For the majority of my life, I feared the ramifications of every choice I made. I feared making wrong choices, people depending on me, not knowing the right way, and risking others’ judgment of me. I feared moving away and abandonment, failure and success, and being a writer—especially one who uses gerunds. But mostly, I feared hope. My life had repeatedly proven that hope always leads to disappointment. Self-trust and esteem were magic beans my critical parent had long since thrown out. So I had pretended to choose enlightenment and feigned my enjoyment of life. But truthfully, instead I had just chosen survival.
If someone had suggested I had the power to choose otherwise, I may have nodded and smiled, but I would know they were a liar. At moments, I had heard beautiful and hopeful whispers of self-fulfillment and happiness from my forgotten inner child. Then that bitch of a critical parent proceeded with the smackdown. “You don’t know what you’re doing,” and “You’ll find out you really are stupid, then what?” she’d offer, helpfully. She tended to my deepest fears so these comply or die commands were her investment in her job security. My fairy tales were banned, hope forbidden, and my inner child had given up.
Ten years ago, I happened upon a television show called Starting Over. Six women, one house, two life coaches, and personalized plans for sorting through their mental baggage before these women could graduate from the house, resume their lives, and achieve their life’s goals. I was transfixed. I never thought of growth as an achievable and measurable goal. Or to gather self-esteem through challenging yourself like this. These timid, messed-up women were sent to stand on a boulevard and ask passing tourists questions like, “Do I look like a nice person?” Not only did they fearlessly accomplish their homework, they then overcame their fears taking an opportunity to relinquish their stubborn and comfortable dysfunctional ways, and fight their resistance to change for the prospect of hope. And they got to graduate. I wanted in on that action.
So over the next couple years I began to take inventory, take a darn good look at my beliefs, and start to take risks. What were my choices and why? My addiction to chaos and mistrust of my self-care were up on blocks to be overhauled. A happier path with new views of myself came only when I had forged a new relationship with myself from blind faith. And when I told the wicked witch to have a seat, shut up, and then actually let her do so, I re-established a faith and trust in my competence and gained a sense of peace.
And I would begin to understand that fear was a wise friend pointing the way to my needed challenges. Fear was a chance to impress myself. Among my riskiest feats, I birthed a child (who was okay as of five minutes ago), I quit smoking, and I started to write to publish. I have become someone I’m friends with and whose voice I admire. And through my trials and successes, it seems I developed a system to counteract my stress-junkie ways and boost my self-esteem.
The first step was to develop an action plan. Plot it, plan it, taste it. See what it might feel like to make a change and what that change would afford. It’s a spiritual budget. Feel As If the Thing has Happened was one tool I adopted from one of those awesome life coaches: an acronym of FAITH. When I planned ahead of time, I proved I had my back. A weekly menu plan, exercise plan, or the creation of treats or retreats for goals achieved may be a good step. Or gathering options as when I took myself to the library multiple times to retrieve stacks of books in search of one idea to move me forward. Whatever it takes.
For years I had been creating an “Aha” collection. I’d gathered concepts, thoughts, quotes, and truths with inspiration being my sole criteria. I gathered from books, magazines, conversations, and from my own journaling. “Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail,” Ralph Waldo Emerson told me from a framed quotation on a bathroom stall wall. I used personal truths from my journal as daily readings for the first nineteen days of quitting smoking. Each morning, I’d rip one open and read it while I clutched my coffee. My favorite is, “What would I do to be my own hero?”
Tell the truth and fears will disappear. Blame others and it bounces off them and sticks to you. Truly the only way to move onward is to own your choices in what has come to pass. If it means admitting to fears, laziness, lies, or greed, then so be it. Like when I wanted to fix the first husband. And he’d dump his sh** on my feelings of sh**. And then I said, “Now I un-choose it. All done now.” I was scared but relieved.
Funny how we can be overly protective of our loved ones but blind to our own beastly self-treatment. I witnessed my friend berating herself and wanted to defend her from herself. If someone talked to my kid that way, I’d have to knock them into the next century. Having my kid taught me about self-compassion. If my kid’s learning by watching me, I don’t want to teach self-hatred.
So care for yourself as you would a child or a spouse—with gentleness and firmness. Guide, limit, and reward. As you treat yourself to the same respect and consideration as you’d give others, you’ll respect and like yourself and you may even feel a faint smile form. I eat better since I discovered how to roast vegetables, and discovered only some wheat products suck. And if you make a solid doable plan to get exercise into your life and keep it there, you will never regret it.
Create community and share your journey, your goals, and your dreams with others and yourself. Journaling was my zen. It’s recognition that I have something to say worth listening to. Or find a therapist to help you work through the biggest block and then be done. I worked on my Daddy issues and when I had gotten all that I could from it, my therapist agreed I was done. And arrange to meet regularly with other like-minded people to exchange ideas, support, and brainstorming sessions. I continue to reach out and meet new friends—something I didn’t do several years ago.
The dare is only doable if you have permission and the tools to follow it through. Unprepared, you can freak yourself out and swear off change forever. Self-sabotage is an easy choice I made for years. Carefully tend a safe place and a backup team led by you, and your dare will get you way more than you ever imagined. I’ve signed up for a writer’s conference and set an intention is to lose the post-birth-mid-life-it’s-becoming-the-albatross weight. I stopped wishing and recommitted to five days a week instead of three days exercising. Happily, my gerunds and I have lost two pounds. I stopped the guilt by just taking care of my business. First I run and then I’m free to roam about the cabin of my life and enjoy the views. Here’s to a new view of you.