The Confession Prepping Demon

The other day I summed up 2017 as “The Year Zoot Learns How Terrible She Is At Adulting”, and it is no joke y’all. None of my errors have been catastrophic, but I’ve screwed made some Adult Sized errors lately and it’s sent me into non-stop shame spirals where I just beat myself up until I’m hiding in a parking lot inhaling donuts before I pick up the kids from school.

You know, because I need to look in the mirror, see the almost 30lbs I’ve gained in the last year and remember, “Oh yeah – I cope with shame by eating! This is the corporeal evidence of my failures.”

Now…the thing is…I do have the voice of Kind Zoot also in my head who tries to temper the negative with some positive. It’s not always enough to prevent a spiral and lately it’s not even enough to keep me above “stable” some days, but the voice is there reminding me of the good I do in the lives of my friends and family to counterbalance the failures.

And it hit me this weekend as I was trying to drown out the self-hate and listen to the voice of Kind Zoot…This is how the Catholic Church broke me.

Everyone talks about Catholics and guilt issues and I definitely have those to spare…but I’ve never really felt like that summarized the scarring in my soul from growing up Catholic. And this weekend it hit me: It’s not the guilt…it’s the focus on failures.

You see…I loved going to Confession as a child because it gave me a clean slate and as soon as I walked away, I was pure again and I could do my best to stay pure indefinitely. Of course, that never worked because – you know – we’re all human. But I always tried to go “X” amount of time without sinning. And the fact that I could barely last a day without telling a white lie or gossiping, always shattered my soul. And since I would have another Confession to attend at some point, I would keep track of all of these sins so I could make sure to get them all absolved in the future.

At some point I learned that you could ask God for forgiveness for your sins in your prayers and it would almost give you a clean slate so I started doing that in middle school. I started praying every night for forgiveness by listing my sins and failures and then try my best to go all day without gossiping or telling white lies or coveting or lusting and DO YOU KNOW HOW HARD THAT IS IN MIDDLE SCHOOL? It’s terrible. So every night I would contemplate my sins and work the next day to do better.

I remember this feeling SO VIVIDLY – the incredible desire to NOT FAIL. I would start “fresh” after I prayed, or after confession, or after Mass (there’s an absolution prayer during Mass) or after a church retreat or event – I always loved that feeling: NOW! Now I start with a clean slate and NOW! Now I will do better. NOW I will live without sin. And then part of my brain would be saved for keeping a tally of my sins since that last absolution.

This even continued into my adult non-Catholic years. When I studied Buddhism for awhile I tried to let go of the wants and needs of my ego and I would tally up the failures. (Which, ironically, is also a failure of ego.) In the late 90s, I found myself answering an alter call at a Baptist church revival where I begged for forgiveness of my serious sins (I had advanced much further than white lies and gossiping) and felt the cleansing power of that forgiveness again…only to still allocate part of my brain for remembering sins thereafter.

In my head I was always tallying my sins for my next Confession. Even if I knew there was no Confession in my future.

Do you know what I never ever did? I never trained myself to tally good. I never focused on the positive I put into the universe. There was no part of my brain set aside for tallying the kindness I spread or the joy or the love. There was no part of my brain keeping track of charitable actions or forgiveness. There was never a voice saying, “Yes…Kim…you gossiped just then, but you also helped your teacher clean erasers. That was nice.”

It was just me keeping track of failures so that I’d have my list for the next Confession.

And this…THIS is the demon I fight every day. The Confession Prepping Demon. I can forget wrongs done to me over the years much easier than I can forget my own failures. I can forgive hurt caused by people in my life much sooner than I can forgive myself. There’s a part of me constantly logging all of my mistakes, as though I can’t let go of them lest I forget how truly sinful I am.

Yesterday. This hit me yesterday. I’m 41-years old and I just realized that the darkest part of my soul, the one that I’m constantly trying to rescue, is the one in perpetual preparation of Confessing her sins.

But the other voice is there. The one that tallies the good. I tried to listen to her a little bit yesterday…and I even encouraged her to maybe talk about some good from my Childhood. I often jokingly tell the horrible stories of joining clubs centered around hating specific girls in our class, and about how I ditched my Dad at a movie theater one time because I was embarrassed, and about how I used to hide behind the bushes at recess to make out with my boyfriend in 7th grade…I have permanently engraved those stories into the solid folds of my long-term memory.

