The perils of not being true, to (and with) yourself.

I always know when it’s time to sit down and write, because my brain gets full to overflowing and I can’t fully process any of the things swimming around up in there. Lately I’ve been thinking and wanting to write about: dehumanization (h/t Dr. BrenĂ© Brown); life and love lessons to share with my nieces; fears about how the world around us is changing, people and connections devolving; defense mechanisms – how they reveal themselves and what we can do to recognize, abide, and overcome…

It’s a lot. As usual. 🙂

But right now, all I can think about is how very free to be me* I feel these days, and how much of a 180 that is from most of my life. What an impact it’s had on my sense of self, my sense of security, my sense of belonging and my place in the world.

*With this comes the very necessary awareness that a lot of this freedom stems from being a white cis het woman in America. While being a woman has its own built-in challenges (harassment, lower pay, healthcare decisions being made by old white men, etc.), it is, for me, not compounded by intersectional challenges of skin color, sexual preference, or gender identity. All the more reason it’s on me to do the work of learning how to be not just an ally, but an accomplice. 

So, with all of that said, here’s what I mean.

I’m not sure when or where it started, or what caused it (although I have some ideas), but at some point in my early years, I came to the conclusion that I needed to be someone other than myself for people to like me. For people to want to spend time with me. For people to stick around. I felt like I wasn’t good enough as-is, so I would take on characteristics of those with whom I spent time, whose company I wanted to keep, those from whom I sought acceptance or love. I figured, the more like them I tried to be, the more likely they’d want to be around me.

The problem was that I could only pretend to be like one person at a time. I couldn’t emulate more than one because it was too hard, too confusing… so I wound up having one really good friend at a time, or a boyfriend, but rarely both at the same time and certainly not more than one good friend at a time. At some point in those relationships, I’d realize the persona I’d been trying on no longer fit, which meant the relationship itself would fizzle and I’d move on.

The friendships were always “easier” to sever. It was the relationships that were a struggle, because my entire self worth was wrapped up in the other person, making sure I did whatever I could for them to like me, and when it didn’t seem to work, I’d double down and try harder. Take it personally when it eventually and not surprisingly didn’t work out.

Even into my 30’s and 40’s, much to my shame and chagrin, I found myself denying who I really am in an attempt to make a go of it with someone else. I’d leave my critical thinking skills by the door, my common sense in the trash, and let my sad and desperate heart do the “thinking.” And by that, I mean I’d deny what I knew to be true – that the person wasn’t at all a good fit, and that I shouldn’t be anywhere near that relationship, such as it may have been. On occasion, they were good dudes who just weren’t right for ME. In a lot of cases, I knew deep down they were abusive, manipulative, or otherwise harmful, but instead of standing up for the real me, I’d try to get smaller and fit into the space that might could occupy part of this person’s life, if they’d be so kind.

The hustle for worthiness, as Brené says.

Like, the last person I dated before meeting my husband (eeeeeeeeeeeeeee!!!!!!! still not old!! SO WEIRD!!!!! hearts and stars!! <3), for example. If you had a list of every bad thing you could find in a person, he’d meet all the criteria. You’d think, if you know me at all, that I wouldn’t give someone like that a 2nd look. And maybe it just had to get THAT BAD for me to break this lifelong habit of mine, who knows? Anyway. It wasn’t long – like, a month, maybe? – before I started getting anxiety around him, around our situation… all of it. And the more I doubled down to try and make it work, the more anxious I became. It affected my work, my school, my friendships… all because I was trying to force this thing to happen when it never should have. Friendships lost, quality of work suffered, my ability to focus and tend to regular life things all but disappeared, all because my brain was too busy trying to figure out WTAF I was doing, and why.

Certainly, anxiety is bound to happen when you’re trying to have a healthy relationship with an unhealthy person; there is no way to meet crazy with sane and have it come out okay. The two don’t mix, and in fact, the crazy can – and usually does – start to wear off. But that anxiety, though. It was telling me something. Not just that he was unhealthy, sick, and not worthy of my time and effort… but that I was going against who I am by being there in the first place. Denying what I want and need and deserve, and have every right to expect in a relationship.

I shouldn’t have to make myself small to be with someone else. I shouldn’t have to change or hide who I am to get someone to like me. I shouldn’t have to pretend to be something I’m not, pretend to like or want something I don’t, just for the sake of someone else’s favor.

