Waking From the Trance of Living a Subdued Life: Living Life With Direction

Last week, I wrote a lot about what it meant for me to feel a lack of being liked and feeling belonging. But also the ways that I woke from what Tara Brach calls, “the trance” of not feeling as though I belonged. I’d like to revisit the ways in which I woke from how I was living while trying to feel approved of, to how I felt comfortable with and approved of myself. All of which, finally leading to a place where I’m living my life with more direction.

There were a few different routes I took to finally feeling acceptance of where I am in life. Many of which I’ve written about in this blog. But they were important paths to waking from what I felt like I needed to do in order to feel loved. So let’s start with the area of my life that was holding me back in the most immediate way, my budget.

Buried in Debt? No Problem, You Got This

There is a specific memory that I reflect back on every once and awhile when I think about the amount of debt I was in. It’s of me, sitting in my bathrobe at my desk, cup of coffee on my left and looking at all the credit cards I had, on open tabs on my browser like I was watching a stock ticker. All the while I was wondering how much higher my credit score had to be in order for my credit limits to be increased.

I was also well on my way to amassing close to 100k in student loan debt, on top of the 25k I would eventually end up with on my credit cards. This was the height of me living on borrowed money. Not to mention a dangerous mindset to be in.

Now my routine is much different. I check my account balances to make sure I have enough money for the upcoming month’s budget. And now I look forward to paying off what’s left of my student loans instead of looking for ways to increase my debt limit. Usually a cup of green or herbal tea at my side : )

Choosing to pay off my debt is one of the best decisions I’ve ever made, and it’s taught me so many valuable life lessons. Such as how to live on a budget, how to save for my future, what it means to live within my means, how to set up an emergency fund… The list keeps going. But these are the important lessons that I and so many more of us just never learned while becoming adults.

Willpower and Responsibility

Getting intentional with your money has the power to help you in so many other areas of living a more responsible life than just the financial sector. Such as developing a stronger sense of responsibility. And it’s an overall good place to start if you’re looking for more direction in general. I’ve mentioned before on this blog that I’m following the Dave Ramsey steps to getting myself out of debt. I’m not as dedicated as some of his followers are, but there are definitely some parts of his plan that have been especially beneficial for me and my path. For example, learning willpower and self restraint through budgeting.

Paying off debt has freed up some of my income for other living expenses while teaching me how to exercise self-control over how I manage my money. Right now all my available funds are going towards my debt. But the difference between my 700$ monthly minimum payments now and the 950$ monthly payments I used to make, is the difference between whether or not I can afford groceries for the month. And that’s kind of a big deal!

Paying off my credit cards alone freed up 250$ worth of monthly payments I would have been paying to a credit card company were I still in debt. Not to mention all the compound interest I was accruing. That’s about the national average for a single persons grocery budget. The worst part of it all is, I don’t really have an idea of where all my money went. Most likely on alcohol and restaurants. But my standard of living hasn’t changed much since I’ve been free of credit card debt. Which leads me to the question: What’s the point of credit card debt in the first place?

Paying Off Debt: Side Hustle

One of the ways I’ve helped to cut down the amount of time I’ll be in debt is by picking up a second job. This has been a positive for me in my life in so many different ways.

My side hustle is at a homeless shelter for families. I work only six days a month, but it will reduced the over all time I’ll be in debt by about two years. I’ve also been able to write this blog, organize my budget and to-do list, research recipes and put together shopping lists, as well as other opportunities for my future. It’s also hopefully where I’ll get a letter of recommendation for grade school when I’m ready to go back, after helping me to pay back my current debt, while funding my future educational expenses. Win win.

And not to mention, it’s fun. I enjoy the time I spend with the residents. Watching their children run around the house and play games. The co-workers I’m getting to know. It’s all been a positive experience for the most part. That being said, it’s not all sunshine and daisies. There are some days that I just don’t have it in me. This is why it’s important work a little motivation into your routine.

What’s Your Motivation?

On the days when my alarm goes off at 5:35am, and I know I won’t see my bed until 11:30pm, I need a little more than the few cups of tea I drink in the morning to keep me on my feet. This is where small reminders I’ve built into my days have helped me to stay on task, stay motivated.

Photo Bombs

One way I do this is by having a few photos as rotating wallpaper on my phone, of the things I want for myself in life. The things I’m working towards. For example, I have a couple of photos of Adrienne from Yoga with Adrienne, to remind me that there are healthy ways of staying physically fit with support from positive mentors. I also have a few pictures of Dana from Minimalist Baker as well for much the same reasons as with Adrienne. A reminder to take care of my nutritional needs in a healthy, nourishing way.

There is also an artist’s rendition of an elf, drawing an arrow from his quiver and readying himself for a fight. This helps me to remember that it isn’t always going to be easy. Sometimes you need to prepare yourself for a fight. Not that I’m advocating for violence in anyway, but bringing a feeling of being emotionally tough, resilient, is important for times when you feel like you want to give up and quit. Warrior II in yoga is a great way for me to embody this feeling. Taking up space with focus and intention is empowering.

Pin It

I also receive notifications from Pinterest a few times a day with new recommendations for my boards. Here is where I keep photos of what I want my future to look like. I mostly have pictures of beautiful living spaces. The house I want to build when I’m ready for the next step in my life. This is a space where I can just look at something pretty, inspiring, without feeling the pressure of needing to get something accomplished immediately. It’ll take time, but I also need the time to plan.

It brings me a sense of ease while also gently reminding me of what I’m working towards. Not to mention it allows me a place to organize all of these ideas and inspiration. This, organizing, also has a calming effect on me. The same goes for cleaning as well. Any chance to bring order to something, especially when it is something beautiful, is something I hold close to me. Something special. Which brings me to what I’m doing all of this for.

