It has happened. I have officially, without question hit middle age. I am calling this situation sitting on the hinge. I am a little bit obsessed with sitting on the hinge. It seems like such a great opportunity to me. Looking to the left, I see my life so far. I have learned a lot. I have made a lot of mistakes. I made some huge decisions that I will be living with for the next half, so I am re-evaluating, figuring out how to embrace those decisions, tweak them, cultivate them and make them work for Act 2. As I look to the right, I see opportunity abounding. A second chance, If you will. A chance to use all the wisdom and learning the first half afforded. Truthfully, sitting on the hinge is simultaneously invigorating and terrifying, I see it as a time of rest. A time to plan and prepare for what is to come.
Sitting still is not a comfortable place for me. Sitting in silent contemplation is my least favorite thing to do because I tend to drown in my own thoughts. My inner narrative is generally negative. Many of the expectations I set for myself and/or were set for me in the first half of my life were good but could be classified in the realm of unrealistic. Unrealistic for a multitude of reasons. Unrealistic because those set for me were based on ideals that were not mine. Unrealistic because they were based on skills sets I either did not have, did not care to have, or did not have the capability to obtain. I am a right -brain creative with the logical capacity of a tzitzit fly. Math and science are not only among my least favorite interests, but testing would undisputedly place my capabilities in these areas as the lowest skills in my educational repertoire. The idea of pursuing a career which could ultimately lead me to being the doctor who found the cure to cancer, while sounding prestigious and rewarding, was never a realistic idea for my life. Yet, somehow I have found a way to add into my inner narrative conversations of failing because I not only did not get a degree in the medical sciences, but I did not go to medical school, did not become a world class research physician, and here I am, middle aged and have no idea how to cure cancer. I have failed because I did not live up to that expectation.
This sounds ridiculous doesn’t it? To recap, an expectation suggested to me in the first half of my life, which I not only did not have for myself, but one for which I have no skill for, nor capacity to acquire the skill to do is now sitting in the internal dialog of my quietness sticking its tongue out and calling me a failure. How does this happen? It could be the conflicting personality of someone who is in the complicated Enneagram three wing four or four wing three, or it could be the desire to please while also maintain a real need for individualism. Whatever the reason, I have added to my self-identification words like disappointment, failure, unlovable for many reasons, one just being the example of being the person to cure cancer. In the few rational and logical moments I am gifted, I realize the absurdity of the whole thing. Yet knowing the absurdity and being able to automatically change the narrative in my mind without a little work is another, totally different thing. Sitting on the hinge, for me, is the purposed and set-aside time of putting in the work, so as not to enter in the second half of my life with these very real, very absurd ideas.
These ideas are not only unrealistic expectations set for me by others, but the most damaging expectations were the ones I set for myself for reasons that are shallow or prideful. I have come to understand many of these unrealistic expectations for myself are due to an innate lack of self-awareness. Lack of self-awareness and uncanny self-confidence (enneagram 3), sharing the intimate mental real estate with the fear of failure wanting to live in full authenticity (enneagram 4), has lead me to wanting to project this image of winning life to the world while feeling like a fraud when I am by myself because the image I want to project is not in agreement with the reality of my life. Knowing myself and being very afraid that others will see what I know to be true has created complicated relationships in the first half of my life. While I am grateful to enjoy a handful of very solid, beautiful relationships, it is not because I have not made a great effort to sabotage those relationships on the left side of the hinge.
Brene Brown’s program “The Power of Vulnerability” has helped me to add the word SHAME to my word collection. She defines shame as: “the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging – something we’ve experienced, done, or failed to do makes us unworthy of connection.” There is a significant difference between guilt and shame. We all know guilt. In guilt, we did something we knew we ought not do and the subsequent feelings about that occurrence. Guilt can be productive. It can be transformative. However, Shame is not productive, but instead it is destructive. Guilt is based on a behavior: I failed the test because I did not work diligently. I know I should have studied. I want to have a better outcome, so I will study next time. Shame has less to do with an action and more to do with an identity: I failed the test; therefore, I can’t do anything right, I am a failure and I will never become worth anything. As I sit on the hinge, I want to deal with my shame. I don’t want to enter the second half of my life being triggered by false narratives and unrealistic expectations of who I am, therefore being ashamed of who I am. I think the first step of this is being able to recognize the things that bring me shame. Once those things are identified, I believe I will need to better be able to accept my guilt, so as not to drown in shame. In guilt, I believe I will be able to make changes in my behaviors. In shame, I will continue in a life that lacks authenticity and I will feel worthless and undeserving of love. As I think of what I want on the right side of the hinge, there is no room for shame. I have a lot of work to do. And I plan on doing it on the hinge.
As I look back at the first part of my life, I realize that it looks nothing like I thought it would. I am a married, stay-at-home, homeschooling mother who works a part time job in a service industry. That is NOT what I had planned. Many of the plans I had set for myself are unrealized. The life we have lived to date has been full. The good news is the life I lead is so much better than anything I could have dreamed up on my own. We married with a five-year plan that was disrupted with having three children in five years. The number of years was spot on. The outcome of those five years, we totally missed the mark. In five years, Jonesy received his degree, we bought a house, I quit my job, we had three children, and after a total loss wreck of our car, we were driving a Cadillac. It was a $500 leathered seat Coupe de Ville, with heated seats, power everything, a sagging headliner, and seats that tilted back so far, I struggled to see over the dash. We had put checks in all the boxes. Upon purchasing the Cadillac, we really just had retirement left in the things we need to do to live the American Dream. It is a great life. It is not from a lack of gratitude or happiness, that I come to the hinge recognizing I have some work to do. Part of the shame conversation I play in my head includes the narrative that says it is ungrateful to want more. But I do want more. I want all the things I have been gifted and I want to enjoy them without the shame that debilitates my joy. I want to pursue challenges and dreams. I have come to realize, without redirecting my self-narrative, I will not pursue those challenges and dreams. Dreams that are based on knowing myself authentically. Dreams that are based on my skills and my ideals. Dreams that are mine and are worthy.
Sitting on the hinge, so far, has been hard work. It has been difficult. It has been tearful and frustrating; painful and enlightening. In many ways it feels like living again for the first time in a long time. I am no longer merely surviving life, but instead, taking it into my hands, lifting it to God and moving forward.
The irony of it all is that shame has spread in me like a cancer. It has consumed and destroyed some of the healthiest and best parts of who I am. Sitting on the hinge, I am discovering ways to end the shame that has the potential to steal the life I have ahead of me. By ending the shame, I am becoming the person who discovers, in her own life, how to cure that particular cancer.