Archives for posts with tag: finding my way in the darkness

I woke up early. It makes sense. I went to bed early, too. I woke during the night. No surprise there, I often do. There’s no stress over any of that. My head is a jumble of random beginnings of thoughts seeking a narrative in which to play a role. My morning is a strange sequence of broken routines and randomness. I’m not concerned about that, either. Again and again, I pull myself back to this moment, here, now.

I sit down with my coffee, eventually, some two hours after waking (which is only one of many odd random bits of altered behavior that seems without cause or purpose).

The first track on my playlist right now is an old favorite. I want very much to play the bass line; I am not yet sufficiently skilled (and realistically, there is chance I never will be). I can try to play it, and fail. I could do that repeatedly. I could do that repeatedly until I am frustrated to the point of disliking what I am doing, although I am doing it because I enjoy it… a lot of people approaching learning something challenging in just that fashion.

I take another approach, instead of “trying”… I practice. That’s it. My approach to a lot of stuff I’m not good at, don’t yet know, haven’t yet found my way around, through, over, or into, or need to do and don’t quite “get”, yet. I practice. I practice the basic skills that would be required to do the thing. Too complicated? I break those things down further, to more elemental basics, until I can begin assembling simpler behavior or actions (or understandings) into more and more complex combinations, and – if all goes well – have learned to do the thing, have gained a new understanding, have completed some complicated task… whatever it is. Most things seem to work out pretty well this way, although it is not the fastest process by which to achieve success. It’s a bit like… a through hike on an unmarked trail, while all the way along observing what appears to be a freeway almost within reach, on the other side of a fence. I could waste time trying to reach that freeway, or I can walk on.

I still get where I’m going. That’s enough.

It may be an uphill climb, some days. I still practice taking time to enjoy the journey, and to look for beauty.

I enjoyed a strangely intimate and emotionally nurturing yesterday. I hung out with a dear friend of many years. We haven’t made time to hang out in about 4 years, and it was overdue, welcome, and comfortably intimate. She is someone I love, though we’ve never been lovers. We’re at very different places in life, and that has been an interesting characteristic of our friendship all along. She was the friend who said to me, so many years ago, “have you heard of ACT?”. Words that would later prove to be another piece to the puzzle of healing and learning to care for the woman in the mirror, because they would still be lingering in my consciousness on that grim December day when I began checking off my list of things to do before I would end my own life. That last item? Try therapy one more time. Her words were a hint at a new direction; “third wave cognitive behavior therapy”. There are several, some very rigid and formal, others less so.

Have we covered this before? Sure. It’s buried in the details, in much older posts. The eagerness of this new way to experience life, more authentically, with greater self-compassion, erupts in my words post after post after post. Life happens. I write about that too. Now and then I add something to The Reading List; my journey is paved with stepping-stones made of books, and practices, and the words of dear friends.

A current favorite track on my playlist feels timed for the moment. My heart fills with tenderness, and gratitude. I’m glad I stayed. Warm tears splash my glasses, and my shoulders shake with sobbing, and I’m just fucking crying now… I’m not unhappy. I’m relieved. I might have missed this precious moment right now. I might have missed yesterday… the lovely color work I got done on my hair… the phone call with my Traveling Partner later in the day… the conversations with friends. Fuck I am so glad I stayed around awhile longer… My heart aches with a powerful need to say “thank you” or.. “I’m sorry”… or… something.  There are literally no words for this strange strong emotion of thankfulness I feel that I chose to live. I’m okay with that too. I’m not afraid to feel.

Another good morning on which to begin again. I don’t know that I’ve done anything that changes the world, but so much as changed about the woman in the mirror. 🙂

I’m still sick. I’m taking advantage of the weekend to take care of my health. I have no other plans today. I am still hopeful that I’ll be over this in time for my camping trip in a few days…if not, I’ll have to decide whether to cancel or just go and tough it out – maybe find out just exactly what I’m made of under even more trying conditions.

I giggle at myself thinking about my middle-aged, suburbanite, white-collar self considering a few days of camping in a state park very near to home to anything like ‘trying conditions’ or a test of endurance of any sort. Somewhere in the distance of time long past, a much younger, more rugged me looks on with some measure of friendly disdain – not meaning to be mean, but me then was just not that patient with people’s notions. lol

Not quite wilderness close to home.

Not quite wilderness close to home.

