I knew that my ‘shoulds’ were piling up like rocks in my shoulder blades for years. I was literally shouldering my ‘shoulds’. It got to the point where my ‘shoulds’ – and the self-sacrificing choices they led me to make – were so thick, not only in my shoulders, but throughout my body that I was not able to meet my own basic needs day to day. I was debilitated by flare-ups of Fibromyalgia (a chronic pain condition) made worse by the multiplying, and increasingly complicated and frantic ‘shoulds’ that inhabited me.
I should be more successful.
I should be touring as a singer/songwriter.
I should be able to make my loved ones happy.
I should push through my pain.
I should be able to do it all.
I should not be sick.
I should be ashamed of myself; so useless at such a young age.
And on and on and on the insanity went even though I knew better than to give in to those thoughts of mine.
My own insight and understanding that the ‘shoulds’ were tying me in knots, stifling my creativity and making my pain worse was not enough for me to break free from them. A combination of chronic catholic guilt, misguided perfectionism and a familial legacy of low self-esteem, made the presence of ‘shoulds’ in my life enormous and all-consuming. I did not know how to dismantle them and break free.
My life was unravelling. I was forced to give up my career with the federal government. I had to withdraw from my Masters program. I was unable to continue performing as a singer/songwriter. I could not socialize. I could not function. I was too weak to even rinse the shampoo from my hair by myself. If I had to go to a doctor’s appointment, I needed to shower the previous day so as not to use up my tiny reserve of energy.
I tried everything; massage, counselling, chiropractic, Bowen Therapy, medications, meditation, prayer, a restricted diet, etc, etc, ETC!! Nothing worked. The ‘shoulds’ came back the very next day. Because I had not let go of them they were building inside me and undoing any strides I made. In fact, healing became my new should.
I should be better by now.
Everything I am doing should be working.
I should never eat dairy, gluten, or eggs.
I should try a new physical therapy.
I should take this medication.
I should open up more to others about what I am going through.
I should meditate.
I should walk each day.
And on and on the ‘shoulds’ went day in and day out.
I did not begin to rid myself of my ‘shoulds’ until life showed me how very silly, restricting and painful they are. In January of 2012, my Mudder (mom) died at the age of 59. Two weeks later, my Dad was being evaluated for Dementia. That same month he received a diagnosis of early onset Alzheimer’s. Two months later, he was moving into a retirement centre and I was clearing out our family home; forty years worth of marriage and raising a family for my parents.
As I sifted through each room, closet, Tupperware bin, and cupboard of things, pictures, memories, and mementos, I thought about all the ‘shoulds’ Mudder and Dad had experienced. As a Shiny Soul, who was always super responsive to my environment as a child, I’d always been aware of their inner workings and how their mindsets affected them. As an adult, sorting through their personal things, I wondered how many ‘shoulds’ were there? What was the weight of them? What was the worth?
I finally absorbed the truth and what I had known all along. The ‘shoulds’ were where the pain lay; the sadness, the self-loathing, the grief and the worry. Love was where the wants, the passions, and the desires rested. With a great measure of relief, I realized that with the passing of Mudder and the declining cognitive faculties of Dad, their ‘shoulds’ disappeared. And, if the ‘shoulds’ disappeared they had never really existed to begin with. What is True never dies.
The ‘shoulds’ were like my Mudder’s body – without life to sustain them, they could not survive. Without us feeding our ‘shoulds’, they cannot continue haunting and tearing us down. In a flood of tears I was thankful and surprised to realize that Mudder and Dad’s love for each other, and the life they created, would go on. And it would not be tarnished by any ‘shoulds’ that had pestered and hurt them for decades.
There were videos of Mudder playing accordion, an instrument she did not learn until she was 57 years old. Even without those videos, I knew I would always recall how her face lit up and her arthritic fingers were childlike and nimble as she played. I could recall how playing the accordion stirred her soul even as she was fatigued from chemo. Thank goodness she had overridden the pesky ‘should’ that told her that 57 was too old to learn to play an instrument. Not to mention, she’d conquered her greatest underlying and lifelong ‘should’ – that her time might be better spent cleaning, cooking, tending. It was gone. The song in her soul, and her openness to learn new things, would live on.
