Thursday, 17 October 2013

Paydirt---Now What?


I am back at the Leaning Tower of Pisa that started this whole blog over 80 posts ago (and yes that is me in the foreground).  Back then, I was an observer; intellectualizing the Tower and the path in my head as I took a few steps in the general direction to plant a shovel here and there, probing the soil for a good point of entry.  Work in Progress signs were hung and after a few weeks the digging began.  And like any project--there were delays--and unexpected circumstances which allowed me to emerge from the musty subterranean tunnel to gulp down the fresh air I didn't know I was missing while searching for the broken part in me that made me so off balance. 
 
But it's been months and months and I am far below the Tower, digging; the cool dampness compressing my lungs; words and thoughts  absorbed by the loamy damp earth; each shovel exposing more and more of my damaged spirit.  It has been heart aching work.  But I have reached the foundation. 
 
Tuesday's class was emotional hemorrhaging all around, nerves exposed and 
 
 
raw as the cracks in our foundations were poked and prodded.  Last week cathartic revelations gut punched each and every one of us. No time for triage---head for the door---home--sleep---escape. We are all dirty from the work.  We are all in awe of what is in front of us.  The question is, do you want to look? And what are you going to do about it?
 
There are three weeks left in this class, and I fear that some of the group have turned back,  returned to the safety of the surface.  Back to rationalizing--considering new tactics. Feeling good about doing something--seeing the cracks; acknowledging them--stepping back, pleased they have come to look--and only a few are ready to face the raw truth and take their chances by getting up close and working on the remedy.  
 
In class we talk about peeling back the layers of the onion.  For me it is getting to the foundation. Same principle.
 

 
So basically it works like this:  throughout our lives we gather information from our world that helps us establish beliefs.  Information comes from our teachers, families, the media, friends, religion, etc.  Some are overt messages "real men don't show their emotions", "You are stupid!" and some are more subtle,  like when your mother always made sure you looked presentable before going out --you learn that appearances are  the most important thing.  From these messages or observations we create our core beliefs and they often go unquestioned and treated as reality. 
 
Sometimes your core beliefs serve can serve you well.  Covered in dirt I dug upthat I believe I have to be able to manage all parts of my life at all times with no help to feel ok --to be good enough. (not feel good---feel ok--not like I was amazing for being able to do it.  It is expected and if I can't do it I am a total failure at work, home, etc).
 



This belief pushed me to excel at work in hopes of not just feeling "ok" but to feel like the superwoman I knew I could be.  It was getting harder and harder but I was managing to keep a million balls in the air.  However, that also meant there was no room for error.  No leeway, no wiggle room, no buffer.  Every mistake or additional task was agonizing as it tipped my perfectly balanced Leaning Tower of Perfection further and further off centre. I became more and more irritable.  Helping my son apply for Universities brought on crippling anxiety...and interrupted my inner ranting at the incompetence at work.   And when the critical incident happened (me getting sick and my asthma out of control--and subsequent shingles like nerve pain as a result of prednisone) I could no longer balance anything.  So my life started to look like this:
 
 
 
Since I had develop a core belief that I am not good enough if I can't juggle all things in my life perfectly without asking for help.   I developed unhelpful rules and assumptions --I must do this all without help, I have to go above and beyond to feel any real value--handling all things in life perfectly is just normal--making sure everything is done for everyone is more important than doing things for myself--- I am not good enough if I can't handle this.  

Then I begin the unhelpful behavior of not eating well or getting enough rest;  planning in detail how to get the next day done without flaw or ruminating on the day gone by and how angry/hurt/disappointed I was; working when run down and sick; not following the doctor's advice; continuing to do work at home and answering e-mails on "sick days";  pushing myself to do all things I "should" as mom, spouse, employee, cook, housekeeper, etc.; sacrificing pleasurable activities for months because I was too drained to put on a smile or even leave the couch. 

This caused unintended consequences: stress, sleeplessness, agitation, isolation, getting ill to the point where I could not look after family, or work, then eventually not being able to look after myself and landing in the hospital where I was forced to do nothing.   I had no phone.  I could not leave.  Someone came and made me take medicine.  Someone checked on me in the night.  Someone took my temperature and blood pressure twice a day.  I saw specialists each day.  Had an MRI and met with a respiratory therapist.  A buzzer told us when to file to the cafeteria to eat.  It took a few days to let go and surrender myself to the care of someone else.  I have to admit, it was a bit like being a kid at home with my mom when I was sick.  It was a relief to give myself up to their care.
 

But when you start to feel better, this collapse of course only fuels the negative
core belief---that I am not good enough. 
 
It is a vicious cycle and one we can see when we intellectualize it, but since we have followed for all our lives, it is hard to recognize, covered in dirt; hidden at our deepest, darkest core.  And it is even harder to change. 
 
The good news is, since I learned these core beliefs--I can unlearn them or learn new ones. These mistaken core beliefs are often formed without you even knowing.  I didn’t set out to feel like this and if you there was a way, as a child, I could explained this pressure to be perfect to my parents
--- I imagine, they would have been horrified.
 
My now 18 year old used to go visit his dad on every other weekends.  I had been with the now Spouse for a couple of years and when I told my son one week that he would see his dad that weekend he said, "Ya, you and Spouse are too busy to look after me." My jaw hit the floor and I felt like a giant frozen turkey had just crash landed in my stomach. 
 
He must have heard us talking about all things we were planning to do "kid free" and drew the conclusion we were too busy for him.  When in fact---we only made plans after we knew he was going to be with his father.  I was in tears explaining to him how much we loved him and wanted him with us all the time.  He was baffled at my response---the innocence of a child---he had accepted the truth his mind made up---but was now also accepting of what I told him.  These were just facts for him---both were acceptable realities to him. 
 
So here I am, knee deep in the uglies.  How do I get out? 
 
I asked for advice in class.  I think I need to be able to do it all just to feel ok.  I have been able to do this all before---for years it worked for me, but it is not sustainable.  What do I change my core belief statement to that is more balanced?  No one knew.  I hate when that happens because it just means I have to take a deep breath, wrestle the end of the shovel back into the muck and keep on digging.  Will I know the answer when I see it?  Do I need to go back to work to test it?  Can I try part time work?  Will work accept that?  What happens if I can only work part-time forever? 
 
Ok back up.
 
One step at a time.  Let me just sit with my core belief for a bit and wear it around and see how it feels - like trying on shoes.  Heavy and exhausting?  Familiar and comfortable?  Pinchy and scratchy?
 
So far I am voting for pinchy and scratchy (no not the Simpsons cartoon characters...that is Itchy and Scratchy---but that is not far off.)
 
Back at it next week. In the meantime....headlamp on....illuminate the darkness. Keep your eyes wide open and continue the Work in Progress.....

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