Am I really allowed to do that?

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It’s 10:00 at night, and I’m avoiding going to bed. There’s an undercurrent of anxiety running through my body – not enough to spur me into action… just enough to make me want to hide somewhere. A long practiced habit kicks in to help me, and I begin poking around at the places in my life which could be causing me unease.

Is it stuff going on with my boys? No.

Is it money stuff? No.

Is it my food choices? No.

Ugh… It’s the calls that I told myself I was going to make about finding homes for my horses, but never did.

Now the anxiety morphs into guilt and shame, and I stand convicted, without trial or jury.

Somewhere early on in my life, I absorbed the belief that if something about me wasn’t meeting a standard, than there must be something wrong with me. I know I’m not alone in this one.

It’s in the air we breathe, and in the water we drink.

Even when I got older and could shake off the expectations of the others, it took me a long time to recognize that I had internalized those beliefs, and I still had no idea how to hold my own, when faced with judgment from within.

I saw through this for others before I could see through it for myself. I saw people’s counterproductive behaviors, their sabotage attempts, their destructive patterns… and because I had little emotional charge around it, I could see that there were reasons, often deeply imperative reasons, for most of what they did. And without both acknowledging and addressing those reasons, there was little hope for lasting change.

What I saw gave me tremendous compassion, and for years, when I reflected this awareness back to those I worked with, it helped create profound shifts in their lives.

But for myself, there was this voice inside that said, “Am I really allowed to do that? Am I allowed to be loving to the parts of myself that I don’t like? Isn’t it wrong if I don’t punish myself for failing the standard?”

When it came to my failures, I had abandoned trust in my own process, and in my own truth. I couldn’t believe that I was really allowed to listen to my ambivalence… to actually value my failures. It was inconceivable that they could hold gifts for me… that they weren’t truly failures, as much as messages about what was really going on in my life.

But that is exactly what was happening.

And so slowly, as I watched this perspective impact others, and saw it work time and again, I began trying it on for myself. What if I were to extend compassion to the parts of me that felt ashamed or guilty? What if I were to go a step farther, and ask that frightened or angry or sad part of me what it needs? What’s going on with it? Not with the thought of changing it… but with the desire to support it. And what if I were to honor those needs to the best of my ability?

The results were astonishing. As I became willing to listen, I found a deeper wisdom embedded in my failures, than I had ever discovered in my successes. Those parts of me weren’t interested in subsidizing the stories I was telling myself. They were telling me my truth. Hard sometimes. Yes. Painful sometimes. Yes. But bracing, strengthening, and powerfully validating.

I’ll give you an example from earlier in my life.

College was a disaster for me. I’m extremely intelligent, and passionate about learning, but I failed out of college twice.

I don’t do anything halfway.

The internalized judgment around I carried around that ate at my insides. I was a failure. I was lazy. I was not fit to succeed at anything. I was worthless.

You get the picture.

This stayed with me for years. In self defense, I closed the door to that part of my life, and moved on. It hurt too much to look at.

But as I began to recognize that there might be value in reassessing this, I became willing to reopen that door.

I asked the judgment to have a seat outside, and in my mind, I put my arms around the part of me that felt like a failure. It’s not about good/bad, right/wrong. It’s about peeling back the layers of my story, to reveal the truth. I asked those hurting places in me what they needed to share… and how I could support them. These were places in me that I had given nothing but condemnation. As I shifted my lens, everything changed.

What I saw in this instance, was that the college failures didn’t happen because I was a failure, or worthless, or unable to succeed here. At that time, I had been living a lie; hiding years of sexual abuse, and a raging eating disorder. I couldn’t tell anyone about the pain that was ripping through my world, but what I could do was rip my world to shreds. I could make the outside match the inside. It was a desperate bid for alignment. The only way I knew how to live the truth about what was happening inside me. When I saw this, a resounding wholeness moved in. I felt such compassion for the young woman that I was, and respect for her attempt to realign her life, with the few tools she had.

It’s not always that dramatic… but it is always eye opening and deeply affirming.

I practice this change of perspective, and inquiry, when I recognize that I’m beating up on myself about something, or judging some part of me.

I practice it as the most direct path I know to get to what is really going on. I practice it as the quickest way I know to address the real pain in my life, and begin the healing. And I practice it as a powerful act of love and affirmation for who I am.

So tonight, it’s time to check in with myself about the lapsed phone calls.

There it is.

I’m scared that my horses won’t find a good home. Afraid that if I make the calls, and nothing comes of it, that I will have failed. That I would have let them down. And I’m still grieving letting them go, and can’t imagine my life without them in it.

Does this mean that I’ll always feel this way? No. Does it mean that I shouldn’t make the calls. No.

But it does mean that I need to give myself the time and space to work through these feelings, before I pick up the phone.

The guilt and shame evaporate… and I allow the tears, as I lean into the more realistic pain of saying goodbye to my horses. I feel the alignment happening, and a deep peace settles in, even through the tears. The healing has begun.

Full breath in, for the first time that evening, and a long exhale… I can go to bed now.

I don’t know about you, but at the end of the day, I’d much rather face the pain that’s really there, and start the process of healing, than make my life about the external standards, and live hounded by the voices that say I’m a failure.

I invite you to try this. To allow yourself to love and listen to the parts of you that you have been ashamed of… the parts that are hurting… the parts that you judge. And to begin excavating the deep wisdom embedded within your failures.

We’re not only allowed to do this. It’s how we’re meant to live.

 

~ Celebrating each of us on the journey…

Elizabeth Love