Dear Lois, How do you clean up your emotional and behavioral messes?


Everything is a mess. I need to remind myself, consistently, that I am strong enough to be part of cleaning it up.

In a world that seems to be falling apart, I am experiencing many low moments. With the feeling of being trapped at home, I’ve decided to take a good look at the personal, internal trouble—because it’s becoming a problem and contributing to the mess.

I’ve been trying a new approach to “self-fixing.” The new way is to shut up, listen and accept the harsh realities that are being put in my lap. In an open, honest, vocal family, there is a lot of information that is particularly painful as it taps on wounds of the past. With a tendency for being defensive and protective, I force myself out of denial and into the present. I can do better, I am not defined by my mistakes. I remind myself that I am strong and want things to change.

I also have been receiving a massive amount of encouragement from my family and close friends. It’s a familiar tune, but we really find out who shows up for us in dark places. Curiously, I feel like I am going through the pains of labor while simultaneously being born. When I am in this space, I feel called to action and feel a willingness to participate in life’s clean-up.

Still, I’m having trouble processing the amount of work that has to be done on a cosmic level. In other words, I’m totally stressed out inside and out. In an attempt to not be complacent with the change that is happening in our world, I have to address reality. Now seems like a good time to start checking off the emotional to-do list by cleaning and healing up.

When I start to do emotional cleaning, I remind myself of the end goal. Everything feels better when things are organized, clean and high functioning. In order to do this, I need to know how I feel and what I want. Examining indifference, decluttering negative patterns and taking an honest look at my dirt can be the perfect catalyst for change.

For instance, my sarcastic tendencies have become a hurtful coping mechanism that I use to find levity during a day of horrific news. I’ve been too hard on my family and have been using sarcasm to get my feelings out. It’s hurtful to everyone, including myself. I need to look at my sarcasm, decide if I want to keep it, accept that I’ve been careless, clean it up and either move on without it or only use it when it “brings me joy.”


When I apply this attitude toward soap build-up in my bathtub, I make a conscious effort not to cut corners. I accept that my dirt slowly reveals itself every time I take a shower. The act of living makes things dirty, and our home is very lively right now. Am I willing to live without washing myself to avoid scrubbing my shower? No.

Scrubbing the tub symbolizes a fresh start if I am willing to do the maintenance and put in some elbow grease. If my sarcasm is analogous to the soap scum, it seems to me that I have a lot of self-acceptance to do. My dirt isn’t a problem if I accept that life brings mess and work. My sarcasm becomes a problem if I ignore that it’s not always funny. I’m okay the way I am, I just have to keep things in check and accept the process.

Insider tip: With this approach to cleaning the tub, I keep my eyes focused on the slow build. When I wipe the shower down with a sponge every other time I’m in there, it never really gets dirty. I keep washing soda in an amber glass bottle next to the tub if I need an abrasive—it’s safe for me to use while I’m in there and I don’t mind it sitting out. I make it easy by doing most of the scrubbing with my feet. I feel proud of my continued maintenance until I form a habit. These habits ebb and flow as I ride the emotional rollercoaster, but ultimately they call me back to balance and control.

To contrast, when I start to notice how ingrained my sarcasm is in all of my communication, I start to recognize it more and more and see what areas I have been letting the tension build up. The more I pay attention, the more I can make conscious choices about using it. This ultimately calls me back to balance and control. Self-control.

Emotional cleaning and house cleaning go hand in hand for just about any chore. Really.

The chore I hate the most reveals the most about me.  The more I clean, the more I develop relationships with the things that I am cleaning, but also with myself. Thus, adding meaning to the mundane. But, it doesn’t happen overnight and I have to be open to the process. Looking at my own dirt, and having a strong grip on reality, is laborious and exasperating. But it doesn’t mean that I should look away.

When we do the work—the self-work and the housework—we have the keys to start changing the world around us. We expand from the heart and push out of our homes, through our communities and into the cosmos.

Dream big and wisely. As always, the broken record sings: one step at a time, you’re stronger than you think.

1 Comment

  1. I love reading this; cleaning and dirt yucky. It does feel better once you get it off. Now trying to teach my 7 year old son that now that is a task all on it’s own.

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