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.

A never-ending lust for learning

“What are you up to?”

“I’ve been doing homework, or pre-reading for class”

“Oh, that sucks”

“No, it’s really exhilarating!”

It’s true though, despite the looks of confusion I get.  I love to learn.  I love the feeling of stretching my mind to add in new concepts and ideas.  To storing knowledge away knowing that there will come a time where one piece of it will provide that perfect ah ha! moment, that click as I solve a puzzle.

While most of the people I surround myself with seem to enjoy learning and growth in some way, the folks I interact with that are part of society as a whole often just shy away from it entirely.  I grew up in a household where my parents read the paper every day, delighting in some new article about a topic they hadn’t heard of before.  I have a lot of privilege in that way.  While most parents struggle to make ends meet and get enough sleep after their two or more jobs, mine were talking me to performances and plays.  I wonder how much of my absolute lust for knowledge comes from them.

Kelev brings up a few new movies he got when we talk on the phone before bed.  He loves watching documentaries, especially about history or famous figures.  His favorites seem to be the ones that show a side you never really expected.  He’s like an eager puppy digging up a favorite bone when he finds some new treasure trove of knowledge about an event or person who we all thought we knew and took for granted.  I love watching how excited he gets, I can practically see his tail wagging and his exuberance is contagious, soon I’m wagging along with him.  I’m happy that a lifetime of shitty retail jobs and mind numbing tv shows, of institutionalized education in a fucked up school system, hasn’t killed his curiosity.

James shares an article with me, something he read that really spoke to him.  It’s intriguing, and some of the concepts require I read over it for a third time to really begin to grasp them.  We discuss it, coming at it from very different perspectives, and I’m grateful that it didn’t just show up on my feed one day.  Reading it has already stretched my mind, but hearing how he views on it pushes me even further.  I’m thankful for that moment of growth, it invigorates my whole day.

I eagerly share it with Hoffy, and am surprised when he reads it right away and discusses it with me.  I am still getting used to having partners who are so interested in what I share with them.  Our minds tend to work in a more similar way.  With James, I was stretching to get another perspective, with Hoffy, there is more of a shared understanding.  It feels like home, and it cements a strong foundation, so when we talk about what we are thinking, we can keep building upward together on our own discoveries.

I continue to pass on threads of the conversation to Kyuu or to Witty.  I discuss it with Kelev as we talk before bed.  I learn more from each person and delight in how my day is just filled with that bright happy light of discovery and innovative thought.  I remember how I felt so numb, with drinking, with depression.  This is the opposite of numb.  This is growth, this is wonder, this is what I think of when I think of education.

It is back to schoolwork the next day and the feeling persists.  What I’m learning in nursing school isn’t often of the same nature as an article shared to me about communication styles or societal power structures. It isn’t the same as a documentary with a whole new take on a historical event that gives you insight into the minds of another culture or country in that snapshot of history.  It has the same glow though.  One day I will be teaching what I’m learning to a patient, or discussing it with a fellow nurse, and someone will say something that expands my perspective on it in another burst of light. I still have a lust for such learning after all this time, it will persist through my whole life.  So yes, I am excited to do my homework, I’m excited for just about everything these days.  The more experience and knowledge I can pack in my brain the better, and while I’m sure I’ll need periods of relaxation and silence again soon, I’m immersing myself happily in the hubbub of learning and growth right now, and I feel at home there.

Progress matters more than perfection

Today I am scatterbrained.  I’ve worked on adding a little here and there to some writings I am working on, but I can’t seem to focus on and complete any one piece.  I have to remind myself at times that completion or perfection is not the end go.  The process is what matters.

Yesterday I was cleaning my house with one of my housemates, Raichu.  I was explaining how hard it is for me to clean at times.  I get very focused on everything being perfect.  I was sweeping the floor of the living room and talking about how frustrating it was for me that I had the spoons to sweep, and even then to do a bunch more cleaning tasks afterwards, but did not have the spoons to move all the furniture when sweeping, so it felt like I was doing nothing because I was not in my mind doing the job completely.  They said “It’s okay, moving everything can be a few times a year thing, our house does not need to be perfect and a lived in house in more cozy anyway.  You can do just a little bit of something and even if it doesn’t look done or perfect, it is cleaner then it was when you started.”

Well damn.  I’ve heard this all before, I’ve said this all before, but it still made a bit of tightness in my chest go away and made me breath a small sigh of relief to hear them say it.  I’m not sure why my brain clings to the idea that only perfection is good enough.  Not true perfection, but that feeling of done-ness when I know I’ve done the best I absolutely can, and I don’t see any imperfections left in my cleaning job that I could conceivably fix in a reasonable amount of time.  The problem is, that idea of -having done the best I can- is based on me on my best days.  I’m not often having my best days.  I’m a well put together hot mess, and focus, motivation, energy, these are all often a huge struggle for me.

I finished sweeping the living room without moving anything.  The floor still looked dirty to me, I didn’t have the spoons to mop and the living room is the dogs’ room, so there are dirty paw prints on the floor and dog fur sticking out from under the dog crates that I couldn’t get without moving them.  It is not just far from perfect, but it may be far from most people’s basic definition of clean.  I think about how the room with a couch, a well organized bookshelf, a somewhat organized cabinet, the two dog crates, a large floor rug, a dog bed in the corner, and a few toys and water dishes, is so much less cluttered and so much more clean than it was four or five years prior.  Five years ago when I began de-cluttering and re-claiming my life from a constant alcohol induced stupor, the living room I have now would have looked fantastic to me on it’s dirtiest days.  When I began that journey of self improvement and sunk much of that into improving my environment as well, I also became hard on myself in demanding perfection. Because if I let myself slide with personal perfection I ended up a shitty person, so I demanded perfection from my environment as well or else I was just -not good enough-.

The people in my life are teaching me to let go of that.  I got up a good pile of dog fur and dirt and cat litter with my sweeping to dump in the bin.  I also wiped down counters and the table, took up the clutter sitting around the kitchen and dining room, washed and folded three loads of laundry, cleaned the toilet, sink, and tub, and helped change a light bulb that has been out since a couple months after we moved in (so about six years).  Nothing I did was quite up to my standards, but all of it was good.  And at some point I have to accept that, that means I did good, and I can be proud of myself.