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Category Archives: Self-Acceptance

Like a Garden

Garden

Lately I’ve been reading a lot of old journals. I’ve been writing since I was in 7th grade, believe it or not. I haven’t found those particular journals, but based on the ones from 8th grade, I’m guessing they’re not very interesting. Because in the ones from 8th grade, 95% of the entries were about Rick Springfield. Stuff like, “Don’t Talk to Strangers” came on the radio 10 times! I can’t wait to see him perform on Solid Gold on Saturday! I just bought the latest Teen Beat magazine and he’s on the cover!

In my defense, back then you couldn’t hear or see whatever song or video you wanted instantaneously like you can now. If you were really determined, you could call the radio station and request the song. And if you wanted to record it, you had to sit in front of the speaker of your stereo with your finger on the record button, waiting for “Don’t Talk to Strangers” to come on because the DJ said he was playing it next, and hope that he doesn’t talk over it at the beginning or end. And hope that your brothers don’t come into the room fighting or playing or whatever. So it was a bigger deal to hear the song you wanted back then.

But still. It doesn’t make for very interesting reading.

But in between the Rick Springfield stuff, there were glimpses of deep and meaningful things. It has been enlightening to see how I dealt with relationships back then. How I could never be convinced that someone liked me, despite the copious amount of evidence that they did. How little it took for me to believe that someone hated me. How not having contact with a friend for a day would be enough to make me believe I had lost them. My sense of self was so fragile. It’s as though I believed I ceased to exist without constant affirmation.

The sad thing is, that’s still true. All of the things I’ve written about in my blog about how demons are always telling me that no one cares about me, that I’m not important–it’s the exact same thing. I can at least say that I am more self-aware. I understand, at least intellectually, that people’s love for me endures, even when I haven’t heard from them in a day. I understand why it’s hard for me to believe this. I am aware of the ways I have manipulated other people because of this fear. It is the reason why I’m afraid to be in a relationship now–I don’t trust that I have changed. I don’t know if I can be less controlling.

Seeing that I am still essentially my 13-year-old self with more introspection makes me have a better appreciation of the garden metaphor of life. The essence of who we are never changes. Whatever was planted is what will grow there, no matter what I do. But I can do nothing, and nothing will grow at all but weeds. Or I can water, fertilize, prune, and protect, and the best version of what I am can grow. But at any point I can stop caring for myself, and all the work that I’ve done can be lost. Everything can die. Weeds can reappear. It’s a lifetime thing, tending to your garden.

I realize that gardening is how you cultivate wisdom. If you don’t garden, you can go through life and have no more understanding of yourself than you did at 13. You can cease to grow psychologically. You can be in a perpetual state of adolescent angst, wanting to be loved, but going about it in all the wrong ways. The extent of your internal world can be listing the number of times you heard “Don’t Talk to Strangers” on the radio, without ever going any deeper.

So even though I continue to battle the demons that tell me that I am not loved and am not worthwhile, just as I did back then, I am still a more cultivated version of myself. Always a work in progress, but also a beautiful landscape to behold in this moment.

 

No Regrets, Part 2

Mistakes

Guess what? This is my 300th blog post! Woo hoo! I’ve been waiting for something really good to write about to commemorate this milestone, and I’ve finally come up with something that’s meaningful to me–learning how to live without regrets. To accept my life, exactly as it has unfolded, with all of the mistakes I’ve made along the way.

I remember the moment when the world was no longer my oyster–that I could no longer do whatever I wanted to do if I set my mind to it. After I got my Ph.D., certain doors had been closed to me because it took 6 freaking years to get it. And another year after that to get licensed. Starting all over again would be costly. Not that I could think of anything else I wanted to do. It was just the loss of having all those options that made me sad.

I felt the same way after I got divorced. Quitting my job and relying on my husband to support me was never an option, because I hated all domestic tasks, I didn’t want to have kids, and I always knew I was meant to be a psychologist. But when I realized that my income had been cut to less than half of what it was when I was married, I felt anxious. I feared getting fired, of being financially bereft, unable to support myself. Still, I chose freedom over financial security.

