C’mon Get Happy

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This week’s WW topic is “Happiness.”

Today was the first of seven of these workshops I’ll be attending this week on my “90 meetings in 90 Days” journey. (I owe you a post to explain that. Tomorrow. Maybe.) Today’s discussion was interesting. I’m looking forward to see how it gets addressed in the other workshops.

The weekly handout suggested that being happy makes the healthy activities we do in our lives more possible and increases the experience of those things. It also acknowledged that partaking of those activities increases happiness.

The workshop’s Coach listed a formula that determines one’s happiness level:

50% Genetics
+10% Life Circumstances
+40% Attitude, Thoughts, & Actions

My immediate reaction was to scoff at the Life Circumstances percentage. I mean, although it hasn’t been as painful and difficult as other people’s, it’s been generously peppered with a lot of trauma. Consequently, I have PTSD. Plus, I experience Depression, Bipolar 2 Disorder, fibromyalgia, and am parenting a child with regularly tells me things like she wishes I would kill myself or that I had been born dead.

Yeah. Happiness is HARD. That’s a LOT of genetics and life circumstances.

I spend a lot of time fighting tears, dealing with bureaucracy, and managing conflict. I’m skeptical that Happiness is a state of being that’s more than occasionally possible for me.

I think Acceptance and Contentedness are much more doable. I think there can be moments of happiness. I think we have to be emotionally and mentally healthy and functional to be able to experience even those moments of happiness. I simply don’t believe that Happiness is achievable as a permanent state.

All that being said, I have my own formula:

Psych meds
+A supportive community
+Choosing to be in positive environments

The ability to experience happiness.

What say you?

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My whys

I mentioned in yesterday’s post that I joined WW (formerly Weight Watchers) mid-September this year. I have a laundry list (Why “laundry”? Wouldn’t “shopping” make more sense? I think so, too). Correction, shopping list of whys. Not the least of which is Tarsal Tunnel Syndrome, a rare disorder of the ankle, similar to Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. Here’s the complete list:
Family – I have two adult children (32 & 25), three grandchildren (4,3, & 1), and a nearly 10 year old on the higher functioning end of the autism spectrum and who experiences ADHD.

Physical Health – Fibromyalgia, Hypothyroidism, Type 2 Diabetes, Sleep Apnea, High Cholesterol, and Tarsal Tunnel Syndrome.

Mental Health – Bipolar 2 Disorder, PTSD, Depression, Binge Eating Disorder.

Because I’m worthy of self-love and self-care.

I’ve spent nearly five years of hard work to reach this point. I had been a toxic person in a toxic relationship. I had severely broken relationships with my two adult children. I was so overwhelmed and depressed I was barely functional. I was so consumed with self-loathing that I hid from the world, making myself sicker and sicker, consuming all the food and media I could numb out on.

Now, I’m working on staying centered in the here and now, continuing to heal, grow, and build relationships with my children, engaging with the world and people around me, and learning how to treat myself with the care, compassion, and love I have and want to have for each person I encounter.

It’s past time for me to become the best version of myself.

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Liebster Recipient: Sovann Pen

Sovann is one of 11 Noteworthy Bloggers I listed in my Liebster award post. He opted to answer the questions and submit them to Human In Recovery.

Here are his responses:

1) Is your blog personal or professional and what is its primary focus and/or topic? Personally professional on counseling, marriage and parenting.

2) Do you have a YouTube channel or podcast? If so, please provide the title or link. No podcast yet but I’d like to do a podcast to encourage families, especially those who do foster care and adoption, in the future. I love talking with people and learning from them about their marriages and families.

3) Are you a contributing blogger/writer elsewhere? No (Does Facebook count?)

4) What is the most valuable, free product/app/service you have found as a blogger?

Definitely Facebook and Facebook groups. It’s fun to be a part of groups with kindred spirits who share and write about similar topics.

5) What piece of information or advice would you have found invaluable as a beginning blogger? Jeff Goins’ blog and You Are A Writer ebook, join his My 500 words FB group and/or take his Intentional Blogging or Tribe Writers course and listen to his podcast The Portfolio Life for inspiration. Michael Hyatt’s Platform and Donald Miller’s StoryBrand books are helpful too.

6) What social media sites do use use for public interaction and how do we connect to you? On twitter @sovannpen and FB at A New Day Counseling Center. I also invite you to subscribe to my blog at

7) Are you an introvert, extrovert, or an ambivert (both to varying degrees) extrovert but not life-of-the-party, center-of-attention variety. I like to read and spend time on my own praying too.

8) What core value do you try to live by?

