A Conversation with the Voices in my Head

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Let me introduce you to my new friend.

Went to a yoga class last week. It was awesome, the first one I’ve been to in forever. It also happened to be at the end of a three day juice fast AKA get-off-the-caffeine cleanse. More on that later. It was at the end of class, when we lay down in Sivassana, or Corpse pose, flat on our backs with our eyes closed, that the voice started talking to me.

“It’s no use, you’ll never relax,” the voice taunted. I looked and I saw him, there in my head. A little man, a bit like a gnome, a miniature tweaked out stress freak. Greenish wrinkly skin that accentuated every bone in his wiry body, big bugged out wicked-looking glowing eyes.

I sighed. “You again,” and I felt my body tense up, fighting gravity, resisting the gentle lull of letting go.

Then I remembered something I read once by the Vietnamese Zen teacher Thich Nhat Hanh. I can’t find the exact quote, but the basic idea is to invite your challenging feelings in for a cup of tea, figuratively speaking. Welcome them into your home and embrace them.

“Come on in,” I said, “Have some tea,” and I whipped up an imaginary magical sedating elixir.

He stood motionless, eyeing me suspiciously.

I held his eye contact steadily, consciously working to see past his appalling presentation, because I know he has something of value to offer me. He has to. “You know, you don’t have to be so stressed out,” I said. “I know it’s your job and all, but you don’t have to do it.”

“Lady,” he said, shaking his head, “You gotta stop sending me mixed messages.” And he took a sip of tea. “Yum.” He exhaled and relaxed. I relaxed.

I reflected on that. There is something in my subconscious mind that believes I need to be stressed out, that I need to try so hard all the damn time. And that part of me calls this tweaker to do the job, and he makes my life hell.

The other part is the caffeine habit. I find myself having such an attachment to caffeine, such an impulse to consume it all the time. I sometimes believe I need it to function, that I can’t just let myself get through a wave of tiredness, relax and rest into it. The caffeine summons this little green mean machine, as well. He comes and fills me with energy, which is great. But then, when it’s time to wind down and rest, he’s still there, contracting my muscles and chasing my thoughts around in circles.

Always on. Always up. Always energized.

Exhale. I gave the stressball a refresher on his tea. “You’re right,” I said. “I do need to work that out.”

He drank more tea. I relaxed more deeply. “This is nice,” he said, reclining on my chaise lounge. “I could get used to this.”

My body melted further into the floor. And I remembered that the bliss of relaxation is so much more deliciously fulfilling than the high of adrenaline.

I decided on my new mantra: EFFORTLESSNESS

I poured a cup of the tea for myself and drank deeply. Slow inhale. Long exhale. “It is nice. I could get used to it, too.” I turned to the green man and smiled. He smiled back, a slow lazy smile.

I closed my eyes and all thoughts disappeared.

Awesome photo credit: http://www.tumblr.com/tagged/central%20africa

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Accept Myself. All of myself. And drink the damn coffee. Or don’t.

“Do I contradict myself? Very well, I contradict myself. I am large, I contain multitudes.”

                                                      –Walt Whitman

I’ve been noticing a lot lately all of the ways I judge and castigate myself. How I somehow have this underlying belief that I need to be perfect in order to be worthy. How I often “should” on myself, about small things, actions that don’t matter so much in the long run. I think it must be a holdover from my Puritanical ancestors, but all I can say is, I am ready to stop.

And I think I may have an idea about how to do it.

Do you sometimes find yourself doing this? Maybe berating yourself for that extra bite of chocolate, or shaming yourself for having feelings of neediness? What is it for you?

I’ve been drinking a lot of coffee lately, and recently decided I need to cut it out completely. Whenever I make a decision like this, I immediately start obsessing on whatever it is I am not letting myself have. I convince myself I am having withdrawal symptoms, I get depressed, lonely, I WANT. I fantasize about the taste, the warmth, the giddy caffeine rush I will feel after drinking some of this godly nectar.

