A Christmas Story

It must be 21 years ago that 3 friends: Naomi, Victoria and I each made our own Nativity set.

At the time Naomi was working in a pottery place when she had the idea. So having purchased the unfired pieces, painted them, and then sent them off with Naomi to be fired in the kiln, we waited with anticipation for their return.

I remember Naomi saying that somehow in the process of being in the kiln, one of my pieces had been damaged: Joseph’s hand had been broken, but she thought it would be okay. As for me, I wondered how broken? Do I need a new Joseph?

On that day when we each got our Nativity pieces back, I examined Joseph to find that on his left hand (with his outstretched arm) he’d lost the top of his fingers. But thankfully I didn’t need a new Joseph, with a bit of paint, I could still use him in my Nativity, to represent as the father of baby Jesus.

In thinking deeper about this, I see how this story reflects our own life, or at least mine for sure!

We have a picture of how our life will be, and we paint it as so, but then come the fires of life: the death of a parent as a young child, bullied at school, divorce, a hysterectomy, a diagnosis of depression, unhealthy life choices, and loss of friendships, to name some of my own ‘broken fingers.’

In the midst of each of these fires, I have wondered if I was:
Too broken to be repaired.
Too broken to ever be me again.
Too broken to represent my Father.
To feel so broken, that I should just be replaced with someone else.

But then:
While I couldn’t give Joseph back his fingers, I saw the way to ‘repair’ what remained of his broken fingers. And with a touch of paint you’d never know the injury he encountered while going through the fire (unless you look closely to see his short, stumpy hand).

And this has been my experience also:
While there are some things I just can’t get back, God saw the way to ‘repairing’ my broken parts. With His touch of love on those areas, He gave me hope that He will not replace me with someone else, but instead repair me so that (in spite of all I’ve been through in the fires of life), I can be confident in who I am. And so I represent Him, the One who got me there – my Father.

The Christmas season stirs up different emotions for different people for different reasons. But if you’re in a difficult place, know that no matter how bad it is:
Despite what you think, you ARE NOT replaceable!
Despite what you feel, your repair is possible.
And even if you can’t see it now, you can be confident in who you are, because I know the One who can get you there.

Merry Christmas as you celebrate with family and friends on this day, the date designated as the birthday of Jesus.

The last of that flowering bunch.

Sometimes in life we can find ourselves in a place making decisions we never thought we’d make. When life throws us a curveball, and within the time of dealing with that curveball, we make unhealthy choices. Then long after that curveball has resolved, we continue to be faced with the consequences of those unhealthy choices.

If you’re working through a difficult space, because of past decisions you made while struggling through a painful place, then I hear you. Because I’ve been there too, and in some circles of my life, I’m still navigating my way through that. It sucks! But it is in part, the result of my choices. And there are still days where I have ‘memory flashbacks’ and I wish (on my part) I had done it different: “IF ONLY . . .” and then something like this happens:

On a day when the last flower remaining from a bunch dropped its petals . . . as I went to gather them all up to put in the rubblish . . . I felt to take a photo. Why? I didnt know why? But I’ve learnt from past experience that such a prompt means a story will follow. But I still wondered: “What could possibly come from this remnant stem?” and there begins the story.

In the search to find out what that remnant stem is called: its called a pistil. It’s usually located in the centre of the flower, and made up of three parts: the stigma, the style, and the ovary. The stigma is the sticky tip of the pistil. It is attached to a long tubelike structure called the style. At the other end of the style is the ovary (containing the female egg cells called ovules) in the core of the flower.

But it was the word ‘stigma’ that stood out for me. While I know what ‘stigma’ means, what it is, and how it feels, I looked up the dictionary meaning anyway.

Stigma: A strong lack of respect for a person (or a group of people) or a bad opinion of them because they have done something society does not approve of. OR the one I didnt know: in a flower, the part of the pistil that receives the pollen during pollination.

Both are nouns: one defines disapproval, and the other defines the life of a flower.

So then . . . can I switch my stigma, to turn my unbearable pain into something that brings life? I have to believe it is possible because of Romans 8:28: We know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.