Love God and love others. That and the belief that redemption and healing are possible.

9) If you had to choose an anthem song, what would it be? Can I choose two? Right now, This Is Me from The Greatest Showman, a great song and movie and So Will I (100 billion X)

10) If you had to choose, would you consider yourself an advocate or activist?

Advocate. An advocate for grace and empathy and being brave.

11) What is your favorite quote?

This week it’s: “The opposite of joy is not sadness. It’s hopelessness.” (I’ve seen it attributed to Allistar Begg and Timothy Keller)

Circle of Security: A tool for peaceful relationships


This month’s Bloggers for Peace challenge is: Peace at Home.

I don’t know if I will ever experience peace in my home – mostly because I don’t ever, truly experience peace inside of myself, for more than a fleeting moment or two.

Things I’ve been labelled with, or have chosen to label myself with, like depression, anxiety, co-dependency, and hypomania are symptoms of the inner turmoil and chaos, which have been such an ingrained part of my existence that it predates my conception and is probably just as much nature, by now anyway, as it was nurture – or lack thereof.

I finally started doing more than just collecting the data and figuring out the likely diagnoses – after all, “knowing is [only] HALF the battle,” right? The other half is figuring out the plan of attack based on what you know.

One thing I’ve been blessed with is the opportunity to participate in a therapeutic parenting group on attachment, Circle of Security. The timing of this opportunity was serendipitous, since I doubt I would have been emotionally or psychologically capable of effectively processing what I’ve been learning, even six months ago.

The timing has also been problematic and inconvenient due to childcare issues and the ongoing issues with our family’s financial issues relating to Keith’s job. This has been the “short” course of eight weeks (there is a 20 week comprehensive one I should probably seek out), and I’ve missed and, thankfully, been able to make up two of them.

The videos, handouts, and group discussions have helped me see and understand in clear and comprehensive ways, why I feel and act the way I do, the things that drive my brand of crazy, and how it not only has impacted my parenting relationships with my kids, but every other relationship I have ever had with anyone and everyone.

The tools and information provided in Circle of Security are not only guiding me in being the Bigger, Stronger, Wiser, and Kinder parent little Luna needs me to be, it has taught me where to see my own disconnects and helped me to understand in deeper and more profound ways what and where the ruptures are in the relationships with my adult children and other important people in my life. This program is primarily a early childhood parenting/caregiving curriculum, but I believe that it is also something that can be effectively adapted to anyone going through a healing and recovery process regardless of parenting status.

Just as in February I had the breakthrough, with the help of a friend who is a college professor and MSW, that I probably have cyclothymia, this course has helped me to understand that in all likelihood I grew up with Disorganized Attachment . I am able to see and understand, on a much deeper level than ever before, exactly why my life and relationships have been as chaotic, conflicted, and painful as they have been – and it isn’t just the dysfunctions and unresolved issues of everyone else; a concept I’ve paid lip service to, but have been in actual denial over.

My relationships are inconsistent, disorganized, and conflicted because I grew up in inconsistent, disorganized, and conflicted ways, surrounded by multiple generations of caregivers who weren’t capable of being or teaching any other way. I have carried that forward into the relationships with my own children.

There is an ocean of grief inside of me that is rising and needs a constructive outlet and time to rise and recede – as in the time of Noah, when the rains began to fall, the barriers to the depths broke apart and waters rose to meet the rains. I pray that my ark is built to withstand the coming flood. I pray also that I remember to rely on the provision to carry me and my loved ones through so that, when we hit land again, we have all we need to start fresh.

I cannot expect the other people in my life and in my home to choose peace with me when I am not able to be at peace with myself. If I am not attached and loving with myself, it is nearly impossible to be attached and loving with them.

Peace in the world begins with peace in the home. True peace in the home starts with peace inside of ourselves. True peace inside ourselves means being willing to go through the inner storms and accept that whatever we are experiencing externally is a reflection of our internal selves, then taking action to address it, in compassionate and loving ways.


Pre-forgiveness: Continuing the conversation

A few days ago, I posted a SUPER long post about forgiveness in response to a writing prompt from my friend, Marc Schelske. Later he requested I respond to the post he had written, “OK, I admit it. I hate forgiveness too,” as a result of responses he had received regarding his original post, Does the church hate forgiveness? (Like Jonah).

He talked about things, which I think we all struggle with, Christian or non. Things like holding onto woundedness and the need to have the offending party “pay the price” or “feel the pain” for the original offense.

I’m not going to lie. I’ve spent a lot of my life caught up in that kind of thinking.

