Someone once told me that they thought that I “created” chaos in my life and that I had “mommy issues”. I was taken aback, slightly pissed and in truth, shell-shocked at the accusation because in truth, somewhere deep down, I knew it to be true. I was also mad that this person who did not know me that well, saw this fine crack within my fragile sense of self-confidence. The hard truth: I was smack dab in the middle of my mid-life crisis, something I cared not to admit back then. I remember how I felt like life was literally spinning out of control and fearing that there wasn’t really any gas left in my tank to keep running from all of the truths that kept knawing at my inner demons.
My mind is a complex entity. I am often surprised at how much I can get absorbed into what I am thinking and how that can pull me away from the present. I’ve spent the last decade peeling away the onion the many, many layers that I have worked so hard to keep in place, though they were slowly decaying. My childhood taught me to ignore the reality around me and when it became too much, I simply regressed into the safe areas of my brain. I created my own stories, some fiction, and some non-fiction. My repressed sense of self, my lack of personal boundaries, and the security blanket of perfectionism mixed with needing to be needed was a swirling stream of self-induced chaos. Yes, chaos. I’ve been that swan, gliding along, seemingly serene and sharing the best of me, while under the water I was furiously paddling to keep from drowning.
I understand now just why the adage, ‘with age comes wisdom’ has so much truth. I have spent the better of my fifty years trying to understand and tackle my childhood. I’ve come to peace with some of it: my ADHD, my moodiness (that is the Cancer in me), and yes, my tendency to create chaos as a means of avoidance. But what I haven’t had the courage to confront and what is harder to accept is true self-love, which has become even harder as I head into my menopause. Yes, the aching joints, the altered sleep, and the hydrant of sweat don’t help. This self-love and acceptance is not the flowery self-declaration that we make to others, usually falsely in the name of female bonding and empowerment. I guess I never realized just how much my past followed me. I have learned that my childhood has molded me in ways that I can never change. This though often causes me panic, and I have asked my boys more than once if I have been a “good” mom to them. I know that I was not perfect, but I want them to know that from the beginning they were my “why” to improve myself. To be better. To be more whole. I fell off the wagon more than once but for them, I hoped that I had always been a good mom though I may have not always been a great wife, sibling, or friend. This onion and the many layers around me involve learning my true self-acceptance in the face of all the light and dark parts that make me who I am. This is the toughest kind of love and the hardest to understand, it is the type of self-love that picks us up when no one else can. The idea is difficult to understand because it involves the understanding that everything we could ever need to feel loved and “enough” comes from within ourselves.
Self-confidence isn’t something we are innately born with, unleashing the whole nature versus nurture argument. For me, it was not something I was born with and my upbringing challenged my lack of self-love further. We cannot buy confidence off a shelf. It isn’t something that remains constant, and within life, there are so many obstacles we must endure to create the cacoon that is self-love. I suppose I should have gone to therapy (regularly) but in truth, the few times I went I ended up counseling my therapist! I am seriously not joking here. I found that I had to work my own muscles for self-healing.
Enter in writing, journaling blogging, whatever you call this, it became my therapy. I could put on paper (computer) my thoughts, fears, ineptitude, failures, and faults and realize that first, I was not alone and that second, people still loved me. I also realized that from my own childhood, I still carried my greatest fear which was that I always believed that my mother, though I do believe she loved me did not seem to like me. I also never realized until years later, that these words I jotted down would start to heal me. It finally clicked for me that no matter how hard I had tried to repress my past, it was always there gnawing at my most fragile self. It’s funny how that works. You can get the idea of something intellectually, but it takes time, words, and practice until we fully understand. These muscles we build in therapy, being with friends, connecting with support groups, or writing needs to be conditioned over time. With this conditioning, you can put them into practice over a lifetime because once you do the work you can use those skills repeatedly.
A while back, I had a little bout with anxiety. Okay, truth to be told it wasn’t little. I didn’t leave my house and when I realized that I was crying at Hallmark commercials, anxious about walking around the block, or barking at my family over things like their simple existence, I knew that there was a big problem. I had to admit that I was not dealing with life at that point. The discomfort in that is awe-inspiring. Turns out that discomfort is an inherent part of life and the fact that I can accept that versus something I dread finds me at peace. Uncomfortable feelings are information and a reminder to change course and go in a different direction. This realization has also been helpful in other areas of life where I tend to feel afraid. For example, in any occupation, you have to have a lot of uncomfortable conversations and face a lot of uncertainty. I recently experienced this and once I realized that I needed to make a change, dealt with it, and then accepted it, it was easier to complete the tasks that needed to be done. I’ve also learned that none of those things need to be so scary. My therapists, Xanax and Dell have helped me develop perspective around my uncomfortable feelings. Also, as a side note, it is okay to take medication, it does help and why be miserable when you don’t need to be?
There are no shortcuts in (self) therapy. If you want to logically reason with yourself and not fully feel or actively process your negative emotions, you’re going to continue to deal with them. I had to admit the cold hard truth, I did create my own chaos and I did have “mommy issues”. And when I did begin to make progress with the help of Xanax and Dell, it hurt but hurt leads to healing, if you allow it. I’ve also learned that sometimes hurt people say hurtful things. I can better recognize my triggers, my boundaries, and how I can advocate for those boundaries. I’ve also learned to have respect for the unprocessed trauma of others. This is a very real thing. Everyone carries around something and understanding that is part of healing and dealing.
Most of the language around us is counterintuitive, you’re either good or bad, this or that, enough or not enough, and unable to be amazing at something. There’s a lot more nuance in life than we tend to want to recognize.
We all have been the victim and we’ve all inflicted pain.
We all have light and dark parts of ourselves.
Our parents were likely not perfect unless you’re my husband, his parents Madeline and Archie were divine. They likely have the best of intentions and make choices that are triggering to us as children. It’s difficult for us to accept this and even more difficult to accept these terms. Life does not allow us to gain consensus with others to confirm our own experiences. This is probably the hardest life lesson. Sometimes, in fact, often, you don’t get answers or huge revelations about your past and the fractures from it. For me, it has been less about answers and more about understanding. It is also about finding compassion for myself. My self-induced chaos and my “mommy issues” are teaching me to accept my past, my present, and my future, and what it means to be human.
My earliest memories find me caring for my family: my mom through her difficult years, and my siblings. What I came to realize is that I defined myself through my family and I have struggled to learn any self-identity beyond that. Though I would never change any part of it, well most of it (mother aside) taught us to love one another and depend on each other beyond measure. That has been difficult to (un)assimilate from throughout my life: basically, what and who come first? My family, or ‘my’ family?
In every picture, I was caring for or helping in some way. I never understood a different way to be. That caretaker nature has evolved with me into my adulthood. And yes, it probably does mean that I do create the need that creates the chaos. And that realization means coming to terms with all the messy stuff that goes with it.
The idea that I did not have to accept that my internal dialogue and my inner conflict wouldn’t always have to be painful was freeing. What a gift it is to believe you are enough, and that you are deserving of better, apart from any identity carried from the past.