You might not believe this, but I used to take myself very seriously. If you had suffered the way I had, well, then you would not be laughing at my tears. (Or drinking them, like Jessica Valenti.) I mean, my mom told me I was bad at soccer! My dad was too busy working to hug the promiscuity out of me! My older brothers made me watch the Chucky movies when I was eight! (That was traumatizing. Also, Killer Klowns from Outer Space. Years of nightmares, my friends.) For quite some time I was a very talented sufferer. I could put on a Portishead record and feel the shit out of life. I had all the proper tools to be of the depressive sort: journal, cigarettes, crack pipe. (Three of those things are true.) Most of all, I had my story. And it was full of abandonment and bullying and a lack of trust fund money. I joke, but there really was some painful stuff. Picture an ultra-sensitive little creative type born into a sports-worshipping family split by divorce and dysfunction. Picture her learning very fast to not show emotion. Picture where that emotion might go. Ages eleven to twenty-seven consisted of a hearty chunk of low self-esteem with a side of self-loathing smothered in seriousness gravy (mmmm) and garnished with resentment. Needless to say, it was not easy to digest. (At least I had opiate milkshakes.) But then I grew up, woke up, and gave up my very worst addiction (and I’m not talking about broke boyfriends) – I gave up my addiction to misery.
I have learned there is a nuanced difference between moving through pain and endlessly wallowing and retelling the sad tales of woe, or worse, being mean to ourselves and thinking we’re bad people. It comes down to the whole growth vs. fixed mindset thing (thanks middle school education professional development!), staying open vs. deeming something this way, for-ev-er. I can still struggle with that. When in pain, I can dig up all the evidence for why my life sucks and how it’s not fair and how everything is very serious and I’ll never I’ll never I’ll never! Jeez. I’ve gotten better, but I used to be such a miserable sap (while smiling, natch.) Not that you have or ever would, but might you stumble upon my other blog posts, you would see what a solemn buzzkill I can be. So many feelings. I certainly beat to death the words trauma and healing. But before you take me too seriously, understand that I empathize completely with suffering, and just because I have moved beyond a life defined by it does not mean that I don’t still feel emotional pain. Duh. I am alive. I believe it imperative for anyone who is hurting, regardless of their age, race, socioeconomic status, or gender (there are fifteen now) to have permission to feel their feelings and seek appropriate help wherever they might find it. We all deserve to feel better, and there are plenty of resources and avenues to support and recovery.
Considering that I spent my teenage years numb on Smirnoff, blunts, and medicine cabinet buffets, and the first half of my twenties hiding in eating disorders, boys, and menthol lights, I needed some time and space to wallow in all that grief. I finally grew up around thirty, and much of what that means to me is indulging less in feelings and batshit-crazy thinking and living from a place of equanimity and reason. A healthy perception, which stems from a healthy sense of self, which I worked my ass off to build. I got to this place because I examined my pain like it was a jar of Nutella. (I am not sure if it was examining it that made it dissolve, or because I got tired of what I saw and gave it up. Both. Or neither. Who cares.) From twenty-five to twenty-nine, during what I call The Great Rebuild (I’m still dramatic) I had to surround myself with deep, “spiritual,” meditative, silent shit just so I didn’t go completely crazy. (I was newly sober and had just started my career as a teacher. So there.) I had to learn how to feel, which I stopped doing right around my first real good drunk at fourteen (and maybe even before when I found solace in Sour Patch Kids and Saved By the Bell.) I had to read every self-help book Amazon sold, on everything from addiction and depression, to the alcoholic family and narcissistic wounding, to introversion and personality type. (Poor thing. My Kindle must have felt so bad for me. But at least I wasn’t purchasing pretentious hipster lit.) I discovered that my introverted nature and hyper-sensitivity (which is a real nervous system thing, haters) made me super permeable and therefore more susceptible to pain. I discovered I had been affected by divorce and narcissism and fifty shades of family dysfunction (I may be the first.) I discovered teaching sucks the life out of you and kicks your ass and also fills you up with joy. In a word – overwhelming. I also accidentally read Salon and Jezebel articles and believed that I was highly oppressed due to my femaleness, but that I was also racist for being white. (My bad.) Very serious stuff, indeed, very serious times.
Salon and Jezebel aside, it was all quite helpful for a time. I thought for so long that it was weak and indulgent to examine old grief, and I needed the validation that past trauma actually is a factor in how we feel and function, especially when we ignore or deny it. It all helped me understand why I was borderline paranoid when it came to my fears and sometimes extremely reactive in relationships or the work place and sometimes just so damn hard on myself. Why I seemed centered in self-hatred. (I mean, c’mon, check me out.) Why I was still afraid of authority figures and “getting in trouble,” as if I were a nine year old kid. (Nine: the end of innocence.) I had to go through the deep dark sludge of seriousness to get to the other side. I also wrote a collection of mediocre poetry, available at a Tumblr blog near you!
