Breaking Through the Loneliness

DSC_0182[1]

I am willing to wager that you have a secret.

Your secret is a story–or many stories–that culminate in a shameful “truth” about yourself and who you think you are.  You go through life hoping that nobody discovers this truth.  It would all fall apart if everyone figured out who you “really” are.

Or maybe you’re trying to bend reality, to make the most out of a difficult situation.  Maybe if you can be strong, brave, and inspiring, then you won’t come across as hurt, damaged, and unstable.

DSC_0173[1]

Am I right?  Because if I am, then I have another secret to share.  Everybody has the same secret that you have.  And it’s all an illusion.  Every last bit of it.

I used to sit in loneliness, trying to hide “who I really was.”  I had a history of fear, of sadness, of anxiety, and of desperation.  Caught in the fog of perceived unworthiness, I did not understand why I had the thoughts I had, why I acted the way I acted, and why I made myself both distant and clingy in my relationships.  

DSC_0148[1]

Fear leads to more fear, and we become convinced that we are alone in our experience.  We don’t talk about it, because we fear judgment.  We are certain that we are defective, that something is wrong with us.

But the more people I’ve talked to, the more I’ve realized that this seemingly private journey through fear is the journey of all humanity.  We all have a “story.”  We have all had experiences that have left us feeling confused and broken.  Many–and I’d venture to say most–of us at some point in time have been given labels, to try and describe fear’s manifestations in our lives.

DSC_0179[1]

And yet those labels are not who we really are.  The story of how we came to feel broken, is not our real story.  We don’t need to be courageous or inspiring.  There is nothing we need to overcome.

Our journey through the confusion of fear and the fog of unworthiness does not separate us from the rest of humanity, it connects us.  We are not alone in our quest to understand and to see reality–everyone is on the same journey.

So take a moment today to see beyond the loneliness.

DSC_0186[1]

 

36 Lessons I’ve Unlearned

Last year, on my birthday, I wrote 35 lessons that I learned in 35 years.  This year, I will share my 36th lesson that I learned, but first I wanted to share 36 “lessons” that I have unlearned.

DSC_0081

I have learned that all of these are not true at all:

1.  I need to “matter.”

2.  “Others” and “myself” are two separate categories.

3.  There is a wrong way to live.

4.  The things other people say should be taken at face value.

DSC_0067

5.  It is possible to have my needs met through another person.

6.  My actions don’t affect those around me.

7.  It is possible for love not to exist.

8.  Hierarchies exist.

DSC_0095

9.  Selfishness is caused my giving yourself too much attention.

10.  Narcissism is caused by loving yourself too much.

11. The “smoothest” relationships are the most beneficial.

12.  Experiencing fear makes me a failure.

DSC_0088

13.  It is not possible for me to experience inner peace.

14.  There is a such things as a coward.

15.  Character flaws exist.

16.  There are people who have it all together and never experience (or act upon) fear.

DSC_0098

17.  Having fewer possessions is virtuous.

18.  Willpower can solve problems.

19.  There is a such thing as “negative” thoughts and emotions.

20. It is necessary to fight some things in life.

21.  If someone really cares, they will be a part of our life forever.

22.  What we see, is what is real.

DSC_0103

23.  Autism is a hindrance.

24.  I have a “past.”

25.  The past exists.

26.  Judgement exists.

DSC_0102

27.  Hate exists.

28.  It is possible to lose weight without loving your body.

29.  We should always give advice to help those around us.

30. Talking about problems makes them more manageable.

31.  Drama is inevitable.

32.  Conflict is a part of being in a relationship.

DSC_0093

33.  There are dark and light times in our lives.

34.  Strong emotions add color to life.

35.  I am my thoughts and emotions.

36.   There is a such thing as unworthiness.

DSC_0093

It’s been an exciting trip around the sun, to be sure!  What are some lessons in life that you have unlearned?

Lesson #5: Being Stabbed in the Back Will Not Kill You

Note: This is from my 35 Lessons in 35 Years.  There are links, on that post, to all of the lessons that I have written about so far.

“You gotta watch your back.”

“Be careful who you trust.”

“People around here…you gotta be careful…some of them are backstabbers.”

