Willingness

Why willingness? I have the good fortune to be part of a wonderful weekly support group. Over time, I realized that I was resisting making the very changes I desired. Although I desired that change, there was something that I was not ready to give up. I wanted my life to be different, but I didn’t want to suffer through the process of change. A lack of willingness was, as much as anything, the result of the desire for comfort. I wanted change to be comfortable. I wanted to recognize whom I saw in the mirror. At the same time, I wanted to change.
Changing my beliefs about myself was, and is, one of the hardest things I have ever done. Willingness stripped me of my excuses. I wanted to change, but I was not sure I was willing to give up my former patterns. I would have to face my demons head on

The only way to do it is to do it.
There is no magic answer, no special pill, no tool, no word, no original technique that will make changing our lives easy. Reading a book, talking to friends, attending a seminar can’t guarantee us success. We’re looking for guarantees, but we will never get them. We cannot achieve our dreams through the work of others. There is never just one way to do something. We seldom have the comfort of a road map. Even when we do, the first move is always hard to take. You have to start at the beginning. You have to do something.
Change is hard. Often all we have is faith that it will work out. All too often, we are a little short on faith. We want to hold out for the sure thing. Seldom do things worth doing come easy, however. There is always the chance that we will fall down on our faces and break our noses. It doesn’t matter if we believe. To change we have to try. That can be the most frightening thing of all. There must be 1000 ways to say it, but in the end, the only way to do it is to do it.

So, you haven’t gotten started. Not to worry, most people haven’t. We are all full of excuses. It’s too hard. I don’t have enough time. I’m not strong enough. I’m not brave enough. I’m not smart enough. We will keep having excuses, until the pain of not doing something is greater than the pain of doing at. Excuses are irrelevant. When we are ready to do it, we will find a way, but as long as we listen to the excuses, as long as we shirk behind the fear, we will keep treading water.
We may say, “I don’t have excuses, I have reasons”. Yes, they are reasons, but they are also excuses. It may be hard, it may be painful, it may require great sacrifice, but when we get the point where we want it badly enough, we will find a way. The excuses are simply our reason not to try.
To “do it” we have to put ourselves out there. We have to be willing to look stupid. We need to be willing to have the people we love disapprove of us. We have to keep trying in the face of failure. Taking action makes us vulnerable. When things fall apart, it hurts. It can hurt financially. It can hurt our pride. It can do damage to our lives. When we live our dreams, we are showing people where to hit, if they want to hurt us. Making major changes isn’t for the faint of heart.
The problem with “the only way to do it is to do it” is that it is so easy no to do it. There may be a great show on TV, a new neighbor down the street we want to meet. Some people hide in an addiction. So long as we drink, or smoke, or obsess about food, or any of a myriad of vices we don’t have to think about what we really want. In fact, obliterating that addiction may be what we need to do. Just as long as we stay unwilling to give up time with the family, money from our pockets, or the same old comfortable way of thinking about things we stay stuck. Everyone would be his or her ideal self if it came with no cost.
What we need is permission. Permission to be selfish. Permission to fail. Permission even to try. We need to know we can’t be everything to everyone, and that is ok. We need permission to say no, sometimes. We even need permission to whine and complain, sometimes.
So, I’ll bet you’re thinking this sounds like a rotten deal. Why would anyone want to put themselves through all that mess? Once you realize that the only way to do it is to do it, you create a whole world of possibilities. From the very first step, fear becomes something controllable. Fear hides in the shadows, the unknown spaces in our heads. Fear tells us that first step is far too risky. Take the step, and you strip away that illusion. I won’t suggest that everything will be easy from that point forward. Because that is simply not true. But taking that step is the only way to create change. The only way to do it is to do it.
This concept will help reduce your regrets in life. Wondering what may have been can stay with us for a lifetime. Failing or being embarrassed, while not fun. Does not hold the same sting. When we face challenges in life, rather than procrastinating, making excuses, or finding excuse after excuse, we don’t have to wonder about what we could have done. It takes courage to take action. When we do, we answer the question “what if”. We can live life looking forward, rather than trying to forget what is in the past.
Often times we know we have to take action eventually. When we spend our time making excuses, we waste our precious time. When we (metaphorically) spend our time walking around in circles we tie up time and energy. We may take time away from our family or from fun activities. We may find ourselves up against a dead-line. We have to scramble and rush to meet our obligations. The quality of our performance may suffer. We may find we are constantly letting people down. There is no magic formula for getting started. The only way to do it is to do it.
All of this is nice and good, but how, really, does it apply to the real world? I am going to give you examples. Real examples from my life, in the hopes that you come to agree with me. These are powerful ideas. I must say I spend much time walking around in circles, learning and relearning these lessons. Life is a journey, and I learn more every day. I continue to relearn these concepts. When I live by them, I am happier and more productive. I was an expert at putting things off. Most of my life involved not feeling, not doing, and not facing my limitations. At times, I found the pain and fear of moving toward my goals overwhelming.
“The only way to do it is to do it” can be so empowering. For most of my life I suffered from terrible shame. It got to the point where I suffered from shame every time I was less than perfect. In other words, most of the time. This shame seriously hindered my efforts to develop relationships.
All of this is a lead-in to this brief synopsis.

