I Quit

The sweet spot. We are all looking for it. Be it in relationships, the perfect at bat, the ideal buzz, the desired spiritual high. We are searchers by creation. But, I’m tired. This exhausting effort to find the perfect feeling has left me hurt and untrusting of all the people and things. As a control freak, it is even more problematic because my search usually ends in one of two things: judgment of others or shaming of myself. Today, I surrender.

I have recently gone back to therapy. I could make a list of all the reasons that this was the right thing to do, but here is the truth. This ain’t my first rodeo. The topics and lessons and pain and tears have been rooted in the same issues that landed me on my first squishy piece of furniture in 2002. For decades, I have searched for ways to avoid pain. In some seasons, this has manifested itself in taking up new practices. In others, change has required putting down old habits. As someone that has seen the benefits of good mental health work, I should willingly walk into the rooms of professionals with excitement and honor for the transformation that is sure to come.

This time, however, it was not the case. I wanted to avoid this work. There is no better example of the journey of self-discovery and growth than an onion. Seriously, I’m using a Shrek reference for my hardest work. Because in my world, I need Eddie Murphy’s voice to remind me that I stink and that I make people cry. The bottom line is I AM NOT LIKE CAKE. I am a freaking ogre and my layers are many and deep. The only way to deal with the central challenges that I am sitting with for the um-teenth time is to peel back the next freaking layer.

The world that I live in tells me that I have the ability to do it all. I watch so many people in so many arenas of my life living gloriously “successful” lives. I would bet that many reading this think the same of me. “What do you need to work on?” “You have two great kids and a stellar husband.” “Team Hilbrich is a solid fighting machine.” “What could be wrong?” These things are true. And even with the truth of all the great things that life has given me, I have layers upon layers that are very far from the view of the masses. If there is one thing that I have mastered in this life, it is the art of the presentation. Sure, I come off a little mouthy and I have always been bossy and controlling, but in many circles those things have served me (and those that I have advocated for) quite well. I’m so perfected in this area, that my entire interior can be burning to the ground and I can still convince those observing from the periphery that the smoke is just part of the designed decorative accessories.

Want in on a secret? My chase has always been for the perfect combination of success and escape. That’s my sweet spot. The moment that the world believes that I have all the things together and I can simultaneously find the private and perfect ways to have the things that are “mine” out of your view of consumption. That’s how we avoid peeling the next layer. We don’t have to look deeper if we can live in that sweet spot. The one where we can come into our house or car or closet or porch and believe that we are alone and safe. Sure, we are safe from some things in these spaces. There are certainly ways that we can further that belief or prolong seeing the truth of the onion middle by avoiding the inner work but it is still there. And if you are anything like me, avoidance is only temporary. Because one day, you will be sitting in your safe spot and you finally admit that you can never escape your own soul. That’s the lie of the sweet spot. It’s a big fat liar.

For the record, there is nothing like a global pandemic and a major life shift to jerk off multiple layers at one time. This season has been fucking painful. It still is. Because when the layer is pulled off, we can’t put it back on. There is no amount of hot glue that can slap that sucker back on in a way that allows me to sell a together exterior once I have a half peeled layer flapping in the wind. This is the moment that I have a choice. I can live the lie that everything is fine (seriously, people, this is like my least favorite and most overused coverup) or I can face the reality that none of us are fine and instead embrace that the work of wholeness is just that – work. There is no shortcut. There is no easy way. There is no numbing or drinking or relationship or food or self sabotage that will make this magically disappear.

One of the first things that I have been asked to do as I begin this work is to pay attention to my body. Have I mentioned that I do not enjoy slowing down? That is the heart of paying attention. My body is speaking in loud and painful ways to me these days. It is tired. It is in protect mode. It shouts pain and fatigue and irritation and grief from every direction. There is a reason that my therapist asked me to pay attention to my body…bodies do not lie. I lie. My words do not match what I know to be true about my insides when it comes to my “fine-ness,” but my body does not lie. I woke up this morning after 10 hours of sleep (see, bodies don’t lie) and my shoulders were curled in on them selves. My gut was pained. My neck felt weighty. Even in my sleep, my body was screaming for me to listen.

