Put on your galoshes, kids because we’re going in deep today. Vulnerability. Before you continue reading, think on that word for a moment and think about what it means to you and what it looks like to you. It means a lot of different things and looks so many different ways, doesn’t it? And naturally, it’s going to mean and look different for everyone.
I got started on this vulnerability thought process because, again, my therapist possesses voodoo magic and just has the most epic timing of anyone I know. She assigned me a TED talk video about vulnerability (given by Brené Brown) to watch for homework this week (and, as always, this blog post was not assigned as homework but so many fucking epiphanies and light bulbs went off that it HAD to be a blog post) and she assigned it not knowing I had already seen it (for once, I had a one-up on her) but I was told that I could watch it again if I wanted to (but I didn’t have to) but come back next session ready to discuss the subject.
Brené Brown is an amazing speaker and has some abso-fucking-lutely amazing ideas and thoughts and theories. Her book, “Daring Greatly”, has been in my “To Read” pile of books for…probably a year? (I’ve been having a hard time with concentration don’t read as much as I once did/as much as I would like to). I don’t know when I first came across her but when I did, her words hit me like a sack of potatoes. So true and so real…right in the gut.
Before I talk about Brené’s version of vulnerability and why it strikes a chord with me…I want to talk about MY version of vulnerability, how my therapist’s timing couldn’t be any better and why all this matters to me.
First, the actual definition of vulnerable:
adjective \ˈvəl-n(ə-)rə-bəl, ˈvəl-nər-bəl\
For me personally, vulnerability means shedding my protective outer shell (which is like titanium) and…like a turtle in the same position, I suppose…stand there naked as a jay bird and deal with whatever comes my way. I don’t like to be vulnerable. At. All. Because it sucks and it leaves me open to so many wounds and punches to the gut and if I just keep my titanium shell on, no one can penetrate that and thus, I don’t have to deal with all the hurt and emotions that come from allowing myself to be vulnerable. I’ve come to use and rely on my protective outer coating more in the last two years than I ever have before. You aren’t born with a shell…you build it with experience…or at least I did. You get burned once or twice, so you start out with maybe like a paper bag shell…then you get burned/taken advantage of a again and you upgrade to maybe aluminum foil and so on and so on. Not everyone is like this, of course…and I envy those people…those who can be vulnerable and take whatever comes their way. Personally, I’m tired of picking up the pieces each time being vulnerable backfires on me and I find it easier to just completely shutdown and guard myself (and my heart) rather than even chance a good or bad outcome (because really, that’s a lot of what vulnerability is…taking chances).
As I thought about this topic and the ways in which I myself am (or choose to be) vulnerable…I noticed marked contrasts in my life. I have NO problem whatsoever in being completely vulnerable with my therapist, M (and even her cohort, K…who worked very hard to break through that titanium shell). But I have a HUGE problem being vulnerable with my friends, family and other people I encounter in my everyday life. Why? With M, I have complete trust in her as well as complete confidentiality…by law, no less. By law, she is required to keep my shit to herself and not divulge it to anyone unless she feels I am a danger to myself or those around me. That means, for example, that if my mom isn’t getting her way at home and she thinks I’m the problem, she can call up M all she wants but M cannot (and would not) tell her anything I said, even if our last session was all about that very issue: mom. I think there are a lot of different components that allow me to be vulnerable with M…I’ve been seeing her for a long time, I’ve had time to build up the trust I have in her (I didn’t just waltz into her office and spill my guts during our first session), and the laws just happen to work in my favor in this situation/relationship. I know M talks to K about me and I get brought up in meetings and with other therapists too and when I first found out about that, I didn’t like it…but once I realized that me and my case are still confidential, that it never leaves their offices, I was like, “Aiight, cool…whatevs.” I think it’s great that I can be vulnerable in the very place where I should be vulnerable…in my therapist’s office. If I didn’t let it all out there, nothing would ever get accomplished and our time together would be completely futile.
