I grew up in a large Catholic family, in a small town. My dad was a doctor, my mom a nurse.
We had a lot of fun. We had snow machines; I had freedom to run all over town, we went to Glenwood Hot Springs a lot. My mother, a nurse, was very loving. My dad, a doctor, was generous. He had to make a lot of runs to the pharmacy. Every time we went with him we got to ride on the tailgate and pick out two candies. The pharmacist gave us stacks of outdated comic books. When we’d get home we would sprawl on the living room floor reading Richie Rich and Archie.
I did competitive and synchronized swimming. In the wintertime, we packed PBjs for lunch and hopped on the ski bus that took us to Steamboat Springs. My twin sister and I had a paper route. We used our paychecks to buy Mac Davis and Olivia Newton John records from the Columbia record club. My happiest memories are of Christmastime. We would combine our money and our lists, and find the perfect presents for friends and family. We’d laugh, and sing, and wrap.
But underneath these sweet memories there was more happening:
My mom was diagnosed with a terminal illness similar to Lou Gehrig’s Disease. This disease causes your muscles to waste away and eventually you suffocate. My parents didn’t tell us she was dying. In fact, when I asked, they told us she wasn’t.
My twin sister and I had been adopted when we were newborns. My older brothers were adopted from two separate families, then us, and then my parents went on to have three natural born children. Seven kids in all.
One of my adopted brothers had severe problems. Schizophrenic and/or psychopathic, I’m not sure. He began using drugs, stole to support his habit, and he was violent. Then he began creeping into the girls’ bedrooms, and boundaries were violated. Not by choice, but by circumstances, the grownups were turning away from the kids. And the kids were turning on each other.
In my memories there is a sense of “goneness.”
No one in our family had healthy models for dealing with emotional stuff. In the confusion, I buried my pain with guys, booze and drugs.
Mom got sicker, family members acted out more, my dad raged.
It was terrifying to vie for my dad’s love and to fear his unpredictable rage. But who wouldn’t rage? He was a busy doctor trying to care for his patients, his dying wife, and his kids, who were out of control.
My mom died three days before my high school graduation. I went off to college at a small Catholic school in the Midwest, carrying baggage that was my unprocessed story.
A couple low points:
*I have a vague memory of wandering on a freeway, without shoes, in a blizzard.
*I have another memory of standing on my 7th story window ledge. I was later fined $50 for having something on that ledge.
Somehow I knew I wouldn’t survive if I continued this lifestyle, so halfway through my sophomore year I transferred to the University of Colorado in Boulder and started dating a guy from my hometown. It was here that my life appeared to settle down.
In my 20s, I married, had two children, started going to church, and devoted my life to Christ. Over the years, I attended dozens and dozens of Bible studies. I was a leader in Bible Study Fellowship for eight years, and I led various studies at my church. I had a plastic smile on my face but underneath was massive shame, depression, and anxiety.
I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to bury emotional pain under scripture, and Bible verses. But it felt like I was trying to build a garden on radioactive goo. What I know now is that burying emotional pain doesn’t work. Neither does spiritualizing it. You can try it, but I wouldn’t recommend it. Humans are pretty creative in the ways we try to accommodate it: We resort to drugs, alcohol, sex, eating disorders, depression, anxiety, workaholism, exercise, gambling, even rampant church activities. Buried emotional pain accumulates and eventually leaks out like toxic fluid:
When my kids were young I had low-level depression, high anxiety, and I was wallowing in shame. I’d felt this way for so long I didn’t realize how bad it was, and I didn’t know how to articulate that and get the help I needed.
Looking back, I think I was trying to get deep emotional healing via relentless bible studies. I would sit in my room, journal, cry, beg, and pray. Weirdly I could accept God’s forgiveness but I couldn’t forgive myself. Finally, after years of being a Christian, I conceded that God loved me, but I would never be free from these issues, and I resigned myself to living this way.
Don’t get me wrong. I believe in the power of prayer and faith. But I think God gives us people and tools to aid in that healing. But imagine if I slipped and broke my ankle. I would not rely on faith and prayer alone; I would seek out people with compassion and wisdom to help me.
