Saturday, April 12, 2014

Recovery, Then and Now

Before, recovery meant focusing on all my mistakes. 

As a result of being homeschooled, indoctrinated and sheltered, I saw my poor life skills result in real world consequences. Starting from the day I left home, I lost friends, I misinterpreted situations and conversations constantly, I lost professional development opportunities and distanced potential allies and mentors, I despaired at the complete lack of romantic interest from anyone. Most people were too baffled by my all-consuming incompetence to care about whether I had good intentions (here are some of the gruesome details if you're curious).

When painful rejections happened, I carefully analyzed what I was doing wrong and tried to fix it. I learned to constantly monitor my performance, to slap my own wrist and adjust course. It was a way to survive, but in the process I started to be cruel to myself. I was constantly telling myself that my appearance and personality and feelings and insights were not good enough. At first this message was reinforced by rejections from people around me. Over time my relational and life skills improved, but my self-perception didn't.

Now, recovery means learning to be kind to myself. 

I have successfully learned how to make friends, be polite, play respectability politics when useful, even appear professional for short bursts of time. I have to say, I learned a lot of this with the help of Mean Sara. I'm not angry at her, she was doing her best. But it's time to retire Mean Sara. I've learned everything I could from her.

Mean Sara won't be happy with me until I'm perfect. I'm not perfect, and I never will be.

I will always mess things up. But I have survived some pretty colossal screw-ups, and I will survive my future screw-ups too. Luckily, my mistakes now are usually not so extreme and costly. My life is actually a lot less destroyed than it could be by growing up super-sheltered and controlled by fundamentalist ideas. I have a job I like, a caring spouse and friends. I am doing ok.

But I think kindness and patience is what I always deserved, even in the beginning when I was screwing everything up right and left.


  1. Yes. This is true for me too, even though I was raised on the other end of the political/religious spectrum.

    I have been doing some reading about complex trauma, and this phenomenon is described there as well (for example see The field focuses mainly on trauma in childhood, but I've found it helpful for thinking about my experiences as an adult.

    I think not many people understand that it's possible to be so unprepared for adulthood that normal interactions involve frequent embarrassment and shame, and dread for the inevitable situations when someone becomes offended or angry despite your best efforts. Or understand that the consequences of inadvertently offending/angering someone are a lot bigger when you don't have the social skills to mitigate the damage.

    If I had been able to obtain effective external support with learning social skills, I don't think I would have needed to develop a "mean me" at all.

  2. Thanks so much for your comment - the link was an interesting read. Unfortunately the inner critic as director of a horror movie is pretty apt for me, but I think it's gotten better a little with time. I agree that it could be a lifetime battle though.

    Sometimes I am proud of myself now when I manage to be a little mouthy or let my filter slip a bit in carelessness in a conversation. It's silly but it feels like progress.