Like You Mean It

My daughter and I were having a conversation the other day about my marketable skills.

I will spare you the details and the discouraging situation that I find myself in regarding balancing health and finances.  If you have not already become familiar with that situation, hit up some earlier posts to get up to speed.

But the outcome of that conversation led me to a new understanding of an old problem:  I don’t think I am good enough.

I’ve literally tattooed the word “Enough” on my left arm.  I deliberately put it in a place that I would see in the mirror every day, because I need the constant reminder that I am enough and good enough and allowed to set boundaries that say to others, “Enough. I won’t tolerate that anymore”.  Despite that reminder, I still slip into a space where my mind convinces me that I cannot accomplish or become or produce in positive ways.  I get sucked into perfectionism.  I get stuck in a mindset that sees criticism as punishment for what I lack.  I get trapped by self-defeating language.  I doubt that I am capable enough, or good enough, or talented enough.

So, while talking with my daughter, and positing a question about whether or not I might be successful in a particular venture, I came to understand that I don’t quit things, and I don’t fail.  I start something new.

I tell myself, “I am an author.  I’m going to work at being an author, and commit to that field.”  And then, a few months later, I am telling myself, “I am going to become a nutrition counselor.”  I take classes and start that venture.  Then, a few months later, I am telling myself, “I could sell my work on Etsy.  I would make money from what I find therapeutic—my art and crafts.”

And, suddenly, I am working toward everything and nothing.  I have too many starts and not enough follow-through.  I have no follow-through not because I can’t do the things, but because my energy is split and traveling in too many directions.

Life has always been this way for me.  I am a visionary—I start things all the time, and I have big dreams, and I am a great problem-solver.  I am not confident that I can be fabulous at any of those things that I start, and dream of, and find solutions for.  I start to doubt my ability, and I put the thing I was working toward on hold, while I think of something new.

I am writing three books.  By writing, I mean not working on at all, but having the idea that the books will someday be finished.  I am an amazing author, but I doubt that talent often enough to not complete any published works.  I am studying nutrition and holistic care.  And by studying, I mean that I am half way through an online study program that I have not even looked at in months.  I doubt that I can be successful in the field, or that people will take a sick, overweight person’s advice regarding wellness and weight loss.  I am opening an Etsy shop.  And by opening, I mean that I have a store name picked out and ideas for what art I will put in that store eventually.  I doubt that people will want or pay a fair price for the things that I have created, and that I will lose money, rather than make money.

My doubt rarely paralyzes me in the physical sense.  I don’t panic and freeze and lose my shit out in the world.  I look and act like a really “normal” person most of the time.  But, on the inside, I put myself into a space where I cannot accomplish anything, because I don’t believe that I can accomplish anything well enough.

Some of this perfectionism comes from my upbringing.  My mother and my grandmother before her were both very concerned with appearances, and with having everything “just so”—at least on the outside.  That desire to look perfect affected my generation as well.  And, at times, I think I am accidentally passing that perfectionism down to my daughter.  But, my family tree is not the only factor.  I also suffer from C-PTSD, a complex form that adds layers of struggle beyond those of the type of PTSD you usually see depicted in media—the combat-related type.  Perfectionism is a symptom of my disease.  When you are in a prolonged state of abuse, such as childhood molestation or domestic violence, your brain behaves in ways that make no sense, but are totally understandable.  You start to work really hard at pleasing people.  You start to do all that you can to make life, home, and self perfect, because you believe that the abuses are your fault—which is part of the terrible genius of abuse tactics.  If you can just do everything “right”, maybe you won’t be hurt, harmed, assaulted, yelled at, molested, or raped.  If you can be perfect, then there won’t be a reason for them to harm you.

But there is always a reason for them to harm you, because the harm has nothing to do with your performance, accomplishments, character, or way of being.  The harm has to do with them and their issues.

I can say that now.  I can say that the people who harmed me did so because of them, and not because of me.  But, even though I can say it, I am not integrated in my logic and my emotion.  Those things are split apart in the long-term abuse—the horror of captivity.  And, while I can say that I didn’t cause the abuses directed toward me, I cannot often feel that I didn’t cause those abuses.

Not being able to feel what I know is complicated.  It is also annoying and frustrating.  Reason and emotion are not tied together in the ways I want them to be tied.  So, I feel not good enough, even though I know that I am capable and strong and beautiful and good and honest and brave and brilliant.  What I know and what I feel cannot connect in the way that I would like them to connect.  So, I still strive for and do not reach perfection.

Perfection doesn’t exist.  You can never reach it, because it isn’t a thing.  Perspective, cultural difference, brain chemistry, opinions, different philosophies, and more make one idea of “perfection” impossible.  There is no such thing.  So, by striving for this goal, we sabotage ourselves.  We are fighting for a thing that is not achievable.  And that constantly disappoints us, and makes us doubt our ability or character or worth.

