The words registered, but I didn’t like what I was hearing. My counselor was imploring me to be patient as I uncovered deeper truths about my past traumas. She used the metaphor of chipping away at a large slab of stone to reveal what is underneath. You chip away piece by piece over time. It is a painstaking work that requires patience.
This may have been sage wisdom, but to my ears it was like nails on a chalkboard. When you feel the flood of anxiety, the flames of anger or the cloak of depression day in and day out, patience feels like a luxury you don’t have. I wanted the internal struggle I’d been living with for years to end. I wanted resolution, peace and freedom, yet the more I uncovered in counseling, the less I understood about myself. I finally exclaimed:
“I just don’t know what I’m supposed to do!”
To which she instructed me to keep chippin away slowly. For a split second I considered challening her. I couldn’t afford to wait. I needed answers for my marriage, my friendships and most importantly for myself. I couldn’t keep doing things exactly as they’d always been done. Patiently chipping away at the mountain of my emotional baggage just wasn’t an option. Yet even as the challenege was forming in my mind, the wisdom of her words sank in and a fundamental strategy for healing revealed itself.
Patience is the best coach Two years ago I started running again, and since I hadn’t run in nearly a decade, I created a plan and gradually built up my mileage so I would avoid injury. I’m kidding, I jumped right in because I’m Ben Tapper and that’s what I do.
Fun fact: Your body is not the same at 28 as it is at 18. I discoered this ground breaking news when I abruptly awoke one morning with left knee pain. The soreness lingered for a few days, then a few weeks and soon I had been sidelined for a few months. The diagnosis was a simple one: runners knee. One of the most common running injuries. The treatment was also simple: rest, strengthen muscle imbalance, and ease back into the activity.
Why was I sidelined for months? I was impatient. As soon as I started to feel better, I’d hit the trails as if I’d never been injured. I had no desire to do the workouts I’d gotten from the trainer. I wanted to run, so I did and every time I was reinjured. I didn’t start healing until I accepted that my body wasn’t 18, started doing exercises to strengthen muscle imbalances and took plenty of time to rest.
The same strategies hold true with emotional healing. We need to do accept ourselves as we are, do the slow work of strengthening weakened and damaged areas of ourselves and take our rest seriously allowing patience to be our coach.
The moment I began incorporating these strategies, my anxiety loosened and hope began to fill the spaces it had vacated. I can now recognize the progress I’ve made, and it reminds me to continue to chip away. Some days I still feel frustrated and exhausted from the work of self-awareness, but I know it is worthwhile.
What mountain do you need to continue chipping away at today?
The first time I sensed death, I watched my younger sister gasp for air, her small hands clutching at my step-father’s fingers trying desperately to pull them from her throat. I stood maybe 5 feet away in complete and total shock. My mind screamed at me to do something to stop him, but every muscle in my body remained frozen. I screamed, yet no sound came. I was so overcome by horror that I couldn’t move or speak. Time stood still as the moments stretched into eternity. After what seemed like years, but was only a few seconds my mom intervened and saved my sister’s life.
Death passed us by, but it’s grandchild, terror, did not. I still feel the intensity of that fear in my muscles. My vocal chords instinctively tighten as those frantic seconds play again and again in my mind. Just as my feet were frozen to the floor, that moment is forever frozen into my being. I can barely fathom how my sister carries that trauma within her. While most children my age were imagining what they wanted to be when they grew up, I only hoped to keep my siblings and I alive.
I knew nothing of shooting for the moon or landing among the stars. The notion of a greater purpose wasn’t even a dream for me. It was nonexistant. In its place stood the need to survive. Traumatic moments have a way of stickign with us because trauma is embodied so that even if our memories fade, our bodies never forget what we’ve gone through. I’ve coped with this living trauma by disconnecting from my emotions and as well as body.
In some ways, this disconnection was my way of trying to outrun the pain, doubt and lingering fear. Sadly I’ve only managed to outrun myself, and my purpose. When I say purpose, I don’t mean a future goal or an Avengers-esque drama. Google describes it as (I’m a Millennial, of course I googled it) “the reason for which something is done or created or for which something exists”, and I trust Google.
I can’t possibly live into my reason for being until I more deeply live into myself. Which means that my purpose is present. The reason I exist is not found next year, but rather within my next breath. It is found within me, right here and right now.
Purpose is found within the truths I don’t want to admit to myself or anyone else. Truths like, I often don’t feel good enough. I relish the attention I receive from people who find me charming, charismatic or attractive because it validates a part of me that I struggle to name as worthy. Worse still, I somehow move through life feeling both confident and completely inadequate. How can that be? I’m not sure, but I think we all hold dissonant truths within ourselves.