But wasn’t I also sometimes kind? And helpful? I tried to get the Kind Zoot voice to reflect on my childhood and teen years and it was hard. Every time I thought of something good, I remembered ulterior motives, selfish motivations or sought after rewards tainting the memories of good. I have evidently chronicled every moment in my past – even the good ones – by also logging how they were sinful. I used to go to church with my maternal Grandmother and I thought about how much she must have enjoyed that, but then I reminded myself that I started doing it because she went to the later service where that boy I had a crush on would sometimes show up.

I can’t seem to let myself remember the nice without also remembering the thing I would have called a sin when I was Chronicling my actions for Confession. I mean, I lusted after that boy, so that totally counterbalanced the good I was doing attending Mass with my Grandmother, right?

Thank you Catholicism, for teaching me how to remember all of my sins and to never allow myself pure moments of self love not tainted in reminders of sins.

Today, that changes.

Today I’m going to burn new habits into the recesses of my brain. It’s not going to be easy because there’s a lot of instinctive behavior I’m fighting against, but I am no longer of the belief that I need to confess my sins to a higher power, why am I still logging them? Why am I letting the moments of kindness and charity fade in my memories while I crystalize the failures for eternity?

I think I’m going to start today by physically writing down the good things I do. I mean, even the mundane stuff like…so far today I’ve made my kids lunches and I’ve walked the dog. THESE ARE GOOD THINGS. I don’t deserve a ticker tape parade or anything, but they are actions that deserve attention and focus more so than the screw-up with my taxes or the credit cards or the missed deadline or incorrect print order. I can do nothing to fix the mistakes from my past but I can try to let go of them and celebrate the good that I do instead.

Today, I stop prepping for Confession and start chronically the beauty I create with love and kindness.

Just. Don’t.

Every weekend – it seems – there’s a different school in my area having prom. This means my Facebook feed is filled with beautiful photos of kids dressed their best for a night of magic. And without fail – every weekend – I see random comments snarking on wardrobe choices. Thankfully, these were all friends-of-friends, but STILL. These were all adults disparaging the outfits of teenagers.

“What a lovely photo. And all of the girls in this photo are dressed classy unlike others I’ve seen.

Oh really? You’ve seen pictures of teenage girls dressed for prom and you actually allowed yourself to assign a level of “class” to them based on their dress? REALLY? What – exactly – is a non-classy dress? I’m dying to know what a teenager has to be wearing for her most special night to make you think, Uggg. So classless.

“Who is the girl in the white?” “That’s so-in-so’s girlfriend, she’s from a different school I don’t know her.” “Uggg. I just can’t believe the parents don’t mind their daughters wearing those midriff-baring dresses. It’s so slutty.”

Good for you, lady. Good for you for seeing a photo of a lovely girl in a dress that shows LESS SKIN THAN HER BATHING SUIT and you commenting on her characters negatively because of that. I’m super-proud of your boldness and your willingness to stand up for purity everywhere…I hope that message gets back to the parents.

“Is there no dress code for Proms anymore? I can’t believe how many two piece dresses with slits to the thighs I’ve seen! It’s so sad!”

Yes. That’s what’s sad. Not the unfair and unrealistic beauty standards our media places on our girls…Not the double standards we raise our girls with defining “slutty” verses “studly” with their male counterparts…and DEFINITELY not strange women feeling like they are doing the right thing by criticizing the appearances of young women. Nope. None of those things are sad. Only the lack of a dresscode at prom.

Listen, I get it. I’ve seen girls wearing shorts that are basically underwear and my instinctive thought is often: Oh, NO! That’s not appropriate! But that’s our reaction based on these bizarre and unrealistic definitions of class and beauty that media and society have defined for us. SQUASH THOSE INSTINCTS. Don’t add power to those perceptions by actually TYPING THEM OUT ON FACEBOOK. Instead, think about what the world would be like if we would quit judging young girls based on the clothes they wear. If we would quick shaming girls for their wardrobe choices. Instead, what if we taught girls the value of loving the body they were given and the thrill of dressing it in a way that makes them happy. Do you know how often I like what I’m wearing? ALMOST NEVER. If a young girl leaves the house feeling good about herself and loving her body? She is 100 steps ahead of me…no matter what she is wearing.

We need to be examples and we can’t let these comments be heard or read by the girls who know us. We must celebrate self-love and worry about a girl more if she seems sad than if she’s underdressed. And let’s watch it with the double-standards. We need to guide our girls to love themselves as a full package and as a real human body and we can’t do that if they hear or see us snarky on “classy” levels in their peers. Let’s just refrain from critiquing any clothing a young woman wears unless she comes to us and says: Tell me the truth, what do you think?