I’m married to someone with whom I feel safe to be completely and entirely and unabashedly ME. I can sing and dance in the grocery store while we’re shopping; he smiles and looks at me like he just discovered a way to love me even more than he already does. There isn’t a single thing I’ve thought or felt that I couldn’t share with him, even if it was embarrassing or made me cry; he will always respond with a kind and loving heart. He thinks I’m smart, funny, competent, and beautiful, even on the days when I definitely don’t. There hasn’t been one single day when I felt like he was attempting to manipulate me, to lie, to try and get me to be anything other than who I am… and instead, he is just excited to get to know the real me even better.

Talk about freedom.

THIS is what it’s all supposed to feel like. Our relationship isn’t work, because we’re both willing participants in it. All of it. Yes, sometimes we talk about hard or scary things, but that’s not really work, either. It’s what you do when you feel safe enough to go there with it, if you’re at all inclined to dig deeper and show your true self to the other. The only insecurities I’ve ever suffered with him were old things that I needed to let go of, and that’s just going to be a work in progress.

But it’s not just my relationship with my husband (heheheheh); it’s how I show up in the rest of my life, too. I work in a place where I absolutely get to be myself, too, and am loved and appreciated for it. I am honest and direct, and make no bones about how I feel. I might do well to temper that sometimes, but man it feels good to be honest and tell the truth as you see it. My opinions and insights (and humor) are valued just as much as the work I do, and that’s one of the many reasons I’ve been reticent to look elsewhere for a new job, despite money being a significant (and growing) stressor. You don’t find workplaces like mine very often.

I wonder sometimes if this “settling into my own skin” business has anything to do with getting older, and realizing the folly of placing my self worth in the hands of others. I mean, it sounds funny to say that, considering I just waxed poetic about how free I am to be myself with my partner and my co-workers… but they don’t hold the key to my worth; they simply give me the safe, comfortable freedom to explore and express it, and then reflect it back.

When you try to deny who you are, what you want, what you need… it prevents you from showing up. I mean, you can’t. Right? If you’re busy pretending to be something you’re not, then you can’t fully show up anywhere. And that means you’re not being accepted for who you are, and you know it. Deep down, you KNOW you’re relating and engaging under false pretenses, even with the best of intentions. If you are in a relationship where you feel like you’re settling, just to make it work? You’re not showing up, and you’re selling yourself short, if not out. Whether it’s because you’d rather do that than be lonely, or you are convinced there’s nothing better out there, or you think this is how it’s supposed to be, or maybe you realize it’s because you just don’t think you deserve to try harder and do better (or different)… authentic connection can only happen when you show ALL THE WAY UP.

And if the person you’re with does anything to try and prevent that, then maybe it’s time to find someone who won’t. Find the person who will celebrate your arrival instead, someone who gives you the room to keep blooming.

It is all of this that finds me trusting my voice, finally seeing and knowing who I really am. Trusting I have insight and wisdom and a heart to share, that I have every right to be here; to want what I want, seek what I’m after, to demand and expect I be seen and heard, just as I am. I still get scared on the inside that I’m a fraud or a fake and that other people will see it or figure it out, but I think that’s because I’ve got about 30 years of programming to undo. I am, in fact, smart, competent, funny, kind, insightful, and, as DeRay says, “flawed. & (still) worthy.”

I feel like I’m repeating a lot here, talking in a circle around what I’m really trying to say. I guess it just all comes down to the realization that I am finally comfortable in my skin most days, and now that I’m no longer trying to hide parts of myself, I can put all of me out there to pursue more. Like seeking true and real connection with others, whether via friendship, or a common goal (like getting people registered to vote and to the polls!!!), or whatever. Now that I know and (mostly) love who I truly am, now that I’ve settled into a comfortable space in my own heart, I can show up everywhere else. I don’t have to hide from the people who know me and could call me out; I don’t have to pretend to be something or someone I’m not; I don’t have to force friendships or relationships… I just get to show the hell up.

It’s pretty spectacular.

Advertisements

What you are in the dark.

“Character is what you are in the dark.” – Dwight L. Moody

“The true test of a man’s character is what he does when no one is watching.” – John Moody

“Character is what you do when no one’s looking. Or when you think nobody’s looking. Or, when you KNOW someone is looking but pretend like you don’t and you change your tone or behavior to gain favor. Oh, hell. Character is WHO YOU ARE ALL THE TIME. Except maybe in your sleep, but I’d imagine jerks are still jerks when they dream. Do jerks even have dreams? Aside from making other people miserable, that is? Anyway. Where was I again? Oh yeah… character.” – Me

I’ve been giving a whole lot of thought to this. Where is the line between “a person is not what they do” and “a person is absolutely the things they say and do?” I realize the latter appears to be the better answer, but think about a person who lies, either to get what they want or to get away with something. A kid who breaks a window, or steals something. Are they a liar, or a person who told a lie? Are they a thief, or a person who stole something? Do we brand someone for life, based on a thing they’ve done?

