For what must have been the gazillionth time I screwed up yesterday evening. Again. Felt unsettled and well, yeah, scared, because my brother was staying over for dinner and could not keep his stupid mouth shut and told a Halloween story. One of those “you know it’s really true, it happened to a friend of my grandfather’s dog’s cousin” stories that everyone knows are just made up nonsense to spook people with. Which made it hard to tell him to shut up, because come on, I got a little pride, too, and he’s younger than me and I didn’t want him to make fun of me for being such a wimp.
Anyway, so he told his stupid story. Mom had even asked if I wanted to hear it or if he should keep it to himself, but I didn’t manage to admit I’d rather not hear it. So by the time dinner was over I was spooked and terribly angry at myself and my brother and everyone. And as irrational as the thought is in the light of day, I felt like they didn’t care about me and were just the most awful family to have, which made me angry at them and snappy and unfriendly. I was half aware that below all that anger I was unsettled and scared and that I should really tell someone, tell ma . . . yeah, but you may guess what I did not do.
Instead I yelled at my mom when she tried to talk to me, yelled that I hated her, hated this family and wished they’d all die. Ugly stuff like that. When even while I was yelling, I already KNEW that was not what was really up, but it just made me angrier and yell more. Scream, really. And I am trying so hard to not do that anymore, taking my anger out on my family by saying the meanest things, hurting them. Yet despite all my plans I royally messed up. Big fucking time. And didn’t even care, just wanted to wreak havoc.
Now lucky stupid me, yelling at my mom is like yelling at a wall. She doesn’t yield. She doesn’t get angry. She just stays, listens, waits. Which makes me more angry initially, this fucking lack of a reaction, makes me yell more, makes me hurl nasty insults at her, trying to provoke some reaction – but after a while, when I realize she isn’t going to get angry or yell back, I start to cry with the unfairness of everything and feel like I got the worst possible deal in the whole wide world. It’s a strange feeling that for all its misery is painfully comforting. So of all the reasonable things I could be crying about, I end up crying about having gotten such a fuck-up of a mom who doesn’t even get mad. (Go me! Crying about being stuck with the person I’m the luckiest to have. Feelings sure are complicated!)
Anyway, while I’m feeling sorry for myself, my anger usually melts and I let my mom back in. It’s a bit crazy because disappointment of being stuck with her makes me cry, but at the same time I let her comfort me and that calms me down. Crazy minds sure tick in weird ways. But I guess the point of my post is that somehow she manages to turn a crappy situation around. I clearly messed up because had I just owned up about the Halloween story scaring me, chances are the evening would have been a much better one. So one could argue that once again I messed up and that’s that. My mom could be saying “I’m running out of patience with you! How often have we talked about admitting to feelings now?! A million times? Ten million? When are you actually gonna DO it?!” I’d be feeling like a failure. Well, or even more like a failure than I do anyway.
But that’s not what she said. She asked me to take her through how I experienced the evening. Which got me to realize that I was kind of aware all throughout the evening that I wasn’t REALLY feeling angry. Which is quite an improvement compared with how it used to be. We also reviewed together why I felt like I couldn’t own up to it. Because my brother and dad were watching. And why didn’t I feel like I could tell mom in private? Because I was watching myself, too, and was angry at myself for being such a baby. Because I lost perspective on the fact that I have reasons why I am so easily spooked and that it’s not because I’m a baby. So we reinforced that together and I felt better. I spent the evening cuddled up to her and that felt good, too. And my mom smiled and reinforced another thing as well.
She said “see how messing up is part of getting better?”
For a long time I believed she was only saying that to make me feel better. That it was just an empty phrase like “never mind” or “don’t sweat it”, which is said so often simply so we can stop thinking about crap. But messing up is part of getting better is actually the opposite. It means that in every slip, in every single messing up there is information about what went wrong, what worked better than last time, what was missing in order for it to work out, etc. And that it’s up to us to go look for it. That by doing so, we can learn valuable things. That with every messing up, we can get one baby step closer to where we want to be. That there is no getting better without messing up. And that even messing up big time can still be one step on the road to getting better, if we take time to look at it and learn.
Learning is only possible if we feel safe. My gut reaction to making mistakes, to realizing I messed up, is feeling unsafe. But realizing that messing up really IS part of getting better, an inevitable part even, makes it feel more okay. Safer. Safer to look at. Safer to admit to stuff. Safer to learn from. And then it really becomes part of getting better. Crazy, eh?