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Thankful For the Bad Stuff? Really?

“Expressing gratitude is a powerful practice. It transforms painful events. That doesn’t mean saying ‘thank you’ only for receiving something good, although that’s part of it…we can turn almost any experience around by practicing gratitude for what we experience or feel each moment, especially the moments we don’t like. If we’re grateful for what we label good, we’ll only be grateful a few times each week.” -Melody Beattie

Every year on Thanksgiving people stop and take a moment to reflect on what they are thankful for. I am thankful for my family, health, a job… blah, blah, blah. This of course is all good and we should all be thankful for these things. But what about the bad stuff? Is it possible not only to be thankful for the good in the midst of the bad, but to be thankful for the bad? Well let me rephrase…

Can we be thankful for the possible meaning and purpose behind the seemingly bad?

Sometimes yes and sometimes no. I think if I’ve had some sort of breakthrough or clarity about a situation I can do it. But if I’m struggling with understanding in a certain area of life, it’s more difficult. So I’ve decided to challenge myself. Can I come up with 5 seemingly bad things to be thankful for? Let’s see:

I’m thankful that I am in my late 30s and still live at home with my mom
I’m thankful that I am in my 7th long year of working on my doctorate
I’m thankful that I’m single
I’m thankful for the past dysfunction in my family
I’m thankful for my financial failures

You may be thinking, really, Michele. Seriously. You expect me to believe you are grateful for all of that.

Not on the surface, but there’s always more. I will rephrase these statements and maybe it will make more sense:

I’m thankful that I am in my late 30s and still live at home with my mom…because this time I am spending with my mom is precious. It is my privilege to care for her in her old age and in the midst of her health challenges. It is my honor to get to know her as an adult. The memories we are building together now, I will carry with me when she is no longer with me. And I will have no regrets.

I’m thankful that I am in my 7th long year of working on my doctoral degree…because I really don’t see how things could have progressed any quicker. There are certain realizations I have made in my personal and spiritual journey that have been integrated into the progress I have made in my doctoral journey. The missing elements I have discovered in my doctoral research could not have happened unless I took the necessary steps of self discovery. And this takes time.

I am thankful that I am single…because I am not currently in an abusive or unfulfilling relationship. This time is allowing me to really understand the meaning of Love and has given me hope for the future and something to trust God for.

I am thankful for the past dysfunction in my family…because it gives me something to write about. I will be honest, this blog, my essays; none of this would be here if I did not have to emotionally heal from something. And if communicating my message of healing, recovery, and connection is a part of my purpose, then it makes sense that I would have had to have experiences that parallel with that message.

And finally, I am thankful for my financial failures….because they have taught me to value the concept of financial responsibility. Although I have a long way to go in this area of my life, my financial failures have made me aware of my weaknesses and the areas that need improvement. I have also learned to rely on my spiritual source more than ever.

I will not lie to you. Making that list was tough, but I think every once in awhile it is necessary to look at the things we think are going wrong in our lives through a different lens. I challenge everyone on this Thanksgiving day to be thankful for every good thing…and even a few bad ones.

Happy Thanksgiving. :)

Other People’s Opinions…It only matters what the cat thinks

“We’re even entitled to opinions! And yes, we do have some of those. We can think appropriately and rationally. We even have the power to evaluate ourselves and our thoughts, so we can correct our thinking when it becomes disastrous or irrational.” -Melody Beattie, Codependent No More

Everyone knows not to care about what other people think right? It’s common knowledge to go with our own heart without listening to the opinions of others. We all know to do this, don’t we?

Well, we may know to follow our own heart, but can we all truly say that we do it all the time and in all areas of our lives? Can we truly say that the opinions of others have no bearing on the things we do and the decisions we make?

I know I can’t. There is a small part of me (it’s getting smaller and smaller) that wants to people-please and that wants people to like me. I want people’s opinions to be favorable, I want people to understand and validate the decisions I make. With that being said, as I was petting my cat Samson a few days ago, as he used me as a pillow, constricting my air supply, I began to reflect on an opinion someone had of me several years ago…

Before I became a cat mama, I lived alone and I thought that perhaps getting a cat may be a good idea. I was lonely and longed for some kind of connection. I had never been an “animal person,” but I figured cats were pretty self sufficient. I told a then “friend” my intentions. She told me that she didn’t think it was a good idea.

