I have heard from way more than one RA/MC survivor that the 2022 Solstice/Yule/Christmas/New Year’s season has been harder than usual.
It was for me. I have been spoiled by the last two years. To my amazement, I sailed through all the holidays just as if I were not an RA survivor. I still was aware of memories and feelings about my family of origin – dislike of holiday feasts and other forms of jollity and deep disappointment in presents. Of course, all my childhood memories of holidays were tainted by cult experiences. Many gifts were triggers (like taxidermy baby chicks at Easter) or chosen to make me feel fat, stupid, unacceptable, unheard, misunderstood, and unloved.
This year, I was caught unawares around the middle of December. Suddenly, my senses were dulled and it was extremely difficult to enjoy anything whatsoever. Not my friends, not the cat, not even coffee or chocolate. I felt unconnected to others and to everything inside and outside myself.
For about two weeks, I felt like a half-ghost, floating through the days, not thinking about what was coming. Not connected to much of anything, certainly not to my fear. I was in flashback, a feelings-flashback, a flashback to childhood dissociation.
I told myself I would get my energy back after the first of the year, but I woke up on the 28th feeling “normal.” I have more energy and I once more care about my friends and my projects. I have no idea why there was a two-week flashback this year and not last year or the year before. I have no idea if I will greet all the holidays in 2023 with flashbacks or whether I will once again shrug them off.
But I do know that whatever happens, I will cope.
On Comparing Myself to Others
Today’s email starts with these words:
“I’m such an underachiever.
“I don’t have a single world record to my name. Not only that, I have not even attempted one.
“Make it, underachiever and unambitious.
“I was reminded of this when I read about a man named Ashrita Furman. (https://www.ashrita.com/) He has made more than 700 world records. Imagine when the number of records you have made needs to be rounded. To the nearest hundreds!
“Furman has another record I had not even thought about: Having made the largest number of world records.
“That makes me: underachiever, unambitious, and unimaginative.
“…. well, I sit here in my corner of the world, playing with words.
“This week we introduce you to five words that make a record of sorts, let’s call them word records.”
I love this guy, who gives me a word every morning for six days and on the seventh gives me readers’ comments, limericks, and puns on the week’s words.
Today’s word is eunoia, the shortest word in English with all five vowels. (A word record!) It means “a feeling of goodwill” and has inspired a really odd book. https://www.amazon.com/dp/1552452255/ws00-20. Peek inside: you will be amazed.
At the moment, I am not ashamed to say I am an underachiever, unambitious, and unimaginative. Everybody I know is. I may have met a few people in Ashrita Furman’s league, but I can’t recall who or when. And yet I keep scolding myself for not being perfect…yet.
One of my core beliefs is that I am incompetent, not good enough. No matter how hard I try, I will never be good enough. Unless I am the best in the world, I am second-rate.
With standards that high, it is a self-fulfilling prophecy. How would I even know I was the best in the world at something? If somebody told me I was, I would assume it was a trick and they were lying so they could laugh at me when I believed them. And even if it were true, and I knew for sure it was true, I would also know that somebody better than me would come along, and I would once again be second-rate. One little moment of success, snatched away almost immediately.
Looking at this situation with a jaundiced eye, I conclude that it is ridiculous to compare myself to others. It’s a no-win situation, a waste of time and energy, and a drain on my life force. I’ll never be the prettiest, the smartest, the best educated, the most accomplished, the most original thinker, the best dancer. If that is to be my life’s goal, I will fail dismally. It is better to be content with being mediocre.
It’s no secret how I came to believe I was doomed to fail over and over. In the cult, children were set up to fail and then blamed and shamed for not succeeding. We were placed in double binds, and whatever path we took, we were punished for taking the wrong one. Stripped of all self-confidence, our minds were ready to unquestionably obey any order given. We were trained to obey without thought or resistance.
At home, the methods were different, but the message was the same. My mother had a beautiful, accomplished older sister, and, on a good day, she felt second-best. I was supposed to have the life she should have had – or rather, her sister’s life. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way. My genetic makeup was different and I was not born in 1895.
There was less pressure at school – until I got to college. I had chosen an Ivy League co-ed school with a ratio of ten boys to every girl. Standards were high, and competition was fierce. Girls didn’t shine in that atmosphere.
Over the years, I learned to let go of perfectionism. If a job was worth doing, it was still worthwhile, even if it had errors. A typo was not the end of the world. It was good enough, and good enough was good enough for me.
Now that I have lowered my standards, I find I am far less anxious. Instead of being mortified by everything I do, I can take pleasure in it. I enjoy the process and care much less about the finished product. And the finished product seems better to me because it is created in a calm atmosphere, not an anxious, chaotic rush.
And guess what? Now that I don’t compete with others, I enjoy them a lot more. I appreciate who they are and am happy for their success. I like myself more, and I like other people more, too.
In the olden days, I would blame myself for neglecting my cat. If I only paid enough attention to him, he wouldn’t be invisible most of the time. Now I enjoy discovering his personality in the few moments he makes a guest appearance.
He comes up to me while I am at the computer, stands up on his hind legs, puts his front paws on my knees, and waits for me to scratch his chin. Today, for the first time, he jumped up on my lap. He stayed only long enough to jump down off the other side. I took that as a great compliment.
Some nights he comes and licks my neck for a moment. Now and then, he adds love bites. Last night, he crawled under the covers and settled next to me with one paw on my arm. He didn’t stay long, and he was completely invisible under the covers, but it made me happy.
My timid, invisible cat with soft shiny fur and pale yellow eyes is showing more and more affection. It’s slow-going, but that’s good enough. Actually, it’s great.