Two Steps Forward…

by Carolyn on March 15, 2010

Forgive Yourself by Julia Breckenreid

Confession time.

I have to admit, I’m kind of disappointed in myself. When I started this blog, one of the first issues I wrote about was my lack of authenticity. How I had lost myself in an attempt to always be fulfilling the needs and expectations of others. Only showing the parts of me that I thought others wanted to see. I wrote a lot about how that affected my relationships and my self worth. And how it was rooted in my parent’s divorce.

The Connected Ones, Splintered, From a Recovering Perfectionist and My Best Kept Secret are all early posts that explored this tendency. I became determined to change, letting myself shine through despite the consequences. But that proved to be difficult because my walls were so thick and so ingrained and so much a part of….me. It was who I had become.

Who am I, you ask? Why, I’m whatever you want me to be.

The problem at hand became clear. How can I let myself shine through when I don’t even know who I am? I came up with a plan. An exercise of sorts. I devoted an entire month to asking myself questions and answering, really answering in my In Search of Me series. I asked hard questions. Then I searched my heart and my head for answers. And at the end of thirty days I reread all of those posts, took a deep breath, looked at myself in the mirror and felt like for the first time, I actually saw me.

Then life moved on and I went on my way with my new sense of self. Feeling a little high and feeling a little mighty. I was careful.  I tried not to answer questions too quickly, taking the time to measure my response against my true feelings. I had a slip (as it’s called in addictions terms) which I quickly recognized and addressed. And for a while after that, I became even more vigilant in my efforts to hold myself firmly outside of my walls.

I’m not sure when it happened, but at some point I got overconfident. I stopped thinking about it. I stopped checking myself. You see, I thought I had this one licked. But at work last week I was confronted with the irrefutable evidence that I do not, ladies and gentleman, have this one licked at all.

On Thursday morning I brought a patient into my operatory and started my obligatory professional line of questioning (if you are new here, feel free to read about what it is I do, anyway). “How are things feeling with your teeth and gums? Any concerns? Any health changes? Mind if I take some x-rays?” And then I started with my standard line of questions to relax, distract and ease my patients into their dental experience. “What’s new? Any vacation plans coming up? Isn’t it nice that the sun is out today? How is your husband/children/grandchildren? Did you watch/read/see (insert relevant media here)?”

This particular patient wanted to chat about the weather. She was very glad that Spring had seemed to arrive and we delved into a conversation about how horrid Winter could be with all of the snow, slush, shoveling, ice and cold. I chimed in about how it would feel so good to finally spend time outside since I hated being out in the cold. We must have talked about if for at least ten minutes.

When I brought my next patient in, my very next patient, as usual I ran through the same cascade of questions. I was washing my hands as I got to the one about the weather, to which he replied, “I don’t really care. Winter doesn’t bother me.” And without any hesitation at all, I heard myself say, “Me neither, I actually like Winter.”

Huh.

I stopped short. It was as if my own words had turned around and slapped me in the face. I had to stop for a second just to be sure that they had in fact just come from me. The same person who only an hour ago had drawled on and on about the atrocities of the season I just proclaimed to like.

Lost in thought, I kind of stumbled back into my chair. Drying my hands and staring at the blank space in front of me. I could hardly make sense of it. I breathed a little chuckle. While inside an interrogation was raging.

What the hell, Carolyn?

I know.

Where’s all your authenticity now?

I don’t know.

So do you like Winter or not?

I’m not really sure.

Unknowingly, my patient saved me from myself. It was his “Hey, are you okay?” that broke through my mind-storm of questions. I answered him with a mildly cheery, “Oh yeah, I’m fine”, but inside I answered a somber, “No.”

I know it’s just small talk and I know that being amiable reaches the end I’m trying to achieve much more effectively than being oppositional. I know that it’s just a stranger and it’s just work and it’s just the weather but at the very same time…. it’s ME for Christ’s sakes. I don’t even know if I like Winter or not. Is there a psychological name for that deficiency?

I thought I had fixed this, that I had repaired a measure of myself. But now I realize that fixing cannot be my goal because fixing may not even be possible. I may never be able to rely on myself to stay visible outside of the fortress I have built.  It’s maintenance that I need to work at and continue to focus on.