Cats are self sufficient, but they still take a lot of work. You have to clean their litter boxes daily, feed them, clean up after them. I’ve seen how you keep house. You don’t do laundry on a regular basis. I just don’t think you’re ready for that kind of responsibility.

So basically, my “friend” was telling me that I couldn’t be a cat mama because I was not June Cleaver. Okay, maybe I’m exaggerating, but my “friend” made a judgment about me based on what she saw externally. Not based upon what was going on in my heart.

This won’t be a long post. For those of you who know me, the rest is history. My Samson kitty kind of fell into my life and changed my life. Nearly 10 years later, he means the world to me. He has inspired my doctoral work. And I have taken good care of him, and he has taken good care of me. All of this despite my shortcomings in the housework arena.

The bottom line: Samson is still in my life. That “friend” is not.

Value people’s opinions that have earned the right to speak truth into your life, but always go with your own heart.

Stuck in the Middle…In-Between

Greetings fellow bloggers, writing fans, and readers!
(That made me feel important) :)

It’s the 7th day of August, and I haven’t even checked in with a topic for this month. That’s because I don’t have one! I have a couple of ideas, but I have been super busy in these first few days of August. Last Sunday I participated in an event that I will never forget. I decided to get baptized as an adult. Fully submerged in water. I wanted the chance to outwardly express my love for my Higher Power (as I define Him through Jesus Christ) as an adult because when we are baptized as children, we don’t get to make that choice. It was an amazing experience that I will write an essay about very soon. It was freeing and symbolic of washing away the shame of the mistakes from the past, and the promise of forgiveness in the future. I was very blessed to be able to take part in it.

Last Saturday I celebrated my 36th birthday, which if you read my essay about last year’s birthday, you know that my birthday is always a bit emotional for me. I had planned to spend the day alone, but was lucky enough to have my BFF (best friend forever) in town and I spent time with her and her family. It was nice. The birthday emotions were still there. But I tried to feel all of the emotions, the good and the not so good. There were tears and laughter, joy and pain, and I tried to be present for it all.

Now don’t get me wrong, I am very grateful to be another year older (although I think I may start fibbing about my age…did I already tell you I was 36? Oooops, I meant 31, haha), but I still feel so “in-between.” As I reflected on being another year older, I began to have those famous “conflicting feelings” moments that I am prone to have, when I read a Melody Beattie affirmation (what would I do without that woman?):

“Sometimes, to get from where we are to where we are going, we have to be willing to be in-between. One of the hardest parts of recovery is the concept of letting go of what is old and familiar, of what we don’t want, and being willing to stand with our hands empty while we wait for God to fill them.”

I’m like, well what do you know?! That’s my issue with this year’s birthday. I feel so “in-between.” And it’s not one of those in-betweens that’s a block away. I feel like I’m in the in-between that goes on for infinity!

There is so much that is undone, so much that has yet to be accomplished. And of course, being a codependent, I focus on that instead of what has been done and what has been accomplished.

So I’ve decided for this month to be “in-between” for a topic. I will post random stuff. Well, maybe not random, but I will not focus on a particular topic, unless that’s the way my mind takes me. Perhaps I will even talk about being “in-between.” Or perhaps not. Whatever I talk about, I know that it’s all on the path to somewhere…somewhere good.

Cheers!

How Much is that Man in the Window? Bargaining (Grief Stage 3)

“Guilt is often bargaining’s companion.” -Elizabeth Kubler-Ross & David Kessler from On Grief and Grieving

After calming down from the anger over my singleness, I want to take some kind of action. I want some control back! Well, wanting control back would make the assumption that I ever really had “control” over this single thing in the first place.