I find it an interesting parrallel that the stigma of a flower is sticky . . . because that is how it is in life . . . rightly or wrongly, true or false, stigma sticks!

As in the photo, everything else about the flower has fallen away, leaving only the pistil standing exposed. But in my experience, it’s been about how I handle it. Recognising that in the same way there are two sides to every story, there are also two ends to my style. Regardless of my stigma, choosing not to be overwhelmed by the exposure, but instead looking and searching to find my ‘style’ knowing that while on one end is the ‘stigma’, on the other end (at the core of my being) is my soul, my ‘life source’ of hope and potential for my future. Sometimes it’s about that: not being consumed by the ‘stigma’ that many (even ourselves) are stuck on seeing, but pursuing the ‘life’ at the core of our being.

As it is for the flower,

could it be that new life begins (as opportunities)
that have come through the stigma?


the process of pollination that begins in the ‘stigma’,
passes through the ‘style’ to reach the ‘ovary’,

somehow relates to:

my deepest devastation having bought
my greatest transformation.

And so I’ll close with this:

The stigma of disapproval is in the doing.
The stigma of the flower is in its being.

So how do we turn the negative stigma from our doing,
into that which is a positive stigma for our being?

I think of people like David and Solomon
Men of God who made wrong choices.

Led by insecurity and misguided hearts.
Turmoil from their deepest hurting parts.

For David, a man after God’s heart did arise.
But for Solomon he lost favour in God’s eyes.

So dont be overcome by the stigma of your doing.
But pursue the ‘stigma’, ‘style’ and ‘life’ of your being.

Find your ‘style’ to connect your ‘stigma’ with ‘life.’
Use it for good, that it would bring no more strife.

‘My Health My responsibility’

This is my adjusted version of a culture statement in and of my church: ‘My Heart My Responsibility.’ In taking ownership of our responsibility in this, we seek to keep our hearts right and free from its potential (emotional) entanglements with offence, judgement, criticism, etc. Likewise ‘My Health My Responsibility reminds me that I’m accountable for what I do and don’t do for my health, so as to seek to keep me free from the entanglement of disease, and my resulting health journey.

As an Essential Oils Advocate, I have to be diligent in reminding myself of where the boundary lines are in my responsibility to my clients on their health journey. Because ultimately: Their Health IS Their Responsibility.’ Over the past week or so I’ve been reflecting on this increasingly so.

As a nurse in the operating theatre, I’m reminded of a situation some months back: the current case on the operating table had been much more complicated than expected, putting us in to overtime, and so we had to cancel the last patient of the afternoon. It normally wouldn’t be an issue to continue on, except on this day when the surgeon had an important family celebration dinner to attend.

After being informed by the surgeon of their cancellation, I became the liaison person between the patient, their family member and the surgeon. I was understanding of each perspective, while trying to comfort and calm the patient and family member as they pursued their desire for the surgery to go ahead.

I observed a surgeon who held tight to his boundary (going out of his way to offer what I believe to be suitable alternatives), and a patient and family member who believed the surgeon’s boundary was inappropriate, unreasonable, and inconsiderate of what they wanted here and now.

They tried from every angle, through every avenue, anyone who would listen, to change the surgeon’s decision, but the surgeon (respectfully so) maintained his boundary. I think the key point of learning here (for me) was to see and hear ‘Boundary Busters’ in action:

Convinced that they are entitled to what they want,
Derogatory about his decision for his want.
Stating that they should be his priority,
Over that of celebrating with his family.

It was very interesting to watch the battle over the boundary line. And while most people may not be as forthright in actually saying so, I wonder how much is still thought so. The silent Boundary Buster: the silent expectation that because we want or need something, we should be able to have it, and our attitude in that and about that, as we seek or pursue to have it.

As a person with my own health issues, I’m challenged to consider if I’m taking enough responsibility for my own health:

  • Am I eating right, regularly doing my stretches, and even in prioritising myself over my clients? It’s easy to get caught up in research to make oil blends for clients, excited about the possibility of helping someone on their health journey, and yet never getting around to making my own.
  • Am I expecting more of my practitioner than I am of myself? Yes, my practitioner has the knowledge and the know-how, but the question is still: am I expecting him/her to do more for me, than the effort I am prepared to do for myself?
  • Am I expecting a miracle cure, a miracle healing, because that’s easier (for me) than to put in the required effort for my desired result?

