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.

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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.

Learning to be alone

The thing they don’t tell you about learning to be alone with yourself is how much you’re going to love it.  It’s terrifying at first. When you’ve lived your life being co-dependent from one relationship to the next, the idea of being alone with yourself is a horrifying proposition.  When you have lived in a manic frenzy where you seek out social situations like a drug, always surrounding yourself with noise and raucous laughter so the emptiness inside doesn’t consume you, you are sure that by yourself you are going to eat yourself alive from the inside. You know how it works, you’re alone for a moment and the silence creeps in, the thoughts of despair and fear overwhelm you and suddenly it’s a rush to find the loud comfort of other people or self-destruct.

I don’t know how I learned to be safely alone with myself.  For years being alone meant my thoughts on paper airplanes as the world spun around me because I hadn’t eaten in days.  It meant fresh red lines on my skin and painting in my own blood as the clarity of pain showed me I was alive.  I don’t know why being alone made me spiral into self-destruction in the first place.  I didn’t hate myself, but I sure as hell didn’t know how to stand my own company.

Somewhere along the line I destroyed a series of relationships, or they destroyed me.  I drank, I yelled, I was hit and cheated on, I became a fucking caricature of a mess to the point that looking back I feel like I had to have made up that much unmitigated drama even though I lived it with these bones.  I met someone with the sort of fierce independence I mistook as loneliness and isolation because it was so foreign to me, but one day recognized as a fire of strength that I had just never known.  He pushed me into an empty bed, I had to know and understand how it was someone could be happier sleeping alone.

I learned the silky comfort of cold sheets with no body beside me to warm me.  I learned how magical it felt to stretch myself across a bed that belonged to me alone, and then to stretch my mind as well now that my thoughts were my own and not owned by the noise of the crowd.  I learned the sounds of a winter morning and how peaceful they could be when a walk through the snow was a solitary adventure spent on noticing the way the sunlight found new patterns through bare tree branches.  It was so different from previous walks in a biting chill with a cigarette taking the place of two days worth of missed meals and the emptiness in my stomach mirrored in the emptiness of my mental fog.  Words like self-care are the narrative of my generation, and the first time I cooked myself an elaborate meal that was only for me I understood what it meant to really care for myself.

I spent years feeling confident because I did not hate myself, I thought myself fantastic and saw the affection I garnered in others. I knew attention, love was never far behind.  I could simultaneously give no fucks about what others thought, while affirming myself with compliments and admiration.  To learn to be alone I had to go beyond affirmation and the love of others.  Not hating myself, having a high opinion of my worth, that was not the same as self-love.  Thinking you are hot shit, that isn’t really loving yourself.  I learned love as an action, not just a detached emotion.  The nights I spend alone wrapped in cool sheets and taking up space with a body I am finally comfortable in, the days I stop to watch a sunrise with only the dogs for company, the times I decide to make a luscious meal from scratch that only I will taste, I act out of love and I can feel at home being alone.

Relationship Anarchy is an act of Self Love

Relationship anarchy is an act of self love, and here’s why:

Relationship anarchy is fucking terrifying.  It isn’t just, as some often suppose, an egalitarian form of polyamory in which there is no hierarchy or sneakarchy to place some partners in positions of power or priority over others.  Relationship anarchy has deep anarchist roots and involves bucking the societal system of rules and structures and questioning their worth and merit.  It involves forming relationships rooted not just in consent, but in desire.  I want to go into that more deeply in another piece, but suffice to say, relationship anarchy involves navigating away from rule based dynamics and rules masquerading as agreements.

