new rules

birthdays gone by

As I mark growing another year older, I’ve been thinking about the state of my life now versus two or six or twelve years ago, the things I lived through then and the way I live now. I spent some time remembering birthdays gone by and reflecting on how different my current experience is—and how grateful I am that it’s changed so dramatically. I almost can’t believe I made it through some of the worst times, but I did—and learned so much from each of them. That being said, I intend to use the constructive power of those memories to help myself make wise choices going forward. Not to wallow in regret, but to honor my mistakes and failures, and celebrate my liberation from the past.

10 things I choose to never suffer through again:

  1. The overwhelm and shame of very deep debt; the endless, losing battle to pay bills and catch up, scraping by month-to-month year after year, worried and afraid.
  2. The wrenching, gnawing anxiety and unease of being with someone who disrespects, exploits, manipulates and abuses me; the strain of watching and waiting for their moods to dictate my life. Feeling powerless and trapped.
  3. The fathomless chasm of codependency, feeling so attached to another that I can’t feel or sense myself without them, making choices that don’t serve my needs in order to enable theirs.
  4. The distressing and uncomfortable feeling that I don’t belong in my life, feeling lost and frightened and disconnected. Wanting to be at peace, never finding a way to stop the sense of being wrong inside. Knowing only ego, having no connection to soul.
  5. Desperate emotional dependence on a drug, depending on the escapism of pot and the fear that without it reality would be dull, flat and intolerable.
  6. The numbing state of autopilot, living my life in a haze, doing things because I’ve always done them, being pinned down by “shoulds” and blindly following the old rules.
  7. The daily struggle to BE OK, to make everything OK, merely to survive each moment using all my inner strength and resources. Barely keeping my head above water, being thrown off balance effortlessly by another person; feeling no center within myself.
  8. The pain of not living as my authentic self, twisting myself into knots for another and feeling the life sap out of me by my own betrayal of self.
  9. The awkward, uneasy conflict of not trusting myself, not listening to my inner wisdom or following my instincts.
  10. The aching disappointment when someone I love lets me down, breaks an agreement, dismisses another promise, leaves me stranded. The familiar sense of loss and disorientation when it happens again, not knowing how to fulfill my needs and wants.

I can’t control what will happen to me, what challenges I’ll face, problems I’ll create, or losses I’ll experience, but I can control how I choose to live my life. I’ve made it a priority over the past year and a half to set clear intentions for what I want and why I want it, to honor my values, needs, feelings, and desires, to trust my instincts implicitly, and to thrive in every way possible. I’m guided by a new set of rules now, no more “shoulds” or compromising of who I am.

Whatever happens in the future, if it’s at all within my power, I’ll never go back to such dark days again.

writing the new rules

In my ongoing struggle for self-awareness, I found and read a semi-helpful book about codependency. I learned a few things from reading it, namely that I’m a recovering codependent, and I needed to rewrite the rules of my life. While the book was ultimately pretty disappointing and preachy, I found rewriting the rules to be a valuable exercise.

The best thing about my toxic relationship ending last year has been a reclamation of myself. It tore me open to reveal a deeper understanding of my past choices and patterns and fears, new truths to be faced and integrated into my story, insight into what’s really important to me, an opportunity to face and accept things I’ve been afraid to see. The new rules have been a critical part of this process.

The exercise asks you to write down all the old rules you’ve been living by, cross them out, and write new rules, as I did below. I found it surprisingly easy once I got started—I already knew the old rules, and knew exactly how to rewrite them. I stuck my new rules on my fridge where I can see them every day, and find that more than any other self-help practice, they have affected the way I live my life and approach trigger situations.

The OLD rules:

  • I’m not allowed to express my feelings.
  • I’m not worth hearing, so I should keep quiet and not win anyone’s disapproval.
  • People who are mad at me will punish me.
  • If I mess up, people may not love me or will think I’m not enough/wrong.
  • I’m not lovable as I am, I need to work hard to earn people’s love.
  • I can’t say no.
  • I’m not allowed to have boundaries—I need to share everything without limits and always say “yes” to requests.
  • If I screw up I’ll hate myself, so I should be really careful not to say the wrong thing.
  • I need to punish myself (self-flagellation/criticism/SHAME) if I misspeak or make a mistake.
  • I can only create relationships with people who are unhealthy and not good for me.
  • My needs aren’t important.

The NEW rules:

  • The rules can be changed.
  • I get to feel every emotion I have, and express my emotions in appropriate ways.
  • I am lovable, worth loving just as I am, and worth listening to even when I’m wrong.
  • My needs, wants, opinions and feelings are important.
  • I’m allowed to say no.
  • My inner guide is my copilot—not guilt, “shoulds” or the way it’s always been.
  • I set clear boundaries with the people I love, work with and engage with.
  • I create only healthy, authentic partnerships with responsible, caring adults.
  • Those who I trust have earned it, and treat me with respect and integrity.
  • I don’t have to feel shame after I express myself, socialize or speak out. I get to feel good and self-affirming instead.
  • I am enough just as I am. Even if I screw up or make mistakes, I’m enough.