Forgiveness

Yesterday I mentioned that I was kinda peeved about my sister’s boyfriend drinking all my vodka. Given the hangover I have today from drinking at Christmas dinner, I’m actually glad he did. Otherwise I would have probably gotten even more drunk last night. Either way, I had decided not to hold it against him. He is a pretty cool guy overall. I even ended up supplying him with cigarettes. All of our local shops were closed for the holiday, and he couldn’t buy his own.

Now normally, this would have only soured me to him even more. But it actually felt good to let all that petty nonsense go. It was nice to just enjoy helping someone else out. It feels much better than getting salty about every little thing. So I was able to forgive him for all of his minor transgressions and enjoy sharing my family holiday with him.

However, this morning as I groggily rolled myself out of bed, I was filled with shame and regret. For probably the hundredth time I got WAY too drunk and practically blacked out while spending a holiday with my family, who by the way, don’t really drink. I genuinely don’t even remember getting home or going to bed last night. I feel like shit this morning, though. Physically and mentally. I can’t believe I made the same humiliating mistake once again.

I’ve started thinking about how good it feels to forgive other people though. I really wish it was as easy to be able to forgive myself. I’m sure yesterday wasn’t even a big deal to anyone besides me. I think I’ve always just been afraid to forgive myself. Somewhere along the line that idea of operant conditioning, of punishment and reward, really stuck in my brain. I am always trying to train other people to behave in the ways I want them to. I am always trying to train myself in this way. If I forgive myself, how will I learn?

I can remember implementing this technique far before I ever learned about it in any academic setting. It seems like common sense. If you are punished for doing something you will avoid doing it. If you are rewarded in some way you will try to repeat the behavior in the future. Yet everyday life is not often so straightforward. Real life behaviors are not isolated in a scientific setting.

My relationship with myself cannot be that black and white either. I don’t have to keep punishing myself for my mistakes. I recognize my flaws, and forgiving myself for them is not the same as encouraging them. Besides I’m not really even following the laws of operant conditioning correctly. When was the last time I gave myself a reward for doing something well? Maybe never. The only thing I’ve been “training” myself to do is to be unhappy, to never believe in myself, to think I am not good enough.

Rather than make this cold, hungover Saturday even harder by beating myself up, I am going to be kind to myself today. I deserve kindness. I deserve forgiveness, especially from myself. I don’t have to forbid myself from the happiness and comfort I may find today because of what happened yesterday. That isn’t going to make me a better person. Love and forgiveness isn’t going to make me a worse person. Today I am going to be gentle with myself. I am going to rest and make myself comfortable. I am going to forgive myself.

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Why So Anxious?

I find it quite humorous at this point how many times I have been asked why I’m so anxious or what exactly I’m anxious about. Especially because those are usually the immediate follow up questions when I explain that I have an anxiety disorder. Even other mental health professionals that I work with ask me these things. Maybe it is just a reflexive question asked to be polite or seem interested. But once you’ve been asked so many times it becomes frustrating and eventually funny. It is like asking someone with clinical depression, “why are you so sad?”

My latest response when asked what I’m anxious about has been: Nothing. That’s why it’s a disorder. That can at least get a laugh sometimes. And I don’t really blame people for not getting it. I struggle to understand it myself a lot of the time. I am constantly having to step back from my racing thoughts and tell myself, “You are OK.” It also helps sometimes to go through a mental list of all the things that are going well in my life.

One of the most bizarre aspects of my anxiety is that I often feel anxious about “being rushed.” Yet I’m the one rushing myself. I have to stop and remember that I am allowed to take as long as I want. I’m not on anyone’s schedule but my own. It is quite a strange and often frustrating feeling.

For some reason when my anxiety used to be mainly focused on social situations, it made more sense to me. At least then there was a fear I could pinpoint. This vague fog of anxiety that surrounds me now is just unsettling. I never really know when it is going to appear. Which creates its own mist of anxiety. I become anxious about getting anxious. It’s all just so ridiculous. I’ve got to laugh at myself sometimes.

Over the years I’ve come to learn that I am able to take a lot of the power away from my anxiety if I can just remind myself not to take life so seriously. Because life doesn’t have to be so serious. In the end I think we are all here to take pleasure in the little moments we share together. When you look at anything in the grand scheme of things it seems small and insignificant. Then it feels silly to be so upset.

Just as with most things in life, a lot of our suffering is self-induced. I’ve noticed that when I allow myself to feel anxious, allow those feelings to exist, just accept them instead of resisting them and desperately trying to push them away, they dissipate on their own. I am prolonging my own pain by refusing to make space for all of my experiences and emotions. Even the difficult ones.

So maybe in the end, “why are you so anxious” isn’t that bad of a question after all. Maybe I should start asking myself that more often. Rather than denying myself the right to feel those anxious feelings, I can react in a more gentle, inquisitive manner. Instead of getting angry and frustrated with myself, cursing my defective brain, I can surrender to those feelings. Cradle them softly, be there for myself like I would a good friend, and just listen.

Let Yourself Blossom

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It is so easy for us to get caught up in endlessly critiquing and criticizing who we are. Many grow to hate or resent themselves from constant comparison and obsession over past failures. We tell ourselves that we are not good enough and hide ourselves away because of it. But each of us has limitless potential. It seems that really the only key to unlocking that potential is realizing that you have it. We are each the god of a universe all our own, ourselves.

The human brain is one of the most complex systems in existence. Don’t allow yours to focus so much energy on negative or wasteful thoughts. The neural pathways in our brains that are most often used become stronger over time, as the disused ones weaken. If you want to be more compassionate, for instance, all you need to do is focus on doing so. Make an active decision to strengthen those pathways in your brain and as time goes on it will become easier and easier for you to think and behave compassionately. However, the same rule applies for the time you spend exercising less beneficial pathways. Never forget that you are in control of who you are. Stop waiting for fate. Stop saying “if only I was smarter,” “if only I was more artistic.” You can be anything that you wish to be. Never be afraid to try to improve. That is really all that we can do in this life. Thanks to the world wide web, a large portion of the world now has vast amounts of information and opportunity, literally at the tips of their fingers. Use this to your advantage. Be your own teacher. A greater understanding of yourself and the world around you can only lead to a happier and more satisfying existence.

There is no reason for so many young people today to have such low self-esteem and for so many children and adolescents to genuinely not like themselves. It is important that we all understand that we our in control of the people we become to a significant degree. Never give up hope on becoming the best version of yourself. But we must also remember to be kind and gentle with ourselves along the way.

I seem to have forgotten this lesson in the past few months. I felt hopeless and trapped in my own life. But now I remember that I am all that I will ever have and although my mind and heart may be tired, my body needs me. It needs me to live and to live as fully as I am able during my time here. Even if I do not achieve my dreams I don’t ever want to be an old woman looking back on her life wondering how it could have been different if she had only tired and given herself the chance she wanted to receive from others.

I’m sorry I have been gone so long, my dears. ❤