Monday, October 23, 2017

23. I interrupt this series to practice what I preach.

I am sitting at a terminal in my beloved second home, the public library. It’s seven p.m. on a Monday night. I’ve worked all day, done the grocery shopping, and now it’s time to write.

Life hasn’t stopped being stressful, but I’d adjusted to the ever-present stresses and things were moving along swimmingly. And then the past couple months got bumpy. The bumps didn’t feel like speed bumps. They were the kind that seemed to cause my stress and anxiety to accelerate.

Then on Saturday, with six blog posts planned out, but not yet written, my four-year-old laptop’s charging port stopped working. I knew it was losing juice on Friday morning when the screen displayed: "The battery level is very low. Plug in the computer." The problem was the laptop WAS PLUGGED IN.

I ran downstairs. I grabbed my flash drive and ran back up the stairs. I went into the office where I store my external hard drive and went to town backing up files and photos I should have been backing up all along.

“Mom, have you saved Astrid?” Cadence’s first thought was of my book. And her question reminded me that while I did have it backed up, I hadn’t backed it up since working on it two weekends ago. With a calm determination, I breathed deeply and kept copying files. Gratefully, the laptop still had power after I’d completed the back up.

I’m annoyed that I’ve got to buy a new computer. I’m annoyed that I didn’t have all 31 posts written ahead. I’m annoyed by the inconvenience of having to make trips to the library to do my writing.

But actually more than anything, I’m grateful. I'm grateful that I had time to save all my stuff. Not having a computer at the ready means I have to be creative with my time management. And this: I’ve learned how to schedule my posts for the next few days. This was a feature I hadn’t employed before, but necessity demanded I figure it out, and put it to use, which may potentially ease the need to go to the library every day for the rest of the month.

The biggest thing I am grateful for? The test of whether I can take it easy with myself and my expectations when life doesn’t go as planned. Do I mean it when I write about being gentle with myself? Do my actions match my words?

This computer mess is giving me the opportunity to prove to myself that I really do. As a 31Days participant, I am part of a network of writers who cheer each other on for the month as we write and publish our posts and read each other’s words. I have often observed how hard on themselves these women are when they find themselves a day off their schedule, or they come down with a cold, or life simply gets in the way of the writing. For the past two years, I’ve cheered them on. I’ve reminded them that there are no real rules to this challenge. Writing and publishing for 31 days is a guideline. The world won’t come to an end if a day gets skipped or they have to finish the series after October 31.

Having my computer malfunction before the series ended presents an opportunity to tell myself the things above that I’ve shared with other writers. Am I listening? Do I believe my own words? Am I giving myself a break?

The answer is yes. A resounding yes. As I have said in the past, it will not matter in a week or a year on what day the series is completed. What’s most important is that a body of work will exist after a strenuous period of contemplation, writing, and publishing. That is where I am concentrating my focus, and I believe it wholeheartedly. I know these circumstances would have knocked me sideways two years ago. I appreciate the self-care I am offering myself in real time. I call that progress.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

22. Weekend Wisdom

"When fear makes your choices for you, no security measures on earth will keep the things you dread from finding you. But if you can avoid avoidance—if you can choose to embrace experiences out of passion, enthusiasm, and a readiness to feel whatever arises—then nothing, nothing in all this dangerous world, can keep you from being safe."

- Martha Beck

21. Weekend Wisdom

-For DH-

"If you ever meet someone brave and powerful enough to walk with you directly through your most unconscious wounds and shadow caves--someone with the stupefying courage to see through the chinks of your armor and then help you take it off--love them because they have done something for you which is impossible to do alone. They will show you the treasure you've been seeking all your life--and they can do this because they aren't afraid of your fear."

Friday, October 20, 2017

20. Relinquished Allegiance to the All-Mighty To-do List

I come from a hearty stock of do-ers on both branches of the family tree. Strong, determined farmers on one side and miners and blue-collar folks on another. I have always been surrounded by people who have worked hard. List makers who were devoted to checking things off the list. I don't know any other way.

But any good thing can become an obstacle in too great a supply.

A few years ago as I could feel the tectonic plates of my internal geography shifting, I began questioning my busy-ness and how well it was serving me. I began exploring the role of rest and sabbath in one's life, and how it might nourish and enrich the work I did.

