I am certain at some point during my thirty-year journey toward recovery, a mental health professional spoke to me about the importance of routines. I am equally certain, that one of the only things I practiced routinely, was reject that idea. I had what I felt were good reasons for that rejection. How can I carry out a daily routine when I can barely function? What’s the point of a routine anyway? Just because it works for someone else, doesn’t mean it will work for me. I didn't have the first clue about how to do this. It overwhelmed me. I’d much rather ignore it, it was too hard. The mere idea of a plan for each day was a crushing weight of fear and confusing panicked feelings.
I believe a lot of that resistance came from my fear of expectations and change. I was paralyzed with the fear of not being able to meet someone’s expectations for me. I was terrified of what it meant if I did meet those expectations, and the inevitable changes it would bring. I was positively convinced I would fail, and the “safe” place I was existing in would disappear. The unknown was a dark, malicious hole waiting to swallow me up. Certain that things could only get worse, I stubbornly didn’t want to follow someone else’s rules for my life. Yet, I was virtually sleepwalking through my life, and I honestly had no clue of what to choose for myself. I floundered around trying things out but not really sticking to anything. I spent my days flying by the seat of my pants, making decisions on the spur of the moment. Each choice, led by which ever one of my personalities was currently more in charge. I had no real schedule. For instance, bed times and meal times varied wildly. I was a mess of contradictory ideals and beliefs. One part of me was engaged in wild sexual encounters and drugs. Yet another was more interested in a spiritual experience that would be transformational and purifying. I could not figure out where I fit in, or what was right for me. I just knew that I didn’t feel like I belonged anywhere. Something felt broken and wrong about me. I felt so empty all the time.
Looking back now, I can see clearly that the ravenous way I tried to fill myself up with men, drugs, sex, religion, fantasy worlds and twisted ideals, were all very unhealthy choices. Sometimes I wonder how I survived my idea of a “safe” space. I did feel moments of temporary relief and respite from that gnawing internal hunger. It was easy to convince myself, I was on the right path in those moments. I didn’t consciously know I was following a twisted road map my abuser had groomed me to use. I was brainwashed into believing that I needed that abuse to be whole. Each step I tread on this path was cementing his teaching, as some part of my core truth. Pieces of me actually craved that abusive attention. In fact, the few relationships I had with non- abusive people felt wrong to me. I didn’t trust it and I was constantly waiting for the other shoe to drop.
I subconsciously continued to follow that twisted road map my abuser provided me with. While I consciously tried to follow the expectations, I felt I had been given, by other better influencers of my upbringing. From these influences, I created a very opposite and idealistic view of the world. I believed that I would find my true love, a job that fulfilled me, and be a happy wife and mother. Bippidy Boppidy Boop, welcome to your magical adulthood. Good girls get rewarded by having their dreams come true with the touch of a magical wand. Even if I never had my other set of heavily conflicting prime directives to be wild and sexually deviant, that’s not how it works. There are no magic wands and good people do go through very hard times. This belief system was equally harmful to me. It set me up for consistent failure as nothing and no one could ever rise to reach my magical expectations.
At some point it finally became obvious to me that I could not continue on as I had. I didn’t know up from down. I couldn’t make or keep appointments, pay bills on time, or drive. I didn’t have the first clue of how to navigate my life like a “real” person. I couldn’t develop healthy lasting relationships and I felt incredibly alone. I couldn’t hold a job because the pressure turned me inside out. I couldn’t be the mother to my children that they deserved, because I couldn’t take care of myself. The pressures and challenges of adulthood that turns some people into sparkling diamonds, just crushed me. I didn’t know how to handle that pressure, and I remained a stubborn lump of coal. That time in your life where you are supposed to figure things out, never happened for me. I couldn’t plan for my adult life. My way of doing things wasn’t working and never would. I felt so underwhelmed by my own life. I spent most of my days in pajamas watching television alone. I kept my curtains shut tight. I didn’t want people to see me, and I didn’t want to see them. I was just existing in a dark room, trying to shut out the world. I spent years and years, in this limbo like state of living, before I began to look for new options and a different road map to follow.
I began by working again for the first time in fifteen years. I was an Avon representative for a while, and then I began working as a seamstress. Both of these jobs did in fact help me find some footing in my life. Both asked me to follow directives set by the company, and reach goals and deadlines. Working did force me to maintain some routine in my life too. I had to set some form of regular daily hours which included work hours. I enjoyed working. I felt the beginnings, of that elusive fulfillment I longed for. Ultimately though, both of these jobs had the same problem. Both were independent contractor work, where I was expected to set a pace and routine for myself. I was way out of my depths, and had no experience in this. I struggled and fell, over and over. Each time I fell it became harder to get back up; my confidence was shaken. I didn’t know how to handle failure either. I didn’t feel ready yet, and just didn’t have the skills. The concept of routine, my therapist had suggested long ago, was still so foreign to me. I was still that stubborn lump of coal, desperately clinging to what I thought was “safe”. But the embers had been stoked, and I was glowing just a little. I needed further outside direction to help me fan it into a flame. That was when I took that tiny ember in hand, and allowed it to be molded when I went to college.
I would like to tell you, that today I am expertly navigating my life. I have a solid routine and I no longer fall down and fail. However, that’s neither accurate or realistic. Sometimes, my old thought patterns and crippling emotions rear their ugly heads. They try to return with a vengeance and put me right back into an unhealthy cycle. I won’t let them! I don’t want to travel backwards; I know how bleak that is. I have learned to use my stubborn nature to say no to the past, and move forward with strength. I worked hard to developed many of the skills necessary to create and maintain healthy relationships, hold a job, and make a plan for my life. I now have regular hours in which I sleep and eat. I make and keep appointments, pay my bills on time, drive, and I even set and complete goals. I know that I will develop and refine these skills as I continue to grow as a person.
As I shed my old way of life, and forge this new path, I have finally begun to understand why my therapist thought routine was necessary. It gives me the structure that I so desperately needed. Routine allows me to form a solid foundation, from which I can process all of life’s random moments. I am able to rely on certain things occurring each day. This gives me a consistent backdrop to plan around. I know I will always enjoy flying by the seat of my pants, and taking things on in my own merry way. But I acknowledge now, I need direction and routine to keep me in balance. Finding the right balance between spontaneity and routine, is a learning process. I will continue to work on it. I am no longer just a stubborn lump of coal. I don’t know if I am a diamond yet, but I sure do sparkle.