Giving Enough and Getting Enough

Truth Byte #66


“Not everyone is as nice as you.”


I was raised to be nice. I did not yell at people, I did not swear, I did not gain any pleasure from other people’s pain.  Jealousy, rudeness, and stinginess were frowned upon in my family, and generosity, care, and selfless giving were our pillars. I took on the eldest sister role and learned very quickly to put my wants aside so the littler ones could be happy. We would hunt out the strays during the holidays and bring them home, because my mom felt no one should be alone at Christmas. We always made extra loot bags at birthday parties, because, as my mom used to say, “You never know who’s going to show up!”


And we did not have a lot.  I remember fishing inside the couch cushions to come up with the final dollar for the pizza we ordered every few months when my mom was just way too wiped from her three jobs to cook. We wore second-hand clothing, and got the knock-off versions of Barbie and Lego.  But no matter how little we had, my mom instilled deep in our bones that we always had enough to share. I remember that food used to stretch magically when we had guests at home, because my grandfather taught his children that the more you give to others, the more Life gives to you.  I remember giving things away to cousins that had so much more than me simply to see them light up and shriek with delight.


Nice was just who I was, who we were, as a family.


These were my values growing up, and were shared by most of my neighborhood friends. As I got older, this sharing went beyond sharing things to sharing of myself, my time, my knowledge, my advice, my listening ear.


And so when I entered the big bad world of high school in a community much more affluent than mine, I felt very out of place. No one here seemed to wear other people’s old clothes, or if they did, it was “chic” and “vintage”, nothing like the black garbage bags full of stale-smelling-mix-and-match donations we got from our social worker. Very few of my friends brought peanut butter banana sandwiches from home, but would instead spend (what I assumed was) their parent’s-hard-earned-money on warm and gooey grilled cheese sandwiches, spicy cafeteria burritos, and ample cans of Coke. The kids in my school didn’t think twice about the cost of joining the school band or signing up for the debate team or going out to the movies on a Friday instead of the much cheaper Tuesdays I favoured. Money wasn’t a thing for them.  And they also didn’t go out of their way with their time.  They protected their time fiercely and only spent it on people they really liked.  And they never volunteered for anything.


And I think it was in high school that I started to see my nice-ness was not something everybody shared. High school was where, for the first time, I got duped. It was here that people used me for my smarts while pretending to befriend me.  It was here that my own giving and receiving scales dangerously tipped the wrong way.


And at the time it was fine because I hardly noticed.


But two decades later, I can see how that seemingly harmless seed has grown in to a mighty tree of self-doubt.


WARNING: What I am about to say may piss you off if you have put me on a pedestal because no one likes to see their hero exposed.


Here it is: I have self-worth issues.


And they are complicated and old.


And though I have unravelled them and re-woven the threads into a new tapestry, sometimes, I still find myself feeling small, feeling like I don’t fit.


My life is a mirror, reflecting back to me what still needs healing, and the people who seek me out for counselling tend to be nice people too.  By the time they get to me though, their kind hearts are buried under a lifetime of numbness and/or rage.  They have been giving and giving and giving, truly from the bottom of their hearts, but at some point in their giving they stopped noticing who the receiver was, and whether he/she even deserved all this giving.


I have been in that quicksand. I know what it’s like to be so deeply identified with the role of “good girl” that I would go against my own better judgement and let people use me rather than upset anyone.


And when I finally did stand up for myself, I actually lost a lot of people.  These people had been part of my inner circle. I had been loving them and listening to them and giving to them for months and even years.


And suddenly, they were just gone.


And boy, was I heart-broken.


Suddenly, I had no one left.


Except myself.


So I used that time to get to know myself again.


I realized that rather than be nice and make sure everybody liked me, it was time to be genuine. I reminded myself of Oprah’s idea of “I teach you how to treat me”, and the people who were too hard to teach, I walked away from.  The girlfriends who needed me to be there for them but couldn’t return the favour stopped getting invited out for coffee. The moms whose kids I watched but never had time for mine got deleted from my Facebook page. The family members who only gathered with me at big functions just to make small talk stopped getting the details of my private life over the phone.


This was a very lonely and painful time for me, and what got me through is the unwavering love and support of two people: my husband and my sister.  They simply wouldn’t let me convince myself that I was not worth loving. They helped me to steer my beautiful and incredible ship of self-doubt through the nastiest waters, and come out more grounded and wise.


Extroverts need people.  But we don’t need just any people, we need the right people around us. The worse thing for an extrovert is a party that we threw where someone is not having fun.  But here’s the thing: when you are responsible for everyone else’s fun all the time, with no breaks, you will start to wither…and then you will start to resent the very people you say you want to be around.


In this process of letting go, I released the internal pressure to make sure everyone else was having fun. I returned to the small, loving group that really got my clothing-from-a-garbage-bag childhood, even if they weren’t part of it. I returned to the women who understood my simultaneous love and drowning sensations when it comes to my kids. I joined other people in my field of work who were in it to bring hope and healing, not just a reputation and a paycheque.


I stopped giving myself away to everyone, and reserved myself for people who had the capacity to give back to me, not just take from me all the time.


