Having grown up in the 70s in a turbulent family, I found creative ways to cope with the chaos of our home. First of all, I worked really hard to make good friends. As a matter of fact, I was adopted by at least four families before the age of 12. I also tried to be as busy as possible and do all of my homework and my chores. Except for stopping long enough to watch the innovative sitcoms of the 70s such as All in the Family, M.A.S.H. and the Mary Tyler Moore Show, I was always on the go. Doing, achieving and perfecting became my survival strategies to avoid the sadness, hurt and anger within me. If I did enough, achieved enough and perfected enough, somehow I would be more lovable and liked by others. And these coping skills worked well for awhile until they stopped working by the time I was a teenager.
Although I was rather resilient and resourceful, my childhood survival strategies left me longing for the love of my parents and brothers. Trying to pretend everything was fine left me longing for closeness and intimacy. As a result, my perfectionism grew intolerable, and all I really wanted was to be loved for who I was—a curious, sensitive child longing for deeper connection. In retrospect, I realize that I was doing the best I knew how, but these patterns mushroomed through the years into out of control sexual behaviors as well as both avoidant and anxious attachment patterns.
In the early 90s I had a very wise therapist who strongly suggested I slow down and listen to the rhythm within or my underlying misery would get worse. At the time, I had never heard this expression and it deeply resonated with me because I had always been compulsively busy and had ignored what was really going on inside of me. He was the first person who ever told me that I needed to throw away my “to-do lists” to make room for the exploration of my internal world.
More than a quarter of a century later, I must admit I am still a list maker but I’m not doing it as compulsively or unconsciously. In addition to my other compulsive tendencies, perfectionism and busy-ness predated some of my other vices. In some ways they were the birthplace of my attempts to numb and feel less.
For those of you who attend twelve-step meetings or may be interested in considering them, slowing down can be a part of your First Step. As a result, you started to notice that something was terribly wrong, and you were ready to admit it was truly a problem. You made a mindful choice to ask for help and look for others whose lives had improved. One day at a time you might establish a connection with a power greater than yourself—and you might call this power God, a Universal Power, or a Higher Power. Possibly nature or beloved pets are a starting gate for something beyond yourself, and pets have always been a touchstone of fun, laughter and connection in my life. By looking within, you start to determine what gives your life meaning.
Once you slow down the out of control sexual behaviors, it was time to practice relaxation. I’ve learned that relaxing is not just vegging in front of the tv or surfing the internet. Instead, it’s a physiological winding down which only happens when we mindfully carve out a space for our nervous system to rest and digest. Because our society rewards busy-ness and accomplishment, deeper healing and mindful recovery take place when we break away from the routine and regulate the nervous system possibly through somatic exercises related to grounding, orienting, and resourcing just to name a few. Stay tuned for the second half of this blog which will elaborate on what you can do to focus on being.