You Can’t Pull The Weeds Until You Plant The Garden

Photo by Erda Estremera on Unsplash

The more severe the dysfunction you experienced growing up, the more difficult boundaries are for you”. ~ David Earle

Setting boundaries is not something I am good at. I was reminded earlier this week just how much I struggle to speak up for myself and draw lines to keep myself sane, safe, and healthy. If you didn’t grow up in a home where you were allowed to set and keep your own boundaries, if you instead learned that you have no right to express your wishes because other people are barely tolerating your existence so you shouldn’t push your luck, speaking up for yourself goes against everything you know. This makes boundary setting as an adult difficult. While I’ve made enough progress with my mental health to recognize I have a right to advocate for myself, I haven’t found the best way to do this. When I set a boundary, it either comes across mealy-mouthed, as if I am asking for permission to do it, or it comes across as an apology, as if I am asking the other person to forgive me for being such a bother. Neither of these approaches is working for me.

“Stop asking why they keep doing it and start asking why you keep allowing it.” ~Anonymous

There are multitudinous quotes out there about the need to set boundaries, but there are few that offer succinct advice about how to do it. It seems I have two modes around boundaries. The first is simply not to ask for any. This has been my lifelong modus operandi, and it is negatively impacting in my life. I can’t grow if I am not willing to make space for that to happen. Period. The second, not knowing the best way to talk about boundaries, is to go all in and sound defiant and belligerent about it. “I’m doing this and you can’t stop me and I don’t care what you think about it.” This method indeed sets a boundary, but it also alienates people. While sometimes alienating someone is precisely what you need to carve out your space, especially if the person in question has been tearing down your boundaries as you are building them, going through life burning all your bridges doesn’t allow for much connection with others. Even introverts need other people.

“The only people who get upset about you setting boundaries are the ones who were benefitting from you having none.”

I suspect my road into boundary setting must begin by choosing who I want in my inner circle and then building a safe place by surrounding myself with those people who love and respect me enough to accept my boundaries and take me where I am. That means I will have to put some people outside my circle of trust. Identifying who should be left out, if only temporarily, is easy. They are the people who push back against the boundaries I wish to set, who make me feel ashamed and unworthy of setting them. They ask me to be small, quiet, and compliant, accepting and living within their boundaries but not permitting me to set any of my own.

“Daring to set boundaries is about having the courage to love ourselves even when we risk disappointing others.” ~Brene Brown

Once I have established my safe community of people who are aligned with my core values, then I can move on to setting other boundaries. Then I can work on standing up for myself when someone says something hurtful. Then I can learn to tell someone “no” without offering an apology or explanation where none is needed. Then I can practice getting bigger and taking up more space in my own life. First you plant your garden. Then you tend it.

“Staying silent is like a slow growing cancer to the soul. There is nothing intelligent about not standing up for yourself. You may not win every battle. However, everyone will at least know what you stood for: You.” ~Shannon L. Alder

About To Bloom

IMG_8313“If you’re going through hell, keep going.” 

Yesterday I had one of those life-altering conversations you can only have with someone who is your dedicated cheerleader. It started as a call to vent a frustration I was having over something I should have not been surprised about, and it ended over three hours later with me having reached 10,000 steps on my Fitbit (I nervously pace while on the phone). My friend, saint that she is, when she could get in a word in, said precisely the things I’d been needing to hear to jumpstart my life on the backside of a yearlong depression. For some reason, everything she said and everything I rambled on about suddenly made perfect sense. It all clicked into place. Only your best friends can give you the kick-in-the-ass encouragement you need precisely when you need it most.

