Bonus Rewind: Getting Back the Me I Lost with Dan Allendar

Bonus Rewind: Getting Back the Me I Lost with Dan Allender

All this month we're playing clips from favorite episodes of the last few years. Each week, a different member of our team will choose an episode to look back on, and we'll talk about why it was one of their favorites.

Trying to navigate the exhausting demands of raising our kids as solo parents can leave us at a loss of who we are, completely depleted of our identity. Maybe we don't recognize who we were or who we were supposed to become. Even that concept can seem elusive and out of reach, and so often we're just struggling to get by. We wanted to reintroduce this October 21, 2022 conversation: Getting Back the Me I Lost with Dan Allender to talk about how to reclaim our identity, discover confidence in who we are, and how we fit into our new reality.

Dan is the founder and lead instructor of the Allender Center. For 30 years, Dan's theory (the Allender Theory) has brought healing and transformation to hundreds of thousands of lives by bringing the story of the gospel and the story of trauma and abuse together that marks so many of us. He is the founder of the Seattle School of Theology and Psychology, the Allender Center, and is the bestselling author of nine books.

What did you love about this episode and why don't you set up what we're going to hear? 

Yes. I did choose it as my favorite and the reason is three words: “Dr. Dan Allender.” But this entire podcast—I can remember it like it was yesterday. So many of the things that he said and the way he puts things just hit home because I really do feel like I lost myself in my marriage. So many of us do. And that was a huge part of the healing process for me, and really honestly still is—getting to know myself and also learning to trust myself because it's hard to trust someone you don't know.

When you don't know yourself, you can't really trust yourself. Dr. Allender talks about our stories and how to start digging out our stories. He gives us some practical steps that we'll hear, but he talks first about why uncovering our stories matters and then goes a little bit into how to do that. I would encourage you to go listen to the full episode. He goes a lot deeper than what we're going to hear, but man, it's just really good.

What does our story have to do with self-care?

If you're solo parenting, whatever has brought you to that place involves some degree of death. Death itself is a finality that brings immense heartache and stress. If you've gone through divorce, it is death that keeps giving daily. So, in one sense, we have to say that you have entered solo parenting, not by choice, but trauma. And trauma always fragments and always creates a kind of internal numbness. And often as a result, we find ourselves isolated from a community of good people who can be with us. I'm not saying that's always the case, but there's almost always some degree of those three words: numbness, fragmentation, and isolation. In and of itself, it may help mitigate a little bit of the drama, but it actually sets us up for (in one sense), even more suffering. Parenting is a lifetime of trauma. And I love my children, but they continue to bring their own lives to me: heartache and goodness. And this whole thing of parenting ain't ever done. Death opens the door to trauma. And there is so much exhaustion with regard to “normal” parenting, let alone what children go through when another parent's departed in one form of another. So, self-care is another way of saying you need water, you need food, and you need air. You are not going to be able to do all that you're called to do and become without some commitment to putting the mask on first before you attempt to help your children or anyone else put their mask on. But that requires the ability to engage what brought you to where you are. And that, in the broadest sense of the word, is your story. But your story is this intersection between brokenness and beauty. We're made in the image of God. We are stunningly beautiful. We have all been affected by the fall, and therefore we're all broken. How do we tend to engage in both realities simultaneously? That's the issue of how self-care occurs. Do you have enough self-care to have the humility to admit you're broken? Do you have enough self-care to have the humility to admit how beautiful you are? And we can get to practicality, but all good self-care is returning our hearts to a taste of Eden. None of us can get back into Eden, but we're meant to have a taste of Eden that allows us the framework to be able to say, “There is great beauty in being beloved.”

How can we use our story to self-examine, get underneath, and know who we truly are? Do we know who we truly are?

If you do, you may be one of the first other than Jesus. The answer is we have a sense of who we are. And maybe in part of that is a sense of who we're meant to become because we are always playing between the past and the future. And in that sense, our past, if it's unaddressed, inevitably leads us to repeating the past into the future. But the future can be the framework of a new being, a new becoming. And in some sense, the incredible defiance to be able to say, “My suffering will not limit me from becoming who I'm meant to be.” And we need defiance. That's so powerful.

It is the defiance that accepting brokenness or the challenges that we have—the destruction around us—and defying that, that defines us. We talk about it every week—about you can overcome all you've lost. And it's not just rhetoric; I'm here to bear witness. And then when you bear witness of something, when it's your testimony, it's not just head knowledge. It's like, “No, I have seen God redeem my story.”

