Tea for Two

Photo by Tatiana Syrikova from Pexels

I am not an easy person to love.
I am not an easy person to love.
I am not an easy person to love.

This is my story. Or rather, it is A story that I repeat to myself.

If you know me, you know that I listen to a lot of podcasts and books. In fact, when I’m alone, you’ll most likely find me with my earbuds in. I don’t stay in silence with myself very often. There is an intensity that lives there, in my mind, that can be…well, it can be exhausting. Intimidating. Strange. Sometime around my late 20s I began to fear that intensity. I silenced it or at least tried hard to reign it in. I decided that people didn’t like the intensity and therefore I should not like the intensity. That I should be less — less caring, less feeling, less thinking. That whatever depth was there, I believed that most people I knew didn’t want to be around it. I felt mismatched in my community and so, I drank. I got high. I made myself fun. I “lightened up.”

Someone close to me called me a loner once. I’d never really thought of myself as a loner. I didn’t spend much time alone at ALL as I was growing up. Always there were sleep overs with friends, and youth group trips and choir concerts. Being called a loner — having someone see me in that way — the way that I’d been trying so hard to hide — it only accelerated my path to people pleasing and erasing myself.

Here’s the real truth though — I actually AM a loner. I like being alone. I enjoy myself, intensity and all. I find pleasure in contemplation and mystery and reading and writing. I love people — love them very much. And love being around people when I feel there is authenticity in the connection. I am no good at surface level interactions — and here’s the thing about that — I LIKE that I’m not good small talk. I’m glad I don’t enjoy bullshitting with people. Talking about the weather.  I always prefer to point straight at the elephant in the room and yell “What the fuck is that!? Can we talk about that? I want to talk about that!”

I could tell you that I am this way because I grew up in a household with a volatile person. That I trained myself in the art of unseen energy so that I could protect myself whenever the eruption came. And there were frequent eruptions. I could turn this post into a deep dive of my shadow and why I am the way I am. And please — if you want to talk shadows with me, I’m here for you anytime. But I don’t want this to be about that. I want this to be about who I am now. And, hopefully, who you are now.

Do you ever listen to yourself? I mean, of course you may hear the doubt, the shame, the guilt, the critic — of course you hear it. But do you really listen? Not shoo it away. Not deny it a voice. I’m talking pull up a chair, pour yourself a cup of tea (or coffee) and sit down with the mother-fucking voice and LISTEN to it. 

I did.

I do.

Over and over and over again, I hear that carping voice start up with the catcalls and the booing and the commentary, and I sit my ass down in my own head and get out the tea cups. One for me, and one for it. And I give it — I give her (I call her Margo) some space to vent. And usually — usually she spins up about all the ways I am insufficient then lands back down in tears because she’s just trying to protect me from pain in her own convoluted way.

Do you want to know what Margo is saying to me as I write this?

You’re such a sham. You’re just regurgitating every other self-help asshole out there. No one cares about you. No one wants to hear about your life. You’re nothing. You’re nobody. God, this is lame. You are lame. Lighten up. You’re so self-centered. You’re wasting time on this. You’re a baby. 

I could go on. Because, believe me, she does. She goes on and on and on. I used to reproach myself for having these thoughts. It was like shaming myself for shaming myself. (In Buddhism it might be called the Second Arrow) Then I tried to ignore her, and looked for external validation — success at my job, more likes on social media, better stuff, better opinions, better, better, better. Always comparing — weighing myself against everyone else hoping that if I was “better” she would leave me alone. And finally I tried real hard to “fix her.” Meaning I tried to figure out WHY she was there — was it my childhood? Was it my parents? Friends? Boyfriends? Bosses? Culture?

Yes.

Yes. She is there because of all of those things — and also because of none of them. She is there, because she is there. Knowing why Margo is constantly critiquing me doesn’t make her stop. In fact, the search for “answers” can sometimes skate a very fine line between understanding pain and victimhood (aka blaming others). In other words, investigating the voice is important, but it’s only part of a much larger process. What I discovered was that if I stayed in the investigation realm too long, I’d end up hating everyone because I’d end up blaming everyone. Even though I’m glad I did some work on my past and the thinking-behavior it might have led me to — that examination didn’t quiet the critic. Or at least, it did not for me.

For me, the bigger piece of the process has been listening. Observing the stories I’m telling, or rather the stories Margo is telling me and then…and then…
Nothing. I just listen. I do nothing but listen to the stories. Doing nothing means, I don’t believe them. I don’t judge them. And I don’t distract myself from them either. I don’t do anything but stay. I stay with her — with Margo — with the voice that is shrieking at me about my failures. We sometimes shriek together, the two of us. We wail and rage about the world. But then breathe. BREATHE. And I say, Thank you for trying to protect me. Thank you, Margo, for sharing your story with me. 

I try not to tell stories about who my kids are (eg. She is emotional. He is sensitive.) because I believe that the stories I tell about them often determine how I talk to them. And how I talk to them will be the way they talk to themselves (and others, but that’s a whole other essay). Possibly the way we (their father and I) talk to them will be the loudest voices in their heads. And I want those voices to be saying:

You are safe. You are worthy. You are strong. You are loved. 

These days I often wonder how my life — how all lives would be different if the loudest voice in our collective heads said only those 4 phrases.

You are safe. You are worthy. You are strong. You are loved. 

I am not there yet. I still have Margo. She’s pretty loud. I still have doubt and shame and guilt. But I can hear the whispering of a new still small voice rising up from the base of my spine. One that is full of compassion and love and power and truth. One that is not afraid. It is not from an external source. Not from any god of any religion contrived by our human minds. Nor from any one person past or present. It is the gold deep inside me that I’ve covered and hidden away for so long. It is the trees and the wind and the ocean and the stars. And the moon.

You are safe, it whispers as I slowly sip tea across the table from Margo. 

You are worthy, it smiles into my belly as I listen to Margo roar about imposters.

You are strong, it wraps warmth around me as I sit quietly giving Margo space for her dance of doubt. 

You are loved, it sings openness into the air around me. And even to Margo —  so that she finally pauses, and exhales, and lays down to rest. 

What will the world bring me next? Surely there will be darkness and pain and sadness. Certainly there will be voices challenging me and mouths biting at my body and knives flashing in the night. 

But I do not suffer these things alone. I do not need to suffer at all. We do not need to suffer. 

We are safe. 

We are worthy.

We are strong.

We are loved.

—————————————————————————————-

Sidenote: This piece was inspired by a bunch of learnings over the past several months — from brilliant podcasts (like Awaken Podcast) to thoughtful books (like Dangerous Old Woman) and extraordinary Nature, the best teacher of all. However, more specifically it was inspired by the show Physical and the movie Violet. Both might be triggering so please read about them before you watch them. The main character of Physical is a person suffering from an eating disorder and the movie Violet touches on sexual harassment. But in both, we hear the inner-dialogue of the women and it is — disturbing. Especially as I watched and considered how often I say those exact things to myself. Or rather, how often Margo says them to me.  😉

Be well friends. Much love to you. 

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