Evolution Isn’t Just For Finches

If anyone is wondering, I am finally sick of my own bullshit.

I am tired of my whining about people who put me in a box, closed the lid, and then sat on it to keep me in my place. I got strong enough to topple them, to push my way out, and then I complained about being held down for so long. I spent so long bitching about it that then I was holding myself down. I think that is a common pattern for people recovering from abuse. You have to process it to make your peace with it. And part of processing is wallowing. It’s the wallowing that makes you sick of yourself. And getting sick of yourself is a good thing because it pushes you out of the track you’ve been running in and allows you to begin a new track.

I understand now why I operated the way I did. And now I know how to operate differently. I don’t always get it right, but forward progress in any measure feels like a win. I will never let anyone speak for me again or tell me who I am or what I like or what I should do or be. I might solicit advice, but that doesn’t mean I’ll take it. No one is an expert on me, not even me. I am in the middle of an evolution.

All the best people are.

The Things We Tolerate

I can’t look at this little girl without wanting to hug her and tell her she is enough

As a child, I learned that I was something to be tolerated. This notion colored every relationship I had. If you think you are barely tolerable, inversely, you will tolerate a lot of abuse from others because you understand what a burden you are. I spent most of my life apologizing for being who I was rather than acknowledging what I had to offer. Over my years in therapy, this paradigm has shifted for me. I am able to see what my gifts and strengths are and to value them. Don’t get me wrong. I know I have faults and hang ups and annoying habits too. I simply no longer think they outweigh my positive qualities. What I taught my children about themselves now also applies to me: “You aren’t a bad person. You are a good person with bad moments.”

Part of the beauty of reaching midlife, if you’re lucky, is your priorities shift. You become less concerned with what anyone else thinks and more focused on what you need, want, and are willing to work for to make the rest of your life worthwhile. When I combine what I’ve learned about myself through therapy with what I’m learning about life by virtue of being of a certain age, it’s like having a FastPass at Disneyworld. I am ready to jump to the front of the queue. I’ve spent long enough working hard for others, bending myself into a pretzel to make sure I am bearable, while not asking often enough for what I needed for myself. I’ve come to the place where I acknowledge if I’m not worth the effort to someone, then I don’t need to stay with them. Tolerance works both ways. I am free to choose what I will put up with from others.

Lately I’ve been taking stock of the relationships in my life. I can put them into categories. There are the people who like me both for and in spite of who I am and the people who see my downsides more than my upsides. I suppose there are also some people who walk the line of liking me most of the time and yet expecting me to be something I am not the rest of the time, but I can deal with those more nebulous relationships later. My goal right now is to jettison the relationships that make me feel worse about myself, the ones where I do all the compromising and giving and they do all the “tolerating” and taking. Those relationships aren’t serving me. They never did. There is positivity in walking away from them if I can withstand the judgment and commentary from those I care about who will question my choice to do so. Can I be brave enough to stand confidently in my truth without reverting to old habits, wavering, and then capitulating in the face of dissenting opinions?

Maybe it’s because it’s springtime, but I am feeling a compelling pull to weed the garden of my relationships. I want a fresh start. The void left by the people I walk away from will be filled in time with new, life-affirming friends of my choosing. I need to trust the process, to know in my heart that eliminating those whose words and actions make me feel less will only bring me peace because, heaven knows, keeping them around has only mired me in self-doubt. I’m not something to be tolerated, and I don’t have to tolerate a life with those who think I am.

“Accept yourself, love yourself, and keep moving forward. If you want to fly, you have to give up what weighs you down.” ~Roy T. Bennett

I Am Not On Clearance

Indeed

I first saw the quote above maybe seven or eight years ago. It hit me hard then because I knew that was how I operated. Raised to believe I was something to tolerate, when others didn’t meet me halfway or make much of an effort at all, I went out of my way to keep them around anyway. I didn’t question their lack of effort or their lack of respect for my boundaries because I knew I was a lot to tolerate, and this meant I had to work so they would continue putting up with me.

