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Shannon Cutts

It Has Been An Honor to Connect With You Here

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2020 has been my 10th year of blogging here at Psych Central.

Wow.

This blog - Mentoring & Recovery - is 10 years old.

That's not as old as I am, but still.

Being a part of the Psych Central blogging community has seen me from one milestone birthday to the next.

And that's not a small thing.

Speaking of milestones, this past...


Relationships

The 3 Tools That Help Me Get Through A Day


Last week I didn't leave my house one single time.

Not once.

I didn't leave to go grocery shopping. Or to get gas. Or to visit the post office. Or to go thrifting (sob).

Believe it or not, I didn't really notice at the time that I hadn't left my casa for two, then four, then six, then (wow, count 'em) seven days.

I didn't even miss my spectacular dream ride, the electric blue RAV4 waiting patiently for me out by the curb (and perfectly parallel-parked, I might add).

I didn't notice because I was very busy Zooming.

I Zoomed every day. I Zoomed so much it almost felt like I had a social life at long last. At least if you count work-related virtual meetings as a "social life," which mostly I do these days.

By day eight, I was finally starting to notice my confinement. I was noticing because the endless repetition of work and then sleep and then work and then sleep was beginning to wear on me. And I was noticing because, at long last, I finally did leave the house to make my weekly trek to visit my folks, who live a whopping 20 minutes away.

I have to say - I'd forgotten road trips could be so exciting.

Don't get me wrong - I love working from home. I actually quite enjoy being alone (although "alone" is a relative term given that I share my casa and daily life with the three most wonderful beings on the planet, my 21-year-old soul bird, Pearl, and his two shelled siblings, Malti and Bruce).

But still, over the years I've grown accustomed to breaking up particularly long stretches of isolation with errands and similar small outings around town. Not anymore. Not since COVID. Not with elderly parents who rely on me.

So what keeps me sufficiently sane and grounded that it can take seven days before I notice I've spent the last seven days in a space the size of a two-car garage?

These three tools - that's what.


Intuition and Spirit

Learn to Do What Does Your Heart Say?


I will admit that when I first heard the news about the pandemic outbreak, I didn't think it would really impact me all that much.

(I mean, as long as I didn't get COVID. And as long as no one I cared about got COVID.)

What I'm really getting at is that I already work from home and have for many years now. I am comfortable and fairly self-contained and I stay very, very busy.

So I wasn't worried about outside changes due to sheltering in place, quarantine, even restricted travel (although I was quite bummed when my usual spring camping trip got cancelled).

What I didn't foresee, however, is how much the pandemic was about to change me on the inside.

It was like this electrifying wake-up call to start taking my relationship with me very, very seriously.

Suddenly, when me spending time with me became my primary source of companionship, it was no longer good enough to tolerate my own company. I wanted to really like - heck, love - myself.

That desire, that drive, sent me back to school.


Relationships

The Pros and Cons of Wouldn’t It Be Nice If


"Wouldn't it be nice if...." is an interesting place my mind likes to go sometimes.

But what is really interesting is what it decides to do once it gets there.

This is a phrase that contains a sort of well-hidden fork in the road.

To find the fork, we first have to deconstruct the phrase.

"Wouldn't it be nice" is a nice, wide, well-paved road. It is easy on the feet or the tires. It has good scenery. It is well-lit and safe.

"If" is a whole different neighborhood. In fact, "if" is the proverbial fork in the road. When my mind gets to "if," it gets to a choice.

It can take one side of the fork and continue into an even nicer, safer, brighter neighborhood filled with all good things, good dreams and good possibilities.

Or it can take the other side of the fork and wind up who-knows-where.


Relationships

Happily Ever After Versus Happily Right Now


When I was little and my still-developing brain could only think using black or white thinking, I didn't think to question the concept of "happily ever after."

So I truly believed that if I wasn't happy yet, this meant I would be happy forever later.

I think this is why I spent the first three and a half decades becoming such a connoisseur of sadness.

Happiness wasn't supposed to ebb and flow or come and go.

If I had it, it was supposed to last.

So when I would wake up and feel happy, I had all these expectations. And I had a really strong attachment to that happy-feeling. I didn't want anyone or anything to take it from me.

Ergo, every time the happy-feeling would come, I would feel both happy (that it was there at all) and fearful (that it would go away, which it would always do of course).

It didn't take long before I stopped paying any attention to the happy part and got fixated on the fearful going-away part.