Something about facing these uncomfortable, embarrassing or even shameful truths decongests our intuitive centers and allows us to feel, know and sense more deeply. When I name my truths, I feel as though I’m peeling back a layer of my false self and inching towards the truest essence of who I actually am. I’m removing the face paint one layer at a time, so that I can see and be seen in the most genuine way possible. As I do so, I feel the release occur. It is terrifying as it is happenning, but I never regret facing the truth. It really can set us free if we are open to hearing it.
Trauma blinds us to the truth, limits our ability to dream and conceals our most authentic purpose. However, purpose is both present and persistent, always waiting for us right here and right now. We can only access it by remaining present and facing the messy truths we desperately want to ignore.
What internal truth stands between you and your present purpose this week?
P.S. Last week I ended my blog post by referencing someone who called me out for saying things that didn’t align with my feminism. This week, another friend of mine informed me that though I appear confident, fear and insecurity still affect me to the point that they even hinder my writing. As a result, I’ve tried to be mindful of the moments in which I most notice my insecurity and fear take charge.
“You’re wasting your time. Push yourself! You’re suppossed to be uncomfortable!“
The voice is so subtle, I almost forget its there, but steadily it pushes me harder, further and faster. Not to be confused with “higher, further, faster” from Captain Marvel. The voice echoes in my mind like a drill sergeant telling me to ignore my body, focus and push past my limits. While that push is useful from time to time, it isn’t meant to ring out during each and every run. Yet for me, it does.
Moreover, the drill sergeant doesn’t just ask that I try harder. When I come up short, and I often do, he is there to berate me as well. Criticism my effort, dedication and intention. This is the voice I contend with on a daily basis
The self-criticism isn’t limited to my workouts either. I hear the judgment in my relationships, at work and even when I’m relaxing. In fact, sometimes I feel guilty for relaxing because I imagine everything I could be doing instead. If I’m not careful, the constant judgment allows shame to seep into my consciousness, coating every thought and infecting every emotion as I’m left wondering:
What is wrong with me?
The answer seems obvious: I’m not enough. Not strong enough, disciplined enough, tough enough, etc…My inadequacies continue to play in my mind on shuffle. Every time I make a mistake, real or perceived, the aforementioned question rings out and unleashes as a flash flood of guilt which cascades into the deepest, most vulnerable parts of my being.
For example: I was speaking with someone close to me about my own struggles with the parts of myself that demand perfection and restraint and the parts that demand freedom and enjoyment. Seemingly out of nowhere they offerred up this nugget of truth.
“I think there has to be a balance. For instance, you go too far sometimes in your quest for freedom. In fact, you even sound like a pig on occassion. I don’t think people want to tell you that, so no one brings it up, but I’ve seen it. You can be pigish (objectifying or demeaning to women).”
I sat there dumbfounded and embarrassed. My first reaction was defensive. Then confused because it felt off-topic, but I slowly realized that I trust this person, so if they’re telling me this, its likely true. As this dawned on me, my inner dialogue turned negative. “I’m such a hypocrite. Can I even call myself a feminist anymore? I bet a lot of people think I’m two-faced. I talk about feminism and mansplain, but when it comes down to it, I’m no better than anyone else.”
I was definitely shaken. For better or worse, the opinions of people, particularly those close to me still matter a lot. So as I imagined all of the people who might also think I act pigish, I felt deeply ashamed.
If that conversation had occurred a year ago, I would’ve been imprisoned by my own self-talk. My mind would have continued to highlight every failure as evidence that I’m broken, flawed and not good enough.
Fortunately that conversation didn’t happen a year ago. It happenned this week. Even more fortunate for me is the fact that two days beforehand, I heard another voice that challenged the drill sergeant.
I was five minutes into my run on Monday when I started to become concerned with my pace. I pushed myself to move faster as my lungs heaved to keep up with the demand I was placing on them. Just as the drill sergeant was starting to demand even more from me, another voice broke through the noise and offerred a soothing admonition.
“Run the run you can.”
The words settled on me like an aloe vera salve for the soul and I soon settled into a rhythm that felt more comfortable. In doing so, I not only reconnected with my body, but I accepted what it was telling me. Rather than the rush of shame and frustration, I felt a gentle peace wash over me. I was hearing the voice of my inner coach.
In fact, the first time I heard the phrase ‘run the run you can’ was from Coach Bennett on the Nike Run Club App. He often starts runs with this gentle admonition. It is a reminder to let go of expectations, pay attention to your body and accept how you’re feeling. While this is great advice for athletes, it is also great advice for life.
That simple phrase is my invitation to be gentle with myself and receive the grace I so readily offer everyone else. In an ideal world, I’d be a perfect feminist ally who never said or did anything offensive. Unfortunately this isn’t a perfect world, so I can fixate on all I should have done or acknowledge my mistake and move forward with what I can do.
