Change is beautiful
I am at the Oregon Coast this weekend. My husband, daughter and I have been coming here every summer since we moved to Oregon from California over 20 years ago. We used to rent a house that had no Wi-Fi or cable, and we would watch movies and listen to the radio. This was before we had cell phones. My husband and I used to play a game where we would try and guess the next song that was going to come on the radio. Out of all the times we came to the beach, I got it right once! We cheered and laughed when my song came on, in disbelief that I guessed it right.
My daughter would usually invite some of her friends to the beach with us, and my husband and I would go on separate runs every morning so that there was an adult with the kids. When it was my turn for my run, I would put my headphones on and turn on my little MP3 player and listen to music. At that time in my life, most of my struggles revolved around my job. It was the time when I had just become a manager and I would stress over making decisions, and how to say things as not to upset anyone. Running on the beach by myself, I would play out scenarios in my head over and over until I came up with the ‘perfect’ things to say when I got back to the office on Monday.
Now, I can barely remember the people that I used to stress so much about. They moved to a different firm, or changed roles within our company, and I got transferred to a different branch. We didn’t keep in touch. I don’t remember them, but I do remember the time and energy I spent worrying about them. Looking back, I can see that I was in pain avoidance mode. I wanted the perfect thing to say so that I didn’t cause friction. I wanted to say the right thing so that other people would like me. I wanted to appear knowledgeable, and I wanted them to respect me. I wanted to have an interaction with another person with as little discomfort as possible.
As you might expect, the conversations didn’t go well when I would get back to work. This led me to more self talk to try and figure out how I could handle it better. How could I have a difficult conversation with no pain? Now I know the answer to that question. I can’t! And in trying to avoid the pain, I was making everything worse. Since I had already practiced what I was going to say, I wasn’t really present for the conversation. When the person I was talking to didn’t react how I had predicted they would, I would become annoyed and impatient. I wasn’t there to connect. I was there to get my point across and have them accept it.
I used to exhaust myself by using all my energy to cover up my insecurities and plan out a painful conversations ahead of time. All my attempts to gain respect and prove my point backfired, and only added to my pain and made me more insecure.
But, how could I have been any different in the past, when I didn’t know there was another way to be? If someone had said to me that when I feel pain, I need to walk right into it with an open heart and mind, I would have told them they were crazy! I wouldn’t have listened. And if someone did say that to me back then, I don’t remember because my brain would not have accepted it as a possibility. It was nowhere in my consciousness that in order to resolve pain I had to walk through it, not around it. I didn’t know that trying to numb out my pain with alcohol and distractions would make it come back with double the force.
I built a wall around myself to survive a chaotic and abusive childhood. I created my own world with my own set of rules. This was done as a survival technique. I couldn’t be open, I couldn’t be present. I had to pretend that I could handle what was happening around me as a child, when deep inside I knew I couldn’t. The wall I built around my vulnerable self was impenetrable, even by me. I didn’t know that how I was handling my life was a learned behavior, I thought it was who I was. I didn’t know that I could learn skills and tools to open up, and be ok.
I see this now. And it isn’t something I learned overnight. It started with telling my truth almost 2 years ago. My truth of growing up with no boundaries and no safety. My truth of making up imaginary friends that understood me, because I felt that no one around me did. My truth of feeling like an outsider that didn’t belong anywhere. My truth of trying to imitate people so that I would fit in and be accepted and loved. My truth of feeling completely alone and unworthy. This was the truth of my past, and I was ashamed of all of it. The shame kept it buried, and kept it alive.
I didn’t want anyone to discover that scared child within me, so I did everything in my power to pretend she didn’t exist. I felt ashamed of the little girl that I was, because she couldn’t handle things and protect herself. Blaming myself gave me some sort of control, but I had to accept the fact that I had absolutely no control of the things that happened to me. The worst part of accepting this, was accepting that the people that I loved purposely made me feel bad so that I would keep their secrets. I had to accept as my new truth that it wasn’t a mistake that I felt bad about myself and ashamed. This was something that I was taught.
In accepting the truth and the pain of my past, I am slowly learning a new way to be. I am learning that my past behavior was just that, a behavior, it wasn’t who I was or who I am. I have also learned that by putting so much of my time and energy into pain avoidance, it became the focus of my life and didn’t give me the space I needed to grow and learn.
Now, as hard as it may be to have a difficult conversation or handle a difficult circumstance, I tell myself to lean in to the pain. It is one of the hardest things to do, and I am still learning how to do it. But, now I tell myself that I can handle any outcome. I can handle any situation, whatever it may be, and whatever we may talk about. Every time I walk straight into pain and handle it, I gain confidence for the next time. And I have learned that there will be a next time, because pain is a part of life.
I am at a place now emotionally that I didn’t even know existed. I didn’t know that the acceptance of pain dissolves it. I didn’t know that in accepting my past I would learn to love the little girl that I was, and that I would feel sadness for the people that hurt her. I realize that they were hurt themselves, and they didn’t know another way existed. They were trapped in their own pain, just as I had been.
Watching the ocean this weekend, it looks the same as it did when I used to come here years ago and stress about people I can’t even remember now. The ocean may look the same, but the crashing waves, the winter storms and even the sunny days have changed it. Just like me, the beauty lies in the constant change.