As you look at your own balance scale, is it time to learn to receive again? Can you let someone be the person for you that you have been for so many? If not now, when?


It’s your life, and only you can live it.

Lemonade and Gypsy Trips

Truth Byte #62

“Self-doubt will slow you down.”


When life gives you lemons, what do you do?


I know when I heard that phrase as a child, I panicked.  I had no idea how to make lemonade. The closest I ever got to that sweet and tart beverage was dumping a can of frozen pulp into a plastic jug and stirring.
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Re-Writing My Story

Truth Byte #61


“Change your story, change your life.”


I finally got it. The phrase that captures what I am trying to do here in my little corner of cyber-space. I, Dr. Saira, have one message that has finally become clear to me:


change your story, change your life.


Over a year ago, my husband and I sat down for a serious conversation about what kind of future I saw for myself in my career. After a long, intense conversation (including a white-board-mind-map!), I could actually picture myself at my professional peak point. I saw myself teaching, counselling, and storytelling. I saw myself on a stage making the audience laugh while crying, and at the same time, I saw myself in a private, quiet room with one other person, helping them to get to the other side of their pain.  I saw a balanced life where I could make my own hours, where my paid work felt interesting and engaging, and yet did not intrude on my number one priority: the people I love.
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Taking Off the Mask…again.

Truth Byte #60


“Being real will get you there.”


I have tried on a lot of flavours in my life. After my early years as teacher’s pet and uber-nerd, I moved to my teens where I tried hard to make hip-hop culture fit me, and then into my early twenties, when I joined the pseudo-spirituality of the New Agers.


It is finally now, in my later thirties, that I am settling in to a hybrid version of all these other identities. I have come to peace with loving books more than people and the urgent-yet-glazed feeling I get when I am wrist-deep in a new novel. I have internalized the struggles of the marginalized, joining marches and protests when there is a social issue I just can’t keep quiet about. And I Feng Shui my house, and teach my kids how to stop their bodies from bruising through simple energy healing techniques.
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My Two Grad Dates (and Other Secrets)

Truth Byte #59

“Somebody adores you, even when you can’t.”


I am on a personal retreat this week. And while I ponder the big and small choices I have made over the year since my last retreat, a lot of good “ahas” are coming up. Last year, just after coming home from my retreat, I wrote Truth Byte #14, That’s Not Really a Tiger, about how to be gentler with ourselves. Today, I want to tell you something else.  Today I want to tell you that somebody adores you, even when you don’t have the capacity to adore yourself.


Let me tell you a story. I was in twelfth grade, and it was the evening of my high school graduation party. I had two (yes two!) dream-come-true dates, a guy from my faith community that I had crushed on for two years as we went out on group excursions and attended religious education classes, and another that made my heart flutter every time I passed his desk in Chemistry class who I secretly loved for all three years of high school. I actually used to go to “the bathroom” two or three times every class I had with him just so I could pass by Bachelor Number Two, make eye contact, and get a whiff of “he’s-not-just-a-boy-he’s-a-man-because-he-wears-it” cologne.  Maybe that explains my less-than-stellar final marks in that class...
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The Upside of Getting it Wrong

Truth Byte #58

 “It’s okay to make mistakes you can learn from.”


As a recovered perfectionist, I had a hard time believing it’s okay to make mistakes for decades. I believed, deep inside myself, that mistakes were the result of poor self-control or a lack of planning or some personal weakness finally come to light. I was okay with other people making mistakes, but if I did something wrong, it deeply impacted my self-worth and ignited this caustic self-talk that would burn holes in my sense of personal worth and goodness. I was really determined to be as perfect as I could be in the areas that mattered to me.
What that meant is that I really didn’t take many risks.


Because I didn’t want to fail.

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Five Ways to Stay Stuck

Truth Byte #57

 “Change and growth are different things.”


The one constant in life is change. Kids grow taller, wear and tear impacts our highways, and our bodies age.  Change happens with the passage of time. It’s just Nature’s law.  However, change does not necessarily predict growth, especially when it comes to people.

Let me tell you a little story.  I know someone who tries new things all the time.  She moves from this project to that project and has a lot of fun doing it.  Downside: she is still telling me the same stories about how “life is so hard” that she was telling me fifteen years ago.

Lots of changes, little growth.

Here’s another one. I had a client who had seen over five therapists in the last ten years.  Before he met me, he had tried whatever they taught him, attempting to implement all the homework and self-reflection he could.  Every month he was reading a new book about personal development. Downside: he was still stuck in the same cycle of one failed relationship after another. Lots of change, not much growth.
Why does this happen?
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How Yoga Saved my Baby

Truth Byte #56


“It’s better to bend than to break.”


I have been learning the last few weeks about flexibility. I get moving in a certain direction, and then I have to pivot, to quickly and effortlessly turn on the spot as Life throws me an unexpected, better opportunity.


I know, it’s a good problem to have.


And I learned this same lesson many years ago, in a much more painful way: yoga.


So let me take you back there, to the halls of my graduate program where we were learning about all things spiritual.  One of the graduation requirements was that we adopt a body discipline.  First year, it was mandatory Aikido. Amazing, loved it, but I wanted to try something new by second year.


Enter Course 234: Yoga.
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