Wednesday, May 30, 2012

the shame shift

Sometimes I wonder how much of my internal conflict is the result of my constant struggle with attempting to attain perfection, or fulfilling some sort of social expectation to be better, to be growing, becoming, evolving, or stepping fully into my power and embracing my full potential as a human being.  To live at the highest performance level with no regrets or fears.

It sounds absurd to even say it, but I have to wonder if it's true.  We are so aware of ourselves in comparison to others in our social groups, professional competitors and coworkers, local communities, spiritual families, and our closest friends and family.  Always comparing, contrasting, evaluating, judging and extrapolating information about ourselves and our identities based on these analyses.   Honestly I don't know how else we would survive in our society and cultures.  It's just how we as humans operate.  We're meant to live in communities with other people.  We're meant to be part of a social structure, to belong and have a place within that structure. 

In that structure though, I feel (and I think this is a normal feeling) like there is an unwritten expectation that as individuals within that structure, we need to be striving towards constant excellence, to be evolving towards the best possible versions of ourselves.  The pressure of perfection.  And in doing so, we create The Best Society/Nation/Culture. 

Well, we can't.  We're all human and helplessly full of flaws.

It's interesting that when we talk about cellulite, wrinkles, fat rolls, scars, emotional insecurities, fears, (basically all the imperfections that make us human), we call those "flaws".  As if we started out perfect, and slowly over time, our mistakes eroded our power, worthiness and attractiveness to the point where we now spend our entire lives attempting to make up for it.  We cover ourselves in creams and spend thousands of dollars on therapy and surgery, we pour ourselves into Self Help Books, trying to understand why we're so fucked up.  We join support groups and create secret forums to connect to other imperfect beings, ousted from perfect society.

We have phrases like "Keeping up with The Joneses", fashion magazines that tell us we must have a specific type of body to meet the social expectation, we have picture perfect ideals about how to raise children, how to keep a home, what makes a house a home, how to be successful, how to have the perfect career, how to find a mate (how to keep a mate), how to make everything from scratch, how to eat, and how to live.  It's all manufactured in the imagination, and everybody buys into it.  Pinterest says we can and should have it all.  Facebook makes us think others do have it all.  But, nobody does.  Nobody has ever nor will ever meet the social expectation of perfection.  And because of that, we all carry with us a certain amount of shame.

We have shame that we don't fit in because we have flaws (or wildly enough, because we don't think we have flaws).  We have shame that we aren't "doing it right".  Shame that we're crippled financially, shame of our strained relationships, shame of our emotions and depression, shame that we somehow caused our misfortunes, shame that we aren't more outgoing or friendly, shame that we are too loud and boisterous, shame that we aren't good enough for someone else, shame that we have fears and doubts, shame shame shame. 

The flip side to this is to assume that by feeling this shame, we somehow had the power to control all these outcomes.  If we would have done ____, then ___ wouldn't have happened.  Our husbands wouldn't cheat, our wives would be happy, our children wouldn't kill themselves, our fathers wouldn't abandon us,  our mothers would accept us.  Or the step beyond that:  our children wouldn't have been born with a disability, our sisters wouldn't have cancer, we could have stopped that fate, we could have saved them. 

How does this fit in with society expectations of perfection?  It doesn't.  We don't talk about it.  We don't talk about the fact that we are a culture that sweeps things that make us feel uncomfortable, sad, scared, ashamed, grief and anger under the giant perfect rug of our society so nobody ever feels discomfort and sorrow.  We are a culture that doesn't know how to relate to each others on a deeply honest, forthright, intimate level.  We plow ourselves with food and alcohol and drugs and sex and anything that makes us feel good and alive.  We become pleasure focused.  We spend hours looking at the perfect pictures of perfect things on Pinterest in order to be "inspired" to get out of our miserably flawed lives and finally evolve.  It's so hard for us to admit we need support and help.  That would seem weak and needy.  It's so hard for us to be seen as vulnerable and fragile and needing help...especially if we're talking about depression or mental health.  There are not many things worse in our Perfect Society than to be crazy.

I have lost two close friends in the past four years because of shame.  It's a debilitating disease that tells us we don't deserve happiness, we aren't worthy of love, and when someone sees our deepest darkest secrets, we need to run, duck, cover and escape in order to preserve the idea of our own perfection.  We need to be seen as blissed out, perfectly happy and immeasurably strong.

