3 ideas to change no-good-icky-shitty thoughts into ass-kicking go-get-'em-tiger self-lovin' awesomeness.
t was my birthday last Friday, the 8th. I went on a canoe trip and I floated down a river feeling like the happiness would cause my heart to burst.
This is still so radical. I spent most of my life wanting, trying, to die. I felt for so many years that I was a mistake, my life was a mistake, that the world would be so much better off without me. I struggled to find happiness, and I hated myself for not being able to ‘just be normal” and enjoy my life. Even in the midst of my depression, I knew there was so much to appreciate and to feel grateful for. I just couldn’t get with it. I felt damaged, like I didn’t even deserve life.
I made it through somehow. I have had friends help me, I have had family stay close even as I pushed them away, I have had strangers offer kindnesses, hugs, smiles. dollars, food. I’d see a sunrise, or hear a song, or pet a dog, at just the right time to encourage me to keep trying for one more day. I miraculously kept waking up after binges and enough drugs in my system to put a small village to sleep for good. At the time I was angry to keep waking up, to keep plodding along without any real ability to function, without any sense of purpose or joy. Things used to be very sad for me.
And now I get chills when I feel how good things have gotten and how close I was to missing out on this wonderful life I get to live. Every day I feel amazed. Every day, even with struggles, challenges, annoyances, and pain, I still know I am damn lucky to be alive and very, very grateful.
Wait. Grateful…That’s not the word.
I feel like I had someone looking out for me, pulling me through the shit like,”hold on little one, I want to show you something beautiful, just hang on, it’s just around this bend. ” And I was bloody and tired but kept dragging myself up hills and through the dark, and something helped me, carried me, called me, and then WHAM, we rounded a bend and the sun rose and the view was breathtaking and now I’m in paradise. I feel like sobbing because it was so hard to get here and it was so worth it to hold on.
And so, to you, if you feel like I did, like “what the heck am I doing here, something’s gotta give”, if your heart is heavy, if you are hurting with big pain, I promise, there’s a break coming just around the bend. Keep walking, even if it’s slow. Keep reaching, even if you can’t see who’s holding your hand. Keep trying, even if it feels pointless and exhausting. It gets better, it always will get better, you just have to keep yourself alive to see it.
Hold on, hold on, hold on.
I have lived many lives. And I have carried a lot of guilt for believing that I abandoned them.
I was a tattoo artist for many years, and had wanted desperately to become one for even longer than I lived that dream. I worked for over ten years to muster the courage, to get better at drawing, to risk failure and rejection looking for someone to teach me, to suffer through the hazing and humiliation of an old-school traditional apprenticeship. I invested a lot of money into my dream, before I even knew I would make a dime. I worked long hours, I was uncomfortable, I was insecure and terrified, and I kept pushing through. And then I had a nice run, living the dream, mostly. Except I was always high and/or drunk. And the dream job blew up in my face.
Eventually I got sober, but I wasn’t right-away-ready to try tattooing again. I needed an easy job in early sobriety, and for the first year of my recovery, I made sandwiches for minimum wage. The shreds of my self-esteem weren’t woven together strong enough yet to attempt to get back into tattooing. And my intuition had taken a beating; I felt a lot of confusion around if I even liked tattooing, and if I liked it for the right reasons. It didn't seem like it fit anymore. All I knew for sure was that I needed a break, and so I went and became a social worker.
I was hired as a peer mentor, and then a case manager, at a non-profit serving individuals experiencing homelessness, mental health challenges, and substance use issues. And here was a dream I had forgotten I’d even tentatively considered. It wasn’s something I consciously pursued with grim stubbornness, but it had more been this burning coal of a wish as I was struggling through my miserable addicted life; In my darkest times I desperately wanted to believe this would all mean something someday. I figured if I could just hold on and get through this, maybe I could help someone else. And sure as shit, I found a job that said all my dismal failures were actually the requirements for this gig. I fought for this job as soon as I read the posting, and I have felt like on some level I had been looking for it for most of my life. Now I’m growing weary, and looking for new paths, new direction, and it feels like a betrayal of sorts.