Friends, the Ultimate Motivation

There are a few memories from my old life that I look back on with nostalgia. Most of them are of the times I spent with close friends, at their camp in Maine. The hours spent gathered around a camp fire, with nothing to do and nowhere to be. Feeling totally at ease in the moment with good friends and good conversation.

For me, this is the reason I’m so focused on living a life with more direction. So I can make more memories like these. My friends and those I hold close to me are my motivation. But this wasn’t always the case.

The lessons I was taught, both modeled and unspoken were, people will hurt you and they are not to be trusted. This was, and to some extent is, how my caregivers chose and choose to live their life. And I followed in their footsteps.

I was mean and cold to people to keep them at a distance. I needed to be right about people to avoid the uncertainty of possibly being rejected by them. So I pushed them away first. Now I do things much differently.

Reciprocating in Your Relationships

I’m now able to share more openly with those closest to me. My thoughts, feelings, ideas and interests. This is something that is so basic, but is avoided by so many, that it kind of blows my mind.

The ways I used to be in my friendships was one sided. They were on my terms usually and I always needed a buffer between us. Such as alcohol, or objectifying women. It was just too vulnerable to talk to my friends about how I was feeling. To be fair, I had a lot of trouble knowing what emotion I was feeling. But this was because everytime an emotion came near, I pushed it away. Just like the people in my life.

Now sharing with others isn’t a source of fear anymore. For example, my employer makes a brown bread that reminds me of the happier times in my childhood. It’s also a recipe from her great, great, great grandmother. I was able to share with her that I enjoyed the bread and wanted to try and replicated it. In case she wanted to keep the recipe in her family, I didn’t ask. But she gladly offered to share her recipe with me.

This is exactly the type of reciprocation I would have run from in the past. I would have been to proud to admit that they made something that exceeded my standards and what chance there was of bonding would have died there. Me feeling as though I was superior to others stopped me from making authentic connections with others. Not to mention it was just plain mean and arrogant.

Healthy Helping

The same friend I used to go to Maine with and sit around his camp fire while talking for hours, has recently been doing some renovations to his house. I’ve been pitching in when our schedules align and this has been another way of building healthy bonds. I say healthy helping, because the ways I used to help others was definitely detrimental to creating enduring relationships.

My former self would help someone in need, but there was always a catch. I would usually hold it over them as though I was so gracious to be helping. Teasing them for it later, only with cruel intentions.

Or I would passive aggressively harbor a grudge for feeling as though I was making such a great sacrifice for them. But these were the relational maps I was given as a child. I was usually made to feel as though any need I had was a great injustice and cross to be born by my caregivers. I’ve come to realize that this was largely due to my caregivers having zero boundaries.

Now that I understand what healthy boundaries look like, I’ve been able to make better decisions concerning how much of myself and my resources I’m able to give. For instance, when I’m helping my friend with his renovations, I’m enjoying the time we spend together, literally and figuratively building something of value and worth. And that feels great for a change : )

Sounding Board

It’s also nice to have some friends you know you can talk to about anything. Those friends that no matter the topic, are down to field a call from you. Whether it’s to complain about what’s current in your life, get some advice or a new perspective. These buddies are clutch. Like a Swiss army knife, down for whatever.

I have a couple of friends who fit this bill. I think what’s been so enriching about our relationship is, we’ve been forging our own paths together in many of the same areas of our lives where we lacked direction in the form of role models.

For example, there is one couple in particular that has been crucial in helping me, and each other, in learning how to handle finances responsibly. As we reach milestones or experience one of life’s lessons, we are a consistent source of support for one another as we continue to learn how to navigate these areas of our lives. If something happens, I know I can call them up and usually feel as though I’m being supported, like I’m not alone.

And that’s what it comes down to. Feeling support, loved and belonging. So finding the right balance of self-care, care for and support from others are the elements to what makes us strong enough to live our lives with more focus and direction. They allow us to be who we really are and that’s worth more than the some of its parts. I hope you’ve found this post helpful in some way, and as always, peace and thanks for reading : )

Image Credits: “Seek-Purpose-Painting” by Justin Masterson is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

I Want to Be Like Everybody Else, Or Do I: What It Means to Be You

This is a tough one for many and something I’ve wrestled with for a long time. Not to mention the unintended consequences it’s had in my relationships while I was in the throws of becoming me. I’d like to share with you my perspective and some of my experiences in coming to understand who I am and how I separated that from who I thought I was supposed to be. Like the Dead said so long ago, “what a long strange trip it’s been”. Let’s start this trip with who I thought I was supposed to be.

What Makes Me Likable?

My journey to personhood began long ago, about the time I started high-school. This was a strange time for me, but that seems to be the hallmark for that age bracket. This was also when and where I began to figure out who I was becoming and what my likes and dislikes are.

In the mid-nineties, when I entered the awkward age of adolescents, hippie culture was making a come back. Bands like Phish and The Grateful Dead were prevalent in the culture at the time and I took to them, culture and bands, pretty quickly. The sense of community, the colors and the attitudes all appealed to me. The music, too was something I had grown up with. I remember watching The Dead’s, “Touch of Grey” on VH1 often as a younger child. Its positive message, “I will get by” that’s sung in the chorus, spoke to me then and still does.

The clothing was something that I connected with as well. There was the tie-dye, which was colorful and unique, but also the comically large pants that were in style at the time. Some, including the pair I made, had panels of different colored material going up both the inner and outer seams. They also had 36 inch cuffs. Like I said, comically big! I had one pair that I must have worn for months straight. This must be where the term, “dirty hippy” comes from.

