When I was younger, I went through periods of intense therapy to sort out events in my life. There were different professionals along the way, therapeutic groups, support groups, classes, books, etc. Looking back, it was like immersion to repair past damage and soothe old scars. It was also incredibly difficult and dreadful work to have to cope with along with trying to be a parent and a significant other to someone while absolutely keeping the therapeutic process sealed off and separate from the rest of my life.
When I think of it now, it feels like the experiences of a completely different person. But I kind of like that; it makes me sure I made some significant strides forward. Plus with time comes different experiences, reactions, even healing. Some life lessons learned take awhile to settle down and be absorbed.
That said, I like to go in every year for a tune-up. The last few years it seems there was little of significance that warranted a need to meet with him, but I did it anyway because it seemed appropriate, like routine maintenance to on my emotional engines. Always the tune up turns into a series of 4, 5, 6 appointments, because there is always something else to explore and evaluate. For therapy, that is fairly brief and focused. Then again, the issues are not particularly severe or impactful. Progress right?
So this year my tune-up appointment was Wednesday, and this year I went in with a specific issue and agenda in mind. I have another appointment scheduled in 2 weeks and will continue for as long as I feel it will take. My issue this year? I want to work on my building up my self-esteem and reducing the anxiety and fears that make aspects of my life a lot harder than is reasonable and necessary. While I have come a long way since first starting with a therapist so many years ago, there is still a journey ahead. I have always known this remained a thing in my life; I have just not wanted to explore it too deeply or with purposeful intention. Until now.
I was reading a fellow blogger’s post about the dichotomy of our individual headspace – can we both believe we are terrific and hate ourselves at the same time? Perhaps; I imagine most anything is possible within the range human emotions. For me it’s not so much I think of myself as such a swell person so much as I have endless amounts of optimism and praise for any and all situations for about just about everyone else around me. Yet for me, if you asked me to compliment myself, that familiar deer-in-the-headlights expression is frozen on my face. Eventually I would mumble something canned about being pretty good at my profession. It sounds flat, canned, and insincere even to my own ears.
My efforts at sustaining a positive outlook about myself have been inconsistent and unsustained. Sometimes I’m really good about it … for 3 or 4 days. For those 3 or 4 days I’m mindful and conscious and careful about diverting my thoughts and the words from my mouth, and then I slip with a self-depreciating comment or I say something unencouraging and unhelpful about myself and my abilities, which sends me diving down the rabbit hole of self-flagellation and recrimination. Kind of like my efforts to count calories and carefully weigh and measure food portions, only I typically falter after 2 days of that type of playing with food.
The pattern of behavior is also kind of reminiscent of my exercise efforts before now, where I would try really hard for a week or 3, and then slowly I would back away and cease any and all efforts. I have done cardio fairly consistently for a few years now, but the effort was hit and miss at best, rarely consistent enough to effect any real progress on blood sugar, weight, body composition.
My breaking that pattern the past few months has given me fragile confidence to try for similar wins in other areas of my life. Food is a biggie, of course, one I am presently in the early stage of waffling. Another post, I promise.
But the positive outlook for me and my efforts is something else that has begun to bother me. There are areas where it is not bad at all. Professionally I am able to speak to prospective clients and present myself as a competent professional who can and will resolve the issues that brought them to me. I have even learned to overcome my distaste of discussing billing rates and contractual agreements without flinching or feeling ill. Seriously, for someone who worries about money for a living you would think I would be better at handling my own financial arrangements without such internal drama, but there it is – I hate talking about money when it benefits me personally.
It seems in my personal life I kind of fall apart on the feeling good, optimistic, and confident about me and my abilities.
I have a great life – wonderful husband, fabulous adult kids, close friends, jobs/work I enjoy that funds our simple life and lifestyle. I did not get here or have these things by sheer accident or stroke of good luck. I have worked hard to have a healthy marriage and strong relationships with my kids and friends, and I have always been a highly motivated and driven worker. Truly, I deserve what I have built and achieved.
Believing that I deserve all facets of my rich life is another matter entirely.
There is an irrational fear in the deeper, darker recesses of my mind that M will someday kick me to the curb and my children will no longer speak to me. I do not actively worry about it, but the habit of thinking it every now and again tends to cripple me in a myriad of small ways, like a chip in a windshield that causes a larger and larger spider web of cracks over time. It weakens me, makes me feel desperate and afraid and incapable of expressing why I suddenly feel stricken with terror.
