Enough

How different would our lives be if we only believed we were enough and had enough?  As I look around this society and even consider my own life and past I see that a fear of not enoughness can dog so many of us.  This fear can cause us to compete or to believe we are not worthy enough, it can prevent us from expressing ourselves, from reaching out to love and be loved and it makes us attack or collapse when that reaching out hits a brick wall or is demonised or rejected by another person who also feels not enough or that we are not enough for them.

I guess this is coming to mind as its interesting I had the clash with the gardener the other day all around the 11th anniversary of getting together with my ex partner back in 2007.   At the outset of the relationship he had a long list of why and how others were not enough and of how he had struggled to find enough love, and during the entire relationship he found it so difficult to relax and then began to point out to me all the time how I wasnt enough this or that.    I know now that as an adult child of an alcoholic parent he had never had a resting place either and he was driven by a lot of unresolved grief which manifested as rage when things triggered him.  He drove one of his sons very hard and would call him mean names if the son refused to do something his father wanted often only because he was tired too and loved to play guitar and needed to rest or just loved being in the ‘now’ as I did.

I thought of this unhealed wound yesterday as I have reached the chapter in Jeanette Wintersons’s book Why Be Happy When You Can Be Normal (which is what her stepmother said to Jeanette when she found out she was gay) where she has a breakdown after a love relationship dissolves in her adulthood.  Reading it reminded me that suicidal feelings often accompany the opening to the realisation of our wounded self that never got to fully birth in dysfunctional homes that could not honour our sacred wholeness.   Jeanette expresses very powerfully the forces within herself that she struggled with and that over the period 2007 to 2008 caused her to break down and break open to the self hatred and ‘madness’ inside her which was nothing less than a composite of all the toxic things, behaviours and beliefs her mother had introduced into her life over years as well as associated feelings that for most of her life she was writing over the top of.

Jeanette tried to take her life in 2008 and had what I can only call a spiritual experience in which she understood her old self was dead and she had to be born again on a deeply psychological level, she also began to realise she needed to address and understand the feelings and forces that were driving her from within.

In a very heart wrenching paragraph she writes :

extremes – whether of dullness or fury – successfully prevent feeling.  I know our feelings can be so unbearable that we employ ingenious strategies – unconscious strategies – to keep those feelings away.  We do a feeling swap where we avoid feeling sad or lonely or afraid or inadequate, and feel angry instead.  It can work the other way , too – sometimes you do need to feel angry, not inadequate, sometimes you do need to feel love and acceptance, and not the tragic drama of your life.

It takes courage to feel the feeling – and not trade it on the feelings exchange, or even transfer it altogether to another person…..you know how in couples one person is always doing the weeping  or the raging while the other one seems so calm and reasonable?

I understood that feelings were difficult for me although I was overwhelmed by them.

She then began to hear voices and inside them found : ‘a piece of me…..so damaged that she was prepared to see me dead to find peace…. my violent rages, my destructive behavior, my own need to destroy love and trust, just as love and trust had been destroyed for me…. The fact that I did not value myself”  And she also found that ‘the lost furious vicious child’ was the ‘war casualty’ and that was the part of her hated herself and also hated life.

Jeanette began to dialogue with this destructive part of herself which was really a defence against her childhood pain and that is what brought her back home to herself.  It also led to the writing of a children’s book The Battle of the Sun which as a person with an astrological interest intrigues me as the Sun in our chart is our spiritual centre, it is the essence of us born to shine before it becomes in many cases covered in tarnish or buried under the force of our inner demons or monsters, or what Jeanette imagines as ‘the Creature’ within.  It was this creature which was a representation really of all the lies she had been told about her being a bad self, never good enough, and it’s primary purpose (as for all of us who internalise the critic) was to mock, disparage and tear her apart, but never the less giving this part of herself a voice in the end, as for all of us, helped Jeanette to reclaim her sanity.

Her pen ultimate realisation which she shares at the end of the chapter The Night Sea Journey makes me cry :

A few months later we (the creature and Jeanette) were having our afternoon walk when I said something about how nobody had cuddled us when we were little.  I said ‘us’ not ‘you’.  She held my hand.  She had never done that before, mainly she just walked behind shooting her sentences.

We both sat down and cried

I said. “We will learn how to love.”

