Mixed Emotions

After facing some of my most critical beliefs, I emerged out of my therapist room with some pep in my step: a mix of a frolic in the meadow and Rocky’s ascent up those famous steps. I had done it. I felt empowered. Bye, stupid false beliefs!! You’re not gonna get me again….Haha!!!!

Then, I got home.

In the midst of celebrating my new found freedom, doubt crept in: self-defeating thoughts began circling my good vibes like vultures. I was knocked back into a dark place, but the weird part was that I never stopped feeling happy. I was being stretched between two extremes.

I woke up the next day emotionally hung over. I was immediately greeted by “who the fuck do you think you are?” Oh! Okay! My anxiety was extra bitchy this morning, violently shaking me, demanding answers. “Not today!!!” I bellowed, jumping out of bed. I declined the invitation to tackle this profound existential question; instead I exercised my right to dodge pesky robes. Damn! Can I have coffee first?

As you’ve probably gathered by now, my beliefs were not impressed by my zeal to annihilate them; instead they showed up on steroids, tormenting me relentlessly. I longed for the years a shot (or four) of vodka magically wiped out my somber thoughts. Today, I frown upon such reckless attitude; when it comes to healing, I’m committed to do the work: the unpleasant, makes me want to quit life, kind of work.

Admittedly, my catharsis was a double-edge sword: grief and relief. I grieved the years I wasted believing every demeaning thought that crossed my mind, while simultaneously experiencing intense happiness. What the fuck is going on here? The conflicting emotional state was making me question my sanity.

Vacillating between two extremes, without reacting, proved to be a grueling exercise.

Then, it dawned on me.

I was trying to control a natural process. Maybe these two feelings were not contradictory after all; they must be necessary for healing and transformation to take place. So, instead of warding off unpleasant emotions for hours, I will try to welcome their presence (with occasional eye rolls, of course). Baby steps.

I successfully averted a descent into madness. At least, that’s how I’m going to justify eating ice cream at eight am.

As I indulged in the delicious treat, guilt floated over my sugary bliss.

Not today, guilt! Not today.

 

 

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False Beliefs

Something strange happened during my last therapy session, I faced a buried part of me: my core beliefs. I assumed such exercise would leave me even more disheartened, but I was wrong, I actually embraced the hard truth.

I walked in the room anxious as usual- emotional purging is never easy- I never know what to expect. The fear of losing control terrifies me. We spent the first few minutes calming my anxiety by engaging in breathing exercises. A brief check-in followed, then, my therapist handed me a pen and a blank piece of paper. Uh…This was new. What therapeutic shenanigans was he up to? I grew wary.

“Write down some of your core beliefs” he asked.

I hesitantly grabbed the piece of paper, pushed my hips as far back as I could hoping the sofa would swallow me up. I looked down at the blank space, horrified. Am I capable of…???? For a moment, I contemplated which beliefs might invite less pain, but eventually, I opted for the bitter, possibly sickening truth. Deep down, I knew it was time. My core beliefs underlie many of my automatic thoughts; these anxious thoughts affect the way I relate to myself and the world around me.

I’m tired of being stuck in a dysfunctional cycle. The only way out is by going in…deeper.

Deep breath

I’m a failure
I’m not worthy of love/peace/success/happiness/goodness
I deserve to suffer
I’m fat / ugly
I’m not as good as other people
I’m scared of life / God/ people /
I can’t handle anything
I’m weak
I’m bound to be rejected/ abandoned/ alone
I do not measure up to others
My life will always be a struggle
I will never be healthy
I will never be self-sufficient
I DON’T TRUST MYSELF

Pause

As I reviewed what I had written, an unidentified force surged though my body, I pushed it down for as long as I could. I did not want to fall apart (decorum is highly important) But then, he had to ask “are you okay?”

“What?! Noooo” I lost my shit, sobbing uncontrollably so much so that I became short-winded; the emotionally loaded train had run me over. I took several sips of water while attempting to slow my breathing. Oh, my God! How horrendous!!! These beliefs were mean, violent and humiliating and I kept them hidden/protected like they were some fucking treasures!
In that moment, I promised myself I would challenge these deeply rooted parasites. But first, I needed to diminish their power by exposing them. The veil of secrecy had lifted, I had gained clarity.

A sense of wondrous calmness permeated my entire body.

I turned to my therapist: “Let’s talk about my false beliefs!”

Selfish

I may have been ten or eleven years old, the first time my mother called me ‘selfish’. I was unaware she was being critical, her facial expression did not tip me off; she had the gift of sarcasm.

‘Selfish’ was hurled at me throughout my childhood and my teenage years. Although I learned the meaning of the word, I underestimated its power; the negative impact of such reproach was significant  . The hurtful accusation made me feel like there was something wrong and inappropriate with me. It was easy to internalize the criticism; after all, she was my mother, she knew best.

She repeated often that God hated selfishness, and if I did not want God to punish me, I needed to be selfless. “God loves sacrifice, meekness is a virtue” she used to say. What the Hell!! I did not know what any of it meant, well, except for the punishment part. I sensed I was an awful little human being. By age thirteen, I was certain my mother hated me.

I began rebelling against her authoritarian parenting. She attempted to control me by harassing, criticizing and finding faults in all aspects of my life. I couldn’t do anything right. I never knew what would set her off, so I did my best to avoid her. I felt unwanted, wrong. A mistake. I was confused, sad, hurt, and angry. My ability to regulate my emotions was shot, I became a mess. I fantasized about disappearing; constantly on guard, I did not feel safe in my own home.