We spend a lot of time and energy making sure that we don’t get stabbed in the back.  We’re careful who we trust, and we’re always looking over our shoulder.  When we do say what might be interpreted as “too much,” to someone, we immediately agonize over whether that person was trustworthy.

Life is unpredictable, and we don’t like to face the reality that there might be an “et tu Brute” moment in our future.  We want to control our experiences, especially those that involve the unpredictability of other people and other people’s actions.

So we put on the armor.  For the past 10 years, in my career, I was “smart.”  I knew who I could trust, and I always held more cards that I would show.  I had the upper hand–I was cool and in control.  Nobody could possibly sneak up on me or turn on me.

Wearing and maintaining this armor took a lot of energy.  I was focused on my own protection, and covering my own backside.  I felt like I was bulletproof, but at what cost?  What more could I have accomplished, if I had not been spending all this energy in this way?

I should say, what more could I have accomplished, if I had not been wasting all this energy in this way?

Because you know how the story goes.  After all that effort, I was stabbed in the back.  I do not want to share the details here, but it was a series of incidents, that spanned over multiple years.  It was gruesome, and it shook me to the core.

All of my preparations, all of my concern over my own protection, was for naught.  It was a complete waste of energy.  I wasn’t able to prevent what happened.  And I wasn’t even able to prepare for it.

But do you know what else?  It didn’t kill me.  Instead, it led me to realize that I was only going to get through that rough time by becoming vulnerable of leaning on (and learning from) caring friends, who just seemed to come out of the woodwork.  It then led me to trust myself and question all of my self-imposed limitations.  Ultimately, it led me to create the wonderful life that my family enjoys right now.

The challenge that I now face, is to continue to face the world without any armor.  It is a waste, nothing but a waste.  I don’t need to know everything that is going on, everything that is said about me.  I don’t need to try to figure out who I can and can’t trust.  I just need to be me–vulnerable and authentic–and do the things that I am here to do.  If I am stabbed in the back again, I will not die.  I need to trust that I still have the strength within me to get through any unexpected turns that life may take.  And I need to trust that I have friends who will remind me that I have this strength, in the times when I doubt it.

So, my lesson for you is to forget about protecting yourself.  You can’t control the uncontrollable.  Save your energy for doing helpful, productive things; don’t waste it on maintaining your armor.

And know that, if the worst happens, for every knife in your back, there will be even more people there, helping you to get back up and heal.

DSC_0022

Lessons from the Past 365 Days

A year ago today, my journey began.

I actually don’t want to share the details here, but it all began a year ago, in my basement, in front of that space heater, tonight.

I began questioning.  I began to consider that I could trust, and that my life had worth.

Life began, fragile and tentative, in that windowless room, this night.

Today I am a year old.

And here are the lessons I have learned in that year:

  • We are only limited by our perceptions.
  • We are loved.  All of us.  All the time.
  • Every one of us has within us the ability to change–and save–many lives.
  • If we’re suffering, it is by our own choice, whether we see it or not.
  • There are more honorable goals than martyrdom.
  • Change is inevitable.  And a hard pill to swallow.  Swallow it, and you will find peace.
  • We are all capable of infinite kindness.  But we must first find it within ourselves.
  • You will backslide, no matter what.  You will fall flat on your face again.  Get back up, and carry on.  It just means you’re human.
  • More than anything we THINK we need, we need rest.  And lots of it.
  • Happiness lies in learning to turn off our brains for awhile.
  • We need to learn to find joy and love within ourselves.  And we need to learn to ask for help and support from others.  Those two truths are not mutually exclusive.
  • Gratitude is a state of mind.  We can’t pick and choose what to be grateful for.
  • Life is beautiful, even when it isn’t.

Tonight, I am grateful to be here, in my new life.  The whole journey was a miracle, and it is all beautiful.  I am glad to have experienced every step of it.

What beautiful anniversaries do you see each year, in your life?

DSC_0051

Lesson 4: Who Comes First?

Note: This is one of my 35 Lessons in 35 Years.  There are links to all lessons that I’ve written about so far, on that post.

Nothing could be kinder, more altruistic, than putting others before yourself, right?  We praise “selfless” acts, and self-sacrifice.

But, in practice, this kind of thinking leads to martyrdom.

