L’sTiF: Break time

I know there’s usually some form of Try It Friday on Fridays, even if it’s a quick note about how there’s no real TiF. Things have been crazy busy, life gets nuts in the summers, and I’ve been struggling just to get the essential stuff done, so it’s been a bit of a struggle to find time for the fun TiFs. I did make a commitment, however, so I feel the need to barge into this space and say, “Hey! You know that TiF that I do on Fridays? I got no TiF!”

That seems silly, though. But I feel like I made a commitment, and what kind of loser can’t keep such a simple damn commitment? One project, once a week. And then I fall into a cycle of shame and guilt which is so typical of me, and yet, is so damaging.

Alastair and I have been having a lot of discussions about shame and guilt lately. We both tend to spiral into it, for various reasons, and I look at him and say, “What in the world do you think makes you such an awful person? You’re amazing. I, however, am a monster!”

After all, I let the TiF slide. Multiple times. I mean… my god. What kind of person does that?

Krissie’s post on guilt the other day got me thinking about it. I feel that guilt is a useless and damaging emotion, but every time I express that, there are always people who come in and say, “No, appropriate guilt, when you do something truly wrong, is good. It’s what keeps us functioning.” And I think that’s where I slide: I don’t have a problem with appropriate guilt. There are few things in my life that I feel appropriate guilt about, that I truly regret. In all of those circumstances but two (in which I didn’t realize my wrongdoing until it was so far in the past and the offense so relatively minor that it was best to just let go) I’ve made good when possible and apologized when I couldn’t fix it, and I’ve been at peace. Those two still niggle at me, I wish I could go back and apologize to the parties, but that would just bring back the insult for them, while making me feel marginally better, and I think I should own my guilt on those instances. I’m actually okay with that.

My problem is shame. Things that were never in my control, but somehow, I hold myself responsible for them. Times when I did my best, did everything in my power, but didn’t get the results I wanted. What I feel isn’t guilt (I’m sorry for what I did), it’s shame (I’m sorry for who I am), and it’s debilitating. Actions can be rectified, dealt with, and set aside. An essential failing in who one is as a person? You can’t get rid of that. It is with you, every day, making life impossible.

I made a commitment to do a weekly post here, and I haven’t been able to keep that commitment. I’m a loser. A sloth. I don’t work hard enough. I’m selfish. I’m broken. I’m Wrong, inherently, at my core, and no matter what I do well, I will always be essentially broken.

Some of you may remember that refrain from my long-ago blog at Lucy March, so you know my stumbling through this dance isn’t because I don’t know the steps. But I still find myself hitting this part of it, wondering how that move is supposed to go. This is where I’m supposed to let it go, forgive myself, not let this failure feel like a confirmation of the fact that I am essentially broken? How does that work again?

Many years ago, before I was even partially aware of how damaging my internal shame was, I was late on a deadline at work. My friend Wanda, in her typical brash Southern swagger, said, “Baby, let me tell you something. Ain’t no little children gonna die if you don’t get that in by five today. Relax. Life goes on. It’s okay.” That hit me like lightning, and I clung to it whenever I failed at anything… which happened more and more often in years to come, as I exhausted myself trying to be good enough at everything to sidestep that debilitating shame. As I missed my targets more and more, the shame took over more and more, until I really felt I was the worst human being on earth, because I got angry when I wished I hadn’t… I crashed my marriage into a tree… I failed to do a TiF by the time Friday rolled around. These are all different levels of failure, but I feel them all as confirmation that I am a failure, not that I’ve had a failure.

I did a lot of work during that year and change on the blog, and some of those things, I have to just repeat the exercise. No little children are going to be hurt if I don’t have a TiF this week. No ReFabbers are even going to care. I don’t need to be perfect. It’s okay.

Seems silly, but there it is. So in coming here to tell you that there is no Try It Friday, I am actually sharing that I am trying something new: Cutting myself a break.

I’ll let you know how it goes…

40 thoughts on “L’sTiF: Break time

  1. Mary M. says:

    Lani, it may feel as though you are repeating the lesson. And in some way, perhaps you are. But I believe life is more like a corkscrew. It FEELS as though you’ve been here before, circling to the same spot (repeating the lesson) but in reality, you are in a different spot up the corkscrew. You can see that old place where you were, but you’re not at that exact spot.

