My life has changed drastically.
It’s been five months of living California clean. Five months free and safe. My brain is clearer and my motives are (as often as possible) based on the greater good, or as they say, doing the next right thing. I am feeling my feelings and surviving through them, each time learning and growing as I navigate life on life’s terms. I coasted pretty easily through the first few months. I felt like I was on top of the world. For the first time ever, the obsession had been lifted and I was on the right track. That feeling of success, of newness, was enough to keep me going.
Just a few days before I hit five months I started to feel old discomfort creeping in. I couldn’t nail down what was bothering me. I was feeling extremely uncomfortable in my skin and I just couldn’t shake it.
What to do, what to do?
A mini AHA! moment. “Do”! Sitting on my hands certainly wasn’t helping anything. This was a time for action, so I looked to the people who have gone through this before me and I made calls to make things happen. Reaching out to people who need me is an imperative part of my healing process, so I signed up to take part in an outreach panel at a local detox facility. With three other people I was able to take my story and share it with people in their first few days of recovery and it was a restorative experience.
This is a new way of living for me and I’m not always going to get it right, but I am doing my best to be open-minded and to remain teachable. That’s always been a huge problem for me.
See, when a person tries to teach me something I usually interpret that as a message that what I’m doing is wrong, and ultimately that I am not good enough as a human being. Criticism makes me defensive and I spiral very quickly. I guess you could call it a “trigger” if you wanted to. Another term might be, “character defect”.
I once walked into a English class with my ego so inflated I could barely get in the door. One of the first things my professor said was that “no one is born a writer”. I was personally offended. Writing is like breathing for me. I was born with a pen in my hand. How could he say this?
His point became clear very quickly. While some people may be naturally better at certain things, no one can excel at something if they don’t believe there’s anything left for them to learn. The best, most talented people on the planet don’t become that way by chance- they have opportunities, of course, but also a tenacious drive to continue learning and growing within their area of expertise. When we believe that we are already there, we shut ourselves off to feedback that can elevate us to that next level. We must, above all things, remain teachable.
That’s all good in theory. It’s something that I can wrap my brain around in a logical way. Putting it into practice, however, has been extraordinarily challenging.
At the core of the issue there is this nagging voice I’ve always heard that tells me I am not now, nor will I ever be “good enough”. When someone tells me something that I don’t know, something I could do differently, or something that I have just outright done incorrectly I feel like it highlights my shortcomings like a giant blinking neon sign and I am overcome with embarrassment. The real rub is that my defensiveness can get me so twisted up that I act out in behaviour that ends up being way way way more embarrassing than the initial feedback. It’s a nightmare.
But because I am learning how to navigate these situations and feelings instead of hitting my “fuck it” button, I am coming to a point more often where I can slow myself down and ask the important questions. Questions like, “Why are you feeling defensive?” or “Why is this information upsetting you?”
Usually it boils down to how I feel about myself. It has nothing to do with what I’m receiving.
In reality, it has to do with my unrealistic expectations of myself. It has to do with holding myself to a ridiculous, unattainable standard. Ultimately, I have too often relied solely upon external sources for my own self-worth and THAT’S where the really hard work comes in.
So, really, no wonder I’m not feeling quite so on-top-of-the-world at this place in my recovery. This way of life doesn’t come naturally to me and facing things head-on has never been my style. This isn’t just a decision that I make once, but rather an overhaul of the entire system that has me constantly rerouting my regular pathways. It’s not going to be easy to do. Fortunately, the answers are simple. At the end of the day I assess how things went and if I found success, I aim to reproduce that success the next day. When I cross boundaries or make mistakes, when I act in selfishness, I notice that it feels shitty and I make a mental note not to do those things again.
And in all things I try to find gratitude. If not in the events of the day, at least in the fact that I have a day to struggle through. This is not comfortable always, and it’s certainly not my default but today this is what works for me and for that, I feel like the luckiest girl in the world.