A couple weeks ago, I made myself cry. I was on my way home from work, trying to decide whether or not to go to the gym despite my intense headache and general sense of exhaustion. For weeks, I had been pushing myself mentally and physically to my limits and I was tired. I wanted a break. I wanted, for just one night, to feel the freedom to say to myself “Yes, you could go work out, but you don’t have to do it tonight. It is okay to take a break sometimes.” Instead what I gave myself was a mental tongue-lashing that brought me to tears. From a dark place inside myself came a voice accusing me of laziness, of always looking for a way out. It told me that I will fail again and again because I do not have what it takes to be successful at anything. It ignored my need for peace and rest while feeding upon my every insecurity. Fat. Lazy. Stupid. Failure. Never-will-be. Loser. Those were just some of the names my mean little mind presented to me as truth. I actually got to the point where I was crying in the car and whispering, “Stop it. Stop saying those things. They’re not true.”
My internal bullying and external crying put me in too much of a state to even walk into the gym where I knew I’d have to avoid any eyes that might notice that my own eyes were red. I drove home and climbed into the shower, where I do some of my best thinking. As the hot water calmed me down, I thought about the messages I send myself. Certainly there are times when I am tempted to be lazy and just need to give myself an extra little push to do what I need to do instead of bailing. But there are other times when I am in dire need of a respite from the pressures I place on myself and the obligations I have to others. How do I tell the difference between those times? One of the ways I am learning to recognize which is which is by listening closely to the dialogue I hear in my head when I think about stepping back and taking a bit of a breather.
For some reason, the words in my mind when I am tempted to procrastinate or bail on something out of a desire to simply not have to work hard or be inconvenienced are kind, encouraging words. I hear myself say “Come on, you can do it. Only a little longer, just a little further, and success will be yours. You got this. You’ll feel so awesome after this is over. You’ve proven yourself again and again. Just do it one more time.” The words I hear when I most need to step back and just breathe for a bit, though, are harsh, condemning, tear-inducing-because-they’re-so-damn-mean words. This revelation is still relatively new to me, so I haven’t quite figured out why this dynamic exists. But one thing I have realized is regardless of why the impulse to shame myself into action is there, it has to stop. I did not realize how to listen for the voice of shame until it became so ugly and so insistent that it brought me to tears. But now I am listening. Closely. I want to catch the whispers, combat them with grace, love, and the truth that while I’m not perfect, I’m good enough right now and I will continue to become better.
It is so easy to bully and shame ourselves. After all, we know all our weakness, all our deepest fears. We know just the right ammunition to load our words with and we know just where to aim for maximum destruction. I know I’m not the only one who deals with shame, so I want to say something to those of you who might be fighting your own battles against this nasty demon and I want you to trust me: You are no more flawed and imperfect than the rest of us here on this planet. You are good enough right now and you will become better. Try to let go of the shame. It will never lead you to any place worth going.