But actually, the bargaining stage of grief is where I want to fight against having no control over the external. In death losses, it is where most people bargain with God to have their loved one back. It is where the if only, shoulda, woulda, coulda statements begin to surface. Guilt is prevalent in this stage. In non-death losses, this is where we usually begin to obsess over the different choices we could have made to make the outcome more desirable.

But I have found that the bargaining stage in my grief over being single is where my inadequacy wounds rear their ugly little heads. (For those who read my last essay, it’s where Gazoo is the most loudest). I start to tell myself the following…

I am single because there is inherently something wrong with me…

I am single because there is something grossly unattractive about me…

So of course if statements like these are true, I need to somehow change myself to not be who I am. Because the reason that I am single is because who I am is not good enough.

If I were prettier, taller, thinner, more eccentric, had better credit, more accomplishments, richer, lived in a different neighborhood, had money, came from a different family, didn’t live with my mom, didn’t work a 12-step program or had less emotional issues, perhaps, maybe, possibly…I wouldn’t be single.

I am bargaining with God for me to be someone I’m not…for me to be someone else, and this in turn will bring me a mate.

Right?

The bargaining stage of grief is very active; however, it can be sneaky. Most of the time, I don’t even know I’m bargaining until I’m sitting around wishing that there was something about me that was different.

Or, I start comparing or downgrading my own value or belief that I am a good catch. As Melody Beattie puts it:

“The magic is in others, not us, we believe. The good feelings are in them, not us. The less good stuff we find in ourselves, the more we seek it in others. They have it all; we have nothing. Our existence is not important. We have been abandoned and neglected so often that we also abandon ourselves.” -Codependent No More

At this point of the grieving process, I start to believe that healthy, beautiful relationships are for others, and not for me. I start to believe that true romantic intimacy will forever avoid me.

I stop accepting myself as I am and start thinking that being someone else will bring me an acceptable mate.

But as I let myself feel this stuff, as I let all this junk come up and come out, my thinking begins to shift. And I say to myself,

Why should I ever have to sacrifice (bargain) my authenticity in return for any kind of human connection?

Why would I even want to?

I really do like who I Am. Who I Am is no longer for sale.

From Happiness to Grief

“For everything there is a season…A time to cry and a time to laugh. A time to grieve and a time to dance.” -Ecclesiastes (NLT version)

In June, I talked about happiness, joy, fun, and laughter. It was a great exploration! It has been even greater to put these great things into practice in my own life. I have been having a fun summer so far, filled with laughter and fun, and I expect a lot more in the months to come.

But for this month’s topic, I’m going to do a complete 360 from happiness to grief. Or is it really a 360? Some experts believe the grieving process is a necessity to get us to the happiness and joy that we deserve. Some losses we will never get over. But allowing ourselves to grieve our losses, even our non-death losses can give us emotional healing and a sense of peace. Re-positioning a loss may be a necessary activity to help us to enjoy life again. The only way to do this is through working through the pain of grief.

I know in reflecting on my own life, the times that I have struggled the most emotionally have been when I haven’t allowed myself to grieve a loss. Or if I haven’t acknowledged the fact that I had experienced a loss of something that was special to me. It sucks, but you have to go through it.

I was inspired to talk about grief this month because I was asked to do a grief workshop at a 12 step convention, and in my preparation for that workshop, many buried feelings began to resurface.

With the workshop and other things I have going on, my schedule is a bit busy this month, but my goal is to post 5 posts this month that will represent the 5 stages of grief.

A note about the grief stages: (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance) The stages are not neat and orderly stages that people complete and then move on to the next one…ultimately saying yay! I’m at acceptance, it took me exactly 6 months, so that means I’ve gotten over my loss. It’s not that simple. The stages represent ways that people can identify what they are feeling about a loss at a given point in time. You may go back and forth through the stages for as long as it takes. Something may trigger you back to depression after you feel you have accepted a loss. For those of us who have difficulty identifying feelings, the stages are a good way to work through our feelings and to know what we are feeling when we have lost something or someone special.

