From the Desk of Sarah Claus

Finding Freedom

The 4th of July reminds folks of many things, including:

~their wish to live lakeside every single day while armed with a watermelon and a grill,

~their love/hate relationship with fireworks (or is that just me since I have a dog and live in a dry state?), and

~the idea that freedom and independence are celebration-worthy.

Let’s stick with that last one.  Emma Lazarus penned the iconic lines for the Statue of Liberty to welcome those entering the United States–she wrote for those who are struggling the most, who are outcast from their own people, and who are “yearning to breathe free”.  Today reminds many US citizens and residents how fortunate they are to live where freedom is so highly prized and protected.  While the United States must take a serious look at how it keeps itself accountable for being the land it claims to be, we as its people also get to take this time to reassess our own lives.

I invite you to take this Independence Day to review your life a bit, because sometimes we need to *free ourselves* from whatever is holding us back.  To put it another way, if we purportedly have such protected freedom, how do we make the most of it?  Sometimes, it seems like we find ways to help ourselves feel bogged down and shackled, despite being “free”.

Please be clear, I’m not encouraging independence from all obligations.  Dogs need to be walked and meals need to be made.  However, I do encourage all of us (myself included) to look at what parts of our lives are not only not serving us, but actually holding us back from living authentically.  

Here are my three 4th of July links with quick reads to get your *personal freedom* fire(works) lit:

#1) Letting Go of the “Real Stuff”
This is a beautiful list of short, simple tips that aren’t so simple when you unpack them.  So, before you click, I encourage you to think of whatever the first thing is that is weighing on you.  Then, click and try to apply as many of the tips/steps as possible to that one part of your life.

#2) 3 Strategies for Breaking Negative Thoughts
This outlines 3 of the strategies that I see making the most radical improvement in my life and in my clients’ lives.  However, if you notice your thoughts don’t just make you feel grumpy, but that they also make you feel anxious, I’d suggest this read, too.

#3) 10 Commandments of Freeing Yourself from Clutter
I feel this one.  Clutter bogs us down, and it feels daunting to overcome it when it becomes a vicious game of whack-a-mole.  I love these “10 Commandments” because chances are that if you’re like me, there are a couple that would be helpful to focus on at this point in your home and life.  

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27 Ways to be Gentler With Yourself

As we explore self-compassion and kindness, sometimes we need actual ideas of what we can do today or even right now to improve.  There are actual mental and heart shifts the come with being self-compassionate.  This is a matter of honoring your limits and celebrating your strengths.  In short, it’s letting yourself be more human.

However, if you need practical, applicable ideas to start embedding self-kindness into your life, consider the list below.  Look for the ones you CAN do, and let this be play.

Try it out.  If it doesn’t go great, try it at a different time or just try a different one instead.

  1. Set your timer for a minute and just sit, feeling your breath.
  2. Don’t volunteer yourself for one extra obligation this week.
  3. Get off social media.  If you’re prone to comparing yourself or dwelling on how others are doing it, give yourself an evening, a day, or a week with a break from social media.
  4. Go for a walk–around the house, around the block, or around the neighborhood.  Towards the end of your walk, look for the ways your body feels better.
  5. Do something the slow way.  Being a little indulgent (you say inefficient, but I say indulgent!) with our time can remind us to stop and smell those proverbial roses.
  6. Schedule some time (in person, online, with a letter, or in your mind/heart) with the person who “fills your cup.”
  7. Stop right now and list everything you’re grateful for.  When you feel like you’ve got it all, find two more.
  8. Dress up in the clothes that help you feel like your best self.  You don’t have to get fancy, but shower and wear what helps you feel confident.  And if you feel “all dressed up with nowhere to go,” treat yourself to a cup of tea and a book at your nearest coffeeshop.  Places where we can be with others while being alone are great for times like that.
  9. Catch your white lies and choose to be honest (with yourself and with the other person) instead.
  10. Doodle.  No crossing out, just keep doodling.
  11. When you hear the “this is how I should be” ideas creeping in, recognize whose voice that actual is (a parent’s?  a partner’s? society’s?).
  12. Smell things: the flowers, your food, or even the person (or dog) you’re hugging.
  13.  Look at your schedule ahead of things you have told yourself you must do and try to identify one that you can take off your plate or reduce in its size.
  14. Ask for someone to take something off your list or to be with you as you do it.  Chances are, not everything on your list has to be done by you alone.
  15. On social media, follow a few people who inspire you and unfollow a few people who don’t.
  16. Take a few deep breaths after you get into the car.
  17.  Incorporate one single healthier replacement today (an apple instead of candy, a walk instead of a cigarette, a kind thought instead of a criticism).
  18.  Say “hey” to yourself in the bathroom mirror and spend a few seconds looking into your eyes.
  19. Schedule a session with someone who helps you take care of yourself: a massage therapist, a good friend, a psychotherapist, a hair stylist/barber.
  20. See if your library has a free app or website where you can listen to audiobooks. Choose one that helps you escape or helps you get perspective on something bothering you (relationships, anxiety, parenthood, etc.)
  21. Go for a walk and take some twists and turns to go where you haven’t gone before.
  22. Set a timer for 5 minutes and use that time to tackle the task you’ve been dreading.
  23. Sit with your cup often or coffee or water and use all five senses as you finish it.
  24. Rub your feet, arms, and head. Maybe even use a little oil.
  25. Turn off the radio when you drive.
  26.  Plan for some extra time before or after a meeting so that you can just be.
  27.  Actually say the words and complete the sentence, “I’m glad I…”

