As a young single mother of 3 sons under the age of 6, I believed that calm was a luxury that I couldn’t afford. I didn’t have the privilege to let myself relax, I had to hold up the whole world, after all. Calm was simply not part of my life, and my whole system was on board with that belief, that my constant running, working, thinking, doing was okay, hell, I thought it was an asset. People would say, “I don’t know how you do it!” and my response was always, “I don’t have a choice…” This was my normal, I didn’t know any other way to live.
At the same time, I felt like I was drowning every day, I pulled off to the side of the road on my way home from work to have a panic attack, at any given moment I was on the brink of a full-blown melt down. I was barely keeping it together, and when I was alone, I felt ashamed. I was ashamed that I wasn’t the type of mom who could sit and relax with her kids. I wasn’t the mom who enjoyed cuddling on the couch and reading a story with them. I couldn’t tolerate the stillness of those moments. I had to be doing something, or I would be a total failure.
Then I was told that none of that was true. Calm was not an unattainable luxury, I was not destined to be spinning all the plates without any real joy, I am the type of mom who can bond with her kids and take time to be still with them. The stories I was telling myself felt so true that I would have bet my life on them. In fact, I did just that for nearly a decade. This information was not easy to accept. I couldn’t let myself believe that what I imagined a good mother, a worthy woman, and a balanced human felt like, was actually a possibility for me. All of those things were part of my life all along. I just didn’t have access to them.
I spent the next several years building my relationship with calm, soothing the panicked parts of myself that kept me running away from stability, learning how to accept my whole self and realize that I deserve to be calm, too. How did I do that? A lot of practice, I learned first what calm actually felt like in my body, I learned what was keeping me from letting myself experience calm, I soothed my fear of failure, and I targeted the trauma that made me feel ashamed.
I still work on this. I choose to spend my downtime doing things that fill me up, I choose to live in the present moment, and I use my grounding skills about a million times per day. The more work I do, the more whole I feel. Through therapy and practice, I’ve built a strong relationship with calm, and I’ve gained compassion for my entire self – including the parts of me that I used to wish weren’t there. Instead of banishing my anxiety, I learned to listen to it, to appreciate it, to partner with it and help it understand that there is nothing to be afraid of. I’ve acknowledged my shame, and let it know that it’s okay to make mistakes, I connected with the younger parts of myself that felt stuck in traumatic situations, and reminded myself that those experiences are over, and that I’m not in danger anymore.
The first step is to define calm for you, think of a place, real or imagined, that would be the most peaceful place you could be.
What does it look like? What can you see? What does it sound like? What are the smells? Is it cool, hot, windy there? When you have that place in your mind, take a second to really breathe it in. Now, what do you notice? What changes do you notice in your body? Is something keeping you from letting go, from settling in? That’s okay, this is just practice.
Try again, but give it time, try to get there for 1 second, then 2, keep building on that feeling, get to know it. You’ll eventually be able to call it up easily, but that takes time. The way I figure it, the time will go by either way, the question is, how do you want to feel in a month, a year, a decade? You have to start somewhere.