Overcoming your inner demons
Today's post is darker than anything I have shared on this blog before.
But, death is sobering. And death makes you think about the things that matter, and keeping my "face" is not even in the top 100 things that matter when you are reminded of your own mortality.
I wrote this one day that I couldn't sleep, I guess there is a part of me that wants to go out there and heal everybody who has ever felt this way. But hey, I gotta start with myself.
So here it goes...
Growth is simple.
It is a variation of the same concepts. The ability to see, take a step back, and react, over and over again.
In science, it is called the scientific method. Spiritual folks call it mindfulness. Psychologists call it cognitive behavioral therapy.
If it's so simple, why do we suck at it? Why am I unable to let go of unproductive thoughts and habits?
It is difficult because we have been doing the same routine for so long that we cannot recognize ourselves without it. We become attached to our demons, to the thoughts and feelings that drag us because we think they are real.
Here's the thing: they are not. Accepting this can take years, if not your entire life.
So we believe the demons, their existence, and their validity. We cannot see beyond that, because we do not know of another reality, we cannot even imagine an alternate world where these thoughts do not exist.
Still, we seek help, we listen to the advice, and at the same time we are incapable of opening up to this alternate world where we are not eaten up alive by our own thoughts.
If you are not able to see this, how can you grow? How can you grow past the thoughts and emotions that are limiting you?
People tell you to just "stop". As if your brain had a leaky faucet that just needs to be fixed.
I understand that feeling. The solution is supposedly in front of you (just do some meditation and exercise!) but it all smells like bullshit to you. You try things, like journaling, working out, eating better. It helps, but it doesn't get to the root of the problem.
And that's because you are holding on to the validity of your demons. They need to exist, and you give them more power than they actually have.
Here's the thing: you can try all the methods out there, and they won't work unless you are willing to part with the idea that your thoughts and emotions are not real.
I have an honorary PhD on Being Hard on Yourself, so I know how difficult it is to sit with that sentence...your demons, whatever they may be, are not real. Yes, they make you cry. They make you act in self-destructive ways. They don't let you sleep, be present, feel love towards the reflection in the mirror.
I can repeat it over and over, that they are not real, and that won't make them go away. I have learned that you need to take the power away from them, take back the power that you have given them until you are able to look at these thoughts and emotions as something that exists parallel to you. They are not you, you are not them, they are just there, for whatever reason. Eventually you get to appreciate them, and see that they are there to teach you something. But not today.
Today, you just need to stare at that MOFO in the eye and tell it: I SEE YOU.
Give it a name, so you can see it for what it is.
"Oh hello Gertrude, are you here today to tell me what a worthless POS I am?"
"Ah! That's Depression. It comes at least once a month to try to convince me that none of this is worth it."
"What's up, Anxiety? What sort of shit are you going to stir up today?"
Give it a face (or a shape)
There was one day that I was so "overwhelmed" (depressed, really) that I tried to imagine what the contents of my brain would look like if they could take a shape. The image came to me instantly. I immediately saw a broken box of wood, full of snakes. Heads and tails sticking through the cracks, but they were not trying to escape. A tangled mass of angry snakes, their bodies brushing against each other, their bodies growing with each negative thought and emotion. I was sitting on top of the box, and I looked so tiny in comparison, so fragile and insignificant.
Taking a Step Back
For whatever reason that you may or may not understand at the moment, Gertrude and the box of snakes are there and they are making life more difficult than it is. Take a step back by separating that demon from you. That's why you need to name it, and give it a face, so the next time the darkness comes it does not consume you. It merely shows up at your doorstep, and you let it in because you got some shit to sort out together.
How does that look like? Are you sitting together in your living room? I am still sitting on top of the box, the snakes banging their bodies against the sides.
What exactly is this thing trying to tell you?
Is it telling you that you are useless?
Is it telling you that you are not worthy of love, success, a good relationship?
Tease that out, no matter how painful it is to do that. I bet that you are proficient at this, you are a PhD like myself and you know quite well what your demons are trying to tell you.
At the beginning of this article, I said that growth is being able to see, take a step back, and react. I lied.
Growth is being able to see, take a step back, and CHOOSING HOW TO REACT.
This is where you and I have had trouble in the past. We know our demons quite well, and we know the impact they have on us. Our reaction is a knee-jerk reaction. We embrace them blindly, without a question. We let ourselves be beaten down by the voices in our head.
Today, you CHOOSE.
You choose to accept that this is going on, but you also choose to defy the voices.
You choose to look for evidence of the contrary. Is it true that you are useless? Didn't you just get a promotion, a compliment from the boss, or finished a degree? Didn't you just help a friend in need?
Even if it is still hard to accept that the voices are not real, even if it's hard to trust the evidence against your inner critic, you choose to believe that this post is unto something. Breathe. What is inside you is not real. It's still a bit difficult to accept, but you choose to believe it is not real, because the alternative is self-destruction (if you are not growing, what are you doing?)
Once you are able to get to this point, you can crack the shell that is preventing you from growing. It will take repeated attempts, combined with healthy habits, mindfulness, meditation, exercise...but this is the first step.
Let it go. You'll find that you are so much more than these inner voices.