One of my biggest problems is my hyper focus on my problems.
On one side of that coin you have a highly accountable, can-do attitude that isn’t afraid to quit, change course, or start over when things suck. On the other, rampant neuroticism. One side is a badge of honor, the other an albatross.
I have come to understand that I am this way in part because of my childhood and family of origin (control issues for days) and in part because of my nature (or karma, depending on what side of the woo fence you fall on). I have also come to understand that this information is irrelevant.
Feeling like there’s something to fix gives meaning or direction to the overwhelming chaos that is life. Setting about to fix it feels proactive. It might not be the right thing, but at least you’re doing something.
For me, and I imagine other people as well, this becomes problematic when the path towards better becomes a manic death march. When it boots you out of the flow of the river — where all those good vibey feelings like faith and trust live — into the rigid terrain of the banks. There you become tense and hyper vigilant, so focused on the step right in front of you for fear of falling and breaking your face, that you lose sight of the horizon.
More and more, as I get older, I see how sneaky this proclivity for control is. How even the most well-intentioned shift in thinking or habit can become a method of self-flagellation. An expression of fear, rather than love.
It’s a fine, fine line.
Discipline isn’t inherently bad. Nor is structure, predictability, or hard work. But when healthy habits are motivated and enforced by fear instead of love, they become toxic, self-abusive tactics that are most definitely not in service of better, happier, or safer.
I am constantly working on this. And it’s hard. I have waged war with my body for most of my life. I’ve starved it, stuffed it, poisoned it, ignored it, called it horrible names. I’ve done the same to my heart. This sometimes looked like taking care, even to me.
Somewhere along the line my brain, the thinking part of me, got the idea that it was in charge. That as long as it was calling the shots we’d be okay. Little did I know, with all my rules and routines around food, exercise, and relationships, I was silencing the wisest, safest, most powerful part of myself. My intuition, my inner knowing.
The gift of my 34th year was the realization that “if you want something you’ve never had, you have to do something you’ve never done.” Which for me translates to saying no. Asking for help more but talking less. Sitting with my feelings instead of on them. Trusting my instincts instead of judging them. And a whole host of other things yet to be discovered.
In 30 days I will turn 35. Strangely, this birthday doesn’t feel as overtly big and scary as the last one, but it does feel significant, in both disturbing and liberating ways. I am not the 35 year old I imagined I’d be five or ten or 15 years ago. I no longer fall into marketers’ 18–34 demographic. I now get lumped in with the middle aged folks, those 35 to 52. And I cross that threshold without a partner, a house, or IRA.
But with each passing year I am undoubtedly softening. Better able to distinguish between the river and the bank. More determined than ever to stay in love and kindness, towards myself and others. More grateful for the things I do have— a firecracker kid, my family of friends, my work.
Writing is one of the tools I use to course correct. Because when I am writing, I feel more like myself. More in the flow, more tuned in and turned on. I forget this, often. Something about the spring serves to remind me though. So, as I did last year, today I am committing to writing something every day for the next 30 days leading up to my birthday. I’m also committing to the formal banishment of all forms of verbal negativity including complaining, whining, and gossiping. Feels hard and scary and therefore completely right. I am doing both of these things as a gift to myself. As a show of loyalty and commitment to who I am becoming, rather than who I’ve been. A white flag. An act of love.
“A miracle is just a shift in perception from fear to love.”