Perspective is one word I always incorporated in my toolbox to stay healthy. However, I have to admit that my default thinking is in black and white. This is a work in progress. I do travel down the road of all or nothing, yes or no, good or bad and I like this, or I don’t like that. A lot of this thinking comes from my need for comfort and familiarity. My safe space determines if I have decided emphatically that something is for me or against me. This has not worked for me in the past and still continues to cause me frustration today, so I remind myself to step into the gray whenever this thinking creeps into my headspace.
Expectations of situations have a lot to do with how I think about situations as they unfold. Before I give anything, a person, a place a chance I determine if I like it, it is good, what I expect from it and the thoughts and criticisms trail on. I label it, I box it and store it away. With this type of thinking I miss the opportunity to truly accept things for what they are. I miss the point completely and don’t see clearly until many months or even years later I reach an “Aha!” moment and true perspective erupts on its own with time and experience. Although I appreciate my experiences and embrace learning over time, the slow momentum of seeing truth in situations and people started bothering me. I needed another way.
I don’t really think that there are any easy solutions to growing your perspective to achieve a favorable or more clear view, but for me travel did help. I travelled and lived in Argentina for a while and this encouraged deep listening. I didn’t understand Spanish fluently, so I leaned on listening to body language, reading emotions from faces, and once language started sitting a little better with me, stories of different local people. The vibrant culture of Argentinians penetrated my closed mind and I was forced to take on different perspectives. When I build perspective today, I step into a different space by truly listening. Listening without necessarily responding in an instant is something I think today is underrated and a tool that is not practiced enough. Taking everything in and sitting with it for a moment is remarkable. When I listen to myself, the environment and people I drop the labels and stop categorizing putting things in a proper viewpoint.
Living in black and white is kind of like living in a maze. In the words of Margaret Atwood, “A rat in a maze is free to go anywhere, as long as it stays inside the maze.” (Atwood et al. The Handmaid’s Tale) The maze is a closed mind and it doesn’t have any alternative paths or avenues for thoughts. Today, I embrace the unknown, I listen and keep an open mind no matter the landscape. I practice compassion before I take out the boxes to label and store away with judgment and finality. I try to tease out all possible standpoints and go where the situation or person leads me because after all, what I create to be my truth is not necessarily what is. I have the power to discern the truth but only when I start to paint my point of view with a little more color.
Saying no to people and to myself doesn’t come easy. I like to be a yes person. Always stacking too much on my plate. Draining my energy. Looking for room to always say yes to something or someone, thinking I’ll miss out if I don’t agree. This changed when I started becoming more mindful of my energy and my time. When I put my health first, I also scaled back on agreeing to every request that came my way. It was just physically impossible to do it all. I tended to my body and my well being first before anything else and then noticed I was putting up a wall and not setting healthy boundaries. I didn’t know how to express my wants without coming off as rude or annoyed.
I had some really big expectations of people. My annoyance came from the position that people should know what I am feeling and anticipate my needs and wants.
Of course, why wouldn’t someone know exactly what I am feeling that day??
Oh wait, stop! Here comes my ego once again. My insistence of people knowing how I felt and my expectation of them to read my mind created distance. Instead of simply expressing my needs and wants with words, walls were built instead. As more situations grew to be worse than better from building these walls, I realized that one core element was breeding this behaviour. My lack of assertiveness and low self-esteem. This was especially true when I was younger. I was unable to simply say no without feeling guilt and dread. I didn’t have the power to take responsibility for my emotions and express what I really needed. I learned over time that taking responsibility of my emotions and expressing my needs despite the feedback I might receive, actually benefits all parties involved. Meditating helped with this notion.
Meditation sucked the first few times I sat on the cushion. I battled the process. I didn’t want to do it. I really didn’t see a point to it. I felt sorry for myself, that I had to sit on a cushion in silence and do nothing for ten minutes. The victim part of me came out and threw me a ten-minute-long pity party. Slowly, over time the victim disappeared and got replaced with a more self-confident, assertive person the more I meditated. I created some distance between my negative thoughts and negative self-talk. I was able to step into a place where I was more aware of my own needs and emotions. This allowed me to make a blueprint of what I wanted out of my relationships and set some standards for the things I needed from the people in my life. This map helped me navigate healthy boundaries in relationships, so I am able to build relationships as they grow over time. For the first time I was able to achieve intimacy in relationships. Instead of attaching unhealthy expectations, attachments, and unrealistic standards on people, today I take responsibility of my own needs and wants and the rest falls into place. My relationships grow organically. Some stay and some don’t.