All signs point to “yes.” At least, in some circumstances. But as tempting as it may be to get into a discussion on race and dehumanization of certain marginalized populations, sweeping generalizations made based on a person’s skin or gender identity or sexual preference… that’s not what this is about. Not today, anyway. 🙂

So, in an ideal world, you have a person who does a thing… and you show them why what they’ve done or what they’re doing is wrong or hurtful, they (hopefully) learn from it, and it doesn’t become part of who they are. Those external behaviors – lying, cheating, stealing, etc. – are encouraged out of them, they’re not branded for life as a _____, and all is well.

But what about when you should know better? What if you’re given the opportunity to change a damaging behavior, but you continue to say/do what you’re doing in spite of all the reasons presented to you why it’s not a good thing? Let’s say a person is known for manipulation. Or lies. Or, hell – let’s go with BOTH. They kind of go hand in hand anyway, right? So, this person is known to tell lies and to manipulate – or attempt to manipulate – other people, situations, etc., all to their advantage. At what point does the person lose her/his autonomy as a person who maybe does bad things but is still worthy of respect and decency and all the other things, and instead becomes a LIAR and MANIPULATOR, effectively changing their identity from that of a human to that of their behaviors? At what point do the behaviors reflect their character, as opposed to being a one-off thing?

To me, if a person is known for lying or manipulating, even if it’s only part of the time and even if the lies don’t affect me personally, it is what they do to get along in life, which means it’s WHO THEY ARE. I don’t care if you save it for other people, I don’t care if it’s only when you’re trying to get what you want and it doesn’t affect me… you tell lies and you manipulate, which means you cannot be trusted. Why would you afford that person common courtesy and decency? Isn’t that like rewarding bad behavior? “Well, it has nothing to do with me, so I can afford to be nice to them and not call it out when I know they’re doing this terrible thing. I mean, they do a good job over here with this one thing, so the fact that they do this terrible thing over there? I can overlook it.”

The majority of situations aren’t necessarily so cut and dried, I know. I am working on affording a bit more room for “being human” while still refusing to suffer fools and jerks and toxicity. I guess my question is… where is the line between affording someone grace and kindness and professional respect or common decency, acknowledging their humanity first/their “faults” second, and determining someone to be unworthy of your time, attention, decency, etc.? And at what point does a person go from being someone who lies, to a LIAR? Is it all just semantics? Is it the frequency with which they do these things? The severity of the offense? Or does it just depend on who you ask and where they’re willing to draw the interpretational line for themselves?

It seems pretty clear that if you lie, then you are a liar. If you cheat, then you are a cheater. If you steal, then you are a thief. But what if a person lies to save his/her life? What if a person steals to feed their family? Can we refrain from making judgements against a person’s character based on the intent behind the behavior? I mean, some people are just Grade-A buttholes, and there’s no reason to try and understand why they do what they do.

Or is there? Does trying to understand motive help US, the people on the receiving end of the behavior, let go of some of the judgement and the frustration and anger and whatever else we feel after witnessing or being on the receiving end? Let’s say you work with someone known to lie and manipulate. You see this person getting ahead professionally, wreaking havoc all the while… does trying to understand their behavior help temper the indignation you might feel as you bear witness?

This all brings to mind two things. One, the Four Agreements: specifically, “don’t take anything personally.” In this case, taking a person’s behavior personally may very well inform whether or not you can/will afford them the space to be human, and fallible, and imperfect. But even if I don’t take someone’s actions/behaviors personally, I still get to decide whether or not I’m okay with it, right? And from that, determine whether or not the behavior is the character, which seems like a much more permanent designation, doesn’t it?

Side note: I think that’s where I’m getting stuck with all this. The difference between saying a person lies vs. calling them a liar seems to leave room for forgiveness and redemption. Or, it makes room for overlooking what they do. But if it’s WHO THEY ARE… how can you overlook it?

