Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Fight Like a Pro

I joined millions of others watching a professional boxing match earlier this month. When the bell sounded, neither fighter started pummeling each other until the other passed out. There is technique and there is order. What boxers know is that fighting is more than fancy footwork and landing punches. Fighting requires defense and time in the corner. If professional fighters know the importance of defense, rejuvenation, and encouragement during a boxing match, how much more important is it for us to defend ourselves and go to corners of support while we're in the middle of a fight?

Life is filled with experiences and circumstances that require us to fight. We have to fight for professional fulfillment, peace of mind, joy, and our relationships. Like professional fighters, we need to use effective tactics when engaging in a fight. When life presents opposition and challenges we are forced to stand up and prepare ourselves for a mental and emotional struggle. The bell could sound with a phone call delivering difficult news, a doctor visit, a relationship deteriorating, a job loss, financial strain, or an emotional trigger from a past trauma. In either case, it's beneficial for us to develop tactics and strategies to ensure successful outcomes.

Fighting is as much about defense as offense. We have to engage in specific behaviors in order to prevent our opponents—depression, low self-esteem, addictive behaviors, negative relationships, and self-destruction—from hitting us. We need to block negative comments, people who make us feel diminished, and emotional triggers.

There's a television series that I love, but because of the close connection to my personal history there are times when I would identify too closely with the characters or events. Suddenly, entertainment turned into emotional struggle. In order to prevent myself from being hit by an emotional trigger, I decided to stop tuning in. While I didn't have an emotional reaction every time I watched the show, it wasn't worth risking the chance that I would. I chose to defend myself from the possibility of being negatively impacted by selecting an alternative way to spend that hour each week.

In boxing, when the whistle blows signaling the end of a round both fighters go to their respective corners for some time with their coach. This brings up another important lesson; when faced with difficulty, we need to go to our support system. We need to have the wisdom to sit in the company of those who encourage us and refresh us. I found myself in need of a corner break very recently. I needed a serious time out. I was emotionally exhausted and felt like I'd taken hit after hit. The whistle had blown, but I stayed in the ring entirely too long by myself. I needed to sit under the care and concern of my support system. It was amazing how much better I felt after taking a time out and sitting in the corner with my sources of support.

We all have a fight. Yours could be depression, grief, a health challenge, financial concerns, relationship issues, or a trauma. Your fight will require certain tactics at specific times. The key is learning when to throw punches, when to take cover, and when to seek rejuvenation and encouragement. All are equally important and necessary. Follow the example of professional fighters and you can avoid feeling like life is repeatedly knocking you out.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Get Healthy

I have increased my focus on emotional health. I've grown to be much more interested in stability and peace of mind than keeping up appearances and living for others. This transformation hasn’t been easy or simple. Change is difficult and complicated. Understanding and support from others can also be elusive, but I made a promise to myself to get healthy.

Much of my childhood has been rooted in family. I knew from an early age that family was to be revered, honored, and appreciated. I fully understood the value my family placed on our relationships with one another so when I realized that what I needed to do to become emotionally healthy involved separation it caused some anxiety. My emotions were already mixed, but knowing the value of family made the decision excruciating to consider and nearly impossible to execute.

It has been—and still is—a process. I didn't get it right the first, second, third, or fifteenth time I tried. I screwed up and sent mixed signals repeatedly. I asserted myself and then guilt led me back. I made alternate plans during family gatherings only to convince myself that I could 'take it' and eventually gave in. After many tense visits, friends building me back up, and days trying to encourage myself back to normal, I had to ask, “Why are you forcing yourself to ‘take it?’ How is this helping you become healthy? How can you expect to walk in freedom without giving yourself a chance to be free?"

It was hard to choose peace over pacifying others. I deemed it unfair for me to be the one to separate when my actions didn't cause the strife. However, taking responsibility for my quality of life demands that I make tough choices and that I choose wisely. I made up my mind to become healthy and when I even think of faltering or giving in I always remind myself of the choice I made so that my actions reflect my clear choice instead of a fleeing feeling.

Not everyone will understand or support your choices—get healthy anyway. It will be difficult at times—get healthy anyway. You will have to encourage yourself sometimes—get healthy anyway. No matter the circumstances, no matter what it takes, give yourself permission to be free and get healthy anyway.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Permanent Minded

There is always one area of our lives that is the least favorable for us to work on. We avoid it. We ignore it. We dread it. However, failure to work through that particular area is what prevents us from flourishing. If we would push ourselves out of the temporary, fearful, uncomfortable place, we could walk into a permanent, peaceful, healthy space.

In recent years there has been an area of my life that I avoided. I convinced myself that I could get by without working on it. My rationalizations were persuasive. It isn’t that important. I would never—no matter how hard I tried—reach a level of normalcy anyway. I deserve letting that one fall short because I have done so much work reconciling my childhood already.

The beautiful—and sometimes irritating—part of growing and being more authentic is that it eventually becomes impossible to brush off emotional deficiencies. Over time, we grow less satisfied letting areas in which we excel or have handled well compensate for areas we’ve hidden or neglected. Eventually, we can no longer ignore those gapping holes.

The more I grew, the more aware I became, and one day it was impossible for me to continue ignoring the gapping hole in my healing process. I freed myself to feel it and had the nerve to allow someone else to walk that journey with me. It was already scary, but it was increasingly unnerving because someone else was going there, too, and that's yet another source of difficulty—exercising trust and vulnerability. 

In the beginning, giving myself permission to be transparent didn’t seem to help. It actually seemed worse. Sadness crept up on me more often. I hadn’t felt that dependent or needy before opening up. I actually thought I’d regressed so I considered making changes to prevent the sad, dependent, and needy feelings from returning. I was certain I’d made a mistake and was actually mad at myself for thinking that I could discuss that area of my life and get better.

Even still, I couldn't forget how impossible it had become for me to overlook the holes in my emotional health. I forced myself to continue through that uncomfortable phase. What I realized was that I hadn't regressed. I hadn't made a mistake. I was being open about something I previously refused to acknowledge. Of course I had feelings! Working through those temporary feelings has given me permanent clarity. I've become aware and now understand that:
  1. I will no longer make excuses or apologies for my feelings. 
  2. I am no longer conditioned to suffer silently and alone.
  3. I am no longer convinced that it is acceptable for me to be anything less than whole. 
  4. I will no longer make a potentially permanent decision because on temporary feelings. 
Know that you are worth the work it takes to become whole. Recognize that how you feel at the start of a process is not a reflection of how you'll always feel. Push yourself out of the temporary, fearful, and uncomfortable places so that you can walk in a permanent, peaceful, and healthy space.