I feel like I could make this a super duper short thing, a medium thing, or a super looong thing. I’m going to aim for some happy medium, though.
For the tl;dr crowd, here is the distillation of what I learned and what I apply in challenging moments: Ask yourself: What do I want? Be honest (about what you want). Be kind (to yourself and others). Tell the truth.
Once we lose our fear of being tiny, we find ourselves on the threshold of a vast and awesome universe which dwarfs – in time, in space, and in potential – the tidy anthropocentric proscenium of our ancestors. ~ Carl Sagan
By the end of 2010 I was a worn-out husk of a human. I’d managed to leave my job gracefully, but not without paying a price. I’d lost all my self-confidence. I didn’t trust myself. I thought I was just exhausted and needed to rest. But after two years, it became apparent that rest wasn’t the only thing I needed.
I knew I was having problems when I was interpreting everything with the same level of fear. It didn’t matter what it was. My internal sense of things was waaaay off, but I could only tell by extrapolation. So I found a therapist.
There were many things that I worked on over the almost two years I worked with G:
- There was learning to look for support. Everywhere I looked, I saw a threat. Learning to scan for support was HUGE.
- There was the piece about needing to be seen. I’d learned at my previous place of employment that being my whole self was unacceptable (or had interpreted various signals that way). So I made the choice to stop sharing the parts I felt weren’t acceptable there. As anyone living in the closet can tell you, it’s exhausting. And demoralizing. So I worked on being brave and telling the truth when people asked me questions that I thought they didn’t really want to know the answers to. And guess what? I started having amazing conversations. And I don’t remember anyone running away, screaming, as fast as they could. But maybe I just blotted out those memories.
- We spend A LOT of time talking about my feelings. As I joked recently, if I’m talking about my feelings, I’d better be paying you to do so. But seriously, I didn’t understand my emotional landscape. I felt totally out of control. I had to learn that it was a) okay to have feelings; b) okay to feel them; and c) okay to not act on them.
- Which brings me back to fear. Everything I talked about ended the same way: “And then I’m going to die, alone, in a gutter on the street.”
- Which is patently not true. Saying these things that I feared out loud took the power away, in a profound way. Saying them to a compassionate witness was life changing.
- There’s a Part II to fear: the illusion of control. I hate feeling out of control. As I began to relax and breathe and learn to understand my feelings, I became less and less overwhelmed. For me, it turned out, my sense of control and safety were directly tied to my inability to understand what I was feeling. When I couldn’t understand what I was feeling, I felt
out of control. In other words, my sense of control had nothing to do with my ability. Learning to be present in the moment, slowing down, and uncoupling my response from my reaction was probably the core of the work I did with G.
- The antidote to fear is curiosity. I’ve been trying this one out. When I feel afraid, I don’t “whistle a happy tune” like Anna in The King and I. Putting on a brave face equals dismissing my own experience. Instead, I take my cue from Doctor Who. He is always curious, even when it appears that death is imminent. I’ve been experimenting and testing it out. Turns out, curiosity is a like a magic wand that releases the straightjacket of fear. If you are feeling gripped by fear, I encourage you to give it a try. Start with something small. Something that feels doable. You can do it!
- I had to move from criticism and judgment to observation.
- I was crabby about happiness, which I now find hilarious. So G encouraged me to consider what might satisfy me. So much easier for me to work with than happiness.
- I had to learn what I value matters to me.
- I had to learn that I am safe. Always.
- I had to learn to bloom at my own speed, in other words.
Learning to pay attention to what I want in any given moment has been an interesting process. I’d say most of the time, what I want does not cause me to feel any internal conflict, so getting it is easy – or falls under the category of “wishful thinking” (like an extended trip around the world).
All of these things were layered over time, building on themselves. It was in this way that I learned to neutralize the things that I felt held power over me.
I felt broken and damaged, unloveable and lacking value. I had to learn that what I had to offer was enough. That I am enough. That I have value and what I have to offer has value. If what I have to offer doesn’t work for someone else, it’s not my fault. It’s not their fault. It’s just not a fit.
I love that I picked slow bloom as the organizing principle for my blog. It gives me permission to focus on opening up in only the way that I can. I can let go of comparing myself to others and continue to return to my desires.