On Falling Short and Not Getting ‘There’
August 24, 2016
Silly Disclaimer: This blog post contains lots of swears, gratuitous use of all caps and italics, and some stories about me that will knock me off whatever pedestal I’ve pretended to climb up onto. Proceed if you will.
The universe gets me, it knows me well enough to know how easily distracted I get by shiny things, literally and figuratively speaking. So when I need to pick up a message, the universe is thoughtful enough to beat me over the head with it until I can’t pretend it’s not there. In that vein, here comes this blog post: it’s not I had wantEd to write about — because it involves telling stories about me that make me quite a bit more vulnerable than I’d like to be (which for the record is ‘not at all’).
I have a couple clients who are currently in the ‘Why the fuck is this not working?!’ phase of changing. This is a normal and natural part of changing, and I’ve been through it myself, so I get it. But it is easy to me to be that jerk and say I get it when I’m looking back. Hindsight being 20/20 and all that.
I don’t know quite how to grab these wonderful people by the shoulders and shake them, declaring “It will get better! This will pass! Trust me!”. Literally doing that would be out of the question, and quite inappropriate. But being naturally skeptical myself, it just doesn’t jive with me to say “Trust me, this will work”. It feels too much like selling snake oil. Lemme tell ya, if I were a snake oil salesperson I would be showing up with a compelling speech as well as evidence, testimonials and the like. Because that’s the kind of person I am. “Trust me” just doesn’t cut it for me.
Instead I will tell you what I know to be true. Now I do know some of this from reading books and listening to smart people talk — but I really, really know it from living it myself.
When my last relationship broke up, it was hard. So far nothing crazy in that story! But this breakup wasn’t just the unfortunate but natural dissolution of a relationship — it was the full spectacular destruction of the life I had built around this relationship, including my very idea of who I was, and what I was doing with my life. Oh, and I really did not dislike the person I broke up with — in fact, I still like them, believe they are a great person and have mad respect for them. So breaking up also involved confronting the reality that I was actively hurting this person, though I knew it was to benefit both of us.
I really seriously questioned whether I could pick myself up and start again, despite my lifetime record of 100% getting through whatever has happened (still maintaining, thankyouverymuch!). Throwing my age for comedic effect — I was 32 at the time. A totally realistic time to ‘start again’, if that’s even a thing at that age. But it didn’t feelthat way. I had spent 8 years keeping myself busy and distracted by overseeing every aspect of this relationship and doing all the things. Suddenly I had a lot of free time on my hands. For thinking! And crying! And generally feeling like I was going crazy.
So, I decided to go to therapy because I was self-aware enough to know I needed and deserved help. Just joking! Nope, I had to be dragged there kicking and screaming by my saviour. This amazing person had to tell me “You need help. Go”. And for a long while I didn’t go. I was like “Pffffft! I got this!”. Though I could barely get through my days, I was pretty sure I could handle it all because that’s what I did — I powered through. When I finally admitted that I needed to go, this amazing person drove me there. Because they are kind and generous — and they were rightly concerned that I would bail.
In my first session, I explained what I was there for — recent hard breakup, and consequent need to figure out my life. She promptly (and rudely) started asking me about my deeper, darker stuff. I was like No, No, Fuck No! — we can’t go there because I really couldn’t afford that many therapy sessions, which was equal parts truth and jest.
The money issue was real: I was literally borrowing money from this amazing person so I could do this, and barely paying my bills. I also had to walk uphill to work every day (not really but it certainly felt that way emotionally). The money issue conveniently aligned with the fact that I just didn’t wanna do that hard stuff. I wanted her to help me figure out my life, real quick, and then we would shake hands and walk off into our respective sunsets.
This sob story of how sad and hard my life was at this time (and it was — I thought I had mono for a while — turns out I was just really, really sad and tired) does have a larger point. It’s about riding the waves of change. Not the nice beach waves of Caribbean vacations that make your hair look amazing. I’m talking about the stormy, choppy, trying to drown you waves that come along.
At first I would leave my sessions feeling disoriented, worrying that I had made the wrong choice by spending what was a lot of money for me at the time and feeling like it wouldn’t ‘work’. I didn’t feel comfortable with me being the main factor that would determine if it would ‘work’. I was not on my A-game at that time, to say the least.