This phrase from Psalm 27:13, “I would have despaired if I did not believe that I would see the goodness of God and the land of the living.” In that sense, we are free to engage the heartache of the past in part because of the promise of the resurrection. We don't erase our past. And so, part of the question is, “Can we deal with themes?” Because we're not just a compendium of stories; we're an actual story. Each of us is a story of God, a story that reveals God.
So, what are the things of your experience with death? I mean literal, but I also mean that sense of death like decay, death like degradation, death like all losses that gave you a sense of the tragedy of ending. What are the themes of your life? And if I were to put words quickly to my themes, what I'd say is I grew up with a borderline personality-disordered mother and a profoundly detached, disengaged, but very kind father. So, the reality is, as an only child, I had to tend to my mother's craziness. So thematically, what you can say is I have a high level of responsibility for other people's lives. And that could be beautiful; that could be also profoundly broken. So, can I own both? Can we look at themes that have come out of our life? Because those themes just don't get erased when you come to Christ. They don't get erased when you transit from age 20 to 21. Bottom line is we each have themes to our lives that we need to have some handle on to be able to engage this question of broken and beautiful.

What specifically about this section really resonates with you?

I love that he recognizes and acknowledges that solo parenting in general involves death. And that can be the literal death of a spouse or the death of a relationship, and how much trauma that brings with it. I’ve been separated for over six years, divorced for almost six. And I'm still becoming more and more aware of the trauma that [season] very generously supplied to my life. And not even just the trauma that I dealt with and have been recovering from and dealing from before when I was a kid. But also, what that relationship, the ending of that relationship, brought with it. And it just illuminated so much for me when he talked about how it creates numbness, fragmentation, and isolation, which sets us up for even more suffering. And then, regardless of if you're a single parent or not, parenting in itself is a trauma every day, ongoing. We just are living in the trauma over and over. So, I loved how he recognized that. I felt very seen. But then also going into, like I mentioned before, uncovering themes of our life and being able to tell those stories and unpack and uncover, there is self-care in that. Our theme for every October has been self-care. And so that's what he was talking about, and he was talking about caring for yourself enough to uncover your story, caring for yourself enough to learn about the intersection between brokenness and beauty. That is your story. He’s just so poetic and everything that he says feels like it hits at a deeper level. But then also gave us practical ways to start uncovering the brokenness and the beauty.

Thematically, it is what Solo Parent as an organization, as a movement, is about.

And that is not numbing out or running past our story, but paying attention to our story and leaning into brokenness. That's counter to the way the culture looks at things. But that's where transformation really happens. And the thing that I took away the first time, and I'm reminded is ever since this conversation with Dr. Allender, I've been more deliberate about paying attention to the nuances of my story. I can remember things that have happened to me or that I was involved with in kind of a general way, but the details matter. And it's kind of like a thread of a sweater: you start pulling it and you think it's just a thread, but it's attached to so many other things. And one of the things that I took in general away from this conversation, was the importance of story and really following it through, paying attention to it, honoring it enough to know that there are nuances to it. And in doing that, we see God show up over and over and we start uncovering who we are—our identity. I am the result of story after story, after story after story. Or he would even say, you are a story. And what's fascinating is, for so long, I wanted to uncover everything about me. Uncover all the trauma, get rid of it all, heal from it, just be done with it. And he said, it's a lifetime of work that you're doing. It's not an overnight thing. It's not a one-time thing. It's being in it and recognizing it.

Listener Question

Hi, my name is Brandy, I'm a single mom. How can I help myself serve as an example of empowerment and confidence for our child?

My answer to this would be almost the antithesis of what you would think it would be. It's starting with the weakness and the fear and owning that. In other words, if I need to take on a new job or whatever it might be to show my child they can do it, first to say, “I'm a little nervous about this, but I'm going to step into this anyway.” They need to see things modeled for them. And it's not so much something that we say, it's really about modeling what it looks like to be empowered and have confidence. I feel like kids in general put their parents on a pedestal and they automatically think of you as a hero at least to a certain age. I know in teenage years; it starts to decline. I haven't gotten there yet. Being able to show my child that I'm human: I have feelings, I have weaknesses, I have all of that. Hopefully we'll set him up for even deepening his feelings of heroism. Do you know what I'm saying? If you aren't able to show your weaknesses, it almost creates a more shallow relationship with your child or children. It's going to be a “fake” sense of pride and heroics because they're not basing it on anything. They have nothing to base it off of. In tandem with that, our kids are going to feel less confident. They're not going to feel empowered. And if you're not showing them that other people feel the same way, they will feel like they're weird for being unsure. Showing the fact that sometimes you're unsure does all the things you're talking about as well as lessening the blow when they feel fearful—they know that you have felt that too.

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