Relax, You Don’t Have to be Dying to Take a Sick Day

The result? Feeling tired and run down most of the time. Also never having time to relax or do something for the fun of it.

I’ve recently been reading a travel book about New England, to get to know Boston and the region a little better and to relax a bit more in my place of origin. Also to look for some places to travel to, maybe for a weekend or a day trip. While I was reading the bio of my people, I was informed that we are known for or thriftiness and our being industrious. This struck me as odd. Mostly because I don’t see New Englanders as having these traits in abundance. But the more I thought about it, the more the evidence started to pile up. I just couldn’t see the forest for the New England Foliage.

My family in particular are very thrifty. We will go a great distance to find the best prices and deals on the things we buy. I remember many a car rides to outlets and discount retailers, looking for a bargain to bring home. And I think we did it mostly for sport. For the bragging rights, to say we got the cheapest price. We are intense about the things we do. And the intensity we bring to shopping, we bring to other areas in our lives as well. Which brings me to number two on the list, our work ethic.

Being Intense on the Job

Thinking back to the travel book, I was realizing how spot on their assessment was. At least of my New England family. Growing up for me, hard work was a given and to relax was to be lazy. There was no tolerance for those unwilling to pull their own weight. This was made clear to me in one of my first jobs as a bus boy in the restaurant my mother worked for.

I was probably 13 years old at the time and my only other working experience was when I had delivered news papers. I never experienced a traditional work environment before and especially not one as tough as a kitchen. On my first day, no more than 3-4 hours into my shift, my mother pulled me aside and yelled at me for being lazy. I was 13, three hours into my first shift and at the only place I had ever worked and I was already expected to know how to preform my duties and do them perfectly. These were the expectations that were set for me and my family. We definitely needed a lesson in how to relax.

How We Look Doing What We Do

Looking back now, I understand how connected my performance was to how my mother viewed herself moving through her work environment. In her eyes, I was a direct reflection of who she thought herself to be. And the one thing she was not going to tolerate was being correlated with being lazy. This was where my work ethic was forged.

So I worked hard. Mostly because I wanted to feel accepted and loved. But I worked from a fearful place. One where I was afraid to relax for fear of being seen as lazy. I adopted my family’s serious demeanor because I wanted to be seen as someone who doesn’t play games. Someone who gets the job done and does it without having to be told how. Also to garner respect. Because this, I was taught, was the mark of a man. But this way of living left me with an intensity that made me slightly mean and definitely unapproachable. And little in the way of tools to help build solid foundations for relationships.

In a more recent experience, while at work, I was being told that I was working too hard. Also that I was difficult to talk to because I had an air of undeserved superiority about me. This wasn’t the first time I had been told I was difficult to manage either. I was let go of a job that I was particularly good at because I didn’t have any people skills. This was jarring because it flew in the face of the values I had been raised with. Which was that working hard and productivity are first priority. Everything else is inconsequential. Being able to relax was at the bottom of the list. But what I was coming to learn was, I had been mislead.

Listening to Our Bodies & Learning to Relax

This type of intensity doesn’t come without its toll. More recently, I decided to take a day off from work because I was exhausted. I had just worked two doubles, back to back, 12 hour days and was feeling worn out. So I called in to my work place and told them I needed the day. They said “I hope you feel better”, and I got back to taking some much needed rest.

Later on in the day, when I was speaking to my father about taking the day off, he was growing agitated with the topic as we discussed it. He was asking probing questions about my decision until I finally asked if he felt uncomfortable with what I had done. Calling in without actually being sick. He said he was and that it was something you just don’t do. He also told me that I don’t work that hard anyway so it shouldn’t be such a big deal to muscle through the day. Unhealthy to say the least.

Well, as the week progressed, I was feeling worse and worse. I worked through the last two days of the week, but by the time Friday night came around, while I was finishing up dinner I knew I was definitely feeling ill. I knew that I would wake in the morning feeling sick and that me taking the day off in the middle of the week was most likely my body telling me that I was tired, stressed and getting sick. So it’s time to take care of yourself and relax. Something I’m not used to doing and if it were up to my family, something I wouldn’t do at all.

Take the Day, Trust Yourself

My body was telling me something that I have been ignoring for far to long. Me and my family have been neglecting our physical needs for as long as I can remember. “Muscling through it” should be at the top of our family crest. And if the need to feel belonging wasn’t drive enough for me to try and work myself to death, I was also being guilted into working more than my body could handle. All because it was making my family feel “uncomfortable”.

I had been stripped of my autonomy because it was too difficult for someone else to see me as being unreliable, or even worse, lazy. Even though I was receiving nothing but encouragement from my places of employment. I was 13 all over again, trying to live up to an impossible standard at the expense of my better judgement and overall health. This, I declared, was unhealthy and unreasonable. Something needed to change in my life and I was the one who had to put it into action.

Trust Your Intuition But Know Your Limits

This is where I am deciding to take the time if I feel I need it. There are some things I’ve come to know about myself. I know I’m a hard worker, to a fault. I take pride in a job well done and usually, enjoy the work. But I can push myself beyond my limits. Knowing these characteristics, I am now able to search for feelings and flags around my work ethic.

How this looks in action is, if I’m thinking about taking a day off, I first need to trust that this is coming from a caring and trustworthy place in myself. This way, when the voice of my family chimes in with phrases such as, “you don’t work that hard anyway” or “don’t be lazy”, I can challenge those thoughts and the emotions of guilt and shame that make me uncomfortable and accompany my thoughts. I can then sit in the dis-ease and make a decision based on what is best for me and my body’s needs. Not the expectations of my family.

