Recovering from Burnout

blue butterfly

Thirty years is a long time for an empathic introvert to work in the field of addiction and mental health and in an environment of constantly expanding bureaucracy. Don’t get me wrong. I am thankful to have served. I learned a lot. Parts of it, I even miss. About 20%. But that job took a lot out of me.

A couple weeks ago, I was driving down the street near my old office. The same street I used to drive Monday through Friday. The same street I drove to get home at 9pm on Thursday nights – my late night when I did my group. I liked doing groups, but the paperwork had increased to overwhelming proportions. I often prayed for deliverance as I drove home in those last years when I was a single mom, especially on Thursday nights.  Deliverance came in January of 2017 when the love of my life made it possible for me to “retire.” It felt more like an escape to freedom after years of captivity.

I don’t go to that side of town much anymore. It had been months since I’d driven down that street. As I approached the turn to my old office, I felt tension in my gut. How many years had I just sucked it up with deep breaths? Then, I passed by the turn and felt relief, gratitude, and defiance wash over me as I realized, I don’t have to go there anymore.

Could it be that I’m still coming out of survival mode? When I started my career in the 80s, I was eager and excited to help. After about twenty years, when the bureaucracy mushroomed, survival mode and being a single mom,  kept me there for another ten years. I think I’m starting to come out of denial, starting to realize how burnt out I was.

I used to think burnt out people didn’t care. But I still cared the whole time I worked at that job. Maybe I cared too much sometimes. I still care now. But I’ve learned to care about myself, too.

Maybe burn out isn’t so much about not caring as running on empty.

I’m still drawn to articles and memes about self-care. I’m protective (sometimes defiantly) of my time and space. I’m learning to say no to things that drain me like committee meetings and anything with a hint of bureaucracy or supervision, so I can say yes to what energizes me like helping first graders read, painting community murals, and organizing books at the mission thrift store. Now, I have time to say yes to the creative work that nurtures me.

Maybe this is what it’s like to be an assertive person with a healthy sense of self worth.

glass of water being filled


Do I harbor resentment? Perhaps. In time, I hope to let it go. Wouldn’t it be nice if resentment just faded away? That would be easier than letting it go. But right now I’m still feeling the need to protect myself.

I’m still putting back what was lost.




Things to Quit/Things to Start for a Happier Life

Quit these five things right now

Using the “power of positivity,” we can re-state each of these positively:

  1. Please yourself sometimes, please others sometimes, but don’t try to please everybody. When you’re not sure ask yourself, what will please God? or just take a shower and read a book.
  2. Change is inevitable.  We’ve all made it through changes big and small. Accept change. Look forward to change. Embrace change for the possibilities it offers.
  3. Learn from the past, plan for the future, and live in today.
  4. Talk nice to yourself like a loving parent or supportive friend. Use words of encouragement.
  5. It’s okay to think about things if you’re thoughts are moving in a helpful direction.  But I can spend too much time in the land of scary “what ifs.” When I catch myself doing that, I imagine happier what if’s. Then I focus on the facts in front of me and return to the gifts of the present.

The Rebound from Hell

dark forest

I walked carefully into the valley at first.

Then I felt the high of the buck’s smooth touch.

So, I danced with the buck in the valley of shadow

Ignoring the darkness behind his laughter.

Then the darkness came out of hiding

And a voice told me to run,

But I lingered a while

Forgetting my worth

Til the darkness blew me away.

At first I prayed to the light

that the buck would outrun his shadow

Or at least at least that his light would grow bright enough

To fill up his heart with peace.

But mostly I prayed for the wisdom

To keep myself out of darkness

Ignoring the memories of a buck’s smooth touch

So my light can outshine my shadow.

God's hand with sun coming through

I wrote this many years ago at the end of the year long rebound from hell. About a month after it was over for good, I felt like I was waking up from a nightmare. I couldn’t believe I had allowed myself to be swallowed so deeply into co-dependence.

But, in time, I learned to love myself again. I remembered my worth. I knew I didn’t need to settle for someone who added so much stress to my life.