People who aren’t alcoholics can drink or not. They can binge for a night and then go months without even thinking about taking a sip. But alcoholics even years into sobriety, can’t. I see people who are themselves so naturally, with no strain or effort at all, and I want to be like them.  To feel comfortable in my own skin.  Maybe I’m like the alcoholic of self dissociation. Maybe I should submit that one to the American Psychiatric Association for inclusion in the DSM.

I give myself credit. Recognition and a willingness to change are the biggest first steps. And no matter how far back I’ve slid, I still have that. My two steps forward.  But I’m also recognizing my shortcomings. My disillusionment that my heart and my head can be mended and simply function as if they never were marred at all. I’ll be on my guard now. I’m not going to allow myself to burrow back into my emotional vacuum.

The wall remains; I see that now. I don’t know if there is a demolition crew strong enough to undermine it. But I still get a choice. And apparently it’s a choice I need to make every day.

I get to choose on which side I’m going to live.

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{ 28 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Jill March 15, 2010 at 6:10 pm

Maybe there are things you like about winter and things you dislike about winter? Maybe some days you like it and some days you don’t?

I hear you, though. I can be kind of a chameleon — changing to blend in with the people around me, and not always even being sure of what I really think. I’m trying to be more authentic and self-aware this year, too!

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2 Carolyn March 18, 2010 at 10:22 pm

You are probably right in that there are things I like and things I don’t like about the season. But considering the conversation I just had prior, hopefully next time I’ll answer a little more honestly instead of mindlessly answering in agreement.

Good luck to you this year as well!

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3 Holly Ann March 16, 2010 at 8:53 am

i think that i am totally opposite from you… i stand so firm in what i believe and trying to be exactly who i am that it gets in the way sometimes… i have thought for awhile now that i need to learn to be more open to others and their way of thinking… like you i am absolutely certain in goes back to my childhood and how i was raised… there was nothing stable or secure in my life… only the things that were within my control could i count on… when i step outside of that i am lost…

thought provoking post… thank you!!! and i am certain that you, true to yourself or not, are nothing short of wonderful… :-)

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4 Carolyn March 18, 2010 at 10:28 pm

Holly, we are two sides of the same origin. My next blog post will go into more detail, but I’ve been doing some research on the effects of childhood trauma (which in essence is what divorce is). The two effects that experts have found is dissociation (me) and hyperarousal (you). In dissociation, we disconnect from our own feelings and others. It’s what allows/compels me to mould myself to others yet never actually feel connected to them. In hyperarousal, you find yourself anxious and scared of feeling insecure, thereby becoming hypervigilant in expressing what you could control.

Interesting stuff, huh? I can hardly wait to get this post out.

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5 Sal March 16, 2010 at 9:21 am

What a brilliant blog! I see a lot of myself in what you’re saying. I don’t think there’s anything wrong in adjusting what you say about something depending on who you’re talking to. A lot of it can be put down to diplomacy. The obvious reason (probably covered in your other posts) is due to your parents’ divorce, especially if either parent discussed it with you, I can imagine you’d feel restricted when you wanted to say how you really felt so you would feel the need to say what you think the other person wants to hear?

I do a lot of this myself, mostly at work. Due to the nature of my job I have some tasks where I have to listen to what the other person is saying and frame my answers and opinions around that to get them “on side” and for other tasks I do have to stick to my own opinion and sometimes be firm about it, even if it causes friction.

Outside work, if I feel really, really strongly about something I will be more assertive about how I feel but often I will say to myself “just go with the flow – it’s less hassle!”. But I do think it’s important to appreciate that other people have different opinions and to say that “Your opinion is just as valid as mine, but mine just happens to be different”. Any reasonable person should then say to you that’s fine and you can often get some really interesting debates going that way. However, they have to accept the differences, too! I had a friend when I was in my teens who was into a very specific religious sect and she kept on trying to convert/”save” me and I did try to say to her I thought her views were valid but I didn’t share them but she couldn’t accept it and I lost the friendship, but then, was it the kind of friendship I wanted?

But I do admire people who feel comfortable enough in their own skin to always state their opinions (my youngest daughter is only 5 yet she does this a lot and she gets a lot less stressed out than her older sister).

As to Winter, I love it! I love those crisp Winter mornings when the sun is shining and the ground is hard and sparkly and the air is fresh, but when it goes on for ages and you’ve been snowed in, or if it’s damp, grey and cold it can get a little tedious and now I can see all the bulbs peeking up from the grass and the evenings are getting light again, I am looking forward to Spring, too!

Anyway, thanks for another great post!