All of the above considerations came out of that one conversation with my daughter.  And I decided during that conversation that I need to “write like I mean it”.

I decided that I need to take that thing that I love and that I am good at, and I need to keep doing that thing until I can feel what I know.  I need to stop turning in different directions and dividing my energy.  I need to put my efforts into the things that I know I am and should be:  an author and an artist.  I need to act upon my belief that I am a good author and artist, and keep acting upon it until I feel deeply that I am talented.

Under different circumstances, that might sound like a very selfish and narcissistic way of thinking.  But, because I am so conditioned to judge myself “not good enough”, proclaiming my talent and putting all my energies into praise for that talent is a corrective measure that brings balance.

I’m going to put all of my eggs in this basket.  I’m going to write and create like I mean it.  I’m going to make this my life—not because I need to strive for a goal of perfection, but because I love writing and creating, and because I am exceptional in these areas.

Perfection isn’t real, but it still ruins so many of us.  While my C-PTSD makes the struggle against perfection more difficult, and a symptom to be managed, you don’t need to have a history of trauma and a mental illness to strive for things that you need not strive for, and cannot achieve.

I’m not saying to give up.  I’m trying to say the opposite.  I’m attempting to express that what you love is what you ought to pursue, regardless of what “perfection” might be getting in the way of that pursuit.  And I am attempting to express it for me as much as I am for anyone who might read this post.  Because sometimes the word “Enough” tattooed on my arm is not the only reminder needed.  Sometimes we need to keep telling ourselves a thing until we feel its truth, not just know or understand it.

I need to keep telling myself that finished is better than perfect.  I need to keep telling myself that writing and painting and sewing and covering surfaces in comics are worthy pursuits.  I need to keep telling myself that my belief that I am good enough is the truth, and that the feeling that I am not is the lie that I have been conditioned to accept.

I need to keep telling myself to write like I mean it.  This is my goal.  This is my life.   This is my contribution to the world.  This is what I love.  And I am not going to let “perfection” get in the way of doing what I love.

Whatever you do, do it like you mean it.  Because it is, and you are, enough.

Don’t Struggle, Just Stab

There are several ways of being in the world, I suppose.  We all choose in every moment how we will interact with the world around us.

This morning, I emptied a container of one of the two chemical-laden delicacies I allow myself–flavored non-dairy creamer (the other is processed cheese…because it melts so beautifully and reminds me of my grandmother, which is probably another story for another day).  Do not fear!  I was at Costco the other day and have a pack of three more bottles in the back of the fridge.  But the crux of our story is not the creamer itself, but that little foil seal that covers the bottleneck to ensure freshness and no leakage.  That little foil seal can open up worlds of understanding.

You see, in general, I stand for several minutes pulling on the tiny flap of foil that pretends to be the secret to removing the seal.  You are just supposed to pull that flap, and voila, it opens, right?  Wrong. I end up pulling with my right hand, then pulling with my left, then pulling with my right again.  Then I begin what we will call the “pep talk stage”, where I begin to offer myself encouragements:  You can do it!  Just hold tightly and pull steadily.  You’ve got this.

The next stage is called “pep talk two” and shifts my encouragements to self over and begins encouragements of the bottle seal:  C’mon!  You are almost there.  Just peel back a little more.  You can do it!

And then, finally, we reach “frustration”:  Why in the fuck can’t I open this thing?  Is it so hard to make a seal that opens?  We can send people out to live in space, but we can’t invent a seal for the coffee creamer that you can open!  AAAaaahhhhhh!

And there we have it folks.  This is the way I interact with my world, on the regular.  This is how I live.

There are myriad reasons why I turned out to be a person who fights at a thing.  I was sort of born a fighter.  My mother realized this early on, and it plagued her for many years to come.  I needed a “why” to stop my fight—a really good explanation or reason for the end to my search or struggle.  Another person’s word that it was easier to tie with “bunny ears” than in the convoluted way I was approaching tying my shoes was never good enough.  I needed to struggle with those shoes for years to get to the way I discovered was easiest (which turns out to be bunny ears).

I think the two most affecting reasons for my struggling attitude, however, are stubbornness and intellect.  One is usually seen as a positive, and the other as a negative.  But, often in life, I see them conversely to the way many might.  Stubbornness, which is usually considered bad or wrong or unhelpful has gotten me through many a difficult situation.  When you are oppressed or captive or addicted or overwhelmed in any way, stubbornness can be your savior.  Being stronger in will than my opponent got me through not only debate team, but through years of abuses and marginal living.  I kept up the fight some days only because I was too damn stubborn to lose—too damn stubborn to die there in that bad space.  And the other reason, my intellect, is definitely often a positive thing.  I am so glad that I am capable of abstract thought and love to dive deep into research and just tend to be smart (sorry for the horn tooting there, but it is true that I am smart).  But, the desire to know is often the desire that gets me into trouble as well.  I want to know how that feels or see how that works or decide for myself which is the best way to approach an idea … so I have to do all the things and explore all the ways of approaching that idea on my own, which has gotten me in spaces where I would rather not be.  If people could have said to me, “drugs are bad”, and I could have accepted that as true without further investigation, I wouldn’t have found my great joy and deep struggle with cocaine.  But because of my intellect and that desire to explore ideas to their conclusion, I did find that joy and that struggle.  Lucky for me, the stubbornness to not be controlled by a substance has won the day for about 5,500 days in a row now. (One day at a time!)