Willingness

  1. It always comes down to “just do it”
    No matter how much support, stability, or relief you have. No matter how small the first step is, it still requires you to take it
  2. Realize you’ll have to make healthy choices over and over again
    What you intend to do, or have done yesterday doesn’t really count as progress today
  3. All you need to do is get it right more often than not
    Perfection is impossible. Setting a goal of getting something right at least 51% of the time enhances the power of the smaller, beginning steps. Progressing even very slowly is better than not at all
  4. Change can feel really bad
    Do it anyway
  5. You must give up something to grow
    Change will never be easy, painless, and have only positives. Often the cost of something becomes its value
  6. Actively challenge “absolutes”
    Pay attention to the language you use to define your own expectations
    “Can’t” usually means “won’t”
  7. Expect setbacks, back slides are part of the process
    They are a chance to practice
  8. Whose fault it is doesn’t matter
    Self-esteem comes from how you respond to what happens to you, not what happens to you
  9. It will never be easier then right now
    Maintaining bad habits only reinforces them
  10. There will never be a better time than right now
    Waiting for better conditions is procrastination
  11. Be selective about “support”.
    It is usually the people who challenge you (rather than the people who understand you) that most help you to change
  12. Insight alone does not create change
    Understanding can only take you so far. Eventually you must act

Daddy’s suicide attempt

When I was four the second early shame trauma happened.

I was standing on my yellow stool washing the dishes.  It was one of my favorite things to do.  My Mom had gotten a set of plastic dishes, so that I could wash them unsupervised.  My Mom and little sister had gone over to our babysitter’s house.

My Dad was in the bathroom.

I was having a great time.

Then I heard my Dad’s voice.  I didn’t want to be disturbed from my task, so I kept on washing, hoping he wouldn’t call again.  But, of course, he did.  I turned off the water. He was definitely not talking to someone on the phone.  He was calling my name.

Reluctantly, I climbed down from the sink and walked over to the bathroom door.  I called to him.  In a raspy voice, he ordered me to come in.

I hesitated.  My tummy felt tight. Somehow, I felt it was vital that I did not open the door. Still, he called me again.

When I stepped into the bathroom there was steam billowing through the air.  It felt heavy.  Through the mist, I saw Daddy reclined in the tub. But there was something wrong.  There were red swirls in the water. His mouth was covered in tiny white bubbles. He was sunk down in the tub so that the water nearly came to his mouth.

It was scary.  My Dad’s cry battled with the panic inside me.  My Dad won.  I came closer to the tub. He told me that he was stuck and that I had to help him out of the tub.  That didn’t make any sense. He was very big, and I was so little.  I stood frozen. 

In that funny, raspy voice he commanded that I take his hand.  When I did, he told me to pull. So, I did.  Water splashed all over the floor. I pulled again.  He grabbed the side of the tub and gave a mighty push. 

Soon, he was lying on the bathroom floor, like some sort of grounded whale. Cuts on his wrists were still oozing blood, diluted by the bath water.

In that same strange voice, he told me to come and sit on his chest.  When I did my panties and dress got all wet.  Next, he ordered me to bounce on his chest.  He told me it was the only way to get him to breath. 

I did it, over and over, until my little legs were shaky.  He was depending on me.  Feeling both validated and afraid, I dared not stop.

The rest of the story I must guess at.  I remember my Mom coming back and taking me to my room.  I have a sense that there were flashing lights and lots of grownups talking.  My mother says he doesn’t remember it.  I know he was hospitalized for suicide attempts.

In the end, what really matters is how this incident affected me.  I felt so important.  I had saved my Daddy. But I also felt empty and confused.

Why had my Daddy done that?  Why would he want to leave me?  If he could do that to himself, what might he do to me? What would happen if I made him mad? If I made a mistake.

The only thing I could figure was that I must be perfect.  That mistakes could be fatal.

I was convinced that I was not only bad. I was flawed.  Why else would such a thing happen?

These early events did more than create a deep sense of shame and inadequacy.  They set me up to accept anything my Father did, no matter how bad it might make me feel.  Later it would turn into suicidal ideation.

No matter what my father did, I accepted the responsibility for it.  Because there was more to come.  A lot more. 

The fate of the puppies

When I was four years old our family dog had a litter of puppies.  They were these cute, snuggly fur balls.  It was so much fun to play with them. They stayed in our screened in porch off the kitchen.

One morning I woke up early.  I was eager to play with the puppies, so I put on my slippers and creeped across the cold linoleum floor.  Very carefully, very quietly, I opened the door to the screened in porch. Ever so quietly, I made my way over to the box where the mommy dog lay.  Lucy, my favorite puppy, was lying in the box next to her mother. 

I went to pet her, and she didn’t stir.  A sudden coldness grasped me.  I tried to pick her up.  She didn’t stir.  Her little eyes stayed closed. I put her down and made my way back to the kitchen. 