As I think about my own journey, I am painfully aware of the struggle of perfection and how much I hide away from relationships, from being vulnerable, from even being really truly "seen" because I carry with me so much shame.  It's one thing to be aware of it, it's another thing for it to be visible for others to observe and even reflected for me to see.  The exception being that in a two dimensional world of blogging and photography where it's just me and the computer/camera, I'm very open and vulnerable.  When I'm out in the 3-D world of real time face to face communication where there's the physical nuances of body language and real time communication, I feel a fair amount of anxiety and emotional and mental clutter as I process the experience.

I don't think that shame in and of itself is absolutely wrong. I feel like any emotion has a valid purpose that teaches us about ourselves and our value system.  I think it's natural and normal to feel shame when you're aware that you've caused pain, injustice, or wronged someone.  When you've inflicted injury.

But that isn't where it ends.  Shame extends to places where our dark secrets exist - that place where we feel that we aren't perfect and somehow deserve unhappiness because we have the gall to be flawed.

I think we as a culture need to shift our focus from a perfection focus to an acceptance focus.  Really, a focus on humanity (treating ourselves and others humanely with respect and dignity).  Maybe it's the hippie in me talking, but I think the "perfect" society is one where we all have a value, a clear place, where our individuality and uniqueness is cherished as a beautiful complexity, where we're culturally supported through our grief and sadness, where we ask for help without hesitation, talk about our real struggles and vulnerabilities, work together as a society so that everyone can enjoy a healthy life (healthcare isn't a commodity), where the media celebrates courage and security, where we can open magazines and see all body types, where we actually feel pride in our physical flaws and honor the spirit of being imperfectly human and the only pressure we feel is to be our authentic and amazing selves.

I know I speak a lot in extremes here, and that my views are pretty polarized.  Take it for what it's worth.  If this message speaks to you even on a small scale, I hope what you glean from it makes you think about your own pursuits of perfection and how you can live a more authentic life.  I hope you can trust more in that little voice inside of you that says you are worthy, loveable, unique and enough. 

If the point of life is to love, and love is messy, then life is messy.  <3  Let people into your mess.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

mastering courage

Courage: mental or moral strength to venture, persevere, and withstand danger, fear, or difficulty 

Courage is one of those things I feel I need to master, because I feel so full of fear about so much in my life, and I can see how easy it would be to curl up, retreat and obey that fear.

I am not one to give into fear though, so I do try to find that inner courage to push through it.  I'm not successful all of the time, but my brain won't settle until I've at least attempted to resolve it.  There's not much I hate more than giving into fear and anxiety and saying "I can't."  Can't is my 4 letter word.  Thus my constant quest to reach goals, improve myself and let go of fears.

When I think about courage, my mind conjures up all these images of heroes and strength-soaked people with little or no fear or doubts.  One of the definitions of "courage" I found even said "to face danger without fear."  I have to argue with that though.  How does anyone with a heart face a dangerous or painful or difficult situation without fear?  I think the key is bravery.  Being brave enables us to live courageously.  Bravery is that little pat on the back that whispers confidence into our hearts and enables us to push past that fear and anxiety and conquer those obstacles with courage, to persevere to our goals, trembling but sure.  So while I may meet my goal, allow myself to be vulnerable, or withstand my fears, it's not a comfortable thing, and I wish I had more confidence to move more courageously through my life.  I don't want facing my fears to be a PROCESS, energy draining and something to work through.  I want it to be second nature, I want to recognize that twinge of fear, let out a little giggle, and keep going.

Practically all of my struggles with courage and conquering fear involve allowing myself to be vulnerable.  Socially, professionally, intimately.  What I desire is acceptance, love, feeling important in my communities, cherished in my family, and success professionally. 

What arises for me when I begin to feel vulnerable in these situations are my gremlins:  fear of rejection, unworthiness, shame, abandonment, removal of love, feeling unlovable, detached and disposable.  There's a lot of nastiness to work through to allow myself to truly evolve, open and embrace what I want - fully and with confidence.

Again, I think the key is to practice!  One of my goals on is to master courage by practicing it daily.  But instead of having some vague goal that I'll never remember, I want to be as specific as I can. 

So specifically, these are some things that I feel will help me practice courage daily:

  • Having the courage to pay attention to when I feel my fears:  What are they telling me about myself?  Instead of ignoring them, listen to them and then deal with them.   Instead of feeling shame about them, honor them, understand where they come from, but don't allow them to make your decisions.
  • Having the courage to speak up when something doesn't feel right. 
  • Having the courage to face rejection by putting myself out there professionally, socially and in my relationships.
  • Having the courage to honor my authentic messy self without shame.  Invite people to get to know the real me, chaos and all.
  • Having the courage to hear someone's ideas, opinions and thoughts respectfully without trying to control or change them.
  • Having the courage to be an active listener, feeling empathy and love, without attempting to "fix" them.
  • Having the courage to smile more.
  • Having the courage to pick up the phone.
  • Having the courage to make eye contact.
  • Having the courage to not compare myself to others.
  • Having the courage to take action towards my goals, no matter how small or big.
  • Having the courage to be accountable to others.
  • Having the courage to make my own decisions and think for myself.
  • Having the courage to respect, love and have empathy for myself and where I am in this moment.
  • Having the courage to honor others through my gratitude and generosity.
  • Having the courage to ask tough questions that make me feel completely vulnerable and trusting that I will survive and thrive onward, no matter the outcome.
  • Having the courage to let go of the outcomes.
  • Having the courage to heal my heart from the wounds of my past and forgive those who have hurt me.
  • Having the courage to forgive myself for wounding myself and others.
  • Having the courage to apologize and seek forgiveness.
  • Having the courage to make healthy decisions for my body, soul and spirit.
  • Having the courage to refuse to be invisible.
  • Having the courage to be silent.
  • Having the courage to let my children make their own decisions and be their own people.
  • Having the courage to believe in myself.
  • Having the courage to give people the benefit of the doubt.
  • Having the courage to ask for help and believing I'm important enough to get it.
  • Having the courage to believe I'm worthy, inspirational,  totally lovable, important, interesting and fun to be with.
  • Having the courage to believe I have everything I need in my life to be happy, fulfilled and content.
  • Having the courage to identify myself as an artist without disclaimers.
  • Having the courage to leap into the unknown with confidence.
  • Having the courage to make sure my kids know I'm not perfect.
  • Having the courage to make sure my kids know they should never try to be perfect, only perfectly themselves.
  • Having the courage to learn something new and start at the beginning.
  • Having the courage to feel freedom in my life, my choices and my future.
  • Having the courage that no matter what happens, I'm surrounded by people who love me and accept me unconditionally.
  • Having the courage to introduce myself.
  • Having the courage to take all of my children on a vacation, possibly in a van or airplane where occupants are unable to leave, and trusting that though chaos may ensue, we'll all arrive safely and not straight into the custody of police or child protective services.
If you are reading this and desire to live more courageously, I challenge you to make your own list!  What scares the poo out of you but is totally exhilarating to think about accomplishing? Take the leap with me!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

a week without screens

Hi my name is Amy and I'm an internet addict.

From the time we get up, until the time we go to bed, there's someone looking at some sort of screen around here.  Whether it's OPB in the morning for the early risers, the teen on the phone, me on my computer (or phone), evening news on the tv while I make dinner, kids hovered around the computer or xbox after school, etc...our faces are stuffed full of media, entertainment and a constant flow of electric information daily.

I used to do "Turn the TV Off Week" when the kids were smaller, but we hadn't done it in years.  Last month I discovered "Screen Free Week", and decided to jump on the bandwagon.  When your 4 year old acts like he might implode if he can't use your phone to play "Chicken Boom" (Angry Birds), your other kids say things like "There's NOTHING to dooooo" when you try to have screen free time, and your teenager's limbs are growing into it's cellular device, it's time to pull the plug.

There was an equal amount of sheer terror and desperate relief as I anticipated a week of distance from it all.  I was stuck on a merry go round spinning out of control and preparing to jump, tuck and roll.  And maybe kiss my ass goodbye.  I had so many fears about it:  Would the kids kill each other?  Revolt against me in a parental coup d'etat?  Complain nonstop?  Would I end up crying myself to sleep at night frustrated and overwhelmed from the children suffering so?  Would I be able to avoid using my Rights as an Adult to bend the rules and sneak in a little Mad Men?  Could I trust myself?  And then there was the big one for me...the voices in my head were quick to remind me that I've tried this before, and failed, miserably.  So I had some doubts.

I preemptively decided to ask Reggie to take the modem.  It wouldn't prevent me from going onto my phone for internetz fixes, but it felt like a good step.  I also went onto my phone and deleted all my "frequented" apps.  Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, etc.  I decided that I would still allow myself to check email and text and call but that's it.  No surfing or dwelling in cyberland.

Amy Meets Meatspace

Monday, April 30th:

I normally wake up with my phone alarm, and spend the next 20-60 minutes laying in bed catching up on Facebook.  That morning, I turned my alarm off and stared blankly at the barren screen for a second, turned over and snuggled with Max.  It was just that easy.  The morning went totally smoothly.  No complaints, no demands for reason or new parents.

I got the kids to school, and then rounded up all the books I could find to return and took Max to the library for Storytime and making things right with the Librarian.  Storytime and crafts, check.  Fines paid, check.  Scary books sitting on the shelf, check.  Checking out new books for a week of staving off boredom and possible delirium, check.

scented markers crafts.  The Library Wins.
wait for it.........wait for it.........