In the years since I first read the quote, though, I have worked to increase my self-esteem. I have at last come to the place where I am able to see my negative qualities without allowing them to convince me I am worthless or worth less. I don’t want to offer a discount on my company anymore. I have a lot to offer my companions. I’m not especially bad, as I previously thought. I’m especially human. And that is awesome because it means I am like everyone else after all. I don’t have to accept less from others in our relationships. I have agency. I can decide what works for me, and I can let other people walk if they aren’t comfortable with what I need to stay in relationship with them.

So now I am at last in the place in the quote. I am finished allowing people to treat me a level below my worth. I am not on clearance. I’m not handing out coupons. This isn’t Goodwill. If what I want is too much, if you don’t want to make the effort, move along. I’ll be better for it.

Fear, Superpower, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Shakespeare

Photo by Rohan Makhecha on Unsplash

After a long, heartfelt, open discussion last night, I am feeling much better today. Sometimes, you have to face your fears, speak your mind, listen carefully, and breathe through the discomfort of it all to reach a better place. I woke up this morning a little anxious because it’s hard when you’ve opened up and been vulnerable. It’s difficult to know if others were able to see and feel your heart. As the day progressed, though, I became more and more relaxed as a realization sunk in. I’ve spent my entire life giving other people power over me. It started when I was young and I gave up my power because it was a survival strategy. Then I was older and still operating under the rules of that previous paradigm, wanting people to like me, wanting to be fair to everyone else, wanting to be the “good girl” I was told I should be. I stayed in that good girl bubble for a long, long, long time. And then it hit me today. People only have power over me because I have continued to give it away. I can be both a good person and a person who holds her own power. I can help people with love and compassion and not be a doormat. I can listen to and hear people and still speak my truth. I can be and do those things because that is my superpower. So today is a good day because I finally realized I am a goddam superhero.

Now, not everyone is going to get me or like me or agree with my previous statement, and that is okay. Some people may even puke in their mouth a little bit when they read this. And that too is okay. I am not for everyone. But the people in my tribe know my heart and benefit from my light, and those can’t or don’t want to see my goodness may never. And that also is just fine. Whether or not others see my goodness doesn’t determine whether or not it exists. It does. It is always there even when others deny it. As long as I know it, as long as I feel it, as long as I try my hardest every day to be decent and kind while respecting my own choices and gifts and goals, nothing else can touch me. I will make mistakes. I will upset people. I will land in some awkward situations. No doubt. But none of that detracts from who I am. It only proves I am human. But now I am a human with an invisible but powerful cape.

All of this reminds me immediately of Eleanor Roosevelt. She was a brilliant woman. During her lifetime, she dispensed a great deal of wisdom. Here are a few of my favorite quotes:

“You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, ‘I lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.’ You must do the thing you think you cannot do.”

“Do what you feel in your heart to be right — for you’ll be criticized anyway.”

“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”

“When you have decided what you believe, what you feel must be done, have the courage to stand alone and be counted.”

And the final quote is the one that inspired this blog, Live Now and Zen:

“Yesterday is history. Tomorrow is a mystery. And today? Today is a gift. That is why we call it the present.”

So, put yourself out there. Be vulnerable. Don’t let anyone dim your shine. Own your shit, but own your brilliance too. And if you won’t listen to me, listen to Eleanor Roosevelt or even Shakespeare, who penned in Hamlet:

“This above all: to thine own self be true.”

Go get ’em, Tiger. Or, as my sister says, TOWANDA!

The Roads We Can’t Ever Travel

Photo by JOHN TOWNER on Unsplash

On a good friend’s recommendation, I started watching Maid on Netflix yesterday. I finished all ten episodes already, if that tells you anything about the quality of the show. It is about a young, single mother trying to make her own way after leaving an abusive relationship. The characters are raw. Their lives are complicated and difficult. They have mental illnesses, chemical dependencies, financial struggles, and broken dreams. It’s painful to watch, but that is exactly why it should be seen. It’s a poignant reminder of how little we know about the lives of those outside our own circle.