Learning to love ourselves, to accept our pain, to hold our own hand, to know that we were and will always be ‘enough’ no matter what other forces or voices in the family or culture have told us well really isn’t this our most important challenge?  And doesn’t the deepest recognition of this truth mean a lessening of our insane and voracious consumption which drives us in covering over our sense of emptiness and not enoughness to over produce and over consume in ways that close our eyes to the reality of vast magentic gift of enoughness that surrounds us on this living, breathing, fully sentient, spirit infused love infused planet earth?  Is it not the trance of our not enoughness either internalised or projected the thing that keeps us hungry and blind, causing us to lash out, over protect or self or other harm?   Is not what is needed on this planet an awakening to the sacredness of earth and all life which can only come from a deeply realised sense of preciousness and enoughness?

It is not selfish to care for the Self.

I can very much identify as a person who has attempted for most of her life to be a good guy (even though I am a woman), that is why coming across Andrea Mathew’s book Letting Go of Good : Dispel the Myth of Goodness to find Your Genuine Self was such a helpful ‘find’ to come across in my local library.  I have shared some excerpts from it before and I have a post banked up to share on how I always identified as a ‘bad’ self when I seemed to fall short of ideals promoted by my emotionally repressive family and Catholic education.

I remember a while back when I was in recovery and starting to attempt to be myself and not automatically go along with what my family and sister wanted.  She said to me after being extremely demanding and aggressive “you always were such a selfish child, throwing tantrums”.   I probably did vocally express myself when something triggering was going down that said I could have done with a lot more of an authentic Self growing up.  If I had it I may not have had to mask a lot behind alcohol and drugs for so many years and had such a struggle in later years to take care of myself.

Anyway I was just reading the chapter in Mathews book on how the good guy amongst us have a terror of being called selfish, which is a shame and doesn’t end up serving us well in life.   So when Mathews poses the question ‘What Does It Really Mean to be Selfish?‘ this is her answer.

Actually, the term selfish serves no real purpose other than to manipulate others.  It isn’t selfish to think about the Self – for how else will one become acquainted with the Self if one doesn’t think about it?  Your feelings for and about the Self are not selfish – one of the healthiest things we can do is fall in love with the Self so that we love its company, cherish its essence, and desire to be in its presence all the time.   It isn’t selfish to do things for the Self – the Self needs us to do those things, otherwise we are disconnected from it.  To act purely out of the Self is how we live an authentic life.

So then are those manipulators (those who tell us…. You know I need this!  How can you say you love me if..?  If you don’t help me, I’ll…  You are the ONLY one who cares….. You are the most self centred person I know – said the first time you refuse to enable an addiction or something of like nature, after you have given years of time, energy and love) selfish?  No.  They are trying to survive by using the identity out of which they were taught to live…..

What about narcissists?  Aren’t they selfish?  In a word, No but they sure can put on a good act.  The truth is that true narcissists have a personality disorder.  That doesn’t mean we should feel sorry for them.   But it does mean that they have wrapped their identity up so much in distortion and unreality that they live in that distortion and unreality as if it were the only truth.   The best thing a good guy can do is avoid them.

But good guys have a hard time doing that, because they are not very good at discernment.  Discernment would mean that they would have to see and take responsiblity for their own end of these manipulative encounters. That would mean that they would have to start being more authentic.. taking the risks that are a natural journey to authenticity will finally allow them peace.

According to Mathews, those risks include letting go of a number of myths good guys can live by that end up only hurting them and stealing power.  These include :

  1. Thinking it’s not okay to judge others (despite evidence to the contrary those others may be mean, abusive or damaging).
  2. Thinking fall in love is immediately equated with giving over trust or hoping for trust before evidence that such trust is warranted or earned has been given.
  3. Believing it’s always a good thing to feel guilty when often guilt is unwarranted if we are following our own necessary authentic moral code that may go against social mores which restrict or limit that authenticity.
  4. Believing we are responsible for the way others feel when we are just being ourselves and behaving with authenticity out of no desire to hurt or harm.
  5. Being overly loyal, when such loyalty is not always warranted.
  6. Believing that to be good we must make sacrifices and always do our duty.
  7. Believing in unconditional love when such a belief may be harmful to our Self or other’s Selves (e.g. enabling an addiction when it is clear it is destroying another person)
  8. Believing one must always forgive regardless of how terrible the hurt or how absence the lack of remorse shown by the other party.
  9. Believing one must always smile and ‘be positive’, even when we are not feeling either happy or positive.
  10. Always trying to be the bigger person.  As Mathews explains the person who is always trying to be the bigger person does not actually belong to themselves.