In 2003, when I was 37 and my children were teens, I went to Colorado Christian University’s Master of Arts in Counseling program. I was going to learn how to help other people.
Good counseling programs are self reflective. They make you deal with your stuff. My program did this. It was as if someone pulled out the suitcases of my life, popped the latches, and said, “Let’s see what’s in here.” I remember studying family systems and I kept zoning out. Dissociation is the mind’s protective way of saying, “This is too much.” I approached one of my professors and said, “This is killing me.” He said I should stop by his office for a visit.
He created a safe space and for the next 2.5 years I began to unravel my story. I cried. I gained insight and understanding about what my wounds were. Mostly I grieved. This was the hardest time in my life. Mentors and clinical supervisors encouraged everyone in our program to do selfcare. I didn’t know what selfcare was so I set out on a journey to discover it.
I learned that selfcare is different for everyone but it’s what feeds your soul. For example, a walk in nature, exercise, sunshine, calling a friend, going to a movie, setting boundaries with toxic people, going to a sporting event, writing, painting, etc.
Near the end of my graduate program I asked the director of my counseling program,“Why doesn’t anyone tell you a simple Bible study is great but it might not heal you from deep emotional wounds?”
He nodded like I was preaching to the choir.
When I finished school, I had all of my story in front of me—the good and the bad, but I was still frustrated about Christians who as one author says, “relentlessly bright sided” everything.
I went down to my basement and began to type. This is a good place for me to mention James Pennebaker’s book Opening Up. He had college students write about emotional pain twice a week for 15 minutes. Then we drew their blood. He was astonished at the results. Evidence that personal self-disclosure is not only good for our emotional health, but boosts our physical health as well.
At first my basement writing was just a way for me to process what hurt, what helped, and what healed.
But eventually I wanted to write a book in order to help others. So my book was first written from the slant of “Bible Studies won’t heal deep emotional wounds.”
That didn’t sell.
But my agent said, “I notice every time you post about selfcare on Facebook, you get a huge response.”
My book Renewed still contains everything I wanted to say, except it is framed the way the publishers wanted.
The book looks light and fluffy but it’s not. It’s marketed to women but men would benefit was well. It’s based on year’s worth of research.
Do you remember how the Israelites were freed from captivity in Egypt but when they were freed they got to take the plunder. Silver, gold, clothing. They didn’t steal it. God told Moses, “I will give this people [the Israelites] favor in the sight of the Egyptians…. But every woman shall ask of her neighbor, namely, of her who dwells near her house, articles of silver, articles of gold, and clothing; and you shall put them on your sons and on your daughters” Exodus 3:21-22
And Exodus 12:36 says, “And the Lord had given the people favor in the sight of the Egyptians, so that they granted them what they requested. Thus they plundered the Egyptians.”
Do you remember what that plunder was used for? To build God’s tabernacle. A critical part of the Christian message is we believe suffering is redemptive and that God doesn’t waste it.
I am convinced that God wants to use our stories, including our suffering to bring him glory. It’s our plunder. But my own experiences have shown me we won’t be able to use our stories, our suffering until we heal. Instead, we hide.
Maybe you aren’t aware: everyone suffers! It’s easy to forget this when seeing perfect images on Instagram and Pinterest.
Just before I finished my graduate degree I worked at two internship sites: one with mostly homeless people and one at one of the wealthiest churches in Denver, where moms drove Mercedes and carried Gucci bags to drop their children off at preschool. I used to be intimidated by people with a lot of money but what I learned is that humans are more alike than they are different. The people I counseled were all the same, they just dressed differently and lived in different kinds of houses.
Job 5:7 says man is “born to trouble like sparks fly upward.”
Consider that 75 percent of all people experience some form of trauma in life and about 20 percent of all people are likely to experience a traumatic life-event within a given year.
Today, though, there is so much research coming forward about how to help them. It’s exciting! The biggest surge happened thanks to Dr. Martin Seligman’’s Positive Psychology movement:
Until 1998, the field of Psychology focused on everything below neutral in the realm of emotional health. Researchers sought to understand anxiety, depression, grief, anger, personality disorders, and other mental illnesses. It was only in the last twenty years clinicians and researchers have made strides about what makes people fulfilled.
