“…nothing ever goes away until it has taught us what we need to know.”
― Pema Chödrön, When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times
Often lately I find myself asking my conscience or my inner voice what all this past year has taught me? I really plead with her to answer me. What have I learned that I needed to know, I ask. Have I even learned it, because some things seem to be holding on so tightly? Almost a year ago now I can pretty much pinpoint precisely when things started snowballing around me, and I felt myself losing the tenuous control that I thought I had had on my life.
My Life, bit of a misnomer, really. It implies that I am in control, but that’s not so in actuality. But to be fair it only implies I can control it if I think that it implies that. Naturally, I’m finding out that yes, that’s exactly what I’ve been thinking for many years.
To my own detriment I have been living as if I have sovereignty, which is basically supreme power or authority over something, and I have been holding fast to the reins. I have been living under the guise that I can keep things together if only I try hard enough.
And therefore the opposite must also be true, if things fall apart it must be because I didn’t try hard enough. I didn’t put enough effort into keeping things on track. Translation, I failed. I’m at fault. I defaulted my responsibilities.
Now I’m a logical person with a brain in my head and a history of making it through every event or situation that has presented itself. And it’s pretty egocentric-thinking of me if I go outside my own areas of supposed control and also take on what happens to others as my own failures. As if I’ve let them down, too. But I’ve done it plenty. How does an intelligent person do that?
Well, it’s really not that difficult if I tie my identity too strongly to others; to being a daughter, a wife, a mother and so forth. It’s something that many of us do almost from birth. But we’re all so much more than those familiar roles.
So, at this point, what else exactly have I learned? I’m not quite sure where to begin, so I guess I’ll dive right in. Otherwise this will never get written.
Which leads me to my starting point; contrary to what I’d rather believe, I am a perfectionist. I could tell anyone who is willing to listen countless reasons why perfectionism is extremely draining and can be downright harmful. I could go on and on about how the idea of perfect is just that, an idea, and it is relative and really only in the eye of the beholder. Perfect life, perfect marriage, perfect children, perfect career? As in, for the most part what’s perfect to one person is not necessarily so to another. And not to mention how much pressure the notion of doing everything perfectly puts on us, so I’m trying to refrain from indulging in that old pastime!
It makes me downright crazy thinking I fall prey to that way of being when I know better. BUT…then I have to stop, and change my perspective to one of self-compassion, because one of the other things that I’ve had a great lesson on recently is just how self-compassion is vital to our well-being. And how yet again the inverse is true, animosity toward the self, harms us deeply. We must treat ourselves with kindness, feed our hearts and bodies. Just as we want others to treat us kindly, and for them to treat themselves, too. Time spent on our well-being is time well-spent. As a wise lady, who I admire greatly, says,
“When we’re well-fed, we can be fully engaged and effective in life. Feeding ourselves is an act of service.”
– Rachel W. Cole
Recently while reading Rising Strong, the author Brené Brown taught me once again that vulnerability is not bad just scary sometimes, and that we are neurobiologically wired for connection, it is what gives our lives meaning and purpose, and it is imperative if you want to live a wholehearted life (I do!), which she breaks down as the belief that we are all worthy of love and belonging. I could go on for paragraphs here, that’s how much I feel that I’ve learned from Brené Brown’s research. I’ve felt tremendously vulnerable and needy; first after my illness and throughout my recovery, and more recently for the allowances I’ve needed made for me during my grieving process. It’s hard to ask for help, let alone truly need it in ways I’ve never had to before. But it boils down to knowing your worth – knowing you’re worthy: of compassion, of kindness, of belonging, of help, of connection, of love. We’re all deserving. You’re enough. I’m enough. Right now.
Another piece of me that I’ve come to see is that I am quite empathic, a mixed blessing for which I am, for the most part, extremely grateful. I feel a ton of emotions, and have a strong intuition, but often I will identify with the feelings, thoughts or attitudes of others, so I’ve had to learn, finally and thankfully, that if I allow myself to soak up negative energy from other people I will quickly become depleted, overwhelmed and even possibly ill. As an empath, and because I’m sensitive by nature, I need to plan my days accordingly, recharge my batteries as needed, and remember that it matters greatly how and where I choose to spend my time. It will affect me.
To borrow a phrase that I read earlier today, less than a year ago I experienced my greatest despair, the loss of my mother. Accepting it has taken all the tenacity I can muster and then some. The lessons are incomparably painful and have recently included anxiety-riddled dreams and moments of deep longing or despair. As well though, some are even achingly beautiful. Missing her is quite literally a sorrowful hurt down to my bones. I now know what the figurative broken heart truly feels like. It was all relatively fast and sudden, and it has thrown me unlike anything else, ever. It will of course take time, but that’s still not an easy concept to face though.