So when I was told that I sometimes come off as pigish, I accepted that truth, then offered myself grace. I didn’t spend the evening trying to remember everything I’ve ever said that could have been offensive. I didn’t berate myself or question my feminist credentials. I accepted my mistake, took a few breaths, and let go with the intention to be more aware so that I don’t repeat the same harmful errors.
As you contemplate the places in your life where you most often hear the inner critic, where do you need to accept and let go? These questions may be helpful for you to reflect upon.
What expectations do you need to let go of for yourself, your situation or your relationships? Discontentment is often the result of our refusal to let go of the expectations we hold. You have permission to discard harmful or toxic expectations, so be honest about what needs to fall away.
When was the last time you paid attention to your body? Remember that attention=intention+time.
Which feelings are you unwilling to accept? Our emotions have a lot to teach us, but we can’t learn if we silence them.
If you’ve ever felt the rush of shame from your inner critic, you’re familiar with the voice that works diligently to magnify your inadequacies and highlight your shortcomings. Remember that another voice is also present, inviting you to give yourself grace.
We can’t always run the run we want to, but we most definitely have everything we need to run the run we can. Let that guide you as you journey this week.
P.S. To the person who called me out this week, thank you. One of the most underrated verses in all of scripture is Provers 27:6. I use the NIV translation because it is the first I learned. “Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but the enemy multiplies kisses.” True friends call you out in love.
The headline leapt at me like a blast from the past.
School Shooting in Colorado Leaves 1 Student Dead and 7 Injured
-New York Times
I was searching for statistics on negative self-image and somehow found my way to facebook when this article came across my newsfeed. I instantly stopped scrolling, halted my search and abruptly ended my initial train of thought.
My heart dropped even further as I continued to read.
Douglas County Sheriff’s Office released a statement confirming that one of the eight who had been shot, an 18-year-old man, had died
-New York Times
I can’t explain why this jumped out at me because truthfully I’ve grown numb to these headlines. When a gunman killed a student at the University of North Carolina in Charlotte, I barely batted an eye, but this stopped me in my tracks and unleashed a tide of grief, anger and indignation.
FUCK. THIS. SHIT.
No other words capture what I feel in this moment. I knew I needed to write something. Not because this is my way of trying to make a difference. This blog post won’t change the minds of those who are against gun control reform, and it certainly won’t alter the hearts of elected officials. This is not my act of resistance or contribution to the movement.
This is an expression of rage and an outlet of grief. Even as I type, I can hear the silent sobs of mothers anxiously waiting by their phones hoping to receive word their child has survived. I feel the uncontrolled tears of the parents who suddenly have to make arrangements for a funeral instead of a graduation open house.
As the sobs grow in volume and the tears flow faster, I’m transported to Newtown, Connecticut in 2012, and I see the bodies 5 and 6 year olds strewn about as if they mean nothing. Innocence crushed as laughter gives way to screams and joy to terror. Older siblings forced to process death far too soon. Young souls burdened with intense fear, embedded with incomprehensible loss and overcome with unimaginable sorrow.
Again parents wait in the parking lot and cling to their phones hoping against hope that they will soon hear that voice they cherish and be able to put their arms around that part of themselves they entrusted to the world though it was against their instincts to do so. Parents now forced to hold the unjust truth that the world once again failed them, and the price they paid for their trust is far too steep.
As the images of these parents flash through my mind, I’m whisked back even further into a school library in Colorado. Bullets kill bodies and dreams alike as two young gunmen open fire. Confusion reigns as the unthinkable unfolds. A community is rocked awake and a nation warned that their children are no longer safe. What will we do with this warning?
Twenty years after Columbine, seven years after Sandy Hook and three days after Highlands Ranch we ignore the warnings claiming any action is an affront to our perceived freedom. We send our children off like lambs to the slaughter all the while pointing to an improper interpretation of the 2nd amendment as if it is somehow holier than those we’ve lost.
The blood of children and tears of parents are too great a price to pay. Like Judas, we sell out our most innocent members of society for blood-stained silver. Most of us never see the profits that are made, but we see the shine of bullet casings and the blast of gun barrels as they snuff out life at an alarming rate in our schools, our neighborhoods and on our streets.
My heart breaks today for the victims and survivors alike. I mourn the more than 1000 children and teens who’ve been killed and injured by gun violence in the U.S. as of May 9th.
I weep with the tens of thousands of family members affected, and I tremble as I imagine the river of tears which have been shed this year alone. May this river sweep away our bullshit and drown our apathy so that one day soon, we can plan fewer funerals and more graduation parties.