And while we’re at it…let’s not snark on people’s appearance at all. Let’s not make comments about whether someone should be wearing a white triathlon suit, let’s not comment on someone’s weight gain, let’s not discuss someone’s fashion choices. Let’s make appearance something we NEVER DISCUSS because even though the person you’re discussing may never know, the person you’re saying it to will. I am scared to wear a bikini because I’ve heard too many women make derogatory comments about overweight women in bikinis. So your words might not have made it to the person you were mocking, but they made it to me, and now I can’t try on a bikini without hearing your voice in my head.

All of your words have power…but especially words discussing another’s appearance. Those words have terrible ripple effects. Women are raised with unrealistic expectations. We live in a society where half of my Facebook feed is ads for anti-wrinkle cream and now the wrinkles I never noticed yell at me every day and say: YOU ARE OLD. Your comment about how anyone who wore “THIS ITEM FROM THE 90s” should call you about wrinkle cream makes me embarrassed now whenever I smile in a picture.

Comments on beauty and fashion and appearance echo in the ears of the insecure for years after they’ve been spoken.

Keep them to yourself.

Raising My Standards

I’ve been thinking a lot about a term I’ve heard more and more in the last several years: Microagressions. It’s usually used in terms of how we slight members of marginalized communities. How we’re all a little racist or misogynist. Since that term has entered my vernacular, I’ve noticed a lot more subtle bigoted behavior. This has heightened my awareness of these small behaviors that are often just subtle way to be…well…mean.

Most of us probably look at ourselves as good people. We come forward with donations when a community member needs support, we offer condolences when someone experiences loss, we suffer sleepless nights after global tragedies. And I do believe all of this is good. I know that by those standards I’m very good. But…the more I have looked at my life the last few years, the more I have noticed my own tendency towards small slights of other people (these microagressions) – and it’s making me take a harder look at how I define “good” in my world.

I think the rise of social media and the ensuing surge of stories of terrible people has allowed us to excuse ourselves more and more for smaller slights. I mean, I haven’t gone on a racist rant in the middle of a store and told a person with brown skin that Trump is going to kick them out. But I’ve seen no less than three similar videos of other people doing that since the election. I mean – that asshole is a TOTAL RACIST. And because I see that type of behavior shared out regularly, I have defined that behavior as “bad” and by default myself as “good” without recognizing the smaller negative acts I may commit daily.

You know how we all have an increased fear of kidnappings because our media allows us to spread stories of kidnappings regularly so we feel like they’re common? I feel like the same phenomena is happening with “evil” behavior and we are now looking at these videos of terrible people doing terrible thing and using THAT behavior to define “evil” and by default the rest of us are “good”. But you know what? When I really think about microagressions or small slights, I think I’m doing a disservice to myself and to others by setting the bar so low to be considered good.

So I’m taking time to think about things like my retweets. That’s probably an area where I give myself the most “buffer” area to be mean. I don’t usually use my own words to slight others, but I sometimes laugh at the words other people use and therefore retweet them because I think they’re funny. And somehow – even though they’re mean – I remove any responsibility for them because they’re not mine. Sometimes there are tweets insulting Trump supporters or Christians and they kinda hit home to me and make me laugh so I retweet them but that’s kinda dickish, you know? I mean, do I get to absolve myself of the harm they do because they’re not my words?

I mean, it’s no secret that I dislike Trump and I’m trying my best to be proactive in fighting his agenda. But I think that can be done without being mean. And let me clarify: I DO NOT THINK ALL CONFLICT IS MEAN. I think it’s important in the scope of history and change not to tender-step all of our conflicts. But I do believe there’s a way to be “mean” that isn’t remotely productive and sometimes I retweet that type of stuff because – I’ll admit – it makes me laugh.

If you can’t see that image above it’s a tweet I retweeted that says: “Seriously. Donald Trump addressing Congress feels like a fever dream I had after I had my gall bladder removed.”

And it made me laugh. So I retweeted it.

But then I started thinking about how when people posted stuff like that about Obama I got my feelings hurt. I mean, it’s one thing to say, “This policy is terrible and here is why:_____________” But it’s another thing to say, “This guy on my TV doing his job is giving me terrors…” Do you see the difference?

I’m not saying because I retweeted that I am somehow evil or mean. Or not “good” by some definition. I’m just saying that I am not really looking at my actions alone because compared to the greater scope of the internet…I’m freakin’ Ghandi!

