On refusing to sacrifice myself
Welcome to my underwater cave of shadow work
Hi. It’s been a few months since I’ve written a newsletter, and I keep not knowing quite how to jump back into the river. I’ve been in a very internal-processing kind of place since I moved back to Portland in October, and I felt like I had to just go through it before I could write about it.
I am not sure I’m through it, but I felt like today I could at least write something to say that I’m alive and well and not intending to abandon my newsletter. And that sometimes, I just have to process things alone.
The moment the sale of my house in Salem was finalized, an ocean of feelings that I had apparently been suppressing until I was completely out of that situation suddenly came to the surface.
I am ending a 10-year chapter of my life, in which I moved to Salem, got married to a prisoner, endured a very intense, confusing, and ultimately untenable relationship, finally did my attachment work, got divorced, and then realized I am ADHD and autistic.
It’s been a lot, and there are some things you can’t fully sort through until you are not in them anymore.
Here are some of the things I have been processing:
How deeply patterned I am to not have boundaries in relationships, and to absorb emotional violence and respond with understanding and co-regulation to try to calm the other person down—at my own expense.
That self-love means not allowing people to mistreat me. (Which seems fairly obvious now, but it’s something that somehow escaped my notice.)
Sacrifice in general, and why it was so meaningful to me to allow myself to be damaged and deprived for someone else’s sake.
How I hide my spiritual path and keep it mostly as a secret identity, even though it’s actually the organizing principle of my life.
The roots of all these patterns that go back to my childhood.
How to truly resolve and let go of the past, so I don’t just keep creating it in my future.
How all this relates to neurodivergence and masking—the way I try to earn love and acceptance by erasing my own needs and desires and living in my ability to support other people—and how truly devastating that is to my own wellbeing.
How this is all about power, and the ways I learned to survive when I felt powerless—how I learned to trade my power for safety, and how unsafe that ultimately made me—and how I’m learning to reclaim my power, and make my life genuinely safe for myself.
Every day, each emotional realization and layer of complicated grief unfolds and leads to the next one. I am trusting the process and letting it go where it needs to go, because I do not want to carry any of this with me. I’ve carried it long enough.
I’ve needed a lot of rest.
I’m still figuring out what I need in my environment for it to be truly supportive to my neurodivergent nervous system. But one thing that has become very clear is that the life I have lived thus far was far more stressful than was good for me. I don’t know if I’ll always need to rest this much, but right now, I’m in deep recovery mode. My body still craves so much rest, every day, and I’m honoring that.
I think part of it is that in the past, my rest was not really restful, because I was still holding on to obligations and relationships that were constant sources of stress. Only when those were no longer draining me could my rest actually start to replenish my reserves. And I honestly don’t know how long that process will take, or what it is even like to not feel depleted by life.
But I’ve realized that this is really just the physics of having a nervous system with less capacity, and more sensitivity, to stress. I have to be very aware of what uses up my inner resources, and what replenishes them. And I have to find and protect the boundaries I need to keep myself well-resourced.
So my current inner-work project is, roughly:
de-programming myself from sacrifice templates and learning to enforce the boundaries I need
eliminating any remaining sources of chronic stress
resting and replenishing what was depleted
allowing my grief process to complete in its own time
finding what is nourishing and doing more of it
I’m somewhere in the middle of this process, and I’m following some combination of inner attunement and intuition. I don’t really know where I’ll end up, but I know I’m going in the right direction.
I am unsure how much or how often I will be writing right now. I just don’t have a lot of certainty yet, because I’m still finding my way through this underwater cave of emotions. I know there are new things on the horizon—I can feel them out there. But I’m just not quite there yet, and I want to allow myself to be where I am and follow this process to its completion.
This feels like a badly needed renegotiation of the terms on which I’m willing to live.
I always knew I grew up in a dysfunctional environment, but I didn’t realize just how much I was trained in a form of self-harm through self-sacrifice, which was rewarded and reinforced as good and noble and righteous and meaningful. It didn’t feel like I was killing myself; it felt like devotion.
And when I think about how truly fucked up that is, it makes me a bit sick to my stomach. I don’t want to be my own worst enemy because of the things I’m willing to tolerate. I don’t want to have such a high pain tolerance that I’ll endure what I should be rejecting. I don’t want to be a sacrificial lamb for other people’s dysfunction. And I damn sure don’t want to define my own degradation as a good thing.
I don’t want to ever do this to myself again, in this or any other lifetime. Whatever generational trauma or karma this is, I want it to stop here and now, because it’s wrong.
I know this pattern of sacrifice is bigger than just me and my family. It’s baked into Christianity, it’s part of productivity culture, and it’s a huge part of both male and female gender socialization in different ways. It’s really the water we all swim in.
But it doesn’t have to be this way, and it shouldn’t be this way. And in my life at least, I’m no longer going to allow it to be this way.
Sometimes my self-liberation process is unicorns and rainbows, and sometimes it’s really gnarly shadow work. That’s the yin and yang of being me, I suppose. 🦄 🌚 💚