I celebrated my birthday in California on August 30th. I had a wonderful birthday. I'm still young enough to give people the excuse not to take me seriously, and I'm old enough that people take me really seriously when I do stuff they don't like. I'm also old enough that I don't care about either of those things nearly as much as I did one year ago, or seven years ago, or 80 days ago.
I am embracing my imperfection and my authenticity. Those goals coexist with the desire to please everyone and make everyone like me. That deep longing for love from all is getting quieter as my love for my Self gets louder. I approve of myself. So, when I play through my cringe reel or I start thinking about what I'm not enough of, I decide not to go there. I say, "I choose to approve of myself," and I say it over and over, all day long. I've noticed that over the last four weeks of doing this nearly constantly every day, I don't need to think of it as much because I'm disapproving of myself less. I still have a long way to go.
"I approve of myself" has quickly become the very first thought I have when I notice critical self-talk. I've been exploring a bunch of avenues for self-compassion over the last six years. I also lost a lot of that self-compassion when I spent most of 2017 in a really dark spot. I blamed myself for my illness. I blamed myself for not knowing what was going on. I blamed myself for my (at the time) failing relationship. I blamed myself for the fact that it was too dangerous to keep going to work. Every moment felt like it sucked, and every one of those moments felt like they sucked because I was horrible. (to read more about that experience of being sick, read this post)
When I began the process of self-forgiveness, I looked at 2017 as a perfect storm of all of the things I couldn't control. I couldn't control how my husband felt, I couldn't control what I thought other people were thinking, I couldn't control when I would go unconscious and fall to the floor. Everything was spinning for a solid five months. After that, it was all about rebuilding.
In that process of rebuilding, I learned a shit ton of stuff. Over the course of 78 days of driving and 60 days of sleeping outside, I learned a shit ton of stuff. There are things I learned that I don't even realize yet. Four things I learned are four things I want to take with me as I walk into 27 with intention and curiosity.
1. I am responsible for my thoughts
2017 wasn't my fault. And, I for sure played a role. I took on a bunch of work, I created unnecessary work for myself, I ignored my self-care practices, I completely neglected my marriage, I drifted away from my spirituality. I also thought a bunch of shitty thoughts. I sat in anger and resentment and I stayed there with no intention of being compassionate toward my Self.
All I wanted was for everyone else to think I was good and worthy and not a liability. I tried to stay totally in control of my emotions and my reactions. It was all about image management. I really didn't want people I cared about to let me go, and I thought they'd let me go if I wasn't amazing. It turns out there's just a season for everything, I didn't stop being amazing. Life is change.
I began to understand and allow change. While we were on our 78-day camping adventure, I came to know it even more. I began to want more change. I could feel myself growing and I felt my attitudes changing. We saw breath-taking views every day. We would stop and stare/cry/laugh/talk/sit in silence, and then we would move on. We didn't feel loss when we left these places, we felt excited about the beauty of every moment, and we knew they were constantly one after the other. We never worried that nothing beautiful was going to come if we kept going. I started to change my thinking.
I can take responsibility for my thoughts. I've known that for years, lots of people have told me that. In response, my internal dialogue was, "okay but I can't control my thoughts. I must have really intense thoughts because I've tried and there is no way to control what crazy shit comes into my brain." There is.
I thought so much horrible shit about myself. I was constantly berating myself. I had so much mean stuff to say, and no one to say it to, so I said it to myself. I invited negativity into my life by buying into negative thought patterns and allowing them to inform my behavior. Goodbye self-compassion.
The entire time, I had a choice. I could decide what to think and what not to think. Initially, I didn't believe that. Then I slept outside for sixty days and did a lot of thinking and learned a lot about that thinking. Thoughts only have power if we give them power. That was hard for me to understand because they felt powerful as soon as I noticed them. I didn't notice a point where I could have had a choice.
The choice happens the minute I notice the thought or have any reaction to it. Whether I'm five minutes into my cringe reel or five seconds, I can notice and then stop thinking about it by replacing those thoughts with positive affirmations. In the past, I added positive affirmations on top of my critical self-talk. I feel more empowered by thinking of positive affirmations as making a conscious decision to change the way my brain thinks.
I am taking responsibility for my thoughts and making an enthusiastic effort to trust the outcome that thinking in a new way might bring me. I really do believe that this effort will change what kind of people, opportunities, and adventures I bring into my life. There's no way it couldn't. Changing thought patterns changes behavior, focus, and attitude.