We spent the rest of the day and that afternoon running errands, staying busy, reading books, doing laundry and snuggling.  It's like a puppy pile any time I sit down...they all fight over the Privileged Spot next to me.  Or on me.  Zero personal space.  No bubble.  Drowning in kid hair and sinking into vibrations of their voices as they read aloud on my chest and the warmth of sweet little bodies next to me.  I loved it.

That night as we were sitting down at dinner together, Aric was recounting something that happened that day and he said "Wait, what day is it?"  I answered and he replied "It's STILL only Monday?  This is the LONGEST DAY EVAAARRRR!"

I had to laugh because it's true.

The time warping phenomenon that occurs when your face is stuffed in a machine is remarkably obvious when you remove said face from said machine.  Time resumes at a fixed rate.  And that slow.  I rather enjoyed life at a pace that allowed me to get so many things accomplished and still relish in my sweet beautiful life.

Tuesday, May 1st:

Morning went smoothly, nobody complained or showed any signs of screen withdrawals.  In fact, everyone seemed to wake up easier and was in a better mood.  Probably because nobody stayed up late watching tv or numbing their brains with computer games.

I took Andy over to Clark to see about getting him tested into Running Start, but it ended up he didn't have his ID on him, so we did other things instead.

Like went to the DMV to renew my tags and get a new drivers license for my new married name.  Well, it's not a new married name, I've have it since Jan.1, 2011, but I never got off my ass to change it officially.

After Aric got out of school we went to Freddies and picked up some organizing things and spent the rest of the afternoon organizing a few things and just hanging out.  I pretty much kicked ass and still have plenty of time left in my day to mellow out.

That night, Aric, Soph and Zach played restaurant and created menus for Reggie and me and made us dinner in bed.  It was so hilarious and I was so impressed by their comical genius.

Dinner Theater.  They acted out a "Moon Minute" where they mimed out landing/walking on the moon. Broadway, hoooo!

Poor little sweeties suffering under the oppression and tyranny of Screen Free Week.  aka future food industry workers...

Wednesday, May 2nd:

Days Survived Without The Netz: 2
Nights Staying Up Worrying About Lack of Netz and Thusly Destroying Childrenz: 0
Number of Times I Stared Blankly At My Phone: a few. ;)
Number of Times Max asked if it was 10o'clock yet:  a million (he is normally allowed to play Minecraft after 10am) 
Number of Times I Thought of Funny/Amazing/Insightful/Important Facebook Status Updates: 2948.5

Max and I took Andy back to Clark with his ID to take the Running Start test.  Which of course he passed with flying colors because my kids?  GENIUSES.  They can't seem to remember to brush their teeth, and matching socks are soooo last year, but they can pass tests with brilliance to spare.

Biggest and Smallest together, hand in hand, going into college.  Tearful nostalgia in 3...2...1...

Max dancin' around campus, with his Dora PackPack, like Fred Freakin Astaire.

things got a little goofy
Later I met up with a banker to do some bank stuff I'd been putting off, worked out and spent the afternoon in a cocoon of kidlets recovering from icky bank poo.

Thursday, May 3rd:

I spent pretty much the whole day at Andaluz Waterbirth Center working on a photography project for them, so by the time I got done with the afternoon shuffle, picked up pizza and settled in for the night, I was ready to watch some tv and chill.  But I ended up reading some book about Curing ADHD instead and making a plan for us all to go on a gluten/sugar/dairy/everything free diet, which I told Aric about, afterwhich he went storming around the house like a banshee wailing about how ridiculous I am. (I talked to the family psych about it, and decided not to...with no complaints from Aric!)
stopped in traffic on the way to Andaluz.  It's like Facebook in Meatspace, leaving me little messages of love and hope!

Friday, May 4th:

Details start getting fuzzy towards the end of the week, as the trauma of the abrupt lifestyle change began to wane.  I did have to put some work on a project, which I needed internet for.  I also needed to get onto Facebook to get details about a couple upcoming events happening the next day.  By this point, I was enjoying the internet sabbatical and did NOT want to even get on my computer, let alone face Facebook at all.  And though usually I would have been tempted to sneak around and see what everyone had been up to (and secretly question how on earth anyone could be functioning without me up in their Facebook faces...), I was ALL business...posted what I needed to, got the information I came for, and I was OUT of there.  I didn't even stop to glance at the 75 notifications glaring at me.  I spent the afternoon finalizing a project, sent off a few emails, and shut that computer DOWN.  Then I looked up and it was 5pm, my shoulders and neck were jacked up, and my eyes were totally bugging out and strained.  I was exhausted.  The house was a wreck.  The kids were antsy.  So naturally, Reggie took me out to a movie.  I didn't even consider that this would have been a total cheat on SFW, but it totally was.  Hi there, big huge SCREEN!  We saw The Lucky One, which was a sweet little movie with Zac Efron acting all sexy and macho (but in a really humble, I-don't-know-I'm-a-total-hottie kind of way).  Then I felt kind of weird having sexy feelings for a barely out of teen years High School Musical actor.....


