Thursday, December 18, 2014

But I Get Up Again: Being Willing to Start Over (and over, and over, and over...)

In the face of disaster I tend to be pretty resilient: I stay calm, I do what needs to be done, and I get through it. Car accident? Okay: give a report, talk to the firemen, call the people who need to be called. Lose your job? Alright: get your paperwork together, visit the relevant government agencies, fill out all the forms, take advantage of every available service, and work out a job-seeking strategy. These things aren't disasters in the sense that a volcano or genocide are, but they did derail my life in some significant way. I somehow managed to cope with them, mostly because I knew I had to keep putting one foot in front of the other and couldn't afford to let myself go to pieces.

Having said that, I have a remarkable capacity to catastrophize my failures, setbacks, and lapses as if they spell the end of the universe. Felt really down and ate too many muffins? I am going to be fat and disgusting forever. Sliced your arm up with a box-cutter? I will never be able to stop hurting myself and I don't deserve to live. Perform poorly on your monthly production report? I am terrible at my job and am going to get fired because I always fail at everything.

This is a truly spectacular skill because I know in my logical mind that these are not insurmountable obstacles. Bad stats this month? Lots of people get bad stats and so far no one has actually been fired. Eat all the muffins? Being fat isn't the worst thing in the world, and maybe right now you need the distraction more than being thin. My failures are also not necessarily as real as I think they are: actually, you only missed one of your targets, and although you've gained weight you're not really obese yet. 


My emotional mind is completely haywire with feelings of inadequacy, of worthlessness, of despair, disappointment, and the nagging conviction that I am bad. I feel like this is the end of the world because these are things that have gone wrong because of me, because of what I've done and haven't done, and I know I'm at fault. I know I'm failing myself and my own values. And I tell my history to myself in a narrative that flows from one personal failure to the next, weaving a story of falling, and falling, and falling again. Is it any wonder that I take every mistake as a sign of the inevitable apocalypse when I carry around an autobiography of my own ruin that I reference at every wrong turn?

Somewhere in between emotion and logic lies the mystical country of the wise mind where the two come together and create a space of integrity, self-awareness, and personal growth. 

All the muffins in the universe ended up in your stomach? Okay, so you did something you aren't proud of because you were trying to make yourself forget how bad you feel. Maybe you chose this particular thing because you watched your mother do it all your life. And yes, you're feeling like you've given up on your values because you behaved in a way that doesn't belong to you, that doesn't fit with who you are, and that is really just a new way of hurting yourself, of punishing yourself for having needs, vulnerabilities, and desires. 

Tomorrow, you can act differently.

You didn't get the greatest results in your production this month? Okay, so you're disappointed because you didn't perform as well as you have in the past. But you've been doing a different job more often and aren't getting as much practice as you used to. Most of your results are still above target, and you haven't suddenly become a slacker. You always do your best. Just because you grew up being told that only excellence is good enough doesn't mean this is actually true. Maybe you feel uncomfortable because your standards are unrealistic and prevent you from having to acknowledge that you're actually doing well.

Tomorrow, you can learn to value yourself based on something other than the worth which authority figures convey on you.

The truth is that everyone makes mistakes, and everyone messes up, and everyone behaves in ways that make them wish they could have a do-over (or some sort of time-travelling car). But not everyone thinks their slip-ups are the end of the world. And not everyone falls down and thinks to themselves there is no point in getting up off the floor because I will never, ever be able to do better than this. Not everyone says to themselves that they might as well keep going the way they're going or doing what they're doing because they're obviously trapped by it and can't get out. I do. But maybe I don't have to. 

I think there might be steps involved with this. Also, I just like using the bullet list button in my blog text box :)

  • Acknowledge that you're having feelings about what went sideways (I am feeling disappointed because I got blood all over the floor again)
  • Look at what happened and put it into a realistic perspective (I did cut myself. But that doesn't make me a failure, and that doesn't make me irredeemable, and that doesn't mean I don't deserve to live. It means I am in pain, and I made a mistake)
  • Don't use your mistake as an excuse to make more mistakes (I soaked through a bunch of paper towels with my blood, but that doesn't mean I can keep going until the whole roll is gone. Just because I chose this one minute ago doesn't mean that I have to choose it again now)
  • Have realistic expectations about your behavior (I started doing this a long time ago, and that means it will be a difficult habit to break. There will be setbacks. But that doesn't change my goals or my values or the fact that I am moving forward)
  • Understand that the powerful dialectic between what you feel and what you know is offering you a precious opportunity to discover what you value (I really, really want to tear myself apart with my bare hands because I hate myself so much that I want my insides to be on my outsides so the pain will finally stop. But this isn't how people should be treated, and I am a person. I want to learn to love myself and take care of myself, so I can live a life worth living. The discomfort I feel as I'm trying creates a space where I can find a new way, and opens the path to change, and growth, and newness of life)
  • Accept that the way you want to live may never be easy for you. It may never come naturally to you. It may never be automatic for me not to fantasize about knives when I'm hurting so badly that I can't find the words to express how much I feel like I'm dying inside. And yes, that sucks. And yes, that might be something I have to deal with for the rest of my life. It might not be fair. But it is the reality. 

It might never be easy. But that doesn't mean it's not worth choosing to get back up and start again, every day, even the days after I've messed up. It is still, always, no matter what has come before or what might come after, worth choosing.

1 comment:

  1. A suggestion: have you ever made a list of your successes, the goals you have achieved, the targets at work you have surpassed, the things you are proud of? It's like plane crashes: every single one gets reported on the news, but no one ever reports every flight that didn't crash. So, how many days have there been where you have NOT eaten all the muffins?