I’m especially challenged in the areas that have gone on (and on and on) for so long now, that my consistency in doing ‘what I can do for me’ sometimes waivers from weariness. Some days, I wish I could hand it over to someone else to sort out for me. But it doesnt work like that. It’s not their responsibility to take that on. Healing takes time . . . sometimes longer than we think, or ever thought it could or would or should ever take. But even then, I’m still responsible for the choices I make along the way, for however long it takes for my health to be what I hope for.

Without wanting to sound judgemental it is my experience, to have heard it said so many times by patients I’m preparing for heart bypass surgery: “Doc you’ll fix me right up won’t you?” They seek the assurance of a solution from their surgeon, yet they admit to not having done what they could do for themselves as directed to do in: changing their diet, starting an exercise regime, or giving up smoking. They don’t see that they are (through their choices) part of the solution, in the same way that they were part of the initial problem. And so as a result their unchanging choices will continue to complicate (and even advance) their issue.

The best result comes through my taking ownership of responsibility for my health. Be it (in my case) mental health, skeletal issues, or dietary triggers, when I don’t do all that I know I can do for me, then if my condition continues to deteriorate, or even just remains stagnant in its recovery, I must first look at my own choices to see if they have impacted that.

Otherwise I am no different to the patient having heart bypass surgery, that in the near future has to return for further surgery because their lifestyle choices continue to produce the same life threatening condition.

In every area of life for the sake of our overall health, holistic health, I believe we need to regularly ask ourselves three questions:

  • Is there something I need to change?
  • Is there something I need to start?
  • Is there something (or even someone) I need to give up?

Because when all is said and done, whether I want to be or not, I am responsible for my health, and my choices will (and do) determine that. And so to use another culture statement in and of my church:

Do Something!
For (and not against) your health!

More from that bunch . . .

Sometimes we can feel like any one of the flowers
in this vase.

Blooming in colour with all its foliage.
Blooming in colour but having lost all its foliage.
A bud that has never opened to reveal the flower it was created to be.
A stem and the remaining pistil of a beautiful flower that once was.
A bent over stem with a bud that has now opened up to reveal its flower.
And yet that flower is not fully seen because it can stand up no more.

Why is it so?
All in the same vase.
All drinking the same water.

And then came this:

I bought a bunch of flowers for a friend.
And with it came a message to send.
Feeling compelled to by my own bunch.
So that on this message I could also munch.

Her card with the message arrived.
A photo she sent
Of how her flowers had thrived
To be that of a brilliant red
Except for two
That had blossomed pink instead.

I now recall
There was this one day
Before my buds had blossomed
Their water they’d drank away.
So I gave them more in abundance.
For resuscitation I would pray.

In that full bunch of red
I wondered why
Those two would be pink instead
And here it is
When my friend then said:

The pink in my bunch
had a bend in their stem.
Drooping over the vase
I cut off the bend in them.

“Could it be?
That the water they lack
Was determined
by the bend in their back.”

Be they pink or red
While beautiful as either.
Could it be said?
That the depth in their colour
Was determined
By how much water they swalla?

And so for those that remain:
Still flowering pink,
I trimmed each of their stem.
For the remaining bud,
I stood her alongside of them.

And for the flower with a bend in her back.
Who could stand up no more.
She now stands again as part of the pack.
Because I did what I could,
To remove that bend in her back.

If God is the florist.
Then He knows His craft.
As He trims and cuts at my being.
He’s creating a new draft.
He is removing the bend in my back.

If a friend were a flower
Then as a bud I’d choose
Blooms that would me empower.
Those who have been trimmed enough,
To stand alongside of me,
Through the rough and the tough.
Those that would choose
To help with the bend in my back.

It’s now 3 weeks since I bought that bunch of flowers for my friend,
and then another for myself.