And even with all the drug and alcohol abuse that was happening in the culture, for me it was never about the drugs. I enjoyed the community and the diversity of colors most of all. It wasn’t until I was chastised one car ride long ago for not knowing who The Doors were, that I started down the path of drinking and doing drugs occasionally. As I’ve said before in my post on feeling unworthy of love, at the mere mention that Jim Morrison was more liked in my family than I was, I studied him to feel belonging to any degree. With family, with friends, whomever. I just wanted to belong

So I made choices in life the ways Jim would have. And the strange thing was, that even though I was doing the “right thing” according to my families unspoken rules, I was being punished for acting that way. But also like my family. Because we were all living like Jim Morrison to a lesser degree. So the more I tried to act and behave the ways that I thought I was supposed to, the ways my caregivers had, the more rejection I felt.

The reason, I’ve come to realize is, that we really didn’t like ourselves. This was a sad wake up call to be sure. But the silver lining is, that it wasn’t ourselves that we didn’t like. It was who we were pretending to be that we were uncertain of. All we really wanted to be was liked. Deep down there was this feeling of not being accepted by one another. So we had to do what others were doing to be and feel accepted. But we were just covering over what we truly are. For me, I’m coming to realize that there’s a great deal of strength and other positive traits beneath what I was trying to cover up for the sake of being loved by another.

So If I’m Likable, Why Don’t I Feel As Though I Am?

It took me a long time to realize this. And I had to do a lot of internal cleaning in order to get to a place where I could see the patterns of wanting to be accepted. From what I can tell and why I didn’t wake up sooner to realizing the reason I wasn’t feeling liked or belonging, was because I was so busy chasing the good times and searching for external validation from friends and family. I was blinded to who I was outside of the bars and drinking and the show I was putting on.

We were so busy avoiding ourselves by seeking others approval, that we didn’t realize that we weren’t taking care of our most basic needs for self esteem or feelings of self acceptance. We also didn’t have a connection with ourselves or one another to speak of. This extends to both family and friends. No shared responsibilities, no facing hardships together and coming out stronger in the end. It felt as though we were on our own, together, but alone. The foundation of our relationships were built on the times when we would drink to avoid the work of living our lives by connecting with one another in honesty and with kindness.

Though what is most disheartening is, we were intentionally mean to one another. This worked to erode what little connections we had. And feeling as though we had to do everything on our own was a given. Because asking for help was seen as a weakness. This lead to the term “martyr” being tossed around often and liberally. And we all made it well known that we resented feeling as though we had to do it all alone. This was not a healthy way to build strong and lasting connections. Or a way to feel liked or lovable. Not to mention how incredibly self-righteous and arrogant we all were.

So what held us together if we were so consistently mean to one another? What was it that made us likable enough to want to be around each other? We were so desperate to feel belonging, that we were grasping onto whatever form of acceptance we could find. One of my first apartments is a good example of the desperation to be accepted in action. When I moved in, I never actually had a conversation with my friends who were living in the apartment. I just moved in and we never talked about. And what I moved into wasn’t even a bedroom! It was a pass through from the kitchen to the living room.

And this is in no way a judgement on us at that time and place in our lives. I was so focused on surviving, not being homeless in my case, that I was clinging to whatever form of belonging I could find. Even if I had to force it from somebody. Along with survival, came a lack of caring how I was living. Surviving was priority one. And that’s not to say that we didn’t have some good times while we were together. But this was no way to live my best life by a long shot. And I wouldn’t wish the situation I was in on anybody else either.

Tara Brach describes this way of being as, in a trance. Which makes a lot of sense, because when you’re in the trance, or survival mode, it’s hard to see anything outside of how to survive. Kind of like tunnel vision. You have one focus because that’s all that matters.

Brene Brown’s research on hustling for approval is another apt way to describe how we were living. We were just so scared to be our vulnerable, emotional selves around each other, due to all the scarring from past relational wounds, that we numbed out all of our emotions. To scared to get close, but also to be alone. So fear and being numb by way of drinking, were the binding forces behind most of our connections. This is also what stopped us from feeling likable or belonging.

So if fear is what’s holding us back from feeling connected, how do we drop the fear and be our whole, vulnerable selves around each other? That’s the trick. You have to feel your way through it. Thaw out the numbness and feel the fear as it is. And unfortunately there aren’t any shortcuts or easy ways to do this. The way out is most definitely through. Feeling the uncertainty and vulnerability, the fear, all the emotions we’ve been avoiding in the first place. Allow them to all reside in us at once. This is how we begin to feel lovable again.

How to Feel Uncomfortable, Vulnerable and Uncertain: A Practical Guide

I’ll say it again, this is difficult work to do. As a friend of mine used to say, “it’s no easy” (thanks Melva : ), and she was right. After all, I was spending great amounts of energy and resources trying to avoid all of these feelings. I’ve been thinking about it some lately, and I believe I was avoiding them because, feeling unpleasant emotions, in a way, feels like a betrayal.

The uncertainty and fear were produced at the hands of my caregivers when I was abused and neglected. So there was that betrayal to come to understand. But also too, that I was capable of producing these difficult emotions, that had the effect of making me feel as though I was my own abuser in a way. That these emotions were inherently a part of my being. And that I could be scared, I could be fearfully uncertain. This is what lead to me trying to numb out these difficult emotions. Feeling as though I was betraying myself.

