As I walked down the usually loud and busy road yesterday, the absence of traffic and pollution brought me back to my childhood. I remember Sundays were more than a metaphorical day of rest. There would be very little traffic, no stores open, and families spent time together. Nobody was busy on a Sunday, except for farmers and medical staff. Lately, everyday seems like a Sunday in 80’s Ireland. The sound of the birds has once again become dominant, and the anxiety attached to daily living has subsided.
Despite the strange time the world is now experiencing, I’m not struggling in lock down. I made a choice a long time ago to make my life simplistic, minimal, uncomplicated, yet intensely satisfying for my heart and soul. Some of this simplistic living was forced upon me at first because of dire financial difficulties and losing pretty much everything materially that I ever possessed.
I also managed to lose my mind, my physical health and every ounce of my already sparse self-esteem. Ah my old oppressor’s depression and anxiety; you almost had me, but not quite! However, I discovered during that very dark process, I prefer simple. My well being demands it of me.
As I rambled down the quiet road, enjoying the clean air, bright light and the orchestra of birdsong I contemplated my journey from the dark days to this moment. I realized that more than anything else, I had to practice the art of not doing. Layers and layers of stuff; rules, expectations, should’s, wants, musts, sat on top of me for years weighing me down to such an extent that I span my wheels deeper and deeper into the dirt.
I sat for years in therapists offices explaining away my disastrous life and listening to suggestions to try this or that. Most of the time, I came out with a feeling of dread and overwhelm, because I had something else to add to my already chaotic to-do-list. My mind would race with thoughts of all the stuff I should be doing to get healthy. However, the point came where I just had to stop doing everything. I literally only did what was absolutely necessary to keep myself and my children functional.
It was time to get back to the most basic of basics.
My head was always in the future, daydreaming of where I wanted to be and when I’d get there. While it’s absolutely necessary to have dreams, constantly obsessing about them when I barely had the ability to get out of bed in the morning only added to my self-hatred and feelings of defeat.
I literally had to find joy in my achievement of getting out of bed on time and getting the kids to school. I had to focus on the right now. Did I manage to shower today? Did I have food in the house for dinner? Is there clean clothes in the wardrobes? I’d catch myself wishing to be anywhere but where I was, and bring myself back to right now. Eventually these basic things became automatic and I could move on to new tasks to help me become functional. Today I’m a mythical superwoman (although the clean clothes can be found piled on a chair in the kitchen occasionally – a lot).
Comparing myself kept me stuck.
Don’t we compare ourselves all the time? I know for me comparing myself to another creates shame and shame kills my soul. However, the important thing to know is that our perception of another persons life is a complete illusion. Therefore, comparing ourselves to another is just a pointless exercise. We have no clue what goes on inside another person’s mind and heart or behind their closed doors. We only see what a person wants to portray to the world, until there is nothing left to portray and shit is so bad you can’t hide it.
However, I remember clearly a time when I thought people judged me as much as I judged them. And maybe they did. I was one of those people who couldn’t portray any manufactured image of myself. I walked with my head down in shame because I was such a mess. I saw all these shiny, together people I’d known for years, achieving and earning and living wonderful lives. Yeah – not so much. Now image doesn’t impress me. Illusion is all around us. Being strong and steady in my own being makes it easy for me to distinguish between illusion and reality. Those shiny people have problems, too!
There’s no such thing as can’t.
Some of my old mantras: I can’t cope, I can’t stop drinking, I can’t be happy, I can’t have love, I can’t be successful, yadda, yadda, yadda. This point is such a cliché and highly irritating. I know, because when other people said, “stop saying you can’t,” it brought up a murderous urge inside me.
However instead of taking the path of homicidal maniac, I just changed “I can’t” to “I can” even when I didn’t believe it. As a result I’m now not serving life in prison and am in general a much happier camper. A friend reminded me the other day that we can do whatever we want, but we can’t do everything. It also reminds me that balance is admirable and we are not required to be all things to all people.
And that’s it. Just eliminating comparing, saying I can’t and getting back to the very basic basics got me to a place of peace. I could hear myself again, crystal clear. My suppressed hidden potential surfaced. I discovered that I don’t need very much to be happy or fulfilled. I make choices for myself today based on what brings me deep joy, not what brings me a quick fix or makes me look good to the outside world.
As always, I will never claim that recovery is easy and it is certainly not a one size fits all deal. It takes effort and commitment and a belief that life gets better and dreams come true. It takes you finding what works for you and trusting your inner knowing (believe me you do already know).
Many of us have an opportunity in this less chaotic pace of life to devote time to what matters. Practice getting rid of self defeating behavior and leave room for yourself to be alive, to listen and to get back to yourself. We have to make the most of what we have got.