I grew up with my mother’s conflicting refrains of how she would die for her children while at the same time how she absolutely despised having to take care of them. Let me be clear, my mother is a good, loving person but her outbursts and tantrums at how unfair her life was and the verbal dressing-downs I got as the supposed cause of her misery did a number on my head.
As a child, I grew up with the absolute knowledge that I had ruined her life and that I was the cause of all her suffering. This person who I loved dearly and depended on completely absolutely hated me. And I can look back now and feel a deep compassion at how fearful and inadequate my mother actually felt, but an eight year old doesn’t get it. To a child, the world is black and white, right and wrong, and I knew without a doubt that I was not wanted and I was not worthy of anyone’s time or attention.
My experience is not unique because all children are shaped by this contradiction of perceived need and what is actually available. This includes basics like food and shelter but it also includes time, energy and attention. And being raised by a single parent, all of these were at times in short supply. With my perceived needs not being met, all I could do was assume that it was because I was a worthless piece of trash.
We all cope with this in different ways. I retreat and numb. I try to get very quiet and very small, and when I start to feel worthless, I want to drown this out with any number of distractions. Eating, shopping, Netflix bingeing...basically I want to hurt myself if it means I don’t have to feel like a total loser for even just a few minutes.
My point, as a childless adult child, is this: no one needs you to be a martyr. No one needs you to be willing to die for them. No one needs your sacrifice out of a sense of obligation. What people actually need is for each one of us to genuinely take care of ourselves. To constantly check in with ourselves and really feel it all, including the icky sticky within. When we make room for our pain, fear, and hope, we move into authenticity. This keeps these uncomfortable experiences from mutating until we have no choice but to pour them into a giant cauldron labeled blame and dump it on some unsuspecting soul who just happens to have the bad luck of proximity.
And to any parent reading this, your job is hard. Like so hard that I said no thanks. And I am in awe of parents who can keep their shit together the majority of the time and I am compassionate towards those who can’t, because parenthood looks like a mindfuck of the most epic proportions. But please never forget that the soul you are caring for didn’t have much choice in the matter of becoming your child. And never forget that you too were once a child just as innocent and precious as your own, and it is a good idea to let that inner kid cry until its broken heart starts to mend with the love and strength of your hug.
We don’t need to die for one another: we need to live fully and truthfully for one another.
In any facet of life, mistakes are going to happen. They are inevitable. No matter how careful we think we are being, we might just be missing that last piece of the puzzle that would have made us realize how off course we actually were.
And the fear of fucking up can be a mistake because it holds us still and there is no growth in familiarity and comfort. If left unchecked this analysis paralysis can be the most costly mistake of all as it slowly but surely takes our lives, one fearful day at a time.
There is no detour to perfection. There is no way to avoid every single mistake. All we can do is prepare as much as our present knowledge and circumstance will allow, and go slow. Maybe we can’t avoid all mistakes but we can certainly limit their devastation by giving ourselves the space and time to pay attention and change course when the path ahead is no longer serving us.
The bottom line is this: we are all going to fuck up and that’s okay.
May we be safe. May we be peaceful. May we be brave enough to cut ourselves some slack.
Like anyone else, I don’t go through life experiencing one static emotional state. Moment to moment, things change. And to be honest, most of the time I have no interest in this roller coaster. I’d rather zone out. The wisest part of me, the one I share with every other human in this world, knows that zoning out will not bring happiness or even any kind of long lasting relief from the suffering of just being. Instead, I will probably end up hurting myself through a never ending oscillation between overdoing it and not even bothering.
We have been taught hard work and productivity equates to success. I don’t disagree with this formula except for the fact that success is so often assumed to be the key to happiness. If we transform our bodies to look a particular way, we’ll be loveable. If we have a certain job, we’ll get respect and recognition. If we own the latest and greatest whatever, we will be envied. And anyone who has achieved their goals will tell you that while there may have been moments of joy or satisfaction, these states of being were short lived and that eventually, it was business as usual.
This endless cycle of lofty goal, plan, work hard, WIN never seems to fully satisfy. And it’s because we use it to distract ourselves from how completely chaotic our minds truly are. We select from a wide array of readily available and toxic distractions to get away from ourselves because it is terrifying to sit with all the feels.
I am learning to be with all the feels, no matter how boring, distasteful or painful they may be. To only live for the highs is to condemn ourselves to an existence of never knowing peace. Nothing will ever feel like enough.
May we be peaceful. May we be safe. May we not eat/shop/work/fornicate/drink our feelings into oblivion.