This Father’s Day, let’s look at supporting MEN

Father’s Day is here.  And I want for you to celebrate it by supporting men.  Let me back up.

There are so many articles I thought about sharing with you:
ones on fathers experiencing postpartum depression and anxiety; ones about how to “celebrate” this day if you have an absent father; ones about men worrying about their body image; or ones covering new research about how men wish they could be more involved in caregiving.

My readers have probably noticed, though, I prefer to focus on what strikes a chord within myself.  For the sake of looking at men and women, I am going to use primarily binary language in this blog.  I hope that it can still resonate with any reader, though, as we each share so much responsibility for our society.

As a therapist, I am passionate about serving all adults, including men.  Some female therapists prefer to work with females, given the shared experience.  I get that.  However, it was at my last agency job working with a men’s program where I found my passion for helping men who–in so many ways–have been left in the dust when it comes to empowerment and emotional tending.

Some may scoff at that.  Empowerment?  Isn’t the “Me, too” movement about balancing out how hyperpowered men are in this world?  Shouldn’t we focus on women feeling empowered?

“Sarah,” you may challenge, “let us support women.  Men have had more than enough.”

I identify as a woman and I also identify as being in that weird generation between Gen X and Millennials.  I am proud to say that I was raised around strong women, and I continue to surround myself with those who mentor me.  Throughout my life, I have seen remarkable progress that women have made in becoming, well, “renaissance men.” We are told there are no limits to whomever we become.  We are told to be trailblazers if needed, and that we are as dynamic and capable as any human that has ever existed.  And there are countless scholarships, after-school programs, retreats, summer camps, and voices helping us get there.

On the other hand, I see men being told–not necessarily taught–to be more emotional, present, and heartfelt, while still being everything they once were.

Oftentimes, men have the pressures of being a breadwinner.  They should be strong and fashionable.  They should be gentle and strong.  They should be educated and intuitive.  They should go to work and they should be at home.  They should earn a living and they should support the careers of women.  They should be better fathers and husbands and they should just figure out how to do all it.  I know no person of any gender who is capable of living up to all of these expectations with any amount of sustainability.

As a therapist, I sit with men who have not gotten to cry.  I sit with men who do not get to know how to improve their estranged relationships with their children.  I sit with men who want to raise children–especially sons–with more tenderness than they were given, but they find themselves falling short.  I sit with men who do not know how to handle their emotions with more grace or range.  And I sit with men who do not know how to understand or heal from their traumas.

When I became a mother, I was astounded to see that there were countless groups for new mothers to adjust to this transition, but possibly only one in my large metropolitan area designed for men (and of course, it is a “bootcamp” format).  I was also astounded at the amount of time men were given to bond with their babies and to be with their changing families.  It seems so basic.

With the “Me too” movement, we proclaim that women’s voices and realities matter and that they must be heeded.  That is so true, and yet, we cannot discount men’s spot at the table.

We don’t have room for bigotry, but we do have room for men.  We don’t have tolerance for lies and oppression, but we do have tolerance for men.  We don’t have time for objectifying a person, but we do have time for men.

I am amazed by the tenacity of the men I work with.  They are doing the kind of inner work that many people shy away from.  I just wish more of society could see and celebrate that men–and in turn, fathers–are changing and growing.

May we all be a part of that growth.

By advancing women, we do not have to downplay men.  And similarly, by advancing men, we do not have to downplay women.

If we want our society to be relational with one another, then we must start by tending to all people in society.   Over and over, I remind each of us: we belong to one another.

This Father’s Day, let us–all people–reconsider how we consider men, and in turn, how we consider fathers.  So yes, let us celebrate Father’s Day by supporting our men.

In doing so, the water rises everywhere.

Sarah Claus, MA, LPCC is a psychotherapist in Lakewood, Colorado.  She works with individuals and couples in areas of addictions, trauma, relationships, communication, anxiety, depression, spirituality, and anger.  She identifies as an ally in the Queer community and in the addictions/recovery community.  Learn more here.