I didn’t know what to do.  I wasn’t really supposed to go out to the dogs by myself.  Still, I felt certain there was something terribly wrong. I was so scared I wanted to sink to the floor.  I wanted to disappear. 
I forced my little body to move. I half ran, half tiptoed my way to my parent’s room.

Mommy and Daddy were sleeping.  I went to Daddy’s side of the bed.  I tugged gently on his arm.  I half wished he wouldn’t get up.  Nevertheless, I tugged harder.  “Daddy”, I gave a loud whisper. Then again.

Daddy stirred. His eyes opened. It took a minute for him to focus on me. When he did, he looked annoyed.  I wished I could crawl back out and go back to my bed. Lucy needed me, though.  So, I stayed.

He asked me what was wrong. I tried to explain about Lucy not answering me, not feeling soft and fluffy.

Suddenly, he threw back the cover and grabbed his robe.  I struggled to keep up as he raced to the covered porch.  I stood in the doorway while he went out to investigate.  He told me to go back inside and help mommy make breakfast.

I heard the screen door open, shut, and open again.  I was crouched on the kitchen chair.  Daddy came back inside.  I saw him give my mother a look.  He put up his hands in an “I don’t know” gesture.

I very quietly asked him where the puppies where.  I wanted to know when I could play with Lucy.

He sighed and sat down on the kitchen table.  He explained to me that someone had left the screen door unlocked.  The puppies got out of the door.  They climbed through an open space under the porch.  There they found broken glass. The puppies ate the glass.  The glass cut them inside and they were dead.

He told me we were going to have to bury the puppies.  He got a large box and gently put the puppies in it.  Then he put on the lid.

He was going to take the puppies up to the forest behind our house and bury them.  I didn’t know what bury meant. I didn’t really understand dead.  I was sure I was the one who left the door open. Surely my parents weren’t that careless. It was my fault the puppies were going to be up in the forest, cold and alone.

Daddy put on his shoes and picked up the box.  He asked me to come with him, but I refused.  I climbed up on my yellow foot stool, the one I used to reach the sink, and watched him climb the hill behind our back yard. 
Suddenly, I wished I had gone with him.  I longed to race after him, to yell for him to wait.  Because I knew I was a bad person, a careless person.  Because I couldn’t even remember to close a door the puppies would be gone forever. They would be stuck in the wood, cold, lonely, and scared.

Now, frightening as that experience was, there is obviously as back story.  No child takes on that level of responsibility unbidden. So, what was life like for little Debby before the puppies died?  What made me vulnerable enough to wish I didn’t exist?

Well, one of the earliest memories I have was of being unsafe.  My mother took me for swimming lessons.  I was about 2 ½.  In the dressing room there was a huge window that showed the pool.  The only thing was, the water line was above the window. I saw other children diving and swimming under the water.

I was no dummy. I knew I couldn’t stay under the water without breathing. Of course, I could not have told my mother that. I just knew that I couldn’t go in that pool under any circumstances. 
I did what any smart kid would do.  I threw a huge tantum.  I didn’t believe that my mother could keep me safe. I did not trust her, somehow.

At another time, perhaps even before that, my mother left me alone in a shopping mall. It was time to go home, but I didn’t want to leave. So, I dragged my feet. I sat on the ground.  I refused to go.  I don’t know why my mother didn’t just pick me up. I do know she said something to the effect of get going or I’m going to leave you here.

She did.  Much to my surprise and dismay.  I saw her walk away. I don’t know if I could see the car. Apparently, she drove around the block, then came back for me. My life was definitely not safe.

I did mention that there were two major contributors to my sense that I shouldn’t be.  Stay tuned…..

Start at the beginning

Hello.

I’m Debi. Shame has been my companion since I was very small. There were two incidents that really framed my early years. Both occurred when I was about 4.

But before I get into that, perhaps you would like to know what you are getting into, before you invest your precious time in my words.

My life has been pretty chaotic. The first 5 years involved repeated traumas. When I was 6, my parents separated. That was something odd, and it made me odd. Divorce was still relatively uncommon.

Then the sexual abuse started. Nine was an awful year. But we’ll go there another day.

Like some other survivors of sexual abuse, I found an inappropriate man and let him make me his. Within a few years, we were active in alternative life styles. For those who don’t follow, that was a variety of atypical sexual activity. OK. I’ll say it. We started by looking for someone to have a threesome and ended in a cozy swingers group.

After my marriage ended I drifted through life. I tried desperately to find some meaning, some purpose. When I failed I landed myself in a psychiatric day program.

That was the start of a whole other life. I started to want to want to get better. From there to here is a whole other story. It has been almost 22 years. I have built a life for myself. A life with little drama. I have friends, and a part time job. I am on disability. I had to truly struggle to find acceptance of that. Things are good, now.

The thing is, I feel that there is something in my healing that could benefit others. I want to write about my journey. To offer a smidge of hope to others.

I hope you stick around. Comment if you like. Help me to define the changes that can happen when I let go of the shame. Letting it go (though I am by no means a finished project) is incredible.