I cannot, however, be vulnerable with a lot of my friends. Well…I should say that I choose not to be vulnerable with others. Why? I’ll tell you why. I have tried to be vulnerable on several occasions and with several different friends over the course of my twenty-nine years of existence. Sometimes it’s paid off but more often than not, I end up hurt. (Don’t take that to mean I’ve dumped a friendship down the drain once I got hurt, I may just “tweak” the relationship and be more selective about what I share with a particular person.) When it comes to friendships, I hate to toot my own horn but I feel as if I am the exception rather than the rule when it comes to being a good friend. I am honest (sometimes to a fault) and I always mean what I say and say what I mean. So, for example, if you tell me something in confidence and say, “Please don’t share this with anyone.” I won’t. And even if you don’t tell me to keep my mouth shut, I probably will keep my mouth shut anyway, guessing that what you say is not anything you want all over the 5 o’clock news whether you said so or not. (I like to think I’m rather good when it comes to using discretion.) What you say to me is between us, whether or not it’s a “secret”. I don’t need to go tell someone everything you tell me. I am not the National Enquirer. To further illustrate this concept (and further explain why my therapist’s timing is so eerily pertinent), I’m going to tell you a real story about something that just happened in my life. Well actually…I’m going to tell you two:
1: A few months ago, I had a friend that I’ve known forever but am not very close to message me one day and confide in me a secret. She told me to keep it quiet and just wanted someone to talk to…so I just listened and didn’t say a word to anyone, despite our many mutual friends. It was a pretty big secret but I felt no need to go and spill the beans. A month or so after that conversation, one of our mutual friends came to me and said, “I can’t keep this a secret; I have to tell someone! And if anyone asks, you know NOTHING!” And then she proceeded to divulge the very same secret that the first friend told me. I didn’t let this second friend know that I already knew what she was telling me, I just played along and acted surprised, interjecting “ooohs” and “awwws” and “OHMYGODs” where appropriate. I didn’t even go skipping back to the first friend that confided in me saying that second friend spilled the beans or anything like that. Consider me a vault…the Keeper of Keys and Grounds at Hogwarts. I can take secrets to the grave. (Don’t take this to mean I wouldn’t “tattle” if I felt someone was in trouble or anything…just know that I can keep my mouth shut.) Unfortunately, just because I can do this doesn’t mean that everyone/all my friends can…which leads me to vulnerability story two…
2: I hit rock bottom again a little over a month ago. I don’t want to type out all the drama here because really, I still don’t even know all that happened and who said what to who…I don’t really even care. Ain’t nobody got time for that. One night, I was desperate…and I made the mistake of letting myself become completely vulnerable during a conversation with one person…a person, a “friend”, that I thought I could trust. I clearly stated that anything I said stayed there in our messages. She gave me her word. The next morning, it had made the morning news (not literally but a lot of people knew things I never told them and I knew it was the aforementioned friend I was vulnerable with the night before that broke my confidence because she is the only one I talked to about the things that everyone else was now talking about). So it was then that I made a mental note to myself to never confide in her again. I still have (and will keep) the friendship, but I will never again allow myself to be vulnerable in front of her.
When people engage in conversation with me and ask that certain things be kept between the two of us, I always do just that. I don’t go to the next friend down on my list and go, “OHMYGOD can you believe what Sally just said/did/told me?!” No no no no no NO. Again, I seem to be the exception rather than the rule. A close friend I’ve mentioned on here before, C, is an exception right along with me. She is one of the few people I am completely vulnerable with no matter the subject matter and she is the same with me in return. We often say that we know too much about each other to NOT be friends. There’s a lot of shit each of us will be taking to our graves and I am A-okay with that…even grateful. I’ve known her for a long time and I have yet to ever hear/see my confidence broken in regards to things I’ve shared with her…and it goes both ways. I just don’t understand why it’s so hard to keep your mouth shut. I find it relatively easy and I don’t understand why I can’t receive the same respect in return. But it is what it is (thank you radical acceptance) and that is why I am so guarded and not vulnerable with a majority of people. Being vulnerable runs the risk of being kicked when you’re down and for punches to the gut that just really really hurt when you’re already hurting. Don’t get me wrong, there is a good side to vulnerability too. If you decide to be vulnerable and tell your crush your real feelings, you may marry and live happily ever after…and if you decide to not be vulnerable and never tell that person how you feel, how will you know? Again, I can see both sides of the coin…both sides of the story. Just like when you gamble, you risk winning or losing…and it’s just that, a gamble…a risk…a chance you take. Are you prepared/can you handle the outcome, whatever it may be…even if it’s not what you want? I’m more apt to say no, I can’t handle it…which is why I don’t engage in vulnerability often. I seem to prefer this shitty safety net of emotions and stay stuck feeling this way rather than risk the chance of maybe getting better and maybe not, or even maybe feeling worse than I had before I opened myself up. It’s easier and I feel that it’s a lot less taxing on my mind and heart to stay in one place rather than bounce up and down all the time.
