How do you establish trust with someone you’ve betrayed too many times? And what if the person you’ve betrayed is yourself?
Trusting themselves seems so easy for men, but I’m not certain the same holds true for women. Personally, I second guess myself all the time and I have plenty of friends who do the same. The problem is that for most of my life, I had lied to myself, so much so that I didn’t even realize I was lying anymore.
For years, I thought I was healthy because I woke up at 5:30 a.m. to workout nearly every day, yet I was so sleep-deprived I needed a pot of coffee just to feel remotely human. Said coffee was chased by slugs of Mylanta gulped straight from the bottle (Who needs to measure? One gulp equals one tablespoon, right?) to cope with the burning in my chest. The acid reflux got so bad, it inhibited my breathing and I still haven’t fully recovered. I told myself I was perfectly fine even though my eruptions into unexpected, volcanic rage had become more and more frequent and scarier.
I couldn’t trust my gut instincts because I had squashed them long ago in my quest to please and appease everyone. I pushed harder when I should have backed off because I got that little thrill every time someone said those loaded words: “I don’t know how you do it all!”
I was so addicted to stress that when I finally paused to listen, I swear I could actually feel the cortisol and adrenaline rushing through my veins. That’s when I realized I couldn’t trust myself to do the right thing because I’d been feeding myself a pack of lies.
Drastic, life-altering change was needed—the kind that takes place by quitting your job of 10 years and moving halfway across the country. That’s what I did a year-and-a-half ago.
When I left my last full-time job and the city I’d called home for 14 years, I was so exhausted it took six months of sleeping 10 or more hours a night to finally feel rested. Despite a far more leisurely paced life, I was still so anxious, I needed temporary therapy and medication.
In short, I was a disaster, and I’ve spent the entire time since that move nursing myself back to health, physically and emotionally. It’s been a long journey, and finally I felt the yearning to go back to work full time. But was I ready?
Because of that whole lack of trust thing, I knew that being in the wrong environment would crush me. Surround me with A-type personalities working 50+ hours a week, and surely I would revert to all my old bad habits. It would be like putting a recovering drug addict in a room loaded with meth, cocaine and heroin.
So I launched an extremely selective job search. I focused on culture and environment and finding a job with far less responsibility than my previous position. For some reason, hiring managers are suspicious of anyone who wants to climb down the corporate ladder instead of reaching for the next rung.
It took months of searching, applying, networking, but this Monday I will return to work full time—producing and managing communications pieces for a women’s-only college. I’m psyched (yep, pulling out an oldie but a goodie here) about their mission of helping women discover their best selves. When I interviewed with six of the team members, I felt like I knew them already. When I completed my “test” assignments as part of the hiring process, part of my brain that had been dormant for months lit up like a 4th of July fireworks display—it was a thing of beauty.
I’m ecstatic about this new adventure—except when I’m completely freaking out. Once again, that trust issue has reared its head. Staying calm and rational is relatively easy when you remove all your triggers, but adding a full-time job means adding stress and multitasking.
History has shown that I don't do well with either and so I don’t yet feel completely trustworthy. Without trust, fear has rushed in.
In the nights before I got the job offer, I was jittery and anxious. For me, anxiety produces fear which produces anger, and I could feel my irritability growing. My deepest fear emerged: that I will return to being the mommy who yells too much, the mommy who makes time for nighttime snuggles but does so begrudgingly and with a giant sigh, the wife who rips her husband a new one because he didn’t load the dishwasher the “right” way.
That woman was a toxic bitch and I don’t want her in my life, yet I don’t quite trust myself to stave her off on my own.
So, I swallowed my pride and went to my husband. I acknowledged my past behavior, admitted how ashamed I felt about it and told him that I would need his help. I’ve gotten better at knowing when I need a timeout and how to manage my anxiety in healthy ways, but since I haven't been fully tested with the onslaught of triggers that used to turn me into a lunatic, I'm nervous as hell.
I had to ask him to hold me accountable—even when doing so risked pissing me off even more. In the past I would have rather walked through flames than to expose myself to the vulnerability I felt during that conversation, but reestablishing trust, even with yourself, requires tough conversations. It was nauseating yet cathartic.
The next night I learned that my references were being checked. Within moments, my head throbbed, my stomach churned, I could feel acid in my throat. I was finally able to sleep once I realized that what I needed was a good plan, and a belief that I am strong enough to keep myself on track.
The next day, the job offer came in. Before accepting, I initiated a surprisingly easy conversation about flexibility. No matter how much I wanted the job, if the schedule offered no flexibility, I couldn't accept it. Fortunately, the vacation time and flexibility were better than I had dreamed they could be. This was a job in an environment where I could be my best self.
I’ve spent the past few days organizing child care, planning meals for next week and most importantly, envisioning what I want my days to look like and how I will handle situations that test my commitment to health and family. Our family will once again be in transition, and I’ve been through enough of those the past two years to realize that trust is a crucial element in success transitions.
The word trust means “the firm belief in the reliability, truth, ability or strength of someone or something.”
Based on that definition, I still don’t trust myself fully, but at some point, you have to give the benefit of the doubt and take a leap of faith. I’m still scared, but I’m ready to leap.
I’d love to hear about the ways in which you’ve built trust with yourself. Share your thoughts and advice!