Restore the joy

A few weeks ago someone said to me "How have you stayed so positive throughout this year when it has been so hard?".  I have no idea what actually came out of my mouth but I do know this.  It was bullshit.  Oh, FOR THE LOVE, don't have a cow because I said bullshit!  As the old lady Gladys on the Ellen Show would say, I love Jesus but I do swear a little. ;)  This has been one very hard year for me. It has almost broken my spirit and found me wondering where Sarah had gone.

It got me thinking. I don't see this person very often so her assumption was based on what I "put out there" on Facebook.  Yes, I normally post positive stuff because...well...because I AM POSITIVE.  Normally.  This year the outside world saw me being creative with my business that I love, cheering on the teams that I am crazy about, and having special times with high school students, family & friends {highlighted by the most extraordinarily special wedding weekend for our son and new daughter!}  And while all of those things were true and authentic it was not the WHOLE story.  I have started to think that only sharing those moments may not have been the best choice.

Everyone knows that social media can be a place where most people showcase only all the awesome, amazing parts of their lives.  Now, don't get me wrong, I think the majority of people are just sharing things that they are happy about or proud of in a non-braggidocious way.  But who are we kidding!?!  None of us seem to be willing to share the crap that is making us feel bad. We tell ourselves that no one wants to hear it {probably because we snub our own noses when we read a super passive aggressive post} and decide not to type up a honest-yet-bummer kind of a post.  So we put on the mask and become part of the culture of semi-authentic living...even if we are struggling.  

The trouble with that is then everyone who is struggling feels like they are alone in their hardship.  Moms feel like no one else loses it every once in awhile and screams at their kids.  Teens feel like unless they have that special summer hands-shaped-like-hearts-in-a-sunset moment with friends they are not cool. The girl who struggles with body image sees that everyone else looks skinny and fit in the pictures all her peers are posting.  Do you know what I am talking about?  Of course you do. 

I have learned many valuable lessons in 2015.  Not all of them have been fun. So, instead of keeping much of the stuff that provided these lessons to myself under a mask, like I normally do, I am going to be brave and share. {Oh boy, brave is hard. Well maybe I won't share.  Maybe I can just tell one friend who doesn't know.... Maybe I can blog about growing and learning in my craft... Or about the crazy, ludicrous idea of a president with the name of Trump. ;)  Maybe it could be just super surfacey...... But... then.... will I feel good?  Will I move on?  Will anyone benefit from my real answer to that question asked of me? Will I be only perpetuating the fake world of social media?  This is the discussion going on in my you can see where this brave thing is a slippery steep slope.  Ok, moving on folks...} As I was saying, I am going to be brave and share.  I will open up so that I can hopefully be a part of a cultural shift to be MORE REAL.  Here goes....

31 weeks ago I wrote in the middle of the night {like right now} Lazy Boy Lamenting and haven't written since.  I ended it with these wishes for myself. 

May I heal and be free from pain.
May I be strong enough to be ok with not being strong.
May I never give the impression that everything is always so great with me.
May I hold on to hope.

Not a single one of them has happened. Nada. Well...maybe just one....but barely.

May I heal and be free from pain...
I was in pain when I wrote this but didn't know why I was at the 8 week post op point and not feeling relief.  Now I know.  I have nerve damage.  The remaining 1/2 kidney was damaged during the surgery.  I have been through several nerve pain medicines.  Each one has needed to have been stopped due to unacceptable side effects or allergic reactions.  I have been in pain most days since surgery on April 7.  I am not healed.  I am STILL sleeping in the stinkin' lazy boy. So...I am not free from pain.  I have never had chronic pain before and I can share with you this.  It is life-changing for the one in pain and those who love him/her. 

May I be strong enough to be ok with not being strong...
Nope.  This didn't happen either!  I am still trying to be strong for everyone.  I continue to use my tough-as-nails Irish genes to smile through the pain only to sit in a bathroom or my car and cry when no one can hear.  I still drive leaning forward clutching the wheel like a 80 year old.  Here is the deal folks...I am strong.  I AM.  I am not sure I can promise that I will ever change this trait that I have.  And to be honest, I am not sure I want to.  I am damn proud of my strength, pain tolerance, and determination.  Yep.  I am not sorry about this!  At all.  Strength is valuable.