You can probably already figure out what happened next.

Yup, I started to associate feeling happy with feeling afraid.

Suck.

Soon, happily ever after became one of those enviable stretch goals that only really grown-up people ever pulled off. And even in my best of times (which these definitely weren't) I have never viewed myself as a really grown-up person.

Then, after I passed my third and a half decade of life on this small round blue and green planet, something shifted and I started to revisit some of this.


Mind, Senses & Silence

Letting Go of Mental Junk Food


Every day I wake up and check my weather app.

And every day it tells me the same thing. It is going to be very very hot again today.

But I keep checking it anyway.

Why? Habit.

This morning, right after I checked it yet again (and it told me yet again that it is going to be 101F and feel like 112F) I had the thought that maybe tomorrow morning I won't check it.

After all, it wasn't so long ago I didn't even have a weather app to check. Which was because I didn't have a smart phone to check it on. Which was because smart phones hadn't been invented yet.

Back in this days, if I wanted to know what the weather was that day, I had to turn on the news and wait for the "weather report" to come on. Alternately, I could open up the door and walk outside.

The reason I share this example is because it involves me doing something repetitively that is really rather neutral and also rather recent but is already kind of a hard habit to break.

Even though it doesn't make a lot of sense and I don't need to do it, I have gotten into the habit of doing it. It is comfortable. Or comforting. Or at least time-filling for a split second or two. And breaking the habit takes energy and effort and I don't feel like mustering up either right now.

But let's take a less neutral, less recent mental habit of mine and see how this might play out.

Ever since my long-time love and I split up more than a year and a half ago now, I have gotten into a habit of worrying that I will be single for the rest of my life.

As long as I am very busy during the day with work and creative projects and caring for my animals and doing yoga and cooking and all the things that I do each day, this thought-habit may pop up here and there, but it isn't all that bothersome.

My brain basically whomps it down because it is busy thinking about something else instead.

But just let a national holiday or a slow weekend day or a rainy morning or a lovely quiet evening pop up and all I have to do is wait.

The thought pops up. "Oh wouldn't it be nice to have a partner right now."


Mind, Senses & Silence

How Long Does It Take to Create New Habits? You Decide!


Depending on who you ask, it can take anywhere from 1 day to 254 days to create a new habit.

Some of the trouble deciding starts with how you define the word "habit."

The dictionary definition refers to a habit as "a regular tendency or practice...that is hard to give up."

This makes sense to me. Everything I am trying to change right now is very hard to give up.

And the reason I still want to give these things up is because the pain of keeping them has now officially become greater than the fear of letting them go.

For this realization, I must give full credit to a certain set of very unwelcome microscopic viral visitors.

As the global pandemic has continued to unfold and evolve (or devolve depending on where you are located and how well your local community is abiding by social distancing guidelines, which in my local community is not well, to put it mildly), it has become easier and easier to recognize the old patterns and habits that are no longer serving me well.

Some of these habits have been relatively easy to change. I suspect this is because this is not the first time in my life I have seen these particular habits crop back up and so I am getting easier at catching myself when I start doing them again.

Some of these habits have been a lot harder to change. And I think that this is because these habits are ones I've never really carved out the space and time to tackle head-on. They are more ingrained. Deeper. Older. More a part of my definition of "me."

And just like COVID-19 has given me more space and time to notice these, a lot of the credit for my newfound ability to tackle these deeper, older habits has to go to two of my most important mentors right now, intuitive author and teacher Sonia Choquette and author and business coach Christine Kane.

I started working with Sonia's courses about a year and a half ago. I started working with Christine Kane, my life and business coach, about five months ago.

In choosing to do this, I have invested more time and money into my own self-development than I have in years. The money part in particular required a big departure from my habitual attitude towards spending money on myself - not my animals, not my casa, not my bills, not even thrifting, but on me, just me.

It has paid off. I have to say it.

But still, there is this natural impatience to see the pay-off from the self-investment RIGHT. NOW.

When will I stop being the old me and start being the new me? Today? Tomorrow? Perhaps by the weekend?


Body Image & Recovery

Detoxing from Negative Emotional Patterns


When I think of the word "detox," what typically springs to mind is either drinking or dieting.

For example, let's say I may have thought that third shot of scotch was a great idea last night around 9pm when I was worn out from my day, work, the news, all things pandemic.

But then this morning I realize it wasn't as great an idea as it seemed at the time.

This is a very minor level of detox, I realize.

