The road to paradise is paved with self-sabotage. I know, because here I am 55 years into the journey and I’m still regularly tripping on the potholes and falling flat on my face.
When I say ‘paradise’ I’m referring to those impossible ideals of perfection: the notions of an eternally faithful and romantic relationship, the Zenlike spiritual life, the professional kudos, the financial portfolio bursting at the seams, and the clothes that aren't, because the body underneath them is whippet-thin and toned.
All of these notions are fraught for so very many of us, but when it comes to body image, the potholed road becomes a veritable minefield. I'm just learning how to parent my unhappy inner child, so when I set a recent goal of an overall improved lifestyle that would include recording what I eat, when and how I move, and what emotions come up as I bring greater awareness to my physical being, I might have expected the inevitable emotional crash.
During the intake session with the world's most gentle, kind and compassionate coach, I shared my journey of the last six years, of the grief of losing a handful of important loved ones, of an empty nest after 12 years of single parenting, of an emotionally abusive relationship, of a dire health diagnosis, of packing on 40 pounds of self-protective fat, of chronic, debilitating depression, and life and death questions.
Movement will help, she reminded me. And food consciousness will help. And the support of community will help. Connection will help! And for the first few days, these things shone like beacons of hope, inspiring me to make journal entries and explore anti-inflammatory foods and awaken early enough to do some yoga poses and meditation, to post positive comments and feely emoticons to the group facebook page so my new community would see I’m participating... in support of them and of me.
Then, on day four, a few extra stresses piled up at work; an unforeseen lab bill arrived and my credit card had a fraud alert; the university my son attended sent an invoice for several thousand dollars and nobody could explain why; and a few bits of fringe from my favorite black poncho somehow got pushed down into the receiving end of my seatbelt, rendering the belt useless and reducing me to tears. By the time I headed home from work, with my broken seat belt tucked under my leg in case of police contact, I felt unsteady and trembly.
I wish I had recognized that my inner child was firmly behind the wheel by then. If I had, I may even have pulled over so we could have a little dialogue. But I just didn't have it in me, and by the time I arrived home the corkscrew was in my hand before I even thought to question it.
I consider myself a reasonably intelligent person; I come from a lineage of strong, outspoken women. How does it happen, then, that I routinely sacrifice my highest and best intentions at the altar of self-sabotage? How is it that a few emotional traumas in an otherwise beautiful life can leave me scrambling to remember who I am?
In my world, even small traumas (is there such a thing?) inevitably lead to sadness and disappointment, which leads to depression, which leads to the abandonment of my inner child, which is a vicious cycle that feeds on itself and on those damned idealized notions. Throughout my five-plus decades, there has been a series of moments when, out of my desire to have something or someone I wanted or needed, I chose to sit quietly instead of speaking my mind, or to say yes when I really meant no, or to put my own comfort or safety aside in order to avoid facing someone else’s discomfort or, worse, my own anger and fear of abandonment.
The thing is, sad has been a constant thread in the tapestry of my life and I’m tired of trying to hide it. The journals of my youth were filled with badly written angst-laden poems and esoteric thoughts mostly surrounding my near-death experience, a date rape at the hands of the “good catholic boy” in high school, and the subsequent May-December romance with a much older man that rendered me utterly heartbroken. And I’m still writing about the ever-repeating themes of grief and loss, disappointment, and my struggle to remember who I am so that I can give my frightened inner child the healthy adult she’s always deserved.
Today is a new day. The depression and self-sabotage may come and go until I fully remember who I am, fully step into the role of my inner child's protector by turning away from dysfunctional relationships and perfectionist tendencies, and over-spending, over-drinking, and over-giving. When I learn to love the child within in the healthy ways I hope to be loved, and when I fully become the healthy adult, perhaps I’ll no longer choose to reenact the traumas of my earlier life.
I’ve always known that I carry within myself enough light to illuminate the darkest days, to love myself as fully as I love my child. But some days it's just so hard to remember.