Building healthy boundaries takes practice and patience. Something I still struggle with today. Nowadays I do say no without guilt more often. I do speak my mind as situations arise in my life. I do find that I receive push back from people still, mostly from those that have not set healthy boundaries themselves. There really isn’t anything I can do for anyone else’s development in seeking healthy boundaries as long as I can express my boundaries to the best of my abilities my wish is that at least maybe someone can learn a new tool to use to get what they need out of life through the way I conduct myself. I will not please everyone and will probably hurt some feelings along the way and know that I cannot determine how other people feel. I don’t want to control anyone’s emotions but to support self-actualization and growth. This is key to healthy boundaries.
When I started my self care journey, I started noticing some character traits about myself that I haven’t paid attention to before, like being a very serious person. Taking things personally at every turn. I felt like everything was an attack on me.
So I explored this further by asking myself why my life was so self-centric. I realized I wasn’t really of service to anyone or the community. I was just for me only for me. Until about the age of 24 my ego was enormous. Alcohol inflated it. Many of my relationships, prior to quitting drinking were very one sided, and superficial. I didn’t allow true vulnerability to get in the way of my fun. The lack of honesty with myself and compassion for other people did not contribute to any healthy relationships. So I had scarce relationships even less healthy ones at that. This made me defensive about the way I treated people and the way people treated me. I really didn’t know why I was taking things personally, but it was definitely due to a lack of self awareness.
I wanted to change, so I joined a non-profit that provides local art platforms for underprivileged youth. I met a wonderful woman who herself has faced adversity in her own life, overcame these challenges and started a non-profit to give back to the community she was able to heal her own past at the same time. It was a beautiful cycle of reciprocity. I knew then that this was my way of stepping out of my head and allowed myself to be of service and dropped the ego. It was hard for me to see how self interested I was until I started volunteering. Even today I sometimes need a reality check and sit in gratitude rather than throw myself a pity party.
With volunteering I started stepping out of my defensive mode and became more aware of the vulnerability of myself by allowing others to show me their stories. I listened, I related and understood that with listening and not imposing myself on the world I opened up a space in me for other people. I became less judgemental, I took things less personally. I became less heavy and less serious.
If you think you need an ego check or feel like you take things too personally, try volunteering or being of service to someone for a day. To help and service the community allowed me to listen with no judgment and helped me to listen through an open vessel that I didn’t tap into before. Sometimes we all need to do something for each other unconditionally and in turn this helps us do for ourselves without judgement and criticism. I think this is a win-win situation.
It was spring 2016 when my husband and I decided alcohol is no longer going to be part of our lives. I didn’t know where this would take us but the decision was made, and life went on.
That first summer was challenging. My husband and I love to indulge in food and drink and without that we didn’t know what would fill the space that occupied this. So I signed us up for a variety of activities. My husband did rock climbing and I started Yoga. At first I enjoyed the movement of my body and how healthy I felt, as well as, the break from my husband as these were separate activities we were doing. But to be honest, we were both feeling a little irritated. I didn’t realize how much alcohol eased my anxiety and then fed my anxiety and then eased it again, a vicious cycle.
I broke the cycle by removing the booze. Alcohol did more than just give me liquid courage and entertain me on the weekends, it also numbed me to any little annoyance in my life. This was a big step in my awareness of my dependency on alcohol to ease my anxiety and cope with daily life.
I started to meditate and embraced buddhism and mindfulness. This was a pivotal point in my alcohol free journey. I really didn’t know how to cope with anger, stress, my excited feelings, my depressed feelings, my overwhelming overabundant feelings because they were being dulled by alcohol. That summer was a steep learning curve of feeling everything again and I felt alive. I had to be honest about my feelings and admit them to myself even if I didn’t like them. That was the hardest part. Being ok with not being ok in every situation. What did that mean for my life? I questioned whether I was actually happy. What does happy look like now that everything felt different? What did feeling happy actually feel like?
I deconstructed many perspectives that I thought were true that summer and went from there. I relived some of my traumas while meditating and that was ok. I confronted some of my bad behaviours, mended some relationships and ditched some relationships at the same time. Since that summer not drinking alcohol got easier and more challenging all in one fell swoop. As new life challenges came up I looked to numb in other ways, food, vacations, self-help books, binge watching Netflix, anything really for a distraction, an escape from feeling. What I know now is that feeling uncomfortable or feeling in general is such a blessing and nothing to run away from. It means I am alive and here. That is good enough. I am not perfect and I’m ok with that. I am thankful to alcohol for introducing me to the curriculum of my life. To feel and be with what comes up.