These are the healthy self-care lessons I was never taught. And they’re ones that I’m deciding to implement while reparenting myself. It isn’t easy, but neither is the alternative of working myself to death. And I’d rather be in a healthy mental space than buried under stress from the unachievable standards of a dysfunctional past.

Finding the Support to Make the Change

And none of what I’ve laid out above would have been possible if it wasn’t for the healthy support I received from my friends and role models along the way. For instance, my therapist has been a huge wealth of support for me. If I didn’t have a trained professional who was able to give me another perspective asides from my dysfunctional world view, I don’t know that I would have been able to see outside of what I was steeped in. The unhealthy values of my family.

And without a friend to text, or to grab a beer and burger with to talk about what’s happening in my life, I could have easily withdrew. Losing out on a much needed perspective shift. Or some understanding and empathy. And these are the elements that I was missing when I was too afraid to connect. Especially because connecting with others has meant being hurt and taken advantage of in my past.

Luckily for me, when I decided to change my way of living, I had a few friends willing to stand by me through the change. And it was these friends, who allowed me to change without the judgements or criticisms, that showed me what it felt like to be supported. Something that had been lacking in almost all of my previous relationships.

Why Support Matters

Because if it wasn’t for my newly found support, I would have gone on living my life as though I had to meet the impossible standards of my past. The standards that said it is not only normal to work 6 days a week and that 12 hour days are the norm, but it’s also expected. And not that difficult.

The result? Feeling tired and run down most of the time. Also never having time to relax or do something for the fun of it. That’s why we need the kind of support that says, “you look tired, when was the last time you had a day off?” Otherwise, life is a difficult mess. And it’s from this mindset that I want to approach how I budget my resources. With self-care being at the forefront of my assessments. And this is so much easier when you have people in your corner cheering you on. Reminding you what the healthiest version of you looks like.

Because we need these reminders when we wake up after working two, 12 hour days back to back. The reinforcement that gives us the nudge to pick up the phone and text or call our boss to tell them we need to take the day off. Reminders to tell us to do what’s bet for us.

Take the Day & be Kind

If you’re anything like I am, when you decide to take care of yourself you’ll be inundated with guilty thoughts and feelings. It’s difficult enough feeling fatigued and vulnerable when we are feeling sick or super stressed. Then add on the guilt and feeling that you’re failing in some way and we’re making an already bad situation worse. So remember the kindness that we’ve cultivated in our relationships with our supports. Once we do that, we can then extend that kindness to ourselves.

And don’t forget to relax! I know this is a tough one. Especially by those who are riddled with feelings of guilt for feeling as though they’re underachieving. But it is an essential part to feel your best. Nobody has ever guilted themselves into a healthier version of them self ; ) Recently I’ve come up with a few lines to repeat to myself with the help of my therapist. These are there to remind me that it’s okay to relax. And maybe most importantly, to take it a little easier on myself.

So keep an eye on your self and your energies, emotions and physical being. Rest when you are tired, eat when you are hungry and take the space you need to feel your best. If you need a mental health day to recoup, take the day. Nobody knows what you need more than yourself. It may be a big responsibility, but it’s a rewarding one. And head over to The Good Trade if you need some inspo on ways to relax. Peace & thanks for reading : )

Image Credits: “sick day” by jamelah is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Relaxing: As a Man This Isn’t So Easy

Recently, I’ve been making relaxing a priority in my life. Though this has proven to be much more difficult than I thought it would be. Just sitting still was difficult. I felt as though I was supposed to be productive in some way. This led me to feel guilty about just being as I was. All of this seemed strange to me, seeing as how I used to have no problem relaxing. But when I thought back to those times I was relaxed, I realized I was usually in front of a screen, drinking a beer or mixed drink. Something I’ve gotten out of the habit of doing. So I thought about what most people consider to be a relaxing endeavor and I settled on taking a bath.

How Fixing My Bathtub Led to Me Relaxing

But before I could take a bath, I needed to fix the overflow drain on my bath tub first. I had tried taking baths in the past, only my attempt was thwarted when I realized a large amount of water had pooled under the bathtub drain. Then I watched a few videos that suggested looking at the gasket on the overflow drain to see if it was cracked. I checked the gasket and it seemed to be fine, except when I went to unscrew the plate, that held the overflow drain to the pipe, it was barely screwed in.

So I assumed this was the issue. I tightened the plate and went to my local hardware store to get a drain stopper for the tub and to get a second opinion. They said that should probably do it, but to give a call back if I’m still having trouble. So I paid for my stopper, left the store and hopped on the bus, eager to try my newly fixed bathtub. But something didn’t feel quite right.

What Taking a Bath Says About Being a Man

When I got home, I was excited to see if I had taken care of the issue. So I set myself to cleaning the bathroom (something that was long overdue) and try out my new way of relaxing. I cleaned the bathroom, and after finishing up with the tub, I popped the new drain stopper in and turned on the water. Hopefully the tub would fill, the overflow drain would do its job and I would be on my way to relaxing that evening. Fingers crossed, I filled the tub.

To my surprise, it worked! I had a working tub and it only cost me the price of a rubber stopper. Bathroom clean and tub working properly, I set out to a local store to buy a bath bomb to enhance my bath taking experience. But still, something didn’t feel right. I wasn’t quite sure what it was. But I left the house again in search of a bath bomb.