Her inability to control my father and me drove her mad. She accepted a contract in a war zone, blaming us for her decision. She said we were going to kill her, for that reason, she chose to relocate to a war zone! (It makes perfect sense, doesn’t it?) I was stunned by the news. She’s not serious. It must be another threat. I hoped.
My only offense was that I did not let her manipulate me, she wanted a submissive daughter. Unfortunately (for her) I was a strong-willed, curious and assertive child. She resented my individuality.

We just could not get along. I tried.

Ill- prepared to deal with the amount of grief I experienced when she left; I turned to alcohol to ease my pain. The feeling of guilt and shame were insurmountable. My life fraught with turmoil and sadness, I finally conceded: maybe she was right after all, I must be selfish.

I promised myself that I would become selfless; the agreement led to self-rejection, self-doubt, then, eventually, self-hatred. I judged myself mercilessly, trapped in a never ending cycle of self- punishment.

I tried excessively hard to be perceived as good.

I became obsessed with pleasing others. I suppressed my wants and needs; Oh! How noble of me! I elevated people, valued their opinions, and internalized all critiques (most of them were insensitive jerks). I forgave unjustifiable offenses without thought; surely, I must have done something that warranted their awful treatment. I felt responsible for loved one’s mood swings, prioritizing everyone’s well-being, I could no longer make a decision that benefited me. My self- esteem damaged, I hankered for love and acceptance (obviously, conditional! But I did not give a shit!)

I erased the word ‘no’ from my language, smiled when I wanted to scream and carried on with being an agreeable, self-effacing and easily exploitable idiot, until I didn’t.
The general sense of wonderfulness I wished to attain had become elusive; instead I grew more anxious, resentful. I began to question the validity of what mother promoted as ‘the only way of life.’ What if it was all bullshit?

Five years ago, I started therapy, determined to learn new and healthy ways. It has been a struggle.
I forgive my mother (it’s an ongoing process). She has not changed….I have.

I was certain self-denial had caused irreparable damages, but here I am, toying with the idea of self-care. Hey, it’s a start!

I sat with myself

“The last breakdown”- quite a bold statement, isn’t it? What are the implications? Is that declaration enough for change to take place? Silly me! Without action, it’s just a thought. Where do I begin? Damn! This “standing up for yourself” shit is daunting for a people pleaser like me.

 

I spent the following four days sitting with myself. I binge watched an entire season of Iyanla- maybe she could fix my life through the TV (a perfectly sane thought). I ate salads, drank lots of water and ignored the bottle of vodka in my freezer. My anxiety under control, I dared an exercise. I simulated a therapy session. It meant no thinking/analyzing, just experiencing my feelings? (What the fuck was I thinking?) Ugh! I did not survive this life by facing reality; avoidance is what got me through. Alas, my new found bravery would not allow escapism.

 

I settled onto my sofa, box of Kleenex and chilled water nearby, prepared for weeping, and also dehydration. I took a few deep breaths, then, just like that, my overactive mind unleashed on my vulnerable-ass. Forget breathing, allowing thoughts to dissipate on their own. Shit, I’m on crisis mode; latching on to every catastrophic scenario my mind is feeding me, my head was spinning. God is going to punish me for this! What calamity was going to befall me? Oh, my god! Oh, my god! God, Please help! I was freaking out (I’m aware of the irony)

 
I agonized over my decision to rock the boat, guilt was kicking my ass. This is where I usually give up. In therapy, I’m told to push through, to breathe, that it’s okay, I’m safe! But is it? How is it okay? When I feel like the weight of my emotions is going to crush me. How am I safe when I’m terrified of an imminent panic attack or worse death from a heart attack?

 
Identified with my thoughts, guilt was trying to persuade me that I was being too dramatic; I should patch things up with my sister. Ah! Yes! I should dig into my survival kit, cover my gushing wound with a band aid. I learned long ago that in relationships, my feelings were insignificant, but also, subject to retribution if they disturbed. As a child, when I expressed anything other than contentment, I was warned that God would punish me by taking everything I love away from me. I don’t know about you, but at 10 years old, I was not in the business of risk-taking. I grew up in fear (I know, shocker!)

 
The thought of giving up was creeping up, but I remained still.

 
I slowly shifted my focus to my body, I took several (a thousand) deep breaths until the racing of my heart subsided. Choosing breath over reaction was hard, but I succeeded….this time.

 
I sat with myself, holding my own hand.

 

 

The Last Breakdown

Tuesday was inexplicably harsh, my anxiety was so high, I spent the entire day ruminating and worrying. I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety five years ago,  the debilitating feeling of shame forced me into isolation. My sister was the only person that stood by me when my family abandoned me, but our relationship broke down little by little- it’s hard confiding in an emotionally closed off person . I suppose the intensity of my pain was too much for her, she preferred to sweep things under the rug, just like we were taught.

 

Never one to give up, I persisted. I kept sharing, I hoped one day things would change,  we would  talk openly about our fears and dreams, laugh at how dysfunctional our family is and how our co-dependency is keeping us stuck- I had been patient.

 

However, this Tuesday, I had enough. Her coldness, her response to my crisis and the smirk on her face, made me feel like I was nothing- again-she made me feel “less than”. I gave her passes for so long because she was all I had left, but I could not take it anymore.

 

In that moment, I allowed my heart to break. This is my life, my reality. I know she loves me and cares for me deeply, I imagine it’s tough seeing a loved one go through depression/anxiety. She had a hard time watching me in pain, she became overprotective and that made me feel like I was not capable of handling my life. I wanted to be saved and because of that, I did not take responsibility for the part I played in our unhealthy relationship. I was too busy trying to get approval from others  I never learned to show up for myself.

 

I was standing at the end of a familiar road. It was clear that we both needed to change. It was the last breakdown.

For after all, the best thing one can do when it’s raining is to let it rain. HWLongfellow