Remember when I said earlier that I can be completely vulnerable with M? If you’re not a regular follower of mine, M is my primary therapist and K is her cohort and also facilitates a DBT therapy group with M that I “graduated” from in February. M didn’t always facilitate with K so in the beginning of my group journey, it was K facilitating with one of two other therapists (and K did not succeed in tearing down my wall until about 10 months later). So here I was, able to be completely me and completely vulnerable one-on-one with M in individual sessions but I could not (or rather, chose not to) do it in group…because I didn’t say a word (literally) for about 10 months. (If you are interested, please refer to my “I’ma let you finish, but…” post for more.) About…oh I don’t know…3-5 months into group therapy, M started facilitating with K. That meant the one person I felt safe around was now facilitating the group I was completely shut down in. You would think that having that “safety net” in the same room with me would give me the comfort, safety and confidence to open up in group. Nope. That didn’t happen for another 6 or 7 months…and it really had nothing at all to do with M being in the group with me. It just happened for reasons I still don’t know. It was what it was. It was a risk I unknowingly took and I was greatly rewarded for it in the end. I just find it…amusing, if you will…that you can bring someone I trust implicitly and someone I can be completely me around into a group setting where I’ve made myself invulnerable and I will still hardheadedly refuse to let myself be vulnerable (never mind the fact that it happened in the end anyway). And just so it’s noted, I never completely let my guard down in group, even after I started talking and participating. I got better at letting it down and I got better at letting my true colors show, but I never fully stepped out of my shell and that was done on purpose and that was a conscious choice I made once I realized what was happening…that I was opening up in group.
Now let’s go back to Brené Brown. I’m going to paraphrase her TED talk here and just take out some of the things that resonated with me. In beginning her research, Brené hit a roadblock when she started to dissect vulnerability. She made two groups…those who allowed themselves to be vulnerable (yes, it is a choice) and those who didn’t and what made them different. In the first group, she noticed that those who chose to be vulnerable had courage, compassion, connection…courage to be imperfect, compassion for themselves first which allowed them to in turn be compassionate towards others, and they had a connection with people based on authenticity…they were willing to let go of who they thought they should be in order to just be who they are. This group of people also believed that what makes them vulnerable is also what makes them beautiful. I could probably save myself (and others) a lot of headaches if I could just embrace this concept because I feel that what makes me vulnerable is what makes me bait, leaves me open to being hurt, and makes me appear weak…and I try my hardest to deflect that on a daily basis. My Facebook page, while not fake, is full of “I got dis shit by the nuts!”…”I am woman, hear me roar!”…in essence, it projects a strong taking-the-world-by-the-horns facade. Again, it’s not fake…but I won’t let myself appear vulnerable, even on social media. So what you see is really me, but it’s all the funny, good and positive stuff…you’re not seeing all the behind-the-scenes things that I’m feeling and thinking because I vehemently refuse to post those things…so you’re only seeing one side of me…the side I want you to see and, oddly enough, the side I find hardest to let show when I’m one-on-one with you in real life and not online. (I’m often very shy at first, feeling you out, deciding if I can trust you or not…but once I get to know you, get ready for some craaaaazy shit.)
One key word I picked up on in watching this TED talk is “willingness”. I always pick up on this word because I tend to be more willFUL than willING. But I’ve gotten better (although I’d like to think I’ve surrendered more than I’ve chosen to be willing). Willingness is a big topic in DBT therapy and is one I am still working on and will probably be working on for the rest of my life because I am SO stubborn. I’ve had to be willing to let therapy (and M) work for me, I’ve had to be willing to give M the benefit of the doubt and let her test out any new “experiments” she comes up with in her laboratory (and she comes up with A LOT!)…I’ve had to be willing just to continue going to therapy at all. It’s not easy and it’s a battle I fight daily. (Small tangent: K hijacked a phone call M made to me a few weeks ago just because she wanted to say hi and during the conversation, she said the DBT group was covering the distress tolerance module and she asked me, in the opinion of a “graduate”, what skill I think they should spend some extra time on. Without hesitating, I said, “Willingness.” K said, “WHAT?! Can you repeat that?” I just laughed and said, “You heard me.” Insert some inside jokes and a mutual understanding of what I said, why I said it and what I meant…which is part of why I love M and K…I don’t have to explain myself 90% of the time. K also knows I’m stubborn as hell and so for the jackass to tell the therapist that the group should focus on the topic of willingness was rather amusing to the both of us. But it was an honest answer and I meant it, even if I said it through gritted teeth, knowing K was going to go, “Say whaaaat?”)