Anyway. The other thing brought to mind is getting to see/hear Brene Brown speak about her new book the other night. (I love her.) One of the main points – and mind you, I haven’t read it yet but I can’t wait! – is how it’s difficult to hate people close up. That you can easily detach and separate and dehumanize by inserting distance, by being online and not having to look a person in the eye… and the antidote to that is to get close, lean in, effect contact, etc. I’ve got a lot more to say about that in another post, but suffice to say… she’s right. When you allow yourself to get close to a person who does bad things, they are no longer just that one behavior. Not if there’s another part to them that’s good, which in most cases is true.

(I happen to know a few people who are garbage to the core, but I still believe that’s the exception, not the rule.)

So… yeah. Next post will dive deeper into that dehumanization piece, and lifetime labels, and some other stuff, too, but for now, I guess I’ll just leave this here to think about some more.

Weddings are Weird, Part 2: The Debrief

Two weeks ago, I got to marry my best friend. The one person I could easily, without question, imagine spending the rest of my days with… and, in fact, couldn’t imagine my days without. The wedding went off without a hitch (other than, you know, US getting hitched) and I think it went really well. For anyone interested in the ceremony, the readings, the order of events, etc., I’ve put everything (other than our vows, for the time being) here: https://carterandpaigearehome.com/2017/09/17/the-big-day-recap/

I had people tell me to try and stay in the moment, to appreciate it all as best I could or else I’d forget everything, and I think I did that (stay in the moment, I mean). But I also think that when you’re in a whirlwind of activity, when you’re under the stress of standing in front of 75 people being vulnerable, when you’re a born project manager and want to be sure you’ve remembered to manage every last detail, and then when you only have three hours to visit with those 75 people you invited, it’s all going to fly by and get fuzzy no matter how present you are. That’s what photos and video are for! And all the stories people tell  you afterward! It’s a collective memory-making event, and we are really and truly grateful for everyone who was able to attend, who could then share their memories with us afterward.

Part of me really wishes we could have invited twice as many people. There are so many others I wish could have been there, and that’s one of the things about this whole event that was somewhat vexing. When we decided to hold the event at Sinema, we were automatically limited to 80 guests. 100, if we’d crammed people in, but 80 would fit comfortably. Our family made up ~30 of that, which left 50 people we could invite. We could have easily doubled or tripled that with friends we love and care about, and you know what? That’s a wonderful “problem” to have, but it means you just have to get okay with not having everyone there. Yes, it was a financial decision, but it was also a logistical decision, and we (I) finally just had to make peace with trusting that anyone not invited would hopefully understand and, if not, it wasn’t an emotional burden we could – or should – carry. But it’s a weird thing to navigate, and I’m grateful to not have to do it again. Ever. 🙂

Other items of note:

  • The day after Carter proposed was when people started asking when the big day was. As soon as we landed on a date, people wanted to know where we’d be getting married, if I had a dress, etc. As soon as I found someone to make my dress, people kept asking if it was ready, how the fittings were going, if I loved it yet, if I was nervous it wasn’t done… I finally got to the point where I was tired of talking about the wedding; the details were stressing me out so having people ask me about it was just reminding me of the stress, and I was over it. I might have told a few people that we’d called it off, just so they’d stop asking me about it.
  • I’m not a nice person.
  • The big question now seems to be whether or not I’m going to change my last name; the answer is, “No.” Whether or not I take Carter’s name has absolutely no impact on how “married” I feel or how connected we are, and he (thankfully) cares even less about it than I do. It’s not even that it’s an antiquated practice that would mark me as his property or the loss of my own identity; it’s just a logistical pain in the ass, and also, I like my name, I like my signature, and there’s really no reason to change it.
  • The nice thing is, I can change my mind down the road and there’s no time limit on making that decision. Maybe one day it’ll make sense, but right now? Nah.
  • I didn’t get full feeling back in my toes until 3 days after the big day, but I think those shoes were worth it
  • I wish I’d danced more – and that other people had danced. I’m not a dancer, but our DJ played some really wonderful music that was great to shake your booty to
  • No matter how hard I tried, I barely got to eat anything and that makes me sad because their food is SO GOOD
  • Our friends and family filled the void of not having a wedding planner/day of contact, and they all just managed things without being asked, and made sure everything was coordinated and collected at the end of the night; totally invaluable
  • My one nephew, Ryan, escaped without having a “job” in the wedding and I’m not sure if he cared or if he was relieved, but having all the (other) kids participate was one of my very favorite things
  • It doesn’t matter how long or short your first dance song is, anything over 30 seconds feels like an eternity with people watching, which is why I (of course) felt compelled to grab Carter’s butt – for comedic relief, for my sake as much as anyone else’s
  • I wish I’d given the champagne toast to everyone there, because they’ve all played a part in getting us here. But hindsight is 20/20, which leads me to…
  • All the things that didn’t go EXACTLY as planned or hoped don’t matter, because we’re married, and that’s the point of the whole thing!

