29 October 2014

Best of Me

The fact that I haven’t written a post in over a month is testament that I haven’t been giving myself enough time to slow down and reflect. Writing is one of the key ways that I am able to wrangle all of my thoughts into a cathartic outpouring. Otherwise, they continue to swim around the pond of my mind.  I’ve been feeling so pent up and avoiding facing my emotions, for fear of them distracting me from being productive and rising into my new role at work. But, in fact, the bottling up or side skirting of my emotions is THE most distracting thing for me at this point. I am taking this opportunity to clean house (look, already making it into a task!) and to get clear about what I have been feeling inside, or numbing myself from experiencing.

As you may have heard, I recently quit my job at Disney Channels Worldwide in pursuit of work that really energizes me and syncs up with my personal values. I started the first week of my new job feeling pretty great about where I was – I took this huge leap of faith and it was empowering. Despite being a person who is regimented (though I am open-minded and crave spontaneity) and fears straying from “the plan, ” I was able to trust my intuition and the calling to pursue a different path. The choice came from a place within me that was untouched by the expectations or opinions of others. I didn’t ask what others thought before I made the choice. It came from a place that logic couldn't access. For one of the first times in my life, I didn’t plan, and I just leapt. I trusted that the net would appear or, even better, that I would find my wings on the way down. 

I was riding the high of this courage and deep self-trust, when suddenly halted by the suicide of my 19-year-old cousin. Just when I felt that I had been given new life myself, the life of someone I so cherished was plucked from this earth. Suddenly my courage and putting my own needs and goals first lost their significance. Rather, I began feeling immense shame for not giving myself more to Alex. I felt selfish. This violently triggered my “not enough” programming, where I push myself so hard to DO it all and BE everything that everyone needs and expects of me. When my "not enough" siren goes off, I really struggle with prioritizing. I work on small, easy (sometimes meaningless) tasks just to feel like I'm getting things done, all the while avoiding facing the bigger to-do’s and priorities. I make mountains out of tasks and they feel insurmountable. "I'm not focused enough," "I don't have enough time," "I'm not strong enough," "I didn't get enough done." I focus on the lack and the small details such that I can’t see the big picture or recognize that I am doing the best I can in every moment. The result of this mentality is that I ultimately don’t feel fulfilled or accomplished at all. I instead feel bogged down by my never-shrinking list of goals and responsibilities, and on continues the haunt of "not enough." 

All of THAT – distracting myself from what is truly important or urgent – keeps me from being able to give attention and time to the things that truly matter to me. One of those things is connecting with the friends and family members that make me feel good. The people that fill my heart with love, permit my muscles to relax, and lift me up to be the person I want to be, just by virtue of being close. That easy, warm, yummy feeling of being with people with whom you share mutual unconditional love and respect. THAT is what truly matters most to me. That is how I would love to spend all of my time. But the bad habit of bringing work home and the need to always be doing gets in the way. Do you ever start to do errands or chores and tell yourself that it will make you feel better, like it's somehow part of "me time?" I do. Then I'm too tired to journal, meditate, or hop on the phone with a loved one. But when you lose one of those coveted people in your life, you are shocked wide-awake.

Over the past couple of weeks, I have gone through the cycle of disbelief, anger and blame, immense shame and guilt, and uncontrollable sadness. The hardest for me has been the "bargaining" stage, wherein I "could have" / "should have" myself to no end. In a desperate attempt to understand how I played a role or how I might have "saved" her, I spiraled into a never-ending pit of guilt. That is the worst part. Playing different scenarios over and over in my head. "If I had just.... " Imagining what it would be like to be inside of her body and mind knowing that I just had a get-together or call with my cousin Tiff, instead of a day where the sadness and rejection and lack of power consumed me. But that's just it. I can't possibly imagine how she was feeling in that moment, or every day when she woke up with the dark cloud of depression hovering over her. Putting myself in her shoes is truly impossible to do, though my ego would like me to believe otherwise and continue to put me down. It was increasingly difficult to like and accept myself in that state of being. I wasn't giving myself the time to release the need to control the past or to really be at peace with Alex's choice and root myself into a true place of honoring her. That was my goal, and that was where I would tell others I was when they would call to check on me. But I didn't feel it at my core. There was still more crying and releasing to do. 

But I let my new job distract me from giving myself the time I needed to grieve. Halfway into my first week at REALgirl, I went through our three-day REALgirl Instructor Training. We had women flying in from different parts of the world, and the preparation and participation in the training was going to require ALL of my energy and attention. So continued my avoidance mechanisms. I made my best effort to be present for myself, the other women in the training, and the future REALgirl attendees I am yet to meet. But my deep sadness and the constant "not enough" shaming continued behind the scenes, unbeknownst to me. Until the self-loathing became glaringly obvious... 

One of the activities on the final day of training, called "Best of Me," asked us to write a list of all the things we like about ourselves. All of our best qualities. This is work that we have the girls to do in the Creating a Healthy Relationship with Yourself module. The curriculum explains that you can only have healthy relationships with others if you have a healthy relationship with yourself. Suddenly I became aware of how much effort I had been putting into being "strong" and "evolved" for everyone else in the training. "How can I show up as a powerful, compassionate, grounded leader if I’m still dealing with all of my own programming?" I had been putting so much pressure on myself.

The other ladies in training started to ponder and jot down attributes on their worksheets…

I immediately started to think of all of the things I’m working on, instead of the things that are wonderful about me right here and now. When I could finally start writing things down, I would get snagged on “but when do I let that go too far?” or “but do others like that about me?” or "is that selfish?" or “is that actually important to me or just to other people?” or just generally finding the negative side of each attribute. It was then that I became very aware of how unkind I had been to myself. I hadn't been taking the necessary pause when feeling overwhelmed or disappointed with myself. I resorted to stuffing down the emotions and shutting others out at the end of the day. I clamored together a list of attributes just to finish the activity, but I didn't really feel their truth in the moment. 

Yesterday was the first time since Alex's passing that I started to really allow myself to slow down and feel my emotions. I still struggled to sit still amidst the mess and disorder in my apartment, tiding up here and there. But I gave myself permission to be sad. I collapsed. I cried really hard. I strained to feel her. I listened for her in every song. I looked for some sign of her around every corner. She is gone. She chose to leave her suffering. Not to leave me. She loves me. And I love her. I started to float towards a place of pure love. And waking up this morning, I was a little closer to self-love and acceptance, and therefore closer to accepting and honoring Alex. I know it will ebb and flow, but it feels better to experience the emotions than it did to numb and distract. 

Today, I decided to revisit the Best of Me exercise with a renewed sense of self. Here are the things I wrote down that I like about myself. I am sharing them as a way to experience their Truth and to show (my 10 year old self) that I am capable of taking about my strengths without feeling “conceited” or shy. This isn’t about what others like about me… this is what I genuinely love (and want to celebrate) about the person I am. I encourage you to spend some time today sitting in a place of loving and honoring yourself. It's powerful, and something that we VERY rarely pause to do in the midst of our "busy" lives, mistakes, and state of loss or lack.

The Best of Me
- I am supportive of others' dreams and willing to help or contribute 
- I am committed to the empowerment of all human beings to be their best selves
- I am silly and lighthearted
- I am a creative brainstormer
- I have a can-do, problem-solver attitude
- I have an ability to recognize my own self-inflicted limitations
- I am committed to learning, growing, and transforming 
- I am spiritual and connected to a higher, deeper energy source
- I am fearlessly and unforgivably my unique self, sharing that with all I know and meet

<3 Mikky Ekko

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