And I can’t remember if I Googled ways that men destress while I was on my way to the store or at home, but when I did, it was eye opening. The first page was filled with, not things men do to relax, but how a woman can relax her stressed out man. This was crazy to me! Somehow, men had outsourced the job of relaxing to their partners?

Taking Responsibility for Our Relaxing & Emotions as Men

I still couldn’t believe some of the advice I was reading, or rather, the audience it was directed to. “Give your man a massage” and “actively listen to your man” were some of the items suggested to calm down your stressed out man. Now don’t get me wrong, I feel that these are good things in general practice, but not as the only source of stress release for men.

As it was, self-care is something that is relegated to the domain of the feminine. Now de-stressing and relaxing are also the responsibility of women as well. This seemed strange to me. Upon further inspection, when I found a Men’s Health article about how men are relaxing, they suggested activities such as playing golf or hitting the heavy bag. This was also unhelpful.

One suggestion said to “Hit the sauna after you workout”. And later in the slide mentioned that men felt more relaxed after a therapy session if they sat in a sauna. The title and the content weren’t even correlated, leading to more confusion. No wonder men have a difficult time relaxing. With advice like this, it’s easy to see the disconnect.

It’s Okay to Like What You Like

So I went out for the night on a date with a woman I had recently met, with plans to take a bath in my newly fixed tub when I got home. We went to a local restaurant, then for a walk on a near by beach. The night went well and we parted promising to make plans to meet again.

After the date, I was on my way to try out my newly fixed bath tub. I got home, readied the tub, brought a few candles in the bathroom and settle in for the night. Ready to enjoy the feeling of weightlessness. I hopped in the tub after putting in the bath bomb and relaxed for a long while. It was better than I expected.

The scents and the feeling of lightness and the dimly lighted room all helped to set the the tone for a relaxing post date evening. While I was in the bath, I was thinking about how so much of what we like is determined by what others perceive is likable, depending on our gender or other measures that have nothing to do with how we feel doing them. For example and from my experience, it’s okay to like being in a hot tube as a man, but a bath is too feminine. This doesn’t make sense to me. You like what you like. And that shouldn’t be an indicator of anything other than, liking what you like.

Relaxing Shouldn’t Be Relegate to a Specific Gender

More to the point, relaxing and what we do to relax also shouldn’t be judged to be the task of a specific gender. It seems our culture has made the act of relaxing, the job of women. I’m not sure how this happened socially, but for my family, I think it has something to do with feeling taken care of.

In my family, the men were hard and the women were soft. It was the man’s job to take care of the family. And all the toxically masculine ideals that went along with the job. And the men had to always be seen as “strong”, physically and mentally, never “weak”. But what we perceived as “weak” was actually being sensitive, kind or caring. All of these traits, we collectively off loaded onto woman. Deeming them as “weak”, because we were too afraid to feel these traits. Most likely because they had been abused in us. All too often by those we made carry them for us. Creating an unhealthy power dynamic.

And these were the relationship dynamics I grew up under. As men we never spoke about emotions because that wasn’t our job. But unfortunately those we were carrying were stressful ones. For example, needing control, anger and unforgiving were a few of the default ways of being as a man. So, we were usually stressed and frustrated with those around us. This left us unable to relax.

When Relaxing is Provided By Something or Someone & Not Found In Yourself

As a man, I learned that relaxing was something I needed to acquire outside of myself. For me, this meant drinking lots of alcohol at night and sitting in front of a screen. Or eating something unhealthy and lots of it. This was also something I had modeled for me in my youth. There weren’t many trips to a local hiking trail, or time spent around a board game. We seldom spoke about feelings. And when we did, we usually told each other how they were feeling. This added another layer of confusion to knowing whether or not what we were feeling was actually true.

So I never learned how to just be, without help from something else. This lead me to adopt unhealthy behaviors. Habits such as smoking, drinking too much coffee/alcohol, over eating, using pornography. The list goes on. Whatever I could do to distract myself from sitting and just being, I would. But this changed for me when I fell in love with a woman.

Learning That Relaxing Happens From the Inside Out

Something switched in me one day when I was working with someone I truly felt seen and heard by. This combination made me feel as though I could finally be accepted and loved. I was in love with the idea of being loved as I was. That’s when I started meditating, stopped drinking and started other healthy habits.

Habits such as running and yoga. I was cooking more often and more healthy meals as well. I was cultivating a healthier lifestyle around the person I wanted to spend the rest of my life with. Only I hadn’t realized our foundation wasn’t as solid as I had thought it was. She left me and I was left on my own. But fortunately for me, I had a host of healthy habits I had cultivated that would serve me well.

I continued to meditate and learned I could relax, on my own as I was. It wasn’t easy. And I still get caught in what Tara Brach calls, “the trance” of cravings. But now I’m able to know that they are fleeting. The old adage of, “this too shall pass”, fits well this description.

Another way to look at it is from a post I read on New Buddhist, “It’s odd. Instead of feeling like I have to do something about it – if I just relax, recognize it for what it is – I find that it’s not such a driving force as I was thinking it was.” – Michael.

Find What Helps You Most

And finally, we all have different experiences and different circumstances in our lives. Finding the situations that trigger your stress is the first step to handling your stress as a man. In healthy and caring ways. There’s no need to muscle through your stress. Or to taking it out on others. Find what brings you peace in a way that’s in line with your needs. For me, it was taking a bath being surrounded by the scents I love.