Brené Brown also says that vulnerability is the core of shame, fear and our struggle to feel worthy (of love, etc.)…but vulnerability is also the birthplace of joy, creativity, longing and love. Being a DBT black-belt, I can see both sides of the coin here…my problem is finding the balance. I agree with all that she says and can find examples of all of the above in my own life…what I’ve missed out on by not being vulnerable and what I’ve gained by being vulnerable (sometimes it “pays off” but more often than not in my life, I’ve “gained” shame, fear and a deep-seeded belief that I’m not worthy). One of things Brené says that resonates with me more than anything is that we cannot selectively numb our emotions. Meaning that we can’t choose what emotions to numb and what emotions we don’t want to numb. When you numb the hard things, you, by default, also numb the great things. Once you start to numb yourself to pain, sadness, fear, etc., you also start to numb joy, peace and happiness…even if you don’t mean to. It’s a vicious circle and one I will admit that I am in the midst of. I’m trying so hard to numb all the bad/hard things that I’m not allowing myself the opportunity to experience the good things. Just because I feel like I’m in a bottomless pit doesn’t mean I don’t experience joy or happiness or that I never smile…it’s just that it’s so dark here, I don’t give myself a chance to experience those “good” emotions to the fullest extent when they do happen…almost as if the good is dampened due to the bad I feel…tainted is a better word, I think. I fully admit and own that I do that to myself. I’m working on it…but it’s still a struggle. It’s very hard to overcome 29 years worth of vulnerability backfire in just a few sessions with a skilled therapist. At this point, I’m just grateful that I can be me and be completely vulnerable with at least one person in my life, even if it’s only my therapist. The rest will come in time if it is meant to be.
One example of vulnerability that Brené has used in past lectures that I absolutely love is the example from the movie “Say Anything”. We love seeing vulnerability in other people and see it as courage and bravery, but when we ourselves engage in it, we see it as weakness. In the movie “Say Anything”, John Cusack goes completely vulnerable when he decides to express his true feelings to the girl he loves. No holds bar, all or nothing, this is how I feel, I am showing you and thus, am completely vulnerable as I hold up this boombox and play this song as loud as I can for you. He opened himself to rejection and any of the numerous “repercussions” that could have come from that simple act of vulnerability.
Vulnerability is so hard for me on so many different levels, especially because I see and engage in the two extremes in my own life…completely vulnerable with my therapist…completely shut down with most everyone else. Kudos to M because I never noticed/observed the two extremes before. I have watched many of my friends confide in me and others, only to watch what is said behind their back and watch as the people they have confided in break their confidence. That makes me hurt for my friends and inadvertently, makes me shut down more. If you are like this with that friend and that “simple” secret said to you in confidence, what will you do and say about me when I tell you things in confidence? Not everyone is like this and not all my friends gossip and break confidences, but enough of them do that I choose to stay closed down with everyone rather than taking that boombox-I-love-you risk with everyone or even a select handful of people. There are benefits to reap from taking that risk…but there is also the risk of feeling hurt and other things. Some people are okay with that gamble and I was too…once. But I’m not okay with it anymore and prefer to stay “safe” rather than take that risk. I realize that I lose out on a lot of things by doing that, but it is a choice I consciously make to guard my heart. I hope there comes a time where I feel safe being vulnerable, accepting whatever comes my way as a result, be it good or bad, and just not be scared to be who I am. Because really, that’s all it is…being scared. Being scared of being hurt, scared of broken trusts, etc. If I stay shut down and remain as invulnerable as possible, I am safe…you cannot touch me…you cannot kick me when I’m down. I may remain in this “place” but this “place” is so normal and comfortable to me now that it is better to stay here, a place I know well, than risk the chance of doing or saying something that may help me get out of it…because it’s a risk…which means it may or may not happen. It’s certainty versus uncertainty. I’d rather know than wonder…I would rather know than go, “What if…?” I, along with many others, could do that all day long…”What if…?” Kudos to those of you who can be vulnerable and take those risks and are able to embrace whatever comes your way as a result of taking that risk. Gold stars to those of you who are at least willing to be vulnerable in certain situations and with certain people. Cheerleader pom-poms and a swift kick in the ass to those of you who think you can’t do it and are unwilling to even try.