And just this morning the last of the petals did fall.
Except for that of one last stem.
Yes! The one with the bend in her back.
The stem that I had to trim.
So that she could stand up again.
She is the one outlasting them all!

And so I wonder:
Could it be that the bend in her back,
Once removed and restored to stand up,
Made her the toughest in the pack?

We’re all on a journey. On my own journey I wish I had not encountered (or even chosen) some of the paths I’ve been on. But the reality is, we dont always get to choose. Sometimes it’s a case of:


But in learning from this bunch of flowers, I never would have imagined that for all this one flower went through, that she would show herself to be the last one standing.
She’s lost all but one leaf of her foliage, and her stem looks a bit discoloured, but she’s fully intact as a flower.
And I get to enjoy her pink beauty, as well as the message she carries, which she has shared with me as a result of her journey.
The second best part:
Knowing that I did my part in helping to remove the bend in her back.
The VERY best part:
To see her stand up again. To see her as the beautiful pink flower she was created to be.

More than just a bunch of flowers.

In buying a bunch of flowers for a friend, I had planned to buy a lovely open bunch showing off their colour and vibrancy. But I didnt see anything I liked. They all looked a bit scrappy, so I grabbed a bunch that somehow appealed to me in their greenery.

As I was leaving the florist, it was only then that it occurred
to me that I’d bought a bunch of flowers that I had no idea
what they would look like when they blossomed.
NOT what I had planned AT all!
I softened my disappointment with the thought:
“Oh well, that’s the element of surprise!”
But then my next thought was:
“But for me, I dont like surprises. I’d rather know.”

Then I realised this:
Life can be just like this bunch of flowers!

  • We plan for it to be one thing, then one day we realise we didn’t get what we planned for.
  • Maybe what we see looks a bit scrappy, compared to what we hoped or planned for.
  • But it’s in the not getting what we planned for, that the ‘element of surprise’ can come through.
  • There is no room for the ‘element of surprise’ in getting what we planned, because we planned it.

While driving to visit my friend with that bunch of ‘surprise potential’ sitting on my front passenger seat, a song came on the radio: ‘Take Courage’ by Kristene Dimarco.
The words I heard first, and loudest were:

“He’s in the waiting”
“He’s never failing”

And so I believe that because of the words above, I need to apply the words below:

“Take courage my heart”
“Stay steadfast my soul”

“Hold onto your hope”

Because surely as that bunch of flowers are not failing to open, but only AFTER a time of waiting they will open up to reveal what was all along being developed within: the resulting ‘element of surprise.’

I’m encouraged by the words that continue on:
“As your triumph unfolds . . .”
As the ‘element of surprise’ is revealed:
in that bunch of flowers,
and in life itself,
we will see it was all coming to pass.
but only after a time, because it’s
“in the waiting.”

The Whisperer!

One morning while getting ready, an old 80’s song came on the radio.  ‘Shout’ by Tears for Fears.  It was like I was hearing the words (those of the chorus) for the very first time and yet I knew them to sing along with:

Let it all out.
These are the things I can do without.
Come on.
I’m talking to you.
Come on.

And my mind went to all the negative things I think, believe, and say about myself, to myself. And I thought: “Yes! Absolutely! I can definitely do without all of that. And more over, rather than those thoughts, beliefs, and words talking to me, I should be (for my own sake) talking to them!”

I then got to wondering what the meaning behind the song was all about. Was this actually what they, the band were also referring to, or was this just my slant? So I googled . . .

‘Tears for Fears’ were followers of Arthur Janov (an American psychologist, psychotherapist, and writer) who created the school of Primal Therapy. A treatment for mental illness (that was influential for a brief period in the 1970’s) based on Janov’s belief that neurosis is caused by the repressed pain of childhood trauma. In therapy, the patient recalls and re-enacts a particularly disturbing past experience (usually having occurred early in life) and expresses any repressed anger or frustration through spontaneous and unrestrained screams, hysteria, or violence. The theory is that in fully expressing their pain they can then resolve it. And so this was the inspiration for the song, a therapy that worked by getting people to confront their fears by shouting and screaming. This is also where the name ‘Tears for Fears’ came from: Janov’s book ‘Prisoners of Pain.’

