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  • Writer's pictureTracie Guy-Decker

The rocks in my chest

I didn't intend to share this publicly when I wrote it a couple of weeks ago. I've been sharing it with a few friends in response to their struggles with perfectionism. I decided to make it available in the hopes it may help someone (you?) feel less alone. TGD

My insecurities are rocks, craggy and sharp. The size of a large man’s fist, they are fitted in my chest with a sling woven from experience and emotion. Twin stones, they are solidly fixed with years of spiders’ webs, each strand a moment of reinforcement and practice from my life.

One is called Inadequate. It constantly repeats its mantra, “not good enough, not good enough, not good enough.” Its brother, Disappointing, tells me “you’re letting them down. You’re letting them down. You’re letting them down.” Their entwined chorus has played on repeat for so long, most of the time I don’t even hear them any more. But sometimes, they get demanding: something happens in my life that resonates in the same key in which they sing. They vibrate with purpose. Their voices grow louder and the weight of them, so familiar in my chest cavity that I carry them with practiced ease, seems to increase suddenly and exponentially. Gravity affects them with greater force, and the burden on them pulls me down. My upper body curls inward and toward the ground, cradling the rocks that now bellow from my sternum.

Quieting them is a task I’ve only recently realized is within my control. I can coax them to lower their voices and return to their normal weight and heft, but it is not an easy nor an intuitive process for me (yet). Luckily, I have help.

When I remember the source of all breath is in my breath, when I remember not just with my mind but with my body, the power of breath is stronger than those singing rocks. The ancient and ever re-born sound of aspirating: breathe in, breathe out, Eh yeh, Eh yeh, Eh yeh. It is one of God’s names. If I am able to feel it and hear it and be fully present to it, the rocks in my chest are just two of hundreds of moving parts inside me, each singing their own line in the immense choir that is me.

The rocks have no special power when I am present to the whole of that sound. Their gravitational pull is broken, and I am able to square my shoulders and stand straight again. Allowing my breath, God’s breath, to guide me is both one of the easiest, most natural things I could do and also one of the most difficult. Inadequate and Disappointing have been there so long and so consistently, there have been times in my life they had me believing their twinned voice was the still, small voice inside. In those moments, I gave them so much power I genuinely believed I was not good enough for God and I was letting God down. Oh how I cried! Even still, their fraud and treachery unmasked, the memory of that despair is painful and close, and it always brings tears.

You might think I would be angry with these two (or are they really just one rock with two songs? I can’t be sure). I am angry, but I am also grateful. They are lashed to my sternum with lifelong praise and accomplishment, a glue so strong it may as well be bone and sinew. You see, those two voices started out as helpers. They were the reason I always did my homework on time. They are at least in part responsible for all of my academic and professional accomplishments.

In the old days, their song wasn’t constant, and it was a little different. It started as “you need to do it to prove you’re good enough and then they will be proud of you.” And when I turned in my homework or aced a test, they flooded my chest with pride. I was good. They were happy with me.

As I grew older, that reward stuck around for shorter and shorter amounts of time. Their mantras mutated and changed. “If you do it you will be good enough,” kept finding a new “it” to send me pursuing. Eventually, it was “if you do everything perfectly, you will be good enough,” which devolved into “only perfection is good enough,” and was finally simplified, “you’re not good enough.” Disappointing followed the same evolutionary path. The demands of perfection and their impossibility twisted and transformed the promise of pride into the certainty of disappointment.

There is power in the breath. There is comfort in the pen. What I’ve experienced, what I’ve been given, and what I’ve done throughout my life have formed these rocks and affixed them permanently inside my chest. But I am more than they would have me believe. I can probably never fully remove them. Even the greatest surgeon would struggle to discern the boundaries of diseased and healthy tissue, but that doesn’t mean I have to let them rule me.

I am paying attention. I am writing this down. I will continue to refine the steps I need to take to quiet them, to loosen their hold on me when their weight bows my shoulders and threatens to incapacitate me. And I will pay close attention to their triggers and their patterns, so that as soon as they begin to raise their voices, I can call on my breath and feel the source of all breath, calming them and me, and allowing me to hear the whole of the choir, not only the would-be soloists.

I am enough.

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