Martyrdom, Comfort, and Old Dogs

I have never been a friend of comfort, at least not as long as I can remember. But I have a feeling we might be able to get along.

I’ve internalized a voice that sings “Nothing comes easy.”

The complete soundtrack includes: “You have to struggle to get ahead.”

“You get what you pay for.”

“No pain, no gain.”

“You have to suffer to be beautiful”

and other hits.

I’m not saying there isn’t an element of truth in any of them, but somehow along the way my brain overgeneralized the concept and morphed it into the belief that I must be hard on myself, that it was somehow a noble thing, the way it should be done, the path to glory, and living your dreams. I embodied that belief with unequivocal convinction. I became a rock star at beating myself up.

Comfort might be an incidental side-effect, a reward for hard work and self-torment, but never ever something to be sought out.

That kind of internalized thinking takes its toll. It’s hard on the body, mind and soul.

(and now I’m rhymin’)

As I was typing this, an alarm went off to remind me to take some pain medication. I’ve had a flare up of acute pain over the last couple of days, a hat trick of dental chickens come home to roost as a result of procrastination and pandemic shut downs. The pain has been crippling, leaving me feeling like curling up in the fetal position and crying for my mom.

I have a deepened respect for people who live with chronic pain, and deep gratitude for my largely pain-free life.

I was able to see a dentist who assessed the situation and suggested a plan, including doubling the amount of pain medication I had been taking and timing doses regularly over a 24 hour cycle to keep it at steady levels in my system.

This strategy has been incredibly helpful. After two times, I am feeling little to no pain and able to function again. I was able to sleep deeply and through the night last night and woke up feeling like life might be okay after all.

But when the alarm went off just now, my first thought was “well it only hurts a little bit; maybe I should hold off on taking more drugs.”

It only hurts a little bit.

There is a difference between navigating pain as part of an intentional process, or because someone or something is causing you harm, and intentionally seeking it out as a reward for your efforts (also referred to as martyrdom).

Pain is a side-effect, not the goal, and it is most certainly not a reward.

I’m throwing off one of the remnants of growing up Catholic. Goodbye martyrdom. Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.

I already know from experience that I can take any pain life has to throw me and I hope that I’m able to do it again when it inevitably revisits.

But I’m through throwing pain at myself.

I’m writing a new song; “Comfort is healing baby” The title might need work.

I’m unlearning self-combat and replacing it with self-compassion, gradually, and with a lot of support and input from people are writing real self-love songs. To give my body, soul, and even my mind, some ease. To give my nervous system a break from the fight/flight/freeze and downregulate, to give the ego a rest so my soul can regenerate. Maybe they can be friends some day? I bet there’s something valuable in that Somatic Internal Family Systems Therapy book I’ve been longing to dig into.

What’s stopping me? Reading is comfort. Comfort is healing. Healing is my jam now.

It’s all part of the trauma-informed approach to healing. I am a shiny new student in the ReBloom trauma-informed coaching container kicking off this week with a 4 day workshop and continuing part time throughout the year.

As part of the preparation for spending 4 days online together (even a pandemic has a silver lining; this training would be much less accessible to me when offered in person on the other side of the continent in another country) it was suggested that we – gasp! – be intentional about creating ease for ourselves. This might include wearing comfortable clothes, eating healthy, nutritious and delicious food, drinking lots of water and comforting tea, and maybe having a hot water bottle on hand if you tend towards freeze as a response to trauma. (Hello, have we met? I’m Freeze’s Nonna)

I can’t remember if a weighted eye mask was suggested as well, but I’ve used them in spas and yoga classes before and love them. It just never occurred to me to buy one for myself because, well you know.

Meet my new best friends:


I’m off to read now.

Mom and Me (and a bowl of cereal)

Remember that Bee Eye Are Dee my mom and dad were thinking about getting for me for my fifth birthday?

Well, it turns out bee eye are dee spells ‘bird’ and that’s what I got for a present. He was a green and white parakeet and I named him Charlie. He lived in a cage in the corner of our dining room, next to dad’s chair by the window. The cage had a pull out tray lined with newspaper to catch Charlie poop and seeds he scattered.

