I don’t watch a ton of Netflix, not because I’m super conscientious and productive, but because I don’t have time. Work and life get in the way of my Netflix binge dreams usually, but there are two shows other half and I have loved. One is Longmire, and the other is Designated Survivor. Last night I was watching Designated Survivor, and it was (spoiler alert) the part where the First Lady has been killed in a car accident by a driver who ran a red light while texting, and the President goes to visit him in prison.
He approaches this young guy, handcuffed to the table, looking terrified, and asks him if he’s being treated well. If the food is OK. If he’s being protected from the other prisoners. He responds with “Yes sir.” I expected the President to say something profound and forgiving, because in the show he’s always so peaceful and wise, and never seems to fall into the muck that I personally land in with startling frequency. Instead, he goes into this monologue about how he’s glad that the man is being treated well, because he wants him to be safe enough to live a long life, and to remember every single day the mistake that he made, what the man took from him, and the lives he devastated.
As I was watching it, I thought, “Wow. If this were an illustration of what’s going on in your head right now, you would be both the guy who drove the car and the President.” It was a profound realization, this recognition that half the time the reason I struggle with my decisions and emotions and managing life in general is because I’m so hard on myself. I constantly berate myself for any mistake or potential misstep. I obsess about the things I’m not sure if I got exactly right. I dissect each interaction from my past, wondering what part I played in situations that inflicted pain. The level of anxiety escalates until I can’t breathe, until I no longer trust myself, until I’m literally paralyzed.
As My Crazy Lady frequently reminds me, anxiety is fear, and fear is not something that I should allow to control me, but I think there’s another component. I think, in addition to fear, it’s also a lack of forgiveness. Not just for other people who may have hurt me which has led to this compulsion to isolate myself because of the risks associated with allowing other people to get too close, but a failure to forgive myself. There are so many things that I have been holding onto, refusing to let go no matter how heavy the load, that I’ve become a person treading water with rocks in her pockets, slowly sinking in spite of a valiant effort to stay afloat. Every decision is tainted by this doubt, as if my life were a photo that blurs around the edges, one clear plateau surrounded by gathering clouds and fog. The decision is front and center, but the gathering doubts based on past failures are the fog surrounding it, closing in, suffocating and sure.
Just as my chest tightens, and I hear the accusations and doubt crowd out the progress I try to make, I hear a whisper in my mind, saying, “There is therefore now no condemnation…”
Condemnation is defined as “the expression of very strong disapproval; censure; the action of condemning someone to punishment; sentencing.” This combination of fear and failing to forgive myself is a constant loop of self-condemnation, playing on repeat in my mind, holding me captive, refusing to allow me to move forward, making me both the guy handcuffed to the table and the President sitting across from him. Accuser and accused. Constantly feeling the guilt and self-doubt, constantly reminding myself that I deserve to feel that way, whether or not I actually do.
The only way stop any of this is with the truth. There is therefore now no condemnation for me, except that which I allow.
This week I talked to My Friend, seeking advice for a decision I have to make. During the conversation I realized that all of this self-recrimination is coming from the fact that I refuse to let go. Of control, of fear, of a desire to have life never change, to stay in straight perfect rows instead of exploding like fireworks. “It’s time to move on,” My Friend said. “You’ve been choosing to dig your heels in. If you can choose to be miserable, you can choose not to be.” Straight lines are comforting in their predicability, but fireworks are beautiful and majestic, using their inner potential to light up the night.
I had to think a lot about recent events. About how I’ve been sabotaging my own progress by trying to let my feet carry me forward into the future while my fingers refuse to release the white-knuckle grip on where I’ve been. Sometimes holding on hurts more than letting go. And with this realization, I felt the beginnings of peace, of a shift towards my future, Towards a new life. Towards removing the handcuffs, and shutting up the accusing voices, and listening to the still small voice instead. No more condemnation, a daily decision. Freedom revealed.