I’ve heard it said that the ego’s job is to convince you that you are what you do, what you have, what others think of you. Of course this is not the real You at all. And I thought I was on to that. I was an angry, activist teen. I was smarter than the rat race, I saw through the bullshit, I rebelled against “the tyrrany of the 9-5”, corporate America, capitalism and mindless consumerism, schools and other institutions whose only real purpose seemed to grind any heart and creativity out of us, devaluing individuality, fearing it, in fact, and pushing us into little cramped boxes to slave away working for someone else’s dream. I though for sure I knew who I was, or at least that I was not my job.
But it turns out I’m not immune to the conditioning. Why was I deeply saddened when I saw my silent tattoo machines, the roller derby gear that hasn’t gotten sweaty in a year? And why am I afraid to think too hard about leaving the best job I’ve ever had to pursue my new interests (and return to some old ones)? On some level I felt like a failure.Like I had given up on something, like I was a fraud, like I never really wanted it in the first place. I’ve struggled with these negative views for a long time. I found some measure of peace when I realized that there could be some mourning involved, like a part of me did die. The illusion, the ego creations, these carry weight and power and releasing them can be an emotional process that takes time.
Plus, on some level, and I’m not proud to admit this, I still care what people think. I got satisfying reactions that fed my false sense of self. When I tattooed, people thought I was cool. When I did derby they thought I was tough. And when I help the homeless they think I’m noble. It is humbling to admit that this does have an effect on me, and can weigh in on my decisions when it’s time to try something new, particularly contributing to that brand of fear that is signalled by the insidious thought- "What will they think of me if I don't do that anymore?"
But hey, it's okay. Thoughts are thoughts, there’s a million of ‘em, and I can let them come and go. What I really want to strive for today is the reminder that’s printed on my AA chips, from Shakespeare…To thine own self be true. I have struggled to even know who I am, and I summoned a lot of bravery as I allow parts of myself to surface that I sort of wouldn’t have planned for, like that I really literally enjoy hugging a tree once in a while, or that I actually prefer clean clothes and color and variety in my wardrobe. That I like heels and lipstick sometimes, and that I prefer to be alone most of the time.
I have intentionally practiced a gentleness for myself, trying to be, in turns, a loving parent, a fiercely protective big sister, and a ride-or-die bitch/ BFF to myself as I have navigated the bewildering wilderness that is sobriety, of living life with consciousness, of staying woke.
This gentleness is working, because the other day I conceded that I won’t be skating any time real soon and I moved the derby gear onto a shelf, next to the tattoo equipment. And I had this nice thought- "this is the museum of me." This little sweet thought opened a door onto a profound depth of compassion and freedom. Before, I would look at these relics of my past and the bitchy chatter would start- “why can’t you finish what you start, you’re just lazy, it never mattered to you, you’re such a flake,…” This time I smiled to myself, enjoyed some fond memories, and felt proud that I had pursued those goals that were important to me back then. I know change is the only sure thing, but I guess I had a hard time accepting that I will change too.
I think of little kids, how they can obsessively focus on a new interest every other week. they can be fascinated by dinosaurs one day, superheroes the next, and in another week or so they are all about space or math or sharks or whatever. And they don’t feel like they are betraying themselves, they are just curious and excited and want to see it all. I want to be like that again. I think I’m getting there, slowly.
So maybe I’ll skate again, but right now I’m super into yoga and am dead set on learning to surf. I will probably tattoo again, at least for my friends, but now I’m stoked on pen and ink mandalas and getting better at the banjo. I will always stand up for the underserved and those who need help, but I also want to start a company and go back to school. And I’m stoked on meditation and astrology and growing flowers and Indian dance and and and…Can it be ok to just keep checking stuff out?
I'm letting myself off the hook, and I'm here to give you permission too, if you need it. Having the discipline to finish what you start is very important. But it’s just as important, maybe more so, and certainly trickier, to let yourself truly become who you are, acknowledging that your identity will change and grow and expand, and allow for exploration and the unfolding of your wondrous, unique self. Let yourself be as big and bright and shiny as you care to be, and don’t get too wrapped up in what anyone else thinks of that. It's ok to be scared, it's ok to feel weird and uncomfortable, it's ok to change your mind. And whatever you do, remember that the REAL you is already perfect and always will be. Nothing you do on the outside can touch it. So go have some fun and get freaky with it all. There's a lot to get excited about.