For breakfast most mornings, I’d fill my bowl with dry cereal in the kitchen and carry it to the dining  room table to add milk and sugar and eat.

One morning, when I was feeling a little sleepy and not quite coordinated, I tripped, knocking the bird cage and my cereal bowl onto the floor.

I guess mom wasn’t in a very good mood. Maybe on second thought, she was in a mischievous sort of mood. Parents are humans too after all.

Whatever, she took the broom and dustpan and swiped everything up, cheerios, bird seed, bird poop, feathers. She dumped it all back into my cereal bowl, slapped the bowl on the table in front of me with a bang and said “eat it.”

Time stood still.

I remember staring at that cereal bowl, a tiny parakeet down feather stuck to one of the Cheerios, wafting gracefully in slow motion in the breeze from my breath. And the smells of bird poop, bird seed and Cheerios.

I don’t know how long I sat there. It felt like forever. I remember thinking, she’s not really serious is she? Was this some kind of joke?

I like to think that this was followed by a second edible breakfast, but I really have no recollection.

My mom lived with cyclical depression and mental health issues. I didn’t really understand that as a child. I just felt that something was not right and, as children often do, I blamed myself. I learned to silence myself, my needs, in order not to upset someone else’s equilibrium. Most of the time that someone else was my mom.

I learned to put others’ needs before my own, and I used this strategy for most of my adult life.

All I knew back then was that my mom wasn’t always there for me in the ways that I needed her to be. I got the silent message that my job was to be there for her, to take care of her, and I took on that role with fervour and skill.

I was reluctant to shed the role of parent and go back to being a daughter in the times when she was feeling stable and well. As you might imagine, that in itself was a source of conflict.

I have the greatest compassion for my mom and the life she lived without adequate mental health resources to support her. She was a brave, incredibly strong survivor who did the best with the circumstances she faced. She experienced discrimination and isolation and judgement and shame because of her mental health issues.

My mom brought a lot of joy and music and laughter into my life. She shared a fierce and loyal love with my father that I held as my standard, unwilling to settle for anything less.

I know how much my mom loved me. I cherish my memories of the smile that brightened her face every time I showed up to visit unexpected. She thought I was the most beautiful daughter in the world. I know this because she told me often, and I believe she believed it.

Whenever I’d complain about the behaviour of a male colleague or co-worker, she’d reply “Well it’s obvious isn’t it? He’s in love with you.” Every single time, and there were many. I suffer no delusions about her accuracy of assessment, but it says a lot about the way she loved me, and I cherish that.

I am proud of myself for entering into a personal journey that allowed some healing of our relationship over the years leading up to my mom’s death in 2019. A couple of years before, on her 80th birthday, I thanked her for teaching me the meaning of unconditional love. I wrote it in a card and watched her read it across the room. I know from the light in her eyes and the smile on her face that she heard me.

Mom and me at 10 in 1971

I have learned to forgive my mom. I’m learning to forgive myself as well. It’s a layered process. I get the sense that mom learned to forgive me too.

I am resourcing that incredible strength of character and unconditional love I’ve inherited from my mom, and I am grateful.

I’m learning that putting my own needs first allows me to have something to offer the world. I’m learning to reparent my inner child and to walk more gently in the world. I’m learning to redraw personal boundaries. It helps to feel less alone. I’m learning to love myself and love life.

I can tell you, though, that at the age of almost 60 years, I’ve never eaten another bowl of cheerios, and most likely never will.

One day a while after the Cheerios incident, Charlie caught a cold and got all puffy and didn’t live much longer. I’ve never really felt the urge to have another bee eye are dee either.

Just sayin’

New Year, New Thing

On New Year’s Day, buoyed by the enthusiasm of my online community, I signed up for a 30 day yoga practice.

I appreciate the benefits of yoga for my body, and eventually even my mind and soul. It used to bring forth a LOT of anger in me, until I discovered (attracted?) teachers and practitioners who were more focused on true well-being and health rather than marketing, profits and spin.

