Much of my early life involved adjusting to the chaos of angry and hurt divorcing parents. Somewhere in the shuffle, I felt forgotten and burdensome, yet at the same time expected to act in ways that regulated and calmed the adult’s emotions. The side effect of walking on this emotional tight-rope was that I built one hell of an inner critic.
Inner-criticism was helpful because it kept me cautious and in check. It protected me from my parents’ anger and ensured that I didn’t add extra stress to an already burdened fractured family.
It was in my early 20s when I moved to Vancouver that the seeds of this inner critic really grew. I was your token perfectionist, made worse by how image-focused Vancouver was compared to my hometown. I had to be the smartest, to get the best grades, to update my country-boy fashion, and not to mention become obsessed with the gym and powerlifting.
What I didn’t know is that I was trying to cure an old wound, whose shame was disguised as high performance. Indeed, there was a lot of reward from my new behaviours—and my performance was excellent—so what was the problem?
Well, by 30 I was thoroughly burned out. Worse than that, I had learned to hide my anxious fatigue so well that only the one or two women who I would let get close would know. I also frequently got the feedback that I was so polished that there was something robotic about me. My attempts at ‘good enough’ were actually keeping people further away.
Shame Powers The Car, But It Burns Dirty
The situation needed a solution because my body started protesting through exhaustion and insomnia. Just like the myriad of clients I would treat, I was learning that my high performing strategies of ‘working around’ my old wounds could only work for so long.
I was learning that our insecurities and wounds really don’t like it when we treat them like obnoxious burdens that we need to push down. And why would they? Afterall, they are patterns of energy in our nervous systems that formed to protect us earlier in life. Because they formed in youth, they very much have the personalities of needy and scared children. And one thing that I hope is clear is you don’t calm a kid down by telling them to f*** off.
Yet that’s what I was doing every time I would will myself through insomnia to set personal records with heavy weights, take on jobs that didn’t fit with my values or form relationships that were emotionally damaging. I can push through, and if I do it well enough I can transcend what used to hurt and make me feel small.
A Curious Cure
As I look back, I can see that I had hints across my whole life that the solution was not to suppress and fight my pain, but rather it was to approach it. I was lucky to attract into my life a series of mentors, therapists, plant medicine facilitators and spiritual guides that helped me to understand the cure for the old wound isn’t to defeat it.
It was to be curious towards it.
When an anxious dread popped up in my chest, instead of filling my schedule with constant numbing work, hitting the gym until I could hardly think and then smoking enough weed that I definitely couldn’t think, I said hey anxiety… I see you. I’m listening now. I’m sorry I told you to f*** off. What do you need to tell me?
I still get goosebumps thinking about how immediate, obvious and literal the answer was. First of all, a wave of sorrow came through me and I had a good cry. The hurt part of me felt heard, and needed to let me know how scary and sad it was to feel alone (interesting… a lot like I felt during childhood).
Secondly, it gave me the message that it needed me to slow down. It needed space between events. When it was exhausted, the last thing it needed was the willpower to lift heavy weights. It needed meditation, sun, space and love from others. It needed to be protected from draining work contracts where the money wasn’t worth it. It needed to be treated like a child worth protecting, instead of neglected and sent the message that it was crazy.
Time Put In
I would love to tell you that on that magical day (which in reality occurred across many phases from my mid-twenties to early thirties) all was fixed. Realistically though, it took days, weeks, months and years of practicing listening to my body. Approaching so-called ‘negative symptoms’ with curiosity, trusting they have something to tell me and that nothing ever goes wrong in the body, aside from our failing to respect its wisdom.
The process of deleting junk from life and reprogramming in nourishing, soul-healing activities, relationships and settings took years. In fact it is still happening. Every passing half year I feel closer to myself, my inner critic is quieter, my work is more authentic, my decor is more beautiful and I know who I am on a deeper level.
As it turns out, the process of socio-spiritual evolution isn’t about reaching a destination of “OK, I’m healed now,” so much as it is about evolving forwards past stuck points. Every moment is an opportunity to either extend curiosity and say yes to your adventure, or to avoid it with 1-10 strategies of resisting the current (and yes, even hyper-regimented work and health practices are often forms of avoidance!).
How many of the ghosts that haunt you are just poltergeists that need you to ask them what they need? How many troubling emotions have you labelled as bad! very very bad! when they might actually have just been trying to get your attention?
When we move past self-antagonism, we learn that we are part of a very smart ecosystem that is more of a friend than earlier life experiences have taught us. Next time something troubles you, I invite you to slow down, take a breath and approach it with curiosity. This world is strange, and things are rarely as they seem.
Thrive Downtown Counselling Centre is a space I created to help people resolve anxiety, depression and attachment trauma through the power of curiosity (and sometimes through psychedelic related services). Is is my experience that career counselling, couples therapy, intuitive healing, low cost counselling and the myriad approaches to wellness all lead back to the same root of a healthy relationship with the nervous system and intuition.
The curious cure is relieving because it turns out that you don’t need to fight so hard. On the contrary, the greatest source of love and support may be closer than you think.
Carson spent the last decade specializing in military trauma, founding Thrive Downtown Counselling Centre along the way. No longer practicing clinically, he leads a team of 20 practitioners in the fields of trauma-informed care and psychedelic medicine.