For Mother's Day a few years back, my children tried to please me with word art, knowing I was really into it at the time. And with four kids, each giving me basically the same gift with different words, I ended up with word art all over the house. Things like, "Yoga class? I thought you said pour a glass.", or "I so need a glass of wine or I'm going to sell my kids." Yet another sweetly said, "If I didn't have you for a mother, I would choose you for a friend." Another read, "I play tennis to burn off the crazy." The one that really got me, however, was the one that said, "Please excuse the mess, but we live here."
This sign had the biggest impact because out of all the others, it was the least true for me. In fact, if you really knew me then, and my kids certainly did, you would know that any mess at all at that point in my life was liable to cause me to have a full blown meltdown, and woe to anyone in my path during one of those temper tantrums. Was this sign a joke? A cry for help? My kids' tantrums had nothing on what I was capable of if a pair of socks were left on the floor or the sink wasn't dry. I kid you not. The truth was that my mind was a mess and I thought that if everything was in its place and the legos were all perfectly assembled that I could continue convincing myself that I wasn't a controlling bitch who couldn't just let things be. Not toys, not dishes, not thoughts, worries, or fears, which was ultimately what the underlying issue was. I was afraid of what people would think if my house wasn't perfectly tidy, if my kids weren't perfectly smart, and if my relationships weren't perfectly healthy. So I spent my time making my home and all its contents outwardly clean and tidy in order to mask the fact that my life was really a mess in more ways than one.
As an adult child of an alcoholic, my behavior wasn't all that original. I grew up always terrified of what would happen next. Would I have food to eat? Would I be left alone for days on end or would I come home to strangers sleeping in my room? I never knew what the next day or night would bring, and cleaning became the one activity I could engage in that I could count on to still my mind, amidst the fear and chaos that constantly enveloped me. So I cleaned. And I organized. And people were pleased with how well a young girl could keep house. So I cleaned and cleaned some more. The more I cleaned, the better I was able to cope with the mess that was my mental state. And as the years passed and I became an adult, I clung to the only tool I had ever known to make me feel better in a messy situation. Creating an outward expression of order through cleanliness. My stepmother used to joke, calling me "Cinderella", but the truth was that I didn't know how not to clean and still feel some sense of peace of mind.
As I grew my own family, it became increasingly clear that my coping tactics weren't going to work for my sanity in a house filled with pets, kids, and a husband. The dogs had accidents in the house and tracked dirt all over the floors after going outside. The kids had accidents in their beds, refused to put their toys away after playing with them, vomited on carpets and sheets and bathroom floors. My husband never picked his clothes up or dried out the sink or wiped the crumbs off the counter. There was a point that my interactions with my family members consisted primarily of screaming and yelling about the messes they made. One day I was at the park with my oldest daughter. She was playing with some other little girls and she accidentally stepped in a puddle. I will never forget the look of horror on her face as she met my angry gaze, knowing she would be in trouble for getting her shoes dirty. It was at that moment that I realized my system no longer served me. It had been useful for a time, but it was now backfiring. The coping mechanism that kept me from feeling like I was walking on eggshells in my own homes a child had created a feeling of walking on eggshells for my entire family in their own home. Something had to give.
At that time, my self-care practice consisted of downing bottles of wine in order to sleep and to numb myself to the presence of any kind of dis-order. Thankfully, I had a real desire to be healthier for my family and to create real and lasting change. I saw a therapist. I wasn't interested in medicating. I wanted to do the gritty work of transformation and the Four Seeds were the tools that began to create positive behaviors in my life so that I could see my need for order and cleanliness in a new light. I was able to start to see how I was negatively affecting everyone around me, despite that being the very thing I thought my need for order would prevent. I learned that messes can't be prevented all the time, both figuratively and literally. That even the most "put together" person falls apart sometimes, and it's ok. It's not a death sentence or a lifelong label as "failure", if I let me kids get away with leaving clothes on the floor or globs of toothpaste in the sink.
What has really changed from making myself healthier through my own self-care practice, is the way I have learned to practice my responses. Responding to a difficult relationship or a messy house through as much gratitude as l can muster has made all the difference. And it doesn't always work. Old habits die hard and I still really like the sink to be dry. But I am able to stop in the midst of chaos more often than not and be grateful that I have four children to clean up after. Any one of them could be gone tomorrow. I can feel lucky that I have a house to clean, remembering the millions of people all over the world who are homeless or living in refugee camps or under freeways. I do my very best to "say yes to the mess", even when I don't feel like it. Not because practice makes perfect. I don't even want perfect anymore. But practice makes really good, which leads to the ability to "embrace the glorious mess that we are."
With love and gratitude,
Kinda and Rachel