2. I am a badass woman
Until this birthday, I never felt much different when my birthday came around. I always considered myself young. Too young to be a credible source of what beauty life can bring with some patience and willingness. I thought I was too young to offer anything life-changing to anyone who was my age or older.
The inner-child work that I have been practicing for almost three years has begun to permeate my life in new ways. I am able to see myself as who I am today instead of who I was twenty years ago because I am able to hold different parts of me as separate from myself.
"Oh, I really want this new thing because to my inner-five-year-old, getting new things feels a lot like love. It's not something I actually need right now." I can allow myself to want something, and then I can talk myself down from that and love myself in deeper and more intentional ways. I can come to a grown-up understanding that I don't need every material thing that I want, even if I really want it.
As a result of this perspective, I am beginning to see myself in the way that I want to be seen. I have come to a new level of respect for myself. By dismissing myself as "just a kid," I lacked respect for the hard work I have done to grow each year. And I allowed other people to dismiss me as "too young," because I felt the same way they did.
There are big concepts that I can only dive into as I get older. I know I will never be done with that. That doesn't mean I'm not a badass woman. I get to acknowledge my grown-ass-woman-ness and I don't have to follow that up with, "but I know I'm really young and don't know anything."
I have worked hard to understand what I am ready to understand at this phase in my life. I study topics I am interested in with curiosity and enthusiasm. I work hard and I dedicate myself to living a meaningful life. I am highly qualified for every opportunity that comes my way. I am proud of myself.
When I am doubting myself, I ask, "What would my life look like if I let go of self-doubt?"
3. My values guide me
curiosity | humor | relationships | safety | kindness | authenticity
I learned about values while I was learning the ins and outs of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) at the psych hospital. This practice is life-changing and important. If there is a decision to be made, the first thing I do is consult my values.
The work on values comes when I use them to dictate my behavior. One thing that has really helped me with this was visualizing what each of these values looks like in action. Curiosity is taking risks to learn about new things. Safety is being considerate of dangerous situations, money, emotional security (creating a safe space for others to share their truth). Kindness is making eye contact with strangers, doing small and loving things for my husband, saying "I love you" in the mirror every day. I could go on and on.
My values have changed over time, and I don't change them very often. It has been the most effective way I have found to do the "right" thing, even when I really don't want to. One small example is that I haven't no-called no-showed to a doctor's appointment in a long time because it's not in-line with my values of kindness and safety (I keep myself safe by going to the doctor). A bigger example is that I respect my relationships. I value relationships, so I try really hard to nurture community by giving careful attention to the personal relationships I have with anyone (this one is hard to keep up with). I also nurture my relationship with my spirituality, my Self, my world.
A big part of the work Jonny and I have done on our relationship is around values. It has turned us into our own family, instead of two people who are married to each other, and with our parents at the core of our idea of family. We came together on our values and talked about what they look like in the way we treat each other, our dogs, and the way we function as a family.
I cannot recommend this practice enough. It has been so powerful. I do my best to strictly adhere to my values. It gives me security, structure, motivation. I am not perfect at this. I am quite good at it. I think about my values all the time. I talk about them every day, it has become a normal part of conversation.
4. Nature is an incredible teacher
I want to stay immersed in nature. Whether it's by surfing or sitting on my balcony in the forest, I have to be around nature. It gives me breath, patience, space, compassion. The trees have been one of my best teachers. The ocean will never stop coming back to me. That's all I have to say about that, for now.
Here goes 27
I feel ready and confident. I have a deep feeling that I am exactly where I am supposed to be. My neighbors are so nice, we say hi to every person we see on the sidewalk, we have multiple genuinely kind interactions every day. It's wild! I'm so grateful.
I want to be fearless. I am fearless. I am putting myself out there in new ways and I am learning how to navigate being a powerful lady.
It has been almost one year since the last time I fell. The clarity and peace I have come to find came to me as a result of a really shitty year followed by a bunch of willingness and introspection. Every moment is a lesson, and I looked for every lesson I could find. I have learned more in the last year than I have in the previous six years of my healing journey.
I'm just going to go with this happiness. I am going to trust that life is giving me what I need. No longer dress-rehearsing for tragedy. I choose to believe that it is getting easier for me to assume the best-case-scenario.