As a teenager, having “lost” my mom when I was twelve years old and being in my uncle’s custody, a lot of things that shouldn’t have happened did and a lot of things that should have happened didn’t. I was made to be responsible for and exposed to things that a young teenager should be insulated and sheltered from, in an ideal world.

I wanted out. I wanted away from my “white trash” beginnings and the dysfunction of weird, convoluted relationships, alcohol and substance use and abuse. I wanted to have a life where I didn’t have to move every year or two and try to integrate into a new school with new kids. I wanted to be involved on the flag team, the gymnastics team, and the dance team. I wanted him to show up and care, to fill out the forms, attend the events, and offer me support and encouragement for the things that meant something to me.

He wasn’t able to do those things, for a lot of reasons I couldn’t see or understand.

I watched him pursue and engage in toxic and co-dependent relationships with bent, broken, and damaged people while neglecting his responsibilities to me and to my baby cousin. I watched my grandmother take responsibility for us when she wasn’t well enough to do so. For a brief period of time, which felt like forever to my 15/16 year old self, I handled parenting and life responsibilities, which were his, because he was absent. Yet, when he showed up, I was subject to his authority.

It was bewildering, infuriating, and absolutely unfair. I desperately wanted to graduate from high school, get my college degree, and leave everyone and everything I was going through far, far behind me.

Instead, I wound up running away from home at 16 and became a mom at 17. Then I had a second child when I was 24.

I repeated all of the same patterns and made similar choices that passed on the damage I had experienced to my children. All the while I held onto the stories of what I had gone through with all the resentment, bitterness, judgment and unforgiveness which had become imedded in my heart, mind, and soul.

I watched myself say and do things that wounded and harmed people I loved with all my heart and I fought as hard as I could, trying to change the direction of our lives. Church, counseling, education, and 12 Step Recovery processes (secular and faith-based). None of it ever seemed to change what I was doing or what I was experiencing.

When my son was about fifteen years old, he chose to move out of my home because of how overwhelmingly dysfunctional and painful it had become. I saw myself and my uncle and the things that had transpired between us. It was then I realized, the harm he’d done had happened because he, himself had been wounded and damaged, and that he did not know any better than I did how to make the changes that needed to be made.

In the last eleven years, I have learned to do two things, partly as a result of the 12 Steps:


1. AIM – Assume Innocent Motive: Whenever someone, anyone, says or does something that affects me in a painful and destructive manner, I think over all the times I have done the same, without ill intent but just because I was too screwed up to do different. I know that, most of the time, whatever it is that has been done was not intended to cause me harm. Yes it still hurts, but it helps me to let go of the false belief that their choices and behavior are about me.


2. Understanding. By seeking to understand who the other person is, where they are coming from, and the things that are informing and driving their behavior, I am able to let go of expectations for them to be other than who they are.

Finally, it has taken me the better part of the last 17 months to work through a lot of deeply rooted guilt, shame, bitterness, and resentment. It has been a long and arduous journey to truly believe and receive in the forgiveness of God through Jesus. Until I could internalize that, I was filled with self-hatred and unforgiveness of myself.

What Jesus did on the cross, the plan that God set in motion from the foundation of the world was a supreme act of Pre-Forgiveness. Once I understood that, I began to choose, in advance, that whatever pain and suffering I experienced at the hand of others, especially those I love, I was going to forgive and let go of. I love them. I want them in my life. I want them to know that, no matter what, I am not going to forsake or abandon them as I have done before. I am going to be with them in all ways, the way Jesus promised to be with me, with us, always.

Approximately Functional

My bloggy friend, Sara, from Laments and Lullabies, has graciously agreed to guest post today and share her story. Many thanks to this strong, talented, and spirited woman who so eloquently describes her journey from The Dark into hope. The details are different, but we share the same story, I just think she  tells it better. Thank you Sara.


I have a touch of the crazies. Though no hard diagnosis of a chronic mental health concern has been made (bipolar II has been discussed but not confirmed, among others), what is for certain is I suffered a major depressive episode after the birth of my daughter more than three years ago. Essentially, fairly common (unfortunately) postpartum depression overstayed and squatted in my brain, stinking up the place and destroying  property. It brought its friend Crippling Anxiety along for the ride. I’ve always been prone to significant dips into The Dark, but in my life before marriage and children, it was easier to manage. I had developed coping skills that suited my lifestyle but transferred poorly to my new life. I could no longer hide in bed for a few days until it passed. Nor could I pick up and leave town to clear my head. I had a marriage and a tiny human to nurture, and I didn’t know how to do any of it.