It took a village to get us there and to get us through, but we are now, officially, husband and wife, and it’s the weirdest, most wonderful thing in the world.

Deciding what matters, and then choosing it.

Anyone who knows me hopefully also knows that I will fight to the death when it comes to body- or appearance-shaming as a means of character assassination. So, like, judging a person based on what they do? Totally fine. Open season. But judging a person based on how they look? Totally NOT OKAY. Especially equating being overweight to a character flaw or moral judgement. It’s lazy, it’s flawed logic, and it’s unkind… for starters. It’s not even necessary. Chances are, if you’re feeling the need to slam a person using physical traits,  there’s likely something else you could be using instead (example: Chris Christie is a turd, and there’s a whole host of reasons why, but NONE of them have to do with how he looks). A person’s appearance has nothing to do with who they are as human beings, and is not a reflection of character, mind, or heart. It IS, however, a reflection on us as a society, that we use those things to condemn other people.

So, it’s interesting for me to note that I have been beating myself THE HELL UP for not losing weight before the wedding. Like, suddenly I am a failure, a horrible human being, I’m going to hate seeing photos for years to come because it will remind me I suck, and everyone who has ever wished me harm will revel in seeing me be overweight on the most important day of my life… every time I look in the mirror, every time I’m putting on clothes, I’m these saying mean things to myself, I’m flailing on the inside wondering what I can do to lose weight and get in shape in 6… make that 5… and now 4 weeks.

But this post isn’t so much about that, because here’s what I know: C loves me for who I am, not how I look; in 4 weeks, we will be married to each other, just as in love (if not more so) and happy together as we are right now. We’ll be surrounded by loved ones, eating wonderful food and drinking delicious cocktails, and we’ll get to share this most important event with each other and our friends and family. None of that has anything to do with my physical appearance, and EVERYTHING to do with my mind, my spirit, and my heart.

I recognize that a lot of this self-deprecation comes from external programming. Growing up surrounded by messages that enforce the focus on appearance as a measure of worth, it’s hard to overcome that sort of thing, and just as I said about other people judging – that it’s easy, it’s lazy, and it’s unkind – that’s the default setting for my own brain directed toward myself when I’m looking for something to stress about, some sort of outlet for the pent-up stress and frustration I’ve got going on.

I am stressed OUT. About a lot of things. And apparently the first easy target is me, and how I look, because hey… I’m right here, right? So instead of dealing with stress in a healthy way, it just shows up as my own worst critic.

But this isn’t really about that, either. I mean, it’s good insight, and I’m glad to have it, because it’s keeping me from losing my mind and bursting into tears as I head to my next dress fitting.

What I want to know is… how do priorities form? How do you decide what’s important to you? Is it something you’re born with, or do you learn these things because of the world around you? How do some people decide that fitness is important to them, while others decide they’re just not interested?

And, more specifically, how can you be totally overcome with thoughts of, “Oh goodness, I’m getting married in 6 weeks (or a year or three months or whatever), and I would really love to lose about 5 lbs and get my arms in shape before the wedding!” and then not do anything about it? Like, how can you say and feel with every ounce of your being that this is a priority and it’s important to you, but then not actually do anything about it? And not only that, but do things that are diametrically opposed? Eating ice cream and pizza and drinking wine and doing all the things that you enjoy but you know fly directly in the face of what you’ve stated is your desired end result?

How do make a decision on what’s really important, say it out loud over and over, and then actually flip the switch so you’re working toward that goal? Or is it just that my brain is so determined to have an easy enemy that it’s intentionally sabotaging whatever efforts I might have made? Is it that I have so much other stuff going on that I only have so many spoons of discipline, and they’re all used up before I can get around to the food and exercise regimen I know would get me where I want to be?

And in the face of all of this… how do I just be okay with the apparent reality that losing weight and getting in shape just wasn’t really a priority after all? And then be okay with the outcome?

Perfection, expectations, and the sometimes-messy business of being human.

“Prerequisites bankrupt the entire meaning of worthiness.”