The first verse:

In violent times
You shouldn’t have to sell your soul
In black and white
They really really ought to know
Those one track minds
That took you for a working boy
Kiss them goodbye
You shouldn’t have to jump for joy
You shouldn’t have to shout for joy

The effects of a negative self-belief system can certainly be violent times, be it limited to our head space, or in the outworking of behaviours we employ as a result of that headspace. It’s as if we have already sold our soul in thinking that negative line of thought, because once it’s established it’s hard to break free from, and the outworking of that is devastating to varying degrees. Those one track minds reminds me of the theory (as written about by Dr Caroline Leaf and others) that our thinking creates neural pathways, and over time, as with any track repeatedly taken, it becomes the known track and thus the resulting journey and destination. And so while we shouldnt have to jump (or shout) for joy . . . maybe that’s exactly what we need to do, in order to reroute the track from that which we created through our pain (childhood or otherwise), in order to cause and effect the change to something better for our gain.

The second verse:

They gave you life
And in return you gave them hell
As cold as ice
I hope we live to tell the tale
I hope we live to tell the tale

We give life to that which we believe, and if that’s from a negative self belief system, then those beliefs will surely give us hell in our headspace. But as cold as ice (and we know it is), we have to each determine to overcome that mindset, and not just hope to live to tell the tale (because that could be interpreted with a negative slant, that maybe we wont), but in making the choice to ‘know’ (that) we will live to tell the tale we exchange ‘hope’ for something greater, that of definite-ness in ‘knowing’ that we have the power to choose: to live to tell the tale.

And so I’ve flipped this verse to: 1) personalise it, and 2) redefine my own choice:

I gave you life
And in return you gave me hell
As cold as ice
I know I live to tell your tale
I know I live to tell MY tale

The third and last verse:

And when you’ve taken down your guard
If I could change your mind
I’d really love to break your heart
I’d really love to break your heart

This verse speaks to me of an enemy out there with an assignment for my mind. I believe (and know from my own experience), what starts in my mind has the ability to impact and affect my whole being in who I am and what I do. And so I translate this verse as:
I would only take down my guard if I thought it was safe to do so. And in thinking it is safe to do so, I obviously feel I’ve made enough progress forward from my old way of thinking. But when there’s an enemy with an assignment, that’s exactly what he’s lying in wait for me to do: take down my guard. If he could change my mind (and ‘could’ implies I have a choice in that) back to my old way of thinking, then his assignment is back on track. He’d love for me to get stuck back in those violent times again, where my heart and soul feels stuck in the grip of his hands, because as is his assignment: he’d really love to break my heart.

But as I mentioned . . . I have a choice in this: not to let my guard down, that he would then have opportunity to make his attempt. And given the opportunity, he will! Because he is an opportunistic beast with an assignment!

So in light of this, Im standing up for myself, to be a self advocate for my mind (and how it is set) in applying the principles of Primal Therapy:

Im going PRIMAL!

I have NO MERCY for the beast who has shown
he has NO MERCY in his assignment
on my mind and my whole being.
My shout is a SHOUT!

Beautiful exchange . . .


It must be two years ago that I bought this piece from an artist friend: check her out on fb and instagram: rachelhannaart. And yet it was only a month or so ago I finally had it framed. In asking where the inspiration for the piece came from (after I’d bought it), Rachel said Malachi 3:10 and the exchange of blessing between us and God.

And maybe that’s why it took so long for me to get the painting framed . . . because there was a time there in the midst of my struggle with depression, that despite all my effort, I felt I wasnt seeing any blessing coming down. So in that time . . . I had no desire to find the cash, to have it framed and on display. And so it remained flat in its box labelled: Beauitful exchange. And yet despite the conflict between what it represented and my personal experience, somehow I could never give it away. And then the time came, when all that changed . . .

In the process of overcoming depression, I had some things things that needed to be burnt (not literally but cognitively, emotionally, and spiritually) for my own benefit.