In a time when it seems everyone is on edge and no one seems to notice or care about anyone else, when everyone is quick to anger and judgment, this is the kind of show we need to see. It’s a lesson in our common humanity. If you watch the show and it doesn’t make you a little softer and kinder to your fellow humans, watch it again. It’s time we get our heads back on straight. The pandemic has taken a lot of out of us. We’ve been isolated, stressed about our survival, our lack of freedom, our health. Maybe it would be a good idea to recognize that we are all struggling.

As I’m writing all this pontifical, pie-in-the-sky bullshit, though, I am realizing that I need to be honest with you too. There’s another reason this show grabbed me the way it did. It’s because a large part of it is about surviving emotional abuse, the abuse that has no outward scars so people don’t believe you were injured. There’s plausible deniability in emotions. Well-meaning people tell you to your face that the people who hurt you over and over didn’t mean it. They tell you that you’re being dramatic. They tell you that because they are fortunate enough not to understand what it’s like to have someone close to you manipulate, terrify, and crush you. The show is about deciding to put your mental health first and making the difficult, conscious choice to let others deal with their own demons while you face your own. It’s about using your outside voice to proclaim to the world that you want something for yourself, and you’re ready to believe you deserve it. While watching these characters interact, I saw my life. I saw their struggles and nodded my head. But I also saw their strength, and for the first time I am seeing my own too. It feels good to be at a place where I can like myself for both my beauty and my imperfections.

We don’t know what anyone else is going through. What we know is filtered through our own lens. Tread lightly. Be gentle with others if you can. It’s been a little rough on this rock recently. We can’t know the roads others are on, where they lead, or why they wind the way they do. We can’t help others read their map or give them directions. We can’t ever travel their road with them. We’re not meant to. We have our own road on which to focus and that one deserves our full attention.

Uncaged And On The Loose

“I was wild until I was tamed by shame. Until I started hiding and numbing my feelings for fear of being too much. Until I started deferring to others’ advice instead of trusting my own intuition. Until I became convinced that my imagination was ridiculous and my desires were selfish. Until I surrendered myself to the cages of others’ expectations, cultural mandates, and institutional allegiances. Until I buried who I was in order to become what I should be. I lost myself when I learned how to please.” ~Glennon Doyle, Untamed

Opening myself up to the world (or in this case stunning Positano)

You often hear that people, around the age of 50, come to a place where they run out of fucks to give. (I’d apologize for using that turn of phrase, but that would be giving a fuck and I am working on not doing that.) People who have run out of fucks have stopped worrying as much about what they look like or what the neighbor’s think of their yard or how their opinions and choices and goals and dreams might upset others. They put down the baggage others have handed them, and they pursue their interests because their life tank is dipping below half full and they don’t know when they will hit empty. For most of my life, I’ve known that getting to the end of my life only to realize I have lived someone else’s life would not be an acceptable outcome for me. Still, I was conditioned from early childhood not to be a bother, not to stand out, not to choose myself, not to believe I mattered at all. So these two ideas, to take up as little space as possible and to live my life my way, have stood in opposition. The former has been my default setting since I was 3 because my parents taught me that if I wanted to be acceptable to others, I had to capitulate and do what they wanted. I learned that to be loved, I had to leave myself behind and be the me others could tolerate.