I’ve made some really costly mistakes. I waited forever before I was willing to try meds, and I kept going off of them even though I got depressed every time. The last time was so bad that I went to bed every night terrified that I would be too depressed to make it into work the next day. I would lie on the couch for hours, trying to endure the pain of existing. I was so indecisive that I would cry, trying to decide whether or not I should go play tennis. Tennis! I impatiently waited every day for the meds that I restarted to kick in and provide me a little bit of relief. I’ll never stop taking them again, because I don’t think I could survive another depressive episode.

I’ve stayed in really horrible relationships because I was afraid to be alone. I felt ashamed about this, and I knew people judged me for it, but being alone seemed like it would be worse than being miserable. Now I realize that the problem with not being alone isn’t that it made me a bad or weak person. The problem is that it has taken me a really long time to distinguish my feelings from someone else’s. To figure out how to care for myself, give myself what I need. To realize that I am enough, all by myself. I wish I had learned this sooner, but I was too afraid of rejection and abandonment to be able to envision personal growth.

I have been so bad at saying no to people that I crashed and burned all the time and then wondered why I was so depressed and tired. I thought my job was to give other people what they wanted, no matter what it cost me. Otherwise I was a bad person. Or people wouldn’t like me. Or they would change their minds, decide that I wasn’t worth having in their lives. I had to be indispensable to be worthwhile.

It’s not so much that I am glad that things turned out exactly as they did. It’s more that I can’t go back and change anything, even if it could have made my life better. I can’t beat myself up anymore over all those mistakes and add the pain of regret on top of the pain of life itself. That’s what practicing self-acceptance, mindfulness, and self-compassion have taught me.

I am where I am now in part because I started this blog. Because I’ve written 300 posts and shared all of these struggles with whoever was willing to listen. It has helped so much for people to respond and say, thank you for voicing my own experience. Thank you for being who you are, for making the same mistakes that I have made, for showing me that it’s OK to be who I am. Starting this blog has been one of the best decisions I have ever made, and it has given me back far more than I have given. So thanks for reading and inspiring me to keep at it.

Four Years Later…

self-love2

My blog is 4 years old today! Can you believe it? That is a lot of writing. And a lot of self-disclosure. I’m relieved that you have to sort through almost 300 posts to get to some of the more personal ones. If you’re that dedicated to my blog, then you’re entitled to hear my deep, dark secrets. The ones I’ve written about, at least.

Like the title of my blog says, my goal has been to practice self-acceptance. To accept that I don’t have to try to fit myself into some narrow definition of what it means to be normal. And I think I’ve come a long way. I’m kinder to myself and others. I’m more accepting of the curve balls that life throws at me. I worry less about the future and other things I can’t control.

Patience is still not one of my strong points. It drives me crazy how slowly change occurs. I went to a meditation conference this summer and the presenter said some quote about how changing ourselves through mindfulness is like changing a mountain with a feather or something really soft. I can’t remember exactly what he said, but I remember thinking, seriously? It takes that long? Why not just blow the freaking thing up? I need progress and I need it now, gosh darn it!

But I guess we’ve seen what happens when our strategy is to blow up the things that we want to change. So I’m slowly learning what my mind and body need, how to soothe myself, to set boundaries, to say no. I try to pace myself, to be realistic about what I can accomplish, to accept all my feelings and flaws. But I make a lot of mistakes. So I also practice forgiveness, remind myself that I’m doing the best that I can.

I’m still not in a relationship, which sometimes feels like an accomplishment and sometimes a failure. But I guess it’s not something I’m graded on. I’m proud of myself for breaking the pattern of needing to be in a relationship, no matter how unhealthy it was, as though my life depended on it. I haven’t given up hope on the possibility of finding a healthy one. But it’s difficult to imagine how I can carve new neuronal pathways in the Grand Canyon of my mind. I don’t want to keep going down all of those well-traveled routes that have led to so much heartache. In the meantime, spending time with my friends and playing tennis will have to suffice.