It was in letting go of those ‘things’: the (seemingly) good, the bad, and the ugly, that I started to see the beginning of that exchange taking place.

Then I went public with sharing my journey, through my writing (albeit somewhat reluctant at making myself so vulnerable and exposed) and the exchange escalated. Through conversations wih God and writing it down, as I gave up my pain piece by piece, healing came down with peace and then more peace.

And so it is, this piece of writing is the result of my peace through healing:


It’s finally in a frame!
Painted by a friend,
Titled: ‘Beautiful exchange’

Ev’ry good & perfect ‘flame’
A gift heaven sent,
And that He’ll never change.

With Malachi as his name,
Bless up in Three:Ten
Blessing comes down in exchange.

Let it all go: pain, guilt, shame,
Releasing loose ends,
I find it is all quite strange.

By writing up of my pain,
This healing, the mend.
That only He could arrange!

The poetry of a single mark.


A while back after attending a worshop to ‘explore’ my creative expression, I wrote this piece: https://helenpowellpens.com/2017/06/11/it-all-starts-with-a-single-mark/

Then soon after that, I wrote the piece below of . . . ahh . . . umm . . . poetry?  If you can call it that?  I dont really like poetry, just because sometimes I find it too abstract, too cryptic for me to understand.  In those times, I just want to say: “Say what you mean, rather than speaking in riddles.” And yet all too frequently I find myself with words, sentences, and rhymes in my head, nagging at my thoughts, like they’re longing to be expressed.  So hopefully, I’m not writing riddles myself.  Because while I dont always know how to articulate the words, sentences and rhymes in my thoughts, I have come to conclude that maybe that’s all part of the process.  So here it is:

The stroke of a brush.
The drag of a twig.

Go ahead just make a start.
The imitation of life is art!

Pick up a tool in your hand.
Do not conform to any one brand.

Free colour it as you choose.
With what is available to use.

Like dragging twigs and brush strokes.
Not all marks turn out like your hopes.

By accepting, then adding.
Ever expanding and creating.

Nothing perfect, but ’tis ink
It’s you, and it has your finger print.

What finger print are you leaving on the canvas that is your life?


As a writer, I’ve learnt over the years to write down that random thought, to take that random photo, even when I don’t understand it, or see a reason for it. Because experience has taught me (with hindsight) the feeling of regret when the understanding or the reason comes later, but it’s incomplete because I didn’t listen to and act on the initial prompt.

And now as I sort out all the notes in my phone …. like pieces in a jig saw puzzle, I am connecting two separate pieces I’d forgotten about, written just over 12 months apart.

Written on 30/07/2017:
I never realised that in feeling that my verbal words weren’t valid or of value, that this also translated to my writing, and my perception that my written words were not valid or of any value. And as a result, slowly . . . but surely, I was being silenced, by my own misperceptions of self.

For all the years of regret I held on to.
For not speaking up to defend myself.
For not speaking up when I should have, or could have.
For realising after the fact that in that moment I should have said, could have said . . . but at the time the words weren’t there.
For not being able to articulate my thoughts into words, that I could then push them out past my teeth.
For at times not even having any actual thoughts in the first place, but instead left with an awkward blank canvas inside my head.
For being too fearful to challenge comments and judgements spoken to me, by those in authority, those who intimidate me, or that I’m intimidated by. (There’s a difference there.)
For my own internal struggle about the discrepancy between my speaking ability & my writing ability. Perception and reality.

We believe what we perceive,

because our perception is our reality,

but it’s not always the truth.

When I write, I get to tweak it as many times as I like before I post it.
But when I speak, the ‘post’ is immediate. The words are out! There is no ‘tweaking’ to then speak as though speaking for the first time.
So while you may perceive me as articulate,
It’s more likely I’m feeling ridiculous.
And whether you believe me or not,
I’m telling the truth, this is my lot.

Created on 15/08/2018:
A creative workshop run by my church, led by Rachel and Bronwyn. My inspiration diminishes under pressure, and so at this event all I got was a single word: ‘Wordthy!’ A mish mash of: Your words are worthy!

Then followed some other words:

perfectly imperfect: my words don’t have to be perfect before I write them down.