And I know this is the time where a lot of people like to say, “Don’t be so hard on yourself!” And I’m not beating myself up over it, it’s just a new perspective I’ve been adopting lately. And honestly? It started with noticing small microagressions from other people that hurt my feelings. Small slights/jokes people make against liberals and their “snowflake” status, or about atheists, or Obama supporters, or feminists. Those tiny comments from otherwise “good” people that prickled my sensitive heart. My reaction to small slights from other people just heightened my awareness of it, and am trying to think about how words have power, not matter now “small” they are.

Just because you’re not standing from a rooftop screaming, “Liberals are ruining America!” doesn’t mean you’re “accepting” of all different political views. Just because you’re not changing your Facebook Cover photo to “F*CK TRUMP” doesn’t mean you’re helping mend the political divide in our country. I just feel like I’m letting myself get away with snarky behavior because it’s not as bad as some, but when I’m on the receiving end of that same behavior? It stings. So I’m reevaluating how I define “good” in myself.

And it’s not even just: “IS THIS MEAN?” It’s also, “WHAT IS THE POINT?” When I leave a comment or make a tweet – is there a point? I mean, it’s okay to just be silly, half of the shit I write online is just silly. But sometimes I find myself playing the, “Me too!” card in a moment that belongs to someone else. Like if someone writes a Facebook status about something difficult and instead of providing them comfort, I take the open door to talk about MY OWN similar problem…what is the point? Is this what the person was hoping for? No. They wanted comfort. Sympathy. How can I provide that without making it about ME?

I’m trying to remember that words have power, even if they belong to other people. I’m trying to remember that being “good” is a spectrum and just because I’m not on the “evil” side, doesn’t mean I’m 100% on the “good” side either. I want to go to bed at night proud of who I’ve been and not worried that I may have hurt the feelings of someone I respect. I want to be confident that I put more good into the world, than bad. I want to feel like I did my best at being kind.

I want to raise my standards.

Faith.

I’ve been thinking a lot about Faith. When I was privately suffering from depression as a teen, I had Faith that God still loved me even though I didn’t love myself. That Faith saved my life and prayer saved my life. No one else knew the pain I was in because I gave it all to God and I’m not sure I would have survived without that Faith.

Oh, and I had a terrible fear of Hell if I had killed myself, but that fear doesn’t really provide the nice narrative I need about Faith right now so let’s push that aside until a later date.

But Faith! It saved me.

As I have been without Faith in a God for many, many years now, I’ve been thinking a lot about Faith in humanity. I live in a pretty fantastic bubble of kind and compassionate people. Even if we disagree politically or spiritually, I’m 100% certain I would have friends who would come feed me if I was starving or clothe me if I was cold. I have Faith in those people to help me if I truly needed it.

I also have Faith that they’ll check on me if they think I need it. I’m trying to return the favor and let people know when I’m thinking of them as well, and I just feel like I have created this wonderful cocoon of love in my life.

But then shit happens.

Sometimes it’s a mean thing posted on Facebook about how all Liberals are evil. (I mean, some of us are, I’ve unfollowed many, but not ALL of us.) Other times it’s something global like and act of terror or a celebration of hate. Or sometimes it’s just stupid gossip and drama in my local life. The there’s basic shitty attitudes or bigoted opinions. Other times it’s just my own insecurity. But these things have me question my Faith in humanity and I start to ask myself, “Are we conditioned for evil? Can we truly spread kindness or is evil too strong?”

But I refuse to believe that. I refuse to lose my Faith. I’m taking time today (after seeing a lot of shit this weekend, I’ll be honest) to notice the good in people. The love and kindness. I’m not going to let a few bad things this weekend desecrate my Faith. Because while I saw a bunch of crappy stuff, I also so great strengths of friendship and love and I can’t forget the good underneath the bad. I can’t lose my Faith.

Let’s be kind to each other today, my friends.

It’s Okay To Be Not Okay.

I don’t feel like I’ve done a good job lately of building a 3-dimensional/authentic view of myself here on this blog. I tend to get several “don’t be so hard on yourself” or “you’re too stressed” or “stop doing so much” responses and I never really know how to respond to them because all I feel is, “I think I’ve done a poor job presenting myself if these are the responses.”

And it’s tricky. I write here in the mornings and I haven’t been sleeping well lately. I toss and turn a lot, I cough a lot, my back hurts, and I’m just anxious. So when I get up for the day I don’t always feel great and I often have stress dreams so when I noticed the trend I thought, Zoot, maybe you’re just writing about the WORST moment of your day and so now you’re giving off this view of a sad, anxious person who is too hard on herself?