Living with my brother has helped with practicing mindfulness and gratitude. I feel especially thankful that he has taken over most of the cooking responsibilities. It allowed me to come home last Monday night after a weekend of tennis at sectionals and a full day of clients and go to bed early without worrying about what and how I was going to eat. So even though I took him in a year ago to take care of him, he is taking care of me, as well. A good reminder that things really do turn out OK, no matter how dire they seem at the time.

A few weeks ago, in an effort to teach her how to practice self-compassion, I told one of my clients that everything about her is ok exactly as it is. Every thought. Every feeling. Even as they change from one extreme to the other, moment to moment, day after day. Even if they don’t make any sense, last longer than she wants them to. That she can accept every flaw, forgive every weakness, because all of this is what it looks like to be human.

This would actually be a good thing to repeat to myself. My personal affirmation. I am, and will always be, a work in progress. But the more I write, the more I believe that I am ok, exactly as I am.

 

Love and Hate

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Last summer I was on a spiritual quest to figure out how we are supposed to strive to be good, knowing that we are going to fail at times. I know God doesn’t expect us to be perfect, but what would a passing grade be, exactly? Would a D- be enough to get us into heaven? Because that’s all you need to get in a Pass/Fail class. My guess is no. You have to do better than that.

In case you didn’t read that post, I’ll tell you what the conclusion was from my research. Our task in life is not to be good; it is to know ourselves. By knowing ourselves, I don’t mean “finding ourselves.” It’s more along the lines of what twelve step programs call a personal inventory of our character defects. Being honest with ourselves about the things we are ashamed of. Our sins, basically.

Because this is what leads to addiction. This is what makes us deny, distort, and avoid reality. What leads us to hurt other people, even. We want to believe we are good people. We don’t want to be anything like those murderers, adulterers, terrorists, Republicans, or Democrats. Those people are a totally different breed.

When we are willing to be honest with ourselves, we will find that we are capable of being all things–the heroes and the villains, the victims and the perpetrators. This is what it means to be human. This realization can release us from self-hated and hatred of others. Who am I to judge you, when I have darkness inside me, as well?

I’m reading Small Great Things for our next book club. It’s a great book, and particularly exceptional in terms of its exploration of racism. There is a character that represents every opinion on the spectrum, from angry black person to white supremacist.

There’s a minor character in the book who explains why he gave up being a white supremacist once he had a daughter. He realized that all of the hatred that he felt towards other people was a way of keeping him from realizing how much he hated himself. He felt bad all the time, and he couldn’t beat up enough people to make that feeling go away. He realized that he didn’t want his daughter to grow up feeling that way. He wanted her to feel good about herself.

A year and even more books later, I would refine my answer to how we are supposed to be good, knowing that we are inherently flawed. Our task is first to know ourselves. Once we are able to forgive ourselves for all of the unpleasant aspects of being human, then our goal is to be loving–to ourselves, to others, and to God. Not because a failing grade will keep us out of heaven, but because being loving helps us to feel better about ourselves and others right here and now, while we are on earth.

I admit, it is not an easy task. I mentioned in my last post that I can’t watch the news anymore. I can’t even read what’s trending on Facebook, because even that small dose of negativity causes me distress. Sometimes being loving to myself means walking away when people start talking about politics. Sometimes being loving to others means reminding myself that we can see things differently and still all be good people. Sometimes being loving to God means accepting that experiencing self-hatred and hatred of others is also a part of the human condition.

It’s a challenge, but it makes me feel a lot better about myself to think about how I can be more loving than to feel like I’m failing at being good enough.

It’s OK to Be Insane

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Remember how I did that self-compassion retreat a few years ago? I’m sure you do, since you’ve been a loyal reader all of these years. Which I greatly appreciate, if I haven’t told you lately. If you don’t remember, you can check out that post and see what it was all about, if you’re interested.