May I never give the impression that everything is always so great with me..
Once again.  Failed.  I have kept that mask on.  I actually have had to find a new mask.  It is made of much stronger materials to be able to endure any rough stuff thrown at me.  It is larger so as to cover more than just my face. It has a easy grip handle so I don't let it slip when my hands weaken from white-knuckling it. It is heavy.  But.... Why a new mask you ask?  {Deep brave.} It is to hide depression. Yep, that is right, depression.  In late June I found myself, in a doctor's office, being diagnosed with substance-induced depression.  This was a first for me.  I was already feeling in a bit of a funk, as you could tell by the Lazy Boy post, but then the first nerve pain medicine they prescribed sent me deep into a place I haven't ever encountered. 

I have heard about this place.
I have empathized with people who know this place.
I have loved and prayed for people I know who live in this place.
But I had no idea what this place was really like.
Until now.

I felt like I was a big beautiful healthy tree that was standing in a lush green field basking in the sun under a bright blue sky with voluminous white clouds overhead.  And suddenly, without warning, all the leaves started to fall and a thick, dark gray fog rolled in.  It felt murky, weighty, exhausting, frustrating and burdensome. I couldn't seem to move, emotionally and sometimes physically. I was paralyzed by the fog, not being able to view my life in the way that I always had seen so clearly. This was new territory for me...and for a gal who embraces new places this was scary.  This was a new view of life for me...and for a gal who lives and loves rich beautiful color this was GRAY.  Deep, thick, cold gray.

And yet, I found a way to pick up the mask {thanks to the easy grip handle} and exist.  Not live.  Just exist.  I know the difference now. 

Have you seen the wonderful animated movie that came out this summer called Inside Out? It is the sweetest movie and I adore it. It was fun to watch with my kids but it also has been educational for me.  I am a visual learner.  I can read oodles of articles on depression and listen to all the doc's advice that is possible, but I didn't really understand what was going on inside of me until I watched the movie.
***spoiler alert...I talk about the end of the movie below***

It is about a little girl, Riley, whose emotions are depicted by fun characters that hang out in the "headquarters" of her psyche/brain and help her go through her day. Joy is the leader of the bunch that includes Sadness, Anger, Disgust and Fear.  Riley has had a pretty sweet life until her family unexpectedly moves to a new state.  Sadness starts to touch her core memories that were happy which causes trouble with the crew of characters.  Joy and Sadness get into a bit of a tussle and end up being sucked up into a tube that lands them far away from headquarters.  Without Joy running the show for Riley's emotions the world gets gray and sad for the girl.  Joy spends most of the movie trying to get herself back to headquarters because she believes SHE is what Riley needs.  And she is right...sort of.  She learns that sometimes life's core memories and lessons are a combination of sadness and joy.  She discovers that sometimes joy in life can be born of sadness.  A new level of joy can be found when you have gone through the dark fog and come out on the other side to a sunshine joy-filled day. 

I, like Riley, am in the process of RESTORING joy in my life.  I understand that I have to walk through this tough time to get there.  I may not like it right now {actually I hate it!} but I recognize that it isn't going to change and something better is on the other side. And when that happens I know the new joy will be sweeter than the years of happy contented living I experienced before 2015.  It will be a fresh, enlightened joy.

But until is hard.  And I know others share this feeling and are embarrassed, fearful and hesitant to open up about I have been.  But I am changing my attitude, daring to be authentic out of honesty and responsibility... and I hope others do as well.

I am not ashamed of having depression.  Nor should anyone be.
I am not being melodramatic.  Nor is that true of others.  
I have a condition that not completely controlable.  Nor for anyone else.
I am one of millions.  It is hard...for all of us.  All of us...trying to hold on.
But hold on to what?   