I have shared on my blog about many of the “death” losses that I have experienced. But non-death losses can hit us in the same way, just in a different part of our hearts. In preparation for the upcoming workshop, I read a book by Melody Beattie called The Grief Club and in the Appendix of her book, she encourages people to inventory their losses through a “Master Loss Checklist.” She lists one of the most exhaustive list of losses that I’ve ever seen. As I was going through the list, there was a loss item that jumped out of the page and screamed at me:

“Desire romantic relationship but cannot find acceptable partner.”

I thought to myself, could this really be considered a loss? Nah! That sounds pretty pathetic. Get over it Michele! It will happen…hopefully…one of these days…right?

But I realized that it’s still a loss because it hasn’t happened at this point of my life, and I thought that it would. It’s a loss of a dream.

I think I had been reluctant to grieve my singleness because does that mean I am accepting the fact that I will be single forever? But then I thought, no it doesn’t. Grieving is a process, a culmination of feelings. The process itself is not a finalization. I realized that I need to grieve my singleness at this point of my life, so that I can get to the other side. I need to grieve what I thought my love life should look like at this point in my life, so that my heart can be open to the beautiful, special person that my Higher Power will one day bring into my life.

Grieving sucks. But it’s a necessity.

So how in the world will I go through the grieving process about being single? The only way I know how to do it is to write it out and share it. So that’s what I will do.

Join me in my grief.

Father’s Day Amends

Me, my mom, and my dad

“Sometimes we hurt the people we love the most, and that’s more than words to a song.” -Melody Beattie (Codependent No More Workbook)

Side note: For some reason I’ve been in a Melody Beattie mood lately. I truly love this woman’s insight.

Step 9 of 12 step recovery suggests that we make amends. Specifically, the step says,

Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.

In step 8, we make a list of the people we have harmed from whatever issue we are facing, whether it be alcoholism, codependency, etc. In step 9, we take action to make amends. It’s clear that making amends to anyone that we have harmed or done wrong in the past is for the “amender” and not the “amendee.” It allows us to begin again with a clean slate. It enables us to release the guilt and shame from past behaviors. It allows us to be free to live in the future.

That all sounds really beautiful. But for me, I stayed stuck on step 9 for a long time. I had made the list of people to make amends to. Then I learned about the different ways to make amends. There’s a living amends where we change our negative behavior into positive behavior in response to the harm we’ve done. We can write a letter, or if we feel safe and our intentions are pure, we can sit down with the person and make direct amends to the person we have harmed…face to face.

After I made my amends list, I decided as of right now, the only person I wanted to make a direct amends to was my mom. I won’t go into detail about what I was making amends for, but after months and months of being stagnant about making the amends, I labeled myself as a coward. But in reality, I was just waiting until the time was right.

About a week ago over coffee and brunch one afternoon, I made the direct amends to my mom. Surprisingly, for the most part, her response was very affirming. But even if it wasn’t, that would not be about me. I was making the amends so that I could be free.

And it was very freeing…

I began to think about another person on my amends list. My Dad. Especially with Father’s Day approaching, I have been thinking about him a lot. My dad died about 9 years ago, so I’m obviously unable to make a direct amends to him. But I chose to write a letter. And I felt like sharing it here:

Dear Dad,

I miss you. A lot. You would probably find it interesting to know that I am currently working several 12 step programs to recover from various emotional issues. I sometimes think of my own recovery as an extension of the recovery from alcoholism that you never got a chance to experience. A part of my recovery program requires me to make amends to those that I have harmed. You are on my list. As well as mom. I already made amends to mom (which you know how difficult that must have been for me!) and I want to make amends to you. I have no doubt that you loved me. But I’m not sure if you knew how much I loved you, specifically when I became an adult. I was so busy running away from my childhood, that I distanced myself from you. I blamed you for a lot of my own unhappiness. As a child and as an adult, I didn’t fully comprehend that you had a disease. Until now.