But as my therapist once told me, “you can’t just numb one emotion, if you do, you numb them all”. And she couldn’t have been more correct. When I was drinking large amounts of alcohol and caffeine, I only really felt two emotions. Either feeling totally relaxed, or riddled with fear and anxiety. There was no newaunce of emotional diversity. I was living very much in a, black and white emotional world. So How did I unthaw?

Something switched in me around the time I left my ex-wife. I had thought I fell in love with another woman. But what I was really recognizing were the similarities we shared and that she seemed to accept me unconditionally. Something I had been looking for since my parents abandoned me. I didn’t understand what I had had with my then wife, but I was emotionally stunted and unable of reciprocating love in an emotionally mature way.

But in all honesty, I don’t think that either woman I was involved with at the time, my then wife or the woman I left her for, was able to either. We all had our own version of what I was going through. The difference was, my choices affected three lives for the worse. Something I’m not proud of. But this was also when I began to live my own life by taking charge of what was happening in it.

I was so used to letting things happen to me, that I was leaving the job of living my life up to whomever would step in and take over the task. I had to wake from this trance of being completely submissive, to being intentional about what I was doing to move my life forward. Running was on of the first ways I was becoming intentionally incharge of my life. Along with meditation and listening to Tara Brach’s Dharma talks, I was beginning to understand that I was still very much a child in the ways I was living.

Okay, so as I said in the beginning of this article, I was definitely not able to get to everything in 2,000 words. Next week I’ll be posting more about the ways I’ve woken from the trance of living the subdued life and started living a life with more focus and direction. Until then, peace, and thanks for reading : )

Image Credits: “You’re Lovable & Worthy of Love” by edenpictures is licensed under CC BY 2.0

When you Feel Unworthy of Love: How Your Relationship to your Parents Shapes your Ideas of Being Loved

This is kind of a big topic. I don’t think I’ll be able to give it the care it needs in about two thousand words, but I’ll go over some of the basics and my thoughts on the subject. I had a life’s time worth of feeling unwanted and unloved by my caregivers. And I know I’m not alone in my experiences. I’ll go over some of the ways my need for love was neglected, how it mirrored the relationships I found myself in later in life and what I’m doing now to help reverse some of the feelings of unworthiness around feeling and being loved.

Like I said, it’s a big topic. But hopefully some will recognize the patterns I’ve experienced in my relationships and not feel so alone. Then we can begin to change. Let’s do some growing together : )

I Love you, Or do I

When I was a child, both of my parents were somewhat affectionate. I’ve said before on this blog that my childhood, up until I was eight, wasn’t all that bad.

But things changed abruptly when a family member lost a battle with cancer and our family fell apart. Though their death only hastened the inevitable. Our family had been on the decline for a while. And when we were put to the test with the death of one of our most independent members, we failed.

We were inconsiderate of one another’s emotional states and needs. We didn’t know how to communicate openly and honestly with one another about how we were feeling. We were always guarded against the next cutting remark one of us would inevitably make. Angry outbursts in the forms of yelling and breaking things were the norm and sex appeal and being attractive were prerequisites for approval and feeling loved.

We were so oblivious to each other that one of my caregivers slammed my thumb in a car door as I was getting out of it, and walked away from me while I was screaming to her for help. I was only four at the time, but these emotionless displays were the norm for our family.

So when we told each other that we loved one another on a semi-frequently bases, what was the message we were supposed to glean from our displays of affection? This was confusing to say the least. Sure, families have disagreements and I’m not trying to say that we can’t get upset with, or be irritated or even angry with one another.

But the underlying current of most of our interactions were based in passive aggressive judgements with cruel intentions. This was a cold and fearful environment to grow up in and one that’s taken decades to wake from the trance of, as well as all the unhealthy message I was being sent. The main message being, “I’m saying I love you because I’m supposed to. It’s my job. But I’m truly and really disappointed in who you are as a person and I’ll let you know every chance I get.”

As a child, I had no idea what to do with this reality I found myself in. I was desperately seeking the approval of my caregivers, only to be thwarted at every turn, every attempt. The slightest comment was taken as prime directive to feel a part of the family, feel wanted. I once made fun of a Doors song that was playing on the radio on one trip to the mall because I wanted to gain the favor of my caregivers by making fun of my other caregiver. They liked music from the fifties and was divorced from the caregiver I was currently with. The Doors sounded like something my caregiver would have liked, so I made fun of them hoping to feel belonging at someone else’s expense.

I was then chastised for not knowing who The Doors were. So I studied Jim Morrison in an attempt to be more like him and hopefully more accepted by my caregivers at the mere suggestion that he was more liked in the family than I was (also my caregivers were living like he was to a lesser degree). This did not bode well for my future life choices. But there was so much contempt flowing so freely in my family, that seeds of love didn’t stand a chance to take root.

Choosing Relationships When you Don’t Know How to be Loved

So no surprise, later on in my life, when it came time to choose a partner I chose people who would always keep love at a distance from me. I did this because it was what was modeled for me, but also because giving and receiving love freely was something that was scary to me. I should also mention that I was also keeping love from my partners. Mostly because I didn’t know how to give love.

There were feelings of fear, getting hurt again by those whom I would let in, but there was also a sense that I was playing with fire. If I didn’t know how to handle letting in love, I would most definitely get burned. By letting in too much too soon, and without knowing how to take care of myself or rely on my resources when the risk of loving got to be too much. Or even know what my resources were. This is a vulnerable place to be.

And being vulnerable while sitting with that discomfort was not something I was willing to do. Nor was it something any of us were willing to do, family or partners. We couldn’t admit that we had been hurt by one another and made it a point to act as though none of what was happening mattered all that much. Even though it was tearing us apart on the inside and from each other. This is what is meant by the phrase in Duran Duran’s, Ordinary World, “pride will tear us both apart”. That’s exactly what it had done to us. These were the rules we had adopted from our families.