Imagine yourself creating relationships as an autonomous being, with another autonomous being, where you both decide what the relationship will entail and build it from the ground up.  The relationship, and I don’t mean just a romantic dynamic, but any friendship, partnership, way of relating to someone with emotions or vulnerability or touching of your squiggly bits, is tailored to fit exactly what you both decide.  You start with respect for another individual who you see merit and worth in, and therefor want in your life. You desire a connection and way of relating and sharing experiences with that person.  You engage with them, and begin to discover the ways in which they want to relate to you.  You discuss, open up, form a connection, and find the common ground in the fuzzy happy places you want to curl up in, in each others lives.  There are no rules in these dynamics based in desire and respect for autonomy.  Rules are manufactured by society, but a society that clings so sharply to fear and control. A society in which our very ability to eat and have shelter is based on coercive relationships such as working for a wage or buying goods born of others’ exploitation.  Relationship anarchy can be something of a haven away from that.  It can be descriptively at any given time, monogomous or polyamorous, because people can have those particular romance shaped feelings for one or for multiple people at a particular time in their life. But it throws away the societal structure that imposes that you should feel those romance wiggles for only one or only certain people, or that you need certain titles or to follow a relationship escalator when you do. So relationship anarchy is a ideology that centers the autonomy, desire, and choices of the individual, and the respect for another’s autonomy and as well.

Now what does that have to do with self love?  Well, when you embrace relationship anarchy and buck the coercive structures of society, you are saying that a person is autonomous, they have worth, they deserve respect, they should not be controlled by a societal system or a relationship title or rules. And in that, you are also saying that you have the same things, you are also an autonomous being with worth and deserving of respect.  I’m not saying that relationship anarchists do not suffer from shame and issues of self esteem and self confidence.  But to choose a way of loving and connecting that on a base level embraces and elevates personal worth and respect for autonomy and individuality, you are doing something that exhibits radical self love.  You are placing your own freedom and vulnerability and ability to connect, above the judgement and coercion of society as a whole.  You are treating others as individuals with whom you can form unique self made fluid dynamics, and as such you also are honoring the individuality and worth in yourself as part of those dynamics and shared relationships.  You are allowing yourself to make a relationship with another glorious human based on what you desire with them, and in doing that you are acknowledging your desire as having worth.  That is a radical act of self love, and you deserve to have it recognized as such.

And back to the fucking terrifying aspect, because yes, relationship anarchy is deeply scary.  When you decide to form relationships (platonic, romantic, sexual, power exchange, and all the squiggly in betweens) that involve creating a mesh of your mutual desires, and experiencing your ways of relating with another person that you both actively and enthusiastically choose at that time; and when you have relationships that recognize your autonomy and respect the individual, there’s a problem.  In the context of society, there is a big problem.  That lovely ball-of-joy-giving person that you are feeling all the fuzzy vulnerable things for, can walk away at any point in time!  Their squiggly happy feels for you can change! And you are in a relationshipping style in which you aren’t coercing them to stay, you aren’t exerting control, you may not have titles or ties to bind them to you, and you could lose everything at any point in time!  Yes, society sees this as a big problem which is why the typical societal relationships, even polyamorous ones, often do involve a carefully orchestrated web of titles and rules or agreements to give you structure and a false feeling of safety.  The secret that they don’t want you to know though, is that the safety walls you created are all smoke.  If someone doesn’t want to stay with you, a marriage license and two and a half children and the house you own together, likely won’t stop them from leaving.  Relationship anarchy is much more vulnerable and raw in acknowledging that people may choose to come and go from your life, that dynamics are fluid, and that we have no right to own or control people, so we cannot make them stay.  Hoo boy, that is scary!  I would like to address the depth of that uber scary sinkhole, and how glorious it can actually be, in depth at another time, but right now I’m going to relate that back to self love.  When you decide to engage in relating in a way that is so intensely vulnerable and admits that your spectacular connections may not in fact be safe or solid or last for the rest of your life and beyond, and that safety nets and guarantees are not real, and nothing is ever certain, you are forced to acknowledge something truly valuable.  That you as a person exist separate from your relationships, that you are an independent being, and that you will endure and survive as an independent being regardless of the ways your relationships with the people you love and adore continue to endure, or change shape, or end.  And facing that again is an act of self love.  It is an acknowledgement that you take up space in this world and you exist and are worthy of life, separate from all the people who’s lives you are a part of.

So my lovely long time relationship anarchists, and my beautiful budding new loving anarchist folk, to those who are curious and dipping a toe into learning about it all, and everyone in between: Remember your worth, remember your power, remember your freedom, remember your independence, remember your autonomy, and remember to love yourself always.  When you live this way, you already are practicing a radical form of self love, so recognize that within yourself and embrace it.  You are glorious.