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.

Edits

It is a weird process that I am embarking upon this winter.  I have decided to purge.

I am cleaning out closets, slowly but surely, and getting rid of things that are not used or that don’t fit.  I’m looking through my home and my life and my psyche and trying to let go of whatever doesn’t spark joy.  Frankly, if I don’t love it, it needs to go.

And the hardest part of this process is not letting go of those fabulous quilted boots I have been wearing and wearing out for the past three years, but letting go of my expectations for my life.

You see, the closets aren’t the only project.  I have been cleaning my office in little increments for the past month or so, and much of that work has been centered around clearing out boxes of files.  Once upon a time, we used paper to hand in assignments and take notes.  And that time left me with stack upon stack upon stack of paper.

It is more of an annoying task than a strenuous one.  I just need to pick up the file and flip through the pages and determine whether to keep or toss the papers within.  And the criteria of “love it, use it, or lose it” should help me to easily make such determinations.  I obviously haven’t used this paper in years, and I likely won’t use any of it again.

But I love this paper.

I shudder a bit at even making that statement, but it is an expression that I cannot get around.  I don’t love the actual pieces of paper, of course.  I love some of the ideas on the pages.  But that isn’t why I have kept them.  I have kept them because I thought I would use them in my future.  I believed that these articles and notes on theology and philosophy and psychology would be useful when I became a professor, or a writer of groundbreaking new concepts, or a preacher.  And today I am dealing with the fact that my belief was wrong.  I am not and will not be those things.  Those things take energy and capability and cognition that I do not have.  And sans miracle drugs, I never will.

I am not just throwing away notes and articles.  I am throwing away the goal that ten years of education was meant to bring me toward.  I am throwing away the ideas of my future self that have carried me through the last twenty years.  I am throwing away expectations and dreams and hopes and promises made to myself.  I am throwing away a life.

And I know that I have the opportunity to fashion a new life, based on new dreams and hopes.  But I still have this moment to cope with—this mourning the loss of what I loved and this struggle of having to find myself anew.  Everything I fought to achieve seems lost to me, and that is a difficult realization.

I am keeping some files.  I am holding on to some of my favorite and most transforming and best loved articles and papers.  At some point, maybe I will read them once more, or use them for my current writing projects, or offer them to others who are in need of the knowledge they hold.  Because I am not able to, nor do I wish to, erase the past twenty years of my life.  Those were good years in many ways.  And I don’t think they were wasted.  I learned.  I grew.  I developed my thought.  I opened my mind to new information.  I believed in myself.  I accepted my intelligence.  I embraced diversity.  I became more and better than the person I had been before embarking on years of study.

I have all of that growth and development to hold, even while I let go of the goals I had made during that time.  And that is wonderful.

But today, I am feeling a bit melancholy about the ways that I am having to change my view of myself and my accomplishments and my goals for the future.  It is a loss.  A deep loss. (And I often feel like I have had more than my share of loss already in life.)

It isn’t an easy process, this editing of my life and self.  Edits to my writing seem easy in comparison.  Rearranging my sentence structure is so much less work than rearranging a life.

There is one comfort I have in this process, which is the feng shui principle of making room.  New things can’t enter into your closet, or your office, or your life, if there is not space for them to move into.  So, a minimalist environment opens up all sorts of possibility, where an environment stacked and stuffed with things has no room for more.  I am tossing my past and my previous ideas of myself, but I am opening up room for the new future and the new ideas of myself to come.

And they will come—eventually.

My file boxes are already beginning to fill with clippings and found objects that would go great in an art project.  My bookshelves are filling with coloring books and meditations and fiction.  My blank pages are filling with ideas of who I am and what I might wish to pursue.  My closet is filling with clothes that actually fit over my ass.  My spare room is transforming into a yoga studio.  My mind is becoming a place of peace.  My heart is becoming more open to others.

And I suppose that I can find joy in the fact that I am editing a life—that it is being improved and perfected and changed and made new—and not ending a life.  There is more to this story.  There is more to come.