My mother is a poem I’ll never be able to write, though everything I write is a poem to my mother.
– Sharon Doubiago
One of the small things that I’ve gleaned from this epic loss is just how valuable and comforting sympathy cards can be. Which is almost strange because I’ve always been a card giver and saver. Have I not understood because I have not experienced a lot of loss, or a depth of loss, where I might have comprehended this sooner? Probably. This may seem arbitrary, but I think it’s worth mentioning because I now know that they can actually help people just get through a tough day. I’ve re-read mine several times. I’m so appreciative for them. Before I did not truly know their power, nor their worth, but I will forever forward.
This one’s tricky, I’ve been going through some health issues, relating to an illness I went through three years ago, for almost the entire duration of this past year. Not to sound melodramatic, but I’ve had to summon every ounce of patience in my being some days. And directly correlated, I’ve been struggling with anxiety and looking for help throughout it all. To date I’ve listened to countless meditations and read whatever I could get my hands on that might help. Then just yesterday I heard this unique idea, I tried it (several times since) and it has been very helpful;
*when a thought begins to loop in your mind, take your focus off the thought and move your focus inside your body to where you’re feeling physical symptoms from the anxiety – for instance if you feel your chest or stomach tightening. Stay with it, keep feeling it, and as you do so the initial thought will dissipate, and then so will the physical feelings – the tightness, the pounding heart, the nausea, etc.*
Not surprisingly in retrospect this last year has been teaching me that everything is temporary, even though the entirety of life teaches this – every single day. This can be a beautiful lesson, and also a heartbreaking one. Pain, disappointment and other difficult times tend to pass, so I am trying to trust my healing process and also trust that good days lie ahead. Conversely, just as a flower blooms its own brilliance, it is then destined to fade, shrink and wither, and many other good things will end as well. It’s up to us to keep our memories alive and close to our hearts. Old photos and mementos have become so valuable to me, so I’ve been trying to write things down and started to take more photos, especially when a group is together, even when it’s inconvenient or a little embarrassing. In the end it’s sure worth it.
If you’ve read this far let me just say thank you, I appreciate it. I’m not here to advise anyone else on what they should do, or learn, from life; lately half the time I’m wondering if my shirt is tucked into my underwear and that’s why I’m so uncomfortable, or what? Ha ha. (It hasn’t happened yet, though I’m not counting it out…)
But in all honesty rarely never have I felt so vexed by life as I’ve been feeling for the last ten months. I’ve heard time and again that the first year of grief, at least a solid twelve months, is the hardest part to get through…and I’m clinging to this as truth. I’ve never felt stranger, or more of a stranger to myself. I’ve never experienced such a detachment from what I thought I knew.
I’ve also heard that a corrective chiropractic treatment can take a long time and patience is imperative. Well, I’m putting everything into believing this, too. I’m going into month eight and in my weaker moments I find it hard to believe that this is going at a pace that is even possible, let alone to be expected, and I think that maybe I’m losing my mind. I’m so thankful for others who have experienced similar and have shared their journeys with me. In my stronger moments I can see the progress that I’ve made, and my gratitude abounds.
At the beginning of my chiropractic journey my kick-ass doctor said to me that I must feel like I don’t know my own body at all, but by the time we’re through I will. And I’m finally starting to feel like I’m slowly returning to it, now I just have to trust it and myself, and my place in the world.
Just to be sure, this post is not a pity-party and I don’t feel like a victim, it is simply, and complexly, my singular journey. As I learn these lessons and see that although external love is out-of-this-world amazing and important, it is not the only love humans need, I have begun to cultivate what I really, really necessitate in my life. I’m finding what I can do that heals me, and making it a part of every day. One of the monumental key ingredients for me is found only when I spend time in nature. Watching sunrises and sunsets are among my very favorite things. I recently traveled home to the ocean, and I also get to gaze at the mountains regularly from my very own yard. Sometimes it requires me moving through nature, and other times it’s just sitting still. Often it’s with my camera. Always it’s lovely, or cathartic, or even a little wild, too.
At this moment, I ask myself, what is the single most important thing I’ve learned? There are so many, but I’ll go with this one:
Give into the struggle.
It’s the only way through.
I’m tired and worn down, but optimistic about the future, and so I’ll leave you today with one of my favorite quotes, it also happens to be permanently posted on my blog’s home page sidebar;
“You are imperfect, you are wired for struggle, but you are worthy of love and belonging.”
― Raina K Morton April 14, 2016