    Just like physical exercise where you can’t get to a certain level of fit and then stop, we also need to be constantly working out our emotional muscles too. Guarding against that spiral downward toward stinkin’ thinkin’. I’m so proud of ALL of you Refab ladies. Your journeys are a testament to just how far you’ve come and just how strong each of you is.

    Much love and light sent to you.

    • Karen says:

      Maybe imperfection is perfection. Isn’t it arrogant to think that humans can be perfect? When was the last time you knew a perfect human being? Never for me. You don’t get brownie point for trying to do the impossible. Sure we want to do the best but sometimes our best falls way short of what we’d like. August 5th is International Forgiveness Day. May we all celebrate by forgiving ourselves.

  2. stephanie says:

    It’s kinda like those times when we felt like we had to prove, as kids, that if we just worked hard enough we were good enough. Then as we got older somehow it solidified. Well, we’re not the Center of the Universe and there’s no Big Comfy Couch there for us to sit on if we ‘win’. In fact, there is no ‘win’. All of life is just ‘do the best you can’, and frankly I happen to think that’s a really good motto.

  3. Just the other day I left a comment on a ReFab post about thinking my way through guilt and shame. So, yeah. But what a wonderful post this is — one, because you are sharing this and I am sad to say I know I am not going to be the only one who can relate, and two, because it is self-aware. It makes a huge difference to know the road one just took that detour on. I think the cycle of shame is worst when we don’t know what it is we’re doing to ourselves — when we just fall clueless into that abyss. Then you are lost in it. At least now you can go, “Well, shit, I fell into this rat hole again!?”

    And I’m pretty sure you know the right things to say to yourself, defining the difference between guilt and shame, etc. I do believe in cognitive therapy.

    However, I also had a Catholic upbringing. Absolution is a lovely thing. I’d confess that I lied to my Mother about doing my homework and argued with my sister, the father would tell me I had to say a Hail Mary and there’d I’d be, my soul all squeaky clean again.

    The way I see it, you confessed (Oh, Nos, No TIF!). Now it’s time for the absolution. No longer being Catholic, I think the corrective to a nasty dose of self-shaming is a big healthy dose of self-love. (Not that Catholics are against self-love . . . okay, that actually sounds worse. Please accept the spirit, ignore the fumbling delivery). So, what’s the gift you can give yourself? I immediately thought of a bowl of chocolate gelato but that’s me.

    I’m a little tongue in cheek here, except for the bit about a gift to yourself that is a conscious return to self-love. You’ve beat yourself up a bit, which isn’t nice; you’ve thought it through, which is wise; you’ve shared your experience with others, which is both brave and generous. But the person you harmed here isn’t any of the ReFabbers, it’s yourself. And that’s who deserves some amend making. So, I’m serious, a gift to the self: “Sorry I just put you through that. You really are a wonderful self and I’m so glad you’re mine.”

    A little litany of all you do right wouldn’t hurt either.

    Then, the next time that shaming voice visits, you can say, “Really? You want to go there? Cause if you do, I’m telling you, it’s a regular orgy of self-love coming up, not to mention some serious self-indulgence. You really want to go there?”

    So, hugs, Lani. We love ya, TIF or no.

  4. wynsoaring says:

    I needed to hear this today! I hadn’t really thought about the difference between guilt and shame. All this time I thought I felt guilty for commitments not kept, goals not made, barriers not crossed, but, you’re right, all this time it’s been shame.

    Wow. I’ve gotta live with that one for a while. Thanks!

  5. Lee says:

    And who says this isn’t a TIF? I think you’re remarkably brave to go public with your experiment in cutting yourself a break! And it’s something that will resonate with many in your audience, judging from past comments. It certainly did with me. Thanks for sharing.

  6. Egads says:

    No little children are going to be hurt if I don’t have a TiF this week. No ReFabbers are even going to care. I don’t need to be perfect. It’s okay.

    Yeah, this.

    Can you cut yourself a break and make it a drive-by Try-it whenever you discover something fun you want to share? Did you promise Krissie a posting day and that’s the problem? If so maybe just do a photo day. You know we love photos. “Here’s the Ohio River this week.” “Look, I have crooked fingers.” “Here’s what the dogs are doing.” “What’s this weed growing in the yard?” Really, we are quite easy to please and happy to help match fabric, identify weeds, suggest what to do with bell peppers and eggs, whatever. We are all just hanging out at Krissie’s place.

  7. Thank God you posted your TiF! I was about to jump off a bridge!

    You know this really does count as a TiF because you’re trying to release unearned shame. Good for you!