When I say Happiness I don’t necessarily mean “happy happy happy.” I mean fulfilled, having purpose, and satisfaction for how your life is being well lived. The way we think and feel has repercussions on our mortality, productivity, etc. We no longer have to rely on self-report; science backs this up: When people report well-being or depression, we can actually see what’s going on inside the brain.
I don’t have time to spend here but it’s important:
The literature confirms humans aren’t very good at predicting what brings happiness and emotional health so we pour our energy into the wrong things. 50% of happiness levels seems to be determined by genetics, 10% (only 10!) is based on life circumstances, and 40% is within our ability to change. Happiness is within us; a lot has to do with what we do! A lot of this comes from twin studies.
Contrary to popular belief, people grow happier as they age. Studies show people get more and more positive through their entire life. There is a slight downturn in very late age but only slightly. Nowhere near where people are in their 20s. That’s because they live more in the moment, they prioritize who and how to spend their time, they invest in sure things, deepen relationships and savor life.
Researchers are learning how certain coping strategies reduce the burden of short and long-term stress. For any given form of suffering, some will face it more effectively than others. How they face it depends on choices they make. People can be given resources that buffer future challenges in order to reduce stress. These resources can be physiological, psychological, or social.
It is through storytelling that we ultimately make sense of our experiences.
We piece together what happened to us, assimilate information that matches our views of self and the world. The brain believes what you tell it, and releases different stress chemicals based on threat. When we are under stress the brain secretes hormones like cortisol and adrenaline. While these are helpful for short-term emergencies they are not helpful for completing a test or task. That’s because they cause our attention to narrow; the brain’s executive center (prefrontal cortex) gets hijacked. During a test we want our brains to be wide open, so to speak.
A couple months ago my son Tucker called to talk about an upcoming real estate exam. As someone who understands how much your attitude and self talk determines outcome, I told him this: “Tucker, tell yourself, ‘I do well at tests. I know this stuff.’” I also told him to say, “I’m excited” instead of “I’m nervous.”
Years ago I was at a workshop and they asked us to make a Trauma Egg. We had to draw photos of our earliest memories of trauma. This had the effect of using both sides of the brain and really helping you feel the impact and what you conclude about life. After mine was finished my concluding sentence—my lens for viewing the world—was “people who love me leave me.”
Psychologists have a term for this: Confirmation Bias. We scan our world and look for verification of this belief and then we confirm it. It’s as if we have a pair of glasses on the taint the world the way we believe: We might say to ourselves,“See, there’s another person who left me.” Once we realize what we are doing we can change our sentence to “people love me and are here for me.” Then we scan our world and confirm that with a new set of glasses.
A similar term is Attribution Theory is concerned with how and why ordinary people explain events as they do. Let’s say I asked John on a date and he declined. I can make it temporary, impersonal, neutral: “John was in a rejecting mood that day.” Or I can make it permanent, personal, and negative: I’m a no good person for all time.
This takes us into a phenomenon called Learned Helplessness. In 1965, the legendary psychologist Martin Seligman did a series of experiments that allowed him to coin the term. In one experiment a German shepherd is lying in the corner of a metal box whimpering as he receives painful shocks. The dog could easily move to the other side of the box where no shocks are given, but the dog doesn’t budge. That’s because the dog learned to be helpless in a prior experiment. A few days earlier, a harness restrained the animal. It could not get free, nor could it get away in order to escape the painful shocks. The dog learned there was no way out; no way to make the pain stop, no options, and no control.
After my graduate program I felt joyful. My depression and shame were gone. My anxiety was greatly reduced. About this time I headed to a scrapbooking retreat in the mountains with my closest girlfriends. I stopped at Starbucks along the way. When I placed my order for a latte, the young man working behind the counter made me an offer. “Ma’am, for a dollar more you can double the espresso. It’s like going from a life-raft to the Queen Mary.” Just like that, the theme of the rest of my life emerged. I decided I wanted to use my pain for good. I was done grieving and ready to move forward. And I did.
In addition to writing a book about selfcare, I spent the last four years researching and writing about a cool topic called posttraumatic growth.