For you, maybe it’s a walk in the woods. Or finding a cozy place to curl up and read a book. I like to listen to music in a ambient lighting, listening to a few of my playlists tailored to my moods. Finding what brings you peace will serve you well over time and lead to a healthier way of relaxing. Peace : ) & thanks for reading.

If you have ways you enjoy relaxing as a man, I’d love to here about them in the comments section below! Thanks : )

Image Credits: “bath caddy with book wine in glass and scrub brush with foam bubble bath tub towel” by PersonalCreations.com is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Aggression and Dominance Are Not Benchmarks of Masculinity

I’ve been dealing with some pretty heavy topics lately, so why change the pace now : ). I want to talk a little about anger and aggression, how they were related to dominance in my past and a little about how to avoid them taking control of our actions and internal, emotional worlds. This is a tough one for many, including myself, so if you’re sensitive to the subject, take it slow. Good advice for many subjects for sure.

When is it Okay to Display Your Temper?

In the culture I grew up in, in the eighties and early nineties, it seemed that losing your temper was no big deal. People were pretty angry a majority of the time. And if they weren’t already angry, they were apt to fly into a rage with expedience. At least, this was how I remember many of the role models in my generation being.

But we were also idolizing characters from action movies who were supposed to be the epitome of masculinity. I remember a scene from one such movie, I believe it was “Rambo 3”, where Rambo cauterized a gunshot wound by breaking open a bullet, placing the gunpowder on his wound and igniting the powder! This seems a tad unreasonable to me : ). But those were the times that we were living in. And every boy and man alike, that I knew at least, wanted to be that type of man.

This type of bravado was the norm and something to aspire to in the culture of my youth. And this is nothing new, to be sure. My father will sometimes tell me about the westerns he watched as a child. Clint Eastwood being another unreasonable role model for a young child. Though when you grow up around this type of violence, it’s bound to leach into your personality some. This being said, we also have control over our own actions and the ways in which we relate to our emotions of anger and our aggression.

Parenting and Aggression

And this type of aggression was definitely present in my family’s parenting styles. And I don’t want to make this a post about how unjustly I was treated a child. I’m not holding any grudges against those who mistreated me. It was common practice back then and I can only imagine the fear that comes with raising a child. That said, I gave both my parents a run for their money when it came to parenting me. It couldn’t have been easy, that’s for certain.

But what happens when we are consistently showing our aggression to exercise dominance over those we love? From my experience, losing your temper without attuning to those you hurt, if done often enough, leads to feelings of severed belonging. This was most definitely how I felt, and the more I speak to my parents, the more I’m realizing it’s how they felt too. So why did we choose fear, dominance and aggression, over tempered and patient guidance?

I’m sure that fear is a large part of the picture, but fear from what? I can remember being torn apart by my grandfather, verbally, when I was very young, four maybe five. I believe that was one of the many pieces of the puzzle that turned my idea of family from something that was warm and caring to something terrifying and anxiety provoking.

A Legacy of Brutality

I believe my family held on to this parenting style so tightly because it was all they knew. They were too wrapped up in their emotions of anger and feelings of loosing control that they couldn’t see that there were other ways of doing and being.

For anyone that’s been caught in the grip of an emotion, you’ll know that it’s no easy to see your way out of it. We’re so focused on what’s happening to us in the moment that we can’t relate to anything outside of our experience at the time, before or after. And I believe this is where my parents found themselves when they were using tactics such as aggression and dominance to control their surroundings.

I imagine they were feeling in over their heads. Responsible for the little lives they brought into the world and on top of that, the guidance they received from their parents was probably just as brutal, if not more so. For this reason I can empathize with those who have experienced this type of aggression.

Changing the Ways We Relate to Our Aggression

Though, even though we may have been relating with each other through use of force of will or trying to control using aggression, it isn’t how we have to be with one another. We can choose to relate to one another with kindness and loving attention. Easier said than done, right? So how do we make the change from feeling our only option is loosing our temper to relating to others with kindness? For me, it started with slowing down long enough to understand what I was feeling, while I was feeling it.

Slowing Down the Pace

I used to drink a lot of coffee. And on occasion I would take an Adderall to help me through the day. This was however, unsustainable. It left me unable to recognize how I was feeling while I was in the middle of having an emotion. All I felt was the buzz from whatever I ingested and in a way I was really running from what was right here. Which most of the time was a lot of fear and anxiety. So what was I so afraid of?

Most of the time it was connecting with people in an authentic way. I had been so cut apart from my family growing up, that I was massively ashamed of the person I was. Not realizing that their critical judgements of me, is not who I am as a person. But I was so focused on the uneasy feelings that I didn’t have the bandwidth to take in new information. Information that could have helped me to feel more at ease with my emotions.

Meditation Helps

I stopped drinking coffee a while back, maybe seven years ago. This helped to slow my pace down long enough to know how I was feeling. I drink a cup of tea here and there, but for the most part I’ve given up my caffeine intake. It isn’t always easy, but I feel better when I’m more in my emotional space. And around the time I gave up drinking coffee, I also started to meditate. This helped immensely with coming to know my feelings.

The longer I stayed, the more I was able to understand what was happening to me in the moment. I could now give names to the emotions I was trying to speed past before. And it feels good to finally connect with my emotional world again. Something that hasn’t been the case since my early childhood. It’s something that takes a lot of patients, but once you’re able to sit with your emotions, it’s as though a whole new world opens up to you. But once you slow down, how do you know what to do next? In order to avoid falling back into old familiar patterns of aggressive ways of being? For me, it started with recognizing what was happening to me, while I was experiencing it.