So today, I just need to ask the Universe, am I the only one that is really ready to quit? Quit fighting the lie that there is a sweet spot? Quit believing that avoidance is the goal? Quit looking for ways to keep the exterior tougher so that the layer can withstand all that I throw at it? I hate being a quitter. Being is quitter is something that I fight with all of my everything. But my body and mind and soul and spirit and anxious heart and pounding head all tell me that it is time. So for today, I quit.

What If: I Invested As Much Time in Myself as I Do Other People?

Today is Mother’s Day. I have a love/hate relationship with this day. Because it always falls on a Sunday, two things have been true about the celebration. First, it has traditionally been a “work” day for me. The second is a bit more complicated. I hate the way that we celebrate this day, especially in the Church world. This is a day that invokes so many emotions. It is not a Hallmark-able fuzzy celebration. It’s true confession time: being a mother is not a natural thing for me. I found it especially hard and perpetually draining in the younger years. I was not created to be a lovey, book reading, storytelling, cooking, homemaking mommy. I was, however, born with the reproductive system that allowed life to come from my body. I also have a powerful shame game and fully convinced myself that by choosing not to have children, I would be setting up resentment and regret. So, here I am. Happy Mother’s Day to me!

It seemed only fitting that this would be the day to tackle a question that seems to plague so many women and mothers. Even as someone who does not thrive in all things nurturing, I have perfected the art of diminishing my personal needs, time and interests. I can run to the bedside of a hurting loved one or rush to a friend in crisis, all while my own ass is hanging on by a thread. My therapists through the years would call these boundary issues. I would call it the crisis of the female conscience. I had the example lived before me that as a woman, it was my job to care for all the people. By birthright, I was created to meet the physical, spiritual, emotional, relational and anything-else-that-you-can-think-of needs for all of the people in my view. And I should do it with excitement and joy, as a good woman should. I mean, you have read Proverbs 31, right?

There are times that basic caregiving (you know, like the infant stage) just take all the life. I don’t care who you are, certain seasons are just life suckers. This is normal. What we are talking about here is the sustained, long worn path of self denial in the face of other-care. As a women in my 20’s and 30’s, I fought the MAJOR shame gremlins that liked to steal all my joy. If I planned a date out or a fun activity with a friend and a child or parent or friend needed me, I would naturally and without much thought, move to the space of their service. Duty and responsibility always led. These are not virtuous traits. These are the lies that my ego feeds me. The ones where I am convinced that no one can do things the way that I can. The ones where I believe that people really cannot handle their own lives without me.

As I have moved into my 40’s, I have sharpened my caregiving skills in my own direction. I have begun to define what differentiates my needs from the people around me. Drinking a cup of coffee by myself is lovely, but an entire morning of sitting on the beach writing is soul filling. Starting my day with a devotional is an endearing goal, but putting on my walking shoes and walking 4 miles will turn my day (and the previous day) around. When my soul is weary, my family is much better off for me to go on a long drive than for me to begrudgingly throw together dinner. Nothing good can come from that kind of need meeting – except a big heaping pile of resentment.

For me, the inability to identify the feelings, ask for what I need and do something about it, have been the recently recognized challenges. I have spent years preparing the way for others to identify their own needs and receive the space and care that they need. I have lived 45 years on this earth. It matters not how many times I have been told to put my oxygen mask on first, I still find myself strapping that thing on other people’s faces and neglecting my own. My body, spirit and gut show the scars of this way of life. So here, on this Mother’s Day 2020, I am headed into the next 45 years with a new call. If there is one thing that the global pandemic has taught me, it is that when I take the time to breathe, write, garden, breathe, walk, be still, breathe and breathe some more, I am a better friend, mom and person. Here is to a day of guiltless, shame-free crawfish eating, poolside sitting day of remembering that I am worth intentional acts of self-care.