    Our coach at work also taught us about keeping things in perspective. She was on the subway once in NYC when a power outage hit. People were freaking out and she noticed one woman who remained calm and smiling throughout. She asked her how she managed to do so. The woman replied, “I’m an ER nurse. This isn’t kidney failure.”

    Not having time to work on a project in time for TiF isn’t kidney failure, sweetie. You’re doing great!

    • Sonja says:

      My favourite colleague always says: “We work in an office and not in a hospital. Nobody dies if we make a mistake or go home early when we’re not feeling well.” That really helps me to keep things in perspective.

  8. I took an e-class on Shame, Love, and Unworthiness by Brene Brown, the premiere researcher on shame in the US. She does TED Talks. She’s brilliant.

    She has two books out: I Thought It Was Just Me and The Gifts of Imperfection. The first one we used in class and is very useful; I haven’t read the second but my therapist says it’s her first.

    I recommend her, either her TED Talks or her books or both, because of her in-depth knowledge of shame and what to do when it strikes.

    And I agree with Egads, except I have no idea what to do with bell peppers and eggs. 🙂

  9. chris says:

    Hey – TiF’s was learning how to cut a break, deal with shame and guilt. You gave us someething.

    Big hugs.

    God I love you!!!

  10. Kieran says:

    I’m glad you wrote about this, too, Lani. I’ve said a couple things lately that I’ve had to back out on. I said I was going to do 30-second videos every day for two weeks. Sounds easy, huh? And it’s really not that hard. But I ran out of time. And I’m messing up elsewhere, too.

    I wonder why we feel both guilt and shame. Does it always go back to childhood? Does it happen when that iridescent globe of innocence we float around in as children is shattered by some ugliness? Is that ugliness responsible for the shame and guilt? Is there a way to avert shame and guilt as we make contact with whatever takes away our belief that we are good? I don’t know. I’m trying to figure out why shame and guilt seem inevitable. Is there anyone out there who’s never had it? I don’t think so.

    I don’t know why it’s part of the human experience, but it is. Knowing that makes me feel less shamed about having shame, LOL!!! It’s going to happen. So is guilt. I don’t have a pretty way to deal with either of them. I think doing what you’re doing–trying to stay aware of their insidious creeping into your day–is all we can do, maybe. But I don’t know. The same way I wish someone would find a cure for cancer, the common cold, and headaches, I wish someone would find a cure for shame and guilt.

    • Amie says:

      I think the only people who don’t feel guilt and/or shame are sociopaths. Although I can’t stand the amounts of both that I feel, I have to say I would rather feel “something” instead of “nothing”. I think having guilt and shame does make us human, and those who feel more are usually more empathic to others (and, for some reason, tend to forgive others much quicker than they can forgive themselves). I know I need to work on how I view myself, but I have noticed the older I get and the more traumatic situations I have to live through, the less shame and guilt I feel.

    • I think the trick is to feel appropriate guilt in appropriate levels for an appropriate amount of time and leave shame behind entirely. Though I just discovered the more times your write the word “appropriate” in a single sentence, the cheesier it sounds.

  11. Shame and guilt: Get thee behind me. We all suffer from it in some way but it comes out in different form. I get so nervous when I’m put on the spot in public. If I have to speak. I sweat and my knees shake and my bottom lip trembles. Talk about an adrenaline rush.

    I know it stems from the shame that my education was not, is not, as good as many other peoples education, (think small town public school, not so great of a student, huge family, no money, self-taught)and now EVERYONE will know. Ha ha.

    I had a major breakthrough in recognizing this by having to write a (just in case) speech for RWA’s golden Heart contest. I prayed that I would not win and my daughter was mad at me. She has so much self-confidence. But doing that, and practicing out loud, helped push back the shame of being less than, and it actually helped me to turn a corner, at least in understanding where the heck those feelings had come from.

    I love your L’stif. (And why do I always think of a randy Frenchman when I write that?)

    • Kieran says:

      Robena, I’m the first one to say formal learning is great, but many of the wisest people I know haven’t gone past the very basics of formal education. Some haven’t graduated high school. But these are good, smart people with more guts and a sense of adventure than many Ph.D’s I know. And that’s not to put down Ph.Ds. I’m just saying there is often no correlation between years spent in the classroom and the self-actualization of a person. This is the philosophy of life you get when you hang around docks with sailors, when you live in a rural, simple part of the world. I’ve sat beneath shady oak trees with old women chewing apple tobacco who haven’t gone past the third grade and can’t read yet are brilliant philosophers. I’ve worked side by side with amazingly gifted people whom the world will never know. There are all kinds of way to reach your potential, and the classroom is only one of them.