  • We burn ourselves out, because we say “yes” to everyone who asks something of us.
  • We neglect our own needs, for rest, for nourishment, and for fun, because we’re so busy taking care of our families.
  • We ignore our own suffering and deny ourselves the opportunity to heal, because we think it would be “selfish.”

Because we’re so busy putting others first, we miss out on the joy that comes with serving.  We start to view giving back as an obligation, a chore.  We begin to seek approval and validation for our efforts, because we haven’t taken the time to know ourselves and find that approval and validation within.

It’s not a matter of harming others for our own gain, or ignoring the people who are suffering around us.  It is not a matter of using “retail therapy” or spending lots of money getting every thing we want.  A lot of things mascarade as love.  If we truly understand ourselves, we will understand our need to give back.

We will understand that we are not in a category of one.

Because martyrdom and self-indulgence are caused by the same faulty assumption: that there are two groups of people in the world, “me” and “everyone else.”  There isn’t.  We aren’t each in our own lonely category.  It’s just “us.”

And we each need to tilt in the direction that the attention is needed.  If you need to work on your own growth and healing, that is where your attention should go.  If you are ready to help someone else, or if you see someone with a need, that is where you should focus.  And it’s not all or nothing–it’s not a balance, but everyone gets some part of the pie.  And it changes.

Last winter, I needed to give myself my full attention.  Actually, my own attention wasn’t even enough at that time.  And that wasn’t selfish.  My struggles and my understanding of myself have equipped me to better understand anyone.

And, as time went on, I was able to do more for others, so that is where my attention went.  It changes each day.  If I’m sick, I rest, rather than plowing through my day.  If I feel sad or in need of support, I seek it out.

And as I experience the growing joy within, I am eager to share it.  As I see, more clearly than ever, the struggles faced by those around me, I don’t hesitate to be there.

So, my fourth lesson is to ditch the hierarchy.  Don’t put anyone first.  Let’s all walk together, side-by-side.

DSC_0020

Lesson 3: No Good Can Come from Overthinking

Note: This is one of my 35 Lessons in 35 Years.  There are links to all the posts I’ve done on this, so far, on my original post.

I remember sitting in Abnormal Psych class, back in my undergrad days.  This was a class of breakthroughs, for every student involved.  The professor, who had worked for years in the field, would describe the characteristics and experiences that would lead to a particular disorder.  During the lecture, we all made connections to ourselves, and somebody would inevitably be near tears by the time the professor, said, “And so it goes.”

Was there anything wrong with any of us?  No.  We were overthinking, overanalyzing.

Our brains love to work, and love to make connections.  And in doing so, they often complicate the simplest aspects of our lives, and lead us to suffer needlessly.

I’ve found that spending time in the house, with nothing else to do, tends to lead me toward overthinking.  My brain will make me absolutely miserable, if I don’t take measures to prevent it.

Here are some of the ways that I overthink:

1.  Diagnosing myself.  All right, so I don’t actually diagnose myself with psychological disorders, but sitting alone, it is very easy to start picking apart and trying to fix myself.  It’s good for us to always strive to be the best we can be, but we need to begin from the assumption that we are improving on what is already good.  When I’m overthinking, I “find” deficiencies all over, and try to fix them.  I’ll end up apologizing for the most ridiculous things, and basically driving myself nuts.

2.  Overanalyzing the reactions of others.  After I’m done with myself, I’ll start picking apart my interactions with my friends and co-workers.  Did I say something wrong?  Am I giving them the wrong impression?  Am I annoying them?  Am I too open?  Too aloof?  This kind of thinking leads to second guessing everything, and keeps me from being authentic around others.  People like other people by default, so my assumptions are probably incorrect anyway.

3.  Diminishing experiences with meaning.  We like to give meaning to everything.  What does the sunset mean?  I’ve seen some powerful images, in my mind, and my mind likes to try and assign meaning to them, and use them to figure out what I need to do.  Meaning and words can really diminish experiences and feelings.  Some things just are.  And we need to enjoy them.

4.  Exaggerating experiences with meaning.  The flip side of #3 holds true as well.  If something unpleasant happens, my mind will try and figure out what it means.  Is it because I did something wrong?  Good things just happen, and bad things just happen.  When we don’t assign meaning to them, we’re able to weather the storms much better.

