Failing

 

I failed spectacularly in the earlier portion of my life.

In marriage. In Adult-ing. In having two boundaries to rub together.

My kids love me (and forgive me) for which I am grateful, so I don’t feel I failed entirely in Mom-ing. They’ve seen me grow and change and get stronger. They’ve seen me become more honest and less fearful.

FAILING has taught me much: after tripping and launching headfirst into a tightly closed door in the dark of night with nobody else around, I can still take care of myself–or at least call 911 so somebody else can come check to make sure I’m not dead. It has taught me that the Clarity following failure often comes at the cost of comfort. That stability should mean more than owning a three bedroom home in the ‘burbs with someone who challenges my emotional health. That when it’s time to go, it’s time to go, no matter what the well-meaning misinformed may say.

Failure has taught me much: that the Clarity following failure often comes at the cost of comfort Click To Tweet

I’m in this strange new place with new and different challenges, but these challenges are more of the regular variety of life–where will I live, how involved will I be with what and who…it’s the unfolding of a previously unknown world, one not determined by who I am as a mom or a wife or any other role. It’s determined simply by Who I Am.

I LOVED being a step/foster/adoptive/birth mom, more than I ever thought I would. Heck, with what I saw of my own family growing up, I had no plans of even getting married. Somewhere along the line it occurred to me that I could do things differently than my parents. That was my intention when I did fall in love and want to get married, to do things differently (and hopefully better) than the home where I grew up. I did manage to put my own spin on it–instead of my mother’s often cold disregard and her demand for obedience at the price of our individual identities, I instituted a total lack of boundaries, and added way more crying. Not a vast improvement.

FAILING HAS TAUGHT ME ABOUT GETTING BACK UP…whether from the floor where I’ve fainted after bashing my head or from a whole lot of years of marriage with no fairy tale ending. My response to danger has always been more of a crawl-under-your-desk-and-cover-your-head  one. As a child, I’d hide by reading in the closet or by running off to the swings at the park.  As an adult, by losing myself in a movie, an art project, a book, or a nap. But now, in this after 60 part of my life and with the help of my Favorite Mental Health Provider (my therapist) I’m learning how to stand back up, stretch out the pain, and pinpoint what I tripped over so I don’t repeat the same Learning Moment. Now when I cry it isn’t because I keep stubbing the same toe on the same chair leg, I cry because being fully aware is often hard, letting go of old habits can be painful.

Big Realizations that are the impetus for change aren’t always the most pleasant, but they can be necessary to keep us moving forward.

I turned 65 on Sunday–sixty freakin’ five! These numbers always surprise me, because surely my 30 year old son was a toddler only yesterday, and I myself but a young thing. I used to think I would know more about life by this time, but all those years of hiding under my desk from the Truth of things kept me from learning. Now I’m catching up, and I’m okay with that.

I stayed down for years, broken by the trauma of my childhood, and by allowing others to keep the trauma alive. How? By not standing up for myself, by thinking that crouching under a desk with my arms over my head was enough protection from a nuclear event. That move wasn’t  going to protect us from the fallout of bombs, and it certainly did little for me in my adult years against other kinds of fallout. So as I examine the ineffective maneuvers of my past, I’m learning to mourn those mistakes and failings, give them a decent burial, and keep walking forward. The Walking Forward represents two things to me: Self-compassion, by learning kindness and forgiveness for my mistakes and shortcomings, and the Growth that comes each time I manage to get back up from falling.

When I hid, I couldn’t learn. I couldn’t be kind to myself. I was far too busy fixating on how to stay hidden.

How I’m practicing the change to stand back up: Realizing the ways my early trauma affected my parenting, I’ve felt horrified with myself. Being well-trained in the art of Self-Judgment (I have framed certificates for it) the realization can easily turn into panic, anxiety and depression. So I pause for two minutes or twenty minutes, however long it takes, to close my eyes and breathe slow and deep until I’m calmer. I visualize letting the feelings of sadness/regret/etc. wash over me without sticking. At some point I bring up my new insight with my kids and apologize for what I now know impacted them negatively as children…

…and then I keep walking forward.