Patience and Asking Inwardly, The Answer Usually Will Come to You

What I’ve been doing, as a way of recognizing what’s been happening in my emotional world while slowing down enough to recognize what’s happening is, when I feel an intense emotion, I pause. After I let the emotion pass, I then sit with my experience of what just happened. Then I ask why it’s here, what does the emotion need?

A great example of this, and one I’ve come to understand more recently is, sometimes when I here a child’s voice ask a question, I suddenly feel a sensation in my groin and throat. My groin due to me experiencing my initial abuse, and my throat because when I told my caregiver what happened, they turned their back on me. So the sensations are really trying to tell me that, my emotional self is still waiting to be heard by my caregiver, long after the time for attunement has passed.

Afterwards, I like to take a page from Tara Brach’s book and nurture the emotional self that’s hurting. This step is crucial for building the trust that was severed so long ago. First, by my parents, and secondly, by myself for picking up treating myself the ways they left off. I assure myself that I’m safe and secure. I remind myself of the ways I’m taking care of myself now. My workout, my cooking healthy meals and taking time to achieve my financial and career goals. All in all it has been so healing to nurture myself after the waves of fear subside. It’s been a really gratifying process.

The Frustration of Not Feeling Heard

Another way that the fear comes to manifest in my day to day is, when I’m texting. I use swipe-to-text, so often times my words are misspelled when the auto correct doesn’t always work as intended. This brings up a primal fear in me though. Something that is more unsettling than just a spelling mistake. And I believe it has to do directly with, not being able to communicate myself in the way I feel I need to.

This is directly linked to my parent turning their back on me when I told them about my abuse. But now, instead of reacting from a place of anger and slamming my phone down or seething with anger, I stop, recognize what’s happening inside of me and where it’s coming from. This is the time where I can see the fear for what it is, the fear of not being understood and feeling unsafe because of it.

And this is something that we all have a mild anxiety about. Not feeling heard or seen. Our feelings not being attuned with to some degree. This is natural, and something to be nurtured and cared for. That being said, it isn’t always easy. These are the times where we may need to practice a little self-care, after experiencing a wave of unsettling emotions.

Self-Care And Nurturing Your Emotional World

For me, I have a list of resources that I know I can rely on to sooth myself when I need a little extra boost to keep me grounded. Here’s a copy of my list:

Resource list: Don’t feel like you have to settle for something lesser. You deserve the best possible life. Be persistent.

Herbal tea. Friends and family. Journal. Clean living and work spaces. Music. My plants. Smiley faces. My blog. Hot showers. Candles.

Values:

  • Kindness to myself and others, be forgiving, don’t talk badly about others or myself.
  • Physically fit and a healthy lifestyle so I can avoid injury and stay healthy. Another way to care for myself 🙂
  • Patience and calm
  • Women are not sex objects
  • Hard working and take pride in my work. Do a good job whatever I’m doing. Don’t cut corners.
  • Honesty
  • Stay away from drugs. alcohol is okay once and a while.
  • Find the time to relax and take care of myself.
  • Be humble, watch my judgements of people.
  • Stay clean and organized
  • Don’t over consume, less is more.

I added a list of values to my resource list due to me needing a reminder of the ways I want to be in the world. It isn’t always easy to follow, but it’s worth the while. And I feel better for it : )

I hope you’ve found this helpful in some way. As always, I’d love to hear from you and maybe some of your fears and resources. And remember, you’re not in this alone, we’re all in this together. Peace & thanks for reading : )

Image Credits: “Anger” by Isengardt is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Making Friends With Your Fear

Fear is something I have plenty of, and I know I’m not alone. It comes in many different forms as well. Depending on the situation, it can range from fear for your physical security, food insecurities, living situation… The list goes on. But regardless of the source, the feelings are still the same.

It’s difficult to handle, and most of us, including myself, spend a lot of time running from it. I’ll go into a few of my fears and how I’ve run in the past. But also how I’m now learning to face my fears and become stronger for it. It’s no easy sometimes, that’s for sure. But it gets easier the more you stay with the feelings. Let’s take a look at some of the ways I used to run from my fears. Maybe you’ll see some similarities with yourself and find comfort in knowing that you’re not alone.

The Fear & Why I Ran From It

For me, the fear is a sense that no matter what happens, I’m not going to be okay. The worry sets in and I think about the terrible consequences of whatever I’m worried about, taking up residency. The result is not ideal. And it also makes regular visits. For me, it can feel like a consistent fixture in my emotional life.

If the fear itself wasn’t bad enough, I would also worry about when the fear was going to return. This cycle would replay itself, creating fear upon fear. I’d become fearful, the fear subsided, then I get anxious about feeling that fear again. And when all the fear and anxiety became too much, I ran from it. This is what Tara Brach calls, “the second arrow”. The first is the fear and the second is worrying about the first.

I would use a myriad of methods to avoid the fear. Alcohol and pornography being my two main methods. But distractions such as T.V. were another way to avoid my emotional experience. Anyway I could numb out the discomfort I would give a try.

Running Doesn’t Work

But this never really worked for me. The fear and anxiety would consistently return. Like an old friend, I knew it’s embrace all too well. Or enough to know that I needed to pick up a drink and numb out the feelings that were too much to handle. I was drinking coffee and taking Adderall to speed past the feelings of anxiety and drinking alcohol and taking muscle relaxers to numb out the feelings I was speeding away from in the mornings. It was exhausting.