So sure, today I am putting me first, but that’s not the point of the title at all. “Me First” is a practice, and it’s one that I am currently turning over in my head to add to my SuperBetter  game; I haven’t decided if it serves best as a ‘Quest’ or a ‘Power Up’. Over my morning coffee, I answer some basic questions for myself, such as ‘is this something I do for a course correction, or an emotional boost, or is it something I need to practice, reach for as a goal, and strive to achieve?’ and ‘is this an experience?’ and ‘can I put a face to it?’ Most of my ‘Bad Guys’ are issues and challenges (personal demons) that I can easily ‘face’ more effectively if they wear actual faces. lol

“Anxiety” 10″ x 14″ acrylic on canvas w/ceramic 2011

“Anxiety” 10″ x 14″ acrylic on canvas w/ceramic 2011

My “Me First” practice is a cognitive tool to improve emotional resilience by building a sense of perspective, improving my ability to respond to others with compassion, and to foster quick recognition of shared human experience, when I may be inclined to react in a judgmental way, or feeling resentful. “Me First” is simply the practice of observing the judgment or resentment with a high level of honesty and acceptance, and mindful awareness of how I, myself, experience a similar circumstance ‘if the shoe were on the other foot’. I put myself in the other person’s experience very deliberately, and challenge myself to understand how it may be something we have in common, and how human it is. Before I start emotionally or intellectually ‘stoning’ someone, I practice looking to myself – is there really room to criticize? (There rarely is.) Is there room for compassion, encouragement, a moment of humor or Schadenfreude? (There usually is.) Instead of being critical – and understanding that criticism is generally a poorly worded request for change – is there something I can do meet my own needs more simply (like making a clear and gentle request for change)? Can I apply that understanding and perspective to this other human being and possibly do something to meet their needs? That’s the lovely thing about my “Me First” practice – it’s not ‘me first over and above whatever you need, and go fuck yourself for your trouble’, not at all; it’s ‘let me take care of me first, work out some of these issues I’ve obviously got, get my head right and see what we can do together, to meet shared needs, and understand each other’.  Before I criticize someone else, I launch this practice and I check myself – and use the object lesson to work on me, first – because realistically, I don’t actually get to work on anyone else. None of us do. Not really – and attempting to take that power of self management, and autonomy away from someone with criticism, judgmental remarks, or intimidation and controlling behaviors is in a category of ‘bad acts’ I consider emotionally abusive. I definitely don’t want to be doing something to other people that I consider abuse.

What a wonderful thing – you get to make all your own choices about these things, yourself, and my notions of what is or is not abusive doesn’t dictate your choices! Fantastic! Ideally, it’s all sort of self-adjusting, isn’t it? If we treat someone poorly, or abuse them (physically or emotionally), surely they don’t stick around for that, and we find ourselves bereft and alone, as we would surely deserve for our bad acts…right? Well, not always, and sometimes tragically so. Learning not to stick around for more abuse is one of the things I work on, myself. It’s not always easy. My sense of loyalty is far more well-developed than my sense of when I may be over-compromising my values, or allowing myself to be mistreated emotionally. As a younger woman, some portion of my identity was wrapped up in whether my relationships ‘succeeded’, but the definition of success wasn’t my own, and I stuck around for some heinous shit. We are each having our own experience, too. What injures me, or hits damaged bits related to my PTSD, or may be of more concern because of my TBI, may not at all be what hurts you as an individual. (Clearly there are some experiences that could universally be recognized as abuse, but this is not about that.)

Learning good self-care, for me, also means learning to recognize when I am treated well, when I am treated poorly – and what amount of poor treatment is unacceptable, rather than an incidental and unintended by product of someone’s humanity. So I practice treating myself well, and I also practice treating others well; because I am not a blameless victim in my experience of life – I am living it, and I too make poor choices, or fall short of ideals, or ‘drop the ball in the big game’. I’m very human. I honestly don’t find it acceptable to criticize someone for issues I have myself, things I am also prone to do, or stuff that’s just shared human experience needing to be managed or learned from; so I am practicing doing something differently, and walking my own path to be the woman I most want to be, myself, on my own terms.

We each walk our own path, paved with our own choices.

We each walk our own path, paved with our own choices.

I’m also not smug about this stuff, and I struggle. These are my challenges, more than my triumphs, and I have more questions than answers. You’re welcome to take whatever value you find in my words; your results may vary. There are verbs involved. 🙂

I tried learning to treat others well, without taking care of me, without addressing my own needs first, without really putting in the time to learn what treating others well really meant. It was not an effective effort.  I don’t find attempting to care for me to the exclusion of treating others well to be a good fit; it nearly always feels like I am treating people poorly as a default decision. Balance wins again, and perspective; treating myself well matters a lot, and treating others well isn’t even truly possible to do with skill if I don’t start with me…but putting myself first by taking good treatment away from others turns out not to be very good self-care at all. It’s quite an interesting puzzle.  I found the realization that ‘good treatment’ is defined by the person experiencing it, rather than the person taking the action being experienced, very valuable; it’s not about the intention of the person delivering the words or behaviors at all, and that’s important to understand.

Endure the journey, or embrace it, this choice, too, is yours.

Endure the journey, or embrace it, this choice, too, is yours.

I am sick today, and it’s raining; today is a good day for puzzles. Today is a good day for first-rate self-care. Today is a good day to treat the hearts of others just as well as I treat my own – knowing that I treat my own heart very well indeed, well… practicing the practices, at least. There’s still a journey ahead. 🙂