I felt being close to you in adulthood would be too painful. I felt your sickness (both alcoholism and what you went through before you died) was too much of a bother. After all, I had a life to live. There were times when I would come by the house and all you wanted from me was a pop or a glass of iced tea, and I would ignore you or say no. Sometimes you may have even wanted to talk, but I didn’t want to talk to you. I don’t even know why I did those things. Perhaps I was angry at you for being an alcoholic. Perhaps I was angry at you then for becoming sick from years of drinking. But regardless, I am very sorry for my behavior and any harm that I may have caused.

I think about you and dream about you a lot. I feel your presence more frequently, especially now that I am living in the house that you worked so hard to provide for us.

I hope you have seen my grandma (your mom) and I hope that your spirit is free…

I love you, always…

Your daughter,

Michele

Happy Father’s Day

Let’s Take a Fun Inventory! It’s Good Practice

“Practice having fun until fun becomes fun.” – Melody Beattie

For some reason, I had been struggling with what to write on the topic of fun. Perhaps it’s because I often struggle with letting go and having fun in my own life. So this post will be as much for me as it will be for those who read it. For awhile, I couldn’t figure out what angle to take with the “fun” topic. That is until my Higher Power led me to the Melody Beattie affirmation above:

Practice having fun until it becomes fun.

I realize that having fun (just like with joy and happiness) means different things to different people. Our interests differ as much as our personalities differ. What’s “fun” to me may seem strange to you. But the important thing is that we identify our interests and hobbies and that we define what fun means to us. Once we identify “our fun,” it is then important to put it into practice.

In 12 step recovery, the 4th step tells us to “make a fearless and moral inventory of ourselves.” In summary, it is a written exercise that tells the story of our lives based upon the challenge we face.  I think that for those of us that are “fun challenged,” this may be a good idea to put into practice specifically for the topic of fun. Let’s all take a “fun inventory.” It may be helpful to write down the things you enjoy doing, things you have enjoyed in the past, things you feel shame about having fun doing, and things you want to do for fun in the future. Once you complete your fun inventory, don’t be afraid to share it with others.

I think doing something like this and sharing it with others will accomplish two things. First, it lets people know more about your interests. And second, if a person knows your interests, this may uncover a connection and encourage another to take part in your fun as well.

I have slowly been transitioning into sharing the things that I find fun with others. In my early adult life, I spent much of my time doing “fun things” alone because I thought (or assumed) the fun things I liked were bizarre and weird to others.  Specifically others in my peer and cultural group.

But of course we all know what happens when we assume.

Last year around this time, I wanted to go see the Disney Nature movie, African Cats. I had saw its predecessor, Oceans in the theater by myself. I took a chance and asked a friend of mine if she wanted to come with me and bring along her two kids. She said yes. We had a lovely time.

I’m a fan of all kinds of music. I specifically love rock, and am a fan of several rock bands. A few years ago, there was one of my favorite rock groups coming into town. I figured no one would want to go with me. A black girl going to a rock concert? I took a chance and asked a friend of mine to go (she is also black). She said yes. Ever since then, we try and go to at least one rock concert a year. And we never coward down even though we’re normally the only “brown people” in the crowd.

I happened to see that the musical Cats was coming to Chicago last month. I had always wanted to see it. I know that you have to be a special kind of person to sit through a musical. I had planned to go by myself. But before I bought the ticket, I decided to put it out there to others that I was going, and would anyone like to go with me? I didn’t expect to get a response. But I did. One of my recovery friends said she would love to go. We went and had an amazing time.

These are my own personal examples of “fun and connection.” This may not seem difficult to those who are naturally social, are extroverts, or who often “fit in” to social norms. But for those of us that are loners and have spent a lot of time in emotional isolation, this kind of connection is huge.

***

So now that we have inventoried our fun things and shared them with others, it’s time to put it all in to practice.

But why should I have to practice having fun? Shouldn’t that come naturally? Shouldn’t I automatically want to have fun?

Not necessarily…

Have you ever been in the midst of a “fun” activity where your mind is so full of anxiety that your focus is only on your problems?

Do you feel guilt when you’re having fun?

When you go on vacation, do you bring your work with you, either mentally or physically?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, my personal opinion is that you are fun challenged. You need to practice having fun.

