I have just returned from a company convention in Las Vegas where I worked 70 to 80 hours. After two months of keeping to myself and just doing my job at my little cubicle, I ended up cooperating with some amazing coworkers. For the first time they got to see who I am as a person, how I work under pressure. I opened up and told a handful of them that I had a doctorate, a truth that I had been withholding. Why did I keep that to myself? Well, if I told them about my doctorate then I would have to answer more questions, which would eventually lead to telling them about my heartache. Which is sort of what happened…
…and now I’m vulnerable. This is the excruciating vulnerability Brené Brown was talking about in all of her books. This is the discomfort I’m supposed to lean into. This is where I connect, this is where I am supposedly going to change, create, and be innovative. Between working 80+ hours, fatigue like no other, and choosing to be authentic and vulnerable with a few people, I was thrust into self-reflection regarding my career and my relationships.
When I think about all the ways I have reacted to feelings of shame (codependent/complex trauma shame), I can think of an equal number of ways that I have over-functioned in response. All the ways in which my lovability was on the line: my body, my intelligence, my culture, my career, my being a good daughter, etc, left me in constant survival mode. Being in survival mode, my over-functioning was calcified.
“If an organism is stuck in survival mode, it’s energies are focused on fighting off unseen enemies, which leaves no room for nurture, care, and love. For us humans, it means that as long as the mind is defending itself against invisible assaults, our closest bonds are threatened, along with our ability to imagine, plan, play, learn, and pay attention to other people’s needs.”
-Bessel Van der Kolk, The Body Keeps the Score
Dream vs Obsession
I can’t say my dreams or goals in life included too much imagination, play, natural learning, or attention. If the outcome of meeting a goal had anything to do with my worth, it was not a dream, but an obsession. There was no personal growth as an outcome of the pursuit, there was only a deeper knowledge of the pain that came with failure (in trauma/shame, failure is not education, it’s a threat to survival). What’s worse were obsessions that were rationalized as healthy goals.
3 Signs of Obsession
A sign that I am dealing with an obsession rather than a healthy dream or goal, is if I am trying to omit or hide significant truths about myself. This is part of my tending to the façade. Ever heard of the phrase “out of sight, out of mind?”. With obsession, it’s more like “out of mind, out of mind.” This is a fragile state to be in seeing as how it’s a lie and with lies come the fear of being found out (imposter syndrome). My truth and my needs fall to the wayside and I’m in fear.
Another sign I am dealing with an obsession can be determined by how much time I spend ruminating, going over events or conversations that have happened in the past (flashbacks), and/or maladaptive daydreaming, rehearsing what I will do or say in the future in a way that never actually happens (which is oddly validating).
Last but not least, with obsession comes concentrated action. Everything I do will lend to the obsession. When I think about how I handled the cultivation of my career in music, I can’t say it was a dream, but an obsession. I wasn’t present, I wasn’t authentic, and I wasn’t connected.
Health is a word I must apply here. I have never really known healthy dreaming. Not really. Right now my goals are simple and I think simplicity is a characteristic of healthy dreaming. Healthy, simple, detached. There is no inauthenticity, endless rumination, or toxically motivated action. Instead, there’s self-acceptance, self-awareness and reflection, and with that as a foundation, plans are made to work toward a healthy goal, a healthy dream. There is a natural faith in oneself to achieve the dream. That whole “jump and the net will appear” crap could actually be applicable.
If I am in my truth, I can be honest and say my number one dream is financial autonomy and having a secure, healthy, comfortable lifestyle. Another healthy goal of mine is in allowing myself to find out what I am like. It turns out that I really love an organized space. I love to relax. I enjoy project management, whether in creativity or at work. There is something incredibly satisfying about working toward a goal for a long time and seeing the end product. I would’ve known that joy in music if my motivations were healthier.
I don’t actually know what I want in life aside from autonomy because, I think, from before the trauma until now I’ve been in a sort of emotional arrested development. With autonomy, I think my dreams, goals, and motivations will rise to the surface. With awareness, I think I can keep it healthy especially when things do not go as planned, and that includes dealing with tough emotions like vulnerability and grief.
After I taught my last lessons and played my last gig as a full time musician, I was hit with a strange sort of depression a few weeks into my new job. I called my therapist and it turned out that what I was dealing with was grief. Every other hour I would feel a punch to the gut, and I was to stop and pay attention. My therapist said in grief sometimes I’m dealing with a whining child whose feelings are hurt, or an angry child who yells “not fair!”, sometimes a teenager, sometimes a grown woman. She advised me to respond like a supportive adult. I was to reflect on the truth of the situations that brought on those feelings.
As a new adult, my lovability and belonging being on the other end of my success, how my body looks, how I act, or how Indian I am…it’s absurd. However, it’s not absurd to a child, my inner child. I will probably spend the rest of my life making this child feel loved and safe. Although I wish I wasn’t someone who needed to tend to herself in this way, although I wish it was easier, I’m okay with this. As I let my inner child be the girl she wasn’t allowed to be, I’m going to be the parent who loves and supports her in a way my parents weren’t equipped, though they did the best they could.
With all of this awareness in mind the vulnerability is slightly less excruciating, my goals seem reachable. I could learn who I am. I could be brave. I think I can do this, let’s see how it goes.