There’s a Bob’s Burgers episode where Tina, Gene, and Louise* find a chunk of ambergris (apparently a by-product of whale poop and used in expensive perfumes, so worth a lot of money.) It had washed onto the beach.
"It smells disgusting! *sniff* "No! Wait! It smells amazing!"
They smell it and yell “Gross!” and smell again and say “Great!” This continues.
Louise says, "I can't stop smelling this enigma of Gross/Great!"
I totally get that. Life is full of that knee- jerk “gross!” thing, followed by “wait, let me get some more of that.”
I hate to feel certain emotions but I keep coming back to the thoughts that bring up those feelings, like when I spend my evening complaining and venting about a co-worker who I’m not getting along with.
I hate having grown-up conversations with people about tough subjects to foster communication and clear some air that’s been tense and stale for months, but I also feel great relief for having had the courage to do so.
I hate writing this blog sometimes, when I feel insecure or lacking in skill or interesting topics, or just like I’d rather be doing something else. But it’s great when I’m done and I honored my commitment to myself (and to you) once again.
I often hate going to AA meetings. (talk about feeling like I have better things to do) But I go because they are working for me, and almost every time something great comes of it.
I don’t always want to do my dishes or take out the trash or go to work, but the rewards of taking care of my home and honoring my responsibilities feel great.
I know I’ll feel gross if I eat 3 scoops of ice cream when I’m sad or stressed. And yet I sometimes find myself doing exactly that with a defiant, chocolate smeared scowl, insisting it’s really great.
Sit-ups are gross. Feeling strong and healthy is great.
Having seven dollars in my bank account feels gross. Deciding to trust that I’ll be cared for anyway? Mmmm, gross/great.
I’m just appreciating the both/and today. I realize how often the things we hate or resist lead us towards the things we really want and love. Discerning when to take another sniff of what seems gross at first is a skill I’ll always be practicing, just like noticing if I’m pretending something is great when I really need to chuck that grossness back into the sea. For now, enjoy that enigma, and check out this clip😊
*If you aren’t familiar with the cartoon Bob’s Burgers, please do yourself a favor and go watch it. It’s wonderful.
My boyfriend recently deleted his Facebook account. No fanfare, no drama, just didn’t need it.
So. Freakin’. Cool.
It had this subversive and radical quality – there was a “how could you” type gasp in my throat, a sneaky feeling of being a co-conspirator to something naughty, and then I felt giddy when I briefly considered doing it as well.
I’m not ready to pull the plug just yet. I still like seeing what my friends are getting in to, peeking at their adorable babies, and sharing with the interwebs what I think is neat or funny or interesting. It’s still a decent way for me to stay connected, so long as I keep it in its proper place, which is a small, seldom checked place in the distant sidelines of my awareness, and I’m the boss.
I’m pretty proud that I’m not a slave to checking Facebook all that much. I maintain a healthy relationship to it (these days) But sometimes I’ll catch myself mindlessly scrolling through and I start to get sucked into a black, stenchy pit of comparison. I realized I felt like shit sometimes and I didn’t know why right away. My friend list is pretty intentionally cultivated and groomed so I don’t have to see hateful bullshit, ignorant politics, or negative garbage. And my friends are creative, witty, fiercely intelligent, big-hearted badasses. So they’re not the problem.
Surprise! It was the stream of thoughts I had scrolling through my head. The problem was with the stories I was telling about my amazing friends and then the matching story that I paired with it to shit-talk myself. “Oh she’s pretty!” (prettier than me) “His life is so awesome!” (better than my crappy life) “Ooh, they went to Croatia!” (I’ll never go anywhere)…These thought were just humming along in the background , and they picked up quite a momentum. (They roll on a well-grooved track, laid down and maintained with more than 20 years of low self-worth, and funky, busted-ass belief systems.) I was feeling like a miserable worthless loser but I barely understood why.