When our lives have been mostly serious…

When a chunk of our life has been about addiction, recovery, and emotional or physical pain…

When we become workaholics or compulsive debtors, and all we do is work to feel self worth or make enough money to cover our debts, or debt to feel important…

When all we know how to do is take care of others, as opposed to ourselves…

When we have gone through many of the things I have listed above and more…we don’t always know how to have fun. So we need practice.

Practice makes perfect. This is just a saying, and considering I don’t believe in perfectionism, let’s revise…

Practice makes “better.”

Practicing having fun makes us much better at it.

Having fun and connecting with others at the same time is an essential part of living a joyful life.

A side note. It takes courage to reach out and share your interests with others. It takes super-courage to ask others to share in those interests with you. Sometimes people will say no….for whatever reason. They’re busy, not interested, or there’s a better offer. Whatever.

I’m not going to tell you not to take it personally because that is advice that I can hardly take myself. But I will say, if someone turns you down to share in your fun…do it anyway, even if you have to do it alone.

After all, having fun by yourself is better than having no fun at all…

It’s good practice.

Summer Fun, Joy, and Happiness

Someone recently asked me what my plans were for the summer. I came to the conclusion that I don’t know the specifics of what I want to do, but whatever I do, I just want to have fun.

“Arranging for and allowing ourselves to have fun is an important part of taking care of ourselves. It helps us stay healthy. It helps us work better. It balances life. We deserve to have fun. Fun is a normal part of being alive. Fun is taking time to celebrate being alive.” -Melody Beattie

In spite of my challenges and the anxiety I’m going through right now, I want to have fun and play. Now fun looks differently for everyone. I’m a bit of a nerd, so reading a non-scholarly type book can be fun for me. Listening to classical music in the park. Going to a rock concert at the House of Blues (I already did that), which totally confused my mom because she asked me, “Did you go to a rock concert or a blues concert?” haha Visiting the Farmer’s Market. Volunteering with kids. Going to the zoo. Going to a movie. Getting my hair cut (did that already too). I want to do something different, take a risk, and above all, Love, Love, Love.

But I also want to smile until my face hurts, laugh out loud…really loud, without anyone telling me to shhhhh.

I want to do things that I really enjoy with people I enjoy spending time with, including myself. The more I am simply liking myself, the more I don’t mind spending time with myself. It used to bother me when I did things alone, but I did it anyway. Now, I seek people out to do things with as well as do things alone. And each way is okay.

I may not get a chance to do all these things this summer, but regardless, I want to create an overarching cloud of joy that surrounds me wherever I go.

I have been so serious for so long, it is time for my inner child to be encouraged to come out and play.

The “joy” aspect of my childhood was often denied as I began an enmeshment with my mom and I took on too many grown up worries too soon. Although this gave me an early sense of responsibility, it also gave me a sense that life was all about responsibilities, work, and achievement. I thought happiness was achieved only after reaching a certain level in life. I don’t regret my educational accomplishments, because I believe they are a part of who I am. But I often joke with my friends that when I was in high school, I couldn’t wait to get that over with so that I could get to college and be happy. When I was in college, I couldn’t wait to get that over so that I could get a job and be happy. When I got my first job, I couldn’t wait to get my Masters Degree and be happy. Now that I’m working on a Doctorate, I better hurry up and get happy. Because unless I get another doctorate (which for those who know me is not a complete stretch of the imagination because I’m a nerd and love school), there is nothing “next.” It was this that prompted me to get on the happiness bandwagon now instead of later. But I actually prefer the word “joy,” which I will discuss in a later post.

Because of this dedication to the “next” achievement, joy, happiness, and fun as deliberate actions in my own life and creating those things for myself was unheard of.

So whether you refer to it as happiness, fun, joy, or laughter, the things that put a smile on our face will be the topic for this month.

Source

  • Beattie, Melody (2009-06-10). Codependent No More (p. 217). BookMobile. Kindle Edition.

