“What we call our destiny is truly our character and that character can be altered. The knowledge that we are responsible for our actions and attitudes does not need to be discouraging, because it also means that we are free to change this destiny. One is not in bondage to the past, which has shaped our feelings, to race, inheritance, background. All this can be altered if we have the courage to examine how it formed us. We can alter the chemistry provided we have the courage to dissect the elements.”
― Anaïs Nin
It’s that time of year again. Time to do some serious self-reflection and evaluate your road map for the coming year. And, while I typically reject the idea of new year’s resolutions, I cannot escape the reality that the chance to slow down, contemplate and think about your intentions is hugely beneficial right now. I have fallen in step with everyone else and am using these last days of the year as an opportunity to engage in some reflection and try to understand where I am headed. This year has been one where I have been in perpetual motion and have had little time to stop and think for long chunks of time. My interactions with myself mostly occurred on plane trips, in the quiet of the evening in a hotel room or on the rare occasion that I had some quiet time at home in my office. Mostly, I have struggled to take fragments of ideas that have floated around inside my head and tried to tape them together to create some formulations of ideas, understandings and evaluations of how my life has been transpiring.
2013 was a very tough year for me. Unlike any other year it was not because I was facing constant adversity. I was not battling the same forces that have been so prevalent in my life for most of my 46 years. In fact, I came into the year with a sense of peace. I felt that I had confronted so many demons last year and had built quite a nice size to pen to house them, allowing me to deal with them as needed rather than constantly braving the elements, putting on my armor and going to battle. I believed I had wrestled some level of control over those aspects of my life that have perpetually challenged me. And, as I am sure you are figuring out even as you read those words, my life did not follow the plan I had laid out. What I failed to comprehend is that you only think you have controlled your demons. You must spend a good deal of time staring them in the face, allowing them to spit their venom out at you and taking it over and over again. You must confront them, not cage them or they will forever wreak havoc. They will roar and growl and threaten you constantly. Sometimes it is more quietly than other times but, until you are prepared to face them head on and tackle them to the ground, proving that you are no longer willing to play the victim to their antics, you run the risk of letting those demons break free. And, when I say “you,” I am, of course, referring to me. No, this year my difficulties were different. They came from within me. I went to battle with myself this year.
I read a quote from Cory Booker today: “Don’t stumble on something that is already behind you.” Well, that assumes that you have put it and left it behind you. Early this year, my best friend and I had one of our trademark discussions at a restaurant in Boston – one of the many I will reflect on this week as I conduct my self-assessment for the year. We were talking about my writing and my ability to come to terms with many of the traumatic events of my early life. His assessment was that I had to be ready to close the chapter before I would be able to get my story written. I had to be ready to put it to rest, let go of it and move on. Could I truly let go? Was I really ready to move beyond my stuff and stop stumbling over it? Intellectually, I have been more than ready for a long time. Psychologically, I struggle. I still have more work to do there. I’m not sure what I am holding on to and why but I know that my past is still very much a part of me and still exerts some level of control over my life. I believe there is a reason but it might simply be because I am not ready to push forward. I am afraid. Who am I without my sad stories? What happens when I lose my benchmark to measure how far I have come? Am I hanging on to my past as an excuse to not have to move ahead?
I walked away from our conversation feeling bad about myself. I felt weak and powerless – and I know that was not my friend’s intention whatsoever. He was trying to empower me to be strong, to help me find the courage to let go. Instead, I beat myself up for not being brave enough to release myself, to stop holding myself hostage. Now, as I think more about this so many months later, I understand that I have not been ready because I simply have not tackled the deeper problems. I’ve put band aids on the surface wounds and I am still being held hostage. Until I am ready to look my captors in the eye, accept the pain and learn how to unravel myself from their grip, I simply cannot move on. I am not ready yet. And that might just be ok.
