Song Dedication: Lifted Away by JOSEPH
Sarah you deserve to be here, to show up for you, you are enough because you are worthy. You are strong, intelligent, capable, passionate and aware. Your depth of empathy is profound because of your suffering and your resilience. Your experience, your mind, your body and spirit make you unique. They would be lucky to have you.
I can’t even say the above statement is easier said than done because even the gathering of these words to form these sentences was an arduous and somewhat unnatural linguistic sentiment my hard-wired brain continues to brace against with but…but…what about…notions. Whack-that-mole of self-doubt with your teeny tiny mallet made of foam. What is this? Some kind of cruel joke? And wait that mole…its a groundhog…the kind that creates an alternate universe of the same day repetition, but with less Bill Murray (which means less funny).
As I siphoned through my less-than thought patterns, I found myself unravelling on my bed, last Saturday morning, awash in salty tears as I tried to push away these silly inclinations of not being enough. Any hope of humour blown into wet snotty tissues wondering Dude wtf? Are we really doing this again?! Apparently self-compassion had also left this vessel-in-question for the time being. When S-C has left the building, you know shit is bad. And it was for a moment.
You see, I had recently decided to apply for the Applied Educational Neuroscience Certification Program to study under Lori-Desautel, PhD through Butler University. A close friend had pointed out that Sarah, you are doing the reading and the writing and the working (as a Social Emotional Helping Teacher at the Junior School), have you thought about working towards your Masters? Which of course I have contemplated this many times, but don’t fully trust my full-throttle, old-Sarah tendencies and so chose to just keep doing what I am currently doing to strike that balance of work, self-care and being the best parent I can in my current situation. She astutely pointed out that yes, you are creating an important balance for you and your family BUT you are doing a lot of the work anyway so maybe there is a way to work on this professional development incrementally and get some ‘credit’ for all the learning and integration you are doing. What she was talking about was Professional Capital; the development and integration of human capital, social capital and decisional capital (There is a book on that called Professional Capital by Andy Hargreaves and Micheal Fullan).
I have been obsessively sifting through the contents of the book Connections Over Compliance by Desautels, as I feel immense recognition for her science-based approach to teaching via understanding the nervous system, the stress response, behaviour as communication and teacher brain state to co-regulate our students. This is everything! It was a relief to see someone with decades of experience and research applying this to the learning environment; an environment rich in exploratory learning and compassion and the most up-to-date neuroscience available. I felt recognition and relief because I knew these things to be true, but the way our school system is calibrated and the way teacher’s are trained is in dire need for the application of these new ideas and approaches. It is not airy-fairy, touchy-feeley, molly-coddling, or overly time-consuming to let humans feel their feelings. It is in fact science, that human needs for connection and acceptance increase our sense of security and well-being, thus creating successful and resilient learners!! At last Etta James, At Last you have come along…my lonely days are over…
So why then was I sitting on my bed crying alone on a Saturday morning?
The application process had some hoops to jump through, which I cleared each one without much bother. Ordering transcripts, proof of financing, writing a short essay about why I wanted to be part of this program, emailing the Teacher Qualification Service to see if this program was recognized by them should I choose to pursue my category upgrade or Masters, notifying the correct people in the district of my learning intentions. Each little piece feel into place quite easily, which was an affirmation I was making the right choice at this point in my life.
It was the transcripts that were emotionally tripping me up though. My Bachelor of Education transcripts came first and I couldn’t believe I was apprehensive…I had this worry shrub planted in the back of my lizard brain that my GPA may not be high enough to be accepted into the program. Talk about not much I can do about that shit now, it is what it is because that was like 15 years ago. To my relief and satisfaction, my academic standing read Dean’s List. I laughed and wondered where I was getting this sense of foreboding bad grades from?
A few days later with a bit more leg-work I was able to review my 20-year-old transcripts for my Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree and then I realized what I was scared of. The shame and frustration rose from wherever I had buried it in my early-20’s and it felt as fresh as the day it was born. The first 2 years were decent, the last 2 not as much. I mean I passed everything just fine and in my studio classes (hands-on art classes that I loved like drawing and photography) I still had my honour’s standing, but it was some of the theory and history classes that made me make that tight-lipped, teeth clenched, seething face of yesteryear…like ohhhhhh riiiight.
