Tuesday, April 30, 2013

The winding staircase of the road to self-acceptance

After reading a few articles this morning, I came to a dead stop and asked myself an important question. Exactly what am I trying to do when I work to accept myself? I don't mean just the "I'm OK, You're OK," notion. Yes, on many levels, life would be much better if we could all just live and let live and accept that even with all our flaws, we are all okay. But that isn't exactly what I talking about. Tangentially, if we could release some of the inherent guilt so many of us feel when we stop and think of the things we haven't yet accomplished, achieved, or become, life would indeed be much easier (here, I have to add, that accepting that doesn't mean to stop striving). What I was wondering is exactly which momentous battle(s) are we fighting when we trudge through the mine-filled lands of our own inner terrains to come out the other side with the self-perception that we are okay (and dare I say it, wonderful) just as we are?

To me, it does feel like a battle sometimes. I feel like I'm battling demons from my youngest days. I feel there were so many moments in my formative years where I didn't get the support I needed. In fact, I instead received mainly derision and the information that I would never amount to anything. Fighting through those pervasive thoughts took everything I had when I was young. I pushed through and persevered (and learned a lot about my determination in the process), but I have never forgotten and will likely never forget those words left scars. What's more, those words and their results have dictated my behavior in ways that only years of self-study have allowed me to see. I'm still learning to recognize them when they sneak up on me, but I do realize they are there.

The thing is that as I've gotten older, I've put those scars and behaviors in perspective. I've even realized that like a broken bone that has healed stronger where it was shattered, some of the damage inflicted on me has made me stronger and more capable than I otherwise would have been. This in no way excuses the behavior that created my situation, but it does help me handle and deal with the processes that have allowed me to accept many parts of myself.

Over time, I have come to realize that as an adult, my life is my own. I could cry, scream, and rail against the opportunities I didn't get, or the ways I've been changed by how I was treated. In the end though, it would not alter anything. This life, my life, is where I find myself. Today, now, is what my history has brought me. Yes, I could beat my hands bloody against the walls I still face (and of course, I still do have my personal, seemingly impenetrable walls), or I could realize that each wall presents a challenge. It calls on me to rise to it, to scale it, to make it my own. 

As soon as I stake my claim, it ceases to be a wall and becomes a simple step on the winding staircase of my personal journey. Each wall helps me move on to the next phase. It gives me information as to who I am and why I think what I think, feel what I feel, and do what I do. Now, as I make peace with it on some of the deepest levels of my being, I am finding I like that being. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is a pretty big deal. 

For years, I buried the unhappy parts of myself. I was the social vortex of my group of friends. I was always ready to raise a ruckus or throw a party, or drive the ten hours each way to run off to New York for the weekend. What I never did was to spend time on introspection. I rose to each challenge not because of what I would learn from it but as way of escaping what I felt about who I was. And what's worse, I let other people dictate to me how I ought to perceive myself. Their opinions, like those of people in my formative years, left me reeling. But I never acted like they did. I acted like it was water off a duck's back. Thing is even if the water flows off, the duck still gets wet, and it took me years to realize that.

When I had differences with people, I let them be vocal. I kept quiet. I didn't raise a hand in my defense. Likely, I should have, because it cost me friendships with people who heard only one side of the story (a post on charismatic drama queen friendships will be coming soon). I am still working through why I didn't stand up for myself, but that tale is one for another day. Interestingly, that paradigm ended up better for me. The people who didn't ask me for my side of the story, the people who didn't want to be friends with me because of what they'd heard, were not the people of my heart, anyway. In the moment, I didn't know that and it hurt, but over the long haul, it was the best possible move. Nowadays, when I spend time with dear loved ones, I know that is what and who they really are. And that is much better.

It has also forged me into a warrior for defending those can't defend themselves and someone who claims the right to be loved and to feel good about myself (encouraging others to do the same about themselves). Do I always succeed? No. Will I keep trying? You bet your ass!

A few years ago, a dear friend was going through trauma with a partner. Part of the problem was that some of his attitudes made her feel insecure and bad about herself. She told me that one night, I came to her in a dream and I said the following words: "Stacy,* if he doesn't make you feel good about yourself, get rid of him." Wow, I was thrilled to even be associated with something so badass, even if only in the dream state. If someone in your life is saying or doing things that make you feel less than, then it's time to either take a stand or let that person go. People who undermine your sense of self aren't helpers in your life. They aren't supporters. They are destabilizers. If someone really wants to help you, she or he will tell you the truth, certainly, but will still support you in your struggle. Sometimes, we have to make some bad mistakes in order to learn. Those who love us will still be there even in the aftermath.

A pivotal moment in the movie, "Bridget Jones' Diary" occurs when Mark Darcy tells her he likes her, just as she is. He floors her with that comment. No one has ever said anything like that to her. It is so shocking because it is so rare. And let's face it, how often do any of us hear that?  More importantly, how often do we say it to ourselves? Because that's key, isn't it? In order to truly believe it, accept it, live it, and be it, we need to say it to ourselves!

So, I encourage you to take a second, stand up and away from the computer, and say it aloud to yourself. "I like me, very much, just as I am." And if it feels weird, that's because it is unfamiliar. The more you say it, the more comfortable it will become. And that will make all the difference.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oZu2JfM2Aq8 (Bridget Jones' Diary clip)

*Names are changed.

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