The Good Girl Lie

I tried not to jerk as her acrylic nail shoved into my closed eye. I was getting a facial and she was attempting to press acupressure points just below my brow bones. I’d had this done before by people a bit more mindful of their fingernails, a very good thing.

Why did I feel I couldn’t say “Would you please pull your nail from my eye” or at least turn my head?

I’m often captive to The Good Girl Lie.

A Good Girl can never make someone Feel Bad. A Good Girl can never make someone Uncomfortable. A Good Girl is never to Stir The Pot, Make Waves, or any other liquid or solid analogy that suggests she might have an emotion/opinion/thought that differs.

The Good Girl Lie that is still written in my bones says that my discomfort doesn’t matter, that I should protect the feelings of others above all else–apparently this includes the safety of my own eyeball.

As I write this I hear how foolish it sounds. This Rule, as my therapist/favorite mental health provider calls them, runs deep. I was the youngest of three kids, so I had plenty of opportunity to see how poorly it went when my older siblings had an opinion, had a feeling, had a thought that ran opposite our parents’. I became the people pleaser of all people pleasers, trying to ensure my lovability.

This is a joy I brought with me into adulthood. Our childhood coping mechanisms rarely work well in a grownup’s world–they’re too simplistic, too far off to one side, lacking balance. “I don’t want to get yelled at therefore I will only be Nice” may make sense to a five-year-old, but it doesn’t work well in the real world, where we need another piece, the “I am responsible for my own safety and well-being” part.

Wanting to be Good above all else makes sense to us when we’re kids trying to stay out of trouble with our parents and teachers, but the problem is that we end up taking care of everybody’s gardens, trying to keep everybody happy. No fences or boundaries in this scenario, just lots and lots of neighbors’ weeds and flowers to tend. It’s exhausting! But when we have our own individual thoughts (this is not the relaxing facial I was hoping for) opinions (I don’t like that the esthetician makes it sound like she won’t serve clients unless they buy the pricey products on her shelvesand our own feelings (when she puts her fingernail in my eye it makes me feel grumpy and annoyed rather than relaxed) then we can still be pleasant in the moment while looking out for our own wellbeing. Listening to ourselves can inform our choices and give us options rather than seeing it all from a single viewpoint.

So I didn’t ask her to remove her acrylic from my eye, but it’s a work in progress, yunno?

And I don’t have to go back to her, right? Well, at least not until after the second facial because I paid for two……. *sigh*

The Bring Your Own Beverage Conversation: Do you have a personal equivalent to The Good Girl Lie? Something where you haven’t allowed yourself a voice because someone else might not like what you have to say? A place you just give in even though it’s abrasive to your soul? What’s a step you can take, a boundary you can make, to protect your own wellbeing?

Alright, let’s get out there and stay safe!

9/30/2017 Addendum: I realize I totally ate a slimy, undercooked poached egg yesterday just so that I “wouldn’t make a fuss”. It was gross. Still learning.

 

 

 

 

 

The beauty of acceptance.

I get so excited and giddy when it’s time to have my hair colored and cut you’d think I was headed for a month in Hawaii.

My hair appointments are two hours of freedom to simply Enjoy. I get to enjoy conversation with my stylist who has made sense of my hair when it went from straight to curly-ish, and who has fought bravely to tame my difficult grays. It’s a problem I don’t have to solve–I can trust her and RELAX.

There are few times when I’m this good and non-neurotic about letting myself breathe slowly and melt into acceptance of the exact place I find myself in at the moment, whether physical, mental, or emotional. Less pleasurable things are of course harder to accept–think dentist appointments. There I am forced to concentrate on breathing, also on releasing the death-grip I have on the chair arms. Pain of any sort takes more work.

There’s a gift to be appreciated in this place of Accepting and Allowing life to be exactly whatever it is at the moment. My second-guessing goes away, and the judgmental voices in my head are quieted when I’m present in the moment. Balance lives in this space where I’m simply observing my life, not obsessing over the past or the future.