Big Realizations that are the impetus for change aren't always the most pleasant, but they can be necessary to keep us moving forward. Click To Tweet

The Bring Your Own Beverage Conversation: Have there been places in your life where it seemed safer to hide from what was true than to face it? What plan can you make to practice self-compassion and growth around these?

WE ARE MORE THAN WORTH THE KINDNESS WE GIVE TO OTHERS. You’d help a friend get back up, wouldn’t you?

In Pursuit of Just Sorry Enough

I would imagine that if you've been alive long enough to learn to read this, you've had someone in your life who believes they are never at fault Click To Tweet

I would imagine that if you’ve been alive long enough to learn to read this, you’ve had someone in your life who believes they are never at fault. My mother lived and breathed this one. Here’s a fun example of a phone conversation with her:

“Why would your sister say those things?” my mother asked. 

“Um, what things?”

“About her childhood,” she says, referring to my sister talking to our mother about not stopping our father from molesting her after she’d been told about it.

“Ah! Because… they happened?”

“Why would she say those things?”

“Umm, mom, I just called to tell you Merry Christmas…everyone will be coming over soon, so if you want to talk about this we can do it another day…”

“But why would she insist on saying those things?”

“Sooo, MerryChristmasLoveYouGottaGoooo…”  Click.

She never got as far as sorry-not-sorry. My family was much better at simply Changing History. If we say it never happened and try hard enough to convince people it never happened despite evidence to the contrary, then it never happened. Simple enough.

I’ve known others who would, when exhibiting a certain behavior, accuse me of having that  behavior. Again, not even sorry-not-sorry. Simply, not their fault.

And whatever IS sorry-not-sorry?

Dictionary.com defines it this way:

What does sorry not sorry mean?

Sorry not sorry is a sarcastic way of acknowledging that someone might not like whatever you’re saying or doing … but you don’t really care.

AH! So in this case, at least the person knows they have no intention of being sorry. No shifting of blame, no changing of history. Straight up “I know in polite social circumstances what I’m about to say would be followed by an apology, but, oh well!”

I struggle to not use this one, being the snarky smart-arse I am. I have a delicate relationship with sarcasm since my therapist told me that it literally means “tearing of the flesh.” That makes it sound so…painful.

And then you have the chronically sorry. I know a lot of people who believe they are personally responsible for all the world’s ills, including earthquakes and global warming. This is the one I struggle with as a Reforming People-Pleaser.

AHealthierMichigan.org says:

Stop Saying Sorry! Signs You’re an Over-Apologizer

Why do they do that?

People who over-apologize are often anxious and worry about offending everyone around them. They tend to have poor self-esteem and lack the confidence to let their words and actions speak for themselves. They also may view their relationships as fragile, to the point that one misstep would mean the end of them.

Sometimes this comes from being constantly criticized by a person in our lives until we develop it as an emotional tic. “Sorry!” becomes our go-to because, after all, how dare we take up space on their planet?

This, from the same article, spoke to me:

How can over-apologizers break the habit?

Talking to a psychiatrist or therapist can often help you figure out the underlying reasons why you do it. A professional can also help you recognize that most people forgive and move on and that relationships are usually resilient. Many over-apologizers could also benefit from doing things to improve their self-esteem (whether it’s reading self-help books, meditating, talking to a therapist or trying self-affirmations). The ultimate goal is to find an appropriate balance between addressing your own needs and feelings and being considerate of the people around you.

The next time you feel like an unneeded apology is coming on, try to change your tone to reflect gratitude over remorse. For example, if you have to change plans with a friend because of a busy week, avoid saying “So sorry—I’m the worst, I know!” and instead try “Thank you for understanding” or “I appreciate your flexibility.” Soon enough, taking a more positive, appreciative approach will be your automatic reaction.

THIS! I can try this. So, since I’ve been whiny for a week with a toothache, I can say to my friends, “Thank you for listening to me whine!” instead of “sorry for being so whiny!” (Honestly, I’m not sure they’ll feel a lot better with the thank you….) I’m still trying to understand how to use this when I accidentally back into someone at the grocery store…which I usually do. My tendency to say “I’m sorry” seems to fit here, since “Thank you for the smile you gave me instead of that awful judgy scowl your friend did” seems a bit snarky, and perhaps borders on the Sorry-Not-Sorry side. It’s a process, right?

