Archive for the ‘overcoming’ Tag

Anti-Positives (not Negatives) For Those Days When Sunny Positivity Just Can’t Cut It

As you know, I’m on a mission to center positivity, gratitude and kindness in my life. I want to be the best version of me that I can be, every day. But because I am human and imperfect, I don’t always succeed. Sometimes finding the silver lining, the “one good thing” in a day utterly full of crappy, negative experiences and energy is simply too much. Some days I just can’t fake it ‘til I make it.

On those days, honoring the darkness, letting the emotional, political, mental sludge breathe and have its moment in the middle is all I can do. And, if I’m both lucky and careful, that momentary dominance will satisfy the perverseness of the universe and let me pin that day to the past, moving forward into positivity once again. It’s brutal and not at all pretty to live through, but once on the other side, relief at having given the darkness that moment makes the light a little more bright and a little more bearable.

So that’s the silver lining, the good out of the bad.

But what gets you to that place is acknowledging the pain points, the dreck that’s built up and is clamoring to get out. Catharsis, I guess. But not necessarily just a good ol’ fashioned, wracking, sobbing cry. Sometimes it calls for naming the enemies, a litany of the poisons steeping in the blood, to extinguish their power and potency. Only after being called to the fore can some of these venoms be neutralized – the power of light to bleach the stain of the dark.

To that end, I’m braving my fears of vulnerability and derision to call out some of the poisons currently plaguing my peace:

Imposter Syndrome

Being a Pathetic Loser

Loneliness and the Fear it is Forever

Inadequacy in Every Dimension

Fixating on the Unobtainable

Reliving Humiliating Moments of the Past

Beating Myself Up for Giving in to Anger

Fear of Change

Wow. That’s a lot of mental and emotional poison.

I wrote all of that over a month ago, after nearly a month of lost sleep and continual stress. I set it aside to breathe, thinking that it was too raw and left me too exposed to actually publish. I thought I just needed to get it out of my head and it would be enough. But it hasn’t stopped.

So last night, Wednesday October 24th, while I was, again, not sleeping and after my eyes called it quits on reading anymore as an escape from the poisonous thoughts, I lay still and let the poison wash over me. I decided all the fighting I’d been doing to avoid it had been futile, so maybe giving it its freedom would bring some relief. Again, maybe if I honor the darkness it’ll let me go?

So I spent the entire night reliving the most cringeworthy, painful, humiliating moments of my life, watching each scene and acknowledging it’s continued sting. It felt like walking through a thrift store, cruising the aisles full of dusty, dented, useless junk that somehow still holds a degree of fascination, picking up items and replacing them on the shelves. It was a miserable experience, yet I managed to get to the end of the aisle without shedding a tear. Despite feeling the oppressive weight of humiliation and shame that each memory carried, I looked at each one and then set it aside without further judgment or sorrow.

No profound conclusions resulted and no existential clarity emerged. I did notice a pattern in the moments that rose to the surface and it’s still percolating through my brain trying to resolve into a clear shape that I can put a name to. But there’s been no epiphany.

Still, I think it helped, in some perverse way, to let my brain purge the dreck. I’m not certain that I won’t have to confront those moments again another time, but I feel that surviving that ordeal is a triumph. Even though it cost me a day of vacation time (I was in no shape to go to work today) and a day-long headache that’s still pounding, in addition to the night-long anguish, I’m calling it a win. It’s not a bright, shiny, joyous win, but a win nevertheless.

And because any positive out of all this oily, oozing darkness should be celebrated, I’m taking my courage in both hands and am publishing this very personal realness, despite feeling naked in the spotlight by doing so.

Selflessness: Broken Paradigm 

First, I’m not against the concept of selflessness, of putting others’ needs above your own to serve the greatest good. 
Second, this is not a rant on anything or anyone, not my parents, my church, my friends, or my employer, not on any of the communities to which I claim to belong, and not on any creed or ethos. 

Third, this is not a humble (or not-so-humble) brag or attempt to elicit compliments. Indeed, I think the very fact that I’m struggling with this may be evidence that I’m not actually selfless to any measurable degree, despite my upbringing. Maybe I’m just a glutton for punishment. 

This is just a note of some thoughts I’ve been mulling over for a long time. I’ve decided to put them out into the universe and see if I can’t glean some peace from the sharing. You are welcome to comment. In fact, I’ll be keenly interested in your thoughts. But I may not respond…it may be too hard. We’ll see. 

Here goes, my first post in months…raw and inadequately edited. 

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I was raised in a conservative, fundamentalist Christian home. From the beginning, lessons of Christ’s sacrifice and my duty to be modest and selfless (in gratitude and emulation of that sacrifice), were instilled rigorously. Being thought selfish or greedy or envious was, in my family, as serious and egregious as being thought a quitter. And quitting itself was regarded as the height of selfishness. Putting others before yourself and family before all (except God), was in my family a kind of natural law, a fundamental understanding not to be challenged or transgressed. 