The good guy who is always trying to be the bigger person is very afraid that if he takes ownership of his own life, he will feel terribly guilty.  He will feel guilty because he does not belong to himself, and he is therefore betraying those to whom he belongs.   So  he will hide his deepest essence – which, is the primary gift he has to give the world – because he cannot allow himself to really own it.  When he pretends to be the bigger person, it is to allow his life to be owned yet again by someone other than himself. This is a tragic and empty way to life… it is very possible to take ownership of our lives.

Getting out from under some of these myths can help us who struggle as good guys or emotional caretakers to start pulling back from some internalized proscriptions that do not serve us well.  They can help us begin to dispel the illusion that it is selfish to honour, protect and take care of ourselves.

 

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Letting go of numb

The following extract comes from Tara Brach’s book True Refuge : Finding Peace and Freedom in Your Own Awakened Heart.  Interestingly it concerns a woman who Tara was working with in therapy who as a young child had her long hair cut off by her mother as it was too much bother. I was sharing in a post a few days ago how this also happened to me and the trauma of it was felt when I went to the hairdresser late last week following my Mum’s death.   The woman in question, Jane, had also had her mother die a few years before the time she was seeing Tara.  In therapy she was sharing how the pain of this event had awakened in her heart through intense feelings of fear, felt as a claw “pulling and tearing at my heart”.  What followed was an outburst of anger towards her mother for subjecting Jane to this ordeal.

The anger soon turned into deep sadness as Tara worked with Jane encouraging her to feel the pain and grief deeply in her body, and in time it transformed into peace.  Jane had reached some deeply powerful realisations as a result.

Brach writes the following in her book :

Carl Jung wrote, “Nothing has a stronger influence psychologically on their environment, and especially on their children, than the unlived life of the parents.”  The outer domain of our unlived life includes all the places where we’ve held back from pursuing and manifesting our potential – in education and career, in relationships and creativity.  But it is the inner domain of our unlived life that sets this suffering in motion.  Here we find raw sensations, the longings and hurts, the passions and fears that we have not allowed ourselves to feel. When we pull away from the energetic basis of our experience, we turn away from the truth of what is.  We make a terrible bargain.  When we separate from the felt sense of our pain, we also separate from the visceral experience of love that allows for true intimacy with others.  We cut ourselves off from the sensory aliveness that connects us with the natural world.  When there is unlived life, we can’t take good care of ourselves, our children, our world.

The feelings you are trying to ignore are like a screaming child who has been sent to her room.  You can put earplugs in and barricade yourself in the farthest end of the house, but the body and the unconscious mind don’t forget.  Maybe you feel tension or guilt.  Maybe…. you are baffled by intimacy or haunted by a sense of meaninglessness. Maybe you fixate on all the things you need to get done.  You can’t live in a spontaneous way because your body and mind are still reacting to the presence of your distressed child.  Everythingy ou do to ignore her, including becoming numb, only strengthens your link with her.  Your very felt sense of who you are …is fused with the experience of pushing away a central part of your life or running from it.

In shutting down the passion, hurt and pain she had experienced as a young girl whose precious hair was butchered, Jane had locked herself into a numb and anxious fragment of who she was.  Yet something in her was calling her to live more fully.  By beginning to contact her body’s experience, by touching ground, she was opening the door to what she had been running from.

Traumas of this kind may seem inconsequential, but really they are not.  Something was done to us we didn’t want or need and had no power over and feelings do remain.   The true self in Jane probably loved her long hair,  it wasn’t all just about ego and looking a certain way, hair does hold our power and is connected to our heads which are such a vital part of our being. To be subjected to something that upset us and then to be laughed at for reacting (as Jane was) leaves a scar and a powerful subliminal message.  Going numb to it does not mean the feelings go away, they need to be dealt with, with compassion and sensitivity.

On boundary setting

Boundaries

 

Today I will set personal boundaries and refuse or limit my time with others who cause me to feel anxious about my Self, life, about making a mistake, about others, about the world, or about circumstances I cannot control.  Because I know that all I can control is my attitude, today I choose to practice an attitude that exudes gratitude for the blessings I do have, because that is what makes me feel peaceful within.