Another quote that inspired me around this topic comes from my favorite self-improvement goddess, Brene Brown: “When perfectionism is driving us, shame is riding shotgun and fear is the annoying backseat driver.” I was going to share that with a friend this week and decided to hold on to it for myself a bit longer. I immediately thought about how this pertains to someone else’s life and had to digest it a whole lot more to realize that this is my story. I am continually seeking perfectionism. I am trying to be the most excellent patient who tackles a problem, overcomes, moves on and is magically all better. I believe that if I don’t fix my shit then I am less than perfect. I am not ok. For me, the opposite of perfect is broken. And, while I will say all day and all night that I know I am not perfect, I simply have not accepted that about myself. I struggle to fully embrace my imperfections and allow them to be a part of who I am. I am in a perpetual state of fixing and correcting and whiting out the mistakes in my life. Sure, I learn from them and definitely make strides forward but I continually stumble and fall because I am not accepting of who I am as a deeply flawed but determined and inspired person. I have shared a bit of my shame through this blog this year in hopes of releasing some of it but I still let fear drive me.
I spent 2013 in an intense battle of wills with myself. And, in the process, I dragged some important people into the fight with me. However, I’m not sure if I have any regrets around that. Frankly, I’m not sure if I had any choice over the matter (there is the part where I am supposed to be forgiving of myself rather than blaming myself. You see how that works?). I spent a good deal of the year feeling guilty – hands down, my biggest vice. Guilt corrupts me. Guilt cripples me. Guilt strips me of all the things that make me beautiful, wonderful and strong. Guilt destroys my spirit. And, I lived in a constant state of guilt. I felt responsible for everything that went awry in my life and took on a preponderance of responsibility in any and all shortcomings in my relationships. I did not have the courage to stand up to myself and have confidence to believe that I could trust those closest to me to let them know how I felt or what I believed. I succumbed. I caved. I kept quiet. I ate my heart out. I suffered. And, I did it all to myself. Not one person in my life right now is someone I cannot trust. I have pared my relationships down so carefully to ensure that I am surrounded by love and trust. I have created an environment where I can be the best me. The only problem is that I am still part of the inner circle. The one I trust the least.
Despite all of this, 2013 was also a phenomenal year. All of this struggle led me to many extraordinary outcomes. My relationships are stronger, deeper and more meaningful. I have cried more than I have in the last several decades, meaning that I am allowing myself to feel my emotions. I have exposed myself to levels of intimacy that at other points in my life would have been too frightening to attempt and I have survived and thrived. I have learned so much, even if some of it has leveled me. I have had professional success beyond my wildest dreams. I could not imagine as this year started out that I would be where I sit today. I did not have any images in my imagination, any crayons or paintbrushes that could illustrate this picture. I am so truly grateful for it all, no matter how challenging, no matter how ugly some of the days looked. The year flew by in a whirlwind yet I have such beautiful snapshots in my mind of those moments where things slowed down and magic happened. I could spend days sharing all the wonderful stories.
Last week, I sat again with my best friend as we had our annual holiday celebration and we reflected on the year. We discussed all the less-than-wonderful moments and talked about how much we had grown and how much we have learned about ourselves. I sat for a moment, staring out at the window behind his head and thought about how different my life would have been had none of the events of the year occurred. What if the struggles and challenges had been non-existent? It was a tantalizing thought because I think it would have been so much easier on me emotionally but I had to come back to the reality of my life. I had to stop myself from fantasizing about a different existence. I had to, in that moment, accept myself for who I am. I wanted to apologize for all the challenges we had faced and my contributions as a result of my own demons. I stopped myself short. I literally pulled the words back from my lips because I knew they were not appropriate and were completely unnecessary. There was nothing to apologize for. And, while I struggle to accept this, I acknowledged, just quietly to myself, that I am a whole package. Good and bad. Plusses and minuses. Positives and negatives. I am a complete being filled with a certain amount of chaos, a certain amount of crazy and a whole lot of love. My friend sees that. Me? Not so much.
So, I still resolve not to resolve. However, I am committed to facing the ugliness in myself and trying to go to the mat with it to move forward. I am no longer looking to fix and stop the bleeding as much as I am trying to become more aware of those critters that continue to haunt me and control me, preventing me from being the best person I can be. I will try to accept my imperfections and embrace growth and change. My friend tells me that he loves my willingness and ability to accept feedback and act on it quickly and effectively. Perhaps I need to give myself a little constructive feedback rather than continue to beat myself to a pulp because, after all, those demons I am fighting are all really just me.