Battle of the body and the brain (aka facts vs. feelings), Part 1

Do you ever have days (or weeks or months or years) where you feel completely at odds with your own body? Or your own brain? Maybe both at the same time which is always a joy and a pleasure?

I’ve been trying to figure out why it is that I can know – with every fiber of my being – that certain foods make me feel terrible… and yet, as soon as it crosses my mind that I want one of those foods, it’s like I’m powerless to resist and all that sense flies out the window. Cheez-Its, mac & cheese, cookies, pizza (this is the hardest one to admit and accept), popcorn, anything with sugar in it, anything made of bread… you get the idea. The ONLY time I feel good physically (and mentally) is when I eat lean proteins, fruits, vegetables, and the occasional dairy or brown rice. Everything else gives me heartburn, gas, indigestion, foggy brain, lethargy, body aches, weight gain & bloating… it sucks. A lot. If I eat too much sugar or too much salt, my heart pounds out of my chest and my brain goes on overdrive.

And yet, KNOWING this does little to prevent me from shoving any and all of it directly in my pie hole, when given the opportunity. Why is that?

You know how, in flight, fight, or freeze mode, your rational brain (and a lot of other brain & body functions) shut down because YOU IN DANGER GIRL, and it’s not until that FFF reaction is gone that your brain & body resume normal function? Like, your rational brain ceases to function in order to conserve the energy you might need if you find you’re going to have to haul ass away from whatever threat is there – whether real or perceived.

I’m wondering if there’s a similar thing that happens when a craving pops up. Cravings are fleeting, of course, and the feeling of one is a whole lot different than fear for your life – mild anxiety because you’re panicking at wanting the THING, depending on what that thing is – but until the craving passes, your rational brain can’t play the tape out to the end and remind you of what happens every time (EVERY time) you eat pizza.

And that leads me to think about other situations in life, where you can absolutely KNOW WITH EVERY ATOM IN YOUR BODY that, say, a person is bad or wrong for you, but you’re still drawn to them and subject yourself to prolonged agony by continuing to spend time with them while everything else falls apart around you. Or you can know that getting laid off from a job was nothing personal, purely business, and yet you can’t help but be hurt, angry, and take it personally. Or, you can know beyond a shadow of a doubt that a cigarette is going to taste like you’ve licked a dirty ashtray and make your lungs burn, but you just can’t help picking one up because IT’S THERE, and it was your social crutch for so long you’d rather suffer a little than have to go without.

There are so many things… but ultimately, I think it comes down to what you know vs. what you feel. There’s a difference between facts and feelings. And sometimes, I think you just have to let the feelings float on through – acknowledge them, call them out, say, “I see you” – before you can return to your sane, rational state of being.

Maybe it’s just me, though. I mean… when I’m driven by a feeling or a craving or a reaction, I’m really not my best self, most of the time. Certainly if the feeling is one of love or joy, then ideally the outcome of whatever behavior it inspired would be a good thing. Since I’m referring more to the URGE TO ACT when you’re overcome with anxiety or hurt or anger or fear, or the urge to make the feelings go away, or you’re beating yourself up for feeling the way you do, then it’s the negative outcomes I’m thinking of. I’ve never had a good outcome when driven by fear, anger, hurt, anxiety, or insecurity. But when I’ve allowed those feelings to show up and opted out of acting on them, I’ve found better alternatives on the other side of the feelings. Usually, fact-based alternatives. Goodness knows, my brain can make up some crazy shit when I’m anxious, and when I think about taking action – mostly in the hopes of assuaging the anxiety or fixing what I think is broken – it’s never a healthy response. I just don’t think it’s possible, at least for me, to engage in a healthy way when I’m in the throes of an unhealthy brain/body behavior.

I’m finding lately that I keep sinking into poor eating habits, and it’s… vexing. Especially because as soon as I go there with it, I STAY there with it, and it makes me feel worse (physically and mentally and emotionally), which prompts me to beat myself up and lose any momentum I may have had with eating well and/or exercising. Vicious cycle. Over the weekends, I tend to start moving in a better direction because I have no outside influence, but as soon as I go back to work – where there’s candy and baked goods and a convenience store and a Starbucks on the same block – all hell breaks loose and I’m back to eating junk, which usually prompts me to just give up and order fast food for dinner. With C traveling as much as he does, it’s been hard to get in a routine that isn’t disrupted one way or the other; I don’t seem to have much in the way of discipline OR will power, and the only way I am successful is when I am consistent, and don’t allow myself to stray from the path. At all. I know there’s all that “moderation” talk out there, and allowing for treats and normal meals and whatever else, but it’s like a portal to the devil for me, and THE DEVIL WANTS CAKE.

