Self confidence is not the same as self forgiveness

Yesterday was the first day since I started my daily writing challenge at the beginning of December that I didn’t write.  I made it almost two months without fucking up.  I’m going to try and continue to make it the rest of the year.  I won’t be perfect, I may fuck up.  The point of this journey is growth and part of my growth is teaching myself that that is okay.

Yesterday started with taking one of my pups to the vet cause she had stopped eating.  She was diagnosed with lymphoma last year and went through chemo, and is now one year in remission.  Her battle with cancer has made me extra protective of her and extra nervous about losing her, so I suspected some GI problem, but my biggest fear was the cancer was back.  My vet ran bloodwork and sent us to a specialty hospital/ER about two hours away.  The cancer wasn’t back, or isn’t as far as we know right now, but instead she has IMHA.  I won’t go in depth into that condition, but the short version is a fair to guarded prognosis with a estimated 65% chance of survival after days or a week of hospitalization with medication and blood transfusions.  I was a mess, I still am.  I thought about writing when I got home, it didn’t happen.  I thought about doing homework too, it didn’t happen.  Aside from a short trip out to bring my niece home from work because she was considering walking 3 miles in 1 degree weather which was not happening on my watch, and talking to the doctor again about Kiwi a bit after midnight, I really wasn’t in any shape to do anything.  I’m still not, but homework has to happen, so I am going to at least try to do that now.

Anyway, I feel crappier because of not doing anything that I see as useful and productive, and because I failed to write yesterday or do homework.  Which teaches me something very important.  I may have a lot of self confidence, I don’t think I’m shitty in any way for not being functional right now, but I need to learn to forgive myself.  I can fail to meet my standards for myself and still maintain my self esteem because I don’t connect individual actions with my overall self image, as long as I’m not violating my core morals.  But that doesn’t mean I’m immune from feeling like a failure for a specific action or lack there of.  It doesn’t mean I’m not hard on myself.  And right now is not an appropriate time to be hard on myself.  It isn’t helpful or reasonable, and I need to foster forgiveness and compassion for myself instead.  So there is my lesson for the day, I have yet to figure out the exact hows of doing so.  Normally I learn through my writing, this process teaches me a lot about myself.  Today I learn from what happened when I failed to complete my writing, and I will use that learning to better myself even more.

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To succeed, you have to do it for yourself…or do you?

“To really succeed, you need to do it for yourself, not for someone else”

I can’t remember the first time I heard this message, but it’s something repeated often, and for many different circumstances. I hear this especially when it comes to mental health or addiction.  When you decide to get sober, it is a choice you have to make for yourself, not one that you can be doing to please others.  If you’re doing it for other people, you’ll inevitably fail.  When you seek treatment for mental health, it has to come from finally acknowledging your problems yourself and loving yourself, not from wanting to please others. If you’re doing it for other people, you’ll fail.  Does this narrative sound familiar?  It should, it’s fucking everywhere.  It’s also utter bullshit.

When I tried to stop drinking, I had deeply internalized this message.  I tried to stop for myself, or I said I did, but I also tried to stop to save my relationship.  My ex-fiance had cheated on me, had been cheating on me for months by the time I found out, and I knew that part of it was because I had been such a shitty partner.  The responsibility for his actions is still on him, but he was looking for love from someone who was compatible and healthy for him, and I was not that.  I gave myself the challenge of going from drinking around 12-20 beers a night, something I had been doing consistently for about three years, to going 100 days sober.  I did it, and our relationship still fell apart.  He cheered me on, but was still cheating on me the whole time while claiming not to be.  I backslid some then, after making it my first hundred days.  I tried to transition into drinking in moderation, and I was not ready for it, and the circumstances were poor since I was getting out of a six year relationship with someone I had been engaged to, that had ended with betrayal.  So doesn’t that prove the point that you have to do it for yourself, and if you do it for someone else you’ll fail?  Fucking nope.  It does show me that doing it to try and save a relationship that was already failing and beyond saving, without even evaluating if that relationship was healthy for me (it wasn’t), was a mistake.

So I kept working at moderation, and at times I took another 30 days or 100 days of sobriety.  Ex-fiance moved out, I started school, life continued.  I told myself over and over that I had to stop drinking for myself, it had to be for me, or I would continue failing.  I came out and began transitioning, I worked hard on getting a degree, I really started to love myself with a depth I haven’t known before.  I still struggled with moderation and sobriety.  I did the work for myself, because I truly wanted to be better, and for some people that is enough, for me in this instance it didn’t work.  I got an okay handle on things though, over the next three years I went from the daily 12-20 beers from before the first time I tried sobriety, to drinking just on weekends, then to drinking once a month, then to drinking every few months.  I still felt weak, like I was fucking up, like I couldn’t do it.  I was doing it just for myself and I was feeling like a failure.

