George Bernard Shaw wrote, “if you can’t get rid of the skeleton in your closet, you best teach it to dance.” Oh how some of us toil to be rid of our pasts or our character flaws or our deepest, darkest secrets. Maybe instead, we ought to hang out and have a little fun with them. Doesn’t the ghost leave when you’re nice to it?
There’s sometimes a bit of a catch when you’ve spent most of your adult life in a twelve step program or any recovery-related system; sometimes it can turn it into a game of self-improvement, some type of pathway to enlightenment that, until you’ve reached it, you’re not quite “ready.” Not quite ready to move or get married or have children or start a new career or go back to school. Not quite ready to let someone see you, because, after all, you’re still a great big mess.
I believed for many years that until I was “fixed,” no one could really love me, that if they saw what was actually rolling around in my heart and soul and mind, they’d go running for the hills. But like the famous cat said, we’re all mad here.
There is merit in taking the time to initially address glaring issues and apply some healing balms to festering wounds. A time to every season, right? We do sometimes need to say no to a relationship or not take the job or walk away from someone who too deeply and regularly triggers us – I know I had to build a basic foundation of unconditional faith and self-love before I could really do much else – but then I think after a while, we just have to live, and we have to trust that despite our many flaws or quirks or issues, we are lovable, and not just according to the heavens or our higher selves but to others.
I have noticed more and more the perfectionism steeped in our culture and the attempt to avoid at all costs making the “wrong” choice. Aziz Ansari has a great joke about how even buying a toothbrush becomes a very serious and intense task – one looks to Google write-ups and Amazon reviews for the best toothbrush possible. I guess we’re a nation of control freaks, terrified of doing it wrong. But it is impossible to avoid mistakes or pain, and the more we try to avoid through control, the worse it gets. I’m guilty of this constantly. Closure and control and planning make me feel safe. The trouble is, so much of it is an illusion, and I don’t mean that in some woo-woo way. Nothing ever reaches absolute closure (when one problem ends, another pops up), we cannot control much outside of ourselves (even our minds do their own goddamn thing as they see fit, whether we like it or not), and you know what they say about the best laid plans of mice and men…
Such perfectionism often leads those of us it prays upon to thinking that we have to be flawless or healed or “strongly improved” to be worthy. Somewhere along the way, I picked up the idea that no one could ever really love me once he discovered how sensitive, impatient, worrying, prone to depression/anxiety/chronic pain/addiction I was. That in order to be loved and cared for, in order to be a dear friend or girlfriend or wife or mother I would have to treat all that darkness to the point of nonexistence – to the point of perfection.
But that is an impossible task. Once an alcoholic, always an alcoholic, our personalities are pretty much what they are (though we can change in certain ways) and sensitivity, while sometimes a liability, can also be a profound strength. That’s a common paradox, too – sometimes our most threatening monsters eventually transform into our strongest allies. Our culture can still demonize (though it has come a long way) those that struggle with mental illness or addiction or who aren’t remarkably extroverted and happy-go-lucky – but suffering isn’t necessarily an illness, and we can’t all be high school cheerleaders. And why the shame about the human condition anyway? This is why we must read Russian literature. ha. ha.
The solution then, is not self-improvement, but self-compassion, boundless kindness and what I consider faith, but what one might also call optimism or growth mindset or loving awareness. And of course, vulnerability. The natural inclination when one has skeletons of which they feel ashamed is to pretend and shine it on or else grow defensive and resentful, blocking off the possibility of being truthful and open with oneself, wart after wart after wart. We all have warts, in varying shapes and sizes, some more widespread or unsightly than others, but we all have them – we are all human, and no one here gets out alive.
I feel basic as hell paraphrasing Friends, but I love when Chandler remarks to Monica, after she expresses fear that her extreme high-maintenance quality might push him away, that he likes maintaining her. With those we are most closely bound, we must feel safe to be ourselves and share ourselves – otherwise it comes out sideways, or we people-please (which is basically lying) or put walls up and grow to resent all the pretending we have to do. That’s not to say we lay it all out on table immediately, a la the weepy drunk girl at the bar (been there, done that!), but we put our trust in knowing that being human means that we are flawed and broken and have issues and stories and sometimes we’re getting better and sometimes we’re not, and that it’s all ok. And when you let others love you while seeing what’s behind the curtain, I swear, magically, a lot of those demons soften to angels. Didn’t Kanye say something about loving the flaws of his woman the most? And Lou Reed, about the light getting in through the cracks? You get what I’m saying. We don’t have to hide so much.
Could you be loved? Yes. Love would never leave us alone…even when it sees first hand all the mess. It bends down with you and helps you tend to it.