And most of my running was due to me feeling abandoned. I was left and abandoned by everybody that was close to me from a very early age. My entire family and a good portion of my friends, all my best friends and every would-be role model, all vanished like it was magic.

I would later learn to detach from others before they got too close to me. All to save myself from the pain of yet another abandonment. This was no bueno. But this way of detaching left me feeling even more lonely and still more abandoned. So by the time my marriage dissolved and the woman I thought I loved abandoned me, I knew something had to change.

Staying With The Fear

There’s a Mark Twain quote that I’ve always loved, and it’s something that I remember in times when I’m caught up in the fear. It goes, “Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear, not absence of fear.” This reminds me that fear is normal. It’s okay for it to be here. Only I shouldn’t let the fear control my actions.

Tara Brach has a talk about dealing with the fear in a direct way. Her method is, attend and befriend. And it’s something that has been helpful for me in my journey on healing from past traumatic events. Her message is essentially that fear is a wise emotion that’s trying to tell us something. Usually about how we’re currently in danger, or perceived danger, in some way.

For me, and I’m sure for a lot of us, the traumatic or painful events that have formed our fears, reshape themselves in current and similar situations, to try to keep us safe. Only there is no longer a need to feel fearful in our current situation. Because those old events are no longer happening.

For example my fear sometimes comes in the form of connecting with others. This was a way for me to remind myself that other people have been historically unsafe to get close to because they will end up abusing me in some way. But this isn’t true anymore. Or at least I’m able to keep myself safe now if someone does hurt me or tries to abuse me again.

Keeping Ourselves Safe

This was a big task for me. Not to mention an important skill to learn. Because I was never taught how, but also abused by those who were supposed to teach me. I was feeling pretty unsafe a good portion of the time. Especially around those closet to me. So I needed to learn how to feel at ease around others or I was going to end up leading a very isolated existence as I once had.

Learning to Trust

I first had to learn that other people are trust worthy, and generally good people. This was confusing for me. Because all the people I had around me in my early years were not only distrustful of others, but they were actively looking to take advantage of other people as well. This definitely sent me the message that people are dangerous. But also that I needed to act in the ways I had modeled for me in order to survive. I.e. mean, distrustful and to pull away from those who got too close.

To counter these old messages, I had to learn to trust and rely on others. I started small. First with those who were closest in, then extending that trust outward. I knew I could count on a handful of friends and family in the beginning. Four or five people that I engaged with regularly. This was a huge step for me and no easy task.

Making Excuses

I was taught that since I couldn’t trust anybody, I had to do everything on my own. So relying on others for help with even the smallest of tasks was a challenge. I would make excuses for why I was doing things solo. Such as, “no-one does it as well as I do”, needing it to be perfect. Or the reverse, “can’t anybody do anything right?!” Both ways of essentially saying that I was unable to rely on others, while really just being too scared to ask for help.

On the up side, when I finally swallowed my pride and learned to ask for help, things became so much easier. I was no longer running around frantically, trying to keep all the plates I had spinning from crashing down. I was still working hard, but those I invited into my life were willing to lend a hand. And proved to work as hard as I was.

Letting Those You Trust Help

A great example of letting those I learned to trust help me is with my student loans. As I’ve said, when I came to and realized I was living a life lead by fear, I was isolated from just about everybody. I had also racked up just north of 100k in debt, 78k being in student loans. This was quite the wake up call.

So I started in on my debts using the Dave Ramsey method of throwing everything I had at my debt. This included picking up a part time job which turned into my full-time gig along the way. But with such a large sum to pay back, it seemed as though it would take a life’s time to pay back all that I owed.

So when I started the conversation with those I chose to let into my circle, I was surprised to find out how willing they were to help me out of the hole I had dug. As they saw me working to pay off my debt, a few of my supports offered to chip in 1k for every 10k I paid off. I was ecstatic to receive this news and made my efforts just that much easier knowing that I’d be finished with my goals earlier than I had planned.

And with the promising news of president Biden saying that he will make a decision about debt forgiveness by the fall of ’22, I reached out to another support who offered to chip in some as well. This was most unexpected as the relationship I have with this support has been strained in the past. But I find the more positive I am, along with the work I’m willing to put into the relationships, the more support I receive in all sorts of ways. But this type of relationship building takes work.

Working To Keep These Relationships Alive To Ward Off Fear

Many of the relationships I am currently rebuilding have sustained some pretty intensive damage in the past from both parties. As I’ve said before on this blog, we were mean. Especially towards one another. So as I was learning how to care for myself by reparenting myself around self-care, I was also extending what I learned to those I was beginning to trust.

What was never taught me, and what is probably a no-brainer to most people is, that when you’re in a relationship with others, you need to attend to it. Otherwise you will be left with something that doesn’t quite resemble connection. And definitely is void of support.

Learning to Support One Another in Relationship

For example, when I started building my relationship with my father and step-mother again, I had neglected our relationship so badly that we had almost no shared common interests and nothing to talk about. Our conversations were overly formal and guarded with very little emotional content.

As time passed, and while I was learning to trust people again, I began to include my dad and step-mom into the habits and rituals I was learning to keep for myself. One of them being my self-care dinners I make for myself once a week.