Lisa A Romano

Another wonderful poet : Samantha King

I finally splurged and brought the copy of poet Samantha King’s first published collection : Born to Love, Cursed to Feel on Sunday as a gift to myself.  I wanted to share the first poem in the collection as it is stunning.  I hope you enjoy it as much as I did :

Perfect

You’re a beautiful kind of madness

a misunderstood truth

O, the things they could learn from

the darkness that is hidden behind your eyes

So gifted, yet your talents are wasted

you gave up chasing dreams

Reality hit and you got a taste of failure

Cautious now about bearing your soul

For if others saw you fully exposed

They may not love you like they claim to

Time and experience have taught you to trust no one

Friends, lovers, and even family have forsaken you

You keep the shattered piece of your heart in a box

Stitching, gluing, and staying up all night

trying to put it back together

Attempting to fill the void that was left

Moving from one man to the next

It seems no one can satisfy the appetite

for affection that you seek

Continually picking at old wouds

they never heal properly

You have no real home, too restless to say in one place

You are reckless, selfish, stubborn, sometimes rude

You’ve bottled up the pain

of so much that has been done

When you’re hurt

You close into yourself, shut down

You love attention and yet love being by yourself more

May God have mercy on your soul

For you are truly lost

Daily you fight your demons

Yet no one knows of that which you endure

You bear it alone, never speaking of it

You can blame the broken home from which you came

Or the environment you grew up in

The people who tore you down so young

You can point a finger at those who have

whispered behind your back

They have all played a role in your development

But looking so deep into the past

will keep you from moving forward

You must love yourself more

that these people claim they do

Look at where you stand now

No one can know the things you have endured

You’ve never claimed to be perfect

Your flaws tell your story

There is no need to hide them

Can you see me?

I wrote this quite a few weeks ago and it concerns how I was treated in my last relationship.  Often my grittier, real posts don’t see the light of day.  I feel guilt for stating a harsh truth, setting a boundary or being legitimately angry over harsh treatment.  My mother taught me she could not survive my anger and so boundaries were hard.  I am posting this today to get it ‘out’.

Can you see me?  Doesn’t really matter now As I see myself You will never live inside my skin and I will never live in yours But sometimes I will meet a fellow traveller on the road They will see my scars or show me theirs and we will In that one brief instant recognise each other There will be no need for fear or hiding There will only be an open embrace Not a defensive stare Or that heart breaking glare Of how dare you  Strange and dangerous creature!

It isn’t my fault that you cannot see me but still it can cut Especially when you misunderstand You label me agoraphobic not knowing I have known trauma And also that as an intuitive empath I absorb more and feel things more deeply being susceptible to energies that fall off your back

You say I am too sensitive not knowing the cuts or hole of misattention that kept my boundaries open or stopped them from forming at all  You can never know that due to never having been shown empathy for struggling in this way its a long process to learn who I really am and what I feel inside and to put up the barrier or stop your misguided perceptions from stealing in and wounding me takes pain suffering learning and time

For so long I hoped that you would see me But really what I now understand is that all along you only saw your projection And when I failed to affirm your limited view of things I was then a threat that had to be amputated or exiled Or an infection you had to take distance from telling me how sick I made you  But then maybe just maybe you were sensitive too and due to the fact I was in so much pain I could not understand

Now do you not see me?  That is okay!  There are those around who see me, know me, get me.  There are those too who actually think I am kind of special and great  They let me be goofy They don’t cast water on my ideas and they don’t try to reign me in due to their own fears of being out of or losing control All in all it really is okay If you don’t see me Just as long as I see myse

 

On Shame and vulnerability

I am half way through Brene Brown`s wonderful book Daring Greatly : How the Courage to be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent and Lead.  It is resonating with me so deeply and making me so much more aware how defences against shame and vulnerability underlie so many of our challenges in life.

When I got sober in 1993 I was introduced to the work of John Bradshaw.  For those of you who dont know John is a recovering alcoholic who was one of the first to address the issue of toxic shame in his book Healing the Shame That Binds You.  Some of the most enlightening points in that book concerned so called religious addiction and poisonous pedagogy​ Inherent to both is the idea that who we are is intrinsically flawed and that the only way we can over come this flawed condition is to seek perfection or correction of the beastly, sinful parts of us.  While it is true that we do develop flaws and vulnerabilities growing up, associating such with toxic shame leaves a lasting legacy and burden it can be hard to get out from under.   Shame concerns the feeling that who we are is flawed.  We loose a sense that who we are is actually good at the core and then we learn to engage in all kinds of behaviours where we learn to try to either deflect the hot shame potato to others or deflect the blows of projected shame coming at as.  Some of us who become scapegoat or shame identified take on the mantle of shameful one and seek to attone in all kinds of ways.

