Last month I packed up my car and took a six-hour road trip to Marfa, the far West Texas town that's home to what my dad calls a buncha-artsy-fartsy people. Every once in a while I get a hankering to escape my comfort zone by interrupting my routine, to be just a little adventurous, even if my notion of adventure is very different than it was 20 years ago (for example, I no longer need to move to a new city to feel venturesome). These days, I'm an enthusiastic homebody with a hearty aversion to stagnation; inertia doesn't suit me, but neither does perturbing the status quo just to create excitement, so I practice living life in the middle, and that requires time away from the valued structure of my life now and then. Plus, I just love it out there in Marfa; something about the desert automatically reboots my nervous system to factory settings the moment I arrive.
Anyone who says that Texas isn't beautiful hasn't driven through our Hill Country in springtime. Imagine: A quiet two-lane highway bordered by lush, green pastures and island-like patches of orange, yellow and various shades of pink courtesy of prairie verbena, daisies and Indian paintbrushes. On this day it was sunny and 80 degrees - a welcome weather experience after all the spring rain we've had here in Austin (SO MUCH RAIN). I had the sunroof wide open and the volume way up as I sang along top-of-my-lungs style to Terri Clark and Mary Chapin Carpenter, as well as a little Wanda Jackson. After all, I'm a Texas Girl who was headed to the Trans-Pecos to clear my head and get shit done, so this trip required real country music (none of that nonsense they call Today's Country, whatever that even means).
Now for me getting away doesn't necessarily mean "taking a break from it all", nor does that idea appeal to me these days. Back when I had a job that required getting away from in order to survive, I lived everyday for the next vacation, fantasizing of doing nothing but lying in the sun while ignoring my anxiety over the fact that I'd eventually have to return to that job; but today I actually love my work and consider it a healthily integrated part of my life, so I often have a few projects during these getaways
The plan for this particular five-day trip, as scribbled in my journal:
Goals for Marfa (aka OPTIONS):
organize journals (read each entry/make index/label by date)
The first morning in Marfa was a crisp and bright 40-something degrees; I wrapped up in my favorite sweater coat and drank what was definitely too much coffee on the patio of my Airbnb. Then I sorta-kinda meditated (again: too much coffee); did a little yoga; and eventually began the task of organize journals, which required the rereading of hundreds of journal entries chronicling the two decades of my love-addicted history. Yes: Every. Single. Entry. Why? Because I needed a reference index for this blog in order to be more organized and consistent with posts; but I also had hopes of finding additional clues to help me better understand love addiction, and specifically my experience with it. Honestly, what I really wanted to know: Why did it take me 20 years to stop hurting?
Three days later when I'd finished the final page of the last journal and reviewed the new index, I had my answer: In the journals, no matter how much awareness regarding my patterns of feeling addicted to a partner that I expressed; no matter what self-help books I recorded reading; no matter that I did yoga and meditated and went to therapy; the toxic thread woven throughout every page of these journals is persistently negative and oftentimes downright abusive self-talk. To say that I lacked self-compassion would be an understatement.
According to Dr. Kristen Neff, a pioneer in the field and author of Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself, self-compassion requires self-kindness:
"Self-kindness, by definition means that we stop the constant self-judgment and disparaging internal commentary that most of us have come to see as normal. It requires us to understand our foibles and failures instead of condemning them. It entails clearly seeing the extent to which we harm ourselves through relentless self-criticism, and ending our internal war."
And during my love addiction, I definitely harmed myself with self-criticism; but I couldn't hold onto my awareness of this long enough to make any change. The journal entries outline a pattern of noticing my self-defeating behavior (perfectionism, high expectations, being hard on myself) by briefly realizing Aha! I'm the problem and then seconds later scolding myself for being the problem.
What if I just stop making all these rules for myself - the ones that always tell me I'm failing or not doing something I should be doing. What if I just stopped that? I would feel good, lighter. I always feel constricted - like my whole body is rigid. This week I've been a slug, unproductive, tired. Lazy.
Notice the awareness of Hmm, maybe I should stop dragging myself over the coals because that'd prolly help me feel better and then immediately shaming myself for not doing enough, for being tired.
So, why DO we do this to ourselves? Partly because our brains are negatively biased, an evolutionary leftover that was useful back when we had to constantly be prepared for the worst in order to survive; but also to blame is the attachment wound.
