you are not broken.
the first time I read those words, as written to me by Belle, I burst into tears. I am certain I am far from alone in that reaction. because I had come to believe that I was both intrinsically flawed – inherently bad and weak – and irreversibly damaged by choices I had made in my life.
the possibility that was not, in fact, the case, was a lifesaver for me. if I had not been thrown that lifebelt I very much doubt whether I would ever have had a chance of getting out of the quicksand of addiction.
as I continue on into the brave (ie quite often dull, occasionally terrifying, never ever actually feeling as if I am brave but doing it anyway) new world of sobriety there are still areas where I struggle to believe those words. perhaps we all have different areas of vulnerability, whether it is our closest relationships with our spouses, our parenting, or our relationship with other substances, or our perception of our bodies?
for me I have known for a while that my most vulnerable area is in my work. it is easy for me, still, to feel inadequate and insufficiently skilled at some of the work I do. I’ll be coming onto some thinking about this shortly in the Flow series, but there are some parallel researches I’ve been doing into this problem, too, which I’d like to chew over here.
recently a problem has come up at work which I may not have handled very well. to a certain extent the solution is out of my hands. I am making a judgement call as to how much to involve a third party in the solution. I may have got/be getting that decision wrong.
and when the topic came up in conversation with my husband, that feeling of inadequacy swooped in once more, causing me almost physical pain. now, life is not going to be all sunny days and picnics in the park. I get that there will be tricky bits, and that’s ok. what was not ok was my disproportionate response to this problem. the fact that it made me call into question my ability to do my job, and in doing so sent me right back to that ‘inherently bad and weak’ place.
which is not where I live, any more. I do not belong in that dark room, now. but saying
“don’t go down into the basement, Primrose!”
is not, apparently, enough. because I fall through a trap-door. and there I am. in the basement. and how the hell do I get out?
here’s a ladder that’s helping me, at that point, in the corner of a dark basement, with my old monsters assembling around me: the idea that my mistakes are not, in fact, evidence of my personal failings – the trapdoor – but instead, they are the ladder which can help me climb out.
I listened to a podcast recently with Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck, the author of a book, ‘Mindset’, which examines the difference between a fixed and a growth mindset. after reading around it a bit, there’s a good summary of her ideas here. for example, she says:
‘When you enter a mindset, you enter a new world. In one world — the world of fixed traits — success is about proving you’re smart or talented. Validating yourself. In the other — the world of changing qualities — it’s about stretching yourself to learn something new. Developing yourself.
In one world, failure is about having a setback. Getting a bad grade. Losing a tournament. Getting fired. Getting rejected. It means you’re not smart or talented. In the other world, failure is about not growing. Not reaching for the things you value. It means you’re not fulfilling your potential.
In one world, effort is a bad thing. It, like failure, means you’re not smart or talented. If you were, you wouldn’t need effort. In the other world, effort is what makes you smart or talented.’
the words that particularly hit home for me were these: that a growth mindset ‘creates a passion for learning rather than a hunger for approval.’
suppose, just suppose, that this is true? that we are not china dolls, who can be shattered and broken by our mistakes, but that we can take adverse events and make ourselves stronger and wiser with them?
we are not broken. good news? yes, and no. if we are not broken, there is an inevitable corollary. which is that we can be healed – but that it is our own responsibility to heal. with help from others, yes. but it is down to us.
the fixed mindset of broken-ness gives us an excuse not to try. we may be exhausted and bone-tired of trying. but there is no longer any reason not to.
because it is only by learning from our mistakes that we learn to fly. Prim xx