I’m fortunate to have an amazing therapist who has helped me find my way out of the minefield scattered with all the Lies in my bones, and here are some articles I’ve found while wandering through Psychology Today online that speak to the ways we can change our brains and learn to be present:

  • How to develop “Zen Presence”  This is the type of mindfulness that helps us to be aware and observant of our thoughts and emotions as we move through our days.
  • Acceptance and Commitment Therapy I don’t know if my Favorite Mental Health Professional (my therapist) calls it this, but it certainly describes much of what she’s been teaching me. Basically, what good does it do us to avoid/judge/deny our emotions? If there’s trauma or depression or chronic pain etc., denying our feelings will only cause more distress. Better we should learn to accept how we feel, learn from those feelings and find ways of moving forward and being productive.
  • Meditation: Ancient Practice With 21st Century Application In the third sentence the guy uses the word “fart.” Of course he’s my favorite. ANYway, this article does a great job of explaining how meditation and mindfulness practice work together to quiet the mind, ease stress and so much more, all by actually changing our brain chemistry! How cool is that? I’ve seen more self-acceptance and less judgment as I’ve learned these techniques.

I’ve been using the Headspace app on my phone, and it’s been helpful in teaching me different aspects of meditation. The app has a variety of topics like Anxiety, Focus, Pain Management, and even some sport related ones to explore once you’ve completed the basic 30 day introduction meditation sessions. I was relieved to find there’s even a way to look at the inevitable thoughts that start darting about while trying to focus on your breath.

Calm is another app suggested by both my doctor and the therapist teaching the pain management class I’m currently taking. I’ve been playing around with it the past few days, and it has quite a few ways to help you get a better night’s sleep–music, nature sounds, stories read quietly, meditations. Other topics include resiliency to stress, relationships, anxiety, even commuting.

There are others out there, have a look around and find what suits your needs. Both of the apps I’ve tried have some initial parts you can use for free with a cost after that. But if you keep looking I know there are some freebies out there too.

The Bring Your Own Beverage Conversation: What is a space or activity where you are in the moment and happily accepting of the circumstance? Are you willing to do some work to gain that same acceptance and lack of judging in other areas?

Remember–all of life is a process, and the good stuff tends to take practice!

Everything I needed to learn about boundaries I learned from my garden.

Okay. Let’s imagine.

You have a lovely garden, full of climbing roses and lilacs and other colorful flowers that make you happy.

Your neighbor across the side fence has crabgrass and volunteer tomatoes from seeds dropped by birds in flight and walnut trees springing forth from nuts buried by neighborhood squirrels. And oxalis. There’s always oxalis. (It’s pretty till it takes over your whole garden.)

This neighbor pays no attention–for them, what happens in the front yard stays in the front yard. Their mess of weeds is quickly working its way between the slats of the wood fence. However, the foxtails are now cozying up with the geraniums halfway across your yard, so you decide to try to make the neighbor see the error of their ways and see the much more logical and let’s face it, RIGHT, way of yours.

You practice in the mirror. “Hey, neighbor!” you say to your reflection in a cheery tone, “here are some cookies I just baked. I wondered if we could chat a minute about our front gardens,” you say, holding up an imaginary tray, smiling pleasantly.

You find yourself quite convincing, so you try it face to face. They take the tray of cookies but stare at you like you’re speaking Space Man when you perkily mention they should take care of the weeds on their side of the fence and keep them out of your garden.

You think, I must not have said it right. What better words could I use? Or maybe they’ll listen if I make them pie instead of cookies.

You keep trying–pie after cake after fresh squeezed orange juice. Still the neighbor takes the gifts but ignores the weeds. Their weed seeds are falling on your fertile ground, but your words are falling on cold, lifeless gravel.

So where am I going with all this floral flatulence?

Last week I shared some of the ways I’m learning to retrain my brain and do life differently. Then I promised to blow your mind with an amazing tool I’m finally beginning to understand. (Okay, so there was no promise of mind-blowing. There was, however, the promise of a tool. I was trying to get you so excited that you will come back every week to see if perhaps your mind will be blown this time.)

