Wednesday, July 22

Posted by Laurel Garver on Wednesday, July 22, 2015 8 comments
I'd intended to blog once I got back from Florida, where I was helping my mother prepare to move from independent to assisted living in her retirement community. What I didn't anticipate was arriving there with a toothache that turned out to be an abscessed molar. Fortunately, mom's dentist put me on an antibiotic, and we had so much to do that tasks rather than pain occupied most of my thoughts. But I kind of crashed when I got home. A root canal has alleviated the worst pain, and I'm slowly returning to normal.

Photo credit: sideshowmom from 
The primary task while in Florida was to help my mom choose a small portion of her copious belongings to move to her new studio apartment. Oddly enough, most of the purging process was pretty painless, because Mom hadn't even looked at some of her belongings in a decade, or realized she had no use for some items in her "new life" in which all meals are served in a dining room--no more meal prep or clean-up.

For over a year, she had resisted making the move, even though she was painfully lonely and isolated, because she falsely believed she needed a bigger apartment. All this stuff was holding her back from moving ahead, being in a better environment.

The whole experience got me thinking deeply about my relationship to not only stuff, but also ideas that can keep a person stuck. To extend my moving-prep metaphor, first step to overcoming the junk crammed in the closets is to open the door and actually look at it.

Here are a handful of ideas that can limit you, keep you stuck.

  • No one cares what I have to say; I'm a nobody.
  • No one else is writing about ___, so it must be a stupid idea.
  • Everyone is writing in __ genre, so I should, too.
  • That's way too complicated.
  • If I try this new thing, it will be such a time-suck, I'll go under.
  • I can't build a new routine, it's just too hard.
  • I can't afford ___ (to attend a conference, a pro editor, a computer that doesn't crash). 
  • This technique worked for me in the past.
  • All the experts say ___ will guarantee me success.
  • I'm scared of ___ (rejection, public speaking, not having a steady income).
  • My family needs X, Y, Z from me.
  • I can't ask so-and-so to pitch in, they'll just say no and make me resentful. 
  • My one experience doing ___ was so bad, no way will I try it again.
  • I can't approach X or Y, they are way too busy.
  • I don't have a head for ____ (marketing, social media, business).
  • What if I do this new thing at the wrong time and it flops?
  • What if people read my work and think I'm ____ (weird, unhinged, a heretic, a bad parent)?
  • I didn't do such-and-such perfectly the first time, so I might as well quit now.
  • This is really hard, therefore I must not have any natural talent and should quit.

Wow, that was kind of frightening, wasn't it? But I've had a lot of these thoughts, or heard them in some form from writer friends.

I don't have a quick fix for self-sabotage. But I know for sure that remaining in denial isn't going to resolve the problem any more than refusing to see the doctor about that weird mole will prevent you from having skin cancer.

So take the time to open that metaphorical dark cabinet where you've stuffed your worries and fears. Bring them into the light, examine them. Then consider how they might be false and need to be trashed, pronto. Or perhaps they seem true, but tell only part of the story. The unwritten part might involve a creative work-around, a challenge you just need to contemplate for a while, and a solution will come in time.

Do you ever emotionally "clean house"? What negative thoughts plague you that you'd like to jettison?


  1. That's quite a list! I like your metaphor of cleaning house. When I have doubts, I write them out. Seeing them on paper is a good way to distance them and see them for what they are - as you said, self-sabotage. Glad your mother found the move and parting with old stuff more painless than expected.

    1. Great idea for a writing warm-up. As you'll note in my list, sometimes it's falsely positive ideas that can be a problem too, like sticking with one technique that worked in the past, even if it doesn't now.

  2. That's quite a painful list to read - how many of those thoughts have run through my head? Most of them sound dreadfully familiar. I agree with Elizabeth that seeing them on paper is a good way to distance them. I've done a few exercises with giving up "worries" or "fears" like that at youth retreats - where everyone is invited to write down a fear or worry on a piece of paper, pray over it, and throw it into the fire pit. It definitely helps.
    And way to go with your mom. I hope you feel completely healed from your tooth stuff soon!

    1. I think we often let these limiting thoughts lurk around, never examining them, whether they are actually TRUE. Emotional housekeeping means asking, "what thought is making me not try something? Is it based on reality or on fantasy bogeymen?" There are plenty of real-life obstacles, no need to create them for ourselves, right? :-)

  3. All of those things on your list bog us down, and getting rid of them is essential, but definitely not easy.

    I went through the "moving Mom" experience a couple of years ago, so I understand exactly what you and she were up against.

    1. They are hardest to purge if we keep them stuffed away in the spare rooms of our minds. Here's to bravely examining the half and untruths we tell ourselves and giving them the heave-ho.

      Moving mom was definitely complicated by her low stamina and memory issues. But she loves her new place so much, it was totally worth the effort to get her belongings trimmed enough to go there.

  4. I think that's the one good thing about my anxiety: I'm constantly forced to face those worries and fears. I'd never thought of it as a silver lining, until now.

    I like physically decluttering every so often, purging everything I don't use or want anymore. I also try to purge every morning by writing stream of consciousness in a journal. (These are the morning pages that Julia Cameron encourages in The Artist's Way.) I love the fresh feeling that rolls over me after doing both of these things. I bet your mom feels great now!

    1. I hope you're able to stare down some of those fears and tell them they are lies, untrue, and they can't bully you with their falsehood.

      I've been going gangbusters with organizing since helping mom--I realized how a little neglect can lead to big messes over time! And she really loves her new place, especially having so much social time.