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Leah Perrault: Taking time for rest in an overdrawn world

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  • October 5, 2019

“Overdrawn,” I thought, as I drove out of the city. “I feel like my whole life is overdrawn.” 

The metaphor slowly revealed its roots over three weeks away, gradually giving over the gifts that can come from wrestling with an uncomfortable thought. The disconcerting thing is that overdrawn is progress for me.

Our family has work, school, family and community commitments, just like other families. When we look at each other, we see the surface of lives being lived. We see what can be observed, what can be expressed, what has form. We cannot see how other people’s lives feel. Two years ago, when my whole life was uprooted by loss, we were broken by crisis. 

Overdrawn is a vast improvement, in contrast.

For so many years in my adult life, the idea that I was not in an ideal state barely registered in my awareness. It wasn’t safe to acknowledge that I needed to change because discomfort triggered shame. 

My primary response to shame was self-loathing and a destructive dose of beating myself up for not being perfect. As such, I relied heavily on denial that protected me from myself.

I have discovered that trauma attaches itself to forgotten wounds and scar tissue. 

Healing is tracing its way through grief as well as older pain. Constantly doing more has been a coping mechanism for me, and overdrawn is just a variation on the same theme.

In early August, we spent a glorious week at family camp. Each afternoon, the counsellors played with our children for an hour while the adults listened and talked. 

On the first day, our speaker called the week a retreat and invited us to “come away and rest awhile” (Mark 6:31). I was thinking of camp as an activity, a fun way to make memories as a family, an excursion in nature with meals provided, for the win. The idea of a retreat spoke to my overdrawn heart.

Playing and visiting, snack time and campfire — these can be the stuff of retreat and rest. It looks different than days away in silence with a journal and spiritual director, but it was a retreat nonetheless — once my perspective shifted. I frequently practice resting where I am, and I am prone to forgetting. (Some lessons will take me a lifetime to learn.)

Resting awhile always shifts my perspective. From here, I remember that overdrawn is not how I want to live, even while I see clearly and gratefully just how much an improvement it is over shattered. I have always coped with stress by doing — more and better — in the hope of defeating life’s problems. 

My sister’s death two years ago was a forceful crash into the reality that not all problems have solutions. The trauma of her death settled on a well-established scar-line, tracing my lifelong and ill-advised affair with the perfect. 

Feeling overdrawn is such beautiful and messy growth for me, a recognition that I am neither capable nor called to do all the things. 

If life is about loving rather than achieving, then overdrawn is an invitation to love with more intention.

As summer heat is overtaken with a chill on the air and green leaves start to tinge yellow, the roots driving my choices are exposed. I want music, knitting and unstructured time to be a bigger part of my life. I need movement, sleep, vegetables more consistently. 

For years I have been adding more: more kids, more commitments, more responsibility. It is time for a little less adding so I can love more fully where I am.

At this stage, doing less is complicated. Bills and hungry kids will not pause for a sabbatical. Rest looks like another attempt at a family chore chart, like shutting off the TV to go to bed on time and like eating for energy instead of comfort. 

I am relying on supports more readily, asking for help more often, and even saying no.

In the middle of my everyday life, I am choosing to say yes to resting awhile. I am feeling the discomfort of being overdrawn and getting curious about what actually must be done, and what can be surrendered. 

Overdrawn feels uncomfortable instead of addictive for maybe the first time in my life. Instead of criticizing how I have coped in the past, I am congratulating myself for growing toward a better way. 

(Perrault works in Catholic health care in Saskatoon and writes and speaks about faith. Her website is leahperrault.com)

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