Lastly, no post is ever complete without a song. Naturally, I stumbled upon this song only recently and I think it speaks volumes (no pun intended) about where and how I choose to be the most vulnerable…here in my blog.
Lyrics: “Brave” by Sara Bareilles
August 14, 2013 – 9:23 AM
PS: Six types of people you shouldn’t be vulnerable with… http://m.huffpost.com/us/entry/3392414
Where do I even begin? I guess the best place to start would be to explain the significance of the date: June 7, 2011 was the day I tried to take my life for the first time. I’m not going to rehash all the not-so-pleasant details or any of what led up to this day two years ago…I talk about most of that in my “Pensieve Dump” post (about three quarters of the way down, the paragraph where I start talking about February 2011).
I brought this day up during my last session with M and it wasn’t because I wanted to talk about it, but because I couldn’t remember the actual date…I got confused somewhere. In talking to some people lately, helping them try to understand their friends who are going through some of the same things I have/am, I was telling them that attempt one was June 6th. And then I re-read something I wrote some time ago and I had written there that it was June 7th. So I was like fuck…you would think this would be a date I would never forget. I think I got confused while filling out forms asking about the date I had last worked, THAT was June 6th, the day before the attempt…and I’ve spent so much time writing down June 6th that my stupid brain got confused. I brought it up to M because I knew she could access my medical record and tell me the actual date of my admission to the ER. She was rather excited that I had gotten confused and had technically forgotten the date. “Isn’t that a good thing?” she asked. And I said, “NO!” And she asked me why, bewildered. And I said that, at least to me, that date is just as significant as a birthday or the date of the passing of a loved one. No, it’s not pleasant and something one would normally “celebrate” and as much as I would like to forget it, you don’t often forget such traumatic events. If we could, I’m sure we would put therapists out of business. Another part of why I wanted to make sure I had the right date was my OCD. For my own peace of mind, I wanted to know/remember what the actual date was even if I wasn’t going to write about it. People ask me all the time, if we talk about this subject, when I did it. I would like to give them the real answer and be sure of myself. I don’t even know if this is making sense…the OCD and just wanting to have my shit in order and know for sure rather than second guess myself/wonder if that really is the right date. But…the picture above is my actual hospital bracelet so June 7th is the “winner”…the actual date.
Why I even wanted to blog about this is lost on me now. Maybe I just wanted to pay homage to the date, acknowledge it and reflect on the two years since it happened. C.S. Lewis once wrote, “Isn’t it funny how day by day nothing changes, but when you look back, everything is different…” That pretty much sums it up. End post. Adios.
But seriously though…that’s what it feels like. I don’t feel any different than I did two years ago. I don’t feel healthier, “better”, stronger. I still feel like I’m in the same place. But when I pick myself and my brain apart, I can see some notable changes. I wonder what this blog would be like…what you and I would be able to see had I started this the day after I got discharged from the hospital… Since the last six-ish years have been preserved on my personal Facebook page, I can definitely see MAJOR changes there. (Word to the wise: don’t Facebook-stalk yourself at 2 AM.)
I suppose we can start with my “progress” in therapy. I’ve been with M for a majority of the last two years. She wasn’t the first therapist I saw when I was discharged but she was THE ONE when I met her a month or so later. (I had a different therapist at the time but it really wasn’t working out and I had no interest in continuing to see her.) Naturally, it took me some time to get to know M and trust her. Once I did, it was no holds bar. Anything and everything came out…tears, snot, laughter and all. I think M knows the real me more than anyone else, even better than my mom (though my mom would beg to differ and would scoff if I dared to suggest anyone knew me better than the woman who gave birth to me). M has seen it all…the good, the bad, the ugly and the REALLY ugly. We’ve had fights…not knock-down drag-out fights…but fights where I stopped seeing her for a period of time or refused to make a follow-up appointment. But we are (now) so honest with each other that we can talk about whatever upset me or her, dissect it if we have to and move on…and do it in such a way that it’s not something either of us has to bring up again or throw back in the other person’s face when upset in the future. That’s pretty awesome because I don’t know anyone in my life that can do that…not bring the past up when disagreeing/fighting. M, much to my chagrin, gets EXCITED when I’m pissed off at her. Her grin and the twinkle in her eyes pisses me off when I’m already pissed off! “Feelings are good!” “Let me have it!” And I’m like, “For the love…” I’ve probably been the most real and the most open and honest with M in terms of showing genuine laughter and genuine pain…genuine emotions period. Not many people can make me cry (not many people have even seen me cry). She can. Not many people can make me laugh without saying a single word. She can. And not many people can make me laugh and cry at the same time. She can. (And sometimes I hate that she can do that! I’m trying to be serious and she’s not helping!) And knowing myself and how I let people “get to me” and my heart, I think the fact that she can do all those