Not only that, but we were constantly unsure of ourselves. Where we stood with one another. How we were held in each other’s regard. The uncertainty of whether or not we would be rejected again brought with it a fear as well. It also eroded communication. For me, there was a strange side-effect of being scared to connect, and it was of always having to be right.

When I was being ruled by the fear of being connected, I felt as though I always needed to be right, in order to avoid any uncertainty or ambiguity. If I was certain all the time, especially of others emotional states and intentions, that wouldn’t leave any room to be in the suspense of unknowing, which also made me feel unsafe. So I was vocal about my opinions and projected my observations onto others. It was an unhealthy way of dealing with the turmoil of the emotional world I was avoiding, but it was all I had modeled for me at the time. I just didn’t know any better. Nor the people I was with.

So we perpetuated the cycle of feeling hurt, projecting that hurt onto one another and were hurt all over again in the process. And these were the types of relationships I sought out. Mostly because they were “safe” in that they wouldn’t push me to take a look at the fear that was lying underneath the pride and judgements. Once I broke from that cycle, things got a lot stranger before they got better.

Breaking From the Cycles of Fear, Pride and Judgement

Breaking that cycle was some of the most difficult work I’ve ever had to do. And most of the work I didn’t even realize I was doing until I felt as though I was in over my head. The first thing I needed to do was stop running from all of my relationships. Because relationships were where I would learn the most, about connection in healthy ways.

I wasn’t able to stay locked in my room by myself, hoping to become a healthier version of myself. There’s only so much work we can do on our own before we need to start practicing what we’re learning. The old adage, “start and accept where you are,” is something that was true for me. I was running for so long, that I didn’t have the time to stop and accept where I had gotten myself. For me, it was a lonely place when I realized I had alienated myself from almost everybody I knew.

I didn’t realize the gap I had left in people’s lives when I left either. I didn’t even realize that I mattered to that many people, or to anybody really! I was so used to looking at myself through the lens of neglect and how I had been treated growing up, that I didn’t even think that I mattered all that much. But this was not the case. I had hurt a lot of people by leaving them, and myself the ways I did. And accepting my hurt and how I hurt others, and then trying to reconcile with those I hurt, was what helped me to learn some much needed humility.

Because in a way, feeling as though you don’t matter is arrogant. Not realizing that you have an affect on others is another version of being self-absorbed. But this isn’t as bad as it sounds. The intention, for me anyways, wasn’t to be arrogant, mean or dismissive. In a backwards way, I was being humble. I didn’t think I mattered, so I assumed nobody else was thinking about me. The intention wasn’t malicious, but the effects of how I was behaving were hurtful. And especially towards how I was treating myself.

So, I began taking care of myself and my needs better. I started listening to myself again. Instead of doing what I thought I should be doing because of how I thought I was being judged by others, as I had when I was trying to emulate Jim Morrison. Now I was listening inwardly to what I wanted, what made me comfortable and happy. What brought me joy.

“Find What Feels Good”- Yoga with Adriene

This was when I started doing yoga. I began with my sister years ago. Only I was very hung-over the first and only time I went to yoga in my twenties, and in front of the beaming sun to boot. It was not the experience it has turned into for me. I started again in my mid-thirties, and really took to it. I began at the YMCA, and then later at a few miscellaneous studios as well as on my own. This is when I found Yoga With Adriene.

Doing yoga with her videos helped me to reframe my relationship to and with my body. I hadn’t really thought about how I treated myself before, but it wasn’t healthy, that’s for sure. I was eating whatever I felt like, whenever I felt like it, drinking close to my daily caloric calories for the day in alcohol and led a very sedentary lifestyle which mostly consisted of playing video games among other addictions.

Adriene had such a positive attitude, while encouraging her audience to “find what feels good” by practicing some self-care through exercise, that I found it enjoyable to flow through the assinas. Much the ways I had enjoyed it when I was practicing at the YMCA. With the dim lights and LED candles, it felt like an intimate experience. Sort of the way I feel when I listen to D’angelo, only less sexy : )

Cooking was another way for me to “find what feels good”, and opened me up to greater connections. Thanks mainly to the Minimalist Baker, I learned how to nourish myself with healthy foods, instead of eating and drinking whatever I felt like. It also helped me to connect with some estranged family members as well. By making my self-care Sunday meals, which later turned into my Friday night family meals, I had managed to bridge the gap from learning how to care for myself, to extending that care to others. Win win. I’m also incidentally in the best shape of my life.

So if you’ve found yourself in a similar place to the one I’ve described, do not lose hope. You are not alone. The path isn’t always easy, but finding help from others, accepting where you are and practicing a little self-care goes a long way. Finding role-models, especially when you’ve had little to no guidance along the way has been a huge resources for me. I have a photo of both Adriene from Yoga with Adriene, and Dana from Minimalist Baker, on my phone as inspiration. And speaking of resources, head on over to my Resources Page for more inspiration.

I hope this has been helpful for those looking for a little bit of guidance. Thanks for reading, and remember, you’re not alone. Peace : )

Image Credits: “A green heart for you !! have a sweet and nice weekend.” by Matthew Fang is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Fear and Judgement: Fear of Being Judged

Judgement is a tough one for a lot of folks, including myself. It’s ubiquitous in American culture and can be used as a means to evaluate someone’s worth. In a lot of ways it’s used as you would use currency. To deem if someone holds value measured against your standards.

