I started my first ever intention in 2019. I wanted something more for myself after spending the past several years in hospitals. I did not want to set a resolution to be happy, lose weight, drink more water, or any of the other ridiculous things people come up with. I wanted to be kind and compassionate with myself. I wanted to understand what it is like to treat myself the way I try to treat others. The day I went public with my intention, I was sitting at my dining room table in misery. I was drinking cold coffee and thinking about how uncomfortably overweight I felt. I was hungry, but I refused to eat.
This year has been a spiral staircase of sorts. Each step is a step of progress because I am moving upward, but each step also brings me back around. Kindness, trigger, hatred, hard work, kindness, trigger, hatred, etc.
Six months into my intention I was able to highlight several areas in which I was making an effort to be kind toward myself: 1. I was spending money on myself for things I recognized as important to my mental and physical health (mindfulness meditation, a gym membership and personal training sessions, paying out of pocket for a nutritionist). 2. Accepting kindness from others as though I believed I was worthy of those things. 3. Demonstrating self-compassion in the only way that I could (acknowledging that even though I hate who I am, I have a body and mind that are capable). 4. I began to set boundaries to protect myself from others and, at times, myself. 5. Setting SMART goals became a priority (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely) rather than perfectionism. 6. I began building relationships and spending time with people. 7. I was able to overthrow emotional suppression at times (and express those emotions in front of others).
Now, at the one year mark, I want to notice progress (or maybe just struggles) in the previously stated seven areas:
1. Spending money on myself: I recognize the importance of continuing the things I have been doing because of the skills, confidence, and knowledge I am gaining. I continue to attend Saturday morning mindfulness meditation practices, walk-in evening classes, and the all-day silent retreats. I signed up for the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction course for the fall, but there were not enough people to conduct the class. I practice at least 45 minutes every day in formal practice, and when needed I use it as a grounding tool. Just yesterday my heart rate was up to 113, so I utilized 5-7-8 breathing for one minute. I was able to bring my heart rate down to 85 in that minute. I am not always that successful, but I am seeing some of those skills pay off. Also, I not only kept my gym membership but joined a small group training program. I pay weekly to work out with a trainer in a small group setting 5 days a week. This program has been both beneficial and detrimental for me, but I am learning to work through it. Working out with a trainer makes it far less likely that I will over-exercise or injure myself (although I still manage to do both from time to time). My trainers recognize where I am each day and push me or slow me down accordingly. Working out in a small group setting plays on my need to be extremely competitive. I hate when others beat me, and it happens frequently. I am working toward understanding that we are all at different fitness levels, have different capabilities, lift heavier/lighter or have different levels of cardio, recover faster, eat differently, have better or worse sleep habits, etc. With those things in mind, I am making an effort to not beat myself up for who I did or did not beat. I am making an effort to continue to recognize how my body feels in that moment and recognize when I did the best I could for that day. I am making an effort to understand that each day will be different. I am making an effort to compete with my own body and mind to challenge what I think I am capable of. Finally, I continue to see my nutritionist about every two weeks. I pay out of pocket for someone to try to convince me to eat. That is a commitment. Sometimes it is like flushing money down the toilet. Recently, I have felt angry with food and my body. I feel trapped. If I don’t eat, then my performance in the gym is mediocre at best. If I do eat, then I gain weight. I waiver back and forth between the two, but I know what I need to do and mostly want to do it. That alone is compassion and kindness.
2. I tend to have two negative beliefs about accepting gifts. I am afraid that a gift giver will use it as leverage to force me to do something I do not want to do, and I am convinced I do not deserve that type of kindness. Nevertheless, I continued to accept the gifts people have given me throughout the rest of the year. I have had people do simple things like pay for my coffee. My church provided my family with all of the food for a Thanksgiving meal. I was given a bag of coffee as well as a coffee cup. I accepted each of these things mindfully. I made a point of thinking about how others must think of me to want to give me things (and time). I made a point of trying to not just accept the gift, but the thought behind the gift. That person, whoever they may be, cares. Also, I consciously thought each time about whether that person had a history of trying to hurt me. There were times in the past six months that I have accepted gifts with my heart pounding, but I chose to accept others’ kindness as an act of kindness toward myself.
3. Self-compassion has been much more of a struggle over the past six months. I have found it extremely difficult to appreciate my body and mind. My body has been exhausted, I have been sick, I experienced a painful Lupus flare, and I have struggled with body image. It does not seem to be capable of what I want it to do. Perhaps even more discouraging than having a body not perform is having a brain not perform. Many followed my journey through Cognitive Processing Therapy, but the journey stopped. I think of myself as intellectual and capable of thinking through things, but I could not make my mind believe the things that I needed and wanted it to believe. I have felt like a complete failure. I believe that I lack intelligence. I have been so frustrated and angry. I have been afraid. What if I am incapable of thinking about and understanding facts? I will; however, continue to acknowledge that I have a body and mind that can do something. I can run, jump, and lift. I mean, I can feed myself. I can read and process information. My brain tells my lungs to pull in oxygen. This was not exactly the progress in kindness I was hoping for, but it is progress.