things is a testament to the depth of our relationship and the trust and respect I have for her. I know of no one else in my life that can do the above things to me or bring out the above things in me…and I don’t care that only my therapist can…I’m just grateful someone can. With M’s prodding, she has gotten me to do things I would have never done if left to my own devices. The first major thing she got me to do was go to group therapy. THAT was a fight and I have to give M props for being persistent. I fought her for over two months about going and finally, I was just like, “If I go, will you stop nagging me?!” M said yes and off I went, dragging my feet, feeling defeated. M even said I only had to go once or twice and if I didn’t like it, I didn’t have to continue. And so there I sat in group, stubborn as hell, arms crossed, not saying a single word for about a good ten months (don’t ask my why I stayed because I still don’t know the answer). Mix K in there somewhere and refer to the “Boots of Awesome” post for how that adorable slice of heaven got to me. As stubborn as I was during my time in group, I still soaked up what I was being taught like a sponge…so much so that I actually had to be kicked out of group. M and K called it “graduating” but it didn’t feel so pomp and circumstance to me. M told me (and the group) on my last day (and continues to tell her fellow DBT cohorts) that if she ever calls in sick, call me because I can teach the group. (Knowing the material and being able to execute it are two totally different things but that’s a different post for a different day.) I learned a lot in that group and I continue to learn and practice the skills I was taught even though I’m no longer in the group. Graduation or not, using DBT skills will always be a work in progress and something I don’t feel anyone can master, without effort, all the time. That was huge…the group journey. Even other therapists, who facilitated with K before M even became a part of the group, who knew me in my early days of group and later filled in when M or K was sick or out of the office, have made comments to M that essentially said, “Holy shit…that girl is on fiyah!” I won’t poo-poo the change or “compliment”…I own it. My group journey was significant, especially when you compare the beginning me to the end me. I don’t give myself kudos often but I think I will when it comes to group.
M has recently started referring to me as her therapy baby because she’s learning right along with me, like a new mom. (For clarification purposes, M is only a couple years older than I am and is still a relatively new therapist. Lucky for her, she got the one patient early in her career that will test her patience, skills and everything she knows/thought she knew.) I have severely tested M and her fellow therapists and I’m not exaggerating. They have never had anyone that has been in such intensive therapy for as long as I have (and who was committed/persistent enough to never miss or cancel a single appointment), been in a therapy group so long I had to be kicked out, and stuck around long enough after “graduating” from said group. So now everyone is all, “Well now what the fuck do we do with/teach her?” I’m an experiment y’all. M has told me on countless occasions that I have taught her a lot…how to be a better therapist, what cues to pay attention to and how to get people to continue to see/talk to their therapist after said therapist pissed them off. I am, apparently, the exception rather than the rule when it comes to being a patient. I have never missed or canceled an appointment or group session and I have never been late. Most people give up and do not finish group therapy which is through no fault of the therapists…it’s the patient who said fuck it, gave up and stopped coming. It is not a therapist’s job to chase you if you run out the door and don’t come back. Also, I had no idea that such a big chunk of therapy patients only go to therapy and group when it fits into their schedule and/or when they feel like it. To me, therapy is (and always will be) a commitment…and if I don’t make the effort, how can I expect my therapist to make the effort? You get out what you put in. M has told me, and I’ve witnessed first hand, that a lot of people who start group end up quitting (often within the first month or two) before giving it (and themselves) a chance. It’s not instant gratification and it takes some effort if you want to get something beneficial out of it. I may have fought M about going to group and I may have wanted to give up and stop going more than once…but I didn’t. I kept going. It wasn’t a cure all and it didn’t fix anything, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t get anything out of it…and that goes for more than just better coping skills. If I hadn’t gone to group, I wouldn’t have gotten the opportunity to meet K and let her join me in my journey and some days, just going to group and having it take up a good chunk of my afternoon was my therapy and was what got me through the day despite what was taught or said that day. I stuck it out and I followed through with it until I was told I had to be done. So to have someone so stubborn refuse to go to group, then cave and go, and then stay to the point where she had to be kicked out really threw M and the DBT team for a loop. They are now in the process of devising an “after treatment” treatment: what do you do/where do you go in therapy after a patient graduates? It’s never happened/gotten this far before. I’m a lab rat. They’re still trying to figure out what to do with me because by some fucking miracle, I haven’t given up yet and they’re apparently not about to give up on me, even if they’re not entirely sure what to do. We’re making it up as we go. I’m breaking new ground y’all! To future patients: you’re welcome.