The Bring Your Own Beverage Conversation: Where do you fall on the Sorry Scale? If you over-apologize, why do you think you do?  (If I’ve offended you by asking, I’m so sorry….)

Thank you for sharing the planet with me. You do contribute. Really. Even if someone has made you feel otherwise.

Dancing with disappointment.

Some days are just plain more disappointing than others, right? I’m sure you can relate. My hair is curly, and some days I wake up and it’s doing some crazy dance up off the back of my head, and no amount of water will tame it. And I need to be somewhere in an hour.

Some disappointments are annoying, like nutso hair, or a zit on your nose. Some go much deeper and take longer to figure out, stuff I’ve wondered like, why didn’t the person who was supposed to love me more than anybody seem to like me?

My mother did some interesting things over time. She was this girl:

There was a little girl

There was a little girl,
            Who had a little curl,
Right in the middle of her forehead.
            When she was good,
            She was very good indeed,
But when she was bad she was horrid.

When life was good and moving to her beat, she was happy and sunny and fun. When life was bad and not behaving as she wanted it to, she was not fit to be near. I felt loved, I felt hated. I met her approval, I was a failure. She seemed to like me and approve of me in the second part of her life when she was in love with my uncle-stepfather (story for another time) but once he got hurt at work and couldn’t support them as easily, well, we were all gonna suffer.

Because she hadn’t done enough while alive, she made sure to be The Gift That Keeps On Giving (sort of like an STD) and have her lawyer send me boxes after her death, returning things I’d given her, giving me things she wanted me to have, all with commentary on sticky notes, signed and dated. And the commentary? Not things like “Your grandmother gave me this and I know you always liked it so I wanted you to have it, love Mom.” No, more like, “I thought there might be hope for you once upon a time, but now I’m not so sure.” (Initialed and dated, sometimes years earlier.) It takes a special amount of planning to ensure that your child will not only grieve your death but feel guilty and worthless while doing so. If nothing else, Marge was a planner.

Those Lies In my Bones were dug deep–deep and early. They’ve stayed long but are becoming more shallow as they heal. It’s taken eons of therapy and an acceptance of my own worth as a created being on this planet to get where I am, but I still struggle and fall.  It has taken good friends to believe in me and a lot of tears to get as far as I am today. And a fair amount of falling, and a bunch of getting back up.

I’ve apologized for a million things to my children, to the point they tell me to stop, but I want to be a parent who can take responsibility for my lacks, for the ways I’ve let my kids down. I’m not gonna beat myself up about my decisions-gone-wrong, but I’m at least going to mention them when I realize them. How much healing would it have been for my soul if my mother had even said “Hey, I know we didn’t always agree, but I loved you every single day!” But narcissistic, damaged people don’t seem to have that capacity, and those of us who grew up that way are left to figure out our worth the best we can.

So on days when you’re dancing with disappointment and having trouble finding your way forward, remember:

You have worth simply for being on this earth. 

You can make a small difference on the planet any day of the week by smiling at a stranger or recycling your candy wrapper. Even if you can’t get out of bed, you have worth. It matters to somebody somewhere that you are here. At the least, it matters to the Creator who made you.

Fight the negative words of others, surround yourself with those who feed healing into your soul. Get a mental health professional to talk to. Fight for your own healing. You’re worth it. I’m worth it.

The Bring Your Own Beverage Conversation: What is one small thing you can do today to honor your own worth and take care of yourself? What is one small thing you can do to honor someone else’s worth? It may be as simple as holding a door for someone whose hands are full or taking five minutes to breathe deeply.

In pursuit of mental health

Lately on social media I’ve been reminded of the small, scared girl I once was. She called the shots in my life for decades, hobbled by fear, looking for someone else to give her a sense of security.

Fear ran so much of her life that she ended up missing out on a lot of life. Crushing Fear said that she couldn’t even think about it, and its friend Overwhelming Anxiety came along for backup. Don’t try, don’t fail. Opportunities missed. Life was a competition, and she just wanted everybody to get along.

