When you think of living “clean”, do you immediately think about your diet? Does the term “clean” bring up thoughts of organic, locally harvested fruits and veggies? Maybe you picture free-range chickens or meats free from antibiotics or making sure that you use BPA free containers or giving up aerosol cans. For most people, clean living entails an awareness about what is being consumed and striving toward eliminating toxins. Yes! These are great goals, and it is proven that accomplishing this will lead to improved overall health.
Clean living, as I teach it & preach it, includes a healthy diet (you are what you eat!), but in a much broader sense, “clean” living refers to a lifestyle of authenticity. Authenticity requires honesty. Honest about your wants, your needs, your feelings & your behaviors.
Living a clean life is the result of being honest.
MY JOURNEY BEGINS
The last seven years of my personal journey has been in service of finding authenticity. After the birth of my daughter, the walls closed in. What was anticipated to be a joyful and magical time, was beset with a level of anxiety, depression and panic I had never experienced before. While I have been aware for decades that I “run a bit on the anxious side” and I had experienced a few depressive episodes, I had never fully conceptualized just how intense these feelings could become. Old wounds that I had spent years learning to sublimate, bubbled to the surface as I stared into the wide, trusting eyes of the human I had created. What did she want from me? And how in the hell was I supposed to give her anything?!
I can still clearly recall sitting in the shallow, lukewarm bathwater, soaking my battered and exhausted body after an epic nine-hour delivery, while my family gathered around a Thanksgiving feast and shared blessings and joys from their year. I could hear their jubilance from my isolated state of limbo – I was paralyzed with fear. How could they be so happy and carefree while I sat solitary in my panic and misery? This was truly the most disappointing and lonely feeling I had ever experienced in my life. Where was my carefree joy, my overwhelming love, my sense of connectedness? I felt like I had been ripped off, tricked, duped. My supposed happiness and unconditional love for my new baby was nonexistent. I felt nothing but fear, panic, anger, guilt, and sheer terror. And it only got worse.
Whether I was unable to breastfeed because of the stress, anxiety, or depression, or possibly those emotions were exacerbated by not being able to breastfeed, things quickly spiraled out of control. I sat alone with my hungry child unable to give her what I had always believed to be the most natural thing in the world. Why didn’t my body just do what it was supposed to do? The guilt!
I suffered while she suffered; she was losing weight and I feared for her health. Doctors told me “This can happen” and sent us home with formula and feeding contraptions. But I never got answers, I never felt comforted or understood, and my negative thoughts and self-loathing multiplied.
Thankfully, her tiny little ship righted itself. She took to formula and bottles easily. She put on weight, grew in the typical fashion, and continues to be a healthy, happy, and well-adjusted child today. But her mother? Wowza! My story took a different turn. My own ship, with tattered sails and leaks in the hull, careened toward rocky shoals as I floundered helplessly to gain any sense of control.
Victim mentality had never been an option for me. The lesson bestowed upon me throughout childhood was that no matter what, despite the struggle, you do not give up. You fight. You take action. You get off your ass and DO something, anything, to gain some modicum of control. The concept of just sinking further into the mire was never even an option. So, like always, I chose to fight.
HOW DO YOU FIGHT A FEELING?
Conceptually, fighting depression or anxiety sounds reasonable. In reality, fighting your emotions results in a big ol’ mess. That is because you are trying to aggressively fight something intangible that cannot be wrangled. Emotions exist for a reason! And, just like energy, they cannot be created or destroyed. We can evoke emotion, but we do not create emotion. It is a part of us that exists at birth and grows throughout life; we simply learn to conjure, label, channel, sublimate, deny, or express these beautiful little gifts.
Think of your emotions like a family where you are the parent and they represent your children. When one of my children is hungry, they speak up. If they are having an intense thought or reaction, they raise their tiny fists in revolt. They need attention. They are asking for help. Have you ever tried to ignore a child?? They don’t just go away; they will get louder! Kids do not rationally recognize that their parent may be engaged in some other activity, and maybe, they should give them some space. No! They will tug at your hem, they will stomp their little feet, they will scream and shout. Maybe they will hold their breath until they pass out, and you mistakenly think that you got a reprieve, but they wake up and start screaming again. You cannot ignore your children. You cannot ignore your feelings.
