Have you ever had this experience? Someone quotes from a book you once started but put down because you lost interest. You think to yourself, “I should take another look and see if I missed something.” And when you open it, you find it filled with your notes and highlights, but have no recollection of actually reading or making those notes.
That happened to me recently with Brene Brown’s book, The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are. I looked it up after Shira viewed Brown’s Ted Talk, “The Power of Vulnerability,” as part of her therapy here. Impressed by how it inspired her, I thought maybe she would enjoy one of Brene Brown’s book.
I remembered reading The Gifts of Imperfection on my Kindle and putting it down when the author started talking about self-love. I should tell you I don’t love self-help books and only buy them on my Kindle, which is filled with books I don’t really want and never finish.
To my surprise, I had read most of Brown’s book and highlighted throughout. Her words must have resonated when I first read them, but I wasn’t ready to digest them.
I wasn’t ready to give up who I thought I should be.
I decided to read it again, in part to see if Shira might like it, but also because I suspected it might hold something for me now. Lately, I’ve been giving myself a hard time.
Friends and colleagues are always telling me what a tremendous thing I’ve done, moving myself to MIddleboro, Massachusetts so Shira could participate in OCDI Junior’s partial hospitalization program. They tell me how amazing I am for getting my newsletter out under these circumstances.
But the truth I’m filled with shame and guilt about my life and work. What do I have to feel guilty about?
- My prior actions and reactions have made Shira’s OCD worse. There are a thousand ways families unknowingly make things worse for their kids with OCD. I know it’s common, but it’s hard to forgive yourself for screwing up your kid.
- I’ve lost control of my autioimmune diet. Not only have I suffered a lot of pain and fatigue since I’ve been here, I’ve gained weight. I have an old tape playing in my head that says that staying thin is a sign that you have your life together. You must keep up appearances of having everything under control.
- I have not met my writing goals, which I had already scaled back to align with my reality here. My goals was two hundred pages worth of revisions. I’ve only made it to one hundred and fifty.
GUILT. SHAME. REMORSE.
The tapes play over and over in our heads.
I can rationally point out valid reasons that all of the above occurred:
- OCD is a tricky little worm that lives in the brain. It will do anything to avoid fear and uncertainty and will manipulate everyone around to get what it wants. All parents make the mistake of accommodating it.
- As far as my health and weight go, it’s been hard to get organic meat and vegetables here. Plus when we were living in the basement apartment, we had six weeks of exposure to mold.
- And my work? I’ve done what I could under trying circumstances. I’ve not given up. I’ve set up shop in the library or worked at my kitchen table on days when I felt good. I wish I had more days when my head was clear and my body willing, but when the immune system attacks, there is little to be done about it.
None of these things helps me feel any better about myself, however. It all feels like rationalization.
Fortunately, I have discovered some resources and tools, which I hope will benefit you as well.
THE GIFTS OF IMPERFECTION BY BRENE BROWN
Early in the book, the author writes about trading authenticity for approval. I don’t know if it was my upbringing or my years in academe or simply being raised female in our culture, but I often catch myself looking for approval.
If we can give up the desire for approval, we can create out of who we are and what matters to us.
The first step is noticing.
KRISTEN NEFF’S GUIDED MEDITATION ON LOVING KINDNESS AND SELF COMPASSION
I started listening to this meditation because Shira’s psychiatrist recommended it for her. Once or twice a week, I listen to it in the morning before I get out bed. It is slowly working its magic on me. You can find it on Neff’s Self-Compassion website or in the Insight Timer App. Or practice on your own as follows:
May I be safe.
May I be peaceful.
May I be kind to myself.
May I accept myself as I am.
A few weeks ago, a friend suggested my husband and child should reward me with gratitude for what I have sacrificed this fall. While a part of me craves that, I’ve come to realize that acknowledging our own efforts, showing gratitude toward ourselves, is infinitely more satisfying. That is the path toward self-forgiveness, toward self-acceptance, toward authenticity in both art and life.
We will travel home in a little over a week now. While I intend to give myself plenty of time and space for transition, I am also looking forward to one last Sanctuary Day in 2017.
Interested in a day of meditation, writing practice, self-acknowledgement, and self-forgiveness? Let’s close out the year by honoring ourselves and one another. Before we start setting intentions for 2018, let’s hit the pause button and connect. Details forthcoming.