BOUNDARIES. All this garden-speak is about learning that you can control what’s in your own garden, but you can’t control what’s in your neighbor’s.

Most of my life I worked under the misguided idea that I just hadn’t found the right way to get that neighbor to clean up their side of the fence. Turns out, they can even plant weeds in their yard on purpose, who knew? Because, after all, it’s their yard, not mine.

Our individual job in this world of analogies gone wild? To simply mind the fence and all that is on our side of it. Stop taking them cookies. To stop using our words when that other person isn’t even listening. It’s not only a waste of your breath, it’s a waste of your cookies.

The other person’s weeds can represent many things: negativity, blame, shame. Guilt. Patronizing opinions. Manipulation to get you to bring them those cookies, even though they’re totally messing with your lantana.

If we are to take care of our own responsibilities–the space on our side of the fence–we may need to build a better fence so the foxtails can’t get through. We may need to find a method to stop the weeds from growing if they do make it under the fence. Point is, we need to use our precious energy to cultivate the beauty in our own garden. We need to recognize that all the sweet talking and baked goods in the world will not make someone listen who doesn’t want to listen.

This is a difficult lesson for those of us who think that if we can only find the right words, the right mixture of flour, butter and cinnamon, the other person will suddenly see our side. This is called Wishful Thinking.

A wise woman once told me, “The only person’s behavior we can change is our own, all other is merely wishful thinking.”

For me it turned out that all the Nice I tried to take on a decorative plate to my mother *Wishing* she would see I was worth loving didn’t make any difference long term. At the end of her life she still heaped negative and hurtful words on me via sticky notes on the backs of her possessions sent after her death by her lawyer. Those were her choices, those were her decisions. My job was to not let the hemlock of her words and actions poison me. My job was to decide who I wanted to be in the face of that pain.

It took my mother’s death to realize I couldn’t have pleased her if she didn’t want to be pleased. I don’t regret anything I did for her, but I do regret the wasted energy of all my Wishing. Boundaries, they’re our friends!

The Bring Your Own Beverage Conversation: Does any of this ring true to you? Have you wasted time and energy believing that if you just tried hard enough someone would change how they treated you? Does the garden analogy make sense to you or did I just have a darned good time naming flowers? 

And remember, be kind to yourself.

 

 

Growing Up.

“As a child I was molested by a man who was really hairy,” she told me. Now a middle-aged woman she went on to say of her husband, “I make him shave his body.”

“Oh!” I said, filing this startling fact away in my brain for later perusal.

Today I understand why her actions were unsettling to me: she was still living in that place of early trauma rather than working to heal and move away from it.  Trust me, I’ve been there, and it’s a terrible neighborhood to buy a house.

I’m happy to be identified in a myriad of ways–as the woman who laughs at her own jokes (I can’t help it, I crack myself up!) As a creative soul. Someone who listens. Someone who keeps growing and learning to be a better human on this planet, the best one I can be this side of heaven. Remember me as someone trying to get her foot out of her mouth. As someone with far too many hobbies, far too many books. Someone who forgets the occasional appointment, and who walked 50 feet away from the four-year-old at Disneyland forgetting for a moment she was there.

I don’t want to be identified by my early trauma, like I remember the woman from the beginning of this post: “Oh the things that poor dear went through, no wonder she makes her husband shave his armpits.”

Being a slow learner, I definitely took my time to begin the healing process from the Triggery Badness of my childhood. But I’m getting there. For me that’s the goal–to move out of that neighborhood. Become a grown-up in all ways. No longer a traumatized seedling, but a well-watered and mature tree. (Perhaps you’ll also think of me as a woman with mad metaphor mixing skilz. With a Z.)

Some of the steps I’ve taken toward that goal (with the help of my favorite Mental Health Provider, my therapist) have been:

  • Looking at the Truth of my experiences
  • Admitting to myself what is true of those years and what were the Lies I told myself to keep the pain of those events at a distance
  • Allowing myself to grieve over what were very real hurts and losses
  • Making a practice of staying aware of my emotions and their messages
  • Learning to pay attention in my life, to be present.