In order to deflect shame Brene explains we respond in one of three ways :

  1. We move away by withdrawing, hiding, silencing ourselves, and keeping secrets;
  2. We move toward by seeking to appease and please;
  3. We move against by trying to gain power over others, by being aggressive and by using shame to fight shame…..

According to Brene all of these defences actually move us away from connection both with ourselves and others.  They lead us to disconnect from our deny or bury the true source of shame which lies within.

The alternative (which is not very attractive to some) is to keep our heart open when we may feel the hot shame potato being lobbed at us.  This is what happens with bullies or critics when they seek to attack us or bring us down (often projecting their own shadow onto us).  We need a deeper understanding of the other person`s defences against experiencing and taking on board their own shame.   This takes a of work most especially if as children we were shamed for feeling natural feelings (this leads to what John Bradshaw calls shame bound feelings.)

I know I most certainly entered the rooms of Alcoholic’s Anonymous just under 24 years ago all of my feelings were bound in shame.  I had gone through so much in my life and like Brene learned to use alcohol and drugs as coping mechanisms.  I did not know anything about shame.  I did not understand how much it had been a part of my life post particularly having gone through a Catholic education and in this way I fared even better than my two sisters who went to school during the 1950s and 1960s.

As I read Brene`s book I am becoming also very aware of how even years into recovery shame played a huge part in the last dysfunctional relationships I entered.  By that stage I had so much to grieve and had aborted several therapies.   I did not have any form of trust in people and in my family I watched grief being buried or deflected.  I was aware at that point that grief work was a big part of recovery, but I was not aware that the energetic lively self that got buried was also wearing a huge overcoat of shame as I carried a fear if I ever got too happy things would decombust.

Now I see how much shame and fear of vulnerablity ruled my own life, I am also developing a lot more compassion for others, most especially members of my family.  If we get raised never feeling good enough we do begin to adopt some of the armouring defences Brene discusses in Chapter 4 of her book.  We feel scared of risking expressing who we really are and can begin to put on masks.  In my own case from early days on in AA I was committed to taking the mask down.  I heard deeply with my heart as others shared of their own feelings of being exiles and aliens in a strange world and I cried so much at meetings hearing these stories.  Eventually I moved away from meetings to pursue therapy in the UK after my husband and I moved there in my 6th year of sobriety.  Understanding the roots of shame and vulnerability has been a far longer journey.

Today I was listening to the breakfast programme on our national radio station in Australia where the sexual abuse case against producer Harvey Weinstein was being discussed.  The commentators where saying how the revelations of those abused by Weinstein were awakening revelations of abuse for many women and how some of these women were being publically shamed by men on social media.  Oh, I thought, here goes the hot shame potato again.  Why is it so hard for us to have compassion for a person`s vulnerability?   (Often because those people judging and defending have not one clue of what it feels like to be violated in such a way.)  It saddened me while I also realised this is really just human nature, the sad state we find ourselves in collectively at present.

In my own life I am very glad that over time I have been able to open up my vulnerability.  That said opening up my vulnerability to shame bound or defended persons was not only not helpful, but down right damaging.  In that last relationship I was shut out and shamed so often for genuinely expressing my feelings.  It took me so long to understand that the partner I had chosen was so defended because his own pain was so huge and his own fear of vulnerability and his true feelings so powerful.

Today I can be honest most of the time.  I still engage in a lot of perfection seeking behaviours around my home which as so deep rooted I despair sometimes of ever fully overcoming them but I always draw comfort from the AA idea that we seek progress rather than perfection.   Perfection is an ideal perhaps never to be fully realised.  That said I keep striving for wholeness, to take on board my own shadow and defences a d olf fears against opening up and being emotional vulnerability.   It is a work in progress and along the way I am so so grateful for those people such as John Bradshaw and Brene Brown who are engaged in working to unmask and enlighten the powerful role shame and perfectionism play in our lives and world presently.   What a gift to have this knowledge and understanding.