This week I’ve been a very busy sex educator, but not a terribly prepared one. This always happens. I get word that I’ll be presenting. I have plenty of time to prepare. But I leave it until the last minute to get my notes together and to prepare a loose outline of what I want to cover. Then throw in packing, finishing up the taxes, my period and a heap of work pressure and I’m pretty primed to be stressed by the time I arrive at the hotel tomorrow and fully drained by Sunday.
This is how I sabotage myself and drive my perfectionism into overdrive mode. It’s a vicious and ugly cycle that keeps me running from one extreme to another. I spend most of my time so amped up and I don’t know what to do with myself when it’s calm. My stress, my guilt, this ugly pattern of high powered ambition matched with crippling fear of failure. Eventually, I stack so much on myself that I’m not fully present either as a partner or a presenter.
It’s just another way to make myself undeserving. My procrastination, my addiction to stress hormones, my anxiety and perfectionism, my insecurities are the manifestations of my fear that I am just not deserving of the success I want in this arena. Because…
If I’m successful, I have to show up.
If I’m successful, I’m responsible for being present within that recognition.
If I’m successful, I have to own it.
When I’m not successful I can avoid it–the responsibilty, the ownership, the risk, and the reward. But that avoidance, the wallowing in the seeming inevitability of failure, is what invites my inner shrew to take up residence and keep me stuck exactly where I am.
The shrill call of the inner shrew
I hate that term in general, but it’s the voice that lurks within all of us that tells us we’re not good enough. “No one is going to listen to you”. “You’re not an ‘expert’ and everyone will see you’re a fraud”. “If you’re not 100% careful, you will get disbarred.” It really never stops. That self-talk that says I’m not good enough or smart enough or gosh darn it, nobody likes me. It’s a relentless critical nagging in the back of my head.
This voice is at its strongest whenever I’m at my weakest. When I’m worn down by stress and anxiety already present in my life, it’s easier for that voice to beat my psyche to a bloody pulp with all its accusations, suppositions and assumptions. So highly critical of my own success, that voice gives me excuses to sabotage myself at every turn. To stay stuck where it’s safe.
Self-doubt accumulates and builds over time. It starts as just a slow drip. An occasional stray thought that goes through your head sounding plausible and rational and then it dissipates. But then the next drop falls and the next, each dissipating more slowly, like each new doubt gains power from the one before it. If I’m not careful, I’ll go from the very reasonable “You really need to double check those stats before the conference” to “Everyone is going to hate you and they’re never going to invite you back and you’ll never date again and die without ever feelings NRE ever again.”
I can go from a drop to deluge to drowning in 10 minutes flat.
As a sex educator, I talk a LOT about self-care. It’s a tool in dealing with the inevitable fuck-ups you’ll encounter along the way. We all make mistakes and have bad experiences in our relationships and sexual expression. Self-care is a great tool to recover and get yourself back out there again.
But it’s just as much about recovering from the moments where our own inner shrew seems hellbent on beating us down, especially in our thoughts and fears about our intimate relationships. She’ll criticize us for needing care. She’ll belittle our attempts to ask for what we need because she’ll convince us that we’re not deserving. She’ll wrap us in indecision and fear of rejection, causing us to stay silent about boundaries or unmet needs. She’ll convince us that we’re not smart, or pretty, or fun enough to be loved.
We steal our hope to protect us from success
It wasn’t until last night that I realized how insidious my own relationship with this voice is. My son was having trouble sleeping before a big day of testing. He was putting so much pressure on himself to succeed, to force himself to perform even if he was already giving his best. It was making him sick with worry and fear.
This is the curse of my family — growing up Latino, I was taught I had to prove myself by giving 110% all the time, every day. It was ingrained in my upbringing, rewarded but not always recognized. Stopping for something as silly as self-care was a luxury and indulgent. Vacations were few and far between. And don’t even get me started on massages, manicures or parties. The point was drilled into me, not just by my Mexican family but by the Catholic Church, that I am not worthy and nothing I could ever do will make me worthy in the eyes of either the mainstream or the divine.
What a depressing and utterly exhausting way to live. So undeserving I felt I was that I purposely threw some of my tests in high school just so others would get awards and not me. I don’t like the spotlight in general, but recognition was far beyond the scope of what I could hope for or want for myself. I just didn’t deserve such accolades. That voice told me that I had to be perfect in all things before I could be entitled to any rest.
To see that reflected in my son–beating himself up in the same sick way I’ve done it to myself, it really hit home.
It’s time to Tame the Shrew
Recently, I’ve had some remarkable experiences where I’ve had to accept that maybe, just maybe I’m deserving of my own success–if I would stop standing in my own way long enough to receive it. I’ve had to start coming to terms with the fact that it’s not the voice that is my problem, it’s the fact I keep listening to the voice and allowing it to lure me away from what I want to achieve. I have been giving my power away to a liar and the thief of my joy.
Back to the context of my current situation: I am 2 days away from a weekend of presentations, connections, debates, potentials, emotional enlightenment and not a small amount of consternation with my family about missing Easter dinner.
Freedom of Choice is my best method to taming this voice. I get to choose what I want for my life. I don’t have to be subject to the fears and victimization that this voice tries to impose. I can choose how to prepare myself and own that choice no matter what the outcome. Should I choose to prioritize self-care over researching that one last statistic, so be it. Own it. Should I choose to write an outline for the Poly Political Agenda but skip doing one for the self-care workshop, so be it. Own it. Should I choose to prioritize a hotel weekend with Warrior and Blush over mingling with new couples, so be it. This is my choice and I own it.
By keeping myself locked up in fear all the time all I do is make it harder for me to achieve the successes that I want. I allow my procrastination to accumulate, the self-doubt dripping down from on high to make it excusably sloppy so that I will never know what it feels like to truly shine in my element. But if I want to be the woman I have always wanted to be, I have to step into that right now and choose to live my life in such a way it drowns out the voice of that indidious, traitorous shrew.
It’s time for me to rule my life as the Queen.