Ever since I can remember, I’ve justified the glorification of ‘busy’. A young mom at 21, I quickly got used to the pace and juggling act of life. By 26, I was divorced with two little ones under 5 and went back to work full-time as a solo parent. Once I got a handle on that, I started performing and playing music publicly as an Artist. When that wasn’t enough of a load, I went back to school in my 30’s finally feeling I had it all under control to get the education I felt I’d missed in my 20’s. This led to entrepreneurship and over the past 5 years, I launched my media company. It’s still in its infancy but the seed has been planted and business is sprouting.
Obviously my path has had its twists and turns but the one thing that has been constant is I’d try to up what I thought was life’s success by carrying more and more. Living, I just seemed to pass through the decades but when it’s written down to be read and I think about the magnitude of what’s involved in each of the pieces of the pie, it’s a lot. But humans are malleable and they adapt. The longer we live, the more reasons we have to keep the boat afloat.
Something happened though. Probably in the last few years when stakes were high – when a degree was on the line, when my music started taking off, when my kids became teenagers… I went into autopilot. But more of a Tasmanian Devil autopilot. I became a robot; I became a droid. Think of a spring, tightening gradually over time until it’s wound so tight, it snaps. The weakest part of it gives and it flies out of its vice with uncontrollable force and gets lost. Or was there a better way? I needed to Detox from Droid. Allow me to expand.
By Jan 1 of this year, I found myself at the busiest time of my life, or so it felt. Finishing up my internship for school, planning trips abroad, working pretty much full time as a freelancer, juggling parental responsibilities and all the while managing on a tight budget. It seemed all under control except one thing. My health. Everything was under control. Except that.
When we glorify busy, something always slips up. Whether it’s our relationships with other people, part of our business, our health or even our credit line if we are ‘too busy’ to remember to pay the bills. Think about a sound wave. A wave has a beautiful, thick sound when it has enough headroom to breath and levels jive but take away that headroom and it clips – it becomes limited, making it sound horrible. In life, we have to respect the headroom we need to function or our lives will be limited and clipped.
Long story short, I’d hit my limiter. My life was clipping. It was time to fix the mix.
The first thing I did was give up my favourite vice. Alcohol. With my health not being in tiptop shape, I knew it was the one thing I could take out that would help better things. Red wine used to be my weakness and I’d love to indulge while being creative. I’d never considered it a problem but when faced with a pile of medical tests, I guess I kind of freaked out and wanted to take out anything negative from my world. Red wine was first to go.
Detoxing was a bit tough at first. Headaches, muscle soreness, I was sleepy, I had flashbacks of childhood memories like in the movies as if I was on an acid trip – even though I’ve never done acid. During my detox, mind you, I also cut out sugar and most all caffeine; I quit gluten and drank juice with beets in it. Everything changed and changed fast and the one thing missing was the wine to deal with it all. THAT was the hardest part about giving up alcohol.
As adults, we get so used to ‘grabbing a drink’ or bringing a bottle of wine. We get used to having a beer after a stressful day at work and a glass of wine before bed. We get used to self-medicating to relax, mentally and physically. And now, here I was trying to put the puzzle pieces back together without my constant companion, my go-to joviality. Going to clubs changed when I ordered a Red Bull instead of my former vodka-cran. I still slip up sometimes out of habit and have to correct myself – ‘No, sorry, just a cranberry and soda, please.’ Making music changed because the places in my mind where I used to roam free and uninhibited, I had to blaze new trails to get there. When things got stressful, the first thing I’d think of was how a glass of wine would chill me out. This lasted about 3-4 months, until my new habits were my normal habits and ordering a drink would be weird.
Secretly, I’d really started to enjoy my newfound sobriety. It felt good to think clearly again. It felt good to have new ways of handling life. It just felt better all around.
Here’s a little thing about our bodies. Not only do they react to physical toxins put into it, they react to emotional toxins.
I’m the best at collecting those.