Anyway. I’m splitting this into two pieces because it could get real long, real fast, but there’s a whole lot more I’ve got to say on the matter of bodies and brains betraying us, facts vs. feelings, etc. Nothing more about food/exercise, though; this took a turn I wasn’t quite expecting, but it’s certainly one of the many things I’ve got on the brain. I think I just needed to get this out there and get the ball rolling.

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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. Bren√© 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. ūüôā

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.

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 Bren√© Brown) that reminded her of me. If you know me, then you know I love me some Bren√© 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.)

Bren√© 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¬†Bren√© 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. ‚̧

The Joy Thief Club

There have been a few “motivational” quotes rolling around in my head lately. I call them that for lack of a better word, but they’re certainly quotes that – fairly succinctly – serve as reminders of the way I like to live life (when I remember).

The first, I’ve written about before: “How we spend our days is, in fact, how we spend our lives.” by Annie Dillard. It reminds me to choose wisely in how I spend my moments, and to evaluate how I’m engaging with the world. When I look back on my life, I don’t ever want to feel as though I wasted precious time.

The second, also one I’ve written about but that keeps cropping up: “Comparison is the thief of joy.” This is attributed to Theodore Roosevelt, but after some googling, it appears there is some disagreement about that. Whatever the case and whatever the source… it couldn’t be more pertinent for me right now.

We think about it a lot in the negative sense… you know, comparing yourself to others and falling short? I compare myself against my siblings sometimes, and can feel like a failure because of it. I don’t make nearly as much money as they do. I haven’t found/chosen a lifelong career and don’t even know that¬†I’ve got much in the way of direction. They’re more mature and… I don’t know, polished? They’re all healthier/thinner than I am (which, that whole “thinner” thing is a crock; your worth has no connection to your size – more to come on that ongoing revelation)… you get the idea.¬†And then there’s the rest of the world. Anywhere you look, it’s possible to compare yourself against others and fall short.

Then there’s the comparison against self piece… like, I get why comparing yourself today against the person you were a month ago might be beneficial if you’re trying to measure progress in something, like health & wellness, fitness, or even educational pursuits. But even that can take a negative turn, if you focus too long on comparing yourself to a previous you, maybe one where you were more successful, in better shape, younger, actually able to conceive/bare children. Or even comparing yourself against a non-existent you, the version of you that you envisioned for yourself, the one that never came to fruition… instead of just being present with (and loving) yourself today, as you are.

And then, there’s the opposite side of the comparison against others coin: being BETTER than. You know, feeling like you’re better than someone else, for whatever reason. You’re smarter, you’re better looking, you’re funnier, you’re more successful, you’re more willing to be part of a team, better at learning things, you work harder than others to open your mind and be a better person…

The funny part is, as I sit here and write this, there’s a voice in the back of my head saying, “Well yeah, but…” and it feels like “not all white people!” when what I should really be doing is listening and learning. Yeah, some people ARE terrible, sure. I could say I’m better than a child abuser because I don’t abuse children, and I think pretty much everyone would agree. ¬†But anytime my brain tries to argue with me and gets defensive, I know I’m striking a chord worth digging into.

My recent struggle with this “better than” comparison is feeling like I’m a better person than someone who, say, supported Donald Trump for president. And what “better” looks like is anything from kinder, to more empathetic, to better educated, to more capable of critical thought, to a better grasp on reality…

It sounds pretty terrible when I say that out loud. But how can we ever change if we aren’t willing to get honest about it? Kind of like white privilege and supremacy; if I’m not willing and able to accept hard truths and own stuff, unpack and inspect my own crap, I’m sure as hell never going to be able or willing to hear anything else, much less effect some change. It’s why I follow a lot of POC on Twitter; so I can learn, and do the work to hear, see, and understand as best I can.

But yeah. As soon as I start thinking I’m better than someone else – for any reason – it puts us on an uneven playing field in my own mind, rendering the possibility for civil discourse highly unlikely. And chances are, that person is going to pick up on the judgement I’ve already conjured, especially since I’m not very good at hiding how I feel (like, I’m REAL terrible with it). That judgement is going to come off as condescension, and I don’t know about you, but if there’s one thing that will shut me down to someone else, it’s them being condescending. (Passive-aggressive is a very close second.)

If there’s someone out there I love who supports Trump and happens to think his being in office is good for the country and everyone in it, me deciding I’m obviously a better human and a more evolved a thinker than they are is not going to solve or change anything.¬†Right?¬† I don’t pretend to believe for one second that I could change anyone’s mind or force them to believe anything other than whatever conclusions and life views at which they’ve already arrived. But that doesn’t mean I can’t support and participate in the work being done towards what I believe to be right, and just, and true.Or, you know, just work to combat the damage that I believe is being done, without judging the people who are actively supporting it.

So why make that comparison in the first place? Why put yourself up against someone else at all, whether to be better or worse? Why not try to take the judgement and comparison out of all of this, on the off chance it opens up some space for dialogue?