The other day, a dear friend reached out via email and, among other things, shared a podcast (with BrenĂ© Brown) that reminded her of me. If you know me, then you know I love me some BrenĂ© Brown. Her research and writing changed the trajectory of my life some years back, changed how I thought about things, how I worked on things within myself… it was a big ol’ necessary and welcome shift. But it’s been a minute since I took the time to either revisit her older books or to dive into her new ones; I’d been assuming there wasn’t much new for me to learn.

The quote above is what stopped me in my tracks and brought a whole lot of things into the light that have been lurking in the recesses for a while. So, on the eve of my 45th birthday, I figured it was once again time to dig deep. (And yes, I’m procrastinating on homework. It’s how I do my best thinking.)

BrenĂ© was talking about how we have prerequisites for our worthiness. “If I lost 10 lbs., THEN I’d be worthy.” “If I only made more money or had nicer things, THEN I’d be deserving of love and belonging.” That sort of thing. Just like expectations equal premeditated resentments, prerequisites bankrupt the entire meaning of worthiness. The truth is, we’re all worthy, right now, as we are. If we don’t believe that, then we’ll never be enough. Coming at life from a place of scarcity – not thin or fit ENOUGH, not pretty ENOUGH, not wealthy or smart or funny or interesting ENOUGH – will always set you at the back of the line, and you will never, ever catch up.

It makes me think about how there are people who derive their sense of self worth from external sources, vs. those who feel how they feel about themselves based on internal sources. So, like, there are people who only feel good about themselves when they achieve something, get something, DO something… external accomplishments drive their sense of self worth, which means they have to keep achieving, doing, getting, in order to maintain that sense of worthiness. On the other hand, we’ve got folks who feel good about themselves based on who they ARE. How they think, feel, and engage with the world.

(Here is a nod to another post I’ve got in the works, separating people from their behaviors. It’s… beefy.)

The latter is a much more static sense of worth, but I think it’s also just as prone to faulty thought lines. It ties into the difference between guilt and shame, also a BrenĂ© revelation. Guilt = I did something bad; shame = I AM bad. Guilt is a healthy feeling because you can learn from it; it’s there to show you what you’re okay with and what you’re not; what’s right and wrong for you. It’s how we learn not to do things that don’t feel good, whether because we already know it’s wrong, or because we see how it impacts those around us.

Shame, on the other hand… that’s where we are bad people, not good people who’ve done a bad thing or two. We’re failures, we’re not worthy, and no amount of a change in behavior or making of amends will change our inherent lack of worth.

So, my friend reached out to me because she’s in a place in life where she’s struggling a little with her own sense of worth, and she wanted to hear my thoughts on it all because she sees me as someone with boundaries, someone who is vulnerable and strong all at once, someone who has a strong sense of her own worth.

What she’s getting, in the form of this post, is the admission that I’ve been unwittingly stuck in a stress-induced shame spiral for months, it seems. Certainly the last few weeks, but it was building up a lot longer before that. And it took her reaching out for me to be willing and able to CALL it out, so I’m eternally grateful for that.

Between working full time, being in school full time, taking on a SpeechCraft class (an offshoot of Toastmasters) to confront speaking in public as one of my bigger fears, and planning a wedding, not to mention contending with some disappointing, albeit minor, health issues and stressing about money and blending families and managing the house while C travels and all kinds of other stuff… I’ve got a LOT going on. It’s not all bad, not by any stretch, but it is a lot. Bordering on more than I can reasonably handle

Because of this full plate, I’ve been slowly chipping away at my own sense of self. Which is amazing, when I think about it, because I’m doing a LOT to better myself as a human. Funny, then, that I have been struggling so much with stuff. Like, I somehow lost my material for the Toastmasters class. I don’t lose things. Ever. A few months ago, a pair of my gym pants went missing, and I guarantee you I will obsess over that for-EVER. Not because they were great pants, but because I. DON’T. LOSE. THINGS. My belongings were the only constant in my life, growing up, and after living alone for so long, my stuff became my companion through all my moves, all my life changes… you get the idea.

So, when this folder came up missing, I lost it. I’m still freaking out about it. I have an idea of what likely happened to it, but without confirmation, I feel like my world is out of control, that I’m not responsible or reliable, and can’t count on myself for ANYTHING. I cried about it, several times, including on the phone with C while he’s a thousand miles away and can’t do anything to help.

