What follows is Step 3 on the road to soul-recovery—Step 3 of 1,148 steps. Ha.
Just kidding. But not totally.
This is the third blog I’ve written reflecting on how I began the process of rehabilitating my soul after a forced renovation of our home.
Envisioning an overhauled house was not hard, although the process was taxing and the dust remarkable. But the early contractors that were con-tractors, the people who disappeared, and the soul-withering siege of my insurance company’s fortress to receive payment?
These elements of the project were...? What? They were like taking a beating from a bully.
Bullying is a disgrace. To have it as a business model is pitiful. Bullying is abuse and abuse is awful because someone bigger and more powerful disregards your will, wellbeing, and dignity. Abuse declares you don’t matter enough to be treated with respect. This is what I wrote about in my second blog on this subject. If you missed it, here is Step 1.
And here we are at step three. On the road to recovering a depleted soul, self-care is essential.
Over the course of our five-year ordeal, and hundreds of hours spent contending with duplicity, I rededicated myself to better self-care—only to be bullied again with the letter in the mail, the phone call while I worked, or during dinner, the inability to cash the check they sent, the condescension of the adjuster, ad infinitum.
Once I attached a name to what was happening to me, the legitimizing of the trauma helped me rise up.
In short, rededicating myself to not be bullied consistently failed. There simply was no one bigger, badder, meaner, shrewder than the circumstances. No matter how I twisted, there was no relief, no advocate—just the clear reality that I was going to be beaten again the next day.
Before you send me a note about letting go and letting God, of course I prayed. Yes, I gave my problem to God.
What person abused and bullied doesn’t cry out to God? What person abused and bullied doesn’t wonder why God doesn’t intervene?
Abuse is a wicked, immoral, small practice for many reasons, but chief among them is because of the damage done to the human soul. Devaluing a person—or even an animal, for that matter—with abuse, creates and then leaves unanswered an existential question: do I matter?
It took a while, but once I attached a name to what was happening to me, the legitimizing of the trauma helped me rise up and value, a) what I was experiencing, even though it was ugly, and b) value myself even though the abuse told me I didn’t matter.
There’s the first aspect of self-care: valuing, i.e. the opposite message of abuse.
Practically? I embraced the practice of extending a daily grace, forgiveness, understanding, and tenderness. Not to those behaving badly, but to me.
Every day, I tried hard, and every day I knew my effort wasn’t enough. The repeated failure was brutal. Like torture, it was a systematic ruining of the soul. As long as I berated myself for not winning the day, or figuring a way of escape, or some way to “get” the insurance company or hurt my first contractor’s business, then I colluded with the abuse.
It took a while, but once I grasped the dynamic, the antidote was clear: tenderness with me.
Tenderness is not my strong suit. Let me clarify: Tenderness toward you, I’m really good at that. Tenderness toward me, I’m really bad at that.
But tenderness is where I began—once I grasped that this was my first defense against bullying and abuse.
My friend Matthew said this morning, “If I do a poor job of loving Matthew, I won’t have anything of worth to give to you.” Matthew’s right. So was Jesus. He said the same thing, although I don’t think He got it from Matthew.
The next thing I did, I began taking time to do things that got me away from my mess. This wasn’t an escape (remember, there was no way out of this mess), but more like a breather. Yes, my breather put me farther behind and cost me more money, but better to take a break today and live to fight again tomorrow.
This too was an extending of tenderness to me, by me.
A little of a good thing is fine, but in quantity and duration I began to suffer.
Finally, I began carefully selecting what I was reading, but not before I didn’t carefully select.
Maybe three years ago, while Dianne and I were out of town, I contracted what would eventually be diagnosed as diverticulitis, an inflammation of the colon. Once the pain and abdominal swelling became great enough, I made my way to the emergency room of the local hospital.
And there I sat, and sat, and sat. Waiting. Uncomfortable. Irritated.
About the fourth hour, whatever it was that I was reading on my Kindle took too much energy. I needed something entertaining. I settled on one of Tom Clancy’s books, a spy-thriller, dark-ops, suspense-filled tome with larger-than-life characters. (If I couldn’t master the insurance company or the ER, I could at least lose myself vicariously in Clancy’s heroes.)
Ultimately, I sat for thirteen hours, was diagnosed by a Radiologist somewhere in India, and mis-prescribed by the attending ER doc. Clancy was my salvation. Continuing to feel bad, and already being depleted in my soul, I continued reading. When I completed that 700-page thriller, I downloaded the next in the series, then the next, and the next. For weeks, Clancy was my escape.
I didn’t recognize it at the time, but my reading, which was not in moderation, was like eating cake after every meal or drinking too much whiskey. A little of a good thing is fine, but in quantity and duration I began to suffer.
First, my boredom remained. Second, my soul’s depletion got worse. Third, my hostility became more pronounced. And fourth, I began having nightmares—every night—about Clancy-type bad guys chasing me.
Being the genius that I am, I deduced I was doing myself a disservice.
But my realization told me two things: One, that what I read makes a difference in my soul’s outlook. Two, I was not reading the right stuff.
Before I say more, let me say, that there is nothing wrong with reading Tom Clancy—provided your soul is in order. In fact, if you haven’t read “Executive Orders,” I would encourage you to pick this up in time for your summer vacation. I know I should recommend you read my book, “Battle for the Round Tower,” but that would be unfair to Clancy (smile).
With that disclaimer, I laid aside my reading of Clancy. The nightmares stopped after my subconscious ran out of thriller-inspired villains from my reading. That was nice.
I built a play list of songs about determination, resilience, and encouragement. I listened to it EVERY night.
When I switched my reading of Clancy, I moved from reading him exclusively as an escape from my unhappiness, to proactively reading a selection of different genres. This began working for me, i.e. the slide downward in my soul slowed, although it wasn’t arrested.