From the small courtesies — “May I get you anything while I’m up?”, “Please, take my seat ma’am.”, “Would you like the last piece of cake?” — to major life decisions — Does this house/school/career let me be available to help my family? Does this choice [X] bring honor or discredit to my family or friends? Will I embarrass/hurt/exclude anyone if I do [X]?– I was raised to think of myself last and everyone else first. 

As a general guiding principle, I believe this social tenet is a fine, noble principle that promotes harmony and a benevolent, kind, loving world. But it can’t stand on its own. To have these desired results, it has to be bolstered by a common understanding of the limits of courtesy and hospitality, as well as a clear definition of what constitutes abuse of that courtesy. Too, the principal must not be divorced from an equally strong emphasis on the rightness, acceptability and, indeed, the expectation of self care, the principle that even the giver must also receive. 

Otherwise, you end up with everyone falling all over themselves to be considerate of the other and then neither receiving anything in a grand comedy of the absurd. Or, more likely, you end up with a bunch of individuals who do nothing but consume the generosity and energy of the smaller bunch of individuals who burn themselves out on the pyre of selflessness. 

And I’m not even talking about “Mother Teresa” level selflessness. No, it’s the ordinary, small-scale selflessness that somehow becomes a gargantuan burden by the slow erosion of the entire sense of me and my and mine that comes from constant outward focus. It’s years and decades of accumulated yielding of the floor in tiny daily doses that destroys the ability to consciously choose “I want” over “No, please, after you”. It’s always having that pang of shame and urge to justify after the simplest choice that puts you first, like going first into an elevator, or taking the first helping of a dish at dinner, or choosing the movie you want to watch instead of deferring to the group. It’s the compulsion to volunteer to work the weekend or holiday or overtime because someone else’s family life, love life, personal issues are always more important than your own. 

Is all of that a caricature of extremes? Yes. Wildly inaccurate? No. At least not in my lived experience or in my observation of the lives of my siblings and many others whom I hold dear. I’m willing to bet that anyone reading this also knows at least one person who has taken the lesson of selflessness at least as far as neglecting their own comfort and rest because “there’s just so much to be done and not enough time”. When in actuality, if that person had help attending to the necessaries of all the others, that person would have more time and energy to spend on themselves. 

But that’s the central point: that person wouldn’t think first to spend that extra time and energy on themselves, because that would be selfish, self-indulgent, self-centered and greedy. 

So, at what point is it okay to think of you and your needs or wants first, without guilt or remorse?

That’s the enduring question of anyone who has lived a lifetime under the relentless drumbeat of the selflessness mantra. To be sure, everyone, even the truly selfless, serves themselves from time to time. It’s the “without guilt or remorse” part that’s the trouble. 

Because, unscientifically–and yes, from my own experience–there seems to be an extraordinarily strong correlation between a selflessness upbringing and deeply internalized shame, persistent guilt, and the unyielding conviction of unworthiness. I posit that these last, especially guilt, are the scaffolding that support the selflessness mindset, allowing it to become a self-sustaining paradigm. Without guilt, shame and the person’s belief in their unworthiness in comparison to whomever else comes before them, wouldn’t self-care naturally assert itself as the dominant practice? If seeking self first were not stigmatized, how would the collective good, the community interest, the societal need ever become a priority?

My point after all that rambling is that half-theories taught as full-gospel, propped up with destructive negative reinforcement, are an unstable foundation for social structure. Sooner or later the structure implodes from the pressure differential between inward need and external demand. What’s left is a twisted wreck of a once strong and beautiful framework. 

When the drive to be selfless supplants the instinct to nurture the self as much as the other, and sometimes before the other, the nobility of this ethos is corrupted into oppression. 

How much of that corruption and imbalance is the teacher and how much the student? Who can say? It’s different for every person, I imagine. But when someone who has always tried to put others first and struggled with guilt over acts of self-care begins to question the fundamental principle and to push back against the knee-jerk shame, I think it’s safe to assume that something fundamental is amiss. And when questioning turns to bitterness, all the best parts of the principle are lost. 

I don’t want to be that bitter cynic. I want to find balance. I want to serve others and the greatest good AND I want to be able to rest and be served myself on occasion, without feeling small and petty and shamefully selfish for the wanting. But having others give me a figurative pat on the head and tell me “it’s ok to take care of yourself”, feels patronizing, false and not OK. It feels like a back-handed reminder that I’m not worthy of counting first. Insidious doubt about the motive behind the message, suspicion of some sneering sarcasm painting me as a loser in this person’s mind because I want someone for myself, destroys any ability to accept what is kindly offered. That mistrust of the simple exhortation to rest and look after myself just reinforces all the negative thoughts I already harbor. 