From Self-Compassion by Kristin Neff:
"[If parents provide inconsistent emotional support] children develop what's called an insecure attachment bond...attachment bonds with parents affect the formation of our "internal working model" of self in relation to others. This is an unconscious, deep-seated mental portrait of who we are and what we can expect from other people. If children are securely attached to parents, they feel they are worthy of love...But if children are insecurely attached, they tend to feel they are unworthy and unlovable...research shows people who are insecurely attached have less self-compassion than those who are securely attached."
And guess what these insecurely attached children who lack self-compassion grow up to be? You guessed it: Love Addicts. And what do all Love Addicts have in common? We're perfectionists; because if we're perfect, THEN we'll be loved. Of course there is no such thing as perfection, but that doesn't stop a Love Addict from obsessively expecting it of herself, which fuels the cycle of self-criticism, shame and low self-esteem.
From the book, Self-Compassion:
"Nobody likes to feel they're flawed. But for some, imperfection is especially hard to bear. Perfectionism is defined as the compulsive need to achieve and accomplish one's goals with no allowance for falling sort of one's ideals. Perfectionists experience enormous stress and anxiety about getting things exactly right...either I'm perfect or I'm worthless - perfectionists are continually dissatisfied with themselves...when your entire sense of self-worth is based on being productive and successful, when failure is simply not allowed, then the striving to achieve becomes tyrannical."
Being hard on myself. Just not "enough" today. Didn't work hard enough. Didn't look good enough. Didn't exercise enough, etc. An ideal day would be like this: up at 6am, to the gym and healthy breakfast; to work by 9am - work hard (on something); eat a good lunch; make a to-do list and do everything on that list; eat at least 5 fruits and vegetables; cook dinner; read the paper; get a good night's sleep - get up and do it again. Then what? What would I have? Order. Perfection. Things can't be perfect if they're not in order. And I don't know what to do with myself if I'm not working toward perfection.
Actually, I didn't know what to do with myself if I wasn't abusing myself for my lack of perfection. And here's the thing about self-criticism: It literally shrinks the part of the brain that's needed to make change rather than expanding it, which is what self-compassion does. I equate this to a clenched fist - angry and closed off - as opposed to an extended hand that's open to receiving. So, if we continually abuse ourselves with internal castigations, chances are that we'll stay stuck in the same place and feeling the same way regardless of how much yoga and reading and journaling we do. As far as meditation is concerned: It's a mindfulness practice that's proven to promote self-compassion if done consistently. In my love-addicted years, I was inconsistent with my self-care due to depression, anxiety and the fact that what little energy I DID have was usually focused on a Love Avoidant partner.
Sad today...there is just so much going on in my head right now. I'm being so hard on myself. Really have to be kinder. Don't know why I want to pick on myself so much but I think finally the whole negative thing has gotten old. I'm finally tired of being down and in this frame of mind...tired of not realizing my power and what I offer - especially to myself.
And it had gotten old, and I was tired of being in that frame of mind; but it took another ten years to get out of it, when I finally met a therapist who recognized me as a Love Addict. At that point, I did the work around my attachment disorder and found relief from the push/pull of love addiction; then I stopped self-medicating my feelings with alcohol and the leftover shame from years of under-valuing myself lifted; and since changing the way I speak to myself, my life has clicked into place, as if the pieces of my personal puzzle finally fit together creating the beautiful image I'd been blindly working toward my entire life.
I wonder sometimes: If I'd known about the practice of self-compassion in my 20s or 30s would things have been different? Could that have prevented the turmoil and heartache, or did my dharma require me to go through all of it in order to get right here where I am?
"Walk as if". As if I have what I want, as if my fears aren't real and I am who I want to be. I'm sad but not hopeless...I have less chatter going on and am not obsessing about certain things...I have to heal and the process & outcome may be something beyond what I ever expected. This is my life's work - to heal myself before I can help others heal...
From the book, Self-Compassion:
"We can soothe and comfort our own pain...We don't have to wait until we are perfect, until life goes exactly as we want it to. We don't need others to respond with care and compassion in order to feel worthy of love. We don't need to look outside ourselves for the acceptance and security we crave...Who is most likely to know the full extent of the pain and fear you face, to know what you need most? Who is the only person in your life who is available 24/7 to provide you with care and kindness? You."
Thank you for reading~Jodi
“Compassion isn’t some kind of self-improvement project or ideal that we’re trying to live up to. Having compassion starts and ends with having compassion for all those unwanted parts of ourselves, all those imperfections that we don’t even want to look at.”—Pema Chodron