Our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance
“Why do I have emotions at all?? They just get in the way. I just wish they’d go away!” I chastised myself, out loud, under the huge fluorescent light of our rented kitchen in the concrete jungle of the DC metropolitan area (aka: Crystal City). Literally, I said this. I know, I can hardly believe it either.
This was 4 years ago, soon after we moved here from the emerald city of roses, Portland, Oregon. It had been a particularly rough day where I had been butting up against what I really wanted and what I thought I should be doing.
Alone. Scared. Back to where I never wanted to be again. Looking back, this moment was pivotal. It was the moment I decided to try to escape and evade my true feelings at all costs.
And cost it did.
I was in a pretty good place at that time too---a book deal was under way, my blog (Eating Is Art) was getting good readership, I was doing some photography and styling work for Food52. Things were going well.
Except they weren’t. None of it felt right in my hut (my heart and my gut).
So I shut down the hut. CLOSED.
I felt like a failure and I criticized myself endlessly. Some of the regular commentary was: you need a REAL job now that you’re back here. Who do you think you are? A creative? Come on. You have responsibility now.
It was no wonder I couldn’t go on with Eating Is Art or any creative pursuits. And no wonder I took several soul-sucking contractor design jobs,
One of the last contractor jobs I had ended with me smack dab in the middle between two warring departments. As each became more enraged at the other, I knew my time was near when I would show up for work and my desk had been moved, again. The last time was into the temp space in the basement (Milton, anyone?).
Then, without further ado, it just ended. No goodbye, no thank you, nada. Turn in your badge and leave. As I saw things moving in this direction, I had arranged it so I was off site 80% of the time, working from the comfort of home. It was an attempt to disconnect from the drama, to just focus on the work. Never the less, it still stung when my contract wasn’t renewed.
The funny thing was I felt like I had deserved it. Like I had done something wrong---or rather, like I hadn’t done enough---to bring peace between two groups of people who had a very difficult time relating. Us against them. Toxic. Totally dysfunctional.
Of course I didn’t do anything wrong. There were several instances where things could have taken a much different course, though.
Like the moment I was told that I was going to be the point designer for another group in the organization who needed “a lot of help because they’re a bunch of idiots.” Yeah, that might have been a good time to ask more questions. It was a very important job, they said, and the perfect fit for me. Diplomatic, was how they put it. You’re a nice person so you can find out for us what that department is REALLY up to. Then we’ll have them and can finally control them (seriously). Huh?
My ego took hold, I was buttered up. Oh, oh! They NEED me! How cool! Wow, someone needs me. They value my skills! And they think I’m NICE!
It was also perfect fodder to keep on keepin’ on with my personal stonewalling practice. Keep those real emotions at bay, girl, THIS is what you should be doing (said in a John Wayne drawl). Forget your creative expression, you can get some of that satisfied here. Then it switched to mocking: it is DESIGN, afterall.
My gut said “this seems weird,” but my head said “go for it. Who cares if they’re all a bit nutty and dysfunctional. What office environment isn’t? This could be big stuff for you!” I’m not sure what “big stuff” meant, but I bought it just the same.
My hut was closed, my heart shut off.
A sign hung on it saying: Do Not Feel.
And eventually, instead of ending up with “big stuff,” I ended up frustrated, alone and ashamed. Trying to “disconnect” from the drama, the group actually helped exacerbate my heightened sense of isolation---as in, I’m not okay.
Our brain’s attachment system is activated by feelings of connectedness and kindness (the two feelings I was disengaging from!). Our tendency as humans is to come together in groups---to be part of a tribe---in order to feel safe and secure.
It turns out, people who actually feel connected---like they belong---are not as frightened of difficult situations. They are also less likely to have intense self criticism prompting even more shame and disconnection.
Looking back, I’d have had a sit down with myself. I’d begin by giving myself a hug and reassurance. You don’t HAVE to do this, I’d tell myself. Or anything for that matter. Who are you trying to prove yourself to? You are loved just as you are, for who you are. You don’t have to BE anyone, other than you. Also, you don’t have to keep participating in this dysfunction. This is their issue. It’s not your place to “fix” anything or anyone, or be a martyr.
A little bit of kindness shown towards myself would have gone a long way.
A fraction of understanding about connectedness---how we’re all in this human life, feeling all the same feelings---would have embraced me in feeling understood, a part of something, maybe even forgiven myself for being so completely off center.
It was a good lesson to learn. Being there for ourselves---even retrospectively---while in the throes of feeling incredibly ashamed about something, creates a huge inner shift of perspective as well as feeling safe and able.
It’s never too late to be kind to yourself about something. Or someone. It’s also never too late to take a moment to realize, hey, I’m not the only one who’s gone through something like this.
There is power in literally feeling yourself connected to the millions of other people who have felt what you are feeling right now.
And those feelings that I wished would just go away? They’ve turned out to be my biggest asset, my literal guidepost for knowing what’s true for me. And what’s not.
My hut is back and open to life.
Turns out, it’s where I make all the best decisions.
I’m still sorting through it, clearing out some cobwebs, tending to a few gremlins who took up occupancy there while it was abandoned---their immediate evacuation notice has been given. Looking around, I’m stunned by it’s beautiful location. Overlooking a beautiful, aqua blue sea with a soft ocean breeze, there’s a hammock on the front porch that was just mended. I think I’ll spend a little time there in quiet contemplation---resting my head on the colorful pillow made from a bright pink, orange and gold sari---while I let those gremlins get their things together and get on out.
What’s going on in your hut?