People fear judgement to be sure, and for good reason. It’s often times associated with guilt. Usually that guilt comes in the form of “what’s wrong with me that others are seeing me as bad or undeserving?” The idea of criminal comes up and paying back society for a debt that’s owed.

And not all judgements are loaded with fear. For example we may make a judgement call that it wouldn’t be safe to drive if we had another drink. This type of judgement is necessary for our survival, and to keep us safe. But what if judgements were placed on us because a caregiver wanted us to be different? In an attempt to control who we are and who we would become. What then?

This was the case for me growing up. I was criticized and judged so often that I just assumed that I would never add up to my caregivers expectations. And to make things worse, I was never really sure what I could do that would be acceptable by my caregivers. And thinking about it now, there was never any direction on how to improve, only negative judgements. So I copied their behaviors, their habits, hoping I would stumble upon the “correct” way of being.

We were big drinkers in our family. This was the first habit I picked up that was modeled for me. Also treating other people as though they were disposable. As though I didn’t really need their friendship, was another toxic habit I inferred. I burned a lot of bridges doing this. Though I wish I hadn’t now, some of the relationships I had during those times were unhealthy to say the least and at least partially modeled after unhealthy familial relationships. Knowing what I know now, I could have ended some relationships in a more amicable way, but I just didn’t know any better. And either did they (my caregivers) for that matter. We were operating under faulty instructions and doing the best we could with what we had. Which wasn’t much.

And that is one of the bigger issues that comes with consistent critical judgements. Being left with the paralyzing fear of either not belonging or the possibility of rejection. When you are reject by those who are supposed to love you unconditionally, you are left with absolutely no direction on learning how to have a felt sense of belonging. You just never feel like you belong. Aimlessly adrift.

For me this happened very early on. I remember there being such a loneliness and wanting to belong that I turned to anything that would bring me a sense of feeling apart of something. Regardless of how reckless or self destructive it seemed.

I can remember listening to The Grateful Dead’s, “Touch of Grey” in 1987-88 and connecting with the lyrics, “I will get by”. Later on when I was in highschool and hippy culture was making a re-emergence in the mid to late nineties, I took to it so quickly that I was making my own clothes and growing my hair out for dreads in less than six months. Everything I owned smelled of patchouli and I began drinking at the age of fourteen. All because I heard a song that had a seemingly positive message, mixed with the culture being popular at the time.

I was looking for someplace to belong. And if it wasn’t for those fond early childhood memories of feeling a little bit of optimism and hope while listening to the Dead, who knows where I’d be. I also imagine there was a draw to the gypsy culture that the Dead came to represent. A feeling of homelessness or at least a sense of misfits coming together, who have been roundly rejected by others to create their own sense of community and belonging.

But what’s so startling about the life choices I was making at fourteen, was that I was basing them on song lyrics I randomly heard when I was much younger because they gave me a sense of hope, however small. Instead of the loving guidance from capable caretakers, I had Jerry and hippy culture to show me how to get by. I had some good times for sure, but I’d trade them all for some love and support from those who should have been there for me.

This brings up another aspect of the fear of not belonging. The maddening fact that my caretakers had gone out of their way to make sure I knew I was not adding up by consistent criticisms about aspects of my personality or physical appearance. This led me believe that there was a thread of hope. That if I could somehow managed to please them by living up to their impossible standards in some way, then I’d belong. Of course what I didn’t realize at the time, but see all too clearly now is that the reason their standards were so impossible was because they themselves didn’t know how to belong. And if they felt as though they weren’t quite adding up, how would they be able to teach me?

So if this fear stems from not knowing how to belong, why then all the judgement? From my experiences with my caregivers growing up, the judgements came when we were too vulnerable to let one another in on a deeper emotional level. This was partly due to feeling as though we didn’t belong, but also as defence to keep each other at a distance so we couldn’t be seen as our authentic, vulnerable and hurt selves. The selves that felt like we aren’t good enough to be a part of a loving relationship because we had been hurt and abandoned so many times that we felt as though we deserved not to belong.

And to make things worse, this was a legacy we were handing down to one another. First because we didn’t know how to break the cycle, and second we were too scared to let people get too close because of all the damage we inflicted and incurred during past attempts to bond. So it became the undercurrent and foundation of all our unstable relationships. Built on fear of not belonging to something bigger, more supportive. Which is what I imagine we all wanted. And our negative judgements of each other swooped in to keep us from getting too close to one another for fear they would see our authentic “damaged” selves that had been tore down by ourselves and others so often. This was the cycle we were trapped in.

So if this was the legacy we had been handing down through the generations, and noone was feeling healthy, loved or supported, why haven’t we been able to go in a different direction and break the patterns? What was stopping us from giving up the ghost and finding the healthier, more supportive versions of ourselves and our relationships? The short answer is, because it’s difficult.

My experience was that I needed to feel through a life’s time worth of collected emotional wounds from those I was told I could rely on. And when our trust is abused by mixed messages about who we’re able to rely on, there’s a lot of confusion around who we are able to trust. And when our trust is taken advantage of, that’s when our defenses kick in. There’s a line from an Iron and Wine song, “Sacred Vision” that fits this mindset, “forgiveness is fickle when trust is a chore”. In my situation it was being critical of others using judgements to distance myself from those I felt I couldn’t trust.

But this had the effect of breading distrust, with myself and with others. With myself because I would often turn that critical voice inward and tear myself down. With others in that I was keeping them at a distance so as not to get hurt. But they were still feeling the sting and affects of my critical judgements of them.