One of those times when I drank, I broke the other rule I had for myself, even when I had been a constant alcoholic.  I had made a no hard liquor rule at the beginning because I saw how much I was beginning to drink, and I knew I’d be dead within a year of accidental alcohol poisoning if I didn’t set myself that limit.  Well, this one time, a few years into moderating, I went to a barbecue with Kelev and had hard liquor, and much too much to drink.  I made a complete ass of myself, I was rude to Kelev, I needed help getting into the car so he could drive me home, I was just a complete shitbird that night.  The immensity of how badly I’d fucked up hit me like a ton of bricks the next day and I realized that while Kelev had been an ever patient and supportive loving force, and extremely understanding because he had a history with alcoholism as well, that it might be a matter of time until he said enough and left.  Even if he didn’t, what I was doing was hurting him, directly on nights like that when I was a rude fucknob, and indirectly as he watched me hurt myself.

When I decided to take a full year of sobriety, I did it for him.  I did it because I didn’t want to fuck up the best relationship I’d ever been in, I did it because I didn’t want to hurt him with my behavior, and I did it most of all because I wanted to make him proud.  And you know what, it worked.  I made it a year sober, and so many times he would glow with pride and tell me how amazing my efforts were, and that was what I needed to keep pushing through.  I got out the other side, and every previous time after I had hit a goal like that, I would go back to drinking after.  Less each time, I had gotten to a point of moderation where usually I only drank every few months, and rarely too much like I did at that barbecue. But there was still always that relief of my sobriety stretch being over, and I celebrated with a drink.  This time I had no desire to.  I had him by my side telling me how he was so proud I’d actually made it, and I felt better then I had in so many years.  I still haven’t drank since then, and I may eventually decide I can handle moderation someday, but I’ve had no interest in that day coming anytime soon. I had decided to throw away the notion that I had to do it for myself.  Instead I had to find -a reason- important enough for me, and do it for that.  I found that, and that is what mattered, having a driving force that could support me through the hardest moments and push me forward.

Yesterday I was talking to my partner D, and she was telling me how her other partner, the Brit, had taken an important step forward for his health.  How he had done so without her prompting, but because he wanted her to be proud of him.  She said how she wished he had done it for himself.  It reminded me of my experiences, and of the trope we buy into that we have to do things for ourselves for them to work, or to be healthy, or to love ourselves.  Sometimes when it comes to physical and mental health, one of the biggest barriers is not loving yourself.  Low self esteem and self regard can really hold people back in seeking help.  Apathy or self destructiveness can feed into the most unhealthy behaviors.  That is where the trope that you have to do something for yourself becomes harmful, it can hold someone back from seeking help because they can’t muster up enough love for themselves alone, or desire to exist, to push forward.

It is okay to get help because of external motivation.  If you are doing something that is good for you, because you want to make someone else proud, or for any other external reason, you are still doing something good for you.  That is important, that is valid, and it still pushes you forward.  In fact, that is still even a form of self love.  When you decide to take care of yourself because you want to make someone else proud, you are still doing so because you enjoy the feeling of them being proud of you.  You are still on some level seeking out a good feeling, and that is loving yourself enough even just a little, to seek something you enjoy.  Even if you only are getting joy from the happiness of someone who loves you, you are letting them love you and take pride in you, and that is an act of loving yourself.  From there you can move on to acknowledging that you deserve that love, as you succeed for them you can build yourself up and build confidence in believing that you may actually be worthy of that support because you are succeeding in what you are doing.  This isn’t just that the ends justify the means, but that in trying to improve for other people, you often create a healthy cycle that feeds your healing.

Of course there are situations like I had with my ex-fiance, where I was trying to improve to save something that was unhealthy for me and not worth saving.  But even then, if I had not started on my journey at that point, I may never have continued pushing until I found a reason that was strong enough to bring me through this, and I might not be where I am today.  So when you decide to make a big change for yourself, when you are facing a struggle and looking for a reason to improve, let go of the toxic trope that the only reason that will work is an internal one.  Let go of the idea that you must do everything for you and you alone, and that is must come from this already existing place of loving yourself.  Loving yourself may help a whole heck of a lot, but it is okay to seek external motivation as well.  What matters is finding reasons that are healthy enough and good enough for you, that are strong enough to pull you through the hard times.  If you foster love for yourself to start and let that drive you, it might be easier at times, or it might not be enough.  If you find the strongest reason you can and run with it though, the self love will likely come in time.  And you can succeed, don’t be afraid to lean on others for support and to seek validation and encouragement.  That is just as good of a reason and you will see that when you reach your goals.