Anyhoo, now I’m doing a mindfulness educational retreat in Cape Cod. All of the Cape Cod conferences are designed to give you a chance to get your continuing education credits while going on an expensive vacation. Which means that, compared to the other one, there isn’t as much meditation and the accommodations and excursions are much better. But, even though it was in the middle of nowhere and you slept in something the size of a closet at the self-compassion retreat, they had awesome food. Organic, locally grown, and all that California stuff. And you could sit or lie down on the floor if you wanted to. So everything has its pros and cons.

Because I like you so much, I thought I’d give a rundown of what I have learned on the very first day as a thank you for reading my blog. Plus, this is a way to remind myself what I learned in the future, since I will put these notes in a filing cabinet and never read them again. Here are the lessons from today:

  1. We spend most of our lives wishing it away because we’re trying to get to the good stuff. The Netflix binge at the end of the day. The house you’ve been saving up for. Retirement, so you can finally relax. And as soon as we get to the place we were anticipating, we immediately look for the next thing. This actually happened to me last night while I was watching the replay of the Federer match. My mind kept wandering, thinking random stuff about what I needed to do to get ready for bed after it was over. I had to be like, pay attention! Federer is about to make grand slam history! In my most compassionate voice, of course. (Not.) The goal, then, is to develop equanimity, which I also discussed in a previous post: may we all except things as they are.
  2. Training the mind is a lot like training a puppy. When you look at your puppy, you think that it’s still lovable and cute, even when it pees and poops when it’s not supposed to and doesn’t listen to what you tell it to do. Well, the mind also pees and poops when it’s not supposed to, and I know mine hardly ever responds to what I tell it to do. Like, right before a point I’ll be like, watch the ball. And then sometimes I’ll swing and miss the ball altogether. Which means there is no possible way I could have been watching the ball. So then I’ll be like, I just told you to watch the ball! But if I had a puppy, I probably wouldn’t be like, why can’t you watch the ball? while we were playing fetch. I’d just throw the ball again.
  3. It’s OK to be insane. When you first learn to mediate, you realize how much random stuff goes through your mind all the time. Usually obsessing about the past, planning for the future, and lots and lots of self-criticism and judgment. You’re feelings will go from one extreme to the other for no apparent reason. You can make up elaborate theories about how someone doesn’t like you based on the smallest piece of information. But guess what? We all do this! We’re all insane. So that crazy thought, that deep, dark secret, that split personality that you thought only you possessed is nothing to be ashamed of. It just means you’re human.

But here’s where I get stuck. Yes, we’re all crazy, but some people are actually mentally ill. In fact, the last time I saw Ron Siegel at a conference a few years ago, he warned against going to a week-long silent mediation retreat if you have a mental illness because it really destabilizes you. Which means, I better not go on one of those. Perhaps ever.

But I guess mental illness is also something I can approach with equanimity and think of it as a part of me that I can learn to accept, just as it is.

Beginnings and Endings, Part 4

beginnings and endings part 4

Yesterday was graduation day for the college where I work. As I’ve mentioned in several posts, I’m not good with beginnings and endings. I don’t like good-byes, and I dread starting new things. Maybe it’s that whole transition thing: change has always been difficult for me.

I don’t usually cry during beginnings and endings. My parents said I didn’t cry on my first day of Kindergarten. I wasn’t even sad when I graduated from high school. I think I was too scared to cry when my parents dropped me off for college.

Nevertheless, I have no problem crying when my clients cry, even though there’s some unspoken rule about therapists not crying. I once had a client tell me that she was going to get a t-shirt that said “I made my therapist cry.” I’m not sure that’s great advertising for me, but I think it was meant to be positive.

I’m beginning to understand why it’s easier to cry because my client is sad that she’s losing me than it is for me to cry because I’m losing someone important. When you feel other people’s feelings, their sadness is your sadness. That’s why I feel like I have to help anyone who is in pain: I’m really just trying to alleviate my own pain.

The problem is that I’m so focused on the other person’s pain that I’m never quite sure what I’m feeling. Which is why I don’t know if I’m tired, hungry, or have to pee. Why I’m not sure if I meant it when I said I love you. And why, when faced with a beginning or an ending, the only thing I register is anxiety.