In order to let people get close, I had to feel the hurt I was avoiding by keeping others at a distance with harsh criticisms. And those were some of the most difficult emotions I’ve ever had to feel. Sorting through those emotions was a kin to untangling a knot of live wires. Everytime I seized one, I’d get a shock from a past wound. But the more I untangled the easier it became. The more I allowed the emotions to flow, the more I was able to feel them as they came. Without anxiety and feeling overwhelmed.

And it takes patients with yourself, and persistence. But when I started I had no idea what I was doing. I had no healthy role models so I needed to find some Stat. I started with people I admire. People I didn’t actually know personally, so I could feel the safety of distance while experiencing their wisdom and trying it out for myself.

The people I thought of most were Oprah, Tom Hanks, Buddha, Adrienne from yoga with Adrienne and Dana Shultz from Minimalist Baker. As I’ve said above, I don’t know these people personally but it feels like they’re consistently projecting a positive and even tempered demeanor. Their characteristics are ways that I’d like to project myself in the world. Mixed with their work ethic and vitality, these are the people I want to model myself around. And the characteristics I want to use to build my relationships on and with. A firm and solid foundation based on support and caring interest, instead of harsh and critical judgements.

And with these new characteristics, I was then able to use them to build my values. Being loving support as one value and learning how to trust others and myself, another. When the characteristics of love and support are practiced, that is how trust is created. That is how a characteristic builds on or creates a value.

But this is all new territory to me. And with this new and steep learning curve came a fair amount of fear and emotional rawness. With noone around to show me what were the types of characteristics that built lasting and sustainable values, I was adrift again. Floating wherever the current took me. But once I started to build these values by practicing these characteristics, I was then able to set anchor and build the strong foundations that would be able to support lasting relationships.

And with the mutually built foundations of my new relationships, I found what I was missing in my old friendships. There was no effort put into building our bonds, so we didn’t value them as I would something that took time and effort. Emotion, understanding and forgiveness. All we had to build on in past relationships was a lot of alcohol and a few good times. What I’m finding now, building my relationships from my new set of values is that there is a greater amount of respect.

We appreciate the time and effort we’ve taken and put into the experiences we’ve had and are continuing to build. We value one another as a source of support and kind, genuine caring. We know that we can trust one another with what we’ve built together because we did it with love. And that’s what was missing from those relationships that were built on good times.

Support and the felt sense of belonging that comes with knowing that you are supported, trusted and cared about. The random text messages that get sent throughout the week as a way of checking in on how the other is doing. As opposed to finding out where we would be drinking that night. Asking for help in building shelves together to make a house feel more like a home, instead of cutting down a “friend” in front of a girl in hopes that you’ll hook up later. The examples are plentiful, but what remains is that feeling belonging and trust built on stable characteristics go hand in hand. Try to build them on anything else and it would be unstable at best.

And none of this would be possible if I didn’t first come to terms with the fear of my critical judgements. Of others, but mostly from myself. If we use critical judgements to keep others away for long enough, it begins to corrode our ability to connect with anyone, or anything at all. Critical thoughts work in the same ways acid does, circulate in and around the bonds we try to build, leaving them weak and frail. By turning inward and realizing how weak and frail all of my bonds had become, I then understood how important it is to actively work towards healing these weakened bonds by attending to the bond with myself.

This is arguably the most important bond because it paves the way for all of our other bonds to take shape. And this is where the tough work comes in. If you’ve left your internal landscape fallow for too long, the question then is, “I’m afraid of what I might find in there.” Incase this is where you are, let me just say that there are no monsters lurking here. Only the parts of us that are badly in need of some love and support 🙂

And there’s another benefit of practicing the characteristics of love and support. You become stronger in the process, building stronger bonds within yourself. You may be checking in with a friend who has had a tough day at work, but caring enough about someone else’s well being, to check in on them is also a way of attuning to your own sense of empathy. You are strengthening your empathic abilities by checking in with how you’re feeling about your friend, and acting with kindness, is a way to practice being support.

These are the healthy patterns that are possible when we choose to practice sustainable, healthy characteristics. We are then able to sustain these new relationships with healthier patterns, using our characteristics and values as a guide. It isn’t always going to be easy, but it is definitely worth the effort. And with some luck you’ll be surrounded by friends and family that are, sure irritating at times, but their value as a source of love and support will outweigh any habit that may rub you the wrong way.

Turning from critically judgemental to loving support is difficult. And maybe the most important characteristic that will have the biggest effect on how you make this change is through kindness. To yourself first and others. The more we practice kindness, especially toward ourselves, the more our actions, thoughts, moods and behaviors will naturally lean towards a kind disposition. And this will in turn affect how we connect with ourselves and with those close in.

These are only my experiences with trying to rebuild the relationships in my life after what feels like a life’s time worth of avoiding and neglecting my bonds. I hope this has been of some use to you. If you like me, have found yourself in a reconstruction phase of life, my advice is don’t give up! You’re much stronger than you think and help has a way of finding those who are in need, as long as you are open to the opportunity. Be well, good luck and peace 🙂 thanks for reading.

Image Credits: “Mean looking Eagle Owl” by webheathcloseup is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Extreme Independence and Trauma: When Doing You, Affects your Relationships for the Worse

I was on Facebook not too long ago, scrolling through my feed when I saw a post about how extreme independence is a trauma response that stems from being unable to trust those closest to you. The cause, they said, was mostly due to experiencing neglect, from those who should have been attentive to our basic needs for love and belonging.

This felt true as I read it, and most of my family has a very strong judgement function, when it comes to attonomy and deciding what’s the best course of action. And further more, this only extends so far as their own needs are concerned. As they arise in context to situations they find themselves in with those closest to them.