Since these dinners had been so beneficial for my well being, I decided to extend this newly developed skill in caring for myself to those I trusted. And what came from it was, family dinner Fridays. We now come together every Friday night, one person will pick a recipe to cook and we all make the meal together. The food is almost always good. The mood and interactions are definitely less formal now and we’re all enjoying not only ourselves, but the company of each other. And we feel more like a family because of it.

Ask The Friend For Love

And this type of relationship building extend to friend as well. I was recently having a conversation with a friend about how difficult it was to pay down debt when the numbers feel so large. We are both in similar situations and have been a good source of support for one another.

I was thinking about how I wanted to reach out to my friend more often, seeing as we only spoke maybe once every three weeks, when he told me that he was also feeling pretty isolated with the irregular hours he worked. Consequently having a lot of free time on his hands. I suggested that we hang out more often and he was more than happy to get together more regularly.

I had just assumed that he was busy living his own life and that if I reached out too often, I would be a burden to him in some way. This was not the case and in fact, most of my friends feel exactly the same way. So if you’re feeling as though you’re being a burden to your friends, don’t believe it! Have a conversation with them and find out how they feel before you make any judgements.

Living From A Place Of Support, Not Fear

Fear can be tricky. If we’re not careful, the fearful emotions we have will take the wheel and we’ll be in the passenger seat of our own life bus. This is how I spent a good portion of my time when it came to making decisions about the direction of where my life was heading. And it was definitely not a desirable place to be.

But when we choose to make friends with the fear, the fear of connecting to others, the fear of giving up the control of doing everything ourselves and release that isolation, we begin to heal from the fear. Like Mark Twain said, the fear is still there, only we are behind the wheel of our life bus and we can choose to let those who will support us, on for our journey and join in for some of the ride.

So fear not! Know that you are not alone and that the journey gets easier the more you’re able to let those who want to, help you. Peace, : ) and thanks for reading.

Image Credits: “O OUTRO LADO DO MEDO É A LIBERDADE (The Other Side of the Fear is the Freedom)” by jonycunha is marked with CC BY-SA 2.0.

Updated: 1/20/23

“It’s No Easy”-Melba, Sitting With The Difficult Emotions

Staying

Difficult emotions is something I have very little experience with. I’ve just started feeling all my emotions again, not just the difficult emotions. After running from them for so long, I had forgotten what they felt like. I used a lot of different modalities to run. Among them being, pornography, alcohol, eating and just plain being mean to others. When difficult emotions came up, such as fear, anxiety or sadness, it’s a safe bet that I was using something to avoid it. As my old co-worker and friend Melba would say, “it’s no easy”. And she’s right.

Running from my difficult emotions was not healthy. I saved up these difficult emotions until I released them in unhealthy ways as well. Anger for example was something I would hold onto and release in the form of cutting insults and condescending remarks. If you’re reading this and I’ve done or said something hurtful to you, let me apologize. I’m so sorry. I had no idea what I was doing.

You are What You Practice

This is something I’ve been skirting the edges of for a while, because I’m not sure it is really who I wanted to be. Not in a way where I’m trying to defer how I treated others by saying my intentions were good, but I don’t think I ever wanted to be, or be known as, mean. Or maybe more pertinent, bad-ass and callous.

I think what was so confusing for me was, that the more often I was mean to others, the more I felt bad about myself. I thought by acting superior to others, I would somehow be above the feelings of self-doubt and insecurity. But I was riddled with anxieties and the fear of not belonging. Which seems strange looking back because I was pushing everybody away with who I was acting as, what did I expect would happen? And all this because I was to afraid to stay in the difficult feelings.

Difficult Feelings: What Are They?

I imagine the difficult emotions are the same for everybody. The fear, the distrust and anxiety. The anger and the hate. The shame and guilt. We all feel them, but what makes them unique to our situation?

When I think about it, it doesn’t make a lot of sense that we don’t have a single way to handle these emotions that everybody is feeling. We’ve been dealing with them for so long that it seems someone should have found a way to “handle” that emotion, whatever it is. But the reason this is the case, I believe is, that everybody has a different origin story for their difficult emotional stories. Their own narratives.

What’s Your Story?

I believe that everybody has an original source and situation for where their pain comes from. We aren’t born mean or looking to harm others. It’s something that’s learned. Passed around from hurt person to hurt person. Just as the old adage says, “hurt people, hurt people”. I believe the source of our hurt comes from our initial, or most repeated infraction on our fragile selves.

This could come in the form of a constant stream of criticism from a parent. Or from years of emotional and physical neglect or abuse. Maybe one or more traumatic events happened through out our lives. Wherever the source comes from, the result is the same. We’re left with difficult emotions to process and feel our way through.

Running From Your Emotions

And if we’re not taught to handle or process these emotions using strong and healthy resources, the outcome usually isn’t good. I had picked up my care-givers’ tools for dealing with difficult feelings, the short list I listed above. But I wasn’t actually dealing with anything. These were the ways I was running from what would eventually catch up to me and lay me low without warning. I was only covering over what I didn’t want to come to terms with by pleasure seeking.

So when I was in a situation where I felt as though I were being judged, usually socially or with those closest to me, I drank. This helped to numb my experience of what was happening to me. Giving me a false sense of confidence that I used to judge others in hurtful ways. I wasn’t constantly living in a state of fear or anxiety, or of consistent judgements of others, but I was spending an awful lot of time there. And that is not a health head space to be in.

Superior or Insecure

Acting superior to others was another way of disconnecting from others and the possibility of being hurt by them. It was also something that was handed down to me by my caregivers. We had a sense of entitlement that was beyond reproach. We were just as flawed as everybody else, only we felt as though we were “better” in some way than what was happening around us.