That scared little girl is finding some love, healing and acceptance that she couldn’t get from the parents of her childhood. The pain of that lack of parental acceptance runs deep in many of us, etching itself into our bones and causing us to make unbalanced choices, in my case to be a people pleaser and gauge my worth based on whether or not I could make someone else happy. (Hint: Not My Job.)

I used to be angry at that terrified little girl–why didn’t she protect herself in better ways than withdrawing and disappearing? But when you’re 5, you do what makes sense at that age. Author and speaker Mary DeMuth, after being raped at age 5 by neighborhood teens, slept for safety when the adults in her life failed to protect her from continued assault. 5-year-olds do what 5-year-olds understand. How can I stay mad at my little girl who carried on the understanding of safety for a small child into her grown years? She did what she knew until she learned differently.

Years of therapy plus one divorce later, I’m learning that I’m capable of moving about in the world on my own. That I can be the mama to that scared child within me, be responsible for my own safety without hiding in a closet to do so. I can take risks knowing I may fail and fall and get bruised. I can enjoy life, go to the beach with friends, drive ten hours to see one of my daughters, or choose to eat chocolate for dinner (for the magnesium, of course). I’ve learned it’s okay to grow up, to find a different safety than I understood at 5. That growing and learning is healthy and leads to freedom.

I couldn’t have done this journey without my Favorite Mental Health Professional, my LCSW. If I can leave you with one thought, it’s that there is no shame in Pursuing Mental Health. If you feel off balance, seek help. You deserve to be healthy.

The bring your own beverage conversation: What belief have you carried from your childhood to your adulthood that doesn’t seem to be serving you well? 

IT’S NEVER TOO LATE TO LEARN THE TRUTH AND LOVE YOURSELF. (And who doesn’t need a picture of a happy puppy?)

 

 

 

Comparison kills.

Lately I’ve been binge-watching the TV show My 600 Pound Life.

My entire life, though at the much lower weight of (mumblemumble) has been about weight. How much I’ve gained, how much I’ve lost, who’s happy with it, who’s not, and the massive helpings of guilt surrounding it.

One of the episodes I watched was about two brothers. The younger one, weighing in at 500 pounds, felt he was still okay because he was 200 pounds less than his sibling. At either weight one’s heart can only handle the extra workload so long. Comparison can kill. Literally.

I know I’ve had a sort of weight-blindness in darker periods of my life when using food as a coping mechanism. I felt like I’d wake up one morning with 40 extra (and surprising) pounds. How and when had that happened?

I’m fascinated by the psychology of things: by our human coping mechanisms, by the ways we can lie to ourselves so convincingly in our willingness to be blind to the truth.

I’m my most handy subject of course, since me-myself-and-I spend a lot of time together. I know the strength of the desire to lie to myself, and how easily I can excuse myself from harmful things I do because of what I don’t do. I spent decades using the phrase “At Least” followed by whatever comparison made me feel better about my life. I thought I was simply looking for the best in others or looking for the bright side of my situation. BUT–I wasn’t looking at my situation or the person, I was looking at the comparison.

I was the 500 pound brother.

If I’m happy with the view I see of myself next to my 700 pound brother, nothing changes. But if I look at the view of myself only, I can see whether or not my choices and decisions are having a negative impact on my own life and those I love. I can see if I’ve limited myself by making those choices. In the same way that having weight-blindness eventually limits one’s ability to move about in the world, choosing to have emotional-blindness and not face our own pain can limit us from having fulfilling relationships and working toward our dreams.

My Favorite Mental Health Professional calls it “being awake in my life.” Being aware of my own issues, my own health, my own situation. Comparisons can kill when they’re a distraction from facing what’s True and Real. If I compare I can always find someone who weighs more or weighs less, has less money, more money, has a better relationship or a worse relationship, is more ill or less ill…you get where I’m going, right?

Comparisons can kill. Comparisons can limit. Choosing blindness to the challenging areas of our lives can also kill and limit. I can’t promise a pain-free journey to Awake, but in time you arrive at Freedom.

 

The bring your own beverage conversation: What part of your life do you compare to other people? How does that distract you from the true heart of your struggle? In what areas do you choose to be blind?