And then, when I break my promise to myself (which is eventually inevitable), I feel ashamed, like I don’t value myself enough to be 100% controlled and basically…perfect.

It’s a strange game to play with myself, this all or nothing. What ever happened to moderation?

As I went through this internal battle, this back and forth talking in my head, I suddenly remembered something I learned from a training I attended with Bill O’Hanlon, called Resolving Trauma without the Drama.

And I said to myself, “It’s okay if you drink the coffee. It’s okay if you don’t drink the coffee.” So simple, yes? And I felt immediately better, because really, the more important thing in my life is not whether I drink a little bit of coffee. The more important thing is feeling okay with myself, accepting the decision I make, realizing it is a choice, not an action I am forcing myself to take. And then, surprisingly, my obsessive thoughts about how I just NEED some coffee lighten up a little, and I start thinking that maybe I don’t really need that coffee after all.

Think about it. Someone tells you that you HAVE to do something. Do you want to do it? Of course not, even if it is the absolute best thing for you to do. And the more passionately someone tells you that you HAVE to do it, the more deeply you dig your heels in and decide that you most definitely do not.

Then, imagine that person saying, “Well, of course you don’t have to. I just thought you might like to try, but it’s up to you.” And then maybe something shifts inside you. You may start thinking that maybe, just maybe, you want to try what this person is suggesting.

The time to use this inclusive validation work is when you:

  1. Find yourself saying you “can’t, shouldn’t or won’t.”
  2. Find yourself saying you “have to, should, or must.”
  3. Encounter resistance (internally or in relationship).
  4. Experience inner conflict.
  5. Struggle with compulsions or obsessions.
  6. Feel ambivalent about something.
  7. Feel shame or a sense of devaluation.
  8. Encounter bigotry, negative stereotypes or negative projections (internally or in relationship).

This is how you use inclusive validation: 

  1. Give yourself permission to do or not to have to. For example, I tell myself I should really exercise more and eat less. And I get down on myself for having such weak will-power and being so lazy. Then, I stop, and tell myself, “I can exercise today and eat smaller portions, or I can live with the extra pounds and indulge in some yummy, healthy food, and I can stop worrying about hitting the gym today if I really don’t feel like it. And that’s okay. There ain’t no shame in this game!
  2. Include seeming opposites. This whole practice may seem hypocritical and non-committal, and it is, but at the same time, it’s not! It looks like I’m copping out and will never meet my goals and therefore never feel good about myself. But, really what I am doing is giving myself some breathing room. By going away from my goals, I move closer to them. This also applies to emotions. If you feel stuck in an emotion you don’t want to feel because it doesn’t feel good, or because you don’t think you should feel that way, you can say to yourself, I can be mad right now, and I can be sad and scared, and I can be happy at the same time.” Because life is complex. Nothing is cut and dry. Consider this quote from poet Adrienne Rich. “Anger and tenderness-my selves. I can believe they breathe in me as angels and not as polarities. Anger and tenderness-the spider’s genius. To spin and weave in one moment anywhere. Even from a broken web.” 
  3. Exceptions: That’s the way it is, except when it’s not. For example, it’s always good to have a healthy diet and exercise and get plenty of sleep. Except, sometimes I need to stay up all night drinking and dancing, and eating whatever I want. Why? Because this renews me. It’s a break from the ordinary. Another example, it’s important to be open with people, and not hide parts of yourself. Except when you have a secret you want to keep. Because it’s yours. Because it represents that other part of yourself, that shadow self that we all have, and that’s okay. You can keep it a secret as long as you want to. Because it’s yours.

And that is essentially what this work is all about: bringing light to the shadow.

Your shadow. The shadow as termed by Carl Jung coined, referring to all of the disassociated, unowned parts of ourself. The devalued, inhibited, suppressed, should-nots. The parts that, undealt with, turn around and bite us, acting as intrusive thoughts or compulsive, self-destructive actions. The parts that, when integrated, give us great strength and wisdom, that thank us for finally recognizing them as something other than monsters, the parts that, when finally un-shamed and re-valued, make us whole.