On a more major level, I have more than 20 years of recovery from anorexia and bulimia under my belt, and another decade helping others in recovery from similarly life-threatening eating patterns.

This is a much more major level of detox.

Very recently, after what honestly feels like the greater part of a life steeping in all things recovery, I learned something new about the process of detox.

It can happen with emotions and emotional patterns too.

Every time I get to a point in my life where I start thinking "I got this," that is usually about the same moment another layer of my personal onion gets peeled back.

Perhaps this is also why I've never much cared for onions.

And given that I'll be reaching my 50th birthday at the end of this year (O.M.G. how did I get so old so fast?!?), I suppose I should have seen this particular layer coming.

But I didn't. It pounced just like all the other layers and over the last few weeks I have just started feeling worse and worse and worse, like I just swallowed a bunch of heavy bricks.

When people say depression hurts - physically - they deserve to be taken seriously.


Mind, Senses & Silence

A Neat New Way to Work With Emotional Energy


Well, this first year in a whole new decade sure hasn't unfolded in any way like what I expected.

(Can I get a hell yeah?!)

And yet it has delivered useful new lessons and tools I wouldn't have wanted to miss out on.

This tool I am about to share with you is currently sitting right at the tippy-top of that list.

Reason being, all the twists and turns of 2020 thus far sure have brought up lots of emotions (e-motions) and emotional stuff.

Not saying I love that part - not one little bit - but I do honestly love this tool and it really works!

CREDIT NOTE: My life and business coach, Christine Kane, gets all the credit for this one, by the way. A few weeks ago I was working through a particularly thorny issue and arrived for our weekly group call toting an extra portion of weepy grief and a whole box of tissues.

Christine gave me this tool to use anytime I feel strong emotions rising up within me. It is really helping me not feel like I'm going insane as I keep making day by day progress through that issue and a bunch of others that decided they, too, want in on the action.

So here is what you do.

And by the way, I am going to be really detailed in these instructions just like Christine was with me, because if you are feeling anything like what I was feeling like when you read these instructions, every little detail really does matter.

So here goes.

1. Notice strong unwelcome emotion.

It might be grief. Or sadness. Or anxiety. Or fear. Or anger. Or depression. Or whatever-it-is.

Obviously I'm excluding strong emotions like joy, love, excitement, et al, although you don't have to unless they bother you. But mostly those aren't the strong emotions we tend to want to explain away or tamp down on or avoid feeling or just plain get rid of.

2. Resist the urge to tell a story about that emotion or label it in any way.

Maybe you don't do this - I don't want to assume. But I sure do which is why I mention it.


Animal & Nature Mentors

Meet Mammalz: Because Our Saving Grace Needs Saving


Recently a treasured friend from social media sent me a link to an article about a woman in Manhattan who just happens to be the enormous area's only (as in, sole, solo) turtle rehabilitator.

Now that sounds like a big job.

Not surprisingly, at 72, Lori Cramer says she has saved hundreds upon hundreds of turtles and tortoises over her many decades to date as Manhattan's official "turtle triage specialist" and now as the director of the New York Turtle and Tortoise Society.

She does her work out of a tiny apartment she shares with her husband, with the agreement that the bathroom and (ideally) their bedroom will stay turtle-free at all times.

After following a link or two in that first article, I found myself reading about Brooklyn's "turtle lady," an amazing woman named Sara Ramos who is to Williamsburg what Lori Cramer is to Manhattan. Like Cramer, Ramos blows me away. She shares her tiny Brooklyn pad with 60 tortoises and several other interspecies flock mates. To hear her tell it, 100 percent of the turtles are potty-trained.

For the record, that is 100 percent more than the number of turtles that are potty trained in our little flock.

I am so moved by these women's stories I can hardly find the words. Truly. I cannot think of a better use of a life. Period.

Reason being, when you help a turtle (or any wild creature), it is nearly impossible to do so with strings attached. It is a gift of pure compassion, pure love, pure kindness. It is spending time with the best part of yourself - the part you will never not love, not even for a minute.

This last feels especially relevant right now, today, as our country and our planet continues to grapple with the impact of a raging pandemic coupled with raging racial tensions coupled with a raging recession and all the raging uncertainty, anxiety and fearfulness that comes along with it.

As Lori Cramer tells the New York Post, when the news of what is going on in the world feels just too horrible, she can spend time with her animals.

She calls her work rehabilitating turtles "a saving grace."