Productivity is my best friend and my worst enemy

I feel good when I’m productive.

Earlier today I was reading an interpretation of my astrological chart.  I’m not sure what my feelings on astrology are.  I have a cousin who is an astrologer, I believe he’s done it professionally for a long time and writes for a few newspapers.  I took an interest in it many years ago and he sent me some things to learn from, and then I read some here and there teaching myself a bit more.  I find it interesting, but like anything I relate to spiritually, I’m always skeptical.  I can believe in something, or in the possibility of something, while at the same time realizing that what I perceive is real in my mind, but not necessarily measurably real in the material world.  As the same time, I love aspects of spirituality as I do perceive them, and astrology is enjoyable to read from time to time.

Anyway, the interpretation I got on my full chart had this section in it.

“The work that you do, and the services that you offer, are very important to your sense of identity. In order to feel good about yourself, you need to be busy with daily activities and to produce work you can be proud of. Focus on finding a suitable and rewarding avenue for expressing this part of you, being extra careful to choose an occupation in which you can express yourself. You are sensitive to criticism about the work you do, and you work best when you can create your own schedule. Positive feedback for the services you render is important to you, but be careful not to over-identify with the appreciation you receive from others, as your work and your health suffers when you feel under-appreciated. Motivation to do a good job should come from within.”

Regardless of the accuracy or lack their of, of the planets and what they say about a person, this happened to be quite accurate to me.  When I came out of my years of alcohol induced haze and inactivity, what I did any given day became very important to me.  Productivity, usually in cleaning and de-cluttering my house, was my measure of success.  Then it was my ability to work.  When I got my first job as a vet tech, I unintentionally based a lot of my self esteem in my ability to handle that job.  I worked fourteen hour days, sometimes longer, with a head vet/owner who was verbally abusive at best some days.  The turn over at that clinic was frightening.  I remember one person who was hired and quit within two days, not because the head vet treated her terribly, she was still in the honeymoon period where our insecure boss was sucking up to her and trying to curry favor.  But the new tech saw how those of us who had been there a while were treated and left, with that as her reason, because she wasn’t willing to tolerate that sort of toxic environment.  I stayed for nearly a year, much longer then I should have.  I was miserable and stressed and almost at my breaking point, and even when I had other job offers at much better clinics with higher pay, I felt guilt for leaving.  Because I had based some of my sense of self in who I was there, in being someone who could stick it out and take the abuse, and in the first career in which I really got that satisfaction of productivity from my workplace.  I left before it fucked me up beyond reasonable repair I think…I’m not sure, it was a close call and it took another six months before I could de-stress to any reasonable degree.

When everyone moved out of my household over the summer and I had the chance to live by myself for a few months, I was the only one to do what had been chores we split between the whole household.  It was a huge boost to my mood each day when I finished all the morning chore list I had made for myself.  I measured my mental health, my self worth, my success, by my productivity.  “In order to feel good about yourself, you need to be busy with daily activities and to produce work you can be proud of.”  That is me to the letter.

These days I’m wondering if that is really a good thing.  It wasn’t really helpful when it kept me at a toxic job for long enough to come close to really damaging my mental health for a good long time, and doing a considerable bit of short term damage.  It hasn’t been helpful recently when I’ve struggled with an increase in the symptoms of my bipolar disorder coupled with a lot of difficultly getting enough sleep.  I’ve been less productive, my morning chore list goes half finished some days.  This last semester I did my best for the place my head was, but it wasn’t the best I could do for me at top shape.  And I really beat myself up for that some. I feel defeated many days because I do what would have been a whole hell of a lot for me a few years ago, but which isn’t close to as much as I did at my most productive times at jobs or when folks first moved it. For someone who gives few fucks about what others think of me despite death threats at times in my life, I’m terribly demoralized by a lack of cleaning the kitchen counter tops for a few days.

It can be a good thing.  It really motivated me when I was trying to stop drinking, it helped me stay sober because of how much joy I got from being a wonderfully functional being.  It pushed me to be better at my jobs, to seek a new career and pursue further knowledge and growth.  It helped me de-clutter and get rid of about 2/3rds of my material possessions when I was nearly drowning in useless crap. My need to keep myself busy and do a measurable amount of useful shit in a day to feel good get things done.  Until I hit a point where I need to relax and de-stress and can’t get things done for a bit because I’m just fucking out of spoons, and then it really isn’t helpful.

So I need a balance.  And I need to find a way to utilize this particular aspect of myself to my advantage without letting it hurt me.  Right now I’m a bit too much of my own worst enemy, and I’d like to be a fabulous rainbow of joy again.  I’m still figuring out quite how to do that, but at least today was a productive day, so hopefully I can start to do that tomorrow from a satisfied confident frame of mind.