As I read, I ruthlessly modified my reading to take-in more of what helped me and less of what was an escape. Quoting Hippocrates, desperate times require desperate measures.
I also monitored the music I listened to, and the people I hung out with. I quit calling the insurance company, and yes, it cost me a LOT of money. But I jettisoned what was not serving me to make room for those things that would feed my soul. Later on, once it suited me, I called the insurance people and dealt appropriately with my now-former agent.
Let me digress, on purpose, before I add detail to my reading regimen.
I mentioned music: I built a play list of songs about determination, resilience, and encouragement. I listened to it EVERY night while I prepared dinner. I turned off the news. I built another play list of great waltzes and either sat with dog on the couch and listened or waltzed in the back room.
I walked. A lot. Sadly, I lost the rhythm of riding my bicycle, and no matter how much I rededicated myself to this practice, I couldn’t manage to ride and manage the reconstruction too. Maybe I didn’t try hard enough (?). But the dog demanded to be walked—and in this, she served me well. Otherwise, I was prone to sit on the patio and get in trouble.
What did I do when I walked? I walked. I prayed some, but that is my next blog. I switched from walking at night, when I normally pray, to walking before dinner so I could interact with my neighbors, nice people, none of whom work in the call center of my (former) insurance company.
I took an occasional day to go fish the Brazos River. In truth, I only fished a little. Mostly, I sat in my lawn chair in the river and let the current massage my swollen knees.
If I’m doing a reasonable job of communicating, you should be grasping that when your soul is depleted, recovery is proactive. You should be grasping that the road to recovery is somewhat ruthless, intensely practical, and very intentional.
So, I walked, and I listened to only certain music, and I sat in the river. Now, let me return to my reading.
A soul is similar to a bank. When I look at my bank account, I see four or five accounts. Management of our finances has me transferring money from the business account to the personal account, and so forth. In a balanced system, this is appropriate financial management. But if I mismanage, or suffer financial setback, or spend unwisely, the moving of money between accounts is what we call, “robbing Peter to pay Paul.”
Left unchecked, this leads to crisis, even bankruptcy.
This can happen with the accounts in your soul just as certainly as it can happen with the accounts in your bank. In either case, to get ahead you have to start making deposits—deposits of money or deposits suited to your soul’s wellbeing.
This is where what I read comes into play. I knew what I read was important when I changed my reading habits, but I didn’t understand the depth of what I was doing.
When I picked up the right pieces of literature (for me), it was as though I was having a meaningful exchange that was honest, substantive, and beneficial. Plus, what I read interested me. My reading was like nourishment for my soul, thus building back within me what had diminished from neglect and emotional over-spending while I labored with things I didn’t want to manage but had to.
So, what did I read?
The operative word in that question is, “I.” Your mileage may be different if you read the same books I’m about to list. The point is not to master a new genre, per se, but to seize upon the principle of self-care while on the road to recovering your depleted soul.
I have a degree in ancient history—that’s history from the beginnings of civilization up through the time of Christ—and this period still interests me. So, I read a biography of Livia Drusilla, the wife of Augustus Caesar. I already knew about her husband, but I wanted to explore the shrewd mind of a powerful woman. Livia did not disappoint.
Reading this book was the equivalent of having a substantive conversation. Unlike calling the insurance call center, Livia had depth. Her biography invited me into her mind. But, my foray back into ancient history was a one-off reading excursion.
Do you hear the hints of a meaningful conversation, a substantive discussion?
Lately, I’m studying world history from 1800 to present. I’ve read Tuchman’s, “The Guns of August,” about WW I. I’ve also explored the Comanche Indians, the founding of the Goodnight-Loving Cattle Trail, and the philosophy of the early nineteenth century. I read about Daniel Boone and I read Ambrose’s, “Undaunted Courage.”
As I’ve thought about my work, I’ve read Keller’s, “Every Good Endeavor,” Berger’s, “Contagious,” and Pressfield’s, “The War of Art.” All of these are good books. If a book doesn’t assist me, I lay it aside.
I read, re-read, and then reviewed Gordon MacDonald’s book, “A Resilient Life.” I wrote down the major takeaways, put them on my desk, and discuss them with Father God almost every morning. I began re-reading my books by CS Lewis. Only this time, this reading, I’m going much more slowly. I read, then I journal. This creates a kind of conversation.
(Do you hear the hints of a meaningful conversation, a substantive discussion, a vision to pursue that which is noble across multiple and varied topics? If so, that’s what I’m talking about.)
Of course, my reading of Scripture goes without saying, and is probably a topic unto itself. Maybe another time, but suffice it to say, I’m reading, but I’m reading selectively. The “utterly destroy” passages are inspiring, but not helpful right now (smile).
In summary then, my reading became not just interesting input, but fuel for my soul. The other elements of self-care arrested my slide. Reading the right things is like making a deposit in my soul.
Now that this ordeal has changed fronts and become manageable; now that the insurance company is replaced, our home livable again, and I’m returning to my regular work, I’m able to appreciate and analyze my efforts at self-care. Interestingly, I discovered no new elements to self-care, per se, just a due diligence to the care I know is meaningful to me.
If you’ve gotten this far and concluded, “I’m not a reader,” I encourage you to think again. There are numbers of ways to digest soul-fuel. Be proactive. Like staying alive, you’ve got to eat something for your soul to flourish.
This intentionality, in concert, with the tenderness I described earlier, created conscious awareness that my soul is recovering. The depression is lifting. It’s not gone, but then as I learned from reading about Livia, Rome was not built in a day (smile).
In what I think will be my final post about recovering my soul, I want to talk next about prayer. More soon.