First, I want to apologize for falling silent on my blog lately. I’ve been in the midst of a little … ok, bigger than little … battle. I won’t tell you I won the battle. Or that it was easy to overcome. Or that the battle is even over. I will tell you that I’m enhancing my armor and adding tactics to my arsenal so I am better prepared for the journey. Let me explain …
Did you grow up with a ruthless, bullying sibling? You know, the kind who antagonized to no avail and shot down your every attempt to be good enough for them?
Maybe it was the brother who immediately rolled his eyes and looked exasperated whenever you piped up at the dinner table. Or the sister who banged relentlessly on the bathroom door as you got ready, making sure the entire neighborhood knew you would “never look better no matter how long you take in front of that mirror…”
There were likely some fierce wrestling matches, periods of the silent treatment, occasional choice words thrown violently across the hallway … but you both probably grew out of that phase of life, put your swords away, and called a truce.
I’m still waiting for that white flag to wave. My infuriating sibling doesn’t seem ready to call a ceasefire anytime soon.
She has a multitude of weapons and attacks at the most inopportune times.
She has also set up her battlefield in the worst possible place.
In my mind.
The only place I can’t run from.
I suppose she has always been there, but instead of getting quieter and more mature with age, she seems to have refined her skills. She is louder, more abusive, and knows exactly where to inflict a wound so it will produce the most pain.
She doesn’t take vacation days. Instead she pounds a little harder around the holidays and major life events, reminding me that my Mom won’t be around for this celebration either. Pointing out that if I hadn’t failed at marriage, I’d still have a husband and possibly a family to treat to a home-cooked Christmas dinner with all the trimmings. Then again, she would also note that I’m not that creative of a cook … should have spent more time with Mom in the kitchen when I had the chance.
She is quick to swallow any compliments that come my way…
‘You look really pretty,’ … is replaced with ‘She is just being nice; she says that to everyone.’
‘Wow, you did an awesome job on this project; it is so creative and thoughtful,’ … is downplayed with ‘I can’t believe it took you so long to get that done.’
She brings me pause after pounding out a long run, reminding me how my last race ended in a lengthy visit to the medical tent. ‘Really, do you honestly think you can run another full marathon after that performance?’
She questions me when I sit down in a heap at the end of a long day, ticking off the things I didn’t manage to accomplish.
She asks why I didn’t send one more email, or work on that project that seems to have given me writer’s block. ‘Good writers don’t get blocked, you know.’
She clicks her tongue at me when I decide to indulge in a post-run pedicure. ‘You know you can do that yourself and save the money. Didn’t run that far anyway.’
She laughs at my attempts to put strategic business plans in place. ‘Honestly, do you really think you are smart enough for someone to pay you to do that? No way you can actually make a living as a business owner.’
Her voice carries in the silence of the night. She tells me bedtime stories that nearly always include one of my many missteps, recreating the past for me in excruciating detail.
And damn it, she never misses a bad hair day!
Recently, I found myself paying her too much attention. Giving her far too much credit, allowing her to strip me of confidence even in areas I was making progress. She took advantage, throwing the past back in my face at every opportunity and making me expect the worst.
Now, let me step back for a moment and confide that I’ve long been a girl with voices in her head. I am the first-born, and the daughter of a woman who had very high expectations. In my experienced (nicer word than old, don’t you think?!) age, I realize she just wanted the very best of everything for me. She wanted me to believe I could do anything I put my mind to. But the story I wrote in my head was that I could do no right. Nothing was quite good enough. I described her to more than one counselor as the little devil on my shoulder reminding me what I should be doing.
This way of living meant I constantly strived for outward accomplishments, yearning to hear her praises. It also meant I found my value in my abilities instead of my person. I learned to believe my worth was in doing, in succeeding, in achieving. And while there is a healthy pursuit of goals, my relentless quest in every phase of life was (is) not sustainable.
Several years ago during a chapter (novel!) of life riddled with challenges, I was at war in my mind. I had to face off with my ruthless sibling every day, sometimes every hour. She loved feeding me lies — I was easy to fool when I was already down and out. But eventually, as I nourished myself with healthy truth and surrounded myself with people who loved me for me, I began to see her for who she was … a conniving, dishonest, manipulative voice who got her power from only ONE place … ME. I was pumping her full of super powers on a regular basis.
The glass-half-full about this epiphany is that as easily as I handed her the power, I could take it back. So, being me, I took this on as my new goal: put an end to this righteous voice in my head. I did plenty of reading and journaling. I learned about being vulnerable and giving grace. She got significantly quieter. I was accomplishing! I was winning! I was back in my place again; I had successfully defeated the voice in my head.
But as I lost myself in that “success,” I missed the true anecdote for the chatterbox in my head … the unfailing ability to love myself with all my beautiful skills, talents, and unique qualities … and my even more lovely imperfections, limitations, and deficiencies.
Full circle back to the present when I recently started handing out power like candy again. As I blamed the outside symptoms, my sweet sibling rose to new heights. She was elated to be back, which just sharpened her knives. And darn it if I didn’t let her win for a while. Luckily, all my previous achievement in this area wasn’t completely for not. I was significantly quicker to realize what was happening. And this time, I am focused on the root cause. There isn’t a mountaintop I’m searching for so I can feel successful. I’m developing actions and habits that continue to grow love for myself … just as I am.
There is a phrase from one of my favorite pastors, Andy Stanley, that has always stuck with me. “Make love a verb,” he said. There is so much truth in that simple statement. Love in any capacity is only sustainable when there is action behind it. So just as I nurture anything I love, I must start with me.
I said I didn’t win the battle because this time I know there isn’t an end point. It is a journey and it deserves daily, attentive actions. If I approach it like a war I can win, I will let my guard down after I’m “victorious.
Today I choose to look at my monster of a sibling as my fairy godmother. While I don’t approve of her methods, I choose to believe this is the lesson she wanted me to learn all along. Maybe even she didn’t know the forces it would take to open my eyes. If I look closely, I think there might even be a slight smile on her face as she turns away for the day.