    • Caryn says:

      Gee, if your daughter has self-confidence then your education is better than a whole heck of a lot of folks with more diplomas: that’s a huge deal. Come to think of it, my daughter has gobs of it too, so I can’t have done that bad a job, no matter what I may think some days.

      Would it help to know that I scroll through these comments, looking for your posts, just to make sure I don’t accidentally skim past? Yup. Good words.

  12. At a bit of a tangent: also maybe look at how you set yourself up this way. Maybe you need to change your commitment, because it sounds like you haven’t got a yes on it as it stands any more. I think that’s one way we tie ourselves up with guilt and shame: setting up rigid commitments and then beating ourselves up when we don’t stick to them – because our lives have moved on, and we need to respond in a different way now. I’m not being clear: sorry. I think of us all as ripples in a stream – and we have to be able to flow round the bends and rocks. As long as you stay true to your ‘yes’, even if it’s changed, I think you’ll actually be in tune with everyone round you. It always feels taboo to change like this; but I find almost always it’s actually what works best for everyone.

    And obviously, in this case, this is true!

  13. JenniferNennifer says:

    Great topic. I think you have something very fundamental when you distinguish between something one can do something about, and when one is feeling “I’m not good enough”, which is always bs.

    I had a sign at my old job “Men have died, and worms have eaten them, but not for office supplies.” It really helped me stay pleasant with crabby customers.

  14. Dayna says:

    I don’t think I ever realized the difference betwen guilt and shame and your definition really puts it into perspective. I’ve worked on unnecessary guilt in my life with some success, now I’m going after the shame part. Oh, look out!

  15. Cindy says:

    I love this TiF. I need to do this. I think we all do this, the shame and guilt. I’ve been working on doing 1 nice thing for myself every week and not feeling guilty about it.

  16. Maria says:

    I was thinking that our problem is less shame and more how we set ourselves up to not be “perfect” whatever that may mean for each of us. I think we say yes to things too often and we don’t say “no” enough.

    I remember a college professor in an Industrial Design class of all things telling us that the word “No” allows us to govern our lives. I didn’t really understand it back then at the ripe ol’ age of 20. I think I understand it more now.

    My first impulse is to say “yes!” to almost any request. “Yes!” I can take that on and that too and of course I’ll also take on this or that for this or that other person. I do that and then I cannot do the things that I want to do for me. Rearrange my home for my writing, write more, work on daily exercise. I then start not being able to keep all of my commitments to others let alone any of the ones that I’ve made to myself and suddenly, I am back at being less than. All of which could have been avoided with a simple “no, I am sorry but I cannot do that at this time.”

    I think shame is a reminder to me that I need to govern my life rather than say “yes” to everything. People will still like me even if I cannot do everything. It is okay to say “no” and it is okay to say “yes” to the things that I want for me. I guess for me shame is in some ways debilitating if it goes on too long, but when it first hits, it is a reminder from the universe that I need to govern my life and the word “no” is a gift.

  17. Tai says:

    DO IT! (by that i mean definitely cut yourself a break) and thank you for the reminder to do the same myself. I have felt like a useless failure for years because I failed in the really big choices to make in life. I failed to understand myself enough to make the choices that would have saved a lot of heart ache. And why did i fail? Because I was wrapped in a ball of guilt and shame and an endless failure to meet mysterious expectations that I thought I was supposed to know. Since I learned that none of that mattered, I’ve been able to see a lot more clearly. Admittedly, not always on a momentary basis.

  18. It seems to me that broadening your definition of “trying it” to include “trying to cut myself a break” fits right in with the motif of becoming healthier.

    I thought back when you first started doing the TiFs that they seemed really ambitious. A new idea every week? A blog post that requires a project and planning and photographs? If you want to keep going with it, maybe you could make it a little easier on yourself by letting trying it include trying anything new, ie going for a walk in a different place or tasting a food that you’ve never had before or making a new recipe or reading a new author — you could probably do an entire year’s worth of obscure poet posts and they’d be pretty easy. (Poetry might not be your thing, but I was an English major and feel mild guilt about the fact that I’ve never read anything by most of the Poet Laureates of the past thirty years. Someday…) Anyway, trying it doesn’t have to mean making something, right? It just means opening yourself up to the new.