So I thought about that for awhile. But even that didn’t seem right. If it had I would have responded to comments and emails, “Oh – I’m fine! I just start the day kinda gray!” And that didn’t feel truthful either.

An then I ran with a much wiser friend on Saturday and she talked about how she’s just accepted that sometimes it’s okay to be sad. And maybe “unhappy” or “sad” is a more accurate depiction of her general state of mind. And we talked about that awhile and I really found myself thinking about that idea. And then I thought about how one friend in particular told me once that maybe I should consider the fact that I found comfort in my anxiety.

So I thought about all of these things together during the last mile of my trail run this morning. The sun was shining and I was running on a trail I normally hate but it seemed oddly beautiful today. And I considered how maybe I’m not doing a good job painting the picture of my life. And maybe not with my real world friends or family either. The other day my husband said, “I miss Happy Kim.” and I understood what he meant, but I also wasn’t sure “Happy Kim” was necessarily who I wanted to be right now.

During our run I remembered that The Oatmeal had done a comic about this one time and I thought I’d find time to hunt it down and re-read it. It’s called How To Be Perfectly Unhappy and rereading it with our conversation fresh on my mind really helped me understand my current state of living and my current mindset.

I am not happy. And that feels weird to say because I know that suddenly society says: OH NO! FIX IT! BE HAPPY! I experience joy and bliss and love and laughter and fun…Sometimes for hours at a time. But the underlying feeling is stress and anxiety and sadness. But it’s not at the level where I’m worried about myself, I’ve been in dark times where I can’t get out and it’s not like that. I have great runs, or empowering tattoos, or games with family, or margaritas with friends and I laugh and I smile and I love my friends and my family and my life. But the underlying sense of it all is concern and anxiety and I’m starting to just be okay with that. Like my friend said, “Sometimes we’re not meant to just be happy all the time. It’s okay to just be sad sometimes.”

I know the difference between “a case of the sads” and “can’t escape the darkness” and really, right now? It’s very much the first one. I’m just sad a lot as life is not going how I want it to go right now. We’re stuck in a weird limbo where we’ve moved out of our house but it hasn’t sold yet. Politics are a concern as are relationships I’m worried can’t survive the political climate. I’m concerned about my kids as they’re all facing their own challenges in life and many of which I can’t help. I’ve put on 20lbs that I’m trying to lose as I ramp up to my April stage race. I’m not sleeping well and exhaustion strips me of any normal level of enthusiasm.

But I’m not sure I would change anything.

Theres is stress with concern over my kid’s challenges, but that stress drives me to try new things or to be more mindful in parenting. I’m anxious about the political future of our country but that pushes me to stay active and make phone calls and send emails and write newsletters. I’ve always spoken about how my anxiety has very concrete “positives” that I don’t like to forget and when it’s all manageable, I’m okay with suffering the restlessness in my life as a tradeoff for the feeling of purpose or engagement of fulfillment. My anxieties help me give my life meaning and that…is not “unhappy” really, it’s just not “happy” either.

There are just a lot of things worrying me, but they give my life purpose right now. It’s not irrational worries (like when I have to make a left turn somewhere, that shit is BANANAS) which have plagued me in the past. They’re worries and concerns that keep me busy and give me purpose. I’m hard on myself because I want to be better, but I don’t think I’m irrationally hard on myself. I still watch a shit-ton of television and don’t feel even the slightest bit guilty about it. I spent stupid amounts of money on microbrew beer BECAUSE I HAVE STANDARDS, PEOPLE. I don’t feel guilty that the money is not going to something a little better.

Yes, I’m hard on myself in many ways, but only in ways that I want to drive myself to be better. I’m stressed and probably doing “too much” but it’s because there are a lot of things that are important to me and help me feel like my life has meaning and purpose. I’m anxious about things out of my control (like my children and their development) but it pushes me to think outside the box and try to find things that I can control. But it also forces me to recognize I don’t have control and to try to be mindful.

And right now all of that is overwhelming and making the “general feeling of happiness” something that eludes me. But I’m still enjoying moments of laughter and joy. We started a D&D campaign with the kids this weekend and I had two days of great running. I got a tattoo and put a bigger one on the calendar for May. I bounded joyfully through puddles and closed my eyes in the sunshine while I walked my dog. The joy and beauty and laughter is still abundant in my life and I’m learning to be okay with the anxiety underneath it all. It’s not necessarily something I have to fix, I’m finally learning. I just accept it as an ebb in the river of my life. There can be purpose and fulfillment in sadness and I just want you all to know that I’m okay with that.