Soon after starting, I was leaving the sessions feeling more hopeful, lighter, and with more clarity of mind. I remember one day in particular I walked home feeling physically like I was light and bouncy for the first time in forever. It was raining lightly and I didn’t even care, though normally I dislike walking in the rain (wet socks and all that). I felt like I was going somewhere (in life… I was literally going home but that fact was not as exciting). I was like “Therapy is cool!. And I’m awesome for doing it! I got this!”
Then It happened: I Fucked up. I lost my shit, I did the same stupid thing I always did, I slid backwards so hard and fast I hit the wall and crashed through it. Funnily enough, I can’t remember what I did, I just know it felt like a huge catastrophe that left me deeply disappointed in myself, embarrassed and right back in that space where I couldn’t do this, no matter how hard I tried. It felt like the little progress I had made has disappeared in a moment. It was all gone, there was nothing good left. I screamed at my amazing person that I would not keep going to therapy and wasting my money and their ideas were dumb and I sucked and everything sucked. Fuck all this shit!
It was so tempting to stop going — because I was struggling to afford this, and since I couldn’t go forever, why not just quit already? I clearly didn’t deserve this help unless it was ‘working’ and there was clearly something deep inside me that was making it not work. Then I would calm down, my amazing person would help put things in perspective and help me dry my tears. I dusted myself off, and got back to work. Therapy was cool again! I was doing it, yay me! Phew, good thing that was over, and would never happen again, I assumed.
But somehow this shit kept happening! I would promise myself to be better, try harder and keep myself ‘under control’ this time. And then, seemingly without warning, all that good progress would come crashing down around me. It always made me feel so low, because I had to start over again. From the beginning! So. Much. Work. So unfair! So defeating!
Except… none of that story I was telling myself was true. It’s never been, and never will be, true. It’s an illusion that, as long as I believed it, could help me make myself feel like a fucking piece of shit. I could justify walking away from what was some of the most important personal work of my life so far. Although I didn’t quit, I always had my bags packed, so to speak. If there was something so wrong with me I couldn’t be helped, then I might as well not bother continuing. It was a lie I wanted to believe that fed the fear which held me back from really getting through it all.
If it weren’t for this amazing person who stuck by me every messy step and misstep along the way, and wouldn’t let me quit, I might not have realized this very important truth: Every time that I fell short, failed, disappointed myself or someone else, lost it, hit the wall and generally fucked up — it didn’t negate or erase the good work I had done. In fact, quite the opposite — it enhanced it.
Losing my temper helped me realize why it was so important to get to the root of my anger and learn how to self-regulate emotionally. Feeling like an imposter when I binge ate or felt ugly because I was supposed to be a health and fitness role model (damn it!) reinforced the importance that I do the inner work I needed to do, so I could actually love myself. Every time I thought about giving up on my dreams because it wasn’t going perfectly, I reminded myself why it was important to surround myself with authentic people who demonstrated for me that we are all flawed, that we all have the same struggles, and to reach out for help when I needed it. And why it was important to be this person for others, too.
This illusion isn’t only my illusion. It belongs to all of us.
It seems so, so hard sometimes. It seems like it will be impossible to sustain that amount of effort for very much longer. And it would be — except it gets easier, if you let it. You can make it easier by just letting some of the pressure off. It gets easier when you keep trying, when you let yourself fall but you get back up and keep going anyway.
Sure, it could take a long time, and it could be really hard. But I can guarantee you it will take longer and feel harder if you keep fighting against yourself. When you keep beating yourself up for falling short, that’s all you’ll see. You won’t be able to let yourself celebrate your accomplishments — especially if they are seem small at the time. I’m talking about days when your accomplishment is “I went to therapy” and you are grateful because “I didn’t cry at work today”. Those are wins, my friend. Big wins that can feel small.
You are winning when you keep it up even though you have no idea if it will ‘work’. When you keep it up when you’re not really sure what the outcome is. When you keep it up when you are willing to embrace the parts of yourself that you’d rather cut out and get rid of. Because those parts of you are part of the whole you, and you are amazing.
You CAN do it! Fucking up, falling short, and feeling like you’ll never get ‘there’ does NOT mean you’re starting over. It does NOT negate all the good you’ve already done. It does NOT mean you are flawed beyond repair, that you might as well stop trying, and that you don’t deserve to be investing in yourself. All of that bullshit is FALSE. You take that illusion, drop it on the floor, stomp, jump and dance all over it, and get on with the important work you need to be doing.
These waves of change that feel shitty when you’re in it is actually a call to action: Stay on your path, keep breathing, put one foot in front of the other and you’ll come through the other side stronger than ever.
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