I have been extraordinarily hard on myself. For a very long time. I have especially been hard on myself about my lack of consistent career direction, on the basis that I changed goals all of twice and tried out two or three other side ventures that didn’t work out the way I wanted (though nothing came crashing down in flames and no one was hurt except my ego) and because I burned out twice badly enough that I needed to take significant time off to physically and mentally recuperate.
Recently I started calling this period of ten or twelve years (depending on what I include) my “self-destructive decade,” and that felt a bit better, in that it felt shorter and less final than the previous version of “I screwed up my life.” Yet it didn’t quite sit well with me, either.
It seemed so judgmental and so hurtful. I decided that I needed a different name for the decade, because words matter. What you name something gives it power, and what I would name this would in some way determine its reality in my mind, and either let me integrate it and be at peace, or let me continue bashing myself over it.
Then I heard someone mention that she forgave herself for something she had gone through, and that felt better to me. I spent several days feeling into the idea of forgiving myself for this decade, yet it also didn’t quite sit right. It still felt unnecessarily judgmental. I had changed career tracks and pursued other people’s goals, after all, not killed a single mother in a car crash.
Then, over breakfast with a wise friend, I was discussing this dilemma, and something he said let it click into place in my mind, and I started sheepishly grinning, and then beaming from ear to ear. He said I was glowing. I felt giddy and sheepish at the same time, like I were wondering if I could get away with something, something so simple and completely corny and yet it just might work.
Please forgive me if this narration is boring, and feel free to skip to the next post. I considered not writing about this at all, or just stating the conclusion, but then thought it might help someone else to see the process I went through. If any of this resonates with you, you will have to find the version of it that feels right for you, but it may provide inspiration that it is possible.
The idea that came to me, and in fact played out in my mind right there at breakfast, was: what if a judge were to sit on a bench and declare me not guilty. Not guilty of screwing up my life. Not guilty of that decade. This isn’t a plea bargain, a deal, or getting off easy. This is a judge weighing the evidence and considering the facts and declaring me objectively “not guilty.”
In my mind, an image came to me without my conscious prompting of a prison door being swung open and letting me out. Setting me free.
Could that really work? I felt free. I was smiling from ear to ear and giggling like a little girl and apparently my face was glowing, so, yeah, I guess it worked. And all day long I kept having visions of jail cells and prison doors being opened, and shackles being removed, and letters of freedom being signed, and my heart felt free and open. Open to an entirely new reality, to new possibilities.
I hadn’t realized that I had felt imprisoned, chained, captive. But I wouldn’t have had all those visions otherwise.
Another thing I realized: in my mind, as I pictured the judge sitting high and mighty on a very impressive and official looking bench, the judge was me. I didn’t try to put myself in that role, it was just what immediately came to mind. And as the jailer opened the prison door, I was the jailer, too. I have been doing this to myself all along. No one else.
Sure, I got plenty of influence, plenty of guidance, modeling, teaching, as I grew up, but I accepted and internalized the expectations of others and applied them more ruthlessly than my mentors ever would have. I was more exacting and hard and judgmental on myself than anyone else ever has been in my life.
And now I don’t have to do that to myself anymore.
This has been growing for a long time, and though I feel like I overcame the biggest hurdle, it will probably take a while before old habits are unlearned and I’ll probably fall back upon old messaging from time to time as I forge a new path. A path more in alignment with my own goals and values. A path of grace and peace and joy.
These are the things I want to cultivate, so I need to keep repeating this, and in the present tense. This is what I have, not what I want or wish for or intend. I am beginning a life of grace and peace and joy. I have grace and peace and joy. I am grace and peace and joy.
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