A maelstrom of confidence and self doubt

It is hard to feel authentic.  I don’t see myself as a person that struggles with self confidence, I have a great measure of confidence in my opinion, but I have also realized I have a great measure of self doubt.  I always see a lack of self confidence portrayed as thinking poorly of yourself, self hatred, having low self esteem.  I don’t feel like I have low self esteem, I don’t find myself to be unlovable and quite to the contrary, I think I’m pretty damn fantastic.  I adore myself for being a quirky, loud, queer, oddball of a dude.  Lately though, I’ve been struggling with impostor syndrome and feeling like maybe I am not good -enough- or not real enough.

Part of the issue seems to be a feeling of lacking authenticity.  I often have a lot of complicated feelings in my mind, many lines of thought and emotion going on at one time.  It isn’t always possible to express all of that, sometimes I lack the time, sometimes I lack the words, sometimes it isn’t all relevant.  When I give someone a window into how I’m feeling or thinking, but they are just getting to see the part of the scenery visible through that window and missing the whole landscape, I feel inauthentic.  I also feel there is a lot in my mind that isn’t appropriate to express, that I want some measure of privacy for, or that does not fit with the person I am working on becoming. I know I have a right to some measure of privacy, but it contrasts starkly with the version of radical honesty I once practiced.  I also feel that in writing, I want to bare my soul, allow light into all of the dark cracked places of my mind, but it is hard to do so without feeling raw and open in a painful and violated way.  I almost have a desire to be the instrument of my own violation at times, to rip away everything I can hide behind and feel exposed in ways that make me intensely uncomfortable, as though that pain may be a release or way to rebuild.  It also could be terribly unhealthy though, so I dip a toe in here and there, testing the waters of pushing my own limits.

Lately in my life I have found a sense of community and of acceptance in various circles, and that gives me a feeling of home and of comfort that I have craved for a long time.  Like everything I experience though, it seems to be on a pendulum, my emotions swinging back and forth, back and forth.  I feel loved, accepted, a sense of belonging, and with that comes heightened energy and a zealous leap into my sense of self and identity that is -too much- to express in some avenues of life.  I can be a fabulous outspoken beacon of queerness when among my amazingly accepting social circles, a part of me that is not at home when at school or work or in the brightly lit aisles of the grocery store.  I feel alive and electric, able to dance and flail around in all my manic rainbow glory.  And then the pendulum swings back and I wonder if I’m pigeon holing myself into another narrow identity. I try and describe myself, I see the person I am in any one environment, and I feel like I am a person of a thousand faces, some more authentic then the others, but none truly whole. Sometimes I want to gasp for air, broken on the ground, unsure of how any person can be themselves when yourself is too much to be.  Then I feel more self-doubt because how can one person be so fucking melodramatic and still be real.

It’s a funny thing, confidence mixed with self doubt. Knowing you are someone you yourself can adore, but not feeling seen.  Feeling seen too much, but only through a window.  Feeling naked and raw, and still too private and closed off. Feeling alive and bursting with life and then so unsure of your realness that you worry you’ll disappear into a shadow and fade away.  Wondering if anything in your mind makes any sense, if its a mania fueled daydream, if you’ve regressed to a melodramatic teenager, or if this is just your normal.  Hearing that emotions are valid, but not being certain that these particular emotions are, or even if they are emotions at all.  I wonder if this is all too personal.

Much of my life is focused around emotional and personal growth, learning, and trying to help others.  I give advice and can relate experiences shared with me with ones in my past.  I try and connect the dots to tell a story, to write about what I know of a thing and maybe offer that up as a living sacrifice of words.  Then I realize fuck, I don’t actually have much of the knowledge base for this.  I haven’t spent the last ten years doing historical research that makes me an expert or even a novice in this subject.  I have the sentences spinning in my mind that I’ve gleaned from reading this article and that, I have the lived experience of one small person in a vast world.  I feel like an impostor.  I read about impostor syndrome being all too common and how to fight it.  I think about how maybe that applies to people with a wealth of knowledge far greater on my own.  I toy with not caring, pushing forward anyway and putting my voice out there with a stubborn resilience.  I wonder again if that voice has worth.

I am left thinking, am I real?  Who is this person I have become that speaks and writes and is never good enough? I hear reassurance, I don’t want reassurance, I don’t even know if I want confirmation or understanding.  Sometimes there are just too many thoughts, too many faces, and too many questions in my head and I want them to have somewhere to go.  I don’t know if I can reach a point where I do feel authentic and honest and raw, but there is a need for it inside me and this is an avenue to try.