listening.

My biggest issue lately has been listening, or I guess not listening, to my body. I have a bad habit of pushing myself beyond what’s good for me because I distrust my instincts. In the past, I’ve overworked myself to ridiculous extremes because I thought that’s what was best for me. I thought the harder I worked, the more valuable I was, when in reality I was just driving myself into the ground. My constant state was burnt out. When quarantine started, I burned myself out in a different way—instead of overworking, I was overindulging. I’d never in my life had so much free time and I had no idea how to spend it functionally. When I finally started reorganizing my life and building healthy routines and behaviors, I thought I’d finally escaped that cycle of mistreating myself. Tragically, it turns out that cycle has little to do with what I’m doing and a lot to do with me. I can’t seem to help but push myself too far no matter what it is I’m doing. So when I first starting getting it together and doing the work, I pushed myself a little to hard.

It’s weird to think I burned myself out getting emotionally healthy, but I did. I felt like I had to spend every minute of every day digging into all of my pain and trauma. I thought I had to stick rigorously to my routine, and that I was doing a bad job if I fell short on anything. I worked myself too hard at the work. Realizing this was frustrating, to say the least. It was like, really? I can’t even do this right?

What I’ve realized is that part of the work I need to do is specifically on examining that behavior. Why do I feel like I have to push myself so hard at everything? Why can’t my morning walk just be a walk—why do I feel like I need an app to measure how far I’ve walked, and how fast? Why do I need to wake up at six-thirty, and why am I a bad person if I don’t? Why am I turning getting healthy into a life or death situation?

We all have our stuff, and part of my stuff is that I ignore my instincts because I’ve been taught through various traumas and hurts that I shouldn’t trust myself, that my thoughts aren’t valuable. So I’ve always believed that the voice in my head telling me to slow down is just laziness, or self-sabotage. But it’s not. It’s me. It’s a deeper part of myself, the part of myself that’s unbreakably connected to my mind, heart, body, and spirit. It’s the true part of me that can’t be broken or silenced, no matter how long I go ignoring it or trying to shut it up. Glennon Doyle calls it your “Knowing.” Some people feel it’s an outside guidance, from a god or the universe. I think it’s just the truest version of yourself, the realest version of yourself. I realized that voice and my thoughts are meant to be in sync, if only I’d trust myself enough to let them be.

So the past few weeks, I’ve been trying to actually listen to my instincts, my “knowing,” myself. And it’s been really fucking hard. Mostly because there’s also that voice in my head telling me to push myself, to overwork myself, and some days it’s hard to tell the difference between that voice and my true voice. But what I have noticed is that the more I listen to my true voice, the better I feel. Instead of pushing myself to wake up at six-thirty, I sleep until seven-thirty and I wake up feeling well-rested, and I don’t feel exhausted mid-way through the day. Some days, I don’t go for walks because my back pain is flaring up. I practice gentler yoga because it feels better for me. I eat more when I’m hungrier, and ignore the feeling that I’m eating more than I should, because there shouldn’t be a “should” when it comes to food. I spend more time quietly, and in that quiet I hear more of what my truest self is trying to say to myself. It makes me more creative, and makes me feel more joyful. I am less reactive, and when I feel really strongly negative emotions, I pause for a moment and think about why I’m feeling them. Why do I feel guilty for not going on a walk? Why do I feel rejected because I haven’t talk to a friend in a while? Why do I feel defeated because one of my stories hasn’t gotten published yet? When I pause and mull over the emotion, I find the source of it, and usually realize that the source is my less-true self trying to start shit. I have this sort of mantra now, for when I think or feel negative things about myself or my life. I acknowledge it, I feel it, and then I let it go. I don’t believe in ignoring negative emotions. I don’t think it’s productive to pretend we don’t feel bad things about ourselves. Forced positivity halts the healing process, in my opinion. But holding on to negative emotions, especially ones based on falsities, isn’t productive either. So acknowledge the emotion, feel the emotion, allow yourself the time to locate the source of it, and by finding the source, figure out why you feel that way. And from there, allow yourself to let the emotion go.

So for example, I often feel bad about myself when my friends don’t talk to me as often as they usually do. I feel personally slighted, and I make it about me. What did I do wrong, why are they ignoring me? (For the record, I didn’t start feeling this way until quarantine, so it’s a really weird thing for me to try to process. I’m usually Miss Independent, the queen of alone time, so figuring this one out really sucked). So at first, I let myself get totally in my head and I’d feel bad about myself for days—I’d think things like, they’d finally realized I wasn’t worth their time, they’ve found better friends, etc. Truly a wild overreaction. But it’s how I felt, so I had to honor that by giving myself the space to understand that feeling. After a few weeks of feeling this way, I finally took a moment and paused when that feeling of rejection came again. I identified the feeling, and asked myself where it was coming from. I realized that I have a lot of self-esteem issues—seriously one of the biggest issues I have that I’ll probably be dealing with for a very, very long time—and that’s what was making me take things so personally. I considered the way my friends were acting, and I thought about my own life. How were my friends actually acting, and was it actually at all strange or mean or any of the things I thought it was? It barely took a minute for me to realize that it wasn’t. But we tell ourselves stories (Brené Brown’s Netflix special, anyone?), and this was the story I was telling myself. So I took a deep breathe, and I let myself feel the bad feeling. And then I reminded myself that although my emotions are valid, this feeling was not true to me. So I felt the emotion, and then I let it go. The first time I went through this process, it took a while. Like, a whole day of processing. But now I’ve gotten to the point where I see a negative emotion coming, and I can stop it in its tracks just by quieting down and listening to myself. Acknowledge, feel, and then let go. I feel like I’m finally able to honor myself, to feel validated by myself, without weighing myself down with dishonest negativity.

The best thing I’ve ever done for myself is trusting myself. Allowing myself to actually follow my intuition, and allowing myself to access the truest part of me. And it’s all as simple and as complicated as acknowledging, feeling, and then taking a deep breathe, and letting go.

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