Silent voice heard on paper: for those words that I never speak out, but I write them, because that’s the only way to get them out.

Vulnerability: because it is about being vulnerable.

Expose:  It is totally! To be uncovered. To reveal the true.

Trust God: that the process of writing is first and foremost (but not only), for my benefit.

The healing pen: indeed it has been, still is, and continues to be!

Then in the middle of that night, unable to sleep, I wrote this:

Your words are worthy

Worthy of being spoken.
Worthy of being read.
Worthy of being written.
in more than erasable lead.

Worthy of being heard.
Worthy of being spread.
For future generations.
To catch, even after ya’ dead.

My two favourite lines are:
‘in more than erasable lead’
because our words (both negative and positive) are powerful to pull down or to build up. It makes me think about all the negative words spoken over me that became like that of permanent ink. But why then is it that so many positive words spoken over me seem to have been quickly forgotten as though erased from the page that is my day? And so I’m working to ensure that my own words are ‘wordthy’ of being scribed ‘in more than erasable lead.’

To catch, even after ya’ dead’
I think of all the famous quotes and inspirational speeches, that were spoken by those now passed. I am one person of their future generations.
So I challenge myself, are my words ‘wordthy’ of being spread, to the future generations, even afta I’m dead?

The see-saw of friendship.

It was just another day at the local swimming pool for our weekly lesson as part of our physical education class in Secondary School.  I wasn’t a very good swimmer, and nor was my friend ‘Kaye’.  So while the rest of our class were in the deep end of the pool practising for their Life Saving Certificate, Kaye and I weren’t allowed to go any deeper than where we could stand on the bottom of the pool with our heads still above water.

On this day Kaye and I were practising our skills at treading water and dog paddling.  Then our swimming teacher had a ‘brilliant’ idea to get us more involved.  So we were called up to the deep end of the pool, and told to stay close to the side, so we had something to hold onto if we needed to.

Everyone was paired up with a buddy, including Kaye and I . . . with each other.  While the rest of the class were practising for their certificate, our teacher felt the life-saving skill was a good one to have, and so Kaye and I would also participate in the learning process.

Then one person from each pair was sent out away from the poolside to tread water, representing the ‘drowning’ swimmer in need of being rescued.  Then the second person in each pair the ‘rescuer’ would swim out, approach the ‘drowning’ from behind (which protects the rescuer from being attacked by the drowning), embracing them across the shoulders, under the jaw with one arm, pulling them onto their back for the ‘rescuer’ to then return them both to the pool side using a side paddle stroke with their other arm.  Or something like that . . .  this was 35 years ago . . . and a skill I never did successfully acquire.

I knew I didn’t have the ability to be the ‘rescuer’ as I could barely swim for myself, let alone swim for two of us.  But I thought I could at least tread water long enough for this task, and Kaye is surely the better swimmer.   So I volunteered to be the ‘drowning’ swimmer moving out only a little way from the poolside, and I started treading water.  Then my ‘rescuer’ and best friend swam out to rescue me . . . or at least that was her plan.  But as she reached me from in front,  already tired from treading water, I grabbed hold of her  . . . and so the disaster unfolded . . .  under the water, then above the water gasping for air, before going under the water again.  Unbeknown to me in my state of panic (until after the event), Kaye and I were like a see- saw in the water.  I had hold of her shoulders, and she had hold of mine.  When I was up she was down, and when she was up I was down.  In trying to save ourselves  . . . we were drowning each other!


Eventually, our teacher realised our predicament and sent out the exemplary swimming student, who pulled us apart.  Kaye was then able to swim to the poolside, and I was rescued by the school ‘spunk’ with his newly acquired life-saving skills.  Needless to say, he was successful in achieving his certificate that day.

For many years I had a scar as a memoir.  A scar from when Kaye’s hand must have hit my chest wall, and one of her finger nails dug in and drew blood.  Thankfully this event did not drown or scar our friendship, and we went on to survive all of secondary school together . . . and for some years beyond.

