I recently ran across a thought on the internet from a writer I’ve never met who calls himself “Just a Poet Guy.”
“Becoming a highly self-aware person is a double-edged sword. You’ll mostly know how to do better, but be prepared for the punishment you’ll serve yourself every time you consciously make a choice to do worse.”
In my internal world, being highly self-aware is more like having a strong conscience. I have a very black-and-white sense of how life should work, and more specifically, because of my faith, I often view things in terms of “sin” and “not sin,” even if it is a purely legalistic idea of how I should be living. When my conscience, whether accurate or not, tells me something isn’t right and I don’t listen, I do punish myself. How do I—how does anyone—get freedom from that while not losing the helpful side of having a conscience.
When I first ran across the quote, I was drawn in. I saved it to my phone to revisit and reflect on what it was that truly piqued my interest about it, and the more I have teeter tottered in my thoughts about a trauma that occurred around the age of 8, the more I understand the quote, my faith aside.
As an 8-year-old, I knew in my gut that neighborhood boys shouldn’t be luring me into the woods to take my clothes off. I knew I shouldn’t be doing what they told me to do. I knew I shouldn’t agree to come back the next day or the next or the next, but that is what I did. I knew what they were doing to me wasn’t right, but I let them. I knew what they wanted me to do wasn’t right, but I did it; not because it was clearly a sin to me but because I was naïve, innocent, confused, excited, and I was a child. The problem now—33 years later—is I am still dishing out punishment for acting in direct opposition to my gut. So, why is it that I struggle so much to let 8-year-old Becks off the hook? Why, when I let 8-year-old Becks off the hook, do I immediately start attacking a different-age Becks? Why do I keep punishing myself?
Here’s the thing. I have parts who are constantly doing the attacking. I’ll give voice to them for you and let you determine if you can relate. Maybe 8-year-old Becks was naïve, innocent, confused, excited, and a child, but what was 10-year-old Becks when the next incident happened? That Becks had the same gut reaction, this is wrong, but 10-year-old Becks no longer had naivety, innocence, and confusion on her side. She was just stupid. A stupid little girl. What should stupid little girls do when they do something stupid? Hide it so they don’t get in trouble again.
A stupid little girl who hides something so devastating becomes a teenager who 1. has no idea how to get out of those situations and 2. keeps it a secret. But teenagers should know better, especially me. I’ve been there and done that and still couldn’t get it right.
Teenagers become adults. Not children. They shouldn’t be naïve. They are no longer innocent. A situation they have faced many times before shouldn’t be confusing anymore. Unwanted sexual encounters are not exciting.
Even at 41 years old, I continue to fall into the same, very generally speaking, patterns. I have some extremely critical parts that love to beat up the 25-year-old who should’ve known better after all of the other experiences. Imagine how much those same parts love to accuse the 41-year-old who still makes mistakes.
My true self is listening and wanting to do better and be better. The key for me and so many others is something my therapist points out to me quite often, especially lately. Stop focusing on perfection or the end result. This is about the journey, the process. The process might be one of the greatest adventures I have ever been on, and I tend to be focused on the end result, much like most humans. It seems innate to want to be there. We can’t wait to be grown-ups, retire, etc.
Many years ago during a mild March, I hiked about 60 miles of the Appalachian Trail in Tennessee and Virginia (going backward). The point of the hike wasn’t to make it to Tent City. The point of the hike was the hike. It was about learning, having fun, encouraging others, being encouraged by others, navigation, humor, singing, embracing the suck, and making friends. It was about the entire freaking 60 miles. It was about putting one step in front of the other. It was about climbing and descending. It was about self-discovery. What if every day on Earth is just another day on the trail. Another day to do all of the things I mentioned above and more. And what if we embrace it all.
Photo by Aaron Clinard on Unsplash
Here’s another random thought and something I learned on that hike. I chose to do some uncomfortable things straight out of the gate which made my hike more comfortable overall. This is kind of a crude example, but it made a huge difference for me versus some others hiking with me. On night one, as we were setting up tents and stoves, I grabbed the “biff pick” (shovel) and toilet paper, dug myself a hole, and went to the bathroom. That one simple yet seemingly humiliating action made it easier for me to do it again when I needed to, and it made it much easier to hike. The individuals who chose not to do the hard thing struggled most with hiking the trail. Those individuals were able-bodied, athletic, and seemingly confident people, and they found themselves crumbling each day, each step.
Grab the “biff pick” and do the damn thing.