What do you do when your life is overwhelming, and all the balls you’ve been juggling for so long come crashing down around you? How does it make you feel? Take a moment, and really consider it.
Because let me tell you, panic and guilt are pretty much my default response.
“I can’t believe this is happening; I can’t believe I forgot that; I can’t figure out what to do here; and oh, by the way, I suck.” I have been working on consciously controlling my inner dialogue for almost twenty years, and STILL this crap creeps in.
I can tell you about emails I haven’t responded to from two years ago. I sent a book to a client the other day; because I’d forgotten to recommend it to her a month and a half ago. I felt guilty for forgetting to cook corned beef and cabbage on St. Patrick’s day. We are neither Catholic or Irish.
And all I can think is, this is fucking ridiculous.
The tragedy of it is, we do this to ourselves. It’s not about our commitments or our obligations. No, this is about how we FEEL.
And what I feel is failure.
I know why, of course. So do you. It’s because I’m not Supermom. I have missed the mark at the Feminine Mystique. My eyebrow cannot compete with the Beauty Myth. My Female Lifestyle Empowerment Brand has not yet afforded me that house in the Hamptons. Therefore, I am a failure.
But knowing this intellectually does nothing to prevent the way I feel. I think I might have mentioned something about failure? Yeah. Still there. So, we have got to start looking at this another way.
I believe the answer is grace.
Mercy, clemency, pardon, says dictionary.com, which is all a rather clunky way of saying forgiveness. But forgiveness is an act; grace is a state of mind.
Grace is forgiving yourself.
Which sounds a little big, so let’s talk about what it’s not first.
Grace is not about forgiving yourself for failure. You know, hundreds of inventions before we got to the light bulb. Keep failing, and you too can be the next Edison. Oh yeah, and this too shall pass.
No. That’s the kind of self-help crap that is designed to be self-serving. You are NOT a failure. Seriously. Logically, you haven’t failed, because it’s virtually impossible to succeed. Do you blame yourself for not being able to win the lottery, too? Because it’s kind of exactly the same.
Grace is also not about a lack of integrity. “I said I’d do this thing, and I’m a woman of my word.”
Uh, no. Your word is valid tomorrow, too. Do you fire your employees for calling in sick? Do you disavow your friends for forgetting to do that thing they said they’d do? I’m not talking about a pattern of behavior. I’m talking isolated incidents. We give the people in our lives a great deal more forbearance than we grant ourselves.
Grace is most definitely not appropriated self-care. My inner Goddess tells me a lot of things, and I shan’t be sharing any of them with you. I’m sure you’re fifty shades of glad.
Nerp. The things you find sacred are your own. I can’t tell you where to seek meaning, only that it is there for you. I’m not just talking religion here, either. I’m pretty sure every single numbered list of “Best Self-Care Tips!!!1” has, in point of fact, just made me feel guilty for all the ways I’m apparently not taking care of myself.
Grace is something that comes from within, so all of the building blocks are inherently yours.
Which sounds terrifying, but I promise, there’s also relief there. Because when you find it, it can’t be taken away from you. Because it is you.
Great, Briar. Sounds fabulous. If only there were some trumpets somewhere.
I won’t lie to you. Forgiving yourself for shit is fucking hard. I really wanted to not curse there, but I can’t. There are not enough words in the English language to adequately describe how much it SUCKS to have to forgive yourself.
But, if I can forgive myself for killing a baby, then I’m pretty sure there’s some margin for grace in your life, too.
Yeah, ouch. I know. That one probably stings a little.
So how do you get there? Sorry. No clue. That’s yours to figure out.
Look, you already know all the steps. You’ve read all those self-care articles same as me. Maybe it’s journaling, a hot bath, a trip to Sephora, kitty snuggles. Maybe you need a therapist. Maybe you just need a damn day off. Not gonna lie, more often than not, it’s really great sex for me.
And no, it’s not that simple, either. Sadly, sex does not equal forgiveness, especially if things aren’t going well in your partnership. Again, it’s about more than the act. It’s a mindset you’re looking to cultivate here.
Much like repairing your partnership, you repair your relationship with yourself a little bit at a time.
You start small, because starting big is what got you here in the first place. The myths we compete against are societal creations, but we give them meaning.
I made fun of my eyebrows earlier, but I am very consciously letting them grow out right now. I don’t think I actually know what they look like unaltered. I have shaved or plucked or brow barred my way to someone else’s standard of beauty for years, because I internalized it. Which isn’t to say that I’ll keep them this way forever; this is a practical act of grace. This is my body. I’ll not apologize for it.
Not apologizing kinda sounds like the opposite of forgiveness, but it’s not. An apology is not required for forgiveness; but because we’ve connected the two, we apologize for simply being ourselves, thinking that forgiveness will be forthcoming.
Oh, how we apologize. So much so that we’ve started telling each other to just stop doing it already (oh, and by the way, just should probably go too). But that’s bullshit designed to make you feel guilty about your language, not the impetus behind your actual words. I mean, if we’re laying it all out here, I can’t curse, can’t say sorry, just or like, or really, have an independent thought about anything without being evaluated as something less than the ideal woman by somebody for some reason.
I’m pretty sure there’s not a single shred of forgiveness in that.
So, like almost everything else, you have to do this one yourself. And it’s okay to be angry about that, because frankly, I need to add another thing to my plate like I need elective dental surgery. I’ll happily turn in my adulting card at any point if it means that I don’t have to figure out one more thing for myself, because it’s exhausting, and I don’t wanna.
And…. That’s where you start. You forgive yourself for being human.
This probably won’t be a cakewalk, but it’s significantly easier than trying to forgive specifics. It’s pretty easy to forgive the foibles of humanity in others, even if we do it through sarcasm. “Bless your heart,” comes to mind. You’re being obtuse, but excusably so. Or something.
Okay, not easy, either. But you have to start somewhere, and the fact of your existence as a member of the human race is just as good as anywhere else.
Say it with me this time: it’s about the mindset. You have to deliberately cultivate an environment in which your response isn’t self-blame. And I’d like to point out here that I’m not even asking for you to modify your first response.
Be it biological, cultural, or environmental, your immediate reaction to a crisis is simply a part of your identity. It’s highly unlikely that you’ll be able to change this response without years of active work. So I’m not asking you to.
I’m asking you to change your second response.
It’s incredibly invalidating to be told that how you react to something is somehow deficient. It’s just another way of breaking you down emotionally. And if it’s not the ideal (whatever that is), then it’s because YOU are somehow damaged. Screw that.
So, by all means, have a grown up temper tantrum. Revel in it. Everything sucks, and I am sick and tired of dealing with it, and it’s never going to get better, and why didn’t I listen to my mother, and I’m a sorry excuse for a human being.
You know how you flee to the woods to build the ice castle before you sing the power ballad? It’s just like that.
Feel your feelings first, and then let them go. Don’t bottle them up, don’t internalize them, please, please, please, do not apologize for having them. If anything, you’re entitled to them.
It’s what comes after that’s important.
That’s where grace lives. That’s when you say, I am going to be okay. Somehow, I will survive this. A minute at a time if I have to, but I am stronger than this.
Language matters here. Be precise, and don’t lie to yourself. Sometimes, everything’s not fucking okay, okay? But, you will be. Eventually, YOU will be okay.
And when you believe that, you will have found grace.