I don’ t know why this story came to my mind today: The Day I Hit Rock Bottom.
Actually – no, that’s a lie. Earlier today, I was talking to a man in my practice – a busy, successful, and driven entrepreneur, a dedicated father and husband – and a man who is pushing so hard that we are concerned for his health and wellbeing. A man who could be any one of dozens of men or women in my practice who are fighting like hell to keep up the pace of their lives, while on the verge of collapsing from the stress of it all.
I guess it brought up this memory, because I’ve been there. Yes, I learned the hard way, facing burnout physically, emotionally and spiritually.
And I’ll tell you – it’s the spiritual burn out that becomes unbearably painful – so much so that you can’t ignore it anymore.
It’s the moment of realization that you have become completely out of alignment with your own values and sense of self.
It’s that heart-wrenching truth that you could not have gotten to this place if you truly valued yourself.
It is the painful revelation that you are no longer ok with YOU.
I’ve been there: When there is an underlying fear of someone seeing through your facade to all of your hidden fears and doubts – when you wonder how soon it will be before someone calls you out as a fraud – when the judgment you have towards yourself fills you with shame for being less than you wish to be.
Even now, when I look back on my first few years in practice – with babies and toddlers at home, the challenges of running a business, the reality of needing enough income to feed our family and pay our bills – I don’t know how I did it.
Disrupted sleep from breastfeeding babies. Being constantly needed. Feeling pressure to be exceptional in every role I played. Mom. Wife. Chiropractor. Role Model.
Judging myself so so harshly because I could never quite live up to my own expectations.
When I look back through my journals from 10+ years ago, it was ALL struggle. Everywhere I looked, I was trying to force growth: in myself, in my business, in my learning, in my impact.
Everywhere I looked, I was trying to be a superwoman. (And thinking I had to do it all myself, despite having lots of help if only I were capable of asking for it). And maybe even pulling it off in appearance – but inside I was just barely holding it together.
Anxiety, worry, stress, lack, fear. Feeling like a failure because I didn’t have my shit together. Not together enough.
Enough for who? I could have listed all the ‘people’ I was letting down back then – but the truth is, I was always enough for them.
I wasn’t good enough for ME.
The Day I Hit Rock Bottom feels like yesterday, even though it was almost 11 years ago. Ethan was 4, Audra was 2, and it was 6 months after I opened my own practice in Ontario. I couldn’t fathom how it was that I was changing people’s lives and health, and yet, I was crumbling inside from the agony of failing. How did everyone else have ‘it’ together when I could barely keep my head afloat? Who was I to think that I had what it took to have my own practice? Be a success? (Whatever that meant, anyways.) Yes – I was frustrated, disappointed and exhausted.
I remember the night before – my first time taking our kids camping. And since Dean was working, we met up with our best friends, Mike and Tanya, and their 2-year-old daughter at a campground 15 minutes from our home (We chose to be close to home – ‘just in case’). And for me, already being stressed to the max, exhausted both emotionally and physically, my final breaking point came when I was trying to get my kids to sleep. (In a tent. Together. In an exciting new place. When sleep had never been our easy place in parenting. What was I thinking?!)
And so, when they kept wanting to play, be silly, and not settle down (in other words: be completely normal, excited young kids) – I lost it. I wanted to force them to sleep. I wished I could hold them down until they weren’t awake any more. And the adventure of camping in a tent on a beautiful summer night culminated in a banshee-yelling, crazed mom. I knew my friends could hear me (probably all surrounding campsites, too, to be honest), but I didn’t have control of myself any longer; I had snapped. Somehow, I illogically equated not being able to get excited kids to sleep with being the final straw in my failure as a mom and in my life.
I remember leaving the tent – likely with both of them crying – confused, and probably scared. And I remember sitting in a camp chair at the fire, sobbing while I tried to sip on a beer (isn’t that what you do when camping?!) And I remember our friend Mike came and just laid a comforting hand on my shoulder, while I heard Tanya leave their tent (and calm 2 year old) to go in and tell stories to mine. Our kids settled down and went to sleep.
Mike and Tanya joined me at the fire. And if I remember correctly – no words were said. None were needed.
I was in breakdown and they loved me through it, while picking up the pieces where they could.
My Rock Bottom wasn’t that night. It came the next morning as I drove the hour down to my practice. (With 20/20 hindsight, and a decade more of learning, I can see that it was ludacrist to camp on a Friday night, without Dean, knowing I had to work on Saturday morning an hour away. But in those days, I said yes to everything. I thought I could handle everything.)
(I was wrong.)
Driving to work that morning, the sun pouring in on me, I finally was so emotionally raw that I could no longer hide from the ugly truth that was underlying all of this: that there was a part of me, buried deep down inside, where I hated myself.
I. HATED. MYSELF.
I wasn’t the positive, empowered, intelligent woman I believed myself to be at all. I was a fraud. I was a failure. And pretty soon, I feared, the world would see the cracks and know it, too.
Sometimes, in those moments that lay us bare – there is wisdom to be found. The shocking realization of that day – of not fully loving myself – No – of actually hating myself – is what sets that day apart for me as The Day I Hit Rock Bottom. (And it is in caps, even in my mind – because it was such a pivotal moment in my life).
In that pain, I found clarity. Somehow, it gave me permission to look at all of those uncomfortable and ugly feelings that I had been denying. They were eating away at me and had become so huge that I could no longer ignore them. I couldn’t work them away, or help other people enough, or stay busy enough that I didn’t have to look at my own internal mess.
Even in writing this 11 years later, tears streamed as I brought these memories to print.
I can see how I de-valued myself, not taking time to make myself a priority, not recognizing that I had to find ways to re-fill my own tank. It was all push, and no nurture. I could love and support everyone else – but not myself.
And I saw that had to change.
I had to learn to LOVE MYSELF ENOUGH to set boundaries.
To accept that some days I will have more to give than others.
To accept that some days I would feel accomplished and purposeful – and that other days I would have to be okay with just getting through.
I had to learn to say NO. NO to things, people, or requests that didn’t suit my values. NO to taking on too much because my plate was already full. NO to things that took me away from the life I wanted to create.
I was headed down the path to illness. I didn’t recognize it at the time, especially because I did so many of the right things for my health. If nothing had changed – if I had tried to keep up that relentless pace without taking time to care for mySELF, I know – with that deeper, wiser part of myself – that I would be doing this learning from a place of stress-induced illness.
The piece that was missing for me – the PEACE in my life – was that of LOVING MYSELF, in all of my imperfection.
The PEACE that I now own (most days) – allows me to be honest with myself, to breathe a little deeper, to feel more joy, to accept where I am – and the wisdom to know (most days) what actions are most likely to help keep me on track with creating a life that I would want my kids and loved ones to aspire to.
I am far from perfect.
But – I am perfect in my imperfection.
I make mistakes. I change my mind. I swear, lose my cool, and have poor judgement.
What I have learned is that I don’t have to hate or judge myself for it.
My journey into self love and self acceptance was and continues to be a spiritual one.
Many days, I am still not in that place I strive for.
Most days, I am constantly and consciously course-correcting my thoughts and actions to stay true to myself.
I do believe that it is in our darkest moments that we can find our brightest light.
Staying in that place of darkness, continuing to push just wasn’t an option.
Instead, I chose the path out of it and found the one piece that for me has made all of the difference: that I am ALWAYS ENOUGH.
And so are YOU.
Much Love, Amy