School was important to me and always has been. I like my As and +80%s. My friend Anri put it right – ‘I always try to do my best so I can be the best.’ She and I share this same innate drive. So I take my projects seriously. Very seriously. Deadlines are my friend, instructions – I love, the setting of expectations, making things unfold, seeing hard work pay off – that stuff is like going to the race tracks for me. Not just in school, in everything. But when you take things too seriously, or everything too seriously, you put your body in a constant state of anxiety. Your appetite is affected. Your sleep is affected. Your thought process is off. You’re distracted. Your cells start collecting stress (toxins) in them. All the times you worry about things you can’t change, all the times you push it too hard, all the times you don’t take care of yourself because you’re ‘too busy’… You poison yourself.
What good is a physical detox if you’re not willing to put in the mental legwork to bring your mind up to speed as well? I’ve read a lot of ‘healing’ books recently and one piece of advice that keeps coming up is having the ability to say no. If you’re being pulled in a dozen directions at once it’s hard to knuckle down and focus on where your genius lies.
“Take a look at your to-do list and say no to at least 3 things that do not serve you.”
How many times do you say yes when you know you should say no? And then you do it grudgingly or it doesn’t work out and you find yourself ‘I told you so’-ing yourself with a pile of self-imposed guilt knowing you knew better… There are millions of people looking for a yes. No matter how desperate the cause, someone will always say yes. So it’s ok to say no.
I used to be the ‘yes girl’. Yes to everything and everyone but one person… Myself. Running here, running there, spread so thin but still feeling a rush from seeing things to fruition. When you’re a droid in autopilot, you get caught up where the winds take you and if you’re not careful, you’ll end up running out of gas and way off track.
Don’t get me wrong; I have taken great pleasure in anything I’ve put time and energy into. There are zero regrets. But something happened when I was laid up taking care of my health. I couldn’t do what I’d said yes to. Life threw me a hurdle I couldn’t jump over and I couldn’t make do on my promises. While in autopilot, I kept collecting a list of things to do like that yellow sticky tape collects flies in a woodsy cabin. But I didn’t account for my cabin burning down. And during my restoration process, I had to take note of what I was working with and be realistic about what I could deliver. I had to start saying no.
At the beginning, it hurt. I wanted to say yes like I wanted a glass of wine before bed.
After a bit, I noticed immediately my sleeping habits changed. I didn’t wake up dreading all the things I couldn’t get done from yesterday because things were handled. I noticed I had more time to spend doing things that I loved, with people I love. When my schedule became more manageable, my brain did too. And my muscles followed suit.
I used to live with the mindset,
“Will this matter in 6 months?”
When caught as a droid in autopilot in the eye of the storm, I forgot to ask myself this. When you think your plane is going down, everything matters, everything is important, everything is on high alert. But the fact is you have to snap out of autopilot and take control of your flight path and when you do that, it’s like the little isle lights in your head go off, lighting the pathway to escape.
Where do you want to go? What’s your final destination? What are you doing to stay on track? What’s distracting you and compromising your path? Consider letting these things go.
A wise friend said:
“At the end of the day, when work is done and the kids are in bed and the house is cleaned and you’ve done everything that needs to be done for others, how much time do you have for yourself? Not much, right? That limited time is precious.
Be sure to spend it on something you love, on something that will serve you… be sure about how you spend it, it’s all you’ve got.”
When we say yes to everything that comes our way, we say no to ourselves. I got over my mound of yes’es. ‘The bear went over the mountain… To see the other side.’ Now I say no to almost as much, if not more, than I say yes to. When I would have considered it selfish before, I now consider it necessary. When I used to think it was ‘the best opportunity ever’, I now realize there can be better if I hold out or play my cards right. If I’m honest and only pour myself into things I can deliver with all my might, it brings my nose up and back on track on my flight path.
One of the most deadly toxins I think we can muster comes from our own self-talk. By beating ourselves up for things not going to plan, by guilting ourselves, by setting ridiculous standards for ourselves that we’d never expect anyone else to live up to… We are culprits to our own self-sabotage. When you start keeping track of how many negative thoughts you send your own way each day, or how often you side with a critic against yourself, all the times you say you could have done better or should be farther along or could be doing more…
Our self-talk is crippling. It’s warped.
