It seems that everywhere you look, there is more and more information of what it means to be toxic. There are toxic relationships, toxic chemicals, toxic words. But where did this stem from? Is it abuse? Is it awareness of negative interactions? Or does it stem from our movement toward self awareness?
The very word is defined as: “extremely harsh, malicious, or harmful“, which in itself is a tad harsh. The word itself can leave a metallic and negative taste in my mouth. You know that coppery taste that occurs when you put a penny on your tongue (don’t ask).
So I decided to do a thing. An experiment of sorts. As a therapist, I thought I could benefit from taking a peek at my own life, rather than identifying patterns in other people’s lives. After all, it is always easier to focus of someone else, rather than ourself.
So I took a look at where the negativity was coming from in my life. A cold…hard…honest look. And as I looked around the people in my life, and the conversations we have had, I realized the negativity and toxic comments were not coming from them…they were coming from me.
Right? How can that be? I can recount multiple conversations where someone said something negative to me and I felt absolutely founded in adding those comments up to use against them. However, when I later replayed them in my head without an agenda, I realized those people were not attacking me, per se, they were being honest and I was not ready to hear what they had to say.
So what do you do when YOU are the one saying those negative things to yourself?
Honestly, I was avoiding what anyone had to say because I didn’t want to hear it; and subconsciously, I was blaming my reactions on their words…which is a fricken cop out. I am a grown woman. At some point the competition, the reactions, the power of others needs to stop.
People absolutely have a right to their thoughts and their words...and so do you. You also have a right to how you respond to those words and actions. You can personalize them. You can take them to heart. You can be pissed and feel violated. But at the end of the day? Do those words really matter? If they do, we need to work on strengthening your skin. Because, they are not living your life, nor do they experience what you experience on a daily basis. So stop giving them power over your response.
In many instances, your reactive response, validates their negative thinking. So stop doing that.
And stop reacting to your own negative thoughts. Stop listening to those wicked old tapes that are lying to you. Furthermore, stop lying to yourself.
The break up with my toxic self
After doing some deep thinking and fricken tough analysis, I decided a break up is in order. Not with the other naysayers, but with myself.
If I can’t love myself, how can I possibly expect to spread love to others?
Furthermore, if I continue to put conditions upon my own worth, how can I realistically love others unconditionally?
The truth is this: I can’t.
There is no fricken way I can love others the way they deserve to be loved if I can’t overlook my own perceived flaws. You know what I am talking about…if I don’t fit into the way society thinks I should look or act, how can I expect others to love me? But you know what? They do…and I decided that I am going to love myself also…perceived flaws and all.
Because here’s the thing. This mind and this body have been through the ringer and come out the other side. Not necessarily unscathed, but whole…and stronger for the experiences. Those times may have drained the life blood out of me, but I am still here, (Thank you Lord) and I believe there is a reason.
So I have decided to break up with my toxic self. I also know there will be times where I regress and fall back to those old tapes…but there will be times when I fucken shine. I will share my story and give hope to others who are still hiding in the shadows. I envision a time when we all shine, my friends.
Love yourself…You are worthy.
Idealism in Social Work
I found a paper I had written for my undergraduate social work degree. In it, I alluded to the fact that I wanted to change the world. My idealism was prolific throughout the paper; however, my vision of how I fit into the world may have been a tad skewed.
Interestingly, I am not the same professional in social work that I was when I began this journey many decades ago. Furthermore, I am not the same person. Personal experiences, professional encounters, and traumatic cases have provided me with a new outlook on how I view our profession. Looking back at the time that paper was written is almost embarrassing. I wonder if I truly helped my client’s or rendered them dependent upon me.
Social Work Goals
As a social worker, I have always made it a point to be more personable and open. I worked hard to break the stereotypical vision that most people appeared to have of the white gloved woman going through your house and looking for things you have done wrong. I focused on what was going right and after I earned some trust, we could go into what wasn’t working so well.
There is such a fine line between enabling and empowering our clients and that line is often drawn in the sand. Additionally, that line appears to be always moving and being redrawn. As a young social worker, my goal was to “fix” everyone and every situation I was called into. I didn’t want anyone to suffer, nor did I feel accomplished unless a problem was solved. Only once the issue was taken care of, was I comfortable leaving the people involved.