The Origins of Perfection

The Origins of Perfection. That sounds like a book title. Perhaps it would be a good title for the book I one day hope to write. I’ve often wondered where my attitude of perfectionism comes from. I think we all have it to some extent, but for some of us, it defines who we are, what we do, and how we think. We let the need to be perfect take over our lives and this prevents us from being who we really are.

In addition to not being much of a housekeeper, I’m not much of an interior decorator either. I can put my clothes and makeup together, but figuring out how to match up curtains with furniture, or dish towels and kitchen rugs makes no sense to me. When I go to other people’s homes everything seems to match up…perfectly. Even the pictures on the walls. When I had my own apartment, the decorations in my house were all over the place. For example, my living room wall was decorated on one side with a portrait of a flute, on another wall, I had a big portrait of black people playing jazz, on another wall, I had a big picture of the most beautiful tigers. In my bedroom, I had a big framed poster of the characters from The Lord of the Rings movies, and on another wall was a picture of the Chicago White Sox emblem.

You get my drift. These things had no synchronicity, but they expressed me. If you knew me well, these expressions of me made sense. If you didn’t know me well, or were just getting to know me, all of this may have been confusing to you if you visited my place. The question is, am I okay with another person’s uncomfortable feelings in response to me being me? Should I strive to be someone else’s version of perfect?

It all depends. I may seem okay on the outside, but internally, I am calling myself names: weird, freak, not normal, strange…

Imperfect.

***

When I became an adult (which sometimes I feel was only a few minutes ago, haha), I began to take a subtle look at the affects of growing up in an alcoholic home. I learned from various reading that usually, adult children of alcoholics tend to be perfectionists. But why?

It wasn’t until I began my most recent self awareness journey, which includes spirituality, therapy, 12 step recovery, and an abundance of new life changing literature, that I realized an overarching theme when it comes to perfection…SHAME.

“…shame loves perfectionists–it’s so easy to keep us quiet.” -Brene Brown

In this quote from her book, The Gifts of Imperfection, Brene Brown is talking about “truth-telling” and owning our story, no matter how messy it is. It’s part of the reason why I am so honest about so much stuff on my blog.

“Perfectionism is a response to a shame-based and controlling home. The child mistakenly believes that she can avoid being shamed if she is perfect in her thinking and acting…expectations are continually raised in these kinds of homes. Shame or the feeling that we have failed our parents seems to occur no matter what we do.” -Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACA)

One of my goals this year is to let go of shame. I didn’t even know that shame was an issue for me until last year. Guilt was always my culprit, and I had begun to recognize my guilty feelings. Shame was really sneaky. It had always been there, but I thought that it was an issue for other people. But once I realized shame was an issue, I immediately began to take the steps to let go of it.

“Guilt and shame are not useful as a way of life.” -Melody Beattie

I am trying not to be a prisoner of shame, which enables me to feed on this need to be perfect. Because without shame, there would be no concept of perfectionism…at least on the human level. We all have ways in which we can improve or enhance ourselves. But we must accept the way things are in the present before any true change can take place.

When I start to fill my head with shame and begin the struggle for perfection, it’s usually helpful for me to remember how my Samson kitty sees me (except when he’s mad at me for not giving him more Fancy Feast) with complete love and no judgment.

Or better yet, remember how your Higher Power sees you…as imperfectly perfect.

There is good and bad, and that is good. There is perfect and imperfection, and that is perfect. -TAO SHAN

Sources

  • Beattie, Melody (2009). Codependent No More (Kindle Location 1841). BookMobile. Kindle Edition.
  • Brown, Brene (2010). The Gifts of Imperfection (p. 39). BookMobile. Kindle Edition.

Are You Thinking What I’m Thinking?

So now that we are aware of what triggers our abandonment issues and we are able to identify the feelings that come up and why…what do we do with those feelings?

In yesterday’s post, I immediately went into judgmental mode after I acknowledged feeling abandoned after finding out that my best friend was pregnant. I called myself an awful person and I called myself selfish.

Feeling sentence: I feel [felt] abandoned when my best friend told me she was pregnant because she won’t have much time for me when the new baby is born.