I knew God loved me deeply and profoundly and that God had a plan.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” – Jeremiah 29:11

Computer Headache

computer crack up-scrap-944452_960_720

Some days are harder than others. Tuesdays at my job have been particularly hard lately. I won’t go into all the details, but I’m amazed at how my time in front of a computer has mushroomed to unbelievable proportions over the past thirty years. Under the current system, it has become necessary to spend absurd amounts of time typing to a computer screen in order to justify the authorization of funds to help people who otherwise would not receive help. The typing has taken a toll on my hands over the years. Now my eyes, head and neck are begging me to ease up.

Tuesday night, I came home and and spent even more time on the computer. By 10 pm, my eyes felt more tired than I can remember. They ached and burned from looking at a computer screen for much of the day. Yet, I pushed a little more. Reading blogs I normally enjoy became painful. I think it was the switching from one background to another that intensified  my pain, because I found myself closing my eyes with each click to a new post to avoid what felt like an assault on my eyes. Finally, I closed the laptop at 11 pm, thirty minutes earlier than usual, and hit the shower. On Wednesday morning, I woke up with one of those headaches I get when my trapezius muscles, neck and temples all gang up on me.

I wonder how many headaches, back aches and hand aches are caused by too much time in front of a computer screen.

The headache was still with me on Thursday. In spite of my stretching and ibuprofen with a little caffeine, which often helps, the pain didn’t wan to let go. Fortunately, my awesome massage therapist worked me in that afternoon. Her smooth interventions dissolved the pain into to vague remnants.

What I want to remember is that on Tuesday evenings, or after any hard day, I don’t need to do anything extra. I’m not going to be able to read all the blogs I want to, any more than I can rally for every cause I want to support. On Tuesday nights I can come home and take a nap if I want to. I’ll check my email and look at a couple blogs, but I’m not going to push it. On Tuesday nights, I’m going to watch my favorite TV show  while I do a few stretches, and turn off the computer when my wonderful, miraculous eyes tell me to. Because I love my eyes. I love my neck, I love my hands, and I love my head. I love how my body tells me things I need. I promise to listen better.


My First Soul Collage

Last week, I went to a training conference I go to every year for addiction professionals. I used vacation time and paid the registration fee myself, so I didn’t feel guilty at all about picking fun elective sessions.

Some of the sessions were about addiction. I learned about methylation, in which certain chemical compounds attach to genes and change them, for example, when a person is traumatized, but they can also detach over time for healing to take place. It reminds me of how we used to think the mind and body were separate, but they aren’t so much. The mind and body are in constant communication, at many levels. I also learned about story listening, something I already knew intuitively. I was intrigued by how we listen from the frame of reference of our own stories. We need to be aware of that to help us listen objectively, using the speaker’s own words. No wonder being a counselor can be so tiring. We’ve got our own stories going on, and our old stories brought up by clients as we listen to their stories, and, as the old 90s punk rock lyrics go,”you gotta keep ’em separated.” It’s important to do our own personal “work” to keep the stories from getting mixed up. Because our own stories will try to mingle. We are human, after all.

The best part of the conference was the Soul Collage workshop taught by Margaret Wyche .

First, we got some history about Soul Collage  developed by Seena B. Frost, MA, M.Div., and the process. We were asked to write down a question or concern we wanted to know more about.

I’ve made lots of collages and used collage making in my groups with clients. This was different in that the pictures are already torn out of magazines. We each went through a big stack of pictures with the direction to not think at all, to not look for pictures, but let the images choose us.  Several chose me. We were encouraged to use one picture for the 5 x 7 background, and then to add 3 to 5 smaller images on top. Two images pulled me stronger than the others: the rock arch and the elephant couple.

Elephant soul collage

(If these images belong to you, thank you! Please let me know, so I can give you credit, etc.)

Though it was suggested that we use 3 to 5 images on top of the background, I honored my instincts and only used the elephants on top of the rocky background with the blue sky.

After we created our soul collages, we paired up and asked each other a list of questions about our collage. The creator of the collage was to answer as if they were the card/collage. Here are the questions and the answers from my collage:

Who are you?

I am your deepest truth….I am the one who can heal your family….I am the one who loves you, walks with you, answers questions….believes in you.

What do you have to give me?