It’s like the bully that never shuts up. If we told our friends about this ‘person’ who speaks to us this way, what would they say? Undoubtedly they’d tell you to cut that hurtful person out of your life, that you’re so much more, that their criticisms are way off base…
So do that. Shut up your inner-asshole.
It’s already hard enough to live life balanced, day to day, semi-happily, and productively fulfilling. Then we throw in a mixture of our inner-mother speak, that boss who had it in for us, the kid who made fun of us in 3rd grade, the teacher that dismissed our ideas as too wild, the ex that never understood and the passive aggressive corner store owner who always gave us the evil eye. The mélange is different for everyone, who makes up our inner voice. Things happen throughout our lives that make us doubt ourselves and as time progresses; we are bound to encounter negativity from others. The saying, ‘sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me’ is so far off. Words hurt, even some given with the best of intentions. Humans have a hard time absorbing the good. Compliments are usually hard to accept, we get bashful, make excuses as to why it wasn’t better, etc.
“Oh, it’s so good to see you! You look great! And I’ve been keeping up with your work, you’ve really come a long way…”
“It’s great to see you too! Sorry my hair is in such a wretched state and I’ve still got so far to go with my work, it’s nothing right now….”
Why do we do this? Why can’t we just say,
“Thanks! Great to see you too! Let’s have a shortbread.”?
Because we spend a lot of time telling ourselves the things we need to fix – based on our own opinion – versus the things that work. We try living up to the expectations we create in our minds and can never deliver because our self-talk is made up of a whole lifetime of stinging words that hurt. When we have down times as we all do, our defences are down. We are open to suggestion from the one person we’ve come to trust, ourselves. And what do we do? We shit on ourselves.
It’s one thing to want to impress your parents growing up, or be sexy for your partner, get promotions at work, etc. We all want to stand out. We accomplish a million things over in the grand scheme of things. And who rides on the coattails of our victory over hurdles overcome? The inner critic who is constantly saying we don’t measure up. That is toxic. Cyanide conversations at midnight.
“Not me!”, you might say.
Think of the last time you went to do something big, like really big and brave. Who was your biggest critic? Who presented the biggest block? Who made you doubt the most? Was it you?
If your best friend were in an abusive relationship, what would you tell them? Would you allow your friends to talk to you the way you talk to yourself? Would you keep your self-talking self as a friend? If you wouldn’t tolerate someone talking to you like that, why do it to yourself? Abusive relationships are toxic and the hardest one to shake is the one we have with ourselves.
When my life was ‘clipping’, I felt guilt.
“Why aren’t you done this yet?”
“This could be better”
“You should have done it this way”
“You really think they’ll like it?”
“You need to keep up”
I started keeping track of all the times in a day that I would scold myself, even if it were just in passing, disguised as a reminder to do something on my to-do list. But this pressure just added to life as a droid on autopilot and when I listened to this little voice in my head, I allowed myself NO TIME, NO SPACE… NO ALLOWANCES to ‘just be’. And if I broke my stride, the pressure mounted with the scolding.
I had to detox from myself. I was like a broken record in the moments I was alone, telling myself I didn’t measure up or some variation of that. And I wouldn’t consider myself someone with low self-esteem; it was that innate desire to push myself to do my best, to be the best. Who was I trying to be better than? An unrealistic expectation I had set for myself.
My Detox from Droid now included 3 things.
- Stop ingesting toxic substances from the outside.
- Remove things that no longer serve you.
- Change the toxic self-talk from the inside.
Much like a physical detox comes with its negative side effects so does an emotional detox. But once you get a grip and you catch your equilibrium, you reap the benefits of a clearer head, less anxiety, priorities come to light; you learn to know what to let go and what to fight for… Emotional detox helps our bodies in a physical way and this is why I took it so seriously. Whatever I could do to get a clean bill of health, I was willing to do.
