Acceptance. This word has been orbiting my life for many years. In the last two, especially, acceptance has been like a comet, passing through so close I have to stop and notice. Forty years, compressed, goes something like this: Before I was 20, I moved out of my small hometown. Within three years, I married and we moved halfway across the country, alone. From there came years with failures, like divorce, like leaving a career, financial collapses, living in crappy rentals polished up with Georgia O’Keefe prints and expensive bedding. Of course, dating terrible or temporary men. Here’s a fun (and mild) example: The ex who walked out of my tiny apartment bathroom holding up a square of toilet paper, criticizing me for buying the cheap stuff. He never considered that being poor makes a person decide Scott tissue lasts longer between paydays.
Inevitably, there was the moving back home for awhile, filled with all the old garbage of growing up, feeling like a failed adult, living with my parents. Then there was the moving overseas, an attempt at teaching students in a new culture but returning a few months later, aghast at the treatment of English-speaking teachers. An old friend told me once I must have gypsy blood, as I never hesitated to consider following a path outside of the safety of “home.” I found my way closer to the city, to Seattle, a hazy dream I’d had for a very long time. In my mind, it looked much different. A quaint, old apartment in a walkable, laid back neighborhood (I swore it would be Alki, then Green Lake.) I ended up on Whidbey Island for 3 years. At least I had a view of the water from a cramped duplex that invited river otters to nest under its elevated foundation. It wasn’t Seattle and my job wasn’t the dream of sending starry-eyed students out into the world to kick ass. I was a secretary. Then, eventually, I was more than that. And I found my way to being fairly good at most parts of it, experiencing situations that most other people can only imagine (Working with producers for a Dateline episode? Finding an MIA witness for a murder trial by sheer luck? Connecting with the most amazing people who endured unimaginable events.)
But there were, what I considered at the time, screw ups: Depression was slowly moving over me like winter; anxiety shut me down every couple months. I hid my fears, my worries, my anxiety from everyone, until I couldn’t anymore. My friends, when I answered the phone, listened patiently, bolstered me the best they could from miles away. I felt terrible for laying so much on them. I should be a grown-ass lady! Because weren’t they? Didn’t they just seem to know how life worked? Eventually, things changed here and there, a long-distance relationship squared itself away. I removed myself from the isolating solitude of a beautiful place to a new job on the mainland and a new home to share with someone else. Bumps and bruises came along: Leaving my new job at largest software company in the world, being dumped by the friend I trusted like a sister, losing another friend to an unexpected death, and being struck by how much she really was a part of my world. I wore an invisible cloak of bruises from the constant self-torture for failings. Not good enough. Do it right. What will your parents think? Why can’t you just fix this? Didn’t you learn that you don’t talk about problems? Be a big girl, just like your parents taught you! Everyone else has their shit together, so should you!
My therapist decided I should name this bully who seems to hang out with me so much. With some skeptical resistance, I played along, hesitated and decided her name was Laurie Ann (This cracked me up so much that my doctor started giggling, too. Therapy is weird sometimes.) She’s the middle-aged, trying-too-hard, ex-cheerleader type, snotty, bossy, snarky. (I was never a cheerleader, so I’m not sure where that came from). She’s worried about what others think and she’s quick to judge. Apparently, she’s doing this to protect me, so I don’t “look bad”-so I don’t have to feel like I failed. Fight or flight-old Freud stuff. Rest assured, this is not a split personality. It’s a technique to recognize that part of me that refuses to accept the beautifully flawed and perfect nature of who I am, which, in fact, lives in all of us. We are more than one thing.
So the task at hand has been recognizing that acceptance is the path to understanding. It’s not some cliche tossed around on the likes of Dr. Phil, but a deep renewal of connection to self. It’s the place of looking at the years and allowing the shine to balance out the tarnished. Don’t the hard and heavy feelings bury everything else? It’s seeing the runs into a sunset on a beach bluff, the victory of navigating unfamiliar Seattle streets, fingers tight on the steering wheel, to meet a friend. It’s seeing my brain work its own kind of magic with words and learning. It’s the place of seeing the mistake as just that-momentary reminders of natural imperfection. A frustrated email to my boss in a moment of feeling tiny and judged? Let it go. Seeing that perhaps I wasn’t the perfect friend many years ago, but also deciding I was, in fact, a real human, lovely and giving the best I could in the moment. That perhaps my old friend was as imperfectly human as me, not the one with all the answers. It’s all the belly laughs with those not-so-great ex-boyfriends. It’s feeling sexy and loved, even if for a short time. It’s delighting in new things to ponder, books, people, a change of mind. It’s so many more things that can fit on a page. It’s about seeing that life isn’t a series of “do or die” moments, but a flow of continual changes that can never threaten an ultimate belief in self.
When a person simply loves who they are, they can love who they used to be. I adore my cheap toilet paper days, because now, when I grab a roll of soft Charmin, I am, truly, grateful for learning scarcity. I mourn the loss old friends, but I am filled with wonderment and respect for the new people in my life. I see the wisdom in my partner’s ways, even if they differ from mine, and even sometimes on the hard days when they differ so much it’s unclear how to move around them. I can learn from too-quick decisions and emotions to do it differently next time. I can begin to accept that there are parts of me that are just like “Laurie Ann,” judgy at times, impatient, huffy, and so stubborn. But it’s not “screwing up.” It’s the balance to my endless hope, my goofy laugh, my need for quiet days sometimes, my sense of duty to help, to hold tight to people I trust. It’s simply, being.
These are some (of many) resources that have inspired me lately:
Radical Acceptance by Tara Brach: Acceptance, beginner’s Buddha style. Not a guide to Buddhism–a guide to slowing down your thinking to recognize what’s going on. And then saying you’re ok.
Passionate Nutrition by Jennifer Adler: Getting my body to feel and work better. This isn’t a diet or fad eating book. Which Laurie Ann would never approve of! Ha ha. Just common-sense instruction on how the body works with food, from a nutritionist. Simple things like eating more often and more protein and limiting processed (boxed, packaged) foods has changed my body, even without exercise or limiting a great cheeseburger, chocolate and beer.
Facebook breaks: Seriously. Do it. Disconnect and use the time somewhere else. It’s only tough for the first few days!