Sal
x

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6 Carolyn March 18, 2010 at 10:30 pm

“The obvious reason is due to your parents’ divorce, especially if either parent discussed it with you, I can imagine you’d feel restricted when you wanted to say how you really felt so you would feel the need to say what you think the other person wants to hear?”

Exactly, Sal. Thanks for a great comment!

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7 Laura A March 16, 2010 at 8:42 pm

Each and every day does bring the opportunity of a fresh new start. Don’t be so hard on your self sweetness. Take a cue from my own personal barometer, Jimmy Buffet…” Any walls we can’t knock down we’ll go around or climb, anyway to get around ’cause time is on our side”
Go forth and conquer with confidence and love!
LA xo
.-= Laura A´s last blog ..Step Mom Down =-.

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8 Carolyn March 18, 2010 at 10:31 pm

Love that lyric Laura. Thanks!

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9 Angelia Sims March 17, 2010 at 12:31 am

In a way this post makes me laugh, but I LOVE it too. I can always relate to so much of what you say and do. I tend to pick up ACCENTS around other people. It’s quite embarrassing.

Sometimes I am just so flexible and easy going I could go either way depending on the conversation. I guess I never thought of it as a bad thing, but just an odd thing. Truth is, I like the fence I sit on and I like the grass on each side. Black and white is nice and so is gray. I’ve tried to be more decisive but I guess it’s just not me. Or is it? :-)
.-= Angelia Sims´s last blog ..What’s in a day to you? =-.

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10 Sal March 17, 2010 at 5:27 am

Angelia – I had to giggle at your post! I went to South Africa over 20 years ago and stayed with friends for six weeks and came back with a strong accent as well as lots of phrases and dialect and people thought I was putting it on!

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11 Carolyn March 18, 2010 at 10:34 pm

You’re awesome, Angelia! For me, I’ve found that in dissociating from myself, I’ve found it difficult to create real connections with others. It’s not a matter of whether I want to be on the fence or not. It’s that I don’t even know anything about what *I* want at all. I just go to whatever side I think you want me on.

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12 Angelia Sims March 25, 2010 at 9:25 am

*You’re awesome too Carolyn!* I know that is not easy to navigate when you are trying hard to change.

*Sal* I would have LOVED to hear that! Too funny!
.-= Angelia Sims´s last blog ..Mom in Show =-.

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13 Shayna March 17, 2010 at 3:35 pm

Stopping by from SITS — I think we change and evolve every day… that said, I’m still working out who I am as well… good to know I’m not alone in thinking its a pain in the neck! The best mantra I’ve ever come up with – and continue to use – is that the only thing that is certain in life, is that it moves forward.
.-= Shayna´s last blog ..Something cute for the weekend =-.

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14 Carolyn March 18, 2010 at 10:35 pm

That’s a great mantra to have. It’s so true!

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15 Shayna March 19, 2010 at 4:11 pm

Sometimes I get too wrapped up in the moment – the current crisis – so its good to take a deep breath and remember that (if you’re lucky) there’s a lot more ahead… so save some energy ;-)
.-= Shayna´s last blog ..Spa Week is Coming! $50 Spa Treatments… Even Outside The Cities :-) =-.

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16 jules March 17, 2010 at 9:18 pm

I do the same thing! Actually, all the same questions too! Thankfully i only mouth the words “wtf, why did i say that?”. My parents are still married. We all do it!
Winter has good points & bad, we can’t change the weather, I complain with the complainers that no one has put out salt or too much salt & it rolls under my boots & tracked indoors & a pain to clean up, dry skin & chapped lips etc. And actually, I enjoyed winter this year, as much as possible. I talk about what I enjoyed, watching the snow fall while I’m in my warm house, playing with my girls & building snowmen, tobogganing, my neighbour cleaning my driveway, building a big snow hill. You know some people even built an igloo!

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17 Carolyn March 18, 2010 at 10:37 pm

:) Thanks, Jules.

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18 Debby Carroll March 18, 2010 at 9:04 am

I think you’re overthinking it. Of course, you’re a writer so that makes sense. Maybe you were just naturally doing what you meant to do — put the patient at ease. It doesn’t make you inauthentic, just good at your job. And, maybe Winter doesn’t really bother you so much, overall, there’s just things about it that annoy you and when you listed those, you were genuine, too.
.-= Debby Carroll´s last blog ..6 Things I Shouldn’t Have Done? =-.