Now, after a year and a half of cognitive behaviour therapy, a stint as an outpatient in something called “Day Hospital” (think day camp for people with enough crazy to function poorly, but not enough to be fully hospitalized or monitored), and a promiscuous stretch with a myriad of meds, I’m feeling more stable, more functional, more human again. I can do things like leave the house and bathe myself regularly, which, if you have any experience with depression and anxiety, are not things to be taken for granted.

The most remarkable sign that I am recovering well (do we ever fully recover, or do we, like former alcoholics, always have to work at it?) is how I’m facing stressful triggers. Everyone has stress in their life, but for people with depression and/or anxiety, even the smallest things can knock us down, activating all kinds of maladapted behaviour (my go-to is total withdrawal/shutting down/disassociation and dermatillomania). My family and I have dealt with some pretty serious stressors lately which include, but are not limited to; job losses, illness, financial insecurity, and custody battles. There was a time when all this would have nearly destroyed me.

My greatest triumph, as of late, is staying sane during these trials (more or less). Yes, I’ve had a few melt-downs, a few moments or days of hopelessness, anger, sadness, and debilitating panic, but they are not my constant companions. There has been a sea of change within me, and I owe it, for the most part, to three things: the availability of help when I needed it; my ability to accept help; and my support network, a.k.a. friends, family, and the scads of mental health professionals I’ve seen in the last couple years.

I’m extremely fortunate that, living in Canada, every service has been provided for free. Even my meds are heavily subsidized. Without this safety net, I don’t think I would be in such a good place now. More specifically, I have worked with cognitive behaviour therapy and my gifted social worker/counsellor to rewire by brain, altering destructive thought patterns and behaviours and learning new ways to handle capital “L” Life.

I was invited to guest post here to share how I’ve managed to deal with the poop/fan combo. Partly, I’ve undone things like catastrophic, black and white, and automatic thinking. In short, my habit was to jump to worst case scenario for EVERYTHING. My daughter didn’t eat her veggies? She’s going to suffer brain damage or possibly death by malnutrition. My husband and I had an argument? Our marriage is doomed and my whole life is a lie. You get the gist. For many people, this seems ludicrous. For people like me, this is normal . . . so normal that we don’t even realize that other people DON’T think this way. Dealing with this junk every minute of every day erodes the spirit and the mind. Being unshackled from it is more than liberating, it’s life changing. Now, when I catch the flu, I just eat more super food and ride it out. Thoughts of ebola and pandemics might float through but they are not The Truth anymore, and I can recognize that. I suppose that’s how I’m getting through life right now. I still argue with my husband sometimes, but I know that we are a strong couple, best friends, and a great team. We have survived worse, and for once in my life, I can imagine the other side, beyond the difficult present. They call it hope, and it’s new to me.

In fact, that might be the quintessential difference between coping and not. Hope is simply not available to those of us swallowed by The Dark. It is the ultimate cruelty of depression and anxiety. Retrieving hope, or discovering it for the first time perhaps, is how people keep moving forward. I reckon that destructive behaviours like addiction (booze, drugs, sex, gambling, food, bad relationships, etc.) don’t create hope, but they temporarily and artificially release us from the oppression of hopelessness. Nobody finds meaning in a bottle of vodka, but meaninglessness takes a short vacation. People like me need to learn, sometimes late in life, how to hope. Sadly, many don’t, and they cannot teach it to their children. Sometimes, we lose the hopeless souls forever.

Many things I neglect which would help me even more include doing more for myself, getting more exercise, making more art, and spending less time in front of a screen . . . I don’t have any definitive tips or tricks on how to go from “I can’t do this anymore” to “I’ll get through this.”  Certainly nothing that hasn’t been said. What I DO know is I’ve come from a place where the future was either impossible or horrible, to a present, where I’m pretty damned tired of the BS that keeps visiting me and my family, but I’m not giving up. It’s something I hope for all those who need it.

Hope doesn't solve my problems, but at least my problems won't win.

Hope doesn’t solve my problems, but at least my problems won’t win.

Calling All Authors

Author Interview Questions and Submission Process.

In December 2012 I had the privilege to do Author Interviews with three newly published friends and blogging acquaintances of mine. I found that it was something I really enjoyed and was an opportunity for me to introduce new blogs, new books, and new writers to my readers here.  So, I have decided to make it a regular feature. How regular a feature will depend on how many authors decide to let me interview them.

If you, or anyone you know, is a published author (self or otherwise), with a personal tale of growth, healing, and recovery that you are willing to share, please click the link above or share the link. I would love to hear from you or them and work together to put together a quality interview to be featured here on Human In Recovery.