Enabling or Empowering?
As the years progressed and I gained more experience, I learned how damaging enabling a client can actually be. While in the short-term those identified problems may have been taken care of, there were no skills learned by the client during that process. Once I was removed from the case, the same issues were likely to return, leaving the client in the same situation as they were when I entered.
Listen, I get it. It feels good to help. It feels good to be needed. However, when we solve every problem for our client, we are meeting OUR needs, not theirs. The client may be grateful and express themselves as such, but who did we actually help? Who’s needs were fulfilled?
In social work, our jobs can be diverse. Many of us went into the field because of our personal experiences and many of us are very good at what we do. At some point in our career, there must be a defining moment where we see the clarity of our responsibilities. If we are continuously enabling our clients, we are not working for them, we are working to meet our own needs.
Check Yourself as a social worker
It is our responsibility to draw that line in the sand. We are the social work professionals. We were brought in to meet the needs of a client, not meet our own needs. It is our job to continuously monitor ourselves so we can meet the needs of our client’s. It is our job to empower our individual client’s in order they do not need us anymore. And don’t forget to take care of you, my friend.
Say what? No resolutions?
Come Again? No resolutions? Why not?
Seriously, the New Year is supposed to be about goal setting, right? So why wouldn’t I create my own resolutions for a new and improved me? Perhaps I like the person I am and can accept that I have some issues, but who doesn’t?
Resolution -a firm decision to do or not to do something. For some of us, a resolution is motivating, for others it signifies a set up for failure. We have been told since we were kids to create goals, which will empower us to move forward towards achievement. However, some of us fail from the get go…and we use that failure to create more guilt and excuses to stay stuck. It’s a never ending cycle of excitement – failure – guilt. Just look at the gyms. January is their busiest month and all of the regulars know that by March, things will get back to normal, as the majority of the new members will stop coming in.
We absolutely know what we need to do to be healthier.
- Move your body – stop being a couch potato. Honestly, your couch may miss you, but it will welcome you back when you return. It may even enjoy the time to itself. Take the stairs, park far away from the door, walk around the block, walk the dog.
- Eat well – this is a no brainer. For me, I have learned that sugar and carbs are not my friends. Too much of them and my joints swell, causing pain throughout my body. I have never been a great nutritional eater, so I rely on supplements that I trust…those with no artificial fillers and are plant based.
- Drink water. Yes, water. Coffee doesn’t count, nor does alcohol. Aim for 1/2 your body weight in ounces per day.
- Sleep – now that’s a tough one. While I personally love to sleep, my body isn’t very good with getting the REM that I need. This is a continual challenge.
We know this, so where is the disconnect?
It begins in the mind
Mine is multifaceted. First and foremost, I want to keep up with my boys. Furthermore,I don’t want to be the mom who sits on the sidelines, just watching. I want to play, bike and have adventures with them. I also know that I FEEL better when I eat better. Additionally, I have anxiety, and working out helps that energy to focus in a positive way. Not to mention, genetically, we have heart disease in my family, and after losing my brother and mom to this disease, I want to fight back.
You have to be self motivated. External motivation will not last. You can’t get healthier for someone else; you need to do it for yourself. And you know what? YOU ARE WORTHY of being healthy and happy. You owe it to yourself to take care of yourself, after all, YOU Can’t Pour From an EMPTY cup.
Personally, I love affirmations. They are all over my office walls. I wear them on my wrist and I have an app on my phone that I love, called I AM. In my younger days, I thought affirmations were a joke. Now, my older and wiser version knows better. All behaviors begin with your thoughts
Furthermore, I have some kick ass music play lists. When I get ready to ride, I plug those suckers in and get lost in the beat. Recently, I rediscovered biking and it took me back to my childhood. Once I finally learned how to ride a bike, I was never far from one. I still love the freedom, the road crushing under my tires and the feel of air rushing my face.
I may also be a tad competitive with my Apple Watch friends…and myself.
As I was looking back on FB memories, I was taken aback by how many times I had documented that this next year would be MY YEAR…that each next year would promise something amazing! And while those amazing things may have occurred, the opposite also happened. The deaths of loved ones, the loss of jobs, the passing of beloved pets.