So, today when I needed to open the coffee creamer, my stubborn and smart started getting together to fight the fight and open the foil, once more—because this is obviously a regular occurrence.

But, something about the way that I have interacted with the creamer for the last 25 years suddenly seemed ridiculous.  Suddenly, I was tired of fighting the foil.  And I said to my self aloud, “Don’t struggle, just stab.”

Don’t struggle, just stab.

Where did that come from?

I’ve spent every foil opening experience in the same way.  I’ve always tried until I succeeded.  I’ve always kept up the fight.  But not today.  Today I chose a different way of interacting with my world.  I chose a different way of being.  I chose a knife to the foil.

Now, this choice might seem insignificant to most.  But it isn’t.  It is significant because this is a core way of being for me.  It is deeply ingrained in my psyche to fight.  A core belief is that fighting is the only way out.  And it is coupled with other core beliefs, like you have to make it on your own because others won’t help, or not engaging shows a weakness, or life is a series of conflicts, or only the strong survive.  All false beliefs, by the way, but core beliefs are not quick to change. And mine were shaped in some terrible circumstances, so rooting them out and finding them so that you can change them takes years of facing those terrible circumstances again.  It pretty much sucks to do that.

I am doing exactly that.  I am facing years of terrible circumstances and trying to find ways to interact with those things differently, and to see myself and my world in a better way.

Stabbing the foil embodies the change that is happening in me.  Don’t struggle, just stab.  Take the easier route to your desire.  Give up the fight.  Yield.  Do the smarter not the harder thing.  Win by letting the foil win.

Learning to engage life and thought and people and things in new ways is really difficult work.  But, the foil is evidence that I am learning to do just that.  I am doing that difficult work, and after years of doing it am seeing results.  I like those results.

I took a knife and stabbed that foil—killed that shit.  And it took mere seconds to accomplish. And I don’t feel like I lost the fight.  I feel like a winner!  I am patting myself on the back (figuratively, not literally, because the neighbors may be watching)!  I am looking at all the ways that offering myself the easy option might change the world for me.  Finding Mr. or Ms. Right Now, rather than keeping up the struggle to find Mr. or Ms. Right, letting Luke lift the groceries when he knows I am exhausted rather than trying to be stronger and less tired, realizing that swimming and bathing and eating and writing a bit can be my weekly activity rather than trying to return to the concept of “better” that causes me to strive for more strength and more strength of will than I am able to obtain in this disabled body.  I choose how to interact with the world, and I am starting to choose letting it all go.  Don’t struggle, just stab.

Unfortunately, this mantra won’t literally work in all situations.  When I am frustrated with my brother, I can’t just stab … at least not in the literal sense.  (No killing relatives, people!  I am in no way promoting actual stabbing in all situations!)  But maybe in the figurative sense, I can just go the direction he wants to, even though I am aware that he is going the wrong way. I don’t have to convince him he is going the wrong way, but can let him figure that out on his own.  I’ll just turn up the radio and enjoy the scenic route. And that way I haven’t lost anything. But I’ve won on the inside, just like I did with the foil, and can figuratively pat myself on the back for not engaging in futility.

Don’t struggle, just stab.

And I know that my stubbornness is still a gift that will get me through the tough times.  And I know that my intellect is still a gift that will bring me joy and difficulty.  But I know that I get to choose when to fight and when to not fight.  And I get to leave behind any of those core beliefs that are false, as soon as I am able.  And I am changing on the inside, and learning to be a better form of me.  I’m letting go of some of the instinct to approach the world with anxious striving, and learning how to approach it with a quiet knowing—seeing the chaos but not being drawn into it.

I don’t need to react in the ways that society expects me to react.  I don’t need to react in the ways I did before, even when before was just yesterday or earlier this morning.  I don’t need to react at all, if I don’t want to.

We choose the way we interact with the world around us.  And I am choosing more wisely and in ways that help instead of harm me.  I am choosing not to struggle and fight and churn and flail through life.  I am choosing to just stab at the foils of life—deleting that Facebook friend, or ignoring that comment, or choosing joy in the moment, or letting my inner child be my outer adult, or sliding down banisters instead of tiring on the stairs, or smiling instead of scowling as I walk through the subway tunnel, or offering peace instead of lecturing when my daughter is having a bad day, or offering myself kindness instead of chastising my lack of productivity.

Don’t struggle, just stab.