I also cried during my first wedding dress fitting this past Sunday, because I haven’t lost the weight I wanted to lose, and because if I don’t lose the 15-20 extra pounds, then what’s the point of having a pretty dress because I’m going to look terrible and hate our wedding photos for all of eternity and I’m a failure because I had all this time to do the work and I didn’t do it.

I have been beating myself up over not having a job making twice the money I’m making right now; over not losing weight and getting in shape, which is apparently a moral failing on my part; over not being able to afford a new car; over not making more money so C doesn’t have to travel as much; over not being a better friend, family member, and partner; over not being the perfect student…

I’m exhausted with myself. And I see now, these were all just prerequisites for worthiness that I was inflicting on myself.

Because of the transitory nature of my upbringing – all the moves, the changes, the family dynamic shifts – I think that my need to control things was born of a need to feel some semblance of stability, security, and safety. It’s the place from where my perfectionism stems; my sometimes overwhelming need or desire to control perceptions, outcomes, and whatever else I can get my hands on. Not because I think I’m better than everyone else and am the only one who can do things right; instead, it’s because I’m the only one I can, will, and should answer to.

So I’ve been struggling with feeling like I’m not enough. Not thin enough, successful enough, strong enough, smart enough, pretty enough, young enough… and I’ve been finding ways to reaffirm that messaging. Not intentionally, mind you; it’s just the way my brain seems to work. It’s really easy to find ways to sabotage your sense of self-worth, especially if you let yourself get overwhelmed with stressors and other things that take your defenses down. If you’re not inherently secure, then it’s work. Necessary, important, and worthwhile work… but work, nonetheless.

I am incredibly fortunate to have people in my life who remind me when I forget. Carter loves me unconditionally and wholeheartedly; he reminds me to try and do the same. But it’s unfair to put the onus on anyone else, to ask THEM to do MY emotional labor. I’ve got work to do. It’s always there, ever-present, and some days it’s easy. Some days I can see my value and know I’m worth fighting for. But some days, the demons rear their ugly-ass heads and try to tell me different.

Noelle the wonder-therapist says that one of the best ways to combat anxiety – which, for me, presents itself as perfectionism and the need to control things – is to just call it out for what it is. Recognize it, acknowledge it, and move along. It certainly helps to take the sting out, seeing it all for what it really is. And THAT is why the baring of the soul is so damned important. Shining a light on things instead of trying to hide them… that’s how you heal. Shining the light, and doing the work.

Happy birthday to me, then. My gift to myself is the freedom to do what I can, and to have that be ENOUGH. ❤

Quirks to your advantage.

When I was a freshman in high school, I (very, VERY briefly) dated a boy who wound up going to a juvenile detention center for a short stay. While he was there, he wrote me two love letters. Upon receipt of said love letters, I corrected them in red marker and gave them back for his review. I mean… his grammar and spelling were abhorrent. Where’s the romance in that?

Ever since moving back to Nashville, I’ve felt as though it’s my life’s work to “correct” the terrible drivers, either by using my horn (prolifically), wagging a finger, or giving a look (I’m good at those)… however I can best illustrate how WRONG people are being, and give them the opportunity to fix said behavior. I figure I’m doing the rest of the drivers a favor. Who knows what terrible thing that text-and-driver might do if I don’t show them the error of their ways, right?

All of this to say… one of my, uh, quirks? Character defects? Flaws? Growth opportunities? would have to be the self-righteous indignation (coupled with some real hypocrisy, if I’m being totally honest) and the desire to FIX I’m overwhelmed with when it comes to things that are important to me. Being safe and not having my life threatened by bad driving is important! The grammar and spelling thing… well, it’s just always been a thing. I’m much more forgiving with it these days, but it still matters to me. A lot.

I am, for lack of a better word, a follower of rules (a stomper of foot, a shaker of fist). But of course, they’re just the rules I choose to follow and value, right? *smirk*

What it all boils down to, in a positive spin, is providing structure and integrity; adhering to standards and established processes. Yes, it means I’m not as flexible or bendy as other people (WHO MOVED MY CHEESE) when it comes to allowing for errors, or even creativity… but it also means there are things towards which I can channel this “quirk” and turn it into a positive skill set.

Take, for instance, my current role as the onsite administrator for our agency’s EHR system. I’m there to: help with questions and training; set up new users and mark others inactive; provide the first line of defense when something breaks or goes wrong, or even just gives the appearance of going wrong. But I’m also there to provide guidance when it comes to the integrity of the data being entered. I keep an eye on the records being created, the encounters that are opened… all for the sake of ensuring that every piece of information entered is done so with consistency, uniformity, and efficiency. That EHR is my BABY, y’all. And I want every single thing that goes in there to be done correctly, and in the best possible way. That means process evaluation and improvement; it means providing ongoing training and education; and it means that sometimes it feels like nailing Jell-O to a wall.

