This prompt is apt, because I feel like all I do right now is grow. Or that’s the theory anyway.
I’ve been reflecting on this a lot in the past year or so, and perhaps even a little longer. Throughout my life, and with my fucked brain chemistry, I have picked up a ton of bad habits, poor coping skills, and patterns of thought that do not help me. Many of which are actively harmful for me. Through age and a ton of therapy I have been able to work on a lot of these things.
One of the worst things that I have had to deal with is the concept that love is conditional, and that I have to earn it, and then I have to continue to earn it for the rest of my life. Its a foundational belief that I do not have inherent worthiness, and to be loved I have to do and say the right things, be who the other person wants me to be, and I cannot fail. I cannot be vulnerable or fallible. I must be useful and not cause problems. A sense that if I do not toe the line, all the love in my life will vanish, and I will be left behind, sad and alone. I cannot say that I have a firm grip on this one yet, though I am more aware when it rears its ugly little head. I have read Brene Brown’s work on worthiness, and that has been helpful, but it doesn’t really exorcise the demon by itself. A while back, a former friend turned me on to the meditation teacher Tara Brach, who has a talk about basic goodness. I found that interesting, and meditation is something that I have been finding to be a useful tool in trying to rewire my brain in a lot of ways. I am not sure how one really ever gets over this fear. This seems so ingrained in our society through religion, culture and tradition, that it seems like it is the life’s work of all of us to overcome this fallacy.
A related challenge for me is the concept that for a person to have worth, they must be part of the means of production, and make a certain level of money. The concept of worthiness as viewed through the capitalist lens leaves behind the elderly, the disabled, the sick, the artists and the thinkers. It leads us all to measure our lives and our meaning by the almighty dollar, and then we die and what? We leave a bunch of money for our ungrateful relatives? It makes us a sick society that reviles the concept of true self care except when it means to go shopping for bath bombs or some shit. Or to go on expensive vacations. True self care, rest, balance and renewal does not create wealth for some old white dude who owns the factory. I find myself struggling with this one when I beat myself up for having to take time for myself, especially because of my mental illness. I berate myself internally because I am not able to suck it up and grit through it to get more widgets made. As a practicing attorney and part owner of my firm, I feel the pressure to bill and to perform. And I need to have the spoons to patiently care for my clients, and to be mentally able to provide the detail oriented analysis they need. When I am physically or acutely mentally ill, I cannot do this well, and my work suffers. I know this, but I still beat myself up if I need to take time off.
As a person who was viciously bullied as an adolescent because of my weight, I learned very early that fat = worthless and revolting. The cruelty that I endured makes me hate my body to this day. I have worked on this concept VERY HARD, and the blogs and writings of many persons in the BoPo movement, such as Jes Baker, Lindy West, Virgie Tovar, Roxanne Gay and others have helped me change my thinking, and sometimes when I look in the mirror, I like what I see. You see, most people in my family are kinda chubby. Its just the deal. And to be taught that you should hate yourself because of something as benign as your size is completely bonkers if you look at it objectively, but its hard to even get to a place mentally to do that. Until recently, all society put forth was thin is IN. How to diet, lose weight, be beautiful, “you’d be so pretty if….”bla bla bla. And as a fat person, you could only buy muu muus and other ugly shit like stirrup pants and baggy tops that look like cotton hefty bags. WE LIVE IN A SOCIETY WHERE BASIC SELF ACCEPTANCE IS A RADICAL POLITICAL ACT. And that’s fucked up. The world is changing on this, but there is still plenty of fat hate. If you find yourself about to say, “No! You aren’t fat!” to someone, you are unwittingly part of the problem. Until the word “fat” doesn’t conjure up societal revulsion, there’s more work to do.
I’ve sort of wandered off track here… another area that I have worked hard to grow in is just the ability to understand and communicate my feelings and needs. I grew up in a family with a limited emotional lexicon: sad, mad, happy. That was pretty much it. As anyone with half a heart knows, the real life is full of much more to experience than that. Anything that was difficult or hard to deal with was discouraged, and the message was to just BOTTLE THAT SHIT UP, lest you make people uncomfortable.
We all know just how well that works out. For me, it means that I turn that shit inward, and start damaging myself. It has taken a TON of time and therapy and journaling and mistakes and extreme discomfort to get to place where I am very self aware and able to name my emotions now, and usually what triggered them. I can more often now discern whether a trigger and resulting feeling are realistic, or if they are informed by external factors or past damage. I still don’t always react in the best way, but I have found constructive ways to process and share them, and I am so proud of the work that I have done here.
Another significant area of growth for me in the past few years has been that I have had to look at my mental illness straight on, and have had to accept and deal with it. I have to accept that I have a chronic illness that is not going to be cured. I will be on medication for the rest of my life. I will struggle with this in varying ways for the rest of my life. I vacillate between fighting my illness and resting in acceptance and self-compassion for what I have to deal with. I try to be open and honest about it so that the people in my orbit know that it isn’t something to be feared or hidden about their ownselves, and to be a safe place if someone needs a friend or needs help. But I still twist and turn and try to fight what I cannot. I struggle with the fundamental brokenness that I feel. At other times, it feels like a superpower that allows me to connect with a lot of people in a different way, and I am proud of that. I am much more gentle with myself than I used to be. This feels like growth.
A final few words on this topic- I feel like growth is the whole point of life. We are not meant to stagnate and stay who and how we are in any given period of time. There are too many challenges, ideas, changes and interesting people and places in the world that should effect our world view. We all have our demons and soft places that need tending. I believe it is the courageous thing to face these things, ask questions, learn about ourselves and the world around us. To me, homogeneity and predictability feel like death. Try it. Face the dragon. You might be amazed at what you find, and you’ll be stronger and more whole for it.