Perhaps beginnings and endings are an illusion. Perhaps they are more like a rest area along the highway–a place where we are meant to pause and take a moment to reflect on where we have been so that we can be more fully present on our journey. And go to the bathroom and walk the dog.

Since my year coincides with the academic calendar, this year was particularly challenging, since it began with my brother’s heart attack in September. It has been quite an adjustment. My energy reserves are slightly lower so I don’t journal as much, I have more trouble captaining multiple teams, I go to bed earlier.

A lot of the changes has been positive. He has been the best motivation yet to make self-care a priority, to say no, to maintain boundaries. Plus he does a lot of the stuff that I hate, like take out the trash, go to the grocery store, and cook. And it looks like he will be starting a part-time job at a place he is looking forward to working, so June will mark a new beginning for him.

The entire year has been an opportunity to practice gratitude. Admittedly, some days the only positive things I could come up with is that my brother is still alive and I didn’t kill a pedestrian (because one day I almost did). But I am truly thankful for the way my year has ended and that I have the summer to look forward to.

Control What You Can Control, Part 2

Control

Living with my brother has been an enlightening experience in many ways. I never realized how different our experiences have been, given that I’m 7 years older than him and was not around for much of what happened to him. However, we have experienced enough similarities in our upbringing to struggle with the same problems with relationships–which is why neither of us is in one, we are not married, and we don’t have children.

So far I have dealt with my inability to have a healthy relationship by avoiding them altogether. But at the beginning of this year, I began to panic. Because I really would like to be in a relationship at some point, but I didn’t see how it was possible to change at this stage of my life.

So I have embarked on this self-created intensive relationship rehabilitation treatment program. I have regular phone sessions with my therapist now. I have a syllabus of books that I need to read. I’ve even embraced the term codependence, which I’ve always hated, because it best captures the problems I have with choosing people who have been traumatized, issues of control, and being able to read other people’s feelings but having no idea whether I need to eat, pee, or take an Ativan.

I just finished Breathing Under Water, by Richard Rohr, my spiritual guru. In it he demonstrates how 12 Step Programs are consistent with the teachings of Jesus. So I figured this was a good choice for curing my addiction to unhealthy relationships.

You know how sometimes you really like someone else’s opinion because it confirms your own beliefs? Well, that is not why I liked this book. Most of the stuff he said I would have never in a million years came up with myself. But he made me think, and I want what he says to be true, even though it seems too good to be true.

For example, in the step regarding character defects, he said that the goal is not to fix these defects but to turn them over to God. That’s what people mean when they say to let go and let God. I always wondered. We have to work to admit what our faults are, but once we do, it’s not on us to be able to correct them by ourselves. Which is a relief, because I’ve really, really been trying without much success.

Take jealousy, for example. I used to deal with it by trying to control other people. Don’t do or say anything to make me jealous! Which was not a great strategy. Then I accepted that it was on me and tried to be rational, to practice self-compassion, to distract myself, and every other technique I could think of. But experiencing jealousy hurts in a way that I cannot bear, for reasons that are not my fault. And it’s not my fault that I can’t fix this thing about myself.

So in my attempt to turn my character defects over to God, every time I encounter one, I say something like, OK God, here’s another one. I’ve really tried, but I can’t fix it by myself. I finally get it. I’m not in control. I need your help. I don’t want this thing to hurt me anymore, and I don’t want it to interfere with my ability to love others. So any time you feel like making me whole in this place of brokenness, I’m ready. I’ll just hang out here, waiting patiently. Or I’ll try to wait patiently. Impatience is also one of my character defects that I need help with.

And you know what? It helps. It gives me hope that change is possible, no matter how much trauma I’ve experienced, how old I am, how many times I’ve made the same mistakes, and how long it took me to realize that I can’t control everything.

Don’t get me wrong–I still have my reading list. Because you still have to do the work. You just don’t have to do it all alone.