    And if you are currently so stressed that the new is no longer appealing, you could morph it into a TiF that suggests something new for us to try — a favorite food or recipe, a musician, something you love and feel like sharing. Realistically, the chance that I would ever make my own deodorant = nonexistent. The chance that I would try a musician that you like = quite high. So a post about that would be more interesting to me and a whole lot easier on you.

    Or make us do the trying when you’re burned out. Posts that ask what new thing we’ve tried that week?

    I feel as if I’m being very practical when your post was so thoughtful so I hope I don’t sound unsympathetic. My brother and I joke about a personality trait we share, namely reacting to something that is too hard/not fun by immediately trying to figure out how to make it easier/more fun. We’ve both gotten kudos for our creativity, but we know we’re just profoundly lazy. Your TiFs might be more fun for you if you looked for a lazier approach — and really, fun is an awfully good goal for them, don’t you think?

  19. Oh dear. My first thought about the TiFs was OMG that’s a lotta work. Not that I don’t love anything you write, and not that I don’t love reading about your ‘speriments, but jeez, what a lotta work for you!

    Many years ago I worked in trauma surgery at a hard-core, urban warzone kind of hospital. Ever since then, no matter how bad it gets, I will always cheerfully say that at least nobody is shooting at me and/or it’s not a body on a table. (Except that one vacation when I ended up in the middle of actual combat where there was definitely some bitching, but that’s not important right now.) To your point, no kids are going to die if you don’t do a TiF every damned week. If it’s not in you, it’s not. Nothing to feel shame over. Make sure your map fits your terrain; don’t get all twisty and hurting trying to make the terrain fit your map. And all the other brilliant things everybody has already said. Big hugs and love to you, babe. Have a gorgeous weekend with your amazing Scotsman. And a totally non-ironic kumbaya to you and yours 😉

  20. Braless Betty says:

    Hey. Vince. Don’t cut off your ear. The reason you get this way is because you stretch yourself so thin. You are the most productive person I know and you get more done in a day than anyone I have ever met. I on the other hand will probably succumb to death by sloth. My butt has cramps because I’ve spent too much time on the google today researching what the debt ceiling really means to our economy only to find that it’s nothing less than financial perpetual motion and I just wasted a perfectly good afternoon while my piles of chores remain in heaps around me.

    You left out small animals. Wanda always included small animals. It went something like…if children weren’t hurt and small animals didn’t die, then….

  21. Reb says:

    Lani, I have this distinct memory that you started TiFs because you wanted to get your sense of exploration back. Doesn’t sound like it’s having that effect. Is there something else that would?

  22. Micki says:

    Love your TiFs, but to tell the truth, I am very handicapped in the time/space direction, and I don’t always know it’s Friday. Especially once you throw time zones in. I think it’s Sunday here, now.

    Some of the others have mentioned re-vamping your commitment so you can meet it, and I have some assvice along those lines. Now, it’s entirely possible you could get a book of nice tutorials out of this, but from my point of view, you’ve already got three full-time jobs: mom, writer, teacher. If you are going to throw Martha Stewart understudy into the mix, maybe you should take a longer look at your time-line.

    Instead of 52 projects, how about one multi-picture project once a month (or once a season). One project that only requires one picture. One project that’s a “reader challenge” (cut bell pepper in half, add an egg and some ham or cheese, bake in a 350/175 oven until the egg is set, and boom, stuffed pepper). And maybe a link to a project you’d like to try for the fourth challenge of the month. If there’s a fifth Friday in the month, what better time for an update? Sometimes things don’t work out in the long term, and it was fun reading about your hair experiments.

    You can also have an “evergreen” file of shorty-projects you’ve tried (pass or fail) that you can put up when you’ve got a time crunch. It’s summer vacation, and your kids are trying lots of stuff (herb garden), so you could have guest-bloggers.

    The way I see it, the only thing you have to fault yourself for is pushing your limitations a little past the edge . . . and that’s a great fault to have! Failure brings about great posts like today’s post. Failure really isn’t a failure, unless you let it flop around there and do nothing with it. Don’t be so scared of being a failure . . . I’m sure you can look back and see the great things that have resulted because of past failures.

    (LOL, this is turning into a pep talk for myself, so I better continue this on my own files. Hang in there. Thanks for an awesome post.)

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