These sound like wonderfully psycho-babbly steps, but what does any of that look like?

As a child I coped by hiding from what terrified me by literally closing myself in my bedroom closet with my books and toys. Sometimes I disappeared by running off to the swings at the park–anything that would silence the loud, mean voices of my parents arguing, the shoving of furniture and too often of each other.

I felt responsible for how I was treated–for being touched inappropriately by my father, for not being as interesting as my older brother and his friends. I turned off my instincts and stopped listening to my emotions and pain because I didn’t like what they were telling me, that life wasn’t so positive. The truth of what I went through? Not nice. Not nurturing. Lie #1, No Mistakes, only Goodness and Getting Along.

As a child my home never felt safe. When was the next explosion or long cold spell coming? I couldn’t know, so fear started making a lot of my decisions. Fear’s kind of safety for me looked a lot like hiding, staying out of harm’s way. Stay Under the Radar and Don’t Have a Differing Opinion joined No Mistakes as firm (but not helpful) beliefs I carried into adulthood. Let me just say here: the coping mechanisms of a five-year-old child do not serve one well in the six and over age bracket.

Disentangling lies like those from how I move about in the world changes things drastically. What? I can go out into the world and be mindful for my own safety? It’s okay if people don’t like me? I can have my own ideas even if someone doesn’t agree?  Staying aware in my life helps keep me safe and lets me wander farther afield, a good thing since this is a big old world.

Coming to terms with the Truth that I cannot be perfect sounds so simple, but those early Lies run deep in us, they etch themselves in our bones. It takes awareness and practice to heal them and learn better, truer ways of thinking and acting. What is my body saying to me? What emotion am I feeling? What is my pain saying?

Grief is probably nobody’s idea of a good time. But without grief there’s no closure. One thing I had to recognize as true was that I would never have the kind of mother I yearned for–someone who appreciated me simply for being me, who’d want to call me up to ask how my day had gone and was there anything new with the kids? I felt ripped off and I felt guilty for feeling ripped off. I judged myself as Bad and shoved that pain into a box and into a dark corner of the garage. Unfortunately, that box and the next box and the next box just weighed me down and kept me living in the house of that old trauma neighborhood. Few of us really want to clean out the garage, but sorting through those dog-eared boxes? I felt relief. Acceptance. Moving day was coming!

My hope for what I share of my story is that you’ll be encouraged to see that even at 63 I’m learning, growing, changing. And any of us can if we want to–we can trade those old, unhelpful Lies for Truth. We may have to sort through some boxes of junk to get there, but we can. We can accept what’s true about the garbage we’ve been storing, and then we can send those boxes to the dump.

My mind is so much more at rest these days. Next week I’ll share one of the tools that has helped me learn to let go of some of what was never mine to store in the first place.

The Bring Your Own Beverage Conversation: What ways did you learn to cope with difficulties when you were young that don’t serve you so well anymore? Did you develop certain beliefs about people or life that don’t make much sense for you now if you’re honest about it?

 

 

 

 

 

Trains, pains (but no automobiles)

“Does it hurt there?” my doctor asked as she pressed on the inside of my knee.

“HOly!” I said.

She pressed on my outer knee. “Barely,” I said. She pressed on my inner knee again. “HOly!” I exclaimed, clenching my teeth.

Just as I had been congratulating myself on making it to 63 without the knee problems several friends had already faced a decade ago, I had started having problems. So not cool. 

Diagnosing by poking to find where I have pain is complicated by my fibromyalgia, since it carries some extremely tender points of its own–namely the place on my inner knee the doctor kept pressing. But given the totality of the symptoms involving my kneecaps and the fact they hurt most when using stairs, she thought I likely had “runner’s knee.”

GUFFAW!