The truth was, seeing these grades took me right back to being 21 and questioning why I had to do it this way, how does remembering these specific dates make me a better art student, or why does my painting have to be edgy and political…if you want a controversial canvas, why don’t you paint one? Cause frankly, I had lived enough edgy, controversial, politically incorrect moments over my young lifetime already and my art, my creative process at the time, was meant to help me escape all that shit. I was literally at that school in another geographical location to escape everything that had preceded it. The act of being there was my control, my choice and my statement.
Knowing the full context and all I understand now about the trauma brain and how chronic stress is a hindrance to learning and retention, you would have thought Self-Compassion was at the ready with her boots laced and cape ready to swoop in and catch me mid-fall. But instead I found myself falling headfirst into a headache of worthlessness and fear of not being enough.
As always with the humour or irony, or are they one and the same, I was on Day 7 of the You Are Enough Tapping Meditation Challenge. That’s correct, everyday for seven days in a row, I had been focussed on self-compassion and acceptance. Tapping to unlock my deep rooted doubts so to let the light of worthiness seep in the cracks that were no longer mudded over with hateful words of insignificance. But for some reason this process had felt really hard; I was finding it difficult to focus on any one thing.
There were so many little narratives begging for my soothing attention, I spread my consciousness as thin as I could, like the last teaspoon of peanut butter over a dry piece of Texas size toast. It just didn’t quite track because there was not enough to go around or was it just too big an area to cover?
After reading the less-than-glowing transcript and feeling utterly fearful of rejection and shame that anyone would look at these old GPAs and judge me, I began to tap. By the third round a headache had settled into my right lobe.
Then I remembered Somatic Practitioner, Irene Lyon, talking about side-specific trauma…suddenly I saw nine-year-old Sarah sitting next to her caregiver the night before a project was due. A part of me thought Really, we are doing this again? How many more times, vantage points, and revisits do we need to process this incredibly traumatic experience?? Another part of me gently Shhhhhh’d the critical voice. I saw her (me) make the mistake with the blue plastic ballpoint pen all over again. This time I zoomed out and stood behind the couch and watched the adult thrust their body toward this little girl, yelling at her how stupid she was for making this mistake and there was no white out to fix it. Lunging at her from the right, the little girl was caught unexpectedly in her attackers grasp as her hair was bunched between fists of blind rage. She was shaken violently and released when her little bladder let go, humiliated by this unexpected bodily function of survival but even more so because she had let her loved one down; she was so stupid, she should have known better, there was no room to make mistakes. This child believed she deserved this treatment.
Irene’s words reminded me of the right-sided trauma response my body still seemed to be grasping to; still begging my attention to understand differently. The connections became clear. All my cumulative shame, trauma and built-up mantras of you aren’t enough unless you are perfect overwhelmed my right brain.
Self-compassion was there the whole time, but she sat quietly on the side-lines to allow me to re-orient my understanding of self-worth. She wasn’t going to serve me by simply interrupting and saying you are enough, of course you are and I love you unconditionally. This time she wanted to help me experience my enoughness by allowing me this vision so I could connect the dots to my experience as a young adult caught in the web that had been spun many years previous. How even as a young adult, I was still carrying the pain in my right body, right hemisphere and emotionally in my heart, that if I didn’t perform and get the best results compared to the other kids, students, athletes or people around me, I was comparatively less than. The shame associated with the somatic response in my body when I was nine, was still deeply tied to me at 41.
The Education System, expectations of being perfect and being compared to others can be defined as ‘Evaluative Stress’. Kids often receive the message that how they look, act and perform is dependent on their sense of security and acceptance. If we feel we are not “good enough” we work extra hard “to justify our existence and lack self-compassion to be resilient” says, Dr. Gabor Maté.
I am a human who has struggled with this experience at school and at home, often seeing now how they overlap and make for an even denser experience. Many of you, I am sure can relate, just as many student’s now are having this same experience. It is my hope you are given the space to recognize and reconcile it within your own hearts. Because all of us are worthy of this self-compassion. Because we all deserve to be here; simply because we are.
And they would be lucky to have us.