Life happened. And it took the wind out of my sails. My external motivation was removed, as was the internal motivation. Defeat, depression and despair were prevalent and I had two choices: Keep moving or stop.
I choose to keep moving forward.
After all, this is a lifestyle that begins new every day, sometimes every minute. It is not a resolution, as I deserve more that an annual goal.
Parenting Moment Pause
At the age of ten, my child is such a character. He is funny, kind, and continuously makes us smile.
When I was ten, I was a fantastic student and a people pleaser, if not a tad bit of a brat. It was at this age that I learned that death is real. It was the summer heading into 5th grade when two of our neighborhood boys were killed in a motorcycle accident. To this day I remember where I was when I heard about it. I was with my best friend and we were babysitting her niece when her parents and aunt came and broke the news.
These friends were also her neighbors and the reality of what had happened was crushing. We would never be the same and our childhood innocence was shattered. Watching our friends parents grieve and watching the community come together to support them was incredibly overwhelming and our childhood minds didn’t realize these moments would stay with us forever.
I want to preserve that innocence in my ten year old for as long as possible. Has he experienced death? Yes. That’s unavoidable. However, as a parent, it is my job to also instill hope, love, and grace.
As I look at my oldest child, I see myself at that same age learning that families don’t always stay together. At 12, my parent’s divorced and life as we knew it was changing. Looking back at that situation as an adult, I see things so differently than I did as a child.
At 12, I took an amazing trip across the country with my brother and my father to celebrate my brother’s graduation. The memories are priceless and still make me smile. For example, crushing my brother at Circus Circus in Las Vegas and him accusing me of cheating ( it sucks when your little sister can kick your ass at the water guns).
Unfortunately, the return home was awful. First my dad moved out, then they traded spots and my mom left. Dad worked nights, so I went from having someone home with me constantly to coming home to an empty house and putting myself to bed. While my brother was there he was living his own life and moving toward his own goals.
At 12 I began parenting myself. As I look at my beautiful 12 year old hormonal son, I can’t imagine him having that responsibility. Granted, there are times he probably would love to be on his own, however that isn’t a choice he is developmentally able to make.
As a child, I was grief-stricken by these events. As an adult, I can look back and recognize the events that forever imprinted my life. As a parent, I can’t imagine the pain my parents and the parents of our friends were going through. “be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting some kind of battle you know nothing about” is one of my favorite quotes and I still believe this to be true. We are all hiding behind our smiles and putting our brave faces on for the world.
As a parent, I have experienced my share of grief and I have tried to shield my children from the crushing affects of it. That doesn’t mean they have not seen my cry, for they have. They have lost their beloved pets, uncle and grandmother and they know the circle of life.
And as their parent, I want to protect their innocence. I want to shield them from the ugliness of our world, however that may look. But, as their mom, my job isn’t to do that. It is to equip them and empower them so they can handle whatever comes their way. God help me in doing that. There is a reason they say it takes a village…
Just remember, my friend that we are all doing the best we can at any given moment. Let’s practice grace, not only with one another, but with ourselves as well.
The Lion King
Remember watching the movie and listen to the song, “The Circle of Life” and the celebration that ensued with the birth of the baby? And who didn’t cry with Simba’s father died? I know I am a bawling mess every time I watch that show. there is a part of me that wishes real life was more like cartoons though, as they seem to quickly move through those tough emotions.
In real life, those emotions don’t move that quickly. They ebb and flow, allowing us to feel focused one moment and utterly drowning the next. believe me, I understand why Simba disappeared into the unknown to be alone and refused to come back to what he knew. There are so many emotions vying for control. Guilt, grief, anger, sadness, joy and then they all start to mess together until we are not sure what we feel anymore.
Four years ago we unexpectedly lost my brother. I am still grieving and sometimes that hurt hits as and feels as though I have been gut punched. In the time following, our family lost a well loved minister, two beloved uncles and my mother’s partner. Last year my mom passed. Additionally, my immediate family lost two loving dogs, which also sucked.
For four years, I have been on the fuckin roller coaster of living and loving and crying and grieving. There have been times where I have been truly paralyzed by grief and there have been other times where my motivation to live was overpowering.