Last year was not my best. I was in a fog of self-pity. I was turning 50 and didn’t know how that had happened. I’d let go of my health and fitness when I’d stopped exercising (because I was officially OLD now and who cares) and, because of my sloth, I was at my personally allowed maximum density, and my clothes weren’t fitting right or at all. My sons were growing up and moving on, and it was an ever-present reminder that they are on their way out of our home and my job description and that I had no idea what my next career move is or can be. My therapist, the one who had changed my life with EMDR therapy, moved away. And my sister was having serious health issues that blindsided the whole family. I was relying on outside sources to provide happiness without doing the work on the inside that would make a difference. I was spending way too much time playing mindless games on my phone as a diversion tactic. I sat in bed way too often. I was cancelling plans to stay home and binge watch shows in my pajamas. I could not be bothered to care. And I was making things worse by convincing myself that there was no real reason for me to be depressed. Certainly there were people in the world who were far worse off than I was with my first-world, privileged-white-girl problems; therefore, my lazy, apathetic behavior was anathema to me and only produced more self-loathing.

After yesterday’s conversation, this morning I felt clarity and drive again. I woke up at 6 a.m. and began writing about our trip to Africa over Christmas break. I drove the kids to school and on the way home I got a further boost from this morning’s sing-along song, The Middle (full lyrics here) by Jimmy Eat World. I’ve heard this song a million times, but today it felt meant for me.

Don’t write yourself off yet
It’s only in your head you feel left out or looked down on
Just try your best
Try everything you can
And don’t you worry what they tell themselves when you’re away
It just takes some time
Little girl, you’re in the middle of the ride
Everything, everything will be just fine
Everything, everything will be all right

As soon as I arrived home, I saw a text from my friend, a continuation of our conversation from yesterday that essentially echoed the song lyrics that had finally reached my heart. I decided that the stars must be aligning. It’s the only explanation for how Regan at Alt Nation and my friend, Heather, would know exactly what I needed to hear this morning. I’d like to share, with permission, what Heather said to me because maybe you need to hear it too.

Life is short. We all know this. And one of the biggest parts of life is enjoyment. We all die, and most of us only leave behind a legacy to those the very closest to us. So we owe it to ourselves (whether we think we deserve it YET or not) to pursue what is driving us. To enjoy what gives us pleasure REGARDLESS of what we produce. Like [the band] Rush says, “The point of the journey is not to arrive.” You’re no less special than anyone else. You’re deserving to pursue what brings you enjoyment and to develop your God-given talents. Doesn’t matter if what you produce is earth shatteringly amazing!!! In fact, what you have already produced has touched people. But that’s not the point and that should not be the goal or the pressure. It’s okay to do something purely because you know it’s what is inside of you and it needs to come out. And on the days when that voice is yelling at you, you yell back! You say, “Hey, Evil Spawn Thought. Welcome. Welcome to my brain because I’m just gonna use you to fuel my enjoyment of what I’m doing because you help me be who I am. I overcome you daily and, though you mean it for my destruction, it’ll be used to make me an even stronger, richer person.”

I printed out these words and I put them on my writing desk where I will see them daily. The fog of depression is lifting. After jettisoning some mental baggage that is no longer necessary to protect me, I am ready to move forward. Halle-fricking-lujah!

Last fall, I planted some bulbs, something I’ve eschewed doing thus far in my life because spring in Colorado is predictable in its unpredictability, and the first buds are often murdered by a heavy, wet snowstorm. But I decided to be bold and take a chance. Having never planted bulbs before, I followed the planting directions to the letter, depositing the future tulips 8″ below the surface. Yes. I measured. This spring, I waited. And I waited. As I saw flowers sprouting up in other people’s yards, my flower bed remained dormant. I began to wonder if they were ever going to grow. Perhaps I’d gotten a bum batch of bulbs? I watched that patch of dirt next to our patio like I was waiting for a million-dollar package to sprout up there. Every day I surveyed it with cautious optimism. I moved the mulch around looking for the tiniest inkling of life. And then, one day, a crocus popped up along the border. Not long after, some narcissus joined in. And at long last the tulip leaves began to push their way into the sun and follow suit. This morning, after weeks of anticipation, I could at last see the vibrant color of one tightly still-closed tulip. It had happened. I’d actually grown something.

Thinking about it now, in the light of the past twenty four hours, maybe that small garden plot was a sign for me too. Maybe it was never about growing something in particular. Perhaps it was always just about growing, however it happened.