But to me, it’s worth it. I LOVE this kind of stuff. I love making sure that the best info goes in, so that the best info comes back out – whether in the form of medical records, or reporting for grants… you name it. That system is a reflection on our agency’s work, and, by extension, a reflection of me, for as long as I’m part of the organization. Pride in ownership, certainly, but also pride in work and a job (hopefully, mostly) well done.

There are so many other areas where I’ve been able to take my not-so-secret anal retentive nature and applied it to a task or responsibility: creating an onboarding process for new hires so they all get the same intro, the same info, etc; reorganizing and paring down the shared drive, full of hundreds of random folders that were spiraling out of control; taking charge of the key card system to ensure that rules were implemented and followed for our building’s security… you get the idea.

And that’s how I know I’m doing the right kind of work. It’s empowering to realize that something I have often viewed as a flaw or “bad” part of myself is actually pretty darn useful. Letting my control freak flag fly high and proud over here (while still remaining open to the possibility that I might benefit from releasing my kung fu grip *just* a little. Maybe.).

As a co-worker once told me, after I offered to review an entire manual for spelling, grammar, and content issues… “I’m glad YOU care about this kind of thing!”

You know what? Me too!

How far will you go?

To avoid having a difficult conversation, I mean? To what lengths will you go, just so you don’t have to speak up for yourself, draw lines in the sand, enforce your boundaries… to request (nay, demand) what is your due?

What will you put up with? What behaviors will you tolerate? What will you justify, in the form of another person’s poor choices or actions, just so you don’t have to have that difficult conversation with them? Or, maybe, just so you don’t have to admit to yourself that you’re settling? That you’re compromising yourself for the sake of “going along to get along?”

Will you quit a job, rather than calling out workplace toxicity or abuse? Rather than confronting an unfair pay structure? Will you move, rather than having a conversation with that neighbor who plays their music too loud, without ever giving them the opportunity to make it right? Would you stay in a relationship with someone damaging, rather than standing up for – HONORING – your needs, because it’s easier than the devastating loneliness you imagine on the other side? Do you downplay those deep-down voices as silly daydreams, rather than the gut instinct you were never taught to trust?

Do you listen to the people who say you’re too demanding? Your expectations are too high? You’re a traitor to the cause if you expect compensation commensurate with your worth? Do you trust the partner who tries to keep you still by telling you you’ll never do better? Do you believe the lies they tell you, because it’s easier than challenging all you’ve ever known from the world, even though there’s a bluebird in your heart that sings sometimes, that knows better?

Do you stay in undesirable situations – work, play, love, home – out of fear of being viewed as flighty? Unreliable? Unstable? Do you place the value of outside perspective higher than that of your own intuition? Or do you run, instead of staying in those situations and doing the work to make them right? Is it worth the work? Where do you draw the line between standing up for yourself and giving in? When does it turn from mutual compromise, to compromise of self?

Have you decided it’s easier to struggle to make ends meet, instead of having the scary conversation with a boss about a raise? Do people who know you guilt you into getting what they want? And do you let them, because it’s easier than having the fight? Do you let fear get in the way of saying no?

Were you ever taught to lobby on your own behalf? Did you grow up with people acting as your champions, or are you having to learn it on your own? Does it feel like work, and does that sometimes inform how you engage with the world? Does it exhaust and upset you sometimes, feeling like you need a megaphone and a sandwich board sign to announce to the world what you will (and will not) tolerate, what you do (and don’t) deserve? And does that exhausted upset lower your defenses to where you put up with more than you know you should?

At some point in life, did someone instill in you the belief that you should just take what you’re offered, that to ask for anything else is a selfish insult? Did someone teach you that it’s better to let others have what they want, that it’ll always turn out okay in the end? That you have to suffer for your art? Or suffer for truth? Or just… suffer?

How far will you bend over backwards to please other people? Until your back breaks? At the first sign of discomfort? Or somewhere in between?

How far will you go to avoid standing up for yourself? How far, to avoid acknowledging your own value and demanding you be treated accordingly? How long will you let other people tell you who you are, and what you’re worth?

And then I guess my next question is… are you okay with that?