And so once again . . .  I see how that experience reflects real life experiences of my own.  And maybe you can relate?  Back to friendship(s) where you were in effect unintentionally ‘drowning’ the other while trying to save yourself, or vice versa in that they were ‘drowning’ you.  Or maybe it’s a case of you ‘drowning’ yourself in order to save/promote/lift up a friend?   All of which are unhealthy foundations for a good, solid, healthy friendship.  Behaviours that are the result of brokenness and wrong self-beliefs that lead to toxic behaviours, as you search the outside world, looking to find something to fill whatever it is you feel lacking inside of you.  When you’re in over your head, not seeing the situation for what it is, and the only way out is when someone else sees the situation, and acts to separate, so as to rescue both parties from each other.

Friendships need to be balanced. Like kids of similar weight on a see-saw . . . alternating up and down.  An unbalanced see-saw is no fun . . . where the struggle to ‘see-saw’ easily is difficult due to the ‘weight’ of the person on the other end.  And so it is with friends.  While we need to support and encourage one another, making allowances for the varying seasons we all go through . . . we still need to choose our friends carefully: as they can determine the course of our life.  Sometimes without us even being aware of their influence.

The Innocent curse!
Despise not your innocence
For you know not what you have
Til it’s lost to experience
And you cant get back what you gave.

I remember as a teenager my mum at times accusing me of ‘changing’ and she’d say . . . “It’s that girl you hang out with . . . she’s a bad influence on you!”  I couldn’t see it then.  But as an adult, with hind sight on life experience, I can see some ‘stuff’ all too clearly now.  Not that it was all their fault, or all my fault . . . but that their issues meshed with my issues, bringing about behavioural changes in us both, that were like that of an unbalanced see-saw.  Not moving fluidly between the ‘ups and downs’ . . . it was dysfunctional, it was non-functional.   Choices and compromises made that once would never have been considered.  While some such friendships just naturally fizzle out, others seem to feed on the dysfunction as it serves to meet a deeper need.  And so the downward spiral begins . . .

Issues can act like a repellent,
driving each other in the opposite direction.
Or attract like a magnet,
establishing a setup for enmeshment.

I think sometimes it’s due to a deep longing for: Acceptance, Assurance, and Adequacy in who we are.  It’s the AAA (Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm) of our emotional core.   An ever increasing and weakening part of the vessel that can rupture at any moment . . . a ticking time bomb . . . that if not dealt with in time, could well be fatal.

We too can find ourselves rupturing emotionally when we seek to find Acceptance, Assurance, and Adequacy from others, instead of seeking to find it within ourselves.  So it is, we all need to deal with our own issues before the ‘time bomb’ ruptures.  Cause it will rupture, if it’s not dealt with.  It’s just a matter of time.

It’s not an ‘outside job’ for others to bear.
But an ’inside job’ in need of repair.

In my own experience, at various times and in different situations, I’ve been both: the friend with toxic behaviours, and the friend of those with toxic behaviours.  Oblivious (or in denial) to my own influence and impact.  Not ever having fully dealt with my own AAA issues.   Resulting in an outcome that was never what was intended.  Dealing with guilt, shame, regret and consequential judgements.  That which cannot be explained with any amount of words, but to know in entirety, the meaning behind: “cause it hurts when you hurt somebody”   (Hurt Somebody by Noah Kahan and Julia Michaels.)

As I learnt on that day in the swimming pool, participating in the ‘learning process’ can be costly, especially when you’re in deep water over your head, unable to stand up, and unskilled to be able to manage the situation in water too deep.  It was almost a fatal learning process!

And so in the hope that by sharing this, I may prevent someone from having to go through the ‘learning process’ for themselves . . .  here’s some thoughts:

  • Don’t let your choice of friends be a fatal (or even near fatal) learning process.
  • Don’t go in over your head, where you know it’s too deep, despite what anyone says.
  • There may not always be a ‘skilled rescuer’ on site to separate you from your choices.
  • Don’t look to people as your ‘rescue’ source: they may not be as equipped as you think they are.
  • Don’t seek to be the ‘rescuer’ unless you’re in a ‘healthy, skilled’ position to do so safely.