We are sold a commercialized version of love and connection that is rubbish. It distorts our understanding of what a real lover is like, or what a true friend should be, until our expectations of others and ourselves are miles from anywhere resembling reality. We start to equate the worth of our connections with things like the most thoughtful or at least most envious gifts. Our friendships become about photographic evidence of our amazing adventures together rather than the quality and authenticity of conversation. We push and pull until there is little room to let others and ourselves be just as we are with one another.
It has become very challenging to find real and meaningful relationships but humans need connection. We need love. And it starts with loving ourselves. I know, blah blah blah, you gotta love yourself before anyone else can love you, blah blah...but it’s true. And it is hard as fuck to really look at ourselves with genuine love and appreciation without placing conditions on this love. It can be a moment to moment struggle to feel valid.
The truth is that there is nothing to validate: We are already and always will be good enough to be loved.
Growing up, I was constantly vigilant for what would be a good day and what would be a bad day. At such a young age, I had somehow gotten the idea that I had contributed to the bad days and it was up to me to figure out how to ensure they didn’t happen. Like I had some sort of control over the emotional climate of our home. I would try to fit into a role that I thought my family needed or wanted. Maybe I was small and inconspicuous, or happy and laughing. It didn’t feel like there was room to be exactly as I was at any given moment, that I needed to be something else for those around me.
As I got older, and also when my depression started to manifest, this urge to people please morphed into detachment. I just wouldn’t talk or interact with those people I’d tried so hard to be perfect for when I was younger. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was still trying to control the situation but through avoidance.
As a pseudo-adult, I am more aware when old patterns come up. When I can control things or have them as I think they should be, it offers me a sense of safety. There will be no blow ups or chaos, because I am calling the shots. But when it gets to be too much or too unpleasant, I call it. I call it on jobs, on relationships, even on things that are supposed to bring relief and happiness like hobbies.
I have no regrets about any of the choices I’ve made in the past. They were the safest choices for me at that time. But now, I am aware of how tightly I’ve been clinging to this idea of perfect and how it might actually be strong-arming me into leading a life I don’t want to, all in the hopes of staying safe.
I am searching for that room temperature between control and detachment that allows me to be kind, authentic and of service to this global society without feeling like a doormat or wanting to crawl under an old pile of newspapers and live there alone.
When I used to think of conflict, I made the leap that it was synonymous with fighting, anger and cruelty. And in some ways, I was right. Conflict just for the sake of conflict has no winners. It is about directing restless energy, confusion and pain outwards, as if these experiences are nothing more than pests to be squashed, controlled or kicked to the curb. When anger alone guides our conflict, it becomes about changing other people or the world to suit our current desire. This is egotistical and fear based, and it kind of sucks.
But I now see the possibility of conflict as an act of love. It can be about caring enough to forge a new way of being rather than taking the easy road of throwing people away into heaps of dislike. It can be about loving ourselves enough to refuse to bury our own suffering to the point of detachment. But it’s not a quick and easy fix. Conflict based in love is about a genuine desire to see healing happen, and it takes effort and courage.
Conflict as an act of love is about making space for our more vulnerable states like sadness, hurt or fear. We don’t need to hide what’s really going on behind the protective fires of anger. These emotions are truthful, and fully acknowledging them is the first step in finding authentic resolutions, instead of anger fueled conflicts that seek only to keep score.
Now stir up some shit. Loving, kind, and truthful shit.
The worst spirals my brain drags me down are when I believe someone is thinking poorly of me either because of something I did or said. I have full dress rehearsals in my head all day and all night about how I will defend myself against their ire. If I’m alone, and sometimes when I’m not, I will start verbalizing entire one sided conversations as I deflect each of their points about how and why I am totally lame.
But when I come up for air from these episodes of drowning in my own thoughts, it hits me: No one is actually thinking about me. Not really. Perhaps they are thinking about something I did or said, but that’s not really me. Me is not equivalent to one conversation, one mistake or one win. Me is so much more than any one thing I might of said or done, and Me is certainly so much more than how others perceive my words or actions. So, they are actually thinking of themselves and how life, and perhaps my guest appearance in it, is making them feel and think.
No one’s thinking about me, not really. So if they’re not thinking about me, if they are instead reacting and responding to an infinite combination of experiences, innate natures and external nurtures, then it really doesn’t matter what I do in regards to other people. I can do what feels right for me...goodness gracious, banana waffles, this is amazing!
Legit not worrying about what other people think is not the same as dismissing the safety and needs of others. Instead, it’s turning inwards and being really honest with ourselves. It’s about not hiding our true natures behind the busy work of things that don’t really matter like trying to impress others. If we actually stopped worrying about how other people perceive us, then we could get to the good stuff of living an authentic life of love, compassion and kindness.
Working on it.