The first noticeable benefit of sabbath appeared in my writing life. For years I dogged myself in periods where I was only thinking about what needed to be written. I noticed it particularly at work. I felt bad for all the moments I wasn't hunched over the keyboard. In time, I began to notice that when I did finally sit down to write, the words flowed more freely. The resting produced overflowing supplies of words when they were ready. Because I am stubborn, it took me awhile to accept this as part of my writing rhythm, but once I did, I used it to my advantage.

Years later I read the book, The Gift of Rest – Rediscovering the Beauty of the Sabbath by Senator Joseph Lieberman. I was struck by his dedication to observing the Sabbath through his Jewish faith in the midst of the life of a public servant. I kept thinking, "If this busy senator can slow down, press pause on his important responsibilities for one 24-hour period each week, surely so can I."

I do not observe Sabbath in the same way the Lieberman family does, but I have relinquished the guilt I used to feel if I wasn't "doing something" every moment of my waking hours. As time passed, I've come to know that it's not the rushing that gets things done. It's the rest and restored energy that does.

These days I write lists as a way to soothe a busy, chatter-y mind. There is some alchemy in unloading my mind of what's zipping and zooming across my grey matter. I no longer hold myself to the list as I once did. I trust that the important things will always get done. And the other stuff will either get done or will no longer matter.

I mother myself by doing those things that must be done and by letting go of the pressure to do all the things all the time. I feel more content, more pleasant to be around, and when the right moment strikes, more productive.

Martha Beck's words have been particularly helpful as I've come to appreciate the role sabbath observance plays in my well-being and self-care:

"During the times we think we’re being “unproductive,” the seeds of new worlds are germinating within us, and they need peace to grow."
I find myself less and less impressed by the busy lives other people and families are living. What's the rush? Where's all this busy-ness going to get us in the long run? Other than frazzled and grumpy?

Here are two more quotes that have resonated with me:

"What if we stopped celebrating being busy as a measurement of importance? What if instead we celebrated how much time we had spent listening, pondering, meditating and enjoying time with the most important people in our lives?" - Greg McKeown

"If you don't want to burn out, stop living like you're on fire." - becoming minimalist

I mother myself by honoring the sabbath moments in my life--even if it's a few hours on a random Tuesday night--time away, no matter how long or on what day does my heart and mind and body a world of good.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

19. I ask for help.

In my early twenties, as I was learning how to be an adult, I asked for help a few times. Once I was really unhappy in a job and another opportunity came my way. I asked for help in pro'ing and con'ing my options. I had a sense that I should pass up the opportunity, but I wanted some guidance before making the decision. What I received instead was an unhelpful and protracted lecture over the phone about how this job change was a terrible idea. Old stuff that had nothing to do with me was drudged up. There was yelling. For minutes without end. I felt belittled and demeaned. I felt as though I wasn't to be trusted with my own decision making. I sobbed and finally stopped the tirade by saying I wouldn't take the job.

A few other times, I asked a particular friend for help and he was conveniently never available. I had allowed myself to be vulnerable with this friend. Each time he went out of his way to be unavailable, the story I was writing in my head about asking for help grew gloomier and more twisted. Asking for help was futile. It was a sign of weakness. It didn't get one anywhere. One might as well knock off the neediness and get to work sorting things out for oneself.

There were benefits to this do-it-yourself approach. I learned that I was a resourceful and creative thinker. I found work-arounds that I wouldn't have found if I'd been working with others. I was proud of my self-sufficiency. But this approach was also isolating and lonely.

Then a new chapter of my story began. I found myself owning a home solo, and creative work-arounds go only so far.

Excessive rains the day after Christmas caused my basement to flood. The carpet and padding were ruined and had to be torn out and removed.

The ceiling fan and light in my bedroom stopped working. The switch needed to be replaced.

The wooden patio steps rotted and needed to be rebuilt.

You get the idea.

These broken things needing repair came at me in rapid succession. Sometimes I couldn't catch my breath between one problem and the next. The corrective tasks were above my skill levels. It was time to admit I needed the help of people with different expertise. I mothered myself by insisting and encouraging the idea that asking for help was not the sign of weakness or failure I once believed it was. In time, I regarded my requests for help as signs of maturity, growth, and strength.

I also realized that in the give-and-take equation of life there must be people willing to take or the equation can't work. I'd spent so much time being the giver. By insisting on going it alone so much, I wasn't contributing to the equation by giving people who care about me an opportunity to help.