I give you peace, understanding, confidence,…. strength.

What do you want from me?

I want you to have faith. I want you to remember who walks beside you.

Is there anything else you want to tell me?

Don’t be so serious. Let go. Let go of fear. Be brave. You are strong.

How will I remember?

You will remember when you are challenged.

This powerful experience reminded me to be aware of my own strength, and to trust in the relationship with my loving partner as we walk through the challenges presented to us.

Thanks for sharing my soul collage initiation!

Trusting My Gut


I never imagined owning a big squishy car. I wouldn’t be driving a Lincoln, if it had not been given to my husband as an unexpected gift for taking care of his terminally ill neighbor who died in the same month he found me on Facebook.

I knew the Lincoln wasn’t starting right. The engine turned over just a second or two later than usual. I mentioned it to my husband. He tried it, and said it was fine. I believed him because he is very smart about many things.

While we were visiting his mother in Connecticut, a month ago, the battery, which only three years old, went dead. We bought a new battery and continued on with our vacation. No problem. Except that now, I’m planning to drive to another state for a weekend writer’s retreat, and I’m still noticing a slight delay in the starting.

So today I took the Lincoln in to be checked. Besides the slightly slow start, I’ve also noticed an occasional minor wobble in the front end. The wobble, I found out is because the rotary thing is slightly warped. The brakes are okay, and it’s not a safety issue, so it can wait. What I also found out is that we need a new alternator. The bad alternator was draining the battery, so we would soon need a new battery again, if we didn’t replace the alternator.

This brings up an important issue for me. It’s not my wonderful husband’s issue. It’s MY issue.  It’s been my issue for a long time.

I discounted my own experience, my own judgement. I did this, because my husband is very smart, and because I have a habit of believing I don’t know a lot about machines, like cars. I figured he must know best when it comes to mechanical things.

When someone seems confident, I tend to assume he or she must be right. I’m slowly realizing this is not always the case. Just because I only present with firm confidence when I am 100% sure of something, doesn’t mean everyone else operates this way. I’ve started to pick up on that after 30 years as a substance abuse counselor.

I’m trying not to beat myself up about not trusting my gut. Eventually, I did trust my gut. I told the mechanic that there was a slight delay in the starting process and asked him to check it out, along with the brakes.

Just one more reminder that my experience is as valuable as anyone’s. My judgement is sound, on most things.  I am wise  to value my judgement and experience, with cars and with everything else.

I’m thankful to have a smart, confident husband. It took 39 years for us to be re-united, to be ready for a healthy relationship. I’m sure we will continue to provide each other with plenty of opportunities to work on our individual issues together, with love and respect for each other and for ourselves.

Be Happy Now

When the time is right, child. When the time is right. Be happy now.

(Melody Beattie, The Language of Letting Go/ June 14: Letting Go of Timing)

I’m writing this at 11 pm on Sunday, June 14 following my plan to write and post on this blog when I feel like it. That’s part of loving me, too.

At around  5pm, my husband and I picked up a couple slices of pizza to go and headed for the beach, trying to hold on to the weekend. I’ve been longing to swim in the ocean for a couple weeks, knowing it was warm enough, but other things kept taking priority. Finally, this evening, we got there.

The water appeared almost turquoise from the beach. It was perfect for swimming: not much wave action, just cool enough on this hot day to be invigorating, and so clear, we could see our feet when immersed up to our chests.

A little later, the northeast sky reflected the pink sunset behind us, while  hints of lavender rested above the Atlantic horizon.

Sunset reflection june 14 2015 with big flat wave

I could not have asked for a better evening.

It wasn’t until we got home, just a little while ago, that I happened to pick up Melody Beattie’s book, The Language of Letting Go, Daily Meditations on Codepenency. I no longer read it every day, but there was a time when I had to, for my own survival. (This is my second copy. The first one fell apart after years of reading.)

When I read today’s meditation on letting go of timing, having faith that the things we long for will come when the time is right, I remembered how much this particular reading helped me through the lonely years – the years when I learned to have some faith.

The right partner came to me when the time was right. There are still things I hope for.   Those thing will come when the time is right too.

I am happy now.