That I Could be Good

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Good. Adjective: of high quality;of somewhat high but not excellent quality; correct or proper.
The word is a trigger word for me. One part of good is like being a “good girl,” obedient, submissive, following instructions. As a child I was referred to as a “good girl,” a lot by the men in my life, my dad, my grandfather. Being told I was a good girl, was one of the warmest shows of affection from these men, my inference was they were proud of me, happy and grateful for my good behavior. For years I didn’t understand I was an actual self, and without intention of any kind, lived as the person I thought I was supposed to be, the “good girl.” Gradually, slowly, I saw glimpses of self, and I became less concerned about being a “good girl”–I was in my 30’s by then. The programming pretty embedded. I’m still trapped by the default “good girl” way of relating to men, at the core.

About 10 years ago I heard the following song by Alanis Morissette, “That I would be Good.” I had heard it before, but this was the first time I listened to the lyrics, took them in, understood the meaning of the words. It shook me, stopped me in my tracks and reduced me to red-faced crying, drool, snot and tears smearing together. I could hear the affirmation, that I am a good person, but also understood that I didn’t believe it, that I was not good for every mistake made, for inabilities to perform, for being less than I had hoped. A deeper part of me, one deeper than my more silly, avoidant, parts named so far has held this as truth for a long time. I don’t have much to go on here, but I know it relates to shame, an exile part, isolated and covered up by that hideous shredder guy and little miss perfect.

I told my therapist this song was an epiphany for me. He looked at me and said, “you mean, that you think you aren’t good?” His tone and expression were matching hues of, “I couldn’t be more sad for you, and I didn’t know it was this bad.” Oh the shame that rose up for me with that–I could even make his sadness for me a means of shaming myself. The song became the closest thing to an affirmation I could muster, because still many of the things Morissette said about being good, I didn’t agree with for myself personally. I definitely associated my fails with the opposite of good. Further, some of what she names–losing her hair, going bankrupt, being without someone–I have feared as the ultimate fails, experiences I have been fortunate enough to control and avoid, but would have me crawling under a rock if I did experience them.

That I would be Good
that I would be good even if I did nothing
that I would be good even if I got the thumbs down
that I would be good if I got and stayed sick
that I would be good even if I gained ten pounds

that I would be fine even if I went bankrupt
that I would be good if I lost my hair and my youth
that I would be great if I was no longer queen
that I would be grand if I was not all knowing

that I would be loved even when I numb myself
that I would be good even when I am overwhelmed
that I would be loved even when I was fuming
that I would be good even if I was clingy

that I would be good even if I lost sanity
that I would be good
whether with or without you

I still fill with tears when I read or hear the lyrics. It shows me I have more excavating to do, because how could I not believe I am good? I believe everybody else in the world is good–at their core–can forgive people for doing heinous things, out of compassion for the traumas that led to their behavior. I could share an inventory of the work I do, the kindness and compassion I have in my heart, and in doing so, could also tell you I’m bad–not good–for not being humble. What a mind fuck that is.

The Open Studio Project uses “intention” as a practice of making statements about the present, some are obvious descriptors framed in the positive, others are statements that take the possibility of something and present the idea as though it already is. Of course I struggle with this part of the process. It is very affirmation-like (although intention is not the same as affirmation) and means self-kindness, hopefulness. I’m going to keep working on it.

Inner Critic, Animal or Noble Intentions

Chompy!  Chompy is my ruthless protector and much like Sabine, he really really likes homeostasis.  When I’m curious and feeling experimental, vulnerable enough to put some ideas out there, his appetite is stimulated like a carnivore getting a whiff of fresh blood.  He wants me to stay exactly the same, so any efforts to peak over the precipice are swiftly cut up, shredded by his layers of razor-sharky teeth.  He is my inner critic, and I have spent most of my life having a limited perspective of his existence.  I knew he was there, enough so to allow feelings of shame or embarrassment to warm my cheeks to a blush if I dared feed his hunger with something new.