I grew up in a single parent household racked with financial stress. I ate, I had clothes on my back, but it wasn’t unusual to hear my parents fighting over child support or to find my mom crying over a pile of bills she wasn’t quite sure how she was going to pay. Many families live precariously on that tightrope of paycheque to paycheque, and this state of constant fear leaves some marks. One that I am currently struggling with is a bit of a surprise. I feel bad for living well.
My partner and I have made decisions, professionally and personally, that have left us financially okay. Not Scrooge McDuck, swimming in a pool of gold bullions okay, but comfortable. It has also gifted us the opportunity of choice. I don’t love my job, the one I worked hard for, and now I am at a crossroads where there is a possibility to do something else. And I feel really shitty about it.
I am getting better every moment at acknowledging this potential shift as a gift to be thankful for, but old habits are hard to break and I am having trouble believing that this is real and that it’s okay to go for it. It’s like there’s a nervous cat in my chest that keeps hissing and spitting for me to just let it alone in familiarity and security. Then there’s the rusted fork wielding troll in my head that keeps telling me that my current lifestyle and profession ticks all the boxes, and that I’m being an ungrateful cow.
So what I am supposed to do with this? I have a spastic feline in my chest and a troll in my brain, and all I really can do is make space for them as well as that wiser, kinder part of me that knows these visitors are fleeting. I can only notice when I decide to wallpaper my brain with guilt laden sticky notes marked “should”, so that maybe I can let these self-imposed expectations go. I am choosing, moment to moment, to be okay with living well.
This isn’t a post about letting go of your inhibitions and trying out Tinder or sneaking a little rum into your baby’s bottle so he’ll sleep more soundly. This is a post about letting go of your refusal to be terrible at something that you actually want or need to do.
I have very little tolerance for what I have labeled my own personal failings and because of this, I can sometimes shy away from trying new things. Even when they are things that I am passionate about or would like to be better at, the temporary feeling of being totally lame at it is overwhelming.
We don’t want to force ourselves to do things that would make us unhappy just because they may lead to some kind of a benefit down the road like admiration or security. But we also can’t let fear of looking incompetent, stupid or just plain ridiculous stop us from living our lives. So how do we find the worthwhile sweetness when sorting through a mountain of salt? We ask for our ego’s opinion and then promptly tell it to shush.
I learned recently that the mind is made up of a bunch of monkeys, including the ego and the intellect. The ego’s job is to label things. I like this. I don’t like this. I hate that. Anytime you feel a reaction against something or someone, it is your ego pulling the strings. And this is fine, except for the fact that our egos can be nasty little gremlins who are shifty and wholly unreliable. That is where our intellect takes over...well, it’s supposed to at least. It is rational and objective, and able to reason out the benefits and drawbacks of a certain situation. But we as humans have let our egos run amuck and they are quick to boot the intellect to the back of the bus. Before we know it, we’ve marathoned every season of STNG in a disturbingly short amount of time, feverishly responded to several internet trolls, and eaten half a Costco sheet cake.
Our egos are little maniacs when they are allowed to run the show. The ego is constantly searching for what makes us feel good and is quick to throw away anything resembling discomfort. And it sucks to suck at things, so when our ego is in charge, it hits every panic button in sight. But the intellect is there to help us reason, provided the ego can stuff it long enough for the intellect to have its say.
So that’s how we do it. We notice the urge to chuck experiences into the Hate It/Love It piles and we pause. And we give ourselves a little space to listen to what we really want and need. And it is rarely eating half a Costco sheet cake.
Gratitude practices like making lists of things we are thankful for can provide a sense of lightness and hope. Taking a moment to pause and reflect on what is going right in our lives rather than focusing on what we are missing can be a beautiful practice...until it isn’t.
Gratitude practices have an undercurrent of shame for those times that we just can’t summon genuine feelings of thanks for what we have.
Years ago, pre-mindfulness, I was in a slump. A pretty nasty one too. I had heard about gratitude practices and I tried them. For a brief time, the novelty of the activity sparked a few extra neurotransmitter doses but eventually I came crashing back down into my depression, except this time I had a crappy list about how great my life was. All it did was make me feel like a spoiled, useless piece of garbage. I mean, there are people without enough food to eat and I couldn’t muster a smile for my safe, privileged existence.
There is a line we walk when we practice gratitude, and it's important that we don't use this practice as a righteous means to stomp out grieving processes or as a way to deny ourselves and others the freedom to feel angry or sad.
Genuine gratitude comes from within. It can never be bullied out of us. Forced gratitude is based in fear and shame, and is often used as a means of control or to feel superior over others and, weirdly, also over ourselves. We think that maybe, if we are grateful enough, we can conquer the dreaded downer within.
And that’s the litmus test for genuine gratitude: if it makes you feel shamed, guilty or scared, it’s probably bullshit and you don’t need to be grateful for it.