Like, if I remove the self-inflicted comparisons between myself and my siblings, suddenly I have a lot more joy in being who I am, as well as celebrating who they are – their successes, their drive, their lives.

And if I stop comparing myself against who I thought I’d be at this age, or who I was 10, 20, or 30 years ago, or even who I was a month ago, then there’s a lot of room not only for joy, but for acceptance, and growth – inside and out. You limit yourself when you’ve already defined and confined yourself with comparisons.

While I struggle with comparisons of self, and negative comparisons against others, I think it’s the “better than” comparisons I am working to be most wary of. Otherwise it’s a surefire way to thieve the joy right out of life.

More on (moron?) triggers.

I’ve been thinking a lot about triggers lately. Like, there are seemingly random, generally innocuous things that will send me into outer orbit, either angry or anxious or panicky or whatever, but basically my fight/flight/freeze response kicks in, and with it comes tunnel vision and a complete inability to process the situation like a “normal” person.

An example: I live in a duplex. My 2-BR apartment only has one entrance, the front door, that opens out onto the front porch of the house, with steps that lead down to the driveway and two parking spots in front of the house. My neighbor’s 1-BR has a front door and a back door; the back door leads to the back yard, as well as 2+ parking spots, because the driveway goes all the way to the back. In the 3 years I’ve lived there, the front spots have always been for my apartment, the back spots for the other apartment, since they’re the only one with direct access to it. For some reason, though, my new neighbor sometimes feels the need to park in the front, either in one of my two spots (which, you know, whatever; unless C is coming over, my car only needs one spot, and I get that), or they’ll just park in the driveway blocking my car in, because they want to use the walkway to the front porch and their front door.

I should mention that when she moved in, we talked at length about the parking and she was totally fine with parking in the back, so it’s not like I’m expecting this without expressing the expectation.

Anyway. Every single time this happens – which I should mention isn’t THAT often – I am overcome with anxiety and being PISSED. Like I’m going to have to fight for my life over this stupid parking situation. You know, instead of just knocking on their door and asking them to move the car. I SHOULDN’T HAVE TO DO THAT AND WHY ARE YOU SO RUDE AND DISRESPECTFUL AND FFS YOU’VE GOT PLENTY OF ROOM IN THE BACK AND YOUR OWN DAMN ENTRANCE WHY YOU GOTTA TAKE MINE TOO.

Like that.

There are other things, too. One time I had the wrong appointment date/time with Noelle, and I sat in the waiting area as the minutes ticked by, getting more and more worked up, thinking either she’d disrespected me by not writing our appointment down, or that I obviously wasn’t worthy and she didn’t want to meet with me, or something equally NOT TRUE, but man. I had to talk myself off the ledge and do a lot of deep breathing, just so I could respond to it like a sane person. Which meant leaving instead of sitting there stewing, and then sending her an email asking if I’d written down the day/time wrong, which it turned out I HAD.

Sigh.

So, she and I talked about this a little bit during our last visit. She said something that struck a chord, and I believe there’s a whole lot of truth to it for me.

When you grow up feeling like you’re not enough and don’t really deserve space in the world, like you and your autonomy don’t really matter in the grand scheme, and then when you’re modeled that behavior and are never encouraged to be your own best self, to speak up and out, to have opinions and to value who you are and to be your own person, then you end up feeling like a victim of everyone else. At their mercy. Unable to stand up for yourself because you don’t really think you’re worth defending.

And that lends itself to finding yourself in relationships where you’re taken for granted and taken advantage of, where you allow yourself to be treated poorly because you don’t really trust that you deserve any better. You’re easily manipulated, easily abused, easily led astray, and then all the bad things you’re told and shown feed into the narrative you’re already telling yourself.

In The Four Agreements, Don Miguel Ruiz talks about the poison that people feed each other. And that we only accept as much poison from others that we feel we deserve. But once we reach the point where we no longer feel like we deserve the levels of poison being injected into the interaction… that’s when we raise up, and we no longer accept what a person is trying to feed us. “Don’t take anything personally. Don’t make any assumptions. Be impeccable with your word. Always do your best.”

I described it all to Noelle like I’ve had a lifetime of trying to make myself small enough to fit within the parameters of what other people thought and expected. Small enough to fit in THEIR existence, instead of exacting my own, and demanding my own space in the world. Backing myself further and further into a corner, until one day I no longer fit, and I finally stood the hell up and started pushing my way back out.

“And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” –¬†Ana√Įs Nin

Last year, I think I just took on the last vestiges of toxicity and poison that I could handle¬†before the cognitive dissonance of my own beliefs of my worth (and all the choices I made in keeping with that – relationships, jobs, friendships, etc.) came into direct opposition with what the world has been trying to show me all along: that I’m smart, competent, capable, and worthy of what’s good in the world.