Recently, I received a letter in the mail saying that the peeling paint on the trim framing my garage was in violation of some city ordinance. I was caught off guard and super annoyed. I did not have time, energy, or money for this. I let the initial feelings of frustration and embarrassment pass, and then I texted my neighbor for help. He made recommendations for next steps. My parents were in town during this time. My fix-it dad pulled out the ladder and the supplies he needed and got to work.

I thanked him profusely and let him do his thing. I didn't feel any of the old feelings of weakness or being incapable. I simply felt gratitude. I know that asking for help is an important element of self-care.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

18. Kinder Self-Talk

Removing negative self-talk from my inner chatter has been another of the most nurturing things I have done to improve my life. Negative messages recorded themselves on my mental tape from an early age, so I believed that the conversations I was having with myself were accurate reflections of who I was.

I repeated terrible things to myself and believed every word. I convinced myself that sometimes I wasn't enough and other times I was way too much. I heard the voice that told me I talked too much, and so I was always self-conscious about the things I had to say. I heard another voice tell me that I was terrible in the kitchen. So I proved myself right every time I tried to cook or bake something. The hurtful things I believed about myself ran even deeper.

A few years ago, I began choosing a word of the year to guide my thoughts throughout the coming twelve months. One year the phrase "let go of outcome" came to me. Each time I felt anxious about how something would turn out, I would recite those four words, and noticed that I breathed easier and interrupted the flow of sludge mucking up my mind.

Since then I have mothered myself into kinder self-talk with the words Gentle, Trust, and Quiet. Gentle was the word that got me through my 40th year when I was scared, in brand-new emotional territory, and working my way through the 40/40 list. That year revealed what exacting standards I had for myself. Gentle was the right word to soften those hard edges.

Last year, I meditated on the word Trust. I needed to re-engage with the idea that I could trust again. Trust myself, trust men, trust my gut. Each time I had a decision to make alone, I would conjure up the word. I could feel myself relax as I recognized I was capable of whatever was before me.

As the calendar page turned into the new year, I had one word, but then another better-suited word landed on my mind. I decided it was time to be Quiet. To listen more than I spoke. To be attuned to what my gut wanted for me to hear. As the months have passed, sometimes the world around me gets too noisy, and I'm grateful for my word. It's the prompt I need to re-energize and re-calibrate.

All of these words have taught me about the importance of learning how to soothe myself. They have helped to turn down the volume on the loud, obnoxious voices that do me harm. With practice, those voices do not pipe up as much, and when they do they are quickly silenced by kinder, gentler talk. I have no idea what the next word will be, but I will get quiet and trust that the right one will come at the right time, and that it will carry the message I need for the coming year.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

17. Therapy

One of the most nurturing things I have done for myself is to seek the guidance of a counselor. Under this woman's patient, kind, and professional care, I have peeled back the layers to discover the origins of my pain and confusion and what caused periods of depression and anxiety. She also helped me see the role I played in the suffering I have experienced. She has bolstered my confidence to face it head on and to not be licked by it.

This woman introduced me to the idea that certain behaviors I was putting up with are unacceptable—no matter what my relationship is to the person doing them. She taught me a new vocabulary. She helped me connect dots. She told me she was proud of the hard work I was doing to heal. She even set before me a vision of who I could become as I healed.

I found the person in my corner who told me, “This stuff you've been through, the things you are describing, are not right. They never should have happened to you, but since they did, here are the tools to climb your way out.”

My life is better. It's easier to navigate with her encouragement echoing in my mind. I go with the flow better. I don't shutdown as quickly—if at all. Life feels good and navigable and worth the effort and heartache. I feel confident about who I am and how I choose to express myself. This is a new feeling, and it is wonderful.

My pain has not been in vain. I am now in a position to share what I know about setting boundaries and caring for myself. I have empathy for the pain of others because I have experienced my own. I'm not afraid of my pain anymore. And I know that sharing my experiences gives other people hope that they can heal from their own circumstances.

I mother myself by seeking the objective perspective of a counselor. I love myself enough to insist that I do not stay where I am. I push myself to challenge hard things, and and continue to grow into the person I'm meant to be.

“The great illusion of leadership is to think that man can be led out of the desert by someone who has never been there.”

- Henri Nouwen, The Wounded Healer