5.  Barking up the wrong tree.  We don’t like to say “I don’t know.”  So, when I’m faced with a challenge, my mind will search for an explanation, even if it isn’t the correct one.  It’s harder to realize when I’m heading down this road, and I often need to be told by someone else that I’m doing this.  When I’m in the middle of trying to make an answer fit a problem, I have to stop myself and make sure I’m not approaching it from the wrong angle.

No good comes from overthinking.  So how have I been able to avoid it?  Here are some ways:

  • Get out of the house!  I go out and experience life, rather than staying inside.
  • Pauses during the day.  I try to stop and spend a minute or two clearing my mind every 30 minutes or so.
  • Exercise.  I don’t think when I’m riding my bike to work.  It’s a great way to rest my mind.

Have you ever caught yourself overthinking?  What are some ways that you’ve learned to avoid it?

DSC_0029

Lesson #2: Love is the Only Thing That is Real

When I agreed to tell the story behind each of my 35 lessons in 35 years, and when I decided to tell them in order, I immediately regretted putting this one second.  I would have much rather told this story near the end of the series, not at the beginning.  And still, it is a story that needs telling–not because I want to relive any of it, but because I want to share with you the lessons I have learned as a result.

DSC_0009

To tell this story means going back to last winter.

I remember our excitement before the holidays, when we moved into the basement.  I was adjusting to being “back to reality” after our summer of sailing.  I no longer maintained a personal Facebook account, and that had led to me forging strong friendships with a number of other bloggers, through e-mail.  I was being pushed, I was being challenged, and I was overwhelmed by all the positive interactions I was having.

At times I had to take breaks, because hearing so many positive things was too much.  I wasn’t sure why I was so overwhelmed, but, in an effort to find out and discover, I chose “Love” as my one-word theme for 2013.  I wanted to understand why I had such a difficult time accepting the love that was offered to me.  (Before I go on, I should add that I am referring to “love” in the broad sense, not necessarily romantic love, although I had a hard time accepting love from my husband as well). 

I sought it out, and it was shown to me, in a most beautiful way.

My life situation was mediocre, but it was safe.  I didn’t love it, but the security was hard to leave.  (For more specifics on my story, click here).  Everyday, as I went to my job, a part of me remained behind, on our boat.  I kept wishing that there were a way to remain in the “world” of the summer, rather than having to return to “reality” for the bulk of the year. 

DSC_0015

Still, with all the positive reinforcement and encouragement, I made the most of my situation.  I took more risks, stepped out of my comfort zone, and was beginning to find my passion for my daily life, on land.  I took more chances with my writing, as well as in my career.  I began to realize that I was strong, and that risks were worth taking.

And then, after a 10 minute meeting, it all changed.

I learned that I knew nothing.  As the situation worsened, I felt fear as I have never felt it before.  Nothing was safe, nothing was secure, and nothing made sense anymore.  I no longer knew who I could trust, or who was planning to harm me next.  Everything I believed to be true about myself, about the world, and about human nature was being challenged.

DSC_0018

And yet, through it all, I was never alone.  Co-workers came to talk to me, to bring me chocolate–and advocate for me when necessary.  Friends I’d never met in real life were constantly available, sending me words of encouragement throughout the day.  This love was constant, no matter how upset I became, no matter how crazy I acted, in my fear.  I was loved, completely, even though I was, at that time, incapable of giving anything back.

It was through this love that I was able to see a path, that I was able to find within myself the strength I needed to do what I needed to do.  It was through this love that I was able to see the fallacy contained within my fears–yes, “security” is fake, but the world, life, is infinitely safer than we could ever realize.  We have the choice to not believe what is said about us.  We have the choice to see when a situation is no longer working for us, and to act upon it.  Fear is an experience that we all have, and always will have, but fear exists only in our heads. 

DSC_0021

Love, on the other hand, is real.

Before we made this move, while we were in the process of making changes, I wondered what lie beyond all of the fears and worries that have defined my adult life.  Now I know the answer.  What lies beyond, is the only thing that is real.  The only thing that makes sense.

The most amazing part of the story is that, after being loved through such a dark time, I gradually learned to love and to regard myself in the same way.  And once I was able to extend such love and compassion to myself, I found myself becoming more able to love others in the same way.  I see things differently, I understand more.  While I still occasionally act out of fear, based on the past, I have definitely grown as a result of the lessons taught to me by love.

DSC_0056