You might be wondering what a 51-year-old lady has to say that could benefit you. Because I experienced so much emotional pain early in my life, and found great healing I believe I have something to offer you. Everything I share comes out of that place. I made a lot of mistakes and I know a way out of some of the pain. I hope I can save you decades of pain.
Because of what I do in my career, and because of my own history, I know some of you readers have experienced trauma and loss. You might have a smile on your face and appear to have an amazing life. At this stage, like me, you may not have connected all the dots in order to understand how prior life events impacted you. You may not even know you need help. If you haven’t suffered, someday you will.
Let me show you where I was and how I found my way home.
I put together a 10-part course called Renaissance U: Lessons on Selfcare taught by a Licensed Professional Counselor. This course offers women biblical and psychological permission to do self-care. Just like when the flight attendant tells people to put their own oxygen mask women must put themselves on the list!
I wrote it for women from the vantage point of a Christian, but anybody can take this course.
- Imagine learning how to care for your soul.
- Visualize healthy boundaries and plenty of time for you.
- Picture emotional healing.
The course is ten weeks long but you can do it at your own pace. Each week’s lesson will take you about an hour or so to complete. The homework is simply for your benefit. You don’t have to answer questions or turn in assignments.
You’ll find much of the material I share based on clinical research. You’ll read stories from my life. You’ll watch videos. It will be fun.
The topics include solitude, exercise, play, savoring beauty, identity, attachment, authenticity, spirituality, present moment living, boundaries, and emotional healing.
******To be clear, this is not a therapy session. I am not offering psychological counseling! What I’m offering is direction and some things to think about.
Here’s what people are saying:
Sometimes you pick up a spiritual self-help and it’s a lot of platitudes and pretty comments that barely scrape the surface, but not this one. The author knows her subject well, plus, she’s lived through getting in a healthier place by following her own advice, and shares what works and doesn’t work. She gives practical steps toward things like setting boundaries with toxic people, what forgiveness really means, and offers practical exercises with lists of ideas to start on your own journey to being happier. There, I said, it and I’m happy I did!
Most women are very nurturing by nature. They are very good at looking after and taking care of others. However, too many neglect to take care of themselves. The specific reasons why women fail to take care of themselves vary greatly. The truth is that most reasons given are not valid. You really need to take care of yourself first. If you fail to take care of yourself, eventually you will not be able to take care of others.
We all suffer emotional wounds as we grow up. Unless we specifically develop ways to cope with these emotional scars, we will carry that baggage throughout our lives. In mild cases it can just be a drag on life. In extreme cases the depression can be debilitating. Zimmerman’s goal is to teach us how to deal with these wounds and live the best life possible by taking care of our emotional needs.
I’m studying for my Masters in Counseling at Liberty University and all of the classes kept telling us self-care is what you need to learn the most to help those around me. Lucille just gave me a “how-to” manual. It’s not a formula, it’s not a bible, but it’s a great tool for living life to the fullest.
Zimmerman offers wisdom I wish I had at twenty, and reminders I still need at mid-life, to regularly refill my own well. She shows that in order to have something to give to those we love, we have to replenish our physical, spiritual and emotional energy. With wonderful personal stories and a therapist’s keen insight she is like a cup of cold water to women who are parched for permission to take care of themselves.
Are you ready? I’m so excited for you to take the journey into selfcare, healing, and growth. Here’s the link to sign up:
Here’s a little bit more in a 5-minute video:
If you’re not sure you’re ready to invest the $59 in a ten week course, why not check out my book. Much of the material is there. Renewed: Finding Your Inner Happy in an Overwhelmed World.
Lucille Zimmerman is a Licensed Professional Counselor with a private practice in Littleton, CO and an affiliate faculty teacher at Colorado Christian University.
She is also the author of Renewed: Finding Your Inner Happy in an Overwhelmed World. Through practical ideas and relatable anecdotes, readers can better understand their strengths and their passions—and address some of the underlying struggles or hurts that make them want to keep busy or minister to others to the detriment of themselves. Renewed can help nurture those areas of women’s lives to use them better for work, family, and service. It gives readers permission to examine where they spend their energy and time, and learn to set limits and listen to “that inner voice."