Reading books was a positive way to rid my mind of emotional scum buildup. When I’d start to feel negative self-talk lulling my brain, I would go back to reading one of my books that echoed optimism, matched with a bit of tough love. Why shouldn’t I do something proactive to better things versus entertaining the thought of giving myself shit for no good reason?
One particular book that stands out is The Big Leap by Gay Hendricks.
A girlfriend had recommended it when I was lamenting to her about things going tits up and if there is one thing reading this book did, it was kept me focused on what I wanted out of life. Once I had established WHAT IT WAS exactly I was working for and what I wanted out of life, as long as I took care of my health and made some changes in the way I rolled, I knew I could attain my goals and live the things I had only dreamt about. It was like the books I read were a crutch when I would have fallen over in self-doubt. I’m not ashamed to say it. Books are wordy shamans I visit when I needed a pick me up.
I’m almost 9 months into my Detox from Droid now.
Early summer, I got good news that my health concerns were under control and no further treatment was needed. Friends brought over de-alcoholized champagne to celebrate.
I was sticking to my guns despite the clean bill of health and decided to keep alcohol out of my life. What’s the point in being given a new chance if you’re going to go back to what you were doing before? I’d come to realize that without a healthy body, nothing was going to happen. You could have a beautiful Porsche body but you still need the engine to turn over. Our bodies need upkeep but it’s so easy to forget when you feel fine.
My schedule started to free itself up enough so that I could remember what I liked to do. Yes, me, Amber. Not the performer, not the mom, not the student, just me. Without the impending list of what I was supposed to do, I started doing what I wanted to do. There’s a freedom in that which I can’t describe. You go through a period of almost being forlorn without your deadlines and demands, post-partum, in a sense. Then something magical happens. By letting go of excess weight, you catch an updraft and you start to fly at a different altitude, your altitude. You start actively flying your plane and the droid in autopilot starts slipping away.
When I took control of the wheels, the surly self-talk seemed to be quelled and the most common self-directed chitchats nowadays are just getting any doubt in check. My head is clear. My schedule is manageable and fulfilling, I’ve accepted I’m not pizza and can’t please everyone and through all this settling dust, I’ve caught sight of my real goals, the golden egg of my dreams.
Why did I take the time to write this?
Because maybe there are others out there who just need a reminder that to live, to really live, we have to switch out of autopilot, Detox from Droid and get a grip on life. I don’t even remember when I started being less human and more robotic. I blinked and all of a sudden I had a Go-go Gadget life. It had to change.
I knew I was becoming more human again when I started taking the time to go on evening walks to literally smell the night flowers. I knew I was becoming more human again when I could sleep all night without checking my phone. I knew I was becoming more human again when I could deal with conflict without using my former vice. I knew I was becoming more human when I was able to express the same amount of compassion towards myself that I would express towards others.
I knew I was becoming more human because I became happier.
9 months is enough time to grow a human baby, imagine how much growth we are capable of? A baby is locked up tight in its womb, safe and sound in the perfect conditions to grow big and healthy. Just like in pregnancy, my steps to Detox from Droid put me in my own safe womb.
- Stop ingesting toxic substances from the outside.
- Remove things that no longer serve you.
- Change the toxic self-talk from the inside.
I’m no guru. I don’t have all the answers. I can preach from a mountaintop about what has worked for me but we each have our own Choose Your Own Adventure life to lead. One thing I do know though is that just when I thought I had it all figured out, life showed me I was just its passenger and it had different plans for me. It shook me and made me stop and take note, it made me take control.
I think there are a lot of us out there in autopilot, going through the motions. We are afraid of greater heights because that could mean a nosedive. But flying low, to be safe, will just bring the mountains closer to your engine. Changing what has become a comfortable way of maneuvering is scary and hard work. You could take the same proverbial way home each night, you’re able to do it in your sleep, but if danger presented itself on your route one night, you would forge a new way.
So forge a new way.
The new habits I’ve been creating are working. How do I know?
I feel human again.
Cover image from here: http://s1322.photobucket.com/user/DegasFig/media/Droid/Broken_Lover_zps79073e11.jpg.html