I have been thinking about time these past few days. To give credit where credit is due, I have been thinking about time because I have a client who has been thinking about time. Our discussions have reminded me of my own struggles with time. I have struggled with time as if I am looking for a formula for how to spend it. If I find that perfect formula, I won’t feel so rushed, so overwhelmed or so confused about priorities. But it doesn’t work that way. There is no formula.
The way we spend our time is supposed to be an intuitive and present process. But for those of us who struggle with the impacts of trauma, we have lost touch with both. We can’t be truly intuitive because our trauma is in the way. We don’t have access to our true purpose. We don’t have access to the next step. They are marred with self-doubt, self-hatred and anger-fueled anxiety.
And we aren’t present either. We can’t sit in this moment. We can spend time. We can be on time. But we can’t spend time in the now. We can’t be in time. If we are in time, if we are present, the flashbacks, emotions and other intrusions come flooding back. So we avoid the present moment. But there is a nagging feeling that time is escaping us. There is this whisper underneath the surface that says we are missing the point, making us feel worse.
So we go through the days trying to prioritize our time with no real access to the information we need to do it. We spend time with others because we think we should. The Hallmark commercials tell us to. But we aren’t really there. We know we aren’t truly doing what the commercials say to do. So the shame takes over. We want to do the right thing, but we can’t. We want to spend time in the moment with others, but we can’t. So there must be something wrong with us.
Before I started my recovery, I remember feeling like I was chasing something I couldn’t see or catch. I felt like my life was meant for more, a meaningful purpose, but I had no idea what. And I felt like I was running out of time to find it. That feeling made me run harder, work faster and search further in the external world. But it was to no avail. My feelings were not based on the outside world. They were based on my inner world. I was supposed to be doing something. I was supposed to be focusing on something extremely important. And on some level, I might have been running out of time. But I was barking up the wrong tree.
Those restless feelings might have felt like torture, but they were a wake-up call. They were trying to tell me where to spend my time, but the trauma in my system was interpreting them wrong. And that makes sense. How could I interpret them correctly based on my understanding of the world?
I was hearing I should spend time on myself. But my trauma taught me I didn’t matter.
I was hearing to slow down. But my trauma taught me to stay vigilant.
I was hearing I needed to go back to the past for those missing links. But my trauma taught me to lock up those experiences and emotions and throw away the key.
So I defended against all of it. I ran through life hoping I would find another solution that worked with my original understanding of how the world worked. I was hoping I could find a path requiring far less faith, patience and inner-understanding. I was hoping I could find an easier way to feel fulfilled. Maybe, just maybe, there would be a road to walk with less pain, less shame, and less restlessness.
But I never found it. Believe me, I looked. So I settled in for this journey of recovery, knowing that it would take precious time, but not knowing how much. And it has consumed time, so much time. But even with the constant impatience, it has never felt like wasted time. As I have learned to spend time with myself, on myself and for myself, I have learned what it means to spend time with others and for others. I have learned what it means to spend time in the present moment. The restlessness has died down to an acceptable decibel level. And I have learned that life isn’t about time. Time is about life.
We will feel better when our time spent is not about obligation, “shoulds” and what we have been told by others. We will feel better when we align our time with our life’s journey. To do that, we must hear the doubts, but not quit. We must hear the “shoulds”, but go with the heart. We must drop the shame following us since childhood and go in a new direction that seems selfish as first. We must get back to life. And stop focusing on time.
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