May I hold on to hope...
Well this is the one that might not have been lost all together.... THANKFULLY! Hope has hung in there with me even though there have been days when I couldn't see it through the thick fog.  It was out of sight.  But....I had faith it was still there. I had faith the fog would lift and the hope would lead me out. I had faith that when it did, joy would be restored.  I still have this faith.  The fog will lift. And when it does, the tree will be full of leaves again, in the lush field and soaking up the sun.

But... Where does this faith come from?  Well, if you know me or have read any of my ramblings it won't shock you to know that, for me, it is God.  There have been plenty of conversations between me and the big guy that have given me peace, focus and calm.  For me prayer is my meditation. It quiets my mind. Without my faith in God I have no idea what this year would have looked like. He is where my hope is found. He is much like Bing Bong in Inside Out. He sacrifices himself so that I can fly to up to the edge of the pit I was pushed into, takes the weight of the fog off of me, strengthens me and restores my joy.  I am grateful that I have faith in the hope He brings.  

I hope you don't think that just because I am a Christian that all was and is ok. It isn't.  But without something to have faith in, to hang my hope hat on, this would have been much worse.  I can only wish that others, who are walking in a fog like me, have a faith in something as well, and it brings them out of the fog into the field of hope.

I know, I are probably saying "Holy moly this is a bummer of a post! Where is the positive, uplifting Sarah?  I want to read her stuff again."  My answer to that is... Me too. :)  Not to worry folks, she is coming back.  I have great doctors, a loving support system and I can happily say that the fog is lifting!  The tree is morphing back into the green, healthy, growing one.  It is a beautiful sight! 
      {This extraordinary artwork was custom created for Cellar Designs' blog by the beautiful, talented Hannah Fricke.  Be on the lookout folks for this gal. Her gifts can not be hidden for long! the mean time.... lessons for my life {and maybe yours}....

Do not ever underestimate the power of pain,
for it can overtake you if you let it.

Do not put on a mask,
for it can hide reality from people who might recognize it because they share the same story and be comforted by the knowledge that they aren't alone with nothing to be ashamed of.

Do not run from sadness,
for it can help fully heal you in a way you didn't know was possible.

Do not lose hope,
for there is a loving God who provides an endless supply of it!

I have been using a hashtag for the last few months to help me focus on the journey I am in. If you are in the fog try using #restorethejoy also!  Imagine if we could check in on the images attached to that hashtag and not feel alone!

Lastly....there is a song that has been my anthem and at the top of my "Restore The Joy" playlist.  It is "Steady Heart" by Bethel Music's Steffany Gretzinger. Take a moment to watch this video below and be inspired to listen to your steady heart.





January 07, 2016 — Sarah Stevens



Maureen said:

God bless you Sarah for your deep, deep honesty.
I will be praying for you.
“Just keep swimming!” Dory/Nemo

Liz Grennan

Liz Grennan said:

Brave. Beautiful. Strong. Love and admire you!!

Pamela D

Pamela D said:

Sarah. For whatever reason, this post popped up on my fb today. This IS my story without the surgery…I injured my back about 25 yrs ago at work and seems everything spiraled downhill for me after that. It has been a very hard road for me and most people who have never been there, don’t understand the chronic pain and everything you mentioned that goes with it. You can tolerate it so long and then the flood gate open, while driving down the road or sitting in your car in the garage, in the shower, etc. Thank you for sharing. For me also, without God being my focus, I could not have survived. You say all this so we’ll, thank you…this truly is my story.

Tricia Kutz

Tricia Kutz said:

I can’t even begin to understand what you are going through but, what I do know, is that you are an amazing woman. We only know each other virtually but I see & feel your strength, love, kindness & acceptance of others in each and every Facebook post you make. YOU, Sarah, restore the joy in me just by being you. Love you!?

Nikki Moore

Nikki Moore said:

You are a strong woman, a brave woman and an honest woman. Keep keepin’ on Sarah. You are giving your family a wonderful example of strength courage and determination. Bravo my dear…..bravo! God Bless!

Sarah Homan

Sarah Homan said:

6 months ago, you encouraged me to stand with others and share the pain. SO happy to see that you too are sharing, and believing, and allowing others to care for you in just another way, another way than we love and care for you already. You’re authentic Sarah, and so very strong – I admire your courage and heart. Love you.

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