So, if I can’t convince myself that self-care isn’t self indulgence, and I don’t believe it from others, what else is there? It feels like a hopeless loop. I don’t know if there is an answer. At least not yet. 

Guess I’ll just have to keep working on it. 

Finding…me

Day Thirteen: Serially Found

On day four, you wrote a post about losing something. Today’s Prompt: write about finding something.

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I’m not making this post the second in a series, as suggested in today’s Twist. When I wrote about loss, it was a very personal tribute to a beloved uncle. I won’t cheapen that by linking it to a story about finding some trivial possession or discovering some dry fact or some personal betrayal. So today’s post stands on its own.
— — — — —

I’ve lost and found a whole lot of things in my 46 years, both physical and intangible. Most of the lost objects are only misplaced and turn up on their own sooner or later. But some things–friends, family, love, commitment, interest, passion, all the essential and intangible things–take a lot of work to discover, recover, or find in the first instance.

That’s true of my discovery of my true identity. I think, really, that I knew myself very well when I was a little kid. But somewhere along the way, I lost sight of that essential truth amid a sea of external pressure and expectations. Through years, decades, of trying to be something and everything that everyone else wanted me to be, I accumulated a thick layer of social and emotional camouflage that hid me even from myself.

Finding my way back to myself was the work of years full of honest, even brutal, self examination and dedicated self improvement. Overcoming fear was the biggest hurdle. I was afraid of everything, to some degree. Fear of disappointing my family and friends, fear of rejection, fear of violence, fear of homelessness and poverty as a result of all the above, were my biggest concerns.

Ironically, it was an even more pressing and weighty fear that helped me get past the first level of inertia. I feared that I would live out the entirety of my existence without ever actually knowing myself. Ignorance of my own nature, of my own potential, and of my own capacity to love and be loved, seemed to me a fate much worse than my fear of losing home and career as a consequence of owning my true identity.

So, quite a few years ago now, I began a slow, sometimes painful, often secret journey of self discovery. I started with the simple, private admission that I was not living as my true self, that there was more of me than I acknowledged to the world at large. I was not certain the exact nature and dimension of my discontent. But I knew there was something not right and that only I had the power to make it right.

Many experiments in appearance, mannerisms, philosophies and lifestyle choices (no, not homosexuality; gay is not a choice, lifestyle or otherwise) ensued. Self improvement initiatives of every stripe were tried in fits and starts, most of which failed. But the deeply personal exercise of these activities was satisfying, even when some of them fell flat.

I committed to being better than I was before. On a micro scale, day by day, I worked on one aspect of my personality or spirit or (on the rare occasion) my body. I didn’t schedule the work. Rather, I took up each task as it occurred to me. One day I’d notice a weakness in my confidence and I’d concentrate for days on limiting hesitation and unnecessary apologies. Another time I found myself equivocating and hiding things in my answers to people who mattered to me, so I redoubled my dedication to truthfulness and transparency.

These betterment efforts all related to the overall objective of discovering my truth. These self improvement projects helped me strip away the layers of camouflage hiding my true self. With personal growth and emotional maturity came the courage to confront a lot of insecurities. Taking back my power from the fog of other people’s expectations and disappointments, I freed myself to name my own identity and live with authenticity in that identity.

Gender and sexuality are a big part of that truth, yes. But they aren’t everything. I found new dimensions of freedom, confidence, and comfort in my own skin that I hadn’t dreamed existed. When I stopped chasing the pat on the head and empty platitudes of everyone else and started valuing my own notions of right and good and real as they relate to my self and my life, whole new vistas of possibilities were revealed.

I think the most valuable thing I’ve found in my search for myself is a means to accept myself so that I can let others accept me too.

Of course, the journey and the search never end. That’s a very good thing. But at least I have discovered myself, chosen the path of authenticity, and am now living rather than merely existing.

Pasting on the positivity

I promised I’d stop whining and pull myself out of the funk I’ve fallen into lately. And, to show that I am not churlishly unwilling to ‘look on the bright side’ as I have been admonished to do, I’m challenging myself to find at least one thing in each day for the rest of the week that is positive, uplifting, or for which I am thankful.

This is me faking it ’til I make it–deliberate positivity until it becomes natural. Paste on a smile and marshal onward.

So for today, Wednesday March 11, 2015, I’m happy and thankful for the Spring-like sunshine warming my office. It gives me hope that the frigid winter is coming to an end and the greening of the countryside will soon begin. Sunshine is a great cleanser, it drives out the gloom from both sky and heart and irradiates away the germs of melancholy. I’m thankful that I have the opportunity to view the sky outside my window and enjoy the warm rays while I work.

Anything in particular you are happy about or thankful for today? Let me know in the comments.

May your day be full of sunshine, even if only in your spirit. 😃☀️👍

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