I think starting school was the first big step in the right direction. I think severing ties with toxicity (people and work environments and social situations and that relationship) was the next huge multi-faceted step. Instead, I now have a great (albeit stressful) job where I am obviously valued and appreciated and we’re doing great work with the intention of helping MORE, as much as we can; I’m kicking ass in grad school and learning all about the things that matter most (and showing myself just how capable and smart I actually am); and I am dating a man who is honest, loving, kind, supportive, and good for me in every possible way.

Talk about blossoming.

Anyway. Back to the trigger thing… Noelle seemed to think that when I have this reaction, it’s because I am feeling threatened in some way, like my place in the world is being devalued, and my gut reaction is to raise up and defend what little I have. Which, of course, is that fight or flight mode going into overdrive, and I think THAT is likely due at least in part to genetic programming, because that apple doesn’t fall far from the tree at all. It was modeled, certainly, but I also think there’s some epigenetic switch flipping going on there, too. And the only way I’ve learned to manage it is to 1) take a whole lot of deep breaths until the overreaction passes, 2) determine root causes and conditions, and then 3)¬†stand up for myself in a reasonable way. That’s how I can learn to trust that I’ve got my own best interests at heart, and that I can, and should, and totally know how to defend myself if I need to.

It seems silly to get so worked up about such little, insignificant things, feeling like I have to fight for myself and what’s mine. But when it’s tied into the bigger picture, it all makes sense. All the little things add up. I’m just grateful I’ve got some¬†insight, and that it usually doesn’t leave me – at least not completely – while I’m in the throes of a visceral response. So whether it’s about the parking, or missed appointments, or passive-aggressive comments and behaviors from people who don’t ultimately matter, or perceived slights or threats to my safety and security and livelihood and happiness… I don’t have to hop on that trigger and let it take me to a place I’d rather not be.

It’s no horse, and I’m no Roy Rogers.

From Natural Disasters to the Warmth of the Sun

I’ve had it in my head for a while that I wanted to write a piece here equating the various types of terrible relationships/dates/partners to natural disasters.

You know, like how someone who lies can be¬†like an earthquake: you never quite trust that you’re standing on solid ground because you can’t trust what’s coming out of their mouths. And the aftershocks continue in much the same way the effects of lies are long felt after the original lie is told. Some lies, when discovered, shake you to your very core, and the recovery from that can take months, if not years.

How someone who manipulates and gaslights, making you think you’re crazy or wrong when they’re the ones wreaking havoc, can be like a tornado: tearing through your life like it’s a charming old town, leveling structures you thought would always be standing, leaving you in the wreckage of their behavior wondering what the hell just happened and whether it was somehow, maybe, your fault for being so naive.

How the person who cheats might be¬†like a never-ending blizzard: freezing you out but holding you captive with the hope that things might change or get better, or maybe it’s just a little snowstorm that isn’t nearly as bad as it seems or was predicted or looks on the weather maps because what do they know anyway.

Or how a person who withholds affection is like a famine. Or someone who tries to take over your life is like a flood.

You get the idea.

But after a few months of sitting with those analogies, I just never felt compelled to suss them out any further. I’d like to think that’s because I’ve opted to spend my days and time with more positive mental and emotional pursuits, and that’s probably most of it. I’m much more inclined to celebrate the good in life: the good friends, good relationships, good opportunities, good lessons, and good times.

Which leads me to my current relationship and all of its stability, trust, honesty, happiness, and love. If I am to keep with the prior analogies, it is the calm after every storm. It’s when the sun comes up, the air is clear, and birds begin their bright and clever songs. It’s the happy and the peace you find in quiet moments.

Aside from two notable, long-ago exceptions, nearly everyone I’ve dated has been some kind of natural disaster. I’m not inclined to get into the hows and the whys of it, except to say, a lot of things lent themselves to me following that path. It’s taken a lot of hard work, insight, processing, and willingness to finally get to the point where I no longer have any interest – at all – in chasing a storm.

But in having been conditioned to brace against the elements, whatever they may be, I find myself looking around, not quite yet fully trusting that quiet, that sunshine, that love. I am in the company of someone with whom I feel fully comfortable to speak up, to tell the truth and ask questions and be vulnerable. Someone who finds me attractive in all the ways that matter, and who has no reservations in telling and showing me that, at any and every turn. Someone who is self-aware, and willing to dig deep and talk about things and maybe even change his mind, when it’s warranted. Someone who is simply present, with no games or agendas; just a heart as big and tender as my own, with an infinite capacity for joy and love. I’m learning to breathe and trust it (and him), and am fortunate to have met someone who can be patient and understanding around that.

It’s like, after years of having blindly set up camp in the path of one destructive force after another, I’ve packed my shit, moved out, and followed my internal compass in the right direction.

Here’s to that, y’all. Here’s to letting yourself exhale and be loved.