Chompy
Chompy

I met him face-to-face in an IFS session and saw my first visual representation of Chompy the Killer.  During the meditation, I felt whoozy, like I could faint and when the fog settled, there he was, crouching on his haunches, a fantastical grinning beast, baring his teeth. Menacing, spidery legs sat poised, ready to spring into action.  He morphed from a growling, spitting creature into a razory-metallic shredding machine, and I was aware of how his intimidation, spiny barbed barriers, stopped me so many times from being authentic, taking risks, connecting to inner wisdom, and the wisdom of others.  With encouragement from my therapist, I breathed and took a moment to take in his identity.  It didn’t feel quite as scary to have been introduced, still we didn’t understand each other.  My therapist encouraged me to draw or paint the imagery I found within these sessions and while I pondered doing so, I didn’t actually follow through, until…

The OSP process challenges us to develop a daily practice of art-making, even if it is a quick sketch on an index card.  I was particularly crabby one day with my kids snarking at me, (hadn’t developed a daily art practice—nor have I yet, really) feeling a bit like a punching bag.  I took a few moments to “draw it all out,” literally.  I got out the pastels and an index card, (because I felt dubious and ambivalent,) threw it down and began to strike at the card. The dark scribbling, so fitting for my mood at the time, emerged as the chomping little shredder I had met a few years back in my IFS session.  As I witnessed, I had a chat with my little chomp-animal, and in the process felt endeared to him.  He took on that Muppets-Animal appearance, his once matted coat fluffing out to billow like red feathers. In our dialogue, I asked him to cool his jets a little, and let me be.  He told me he was really there to help me avoid embarrassment and failure, but in the process, he rather sheepishly revealed his good intentions.  The dialogue tamed his fiery rage and as I scooted a little closer, his once erect-pinscher ears folded down, allowing me to caress surprisingly soft, downy plumage.  His teeth stopped chattering and spitting and a boyish, toothy grin emerged.

So, there he is.  Instead of a fearsome, terrifying beast, scaring me into submission, he now seems more like a little brother—a daring and noble little brother.  It doesn’t mean I am suddenly exempt from fear and self-suppression, but it helps to have made his acquaintance.  Instead of being paralyzed with reactivity, I can take a breath, understand rationally that he isn’t crouching to bite my ankles and then, negotiate with him a bit.  He still wields a decent amount of power, but we are working together on the possibilities of our future together.

Magic Wand of Safety: Bibity Bopity Boo

In our last OSP facilitator training, we were asked to facilitate workshops for our fellow classmates.  “Wands,” were the workshop facilitated by one of our pals in class.  I haven’t mentioned that our process includes 5 steps, so let me share a little about that:

Step 1: We set intentions for our process.  Intentions are active messages stated in a positive tense, “I am calm and invite the wisdom I gain from the creative source.”  (This part is still a hard one for me, because it feels like an affirmation, and like I said in the about me page, I’m a belligerent affirmer—a euphemism for self-deprecator.)  Step 2: The process, which is accompanied by rhythmic or soothing music.  We create art with the materials provided and we follow creative impulse.  Step 3: Witness.  We sit before our work and write about the imagery that comes to mind as we observe/witness our piece.  It isn’t about explaining the piece, rather allowing information and symbolic thoughts to surface and be expressed on paper.  Step 4: Reading.  Optional, we are invited to read all or parts of our witness in front of the group.  Again, it isn’t to explain, or to perform in any way for the group.  The purpose is to hear our own voice articulate our witness.  It allows truths to be heard.  Step 5: Closing the space; often following the lovely tone of a Tibetan singing bell, and without commenting on the work of others, we ask questions or share observations about the experience.

Magic WandHere is my wand.  It was a joyful process, wrapping and holding a beautiful birch branch and transforming it into a new creation.  As I witnessed, I noted that Birch trees were in abundance on my grandparents’ property when I was little, which brought to mind the safety I felt in my grandmother’s charming home.  I spent hours in her warm cottage, drinking tea, yapping endlessly.  My grandmother, my “Meme” had abundant patience and never tired of anything I could lay on her.  She was my safe-haven, my peace, the one who loved me unabashedly and unconditionally.  I remember her hands, fingernails with the lightest ridges that made their surface funny to the touch; beautiful fingers that would run tirelessly through my hair, or gently caress my back as I lay my head across her lap.

My initial association with a wand was the Cinderella cliché of the fairy godmother who waves her wand and Bibity bobity boo!  Your wishes all come true!  Occasionally there are workshop projects that I resist at first and it was thus for the wand workshop–I didn’t really want to create a wand. In my day job, higher-ups come my way all of the time and have expectations that imply I really do have a magic wand that I can waive, thereby fixing the troubles of clientele—people who most often have mental illness and whose behavior doesn’t fit into our perfectionist, intolerant culture.  Instead of the mythology coming up for me, it was the safety of my grandmother instead, that emerged.  My wand is about safety, the haven that is needed when younger, less evolved parts are activated.  My wand doesn’t waive anything away, make anything disappear or change.  Holding it in my hand is soothing and wonderful, though.  I immediately think of Meme, her laughter, her encouragement and love.