A year ago, I was stressed out of my mind. I was studying for finals, working on a heavy semester of school projects, tutoring 20 hours a week, going to 4+ doctor’s appointments weekly, and trying to keep a baby in my belly until I graduated college.
I had no expectations after graduation. I had no idea what the future held for either me or Branden. I literally didn’t think about what motherhood would look like for me. I was in survival mode until I had Charlee.
I have been pretty open with some of the struggles of motherhood. I haven’t, however, ever touched on the heart of these struggles.
For the first time in my life, as a mother, a college graduate in a creative major, and a wife, I could not do what I once did, and what I have done my whole life. I didn’t feel productive. I didn’t feel like I was contributing.
For the first time in my life, I lost all external validation. The performances that I had always been praised for disappeared. No one cared anymore that I graduated at the top of my class, that I could run fast, that I was smart, that I was capable, that I was (fill in the blank.) It evaporated into the air, and with it, my whole sense of being and worth.
This moment was a crucial one for me. I realized that I had never developed myself, absent of performance and achievement. I realized that I had been using busy-ness as a defense from feeling empty. This moment has lasted months. It has been my first real identity crisis. It has been an unraveling. All of the unwanted, hidden emotions and behaviors unraveled right before me as the next step of my life was no longer provided. How incredibly uncomfortable. What an opportunity.
I wanted to share with you all a few valuable things that I have learned, through months of counseling, relapse, and amazing joy–I wanted to share with you all the value in the soul work that I am undergoing.
I have learned that fulfillment comes through creation.
I started to paint a few months ago. I don’t do it super well. It is so good for me to do something I don’t do perfectly. I don’t get praised for painting, and I don’t want to–I do it for me. When I finish a painting, a painting authentically mine, I feel creative and fulfilled. When I start feeling depressed, I create.
I have learned that to feel joy, I must do things that fill my soul; things that make me feel.
Walking, running, reading, writing, painting, creating, playing, singing, talking, exploring, hiking–these are my soul-fillers.
My default is to numb–to watch Netflix so there is noise around me, to make a list and check things off, to clean and shop and do the things that must be done and take care of the people that must be taken care of. But as I have tried to let myself feel, to really feel what it is to be alive and to experience a day and a moment, I have felt connected to myself and people around me.
I have learned about rest.
Rest is this uncomfortable thing I do to take care of myself. I have been working on giving myself permission to take breaks. Emotions like guilt and discomfort always accompany the rest for me, but I keep doing it. In a culture that says GO, I try to rest. In a culture that says sacrifice self, I try to practice self-care. It isn’t indulgent; it is necessary.
I have learned that perfectionism is not a badge–it is destructive.
I am a recovering perfectionist. For years, almost my whole life, I used the word “perfectionist” as a shield against people who talked about self-love and acceptance. As I have worked to let go of black-and-white thinking, pretty cool things have happened. Relief flooded into my life in realizing that I am good enough, healthy enough; a good enough mother and good enough wife and a good enough person to live life well. Enough is my favorite word. I am not perfect. I am enough.
I have learned that I can feel joy when life isn’t perfect.
The word “joy” at its root means the good mood of the soul. As I have worked to let go of perfectionism and stop defining myself by that label, I let go of having a perfect life. I let go of trying to control the parts of my life that weren’t “fitting” the way that I wanted them to. Then, joy came. I feel joyful. I don’t always feel happy. I struggle with all the hats I wear right now–of mother and wife, financial provider of our little family, member of the community, bill payer and grocery shopper and laundry doer and cook and etc… Some days, I don’t feel very happy. Some days I feel sad, or mad, or disappointed, or empty. But let me tell you, I feel joy pretty often. I know that I’m okay and that I’m going to be okay. My soul is in a good mood about it.
I have learned that joy stems from gratitude.
Practicing gratitude in concrete, verbal ways has set the tone for what I see in my life. If I look for aspects of my life to be grateful for, they appear. I’m not one of those people who is grateful for everything. Some things make no sense to me, and I hate them. But I am grateful for sweet potatoes, because I love them, and mustard yellow, and Charlotte’s evil cackle, and baby pajamas. Tender mercies have started to flow, when I tried to find them.
I have learned that my validation has to come from myself.
This is hard for me. I know myself very well. One gift that I have been given is the gift of awareness, of myself and other people. I have a microscope of insight that allows me to really pick apart my thoughts, actions and words. Sometimes I don’t like what I see. Because of this, I have tried my whole life to get validation from other people. I don’t come across as an insecure person, but I have learned that I have been secure only because I have been liked.
Being liked runs out. Being pretty runs out. Being anything runs out, because we change. And then we are left with ourselves. So if I’m alone with myself, I better have enough self-compassion and forgiveness and understanding built up that I can still feel joy and gratitude in my life.
I have learned that humans can change.
Not just their behaviors, but their thought processes, their beliefs, their perception. Addicts can change. I can change.
This was devastating for me at first, owning every part of myself, because that meant that I couldn’t squirm out of my mistakes and wrongdoings. I struggled with the thought that I could really change my core.
I believe it now.
As I work to own my story, my body, my beliefs, my words, and my actions, I can then be empowered to own what I do today, and tomorrow, and the day after that. And you know what that means? I get to decide how I react, how I feel about myself, and how I treat others.
How cool is that, guys? How cool is that.