I wasn’t aware of these background thoughts until recently. It’s a practice to spot ’em, and it requires a lot of patience and love to start laying new track for better thought systems. It was frustrating as this first came to light: I knew intellectually that what people post on FB is just a snapshot of a part of their life, no one’s perfect, everyone has their challenges and heart breaks, and I have a lot of stuff to be happy with in my own life….I KNEW this, but it takes time for me to catch up in my deep-down.
I know I’m not making a new observation here, but I felt compelled to add my take on the whole thing. I read something recently (but enough time has passed that I forget the exact details so forgive me if you also read this and realize how much I’m fumbling with the retell) It was about someone struggling in college, feeling depressed, lonely and disconnected. This person would look at Facebook and believe everyone else was feeling better, doing better, living happier lives, having more fun. Apparently this belief contributed to the individual choosing to end their life. At the funeral, their friends shared the real story behind each “perfect” picture. One friend shared how her picture was taken on a terrible day; her grandmother had just passed away and she was feeling devastated, despite the happy face that she showed the world.
I thought this was a powerful point for those friends to make. We are all aware, hopefully, that what you see in social media feeds is often just a carefully arranged presentation of the good stuff. We mostly know, logically, that we can’t measure our worth or happiness based on someone else’s life, however awesome it looks from the outside. And I’m definitely not saying that everyone’s Facebook photos hide lurking secrets and pain; they just don’t tell the full story. It’s important to get really real about the story you are telling yourself as you browse around online, especially if you notice you feel like dooky afterwards. Comparison could be the culprit.
I thought of all this as I uploaded photos from my excellent California vacation. I had a wonderful adventure, it’s true, and I grabbed a few shots to share that good time. But what you don’t see is that I was struck with a nasty bug the day I got there. (It turned out to be pneumonia). All I knew was that I felt feverish and worried most nights, and in the mornings my throat was so sore and closed I was in tears from the pain and lost my voice for hours.
I also mulled this over as I ate lunch the other day, at a counter overlooking a patio. Two women sat there with their own lunches. They hardly spoke and neither one smiled once. They looked uncomfortable and angry. As I wondered about them, one gal pulled out her phone, leaned towards the other woman who took the cue. Each one suddenly tossed her hair, widened her eyes, slapped some smiles on, and they got a few selfies. The phone went back in the purse, and the smiles disappeared as quickly as they’d been formed. Both women went back to their meal in a tense and pissy silence.
I don’t know anything about these ladies. But I imagine if someone saw those pictures, it would be reasonable to think things like, “Look at those pretty, well-dressed friends, eating and enjoying life.” And if you had my wacky brain you might also think (less reasonably) “I don’t have any friends, my hair never looks that good, I hate my clothes, and I’m too broke to eat fancy salads on patios.”
I’m so much less of a sad-sack today, but it’s taken work and time and energy to take charge of my brain. It can be tempting to fall into a worry of comparison and negative thought patterns. If it happens to you, back away from the computer or turn off the phone. Take a deep breath and realize what’s going on. Take some time to honor what the feelings are telling you. Maybe your life does need some tweaks, and you can work on that. But first, focus on what’s great in your life and get into a place of gratitude and appreciation, for who and where YOU are. You are YOU, and you’re awesome.
Trust that. Quit worrying about everyone else’s life, and go live yours.
I will encourage the HECK outta you! Go get 'em tiger. Read the blog here
Check it out here. she's phenomenal, an amazing writer and performer who gets on stage and makes people laugh and feel awesome. I love her and you will too. Go read! And I thank you!
I hear you asking,"What the heck does that mean?"
Well, it's me being a silly nerd with words, as per usual. Also, it's me trying to get your curiosity up about my latest post. Go read it here if my tactic worked. I delighted myself with this one, you might like it too.
.Check out my first interview on my blog here. It's the start of a new monthly feature and I feel very excited about it!
Also, I'll be at First Friday showing some art and selling prints, come say hello! June 2nd, Pranamor Shakti Healing Arts, 853 Santa Fe Dr. Denver CO. I've been so kind as to provide you the link to a map here.
I'll also be speaking at the upcoming Ignite Denver. Check it out! It's a hoot, and there are a ton of great speakers lined up.
Ok, more as it comes. Thanks for visiting!