I live in a large body, arthritic, menopausal and in a fair bit of inflammatory pain a lot of the time. Day 1 of the 2021 30 day practice left me feeling excluded, frustrated and sore.

It felt too fast for me and offered no adaptations for people with bodies like mine. I felt the shame creeping in. I “should” be able to do this, and if I can’t it’s because there’s something fundamentally flawed about me.

Not allowing myself to drop completely into the freeze and despair of shame, I remembered a week long introduction to Body Positive Yoga from Amber Karnes that I’d tried earlier in the spring of 2020.

I remembered feeling seen and heard with Amber’s practice and guidance. I was able to settle into poses feeling grounded, stable and strong, some for the first time ever.

So I looked up those practices and went back to yoga challenge day 1 armed with my own adaptations. There’s something about a square peg and a round hole that comes to mind here, but yep. That’s what I did.

On the way to finding the intro to body positive yoga, I came across Amber’s post on Accessible Yoga Training website: “Stop postponing your life until you lose weight.” I recommend reading it in its entirety, but this hit home:

“Dominant culture teaches us that there is a hierarchy assigned to bodies. Beauty standards (who is considered “beautiful” and who is considered “ugly”) are based on this foundational belief: that some bodies are inherently more valuable or worthy than others. Thin bodies are valued over fat bodies, white bodies are valued over black bodies, able bodies are valued over disabled bodies, young bodies over old bodies, and so on.

All this is predicated on an extrinsic lens or external gaze: other people’s perceptions of your body and where you fall into that hierarchy.”

The crack where the light gets in was almost audible in reading that post.

Why the hell was I trying to force myself into a body box that doesn’t fit or serve me? Or follow it with making myself feel like shit because I didn’t measure up to a standard I DON’T EVEN VALUE.

Because for all of my life, I was never able to accept or love my body just as it is. Too curvy, too bulky, too tall, too short, too wide, too thick, too slow, too stiff, too feminine…

I’m pretty sure I wasn’t born thinking that way. Like many of us, I’ve internalized arbitrary standards of health and beauty imposed by systems and those dominant cultures that have nothing whatsoever to do with health, inclusion and love, and everything to do with control, and exploitation.

And because I’m pretty good at whatever I take on, I internalized those voices and made them my own; I made myself my own biggest enemy.

I embodied everything predatory, judgemental and exclusive about the systems and cultures I was raised in and rebel against, and turned that artillery on myself. Hiding, covering up, and not participating in places or activities where I didn’t see bodies like mine. And resenting every second of it.

Even if they were present, I could not fathom how anyone who looked and moved like me could love themselves. I was envious and jealous of them that could. That envy and jealousy has transformed into appreciation.

Why didn’t I just join the Body Positive community last spring when I did the week long intro and felt so good?

It wasn’t about money. Because I can tell you that between then and now I spent at least the cost of a year’s subscription on quick fix programs that triggered my shame and promised “results” (and yes, I have slipped into beating myelf up about that as well.)

Why didn’t I just sign up for what felt good? Why couldn’t I offer myself that gift?

Because I saw it as giving up, giving in, admitting failure at not being able to someone I never was, never even wanted to be, at the same time as feeling inadequate and imperfect and wrong, at the same time as hating myself.

If you’ve stuck with me this long, you’ve probably guessed that I unsubscribed from the first 30 day challenge and joined the Body Positive Clubhouse.

I’m continuing to practice with my friends who are doing the original 30 day program, but I’m doing it in a way that fits and serves me – not just my body, but my mind in heart that are in need of healing as well.

Interesting: when I shared how the program wasn’t working for me, a couple of friends said they felt that way too, for different reasons. So we’re committed to supporting each other for 30 days in the practice that works best for each of us.

It’s a small step towards learning to love myself, just as I am. A little more than two weeks until I turn 60. About time.

When I was finishing up the practice I chose for myself today, I felt like there was just too much quiet in the video towards the end and opened my eyes to look at the screen. I found this:

And I knew I was in the right place. For today, it feels good, and I’m in for more of that.