Another big change I see, that maybe a lot of people don’t see or can’t see, is my attitude and my thinking. I’m sure someone reading this will call me out and say that of course people are going to be able to notice your attitude, especially if it’s changed. And for clarification purposes, I guess it’s more my attitude towards/about certain things and not necessarily my attitude as it relates to my outward behavior (though I’m sure to the people who are looking for it will see some change in that area too). I’ve always been a thinker. I prefer to think before I act or speak (though I don’t always do it) and I will over-analyze a situation/conversation/problem/person until there is nothing left to analyze. That hasn’t changed, much to my dismay. While I’ve always thought of myself as a thoughtful person (no pun intended), I think I’ve become even more so over the past two years and probably over the past year especially. I LOVE giving…and I don’t have much to give but people severely underestimate the power of a kind word or a simple, “Hi. I’m thinking about you.” in the form of a text message or card in the mail. (For more on this, please read my “Warm Fuzzies” post.) No matter what mood I’m in, you can be sure that I’ve tried to do something nice for someone at least once a day. I often do it anonymously, but not always…and I think it’s pretty huge that I can pull my head out of my ass long enough to shoot some love over to someone every now and then. It makes their day, makes them smile and in return, gives me warm fuzzies…and I like that…a lot. Win/win. I’ve also become much more careful with my words. I’m not perfect, so I do fuck up here and there but for the most part, I ask myself, before I speak, “How would this sound/feel if it were said to me?” Words are SO powerful…that sticks and stones ditty is a load of crap. I’m the type of person who can forget an entire conversation we had, yet hang on to one single thing you said and repeat it to myself over and over in my head. This goes for good things and bad things. For example, K called me one week when M was out and I was a sobbing hot mess and I remember bits and pieces of the conversation but what I took from it and repeated over and over in my head (and still do, to this day) is what she said to me at the end of that phone call: “You rock my world, J.” And I’m going to take a wild guess and say that K doesn’t even remember saying that. She might remember it if I brought it up, but without prompting, she may not ever give it a second thought. K isn’t nearly as forthcoming with her feelings as M is and that’s just how therapists are (K is also not my personal therapist and now that I’m out of group, I don’t see or interact with her very often)…they choose how much they want to share and say regarding their personal lives and feelings for their patients. So knowing that about K and knowing that she doesn’t say things like that often meant the world to me (obviously, if I still remember it like it was yesterday). And on the flip side, during a conversation (a rather one-sided conversation as M was doing all the talking and I was crying) M and I had, she said, “I don’t know what more I can teach you. I don’t know what more to do with you.” Forget the rest of the 49 fucking minutes I was with her and what she said, that is what stuck with me and that is what kept replaying over and over in my head. (For clarification purposes, M was not saying this in exasperation and giving up on me though that’s what I thought, heard and felt at the time.) I have a new appreciation for the little things people say and do and I’ve realized that people usually don’t give a second thought about them, but the person you did said action to or said whatever you did to may remember and think about it for a lifetime. That person you flipped off while on the interstate this morning? You probably didn’t give a second thought about it all day and won’t ever think about it again, but perhaps the person you did that to…maybe your action ruined their entire day and/or made them start their day off on the wrong foot. Don’t get all philosophical on me and say that that person you flipped off had a choice to let your behavior affect them or not (and even had the choice of not engaging in the behavior that led you to flip them off in the first place)…my point is that sometimes it’s not always easy to brush something so “innocent” off your shoulders and forget it happened or forget it was said…and the things you don’t give a second thought about are some of the same things others can’t STOP thinking about. In summation: if you can’t say/do something nice, don’t say/do nothin’ at all. (Thank you Bambi, Thumper and Walt Disney for teaching me that lesson, even if I learned it a little late in life.)