One thing I often tell my dog on walks is “Mama don’t run.” He really wants to, even at 14 1/2. Even in my much smaller college days I hated jogging, which I guess is what you call slow running. There was too much jiggle and I felt like I couldn’t breathe and jog simultaneously. It was an annoying gym class. I was not a fan. And now decades later, my opinion hadn’t changed for the better. Running was for those blessed with long and lanky genes and definitely not for short, heavier me…and so went my train of thought–derailing somewhere about the point the train hits the crossing called Everything Is My Fault Because Somehow I’ve Done It Wrong.

Lies derail me. Instead of “okay, what can I do now?” I get hung up in the spider-webbed space of all the words I use to judge myself. Every direction I look I see a negative message and I wind myself more firmly into the web. I get stuck.

I somehow believe I should be able to be Faultless.

I somehow believe I Should Have Known how to avoid whatever problem I’m facing at the moment.

The Truth is, I’ve made each choice, each decision, based on what I knew/didn’t know/payed attention to/didn’t pay attention to IN THAT MOMENT. Given the experiences and circumstances leading up to then I wouldn’t have done anything differently. I would have made the same good/bad/shoot myself in the foot choices, because I was exactly who I was at that time. All the coulda-shoulda-if only thoughts tightly packed into that derailed train simply weigh my thoughts down and waste my energy.

Current example: rather than telling myself I Could Have Avoided having (not really a) Runner’s Knee by listing fifteen things I Should have done differently in the previous 62 years, instead I take a deep breath and do the exercises given me by the physical therapist. Recognizing the muscle fatigue of fibromyalgia may mean I can’t complete all the sets. I think my new math equation looks something like this:

available energy (minus) wasted self-flagellation energy (equals) higher quality energy to discern how I can best move forward. 

Okay, I know it’s silly math, but it’s math I can understand, math I at least know how to use. By lightening the energy load on my train of thought by dumping the thought patterns that overload and derail, I’m left with better, clearer energy to stay on the track of learning and moving ahead.

The Bring Your Own Beverage conversation: Final math equation of this post– Available energy minus (what thinking do you need to unload?) equals higher quality energy to move forward. Solve for (what thinking do you need to unload?)

Class dismissed. Now go be kind to yourself.

Standing up in the ocean.

 

WHAT do you suppose happens when on a hot day in Roatan you struggle to manage the ocean, to change its properties, to avoid yielding to the water’s warm, salty invitation to relax in its arms, to be the only one on this earth allowed to remain upright and still snorkel? It says, Oh no, honey, that’s not how it works! Just accept my invitation…give in, loosen up, enjoy.

Sure, I may have perjured myself when I checked YES next to Can Swim on the entry form to the beach in Honduras. I mean, academically speaking I do know HOW to swim. I know where the arms go, what the feet should be doing, and that bit where you turn your head from side to side and remember to breathe only during the above-water segment. But when I’m actually IN water?? All sense of calm and, well, sense take a hike and I start trying to manage the ocean.

I believe my feeling about oceans and lakes and the deep end of a swimming pool is what people like to call a Phobia. As if my fear is irrational! There IS something just waiting to SUCK-ME-TO-THE-BOTTOM-FOREVER-YOU-KNOW-I’M-RIGHT-GAAAAAHHHHH!

Okay. Perhaps a tad irrational.

I’m a struggler. I’m a long time try-er. I have believed that if I flex and tense my muscles and muster enough of my own effort I can manage anything–even change the minds and individual properties of people or situations. Shove myself into being Healed and Triumphant Over the Troubles of My Life on my terms and in my time. All simply by my own striving.

Finally at 63 I’m learning to relax, to give in bit by bit to this process called Life. To tell the Lie that says I have enough power to manage the ocean that it has permission to take a long walk off a short dock. I’m learning to let go of the belief that I alone will be allowed to stand in the depths of the ocean and keep my head above water.

Fortunately I had a kind and loving friend with me at that gorgeous beach. She understands the whole relaxing-into-the-arms-of-the ocean thing, and yet she also understands my overwhelming-desire-to-remain-upright in the water. She helped me understand my snorkel gear, guided me to find the calm breathing I know but couldn’t locate. She helped me relax and float and breathe and see fish and sea creatures–but in water close enough to the shore that I could stand when I needed to. She let me hold her hand, for crying out loud, and never once mocked me for my fears. (Thank you, Susy!)