I will be the first to admit that while taking life too seriously, I was much more offended by the world. I felt attacked in every direction and therefore armored myself heavily. I rarely felt safe. We tend to gaze through the lenses we believe in – life looks dark when we think it’s dark. Therefore, we have the capacity to change what we see. But before I knew this, I really believed that my murky perception was the reality. And yes, we all know that people sometimes suck and are either far too insensitive or annoyingly mawkish, but I really knew it, and I wasn’t afraid to tell you. (Or else retreat into myself and hate you in secret. Sometimes I still hate you. I mean, people, am I right?) Most of all, I thought I sucked. Not a good place to start. I was always on the hunt for something meaningful and real, and yet what I needed to change was the deep conviction that everything wasn’t good enough or quite right, including me. Maybe everything was just fine, as it was. What I am trying to get at (poorly) is that I needed to lighten up, man, and I am so happy that I finally did. I still need to lighten up much of the time, like when a client’s email is curt or I see another friend getting married, and thus begin researching which bridges are best to jump from. I need to lighten up but still understand there is a place for having the feelings. Repression ain’t no solution either. The best solution for me today is to acknowledge the feelings, learn from them, release them, and reconnect to the ultimate Truth (god help me) – that I am here and alive and for right now, it’s not so bad. In fact, it’s pretty nice. It’s nice, too, when we learn to spin straw to gold.
Such suffering and seriousness was important for that very reason – it taught me. Instead of letting it harden me to stone, I let it catapult me into believing life could be different. It helped me deepen my faith, because I needed to believe in something fundamentally good while wading in the muck and mire of my indulgent muck and mire. Yes, I believe in God. Gasp! Relax, secular humanists. I’m relaxed about it. I don’t even know what it is. Maybe James Gandolfini. I just know that it makes me feel better. I’m not dogmatic or religious about it (and if you are, that’s cool) it’s just a feeling and a perception. You could even call it spiritual psychology if you want. You know, good vibes. The vortex and high flying discs (Google, my friends.) If it bothers you or you think it’s stupid, in the words of Tommy Lee Jones from The Fugitive, “I don’t care!”
So, you might be asking, just what did you do to have a revolutionary change in thought and perception? How did I become so much less serious? Drum roll please……………..
Well, in addition to having faith that it’s all all good in my mind and heart (I belong to the First It’s All Good Sect of Goodness Happy Vibes Church, population 1), I stopped giving a fuck! I. Stopped. Giving. A. Fuck. #IDGAF. In the words of the The Real World (Seattle and Hawaii were the best seasons) I stopped being polite and started getting real. I stopped worrying so much about other people and assuming they were good or bad or had to be (Ben Affleck called me gross and racist), and I also stopped worrying so much about myself in a profound intense manner. I let myself be, wherever I was, and tried to love what felt flawed. No more beating myself up. No more using recovery or therapy or the twelve steps as a tool to “get better,” as if I were this broken fucked up creature. Truth is, I’m not so bad. I am human and I am decent. (You probably are, too.) I don’t like everyone and everything and I sometimes have emotions and who cares. It became about self-acceptance and healthy action, not self-improvement and brute force. Fuck. That. I spent my whole life being mean to myself and then spent early recovery being mean to myself about things I did merely because I was a lost kid, and what I really needed was a big yummy hug. I started being honest with myself about what I really thought and felt and not what I was supposed to think and feel (and do) in this politically correct, perpetually outraged, grim, grievance-focused, too cool for school culture. Or in recovery, which sometimes becomes what I see as a place for people to be hard on themselves. Again – Fuck. That. I dealt with all the grief and pain of childhood as best I could, and even though it can still come up and make me sad and angry all over again, in my heart of hearts, I’m over it. Or getting there. I cannot change it. I know how to cry when I need to cry and how to love myself. (Both in and out of the bedroom, wink wink.) Obviously I still want everyone to like me (how could you not?) but I don’t give a fuck if you don’t. (Maybe I give a tiny fuck, but you’re probably lame.) And I let it be alright that I don’t like certain people. You know, like third wave feminists and the mean moms in my yoga class. I have come to accept that I came into this world a sensitive little creature with a ridiculous capacity for feelings (you should see my astrological chart) and that I need to just deal with that hand and play it accordingly.
I strive to have more fun today, to do things that make me feel good, to be my number #1 advocate, fan, and friend. If I don’t do it, no one else will. I see ways we try to justify being hard on ourselves, and no matter what I just don’t buy it anymore. Even when I do make mistakes or am not my nicest, sweetest, best damn self, the solution is not to then punish myself for it or play the martyr. EV-ER. No No No. Sweet girl, what’s going on? It’s more like that. (Who am I??) I try not to deny and ignore but not dwell and ruminate either. My life is really good, even when thoughts and feelings try to smear shit all over it. I try to meditate and practice yoga and run and play so I can better see that my brain thinks a whole bunch of nonsense a thousand times in a row because brains are shameless. (Talk about IDGAF. Brains don’t give a fuck.) Being alive is fun, especially when you refuse to wallow or follow rules that don’t really exist. Things like unnecessary guilt and fear are just, well, unnecessary and never rooted in reality. Sad stories are usually just stories, and stories are often fiction. Misery is addicting, but if I can stop popping Oxy-Contins like they were M&M’s (and stop popping M&M’s like they were M&M’s) then surely I can practice not misery-ing and being so serious. Basically the goal is to be the happy drunk girl at the party, all magnetic and warm and telling it like it is, but sober and less slutty.