4. Hmmm. Boundaries. I am not sure where to start with this one. I was not necessarily successful with setting boundaries initially, but I was able to use elements of self-care when my non-communicated boundaries were broken. Over the past six months, I have found myself getting hurt by others frequently. I have allowed others to say and do things about me and to me without standing up for myself. I have allowed the people in my shame web to wrap me up the way a spider wraps the fly. Although I have not been able to maintain boundaries the way I would have liked, I can recognize that each of these experiences have been crucial to my understanding of myself and others (the ongoing understanding of myself and others). Kindness does not focus on the failures but rather the new insight gained. Tough lesson to chew on.
5. How on Earth do you move from perfection to the ability to live in reality of what you are capable of? For me, in the last half of the year, it has meant recognizing areas in my life that I want change and growth to occur. I was not able to work through each goal with SMART in mind, but I was able to very generally identify a direction in several areas of my life: recovery (identify one goal for the day and begin trauma focused therapy), physical (eat enough, get adequate sleep, work out appropriately, take medication as prescribed), emotional (identify emotions, identify and discuss triggers, acknowledge fears and move beyond them), work (maintain employment, communicate mistakes and overwhelm with my boss, consider my future), family (recognize those in my shame web, spend quality time with Tim and Ian, communicate needs and wants with Tim), social and leisure (set time to read and write each week, enjoy coffee outside of my home at least once per week, be intentional about connection), and spiritual (read through the Bible chronologically and find a mentor). Kindness has been working toward some of these goals; not all of them. Kindness is recognizing that I have these goals and want immediate, permanent change and sitting with the discomfort of knowing that is not going to happen. Kindness is recognizing that this is not failure. Oh, and by the way, I am still trying to recognize those things.
6. Sociophobia. That is a fear of people. I do not actually have a fear of people, but I am, in many ways, afraid to build and maintain friendships. In July I mentioned that I went out to coffee with someone despite being fearful, or uncomfortable. I thought it was a positive experience, but I have not seen that person since that day. It makes me wonder what I did. Despite the discomfort I felt initially when going out for coffee and then the feeling that there must be something wrong with me, I have committed to spending time with others, including one person who I meet regularly for coffee. I recognize my need for connection, and I am trying to put aside fear and discomfort for something much more positive.
7. I acknowledged that an act of kindness for me was allowing myself to cry (experience emotion) in the presence of others. Sometimes I feel that heaviness in my chest, lump in my throat, and burn in my eyes so intensely I think I may burst. Allowing myself to feel and not suppress has been difficult, but it seems I am less able to control how the feelings manifest themselves when I suppress. If I try to hold back, I am painfully aware of the way my face turns red or how there is a strain in my voice. I am certain others notice that. In the past six months, I have practiced kindness in this area only by acknowledging that I want to control how I feel and what it looks like. That does not seem like much kindness, but “knowing is half the battle.”
Despite the second half of the year being much more difficult, I have done some additional things for myself:
1. I have been able to sit in discomfort. EVERYONE has those things about themselves that they hate. Many of those people cannot acknowledge what those things are because of the shame they feel. Brene Brown says that when we talk about shame it cannot exist. I have talked about the things I hate about myself. I have talked about the parts of me that don’t make sense. I have talked about the shame I have because of those things. I have done that twice (I don’t really care if you are thinking, “only twice?”). And, both times I have experienced acceptance and kindness. It is much easier to be kind to yourself when the things you hate most about yourself are the very things people just accept about you.
2. When I was in Michigan during Thanksgiving, I was talking with my brother about CPT and the experience I was working through. He told me he wanted to take my phone and block the person’s phone number and then delete it from my directory. He also wanted to block them on social media and remove them as one of my friends. As an act of kindness toward myself, I handed over my phone.
3. Although I could not finish Cognitive Processing Therapy, I was willing to start. Trauma focused therapy has never been a positive experience for me. It has either been started and could not be completed, was not done the right way, or traumatized me significantly. I believed that I “deserved” to move past the pain. I believed my therapist was compassionate and kind. I believed that she was competent. I trusted her. Using the past tense makes it sound like those things are not true anymore, but they are. Those things all made it possible to start, and all of those things, being still true, make it seem possible to continue. I was willing to be kind enough to myself to at least try to heal. I was willing to think and feel. I am willing to try again, maybe a little differently. That, all of that, is kindness.
4. Finally, in the midst of the Cognitive Processing Therapy, I was able to do something significant. I consider the following thing to be kindness because I was able to be courageous enough to trust myself, the process, and my therapist. I was able to discuss. Discussion (asking questions) about extremely uncomfortable things provided me with insights to believe differently. Not everything that seemed true before is still true (most things still seem true though). Additionally, I fought extremely hard to stay present and experience discomfort in those discussions. It can be done. I did it. I can do it again.
I mentioned that when I started this journey in January I was drinking cold coffee, refusing to eat and feeling overweight. Currently, I am sitting in Starbucks drinking HOT coffee, and I just finished eating a sprouted grain bagel with cream cheese. I still feel uncomfortably overweight (while acknowledging I have a different body composition). Two and a half out of three is pretty good. That is also progress.
Overall, the second half of my year probably did not measure up to my own expectations. In fact, I feel like a failure. I feel like I have been very unkind, but I understand that the second half of my year was significantly more difficult for several reasons. I maintained in most areas and grew in others. And, let’s be honest, I am drinking hot coffee.