My parents chose themselves before they hit midlife. They chose themselves by ensuring that their progeny didn’t get in the way, that we fell into line, that we behaved and developed in ways that suited their wishes and caused them as little discomfort and annoyance as possible or else suffer the consequences of their displeasure. I learned I was meant to be a good girl and a blessing to them. When I spoke out, when I tried to assert myself, I was told I was foolish and labeled a selfish, self-centered, spoiled brat. This is how I became caged. I’m estranged from my parents now so I can heal and find the inner strength to live my life out loud, as the badass, indomitable woman I am and have always been deep inside. There are days when I fall back into old patterns and feel guilty and cruel for putting space between my parents and I because I know they are confused by it and because I am reminded by others that I am breaking a societal norm by turning my back on them as they near 80. But I am learning how to be my own person and prioritize my mental well being, even if other people don’t understand or approve. It’s absolutely okay to carve out a life for myself on my own terms. No one else has to sign off on it or agree. And, oddly enough, for the first time I am feeling the rush of confidence that comes with moving along my own path. There is power in relinquishing control of the state of others’ feelings. There’s strength in allowing others to weather their disappointment because it means I am finished disappointing myself.

I am working every day to step out of my comfort zone. I’m practicing asking for what I want rather than being told what that is. I’m practicing hearing my own voice say aloud what is in my heart. I’m practicing calming my mind and letting it know it doesn’t have to protect me anymore because I am safe now; I am brave, strong, and awesome exactly as I am and no one can prove otherwise to me. I’m practicing having a choice, or many choices, about how to proceed. And, yes, I am practicing too how to be at peace knowing others are unhappy with my choices. After a lifetime of trying not to make waves, I am learning how to break them, to rise above the surface and revel in my own agency. I’m practicing not giving a fuck in situations where others would tell me how to live my best life. As Glennon has advised, I’m done asking others for directions to places they’ve never been. They don’t know what they are talking about.

Yeah. This probably sounds selfish, and I’m am okay with that too. It’s about time I began advocating for my self and acknowledging my right to do just that. I will see those who truly love and accept me in the future. As for those who would prefer I stay caged in your expectations? Hasta la vista, baby.

Ten Things Yoga Teaches Me About Life

Life, like yoga, is all about the here and now.

Another night and the clock is rapidly approaching 10:30. Nearly a year ago when I started this blog, I promised myself one entry per day, sometime between midnight and 11:59 p.m. The minutes on the clock are dwindling down to my self-imposed deadline, and I sit here with an empty brain. An empty brain is good when you’re trying to fall asleep, which is what I should be doing. An empty brain is a bad thing, however, when you’re 1.5 hours from your writing deadline and no inspiration has arrived all day. Some days, it’s simply a struggle to get through. On those days, when I should be writing, I want nothing more than sleep. Today is one of those days.

To ensure that I get some sleep tonight, I’m going to go back to my mindset 1.5 hours when I was in yoga class. At the end of this coming January, I will have completed my fourth year as a practicing yogi. Hard to believe that four years ago I was so afraid to attempt yoga that I made my sister come with me to my first class. True story. Now, I can’t imagine going through the rest of my days without it. It’s not just exercise. It’s a metaphor for my life. I’m flexible and can bend over backwards, but I’m still not open. I’m strong and can stand on my head if I set my mind to it, but some days I am incredibly off balance. Yoga helps me find the peace I lack.

As I was cleaning up after class tonight, my mind was racing through the valuable life lessons yoga has taught me. So, I think I will share those tidbits here because…well, I need something to write about.

Ten Things Yoga Continues To Teach Me About Life (and trust me…I need the frequent reminders)

  1. The most important thing is to show up.
  2. When something doesn’t feel quite right, don’t force it. You’ll only end up hurt.
  3. Everyone is wrapped up in their own world. No one is paying attention to you, so let go and be free of ego.
  4. When things get tough, just breathe.
  5. We all have our struggles and our gifts. Mind your own.
  6. Try something new. It might not be your thing or it could be your new favorite thing. You’ll never know until you try.
  7. If something doesn’t serve you, let it go. No sense in lugging around worthless baggage.
  8. Don’t be so hard on yourself. Instead of criticizing yourself for what you can’t do, be grateful for all that you can.
  9. Discomfort is okay. Acknowledge it and let it go. It’s in discomfort that you find opportunity for growth.
  10. Wherever you are, be there.

Namasté.