She helped me access the abilities that lay dormant within me to settle into the water and accept its invitation to rest in its salty arms while still breathing air. It was amazing! And a huge step forward in conquering my fear, demonstrated by my daughter Cori’s response to my telling her what I’d done with the exclamation of “You SNORKELED? In WATER??”

My experience was much the same as Life altogether: learning to accept, learning to move forward, relaxing my own stubborn will. Step by step I’m learning to give in to the reality of things–to know I can’t change the ocean, to see the sea for what it is. I couldn’t enjoy Roatan’s clear waters and schools of fish dashing about until I made peace with the actual character of the water. Once I did that I could embrace the truth that the beauty beneath was revealed only when I stopped striving to remain vertical.

The bring your own beverage conversation: Is there some belief you’ve held onto that’s kept you from moving forward in your life? One of mine has been that I have enough power to change people and situations I have no actual control over. Do you like me try to manage oceans? If not, what’s one of yours?  What truth do you need to start seeing and accepting in order to unstick? Think of friends or family who are willing to help you take baby steps into positive change, and if you don’t have some, GET SOME!

AND BE KIND TO YOURSELF THIS WEEK.

#lessstrivingmoreacceptance

 

Unseen and Unheard

LATELY I’ve been on, let’s just call it an Unintentional Hiatus.

I’ve been plagued by a couple of things: Fibromyalgia has not been my friend the past few months, and the Lie that loves me the most has been in residence–even though unwelcome.

To address the first one, I’ve been in what is called a relapse of my Fibro for several months now. When your Flare decides to overstay its welcome its name becomes Relapse. The pain and fatigue have been hanging all over my body and brain, rendering me both whiney AND bitchy. If I could take a vacation from myself I would.

And now, the second, the Boogeyman, the Lie That Loved Me, Casino Lie-ale, Live and Let Lie…. I wanted to make this blog as a safe place for others who deal with their own Lies. To maybe feel they aren’t alone and realize we all struggle. But my most deeply etched Lie, that my voice doesn’t matter, has been a pretty constant companion lately, rendering me mute.

When I was a child I felt it was better NOT to have a voice, NOT to draw attention. Because, say the wrong thing and dire consequences would follow. I watched this over and over with my parents and older siblings, and with some serious mother vs father action. Better I should play in my room, go to the park, or hide in my closet. Unseen and Unheard was safest.

In my post-childhood years I have done a lot of shoot-myself-in-the-foot things like dumb myself down to let other people feel smarter, let other people tell me how I should think, believe that everybody else’s voice was more important than mine, that my voice/my thoughts/my beliefs were inconsequential.

And yet, I have loved to express myself in writing since I was small. I’ve known that the God who created me gave me my own particular voice, often sappy, often snarky, and a unique view of the life I’ve lived. How can I know that Truth, and yet believe the ever-present like-flies-at-a-picnic, like-dirt-on-my-car, like-failed-deodorant Lie that WHAT COULD I POSSIBLY BE THINKING THAT I HAVE ANYTHING WORTH SAYING??!?

Whew.

I think what I’ve just described is what’s referred to as Cognitive Dissonance. By definition, that means the mental stress and discomfort experienced by someone who has two completely opposing beliefs. I believe I have something worth saying, yet I believe just as strongly that I have nothing worth saying. Well no WONDER I’m tired!

And this is the power of the Lies In Our Bones.

So even if I end up only talking to myself I need to keep writing. To defy that Lie. To put myself out there though flawed and tired and possibly repetitive and maybe even boring some days. To put myself out there when I feel ugly and stupid and needy and simultaneously whiney and bitchy. I mean, don’t we all feel something of the sort sometimes?

Yes–even though I know God loves me without condition (even some of my friends and family do, more’s the wonder) my bones are still in the process of healing from the deeply carved Lies of past early experience. I’m a struggler. If you’re a struggler too, please join me.

BE KIND TO YOURSELF AND DON’T FORGET TO BREATHE.