Negative judgments about myself: Michele, you’re really an awful person. A new baby is a blessing, how selfish of you to feel that way, what’s wrong with you?

This is what we are going to try to avoid. Remember, feelings are not good or bad…they’re just feelings. One of my favorite Melody Beattie quotes about feelings is,

“Feelings are not acts; feeling homicidal rage is entirely different from committing homicide. Feelings shouldn’t be judged as either good or bad. Feelings are emotional energy; they are not personality traits (Beattie, 1992).”

I have mentioned this Melody quote before. There is no need to begin judging ourselves for our feelings. If the feelings that come up make us feel bad, or lead us to speak untruths to ourselves, or degrade ourselves or our self worth, it is time to re-frame our thinking.

For me, this is where the assistance of a good professional or other supportive individual is important. A good mental health counselor or psychologist, or if you are in a 12 step program, your sponsor or recovery friends can help you or lead you in the right direction in re-framing your negative thinking.

When my abandonment issues are activated, I have a tendency to internalize and personalize everything, which leads me to believe there is something wrong with me. (i.e. my question to myself earlier…what’s wrong with you?)

For example, on the topic of dating, in a session with my therapist, I may say,

I am easily forgotten. Men don’t believe I’m worth fighting for…or worth hanging in there with. I’m stupid for even trying.

My therapist will then respond with someting like,

How can we re-frame that statement using words that are positive and nonjudgmental?

The perfect counseling client would re-frame that statement right away. But I’m nowhere near the perfect client. I’m usually very rebellious and defensive at this point and I say,

WE CAN’T!!

This is where it helps to have an experienced therapist that knows you well. She usually responds by gently coaching,

Come on, I know you can do it. I have faith in you. First, let’s talk about what’s definitely NOT true. You are NOT stupid.

The compassion she has for me, when I have none for myself, usually loosens my defenses.

Okay fine. Re-frame. I am desired and chosen by me. I have not forgotten myself. I not only love myself, I like myself. The right man will hang in there with me and be truly crazy about me and willing to grow with me. He is out there and I will find him.

I create this new statement reluctantly. But I hate to admit, it makes me feel better…hopeful. Hopeful that maybe at some point, I can let the bad stuff go…

This is all well and good, but unfortunately we can’t keep our shrinks in our back pocket, or spend our lives in our therapist’s office.

I’ve tried.

She told me I could sit in the waiting room for as long as I liked. But I figured that would look pretty silly (haha). This is why the awareness component of our feelings is so important. These negative thoughts have a tendency to sneak up on us…especially when our guards are down.

That brings me to a useful app I discovered for the iPhone and iPad (what was life like before those devices?) that can help in re-framing our thoughts when we have to do it on our own. The app is called Thought Diary, developed by a company called happtic. This app gives you an opportunity to catch negative thoughts throughout the day and re-frame them as soon as they come up.

A thought diary is designed to help people record the thoughts that cause emotional and psychological distress. By recording our unhelpful thoughts, we can learn to identify thinking errors (also known as ‘negative’, ‘automatic’ or ‘dysfunctional’ thoughts). It is a common tool used in CBT [cognitive behavioral therapy] to assist individuals in identifying unhelpful thinking patterns, which will then provide the opportunity to challenge and change these thoughts and thereby reducing psychological distress (happtic.com).

Specifically, the app allows you to record:

  • The situation
  • Unhelpful thoughts
  • Belief rating (how much you believe the unhelpful thought from 0 to 100%)
  • The emotional, behavioral, or physiological consequences of the thought
  • Thinking error (i.e. emotional reasoning, labeling, etc.)
  • The New thought (re-framed thought)
  • New thought belief rating (how much you believe the new thought from 0 to 100%)
  • Emotional, behavioral, or physiological consequences of the new thought

You can purchase this app on iTunes in the app store. Or you can buy yourself your own “thought journal” and record and re-frame your thoughts by hand. Do what works for you.

Happy thinking!

Don Charisma

because anything is possible with Charisma

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