Grief doesn’t come with a handbook (ok, maybe a guidebook)…but one size does not fit all. For me, as I struggled, being a mom was my foremost goal and I while I wanted to keep a sense of security for my kids, I knew there were days that I just wasn’t present. Putting a smile on my face while talking to my loved ones about their own losses was so terribly hard. Keeping the consistency of a somewhat schedule and getting the kids where they needed to go kept me focused for short periods of time.
June has some tough anniversaries for my family. First my brother and more recently, we had our mom’s first anniversary of her death. Sometimes I think the anticipation of the anniversary can be worse than going through the day itself. Honestly, I suck at remembering anniversaries but my mind and body seem to know what’s going on, even when I don’t.
The best unsolicited advice I can give anyone reading this is the following. “be gentle with yourself”. Grief can come in like a fricken hurricane, go into a wave pool and return to a level five storm before we even know what we are dealing with. I now there were so many times I was figuratively getting ready to dip a toe into the water and BOOM, I was fricken sinking into the deep end.
It’s time to live
I know one thing. My brother would be irritated with me for not stepping up and taking life by the wings. He was a live in the moment type of guy and I remember him always falling asleep in his recliner because he ran himself ragged. While my mom’s body just wore out. She never recovered from the death of my brother, and especially the death of her other half, Ray.
She was done and her body was done. Thus the circle of life was complete.
Both of them taught me that life is meant to live. So challenge yourself today to take a new route. Step out of your comfort zone. Share those compliments you keep in your head. After all, sometimes tomorrow never comes…and what will your legacy be?
You Are Always So Positive
A friend recently reached out to me for some support and in her opening sentence, she stated “you are always so positive”. I took a breath and told her that I am really not always positive.
And I really am not.
The positive posts I make on social media are often those that resonate with where I am in my own emotional health. My hope is that if I can get a positive feeling from them that others may also. I work hard on feeding my mind positive affirmations so that they may take hold of my anxious thoughts.
I have doubts
Self disclosure…I have always had low self esteem. Well, that’s not entirely true. As a child, I believed I could do anything and be anything that I wanted. I excelled at school, creative writing and sports. However, I did struggle from severe anxiety. Even as I excelled, I went to bed so fearful of our house having a fire, that I would unplug every appliance that I could. I would be afraid to leave my brother alone in case he chocked while he was eating. The thoughts were exhausting, yet I excelled at school, so know one would ever know.
I still have doubts
As an adult, I have always struggled with the comparison game. Looks, talent, parenting…the competition is always there and I work hard on telling it to get the fuck out of here. As a woman, I know how debilitating the comparison game can be. Today, I can literally feel how damaging that stupid game is. I admit I am blessed that God changed my thinking and taught me to lift others up. Thee is room for all of us in this crazy world.
I truly believe that many of us are doing the best we can and by tearing others down, we are also revealing the deepest and darkest parts of ourselves that we keep hidden. Being an asshole does nothing but let other’s know we are focused on the wrong parts of ourselves.
The struggle is real
“Be kind, because everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about” is my favorite quote. I have it on my wall and I focus on it regularly because it reminds me that we cannot see what’s happening behind the shy smile of the new mom. We tend to judge the stony faced woman and make an assumption that she thinks she is better than we are. When is reality, she is terrified to be in a public place with no friends for support
We admire the strong muscles of the woman working out next to us and have no idea that she has struggled with body image since the age of ten. We look at the artist who is standing at her gallery with a huge smile, not knowing she is terrified of being judged.
We watch the mom carry her screaming toddler out of the store and immediately think she needs to get control of that kid (this one was me). In reality, all we needed was another mom to share the understanding…seriously, we have all been there.
I work out in order to give that energy somewhere positive to go. I continually refocus my thoughts and remind myself that I am worthy of being happy. It is the reason I need to spend alone time after a large gathering, or I may not accept an invitiation. Trust me, I want friends and I want to be invited. However, sometimes I let those crazy ass thoughts overpower me and I just retreat.
So, am I always so positive?
NOPE. Negative. Not even close.
But I am a work in progress and I believe we are stronger together in this battle. To my tribe that continually lifts me up, thank you. I love you more than you will ever know and thank you for sharing your light with me.