Forget the Mistake. Remember the Lesson.

While doing my personal “year in review” reflections, I had some intense feelings: Pain (general emotional pain – specifics are below), shame, and powerlessness. I have several self-destructive behaviors, but the one indicative of the most pain, shame, and powerlessness in my life is self-harm. On April 1, 2019 I began logging the number of times I engaged in self-destructive behaviors. In the 275 days that I logged for the year, I used self-harm as a negative coping strategy 19 times. That was 7% of the days logged; incredible progress when I think back over the years. In 2020, during the same time period, I used self-harm as a negative coping strategy 43 times. That was 16% of the days. I chose to proactively keep myself safe by agreeing to admit myself to the hospital for the first time in almost two years starting on March 31, 2020 and wasn’t discharged until April 22, 2020. That did take courage; I can see that, but one week after discharging from the hospital, I bought razor blades and began self-harming. I kept those razor blades for 228 days. I had razor blades in my possession for no less than 228 out of 366 days; that is 62% of the year. Someone with the intention of choosing courage would not have bought them in the first place. Someone with the intention of choosing courage would have thrown them away when they did buy them.

I have no intention of justifying my actions, but I will acknowledge how difficult this year has been for everyone. I believe that not one person has gone unscathed this year. I am certain nearly everyone across the globe has felt emotional pain at least once this year, possibly for an extended period of time. I am also certain that 99.9% of the population in our world has also felt powerless and out of control, possibly hopeless (and helpless?). I imagine that some people have suppressed how they are feeling, maybe for the same reasons I do, or perhaps because it seems like the right thing to do to maintain the appearance of steadiness or calm for those around them. 

Pain (grief, sadness, sorrow, hurt, abandonment, inadequacy, distress, sadness) and shame, powerlessness, and emotional suppression work together in a seemingly never ending cycle, or rather a chaotic mess. There is no order. When I was younger, I used to sit in the entryway by the back door in my house. I could close the doors to the back porch, back door, dining room, and bathroom to create a small space where I could throw forty or so bouncy balls that I had collected. As I would sit on the floor in that tight space, the balls would repeatedly bounce off of me with no order and leave welts.  If they all bounced at the same time, up and down, rather than every direction at varying intervals, I may have had fewer welts. My emotions, overall perceived powerlessness, and my responses have been like 40+ bouncy balls in a tight space, but I threw those figurative bouncy balls just like I threw the literal ones many years ago. 

Courage and perseverance this year would have looked like facing pain, shame, and powerlessness while riding the wave(s) of discomfort (each and every time it was necessary, rather than throwing bouncy balls and expecting not to get hit). Don’t get me wrong, I rode the waves fairly successfully at first. Sure, every now and then a swell would catch me off guard. I would swallow salt water and get sand in my eyes, but that is to be expected when you are in the ocean. After disappointments, unpredictable and drastic changes, and multiple stressors hitting simultaneously, the taste of salt water in my mouth and gritty sand in my eyes felt like too much. I started getting frustrated and feeling defeated. I was convinced I was drowning in life circumstance. In the ocean, the more you fight the waves,  the more exhausted you become. You can ride them or swim with them, but you cannot swim against them. For much of the year, I fought the waves. Rather than trusting the process, I feared the process. 

My reflection was not completely negative though. I was able to think about moments in the second half of the year when I was courageous. Brené Brown says, “courage starts with showing up and letting ourselves be seen.” I allowed myself to be “seen” a few times in the past few months by communicating, in varying degrees, to set boundaries I have not set before. I took a stand and spoke persistently to demonstrate that I was going to maintain my boundaries, although fear held me back in some situations. Additionally, I shared wants and needs with different people in my life who have responded in the ways that have reinforced that vulnerability:

  • My husband.  This patient man has listened to me when I have made absolutely no sense at all. He has picked me up off of the kitchen floor where I have ugly cried. He agreed to see a marriage counselor to both understand me and help me understand him. 
  • My siblings. They have been supportive, loving, and have had my back. They have been my lifelong best friends and have made it easy for me to share my life with them. 
  • My therapist. She has held the compass and walked with me (I am like a dog who picks up the scent of a rabbit and takes off into the woods). She also has a significant amount of empathy and the patience of a saint.
  • My dietician. She has appealed to my interest in Science to help keep me on track and reminded me over and over that I cannot trick my body. When that seemed overwhelming, she told me to stop fighting, listen, and it will be okay. And it always is okay, even if it isn’t what I want.
  • My brother, or the one who let me adopt him as such. He has checked in on me. He has looked me in the eyes, recognized the pain, and asked me if I needed a hug. He has also, in one way, handed me the key to the city.
  • My trainer, the teddy bear. He has joked around with me, physically pushed me to my limits to help me with my “gains,” and has demonstrated repeatedly that he thrives on helping me out. Despite my excessive ability to sweat, he has let me borrow his weightlifting belt (that was no small thing, especially when I took it off and had to hang it up to dry) and given me the occasional fist bump.
  • My friends. They have listened to me. They have encouraged me in many ways including meeting tangible needs. Sometimes they have even told me to suck it up and keep going, in the most incredible ways.

Setting and keeping some boundaries and practicing making my needs and wants known with people I am comfortable with has been a positive but feeble effort on my part. That is why I am choosing to end 2020 with one of the most courageous things I could possibly do this year. I will be flying to Salt Lake City, Utah on December 28th to check-in to a residential facility called Annie’s House in Draper . Honestly, I have entertained this idea before this, mostly because it has been brought up a few times in the past several months. I have put it off because I thought I could pull myself out of the mess I kept falling into. I was never actually pulling myself out though. It came up again, but this time I needed to seriously consider my options, goals, and values. The decision was difficult, but I knew it was important to consider. Avoidance when reflecting on my year was already a pretty good indication that I was not where I wanted to be. When I stopped avoiding and started observing, I saw forward movement up the hill, one telephone pole at a time, and I was encouraged. Seeing the irrefutable evidence that I was struggling to want to move up the hill was eye opening, disheartening, and motivating. This year has been a year of mistakes and missteps, but I am going to move forward and do something intentional to pull myself out of the mess: I am going to fully commit. I am going “all in,” for me. 

“Forget the mistake. Remember the lesson.”

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