What would you say to someone that effectively ignores their children in this manner? Would you commend them on being able to avoid listening to them, congratulate them on their skillful neglect? NO. You would be mortified for those poor children. Children deserve to be seen and heard! They require nurturing support and love. For them to grow to their true potential, they must be recognized and appreciated. Once this is accomplished, your children will calm and quiet.
So why do we spend so much time and energy ignoring the screaming child?
Most people mistakenly believe that denying emotion is a strength. There are several theories as to how this came to be, but ultimately, it is just plain wrong. It is just flat-out incorrect and dangerous to continue perpetuating the assumption that NOT having feelings makes you strong.
When you hear, see, or read about a neglectful or abusive parent, do you praise them for being able to deny their children basic needs? When someone shares with you a traumatic story of neglect from childhood, who do you view as the villain, the parent or the innocent child? You are doing the same thing to your own emotions. Neglecting your feelings is not strength, it is fear. Ignoring your emotions does not make you powerful, it weakens you.
True strength and power comes from recognizing, processing and addressing your feelings. It is not about fighting the feeling, it is about accepting and embracing the feeling. This takes a level of honesty and vulnerability that many people want to avoid. They are so fearful of this exposed discomfort that they find innumerable ways to avoid it. They continue to smoosh down any feeling that dares to speak up, falsely believing they are being strong in doing so. You will not know true strength until you look within yourself, get honest about your feelings and, only then, taking action.
CLEAN LIVING 101
I get it. Let me tell you, I did all of this too! I learned to quiet my “children” and avoid unpleasant emotions. I wrongly believed that avoiding negative feelings would result in happiness. “Just ignore it until it goes away”, was my motto. But those children wouldn’t shut up! I had to find ways to quiet them. So I fed them junk food, I gave them alcohol, I distracted them with toys and activities. But they were still right there, in my shadow, crying out to be nurtured.
It became easier to recognize once I became a parent to an actual child. I am NOT suggesting that you cannot heal or learn this lesson if you are not a parent! In fact, if I could do it again, I would strive to learn this BEFORE I became a parent. But once I looked down into the eyes of the baby cradled in my arms, I could finally see that a parent’s job is to provide unconditional love. To love every part of that baby, with whatever challenges, differences, or perceived ‘flaws’ they may have now or in the future. And I realized that I deserved that too.
Our feelings fuel everything we do or say or think. Feelings come before thoughts. It happens in a flash, but I assure you, it is true. Assessing the feeling before taking action is the key to living an honest, clean life. Without awareness of our true emotions, we do not clearly understand our motivations – this is how people can lash out and hurt others. Being unaware results in pain and more discomfort. The power to live clean completely lies within yourself.
When I finally recognized how unaware I was, I was able to make a change. Becoming a mother was the catalyst I needed to do something different. Pushing down feelings and thinking strength came from ignoring emotions was no longer an option. The way I had been living could no longer work as I moved into parenthood. The depression and anxiety were clear messages that something had to change. So, I sat in the discomfort.
After 36 years of silencing my internal children, it took all the strength I possessed to let them speak up. And, boy, were they loud! But I recognized them all. Each little kid that had something to say got a chance to voice their needs. And I nurtured and loved each and every one of them (even some of my uglier kids like Jealousy or Rage).
I continue to let my internal emotional children talk. Every day I get in touch with what is happening inside of me, and I let the honesty of my emotions power my actions for the day. I step into each day with a feeling of lightness knowing that my motivations are a genuine reflection of who I am.
Loving yourself unconditionally, the way you should love your child, requires complete honesty. You will be required to turn your thoughts inward. You must have insight. You have to reflect and meditate. You will be required to ask yourself difficult questions and offer honest answers. It WILL be uncomfortable. Especially if you have never allowed this level of earnest self-awareness before.
Like raising chickens and planting an organic garden, it is challenging and exhausting, but in the name of clean living, isn't it worth it?