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19 Carolyn March 18, 2010 at 10:37 pm

Perhaps. Thanks for your input, Debby!

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20 debbie March 18, 2010 at 8:05 pm

How interesting. I know I do the same thing. But more because it really isn’t worth it to me to try to change someone’s opinion in a short period of time.
Came over from SITS.
.-= debbie´s last blog ..Choosing Favorites =-.

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21 Carolyn March 18, 2010 at 10:44 pm

I agree. But I wasn’t upset that I didn’t put forth an argument from the viewpoint that Winter stinks. The problem was that I don’t even know what I think about it. At all. You could insert anything in. Like spaghetti or taking walks. Not knowing what I feel is indicative of a bigger problem that I’m trying to tackle.

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22 WhiteSockGirl March 18, 2010 at 10:42 pm

What a fantastic post. But someone above said that you are too hard on yourself, and I have to agree. Over-analyzing, ….. sometimes you just have to be and accept it.
Ok, let me not be the one that is going to give advice. Cause hell, I probably should be harder on myself!
.-= WhiteSockGirl´s last blog ..A Story for Every Picture: Perfect Fit =-.

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23 Carolyn March 18, 2010 at 10:45 pm

We are always our own worst critic aren’t we? Probably indicative of my perfectionism; another issue I’m not being very successful at overcoming. Great. Here comes another post! ;)

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24 David March 20, 2010 at 9:42 am

Carolyn,

I’m right there with you, it took something silly like the weather to realize what you were doing and for me it’s exactly the same. As a child of (a different mess) I was doing it with the weather, for dinner plans, etcc. also for the more serious descsions in life and eventually you wake-up and wonder who you really are. You are like a chameleon and most people can relate because everyone’s done it socially, as member of a group, work parties etc.. but those of us who cannot turn it on or off like a swtich have done it as a lifestyle. So much so it often hinders relationships because if we aren’t sure who we are or what we believe how can our spouse. What should be resolved in discussions can turn into resentment followed by arguements. Running in an attempt conform is very tiring and it’s only through recongnition will we dismount the treadmill.

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25 Carolyn March 20, 2010 at 11:45 am

Thank you, David! I want to hug you right now for your implicit understanding of this post, but I’m sad for you too because I know all too well how this affects your life. I was getting scared that I hadn’t expressed what I had meant to there. Thanks so much for your comment.

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26 Kim March 21, 2010 at 1:38 am

Oh my, Carolyn, this really goes to my core. I was the “attempted” peace-maker in my family and gave my soul to “blending” with others until I woke up at 34 and realized that I wasn’t myself and wasn’t letting me make decisions for me. In fact, near that time I was doing Tai Chi standing meditation and had worked up to meditating for over 45 minutes. I would usually shake and sweat on any day I did that, but one day I almost came out of my skin. I couldn’t speak, I couldn’t think. Only much later could I describe what had seemed like an exorcism of all the voices in my head, my mother, my father, my sister . . . all the voices I’d let make decisions for me. They simply drained away with my sweat. I had the sense that I was blank inside and while that was terrifying, I waited and waited and resisted the urge to go back to what I’d known. I felt like I was a child learning all over again, and it took weeks and months to acquire a sense of what “I” thought!!!

I think you’re onto something here with the dissociation. It’s so insidious that we don’t notice it and yet we spend all our time worrying about stuff outside the body. I wonder, if you’re really walling yourself off, or if you’re inside your own skin.

Some of the other comments were right on about the “blending” and it’s usefulness for some social situations. And, then there’s the compulsive aspect of it, when it’s the ONLY way you know how to be. And, I know that one. To change it, I practiced paying attention and exploring what my options were and these last 15 years have been much clearer. That doesn’t mean I haven’t found myself in my old habits, those never go away, but I am softer with myself when I am there. Cuz, after all, I get to blend with myself, too. Right? ;-)
.-= Kim´s last blog ..A Healthy Stepmother . . . let’s go even more. =-.

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27 Jacque March 22, 2010 at 11:38 am

Your writing is 100% authentic, beautiful, and brilliant, Carolyn. When is your book coming out?

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28 Betsy March 26, 2010 at 1:05 pm

The thing is once you’ve got yourself all figured out that knowledge will change you and so you’ll have to start all over again. That’s why self-knowledge is life’s work and requires patience. It’s a worthwhile pursuit though, so all the best!
.-= Betsy´s last blog ..Part IV – It Ain’t Over Yet: The Diagnosis =-.

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