Dad’s paintings – dozens of his heartfelt, personal creations which he wrought out of his own musings on life – lined the walls and were stacked under beds. His paintings had been like his babies; he trusted them only to family and the closest of friends. They would live on, on the walls that protected his grown children and grandchildren, as well as in a gallery at his new retirement centre. His painful, lifelong ‘should’ – that in order to be a legitimate and worthwhile artist he had to sell his paintings for profit – no longer existed. His choice to do it out of love and passion, and to hold onto his work, was now a blessing. His paintings reminded him of the painter he was even though he could no longer create in that way. They gave him familiarity and solace as he faced a disease that would rob him of so much. And, for the first time in his life, he was able to see how great his work was, and not belittle it and point out what he saw as inadequacies. His legacy of artwork, and his love of self-expression, would live on.
I began to shed many ‘shoulds’ the year my Mudder died and Dad became acutely aware of and subject to his changing mind. Mind you, they continued to crop up.
I should be able to work.
I should record my new songs.
I should be healed completely.
I should be able to will myself well.
I should use my intuitive gifts to help others.
I should get pregnant.
Patiently, I told my ‘shoulds’ to shove off and observed how they resisted. I chose to live each day as it came and face each ‘should’ as it sneakily sought to undermine my worth. I asked myself one question when faced with a choice: Is this what I truly want right now, today, or is this what I think I should want? If there was any trace of a ‘should’, I made a detour. I started listening to my ‘shoulds’ and learned to notice them, laugh at them, and leave them behind – dead. No guilt. No shame. No fear. And, as you might expect, life changed in kind.
I extricated myself from relationships that I had only dealt with before because I thought I should. I threw away or donated things that piled up in my own home that I had kept because I thought I should. I started to write what I wanted to write rather than what I thought I should. I stopped needing anyone to tell me what I needed out of life. I stopped thinking I needed to be healed. I stopped believing there was someone who held the key to regaining my health. I stopped buying into the idea that I was lacking in some way.
Almost exactly a year after Mudder died, I had a miscarriage at sixteen weeks. After losing Mudder, my guiding light, no loss measured up. And, because I had gone down the rabbit hole of “Why’s” and “How Comes” when Fibromyalgia had dismantled my life, I knew that there was nothing there for me in that dark tunnel. Because of all I had learned through illness, healing and the loss of Mudder, I was ready to feel the pain and move forward. I was able to accept my circumstances and cope. From my perspective, I was thankful that I had gotten pregnant in the first place. I had been taking medications for many years in an attempt to manage Fibromyalgia and had just gotten off the last of them. Getting pregnant had been like a dream.
Even as I found myself managing well with the miscarriage, I was having trouble not berating myself for my state of mind. I thought I should feel worse than I do. I lost my first baby. I must be cold-hearted to be carrying on as I am. Then I felt guilty. I felt inhuman. Fortunately, a year of squashing my ‘shoulds’ made me clear-minded and self-loving enough to tell my ‘should’ to go f!@# itself. As a result, I was able to be there for my husband who was suffering the worst devastation he’d ever endured. Walking out of the ‘shoulds’ had made my love stronger and more available. Without my ‘shoulds’, I could carry on, for the both of us. And, I could be well enough to get pregnant again before long. I am due to deliver my first baby in about a week! 😀 AMAZING! And I don’t think I should be a perfect mom, or have a particular sort of delivery or get everything figured out. I just feel blessed by and curious about what is in store for my husband and me.
If I could eradicate the feelings, intention and energy that are tied to the word “should”, for everyone on the planet, I would. But it is something we each have to do for ourselves (if we see value in it) and discover where it takes us. In my experience, unless I am doing something out of a place of love, want, self-expression and joy then it is not worth doing. While it might seem like a tall order to live life with such intention, it sure beats shouldering our ‘shoulds’ for a lifetime, making ourselves sick, living in regret, fearing our own desires, and depriving ourselves of peace and happiness. Nothing will age us, make us bitterer, rob us of love and destroy our inner peace faster than a life lived on ‘shoulds’.
Just for today, shed your ‘shoulds’. See how it feels! 😀
And, if you have been on the path of eradicating ‘shoulds’ from your life, I would love to know how it has made a difference!!