We came home to this:
When you don't have tv, you have The Holy Mother of All Forts.

Saturday, May 5th:

I spent the morning/afternoon doing a boudoir party at a friends house, and it was so awesome to feed that little hole that was hungry from being abandoned by Facebook!  Sophia was off to a slumber party after that, Zach disappeared to his friends house, as did Aric.  Which left Family 2.0 to celebrate Cinco de Mayo ourselves.  I pretty much gave up on SFW when Aric called from his friends house begging to play video games.  I figured, the kid CALLED AND BEGGED ME...he could have just played and I wouldn't have been the wiser, but he chose to call, and I wanted to support that stroke of awesomesauce! 

Sunday, May 6th:

Aric spent the day with his girlfriend's family, going to church, having lunch, going to see Journey 2 and dinner before coming back home.  I picked up Soph from her sleepover and hauled down to Portland to take Andy to his hair appointment, shuffle kids around and meet up with a friend home recovering from surgery.

Mr. Awesome coming out from his hair appointment sporting a shiny new mohawk! :D

Fresh from a sleepover, where they didn't really sleep at all.
I got home and Reggie took me trekking through our very overgrown, forested property looking for property markers.  We ended up getting kind of off target, but Reggie kept saying "Just head uphill!  North is uphill!" like a crazy person.  We ended up totally scratched up and I was completely grossed out by all the mossy tree stumps I kept stepping through (imagining stomping on wasp/spider/ants nests), but we survived.  Which is kind of a metaphor for the week.

We were minimally prepared, got a little off target at the end, but it was a great, fun adventure, albeit a few snags. Haha!

Parting Observations on Going Screen Free

I had a couple of pretty strong observations during the course of the week.

#1.  It's extremely easy to avoid life when you're checked out on the computer.  Even when I'm not on the computer, I'm still thinking about it constantly.  I was shocked at how much I really do live my life online and how it rules my time, thoughts and attention.  Which leads me to #2...

#2.  The Internet (Facebook in particular) is an amazing accelerate for ADHD symptoms.  Even being on Facebook for a few minutes after being screen free for 5 days was completely overstimulating.  I mean, you have your main news feed updating constantly and moving down, the side bar on the right ticking away with every minute update on every comment you can imagine, the updating ads, events, notifications popping up on the bottom of the screen, the number of update notifications on the top of the screen and on the side bar on the left, etc.  When I'm on the computer, I must tune everything else out or I'd go nuts.  I've taught myself how to hear what is going on in my environment (kids talking/playing/fighting) and not actually process it.  Even though I'm hyper focused on what I'm doing online, my attention elsewhere is completely and utterly shot, and when I stop, I'm drained.  Which leads me to #3.

#3.  There are serious physical side affects from screen time.  When we are so intensely tuned into Facebook, playing video games, and computer games, we are hyper focused on that activity.  Eyes, posture, shoulders and neck are totally tensed up, and then coming away from that leaves the body sore, the energy drained, and the mind exhausted.  I snap at the kids, my breath is shallow and stressed, my eyes pound from straining, my back hurts and I'm one grumpy girl.  Which leads me to #4.

#4.  When I'm grumpy, stressed and overwhelmed, it directly affects everyone.  I think this is why we didn't encounter a huge amount of fighting and stress that I was expecting.  I had energy for everyone, and everyone seemed to handle themselves using more inner resources.  When things did get intense, I was able to help them resolve conflicts with more compassion and humor...things I totally lack when I'm mentally exhausted!

I think my biggest lesson was the time warp factor.

I got a little sad thinking about all the time I waste online and how quickly time flies by.  Offline, time was generous, and the kids and I got to spend a lot of time talking, cuddling, reading, making smoothies, working together, coloring, and just being a connected family.  It felt amazing to have plenty of time to get done with I needed to do, and still have time for more things.  We went to bed earlier, got up in the morning easier, and went about our day with plenty of energy.

Being back on Facebook, I'm careful to remember the habits I made, and I'm trying hard to keep that time limited.  It's hard, but there's so much to do...and I don't want to waste it!