I cringe a little now thinking about it, but I also understand the enormous amount of insecurity we were all feeling. Because when your self-worth hinges on one facet such as, how good you look naked, then being loved and accepted is an all or nothing condition. And that is a terrifying place to be. Especially if you’re being judged by your family in this way. So with so much working against us, how do we begin to change the ways we are acting in order to stay and feel through what we’ve been running from?

You Know Your Story, Now What?

Now that you’ve looked at some of the ways you were treated, which may have brought you to try and avoid the difficult emotions that resulted, the question then is, where do we go from here? Running hasn’t worked for me, so the natural solution I came to was, to stop the evasive tactics. I.e. the bad habits I picked up. Then I could start the work of changing the ways I handled myself by acting superior or being liberal with my anger in condescending ways.

Social Pressure & Fear

For me, being in social settings was something that triggered a great deal of insecurity in me. I felt so rejected by my care-givers, that the thought of being in a room with them while they pulled me apart like animals, flooded me with emotions of anxiety and insecurities of not belonging. Also questioning if I was even loved. If they even could love is something I’m coming to terms with now.

And when feelings of fear mixed with the thoughts that I was somehow offensive to my care-givers by virtue of being in their presence, were some of my first social cues, I would there after find myself questioning if I was wanted wherever I went. I was followed by a pervasive sense of self doubt in every social setting I found myself in. Never quite feeling as though I belonged.

This was usually where I would pick up a drink and throw loudly spoken opinions around. Numbing the fear while keeping others at a distance by belittling them and trying to make myself seem superior. This did not work however. And I found myself feeling more and more anxious the more I used these tactics to try and feel better about myself. So how did I stop the cycles or fear and anxiety in connecting with others?

Change What You do to Become Who You are

For me, I had to take stock of where I was in my life and how I got to feeling as anxious as I was feeling around others. I should mention that I still have feelings of anxiety in relationships sometimes. But it no longer overwhelms me as it used to. Leading to me drinking my way through them.

The first thing I did was separate myself from the social scene I used to be a part of. I took some time apart from the people that I had been spending most of my time with, to evaluate my relationships with and to them. How had I been acting around them and they me? Did I feel worse after being around them? When we were together, how were we connecting? Were they mean? Was I mean? Were we cutting others, or each other, apart to feel superior?

Or were we building each other up? Being a support for the other when dealing with difficult emotion and situations? Did we share our hopes and plans for the future with one another? Did we say and do thoughtful things for each other? Sadly the answer to most of the later questions were definitely not. Something needed to change.

What are Your Tools for Connecting?

Once I took stock of my relationships, I slowly released myself back into the wild one friend at a time. I got in touch with old friends and started rebuilding our relationships. Only this time I used a new set of tools to connect.

Listening was probably the most important of these tools. Inwardly and to others. In my past relationships, as I said above, I was loudly throwing my opinions up on whomever was around me. This left me unable to listen to what others were experiencing. But I was also surrounding myself with similarly minded people. Loudly validating whatever venom the other was spitting. This was something I learned from my care-givers as a child. Watching them do the same. Usually while drunk.

Listening & Responding

So I stopped forcing my opinion on others, and in the process changed some of my views to be more inclusive and kind. This was an added bonus to slowing down enough to listen to what the other was experiencing. But also, I was listening to what was coming up in me. This is the most direct way to learn what the other person is like. I was asking more questions, about their likes, dislikes, what their experiences are and stories they had to tell. This may seem like a basic friendship building block, but to me these were all new and exciting lessons.

I made it a point to share well thought out opinions and advice when asked. Instead of telling the person what was “right” according to me. Which was usually a blanket statement about how someone is, or group of people are or how they’re out to get us in some way. I was listening to and responding from my honest experiences. If someone had a question about finance, instead of me going on a rant about how the richest 1% are trying to control the world, I would ask what the specifics of their situation are. I listen inwardly to use my experience with debt and the info I had from the research I’ve done for myself and gave them an honest evaluation of what I think would be a sound and viable plan.

And I slowly did this with more and more people, until I found myself surrounded with friends that I truly felt a connection with. And it’s important to say that not everybody I reached out to was in a place to be able to connect again. We’re in different places and that’s something that I needed to accept while I’m rebuilding my burned bridges from past relationships. Not everybody is in a place to want to connect again. And that’s okay. There will be more people willing to step up and be a part of our newly renovated lives. Just from writing this blog, people have reached out to me that I never thought I would talk to again. And we’re better for it as well : ) Which leads me to another bonus of shifting our habits. Expect the unexpected!

Be Patient

I’ve only covered a small section of the feelings that may be difficult to stay with. I’ll be talking more about these in other posts. But know that this is a practice and something that takes a bit of time to feel comfortable with. It took me a great deal of practice to get to where I am and I’m still learning how to stay when it gets difficult. There’s a phrase in the meditation community that I learned from Tara Brach that goes, “sit, stay, heal”.

I think is a nice way to think of the practice of, not only meditation if you are practicing, but also learning to handle emotions. Especially if you weren’t given guidance in this area. So be patient, you’ll eventually get to where you’ll feel most at home in even the most difficult emotion. Peace & thanks for reading : )

Image credits: “creativecommons | incense burner” by *AndrewYoungPhoto* (writing_with_glass) is marked with CC BY 2.0.

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