The evening has come, my darling is asleep and it is time for the hour I have been waiting for. This is the hour where I can take all that I suppressed throughout the day and release the pain, judgment, and shame. I carefully undress and grab the garment that is assigned for this hour. As I adorn the scratchy material, I go to my closet and grip the leather-bound tool to administer my assignment.
Kneeling in my living room, my skin begins to turn shades of red from the irritation and the ritual begins. I conjure up all the thoughts of failure, of not measuring up, of being inadequate as a mother, daughter, friend, and an overall human being.
I take the whip in my hand as I release the first thought. “No matter how hard I try, I will never be the perfect mother.”<>
Second thought, “You didn’t work out today you fatass.”
Third, “You are a burden to your family.” <whapshhhhh, whapshhhh>
Fourth, “That comment you made in public, sigh, so stupid!”
Fifth, “You forgot to get extra baby lotion at the store today, imbecile!”
Sixth, “Your daughter glared at you when you disciplined her. You must have done it wrong.” ….
The list goes on and on for an hour. One hour is all I get, so I make sure it counts focusing on all the things I did wrong in the past 24 hours.
When the timer rings, I pick myself up, change back into something more comfortable and continue on with my evening.
Ugh. I cringed writing that, and I would assume majority would cringe reading it. However, most human beings berate themselves all day long about how they aren’t measuring up in one way or another. This story, and it is only a story, takes an average day of the negativity that a lot of people recite during their own self-talk and condenses it into an hour of self-punishment.
This is the imagery that forever changed my thought process about how I go about communicating to myself. It started after I was describing to my Equine Therapist, Gary, about how I felt as though I wasn’t feigning happiness well enough in front of my daughter.
I had recently been terminated from a position I worked so hard to get due to my daughter’s illnesses and childcare demands. Honestly, I was depressed. I felt that once again I had to pick up the pieces and start all over. Only this time, it wasn’t just about me. In fact, it wasn’t about me at all. It was about my daughter. I wanted to provide for her and be a woman she could look up to. The termination felt like a failure, even though I didn’t do anything except put my daughter’s needs first.
During a conversation about how I was coping, I told Barry that my daughter had started portraying a lot of “mommy” behaviors. She would stroke her babies’ hair and loved feeding them the bottle. She enjoyed putting them in her pint-sized stroller, grabbing a purse, telling me “buh-bye” and going for a walk around the house. She showered them with kisses, and coo’d at them.
As I was describing her behavior to Gary, I told him my fear that these behaviors were a sign of my own inadequacy. I said, “I’m afraid that she is mothering so much, because she is lacking that in her own life. I’m not giving her enough love.”
Hindsight, I realize how ridiculous this is. Obviously, she learned those behaviors because I treat her with the same gentle love. However, in that moment all I could think of was I wasn’t being a good mother.
This was the birth of the burlap sack. Gary looked me square in the eyes, interrupted my destructive dialogue and said, “Lauren, this is what I want you to do.”
“For one hour a day, and only ONE hour, I want you to put on the most uncomfortable garment you can get your hands on, something like a burlap sack. I want you to wear it for the hour, and during that hour I want you to take a whip and whip yourself in the back during that hour.”
I looked at him perplexed trying to gauge if he was being serious, and then he continued.
“If you insist on beating yourself up, I am telling you that you are only allowed to do it for an hour a day. After that hour is over, then the self-condemnation stops.”
He is such a wise cowboy. He was 100% right. I know in my heart I am a great mother, I am a great friend, intelligent, and able to survive whatever circumstances come my way. Heck, I’ll even thrive throughout it.
I never physically whipped myself (and Gary never intended me to), but what Gary did for me was give me a tangible imagery to attach to the negative self-talk. From that day forward, every time I caught the destructive dialogue begin either for not having my house clean enough, for not taking my puppies on a walk, or even calling myself names for not changing out of my yoga pants the entire day. I would picture the burlap sack, smile at the ridiculousness, and change the conversation in my mind.
The most amazing thing happened from the image of the burlap sack; the things I didn’t like about myself, gradually started to change for the better. I hadn’t realized the shame and guilt was the very things holding me back. The weight of it all was paralyzing.
I’ve heard it many times to love yourself as you would love your best friend. The difference was this thought finally went from my logical mind to my heart, and that is when real change is able to occur.
“I’m kicking my ass, do you mind?!?!?” Jim Cary – Liar, Liar.