This ability to choose decisively how to act in a situation is useful, and gives the added benefit of being seen as someone who is in charge, competent and who knows what they’re doing. But what I’ve come to find out, from my own experiences and those close in to me, is that this is little more than a way to survive. Those who modeled this behavior for me, were acting the part so they could feel as though they were doing what was best for themselves and those they were in charge of caring for. But it was only an act.

They had to keep up this facade of always being seen as in charge, strong, never letting on that they had the same fears, vulnerabilities and worries that everyone else does. They, and I, were playing a part, and one that was void of a large swath of our emotional lives. This lead directly to a lack of there being moments of intimacy and tenderness. There were only stark, contrasting times of polarized ways of being with one another. On an emotional level that usually took the shape of arguments, judgements or just plane making fun of one another.

For example, the good times consisted of the men drinking beer while loudly verbalizing their opinions of whomever or whatever. While the women gossiped about their friends and family. The bad times were usually filled with more loud verbalizing, but of the displeasures of how the men weren’t being heeded, while sometimes being accompanied by shattering dinner wear, while the women spewed hurtful and demeaning messages designed to cut emotional wounds that were mostly left to fester.

What both these examples have in common, the “good” and “bad” times, is that they were both ways to keep others at a distance so as not to seem weak, or rather the distance was to keep others from seeing that they were emotionally wounded in the relationships they were supposed to be enjoying. So why does this happen? I have a feeling it has to do with a few different factors, that we all experience, which shape the ways we see our world and how we build relationships, and starts in childhood, when we bond with our caregivers.

When we first learn to love and trust, it is usually with our parents or guardians. These bonds tend to be tight, and set the stage for the relationships we form well into adulthood. If there is a nurturing bond, one where the caregiver is attuned to the needs of their child, then healthy and balanced relationships are forged. But if the bond is broken time and again by emotional distance, then the child learns that the love they once felt, has betrayed them, trust becomes fickle and the bond they once built disintegrates.

This, I imagine, is where extreme independence is adopted. Not knowing if we are accepted by those who are supposed to love us unconditionally, would add an undercurrent of uncertain fear to our everyday interactions with just about everyone we meet. The lesson learned is that no one is trustworthy, and we need to protect ourselves. So we learn to survive, feeling the only person we’re able to trust is ourselves, and that’s only if we somehow learn to attune to our own needs. Which most likely wouldn’t be the case.

From this perspective, it’s easy to see how trust relates to fear for our belonging, and abuse of this trust by loved ones, the source of our belonging, leads to our feeling alone, like we have no one to rely on. So we rely solely on ourselves.

Extreme independence then, is really a form of extreme isolation. And there’s a difference between isolation and independence. There’s a sense of empowerment that comes with the image of being independent. It’s often romanticized as the loner, striking out on his own, braving the wilderness, armed with only his wits. There’s a sense of being able to handle whatever may come up, no matter how difficult it may be. Which is a trait I feel like we’d all like to embody.

Isolation however, is something that leaves us weaker as an individual, less resilient. It’s used by most societies as the main form of punishment, to separate from the greater whole of our communities. And if we see this type of isolation as punishment, then staying in this isolation is a form of unrealized self punishment, what Buddha called the “second arrow”.

The first arrow is the breaking of the initial trust from the caregivers. Something that we have no control over. The second arrow however is something we do to ourselves, regardless of who we learned the initial lessons from. So if we continue to isolate, after we separate from those who had done the abandoning, then we are continuing to do ourselves harm, even if it’s the only way we know how to be.

This is why isolation is so debilitating, it leaves us with the inability to care for ourselves by being unable to connect emotionally with others, because we feel it’s protecting us by doing what’s in our “best interests”. But also why “extreme independence” is so destructive, when disguised as a virtue, and not seen for the damaging isolation it can be.

For sure there are times we need to take a break from everything, and that’s healthy. Going to your favorite coffee shop to journal, or draw up your monthly budget while sipping on a warm cup of your favorite tea or coffee, can be just the right way to slow down a little and gain some much needed perspective. But when you check your texts, and the last four times you checked in with a “loved one” is on major holidays or a birthday, something’s amiss.

And unfortunately, what’s amiss usually involves more than one person. So even if you realize that you’ve been the one who has been working under the guise of extreme independence, unless the other people in your life are or have been open to building, and fostering a reciprocating relationship, than you may be left with the hard realization that you’re sort of still in the same place.

And this can be a tough place to be. How do you keep the door open, to possibly reconnect, especially if it’s a painful prospect of being abandoned again? I don’t know that I have the answer to that, but I know what helps. Fostering healthy new relationships.

The more healthy, robust relationships we build, that are based in mutual respect and understanding, the more resilient we become to the ups and downs of all our relationships. And by “keeping the door open”, I don’t mean we have to stay loyal to the lessons of ways of being in unhealthy relationships we learned from the past. Unlearning those lessons should be priority. Instead we forge new bonds, learn new lessons, ones that leave us feeling good, about ourselves and others.

Once we have a blueprint, a map on how to navigate a healthy relationship, one we want to be in, then we bring that along with us if we attempt to reconnect with someone who has historically been difficult to connect with. So we don’t fall into the familiar terrain or old patterns of the unhealthy ways we used to interact.

It definitely takes patients, but with some persistence, you may just find yourself surrounded with caring, loving and a healthy support network. So do not give up hope! There are healthier times ahead, we only need go out there and bring them to fruition. And remember, you don’t need to do it alone. Peace 🙂

Image Credits:“THE DARKNESS IS ON THE WAY/ ARE WE GOING TO BE ISOLATED?” by HORIZON is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

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