Change. It happens. It happens all the time, right? Sometimes it just feels more momentous than others. I am in flux right now. So much so that I have been sort of paralyzed. Ever have that happen to you? I’ve felt stuck, in every sense of the word, but yesterday I somehow broke through all of that. Today I feel a bit like a butterfly. Change is good.
Let me back up a little. I haven’t been writing blog posts. I haven’t been able to sit down and write. I’ve had things to say. I’ve had stories to share, but I would glance over at my computer and just the act of standing up, walking over, turning it on, and sitting down to write seemed overwhelming. So I just didn’t do it. The same exact thing happened when I thought about painting.
So, what have I been doing for the last week? Don’t laugh, but I’ve been walking. A lot.
I’ve been doing yoga too. I’ve been trying to eat well and get enough sleep. I’ve been taking care of myself. Like really taking care of myself. I even painted my toenails. Something I haven’t done in years.
Since the miscarriage I’ve had some family patterns of interaction (I’m talking family of origin type stuff) sort of pop up like they do sometimes. For some reason (maybe I am more sensitive?) they just seemed to present themselves and I could see them with my eyes wide open. I’ve started thinking about how I can’t say no well and how I am often kind of a doormat. I’ve been a little angry with myself too. I want to be more assertive and I want to feel good about having boundaries. Usually when I draw a line in the sand I just feel horrible guilt afterwards…forever. Seriously, 6 years later I will think about it and feel a wash of shame and anxiety. Even when I know my boundary was a healthy one my body still dives into fight or flight…sometimes even 6 years later when I am just thinking about it. Usually flight. My go-to move is avoidance. Or, even worse, I apologize, basically, for existing. It’s pretty pathetic, but to be fair, I am much better than I used to be so I know I am growing. It’s just been a slow process. Change usually is.
I’ve learned a lot about family dynamics through my education. I’ve even put what I have learned into practice and made some of my relationships much better, but there are always times when you feel vulnerable or scared and it’s easy to fall back into old, familiar patterns with people. It’s easy to feel like you don’t matter or are unseen and unheard. It’s easy to feel inadequate and small. That’s how I describe it. I told Jim, “I just feel small today.” It’s like being invisible when you don’t speak your truth, or have an opinion, or express how you really feel. There are a few people in my life who seem to trigger this feeling in me. They seems to remind me as often as possible that I am not enough and never will be enough. The message is subtle, but it’s there. I feel it with every interaction.
This is the legacy of growing up in a home with substance abuse. Low self-esteem runs rampant. Neglect can make you feel worthless for years to come. Plus, I feel my feelings and often I think I overcompensate in that department because I grew up surrounded by people who were doing everything they could to not feel their feelings. It’s a dance and when one partner is underfunctioning the other partner tends to overfunction. I am an overfunctioner in so many areas of my life. I am always worried about taking care of everyone emotionally (and often physically and financially) that I often forget to take care of myself.
This is what is changing. When I had the miscarriage I actually focused on my own emotional health. When Jim said, “So and So is upset that you didn’t call them and tell them before posting it on your blog.” I said, “Too bad. This is my pain. This is how I am dealing with it.” Seriously, I know my blog readers are empathic, caring, funny, supportive people. I knew I would get the support and love I needed from this community…and I did. The comments on the post about my miscarriage carried me through the hardest days (I am going to respond to every single one of them soon because I have so much gratitude for your kindness). In hindsight, I must have known exactly what I was doing when I made that choice. For once I chose not to “take care” of the feelings other people were having and chose to take care of my own feelings first. It’s not my normal mode of operation. So, when I broke the pattern I caused some waves.
Family members were quick to try and pull me back into the old pattern. They reminded me that I needed to take care of other people. That other people were grieving too. That’s when it hit me like a rock falling out of the sky. A Eureka moment: I am not responsible for other people’s feelings or behavior. I’m not. I’ve spent a lot of energy over my lifetime fussing over what other people were thinking and feeling and trying to smooth things over for them. It hasn’t gotten me anywhere. It’s just made me tired and angry. So, I am learning to let go of that “responsibility” because it wasn’t ever mine to begin with.
I am learning that I am enough and I don’t need anyone else to confirm that. I am allowed to have an opinion and disagree with people. That doesn’t make me a bad person. I am allowed to choose myself. That doesn’t make me a bad person either. I am learning that I am the one with the problem here. I have to let me be me and be OK with the fall out. I have to let my light shine and if it’s uncomfortable for other people, well, that’s not really any of my business. I am the one causing my own pain. I don’t have to look to others to define me or let them trigger feelings of inadequacy anymore. I’ve accomplished a lot. I’ve been through a lot. I am proud of who I am. I am not perfect, but I am strong, kind, smart, resilient, loving and hardworking. I am not “nobody” and I am not invisible. I am ready to let go of these stories I tell myself because they aren’t true.
I am not responsible for the feelings other people have. I have to stop overfunctioning because I am only inhibiting the growth of other people. I am not an expert on what they need or how they should live. It’s not my job to keep them from feeling sad, or angry, or frustrated, or lonely. I am not going to swoop in and save the day. Failure is an experience we all need to grow and so is feeling all of our feelings. It’s not my job to save them. It’s my job to save myself and to work towards being real and authentic and free. It’s my job to take responsibility for myself: My thoughts, my feelings, my behaviors. I can’t blame any of this on anyone else. I can change the dance at anytime just by changing the way I choose to interact with people. So I am dancing to my own rhythm as much as possible. It’s a process. I’ll still slip up and make mistakes, but I am on the road. I am taking steps in the right direction.
Have you ever made a change in the way you interacted with people? How did it go?
I’ve been debating whether or not to write about this or not. I think that was why I have felt blocked. I was trying to silence and censor my experience. I had a choice to make: I could write about it or I could keep it all a secret. Yesterday I said to myself, “Be honest. Tell your truth or close down the blog. It’s not worth having it if you’re too afraid to write what you want to write. Stop worrying about what people will think.” Secrets make me feel like I am suffocating. I grew up keeping secrets. I don’t want to live like that anymore.
I decided to write about it last night. I broke the block. I have to say I feel much better and I am pretty sure I am going to be able to paint today too. This is what happens when you make choices based on your own health and happiness versus worrying about what other people will think of you.
P.S. I’ve lost three pounds, and an inch and a half off my hips from taking care of myself for the last 10 days.
P.S.S. This book is really helping me make sense of things. You’ve probably read it, but if not you might want to check it out The Dance of Anger: A Woman’s Guide to Changing the Patterns of Intimate Relationships (totally an Amazon affiliate link).
P.S.S.S. My friend Molly Field grew up in a family with substance abuse too and we often compare and contrast the baggage we carry around because of it. She’s been an amazing support system and her post Cutting Off Is Never That Simple really resonated with me. If you struggle with self doubt and choosing your own peace of mind, you might want to check out her post too.