I lost my best friend today, on the 11th anniversary of the day I brought her home. She was my sidekick; my comfort; my protector; my travel buddy; my perfect representation of love on this side of heaven. This blog could be entirely about how much I love her, and perhaps I will draft that someday. But today, as I muted the tv for the 50th time to listen for her struggling to walk, or cleared her usual space next to me on the couch, and tonight, as I undoubtedly forget to turn off the alarms that I set to get up with her multiple times a night, I will ponder muscle memory. If you’ve ever moved into a new home or changed offices, you know the drill. Without looking, you automatically reach over to flip on the light switch where it used to be, or you navigate around the edge of the location of your kitchen counter in your old home. After I lost my dad, I’d pick up the phone to call him to ask him how to fix something.
These repetitive behaviors carve passageways in our brains that we are inclined to repeat when similar feelings or circumstances arise.
I’m not proud of all of my inclinations. Perfectionism framed much of my muscle memory. I was inclined to find the flaws, come up with a corrective action plan, and execute it before you even knew a problem existed. And man, was I ever proud of my ‘detail oriented’ approach to life. If you ask me to do something, oh, TRUST that it will get done, before deadline, pie chart included, and void of any errors. Everything was over-the-top. Painting a wall meant that out came the craft brush for touch-ups. House was always immaculate and impeccably decorated. Emails were grammatically correct, bullet-pointed, and with a clear outline and call-to-action; and I’m not referring to work emails. Then life happened.
To continue this expectation of myself and others meant that I would drive everyone away and have a nervous breakdown in the process.
Unfortunately, I did drive some away. And no amount of repentance or promise of a changed heart could change that.
In cases of heavy conversations, my muscle memory taught me to maintain composure, put my head down, and power through. My inept emotional IQ told me that there were no emotions to be discussed, and that the sharer was weak and lacked coping skills. There were no tears to be held back, as this situation simply did not merit them. What my self-preservation considered strength, others received as cold, detached, and heartless. It pains me now to think of how many needed simply to be heard, but I was incapable.
I hope to share what God has shown me about the WHY behind these muscle memories at another time. My goal today is that you take a bird’s eye look at patterns in your life, and examine how they are affecting yourself and others. You can choose, like I did for so many years, to say to yourself ‘We’re simply not meant to be friends. And that’s okay.’ Or continue telling yourself that this is your personality and there is no changing it. I’m not going to stand here and say that this is simple or painless. The cliche that our strengths are also our weaknesses is so true. How many times do you think I was commended for being a perfectionist or unemotional? Countless. I. Got. Things. Done. People knew that they could count on me to deliver quality work, and that difficult circumstances would not get in the way. But accolades do not equate to living a successful life.
If you are looking to uncover any truth about yourself BY yourself, you will fail.
I wish it had not taken the dissolution of my marriage to kick start the archeological dig into my junk. I wish that it had been one simple issue, and that what I unearthed didn’t lead to a menagerie of spiritual, emotional, and psychological work to be done. I wish that rewiring these dysfunctional patterns was not so incredibly hard. And man, does this self-professed introvert EVER wish that I could have done this alone. You simply can’t. We aren’t wired to do life alone, and healing requires the perspective of others.
What I can tell you is that it can be done. You can reroute these muscle memories.
Your propensity for self-destruction, even when veiled as successful behavior, does not have to continue.
You will have to take painful stock of your life, acknowledge deep, confounding pain, seek healing, and retrain your mind. But you can do it.
Don’t get it twisted; I’m not fully recovered. But I am doing the work. I am honest about where I am, and I continue to share my heart with trusted advisors and professionals. I look for signs of those unhealthy tendencies and I tackle it, immediately and head-on. And I hope others would agree that I’m receptive to feedback. I do believe there is a healthy version of my bent towards excellence and self-composure. I’m striking a balance, but I’m letting God be my guide, not my ridiculous personal standards or the pain that actually formed the standard.
Even now I hear the phantom sounds of my sweet Roxy roaming the house. And my inclination is to get up and administer her medications and get her prescription food ready. But I pause, remember the loss of my girl and sit back down to finish writing this. Feel free to take pause and recognize why you do the things that you do. But you don’t have to continue doing them. You are free to finish writing your story too.