where I was supposed to be at this time: uncertain, yet trusting. Moving forward, even though down the road is nothing but a hazy blur at this time. #grateful 
“Sail into tomorrow, living day to day

That’s all I can afford to do and all I’ll ever pay

Is a song to sing to thank you for making me alive

And a prayer to bring you comfort – Lord help us to survive.”


WHY?

I had been following the tweets of #oomf (I shall call her “R”)for a few weeks. I knew nothing about her except what I gleaned from Twitter. We’d occasionally even trade tweets. Here’s what I gathered about her: she had lupus. She had been spending a lot of time in hospitals of late. R had moved from hospital to hospital. Her condition had deteriorated over the past couple of weeks. She seemed to be in pain, all over pain. She couldn’t keep any food or drink down. At first, she was able to tolerate watermelon. Eventually, not even that. Her tweets progressed from mere notifications of her current state, to what felt like resignation to a horrible existence, the absence of hope, the sound of a very weary and battered soul, and in the instances where there was shard of strength, desperate cries for help.

Many of her own followers offered words of encouragement and in some cases tangible help in the form of visits, gifts of juice and doctor recommendations. For my part, I may have reached out in a single tweet trying to commiserate. She was always in my thoughts, and I would check her timeline to catch up her latest news. I prayed for her. Pain can be so debilitating, robbing the victim of his humanity, stripping away composure and erasing hope. As for her nausea…ugh! I had morning (noon and night) sickness during my two pregnancies which started at Day 1 and continued right up to the moment in the delivery room when I pushed my babies out. It. Was. Awful. Enough said. In my case I knew why I was sick. I also knew that it would end, and I knew when it would end. In R’s case, no one could tell her the reason, and nothing was helping. She was being stripped down day by day, dollar by dollar. Yesterday, very early, a lone tweet from her pierced my morning: “Anyone?” Oh God. I scrolled to the tweet before this one, and realised that in the dark just before dawn, R had thrown out a request to TwitterLand for advice as to where she could get a nurse’s aid. Not many people are actively tweeting at that time of the morning and her cry for help went unheeded. I got out of bed and moved to the laptop. I was on a mission. I DMed her and told her that I may be able to assist with a referral. Several FB inbox messages (I don’t have to provide the explanatory link to what FB inbox is, right?) to someone I was sure could help and several DMs to R later, I had linked her with her possible solution. But I was left with one question as I pondered the situation: Why?

I thought about a FB Note (I hope you know what that is too…if you don’t, please stop reading and ask your teen to tell you what a FB note is) I had written November 2009:

Why Me? Why her? Why now?

November 1, 2009 at 1:12pm

It’s always gratifying to see your children socialising and being participatory. This morning my Firstborn sang with her school Glee Club at a mass of remembrance for Pia. For those who do not know, Pia would have been 19 today, and it exactly 1 year since she died. Pia was accidentally shot by her father as he ran out towards Pia and her mother who were being held up by gunmen outside their Kingston suburban home. He slipped and fell in the melee and the gun went off, the single bullet piercing Pia’s stomach. Pia was the school’s head girl and an active Roman Catholic. As I observed her family supporting each other this morning, and the love and support of the Church community, I reflected on the whole notion of suffering.
Some of us suffer because of poor choices that we make. Others of us suffer and there is no rational answer to the question: “why?” Why did that one bullet hit and kill Pia, what anguish assails her father, why does one person get cancer and not another, why does one person get HIV infected and others engaging in risky sex escape, why, why, why? What about those of us who have misery beset us because of our own poor choices? Do we have a right to hope for mercy and redemption? 

It was a very moving service that prompted these musings. I certainly did not leave with the answers, only a feeling of gratitude for the blessings that are still there in the middle of sadness, loss, regret and despair….a certain knowledge that His ways are not our ways, and that redemption is available and possible for all. 

It somehow seems easier for us to reconcile consequences to actions. If I put my hand in the fire, I will get burnt. Inevitable. Painful, but expected. And we roll with those punches. But if I am walking past the stove and it somehow explodes, burning that same hand, I now contend with the same pain and then some, asking WHY… why did this happen to me? After all, I didn’t get burned through any fault of my own.  In fact, some of us, having made poor choices and even wrong choices, welcome the fall out as a sort of penance for our wrong doing.

Life, though, exists and manifests with inter-relationships that we have no control over. Here’s a simple illustration: two of us are sitting perhaps 2 feet apart at the side of a pond. The fool to my left decides to pick up a large stone and throw it with force into the pond. His decision, his action. So he throws it in and there’s a huge splash. I’m pretty sure he expected that he would get splashed. And sure enough, he gets splashed. Here’s the problem though: I’m only 2 feet away, so I too get splashed, my only part in this mess being my proximity to him. The stone that he pelted into the water, startled the King Fisher about to get his morning meal in the form of a hapless fish swimming merrily in said pond. The fish escapes death, the bird goes hungry. Ripples are created and radiate outwards all the way to the other end of the pond. One single action by one person has affected, in one way or another, several other situations and persons.

So we ask why. My wise Aunt Jeannie (the same person who shared laughingly while shaking her head I as I shared with her some of the settling in pains of our first year of marriage: “Men are simple you know, Kelly…accept that and it makes it easier to deal with them…”) once replied to one of my “why?” moments with this counter: “WHY NOT?”

This is life: inter-connectedness that we will never understand or even know about… actions and consequences, some our own, many having nothing to do with us.

Last week, the parents of a student at Little Master’s school were murdered. My godson sits beside that student and his mom, my friend G, called me to talk about it. “How do you think we should deal with this situation, Kelly?” she asked. We agreed that acknowledging what had happened would probably be best, without going into the gory details, and that providing a safe space for the children to ask questions and express their feelings would be useful too. G told me that my godson had challenged her recently: “If God is supposed to take care of us, why do bad things happen? Does it mean that God is NOT taking care of us properly?” That “WHY?” again… I was naturally curious as to her response to my obviously thinking and intelligent godson. Here’s what this wise mummy replied:

God created all things and allows situations to happen (big fish eat fish). Humans are different from the rest of God’s creations as we can think and reason at a higher level. Our job, as His people, is to do the right things in our lives.

I can’t answer every single “why?” that crops up as I make my way in life. My faith allows me to reach out and ask for and accept grace when I am faced with the consequences of my own actions. That same faith challenges me to reach out and ask for grace to deal with circumstances that are created without my participation. I don’t believe that my life is a series of random events. I try daily to embrace My Story. There are lessons I’ve learned. There is a God that I’ve come to know. I believe that I have grown as a person, and I think that I have been able to journey with people though their own story, sharing strength and insight that I gained along the way through my own experiences. I believe that even though I may not be able to answer “why?” today, there may come a day when I possibly can. I believe that every single thing happens for a reason, and that as at today, it’s not all over…”the story nuh done yet.”

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