I use that as an extreme example, because it is the most relatable irrational, emotional fear. My marriage is fine; my relationships with the kids are fine. The fear makes me question how deserving I am, and I wonder if they only knew about me what they would think, how they would feel, how our relationships would change. The nature of keeping secrets and hiding scars has infected me with this insidious anxiety. I am not a Velveteen rabbit; the real me is genuine and standing (writing) right in front of you. As time has passed and my mental/emotional health and well being has solidified and stabilized, I have become the pretty open person I always hoped I could be someday.
So why am I so incapable of accepting and embracing her?
To those in my real-time, real-life world and even here in blogville, I strive to be as non-judgmental and accepting as possible. In general I am pretty tolerant. Sure I have basic baselines of behavior, but if you are part of my world you do not tend to be someone who emotionally dumps on other people just for grins. People I enjoy tend to be smart in their own ways, which may or may not include higher levels of formal education and book learning. Everyone is different. Long before it was cool, I wanted to make choices based on who I could include rather than who I would exclude.
There is a local nonprofit that refers people to me who are motivated and need personalized help sorting out their finances, sort of a budget coach. It is usually a small group, less than 6 individuals or couples/families from all socioeconomic backgrounds and circumstances. Some of them are in serious trouble – expenses way too high and/or income way too low. I am not someone who judges others for how they spend their money, how many children they have on minimum wage jobs, whether or not they need government assistance. However, I do think too many people want help without being willing to help themselves in the process. That’s part of my role – helping folks identify why their budgets (assuming they have one) are not working as planned or working with them how to create a monthly budget, followed by steps to ensure they stick to it.
It’s hard work and frequently unpleasant. Having been through a similar process many years ago, I understand the range of emotions, from embarrassment to anger to despair of their situations ever improving. For them I am a fountain of optimism and positive affirmations dispensed with a lot of practical, frequently tough-love type advice. I want them to succeed; I they to go on to happier and more peaceful financial lives, even if I myself am not a Dave Ramsay follower.
Yet I burn with shame whenever I talk about my own experiences. I still cringe thinking about my own short-sighted stupidity and how I made such a mess of our money in my 30s. M and I were in our 50s before we bought our first home, partly because of our poor choices in the early years of our relationship, partly because the housing meltdown made me very wary of wading into home ownership when we were finally ready to consider it seriously.
I cannot seem to erase that feelings of embarrassment and shame about being overwhelmed by debt. I cannot seem to let go of the guilt and forgive myself for doing that to my family, for the sacrifices we all had to make because of me/our poor choices. I tend to assume a greater share of the responsibility because I was the one who came into the relationship with some debt and manged our finances into even greater levels of debt. Plus I brought 3 young, dependent children into the relationship as well, and anyone who is a parent knows kids are not cheap. This is not something I think about frequently or obsessively. Again, this is an example of how my poor opinion of myself lingers and impacts me years after the fact.
There is no doubt that too many years of keeping secrets has shaped my outlook. The past several years of being more open about my history of abuse, writing about it, talking about it (albeit very sparingly), and just trying to be more transparent as appropriate has done a lot of good and let me take deep, unencumbered breaths. It has allowed me a very small measure of freedom from taints of scandal, disbelief, and the rawness of shame.
I want more. I want to free myself from that weighty shit that keeps me afraid and dependent on my own invisibility maneuvers to get through life.
Now it is time to put a toe in the water of accepting that I am okay, warts and all. Everyone speaks of loving yourself first before you can love others, and I agree the concept has its place. But I typically do not tolerate or accept poor treatment from others; I have enough self-respect to not allow myself to be used or abused. However, it does not stop me from abusing myself.
Every day I learn something new, and it’s one of the things I cherish most about living my life. I have opportunity right now to break a bad old habit or create a new, better one. But I know myself and know there is no way I can or will do it on my own, so I am seeking professional help. I know how fortunate I am to be able to afford the luxury of a good therapist. I only wish I knew how to make the idea of taking this step slightly less terrifying and paralyzing. Deers in headlights have nothing on me right now.
I am a hopeful person. I am earnest and possess a good heart and caring spirit. Is that enough to get me through? Maybe. Maybe I can be brave, too, or borrow courage when needed.
I just want to be better. My mantra that started in 2015 is following me into 2016.