On self-improvement

Posted on March 15th, 2023 @ 20:30 in Uncategorized

I hate the constant drive for professional improvement prevalent in our culture (or, mostly, American culture which spills into ours). Be more productive, become more efficient, do one thing better, grow your business, never just sit back and do your job, you know? That said. I do chase improvement. My goals are different, more personal, and in fact have a lot to do with slowing down and taking a deep breath. But I am also not static, I constantly try to work on myself (more or less successfully), and I would probably get frustrated if I stopped trying to evolve.

And while I have quite a clear grasp of my shortcomings, I mean, areas for improvement, I can also acknowledge that I am a much better, saner, healthier person now than I was in my 20es, my 30es, even my early 40es. I was a raging alcoholic for eight years, until I got sober in 2010. Then I was a sober alcoholic with an otherwise unhealthy lifestyle, until I started therapy in late 2010, and started exercising and eating healthily in 2012. (Not coincidentally, I also went into self-employment then.) And then I was a health nut, but still full of anger and resentment and not exactly emotionally stable. I worked on that over many years of therapy, and in 2015 I added meditation into the mix. This, too, is a constant work in progress, with long periods of stalling.

In 2016, I moved into a house and had an emotional setback in that my neighbour was a violent psycho who beat up his girlfriend, and I spent basically 18 months in a state of constant anxiety. It was bad, people. The decision to move back to Luxembourg (instead of moving house within Brighton) was absolutely driven by fear, one I knew I would regret even as I was making it. It wasn’t just driven by the psycho, but all the other “reasons” I made up were hugely amplified in my mind because I was in such a state of panic. But I did return to therapy – again – and explored issues I had previously been unwilling to face.

I moved, and even though I dreamt of Brighton every. single. night. for about six months (and still do about once a week now), I got to know and appreciate Luxembourg, a country I had so long associated with everything that was horrible in my life. There was a time I couldn’t set foot on the ground here without breaking into tears. Now, I can’t imagine losing my beloved forests and lake. And I am getting on reasonably well with my mum, which even ten years ago would’ve been unimaginable.

And then I met a guy. I, who had not been in love in over ten years (tho I was still pining after my kryptonite Charlie), fell head over heels, and GOOD LORD was there a lot of growth in store for me. First, there was a major shock as I discovered feelings I had never experienced sober. Feelings I hadn’t thought I was capable of sober. This was deeply disconcerting. I hated it. And so back into therapy I went, to deal with all this turmoil, and to learn to deal with all this grown up emotional stuff that comes with relationships, which I’d never had to face.

Being incapable of healthy attachment, being a needy, highly volatile emotional disaster, who was terrified of abandonment and flew off the handle at the tiniest imagined slight hadn’t been a problem, because I didn’t do relationships. (Was there a causal relationship there? I’d argue both these aspects have a common cause, but one didn’t cause the other.) Suddenly here was this guy who said hey, why not give this a try (the adorable fool!) and I loved him and he was so sweet and gentle that being mean to him was just so painful. But lashing out was the only thing I knew.

And so I had to unlearn that, and it was an intensely turbulent, agonizing time. It often felt like I was making no progress at all, even though my therapist kept telling me how far I’d come. But here I am, out on the other side, and would you believe I did it, the stormy seas inside me have calmed. Oh yeah, the SNRI also helps!

Am I a perfect human now? Far from it. I see in myself continual impatience, high sensitivity to and low tolerance of sensory inputs, poor emotional regulation and an incessant tendency to focus on the negative (among other things). But I am working on them! I want to be a better person, for this cute guy who deserves better than what I can currently give him, but also to make it easier for myself to live in a world full of people, and hopefully be better to those people, too. Even those who don’t deserve it. 😅

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