One of the questions I get asked most when talking about suicide with other people is, “Are you glad you were found/saved?” My answer two years ago and my answer now has not changed: “No.” A friend recently countered my answer with, “But J, you said you believe all things happen for a reason. You were found/saved not once, but three times…don’t you think there’s a reason for that?” Here is where I’m probably going to totally contradict myself and not make sense…forgive me in advance. Yes, I believe all things happen for a reason. I think I can say that yes, being saved three times means that someone thinks this bitch ain’t done here yet as much as she wants to be done. Do I know the reason I’m still alive? No…’cause Lord knows I shouldn’t be here right now. None of my attempts were half-assed. I should seriously NOT be alive right now. And then, of course, I sound like an ass when I say that no, I’m not grateful I was saved. I do think there’s a reason for it, but it’s never been revealed to me and to be honest, I’m kind of tired of waiting to be shown and whatever the reason may be, I really don’t want to go through all this shit just to find out what it is. Everyone can make the argument that you never know what you will do in life or the impact you may have. I could win a Nobel Peace Prize, I could find a cure for cancer…there are a million and one things I could be or do. I don’t have a degree in statistics, but they don’t look too favorable considering I’m nearly at the halfway point in life and have accomplished jack shit. And if you’re going to ask me what would make my life worth living, save yourself the e-mail and breath because I don’t know nor can I think of something that would make life worth living right now. I made a choice two years ago, an informed decision. Some people think you have to be off your fucking rocker to make such an insane decision like ending your life and do it while knowing all the pro’s and con’s…I’m here to tell you that it’s possible. It doesn’t happen with everyone nor does it happen all the time or with all suicide attempts but in a nutshell, I’m telling you that I did my research and I weighed the pro’s and con’s and made a rational informed decision. Whether or not I’m here for a reason, I’m mad that a decision was taken away from me (e.g. my life was saved). I was gone in attempt one…literally. I was found blue and unconscious and I was even told that had I been found a minute later, I would not be here writing this right now. That choice was taken away from me and I can’t tell you if that’s what upsets me about the whole thing or if it’s because, two years later, I’m still miserable and wish I had just succeeded (or been left to succeed because technically I DID succeed, I was just…not left to finish succeeding). Perhaps a bit of both? I am not pro-anything. I am pro-choice when it comes to pretty much everything. I may not like or agree with your choice, but I support your right to choose what you think is best for you, however wrong, sinful, immoral or bad others view your choice. I will not condemn you for the choices you make whether or not I agree with them. It’s not me that has to live with your choice; it’s you. No one but me has to live with three failed suicide attempts and no one but me has to live with all the other bad choices I’ve made over the last two years (and over the course of my whole life, if you want to go that far)…I have to live with it. I own everything I do, be it good or bad. I don’t blame my feelings, my problems or anything else on anyone but myself whether or not the blame should be rightly placed on someone else (this leads to many long nitty-gritty therapy sessions because I will own shit that isn’t even mine to own…but again, different post for different day). My mom thinks I am on some hell-bent mission to make her life miserable and everything I do and have done over the past two years has been some life mission on my part to make her life a living a hell. This boggles my mind when, in the next breath, she will call me selfish. Soooo…I’m being SELFISH by doing all this to get back at YOU for wronging me somehow? I don’t have a math degree either but 1 + 1 is not adding up to 2 here. She refuses to understand/validate that I keep trying to end my life to actually SPARE her the heartache and headache of dealing me with me for the rest of my/her life. Think of all the money you will no longer have to give me to pay my bills, think of all the worry that will be lifted from your shoulders when you won’t have to wonder why I’m awake at 3 AM or why I won’t talk to you or how the hell I landed in a psych ward AGAIN. I could go on but that mess is also a different post for a different day. I’m not here to convince you that suicide is right or wrong. I’m just saying that it’s a choice and it will always be a choice. Per M and K, it doesn’t have to be a choice…I know that but I choose to let it be a choice for me…that card is always on the table and has been for two years. I’ve been accused of not letting the choice of suicide go as if it were a security blanket and if you want to psychoanalyze me, that’s probably right…it is a security blanket…I always have an out if I keep the suicide card in my hand. And while that may be true, that’s not how I see it. The suicide card is one I want to play, but no one will let me…letting their choices and morals get in the way of and prevent any choices I want to make. Perhaps a better metaphor is that I want to play the suicide card, but per the “rules of the game”, I cannot. It’s not a joker card or a “draw 4” wild card in UNO that I can lay down and play whenever I want to…I have to wait to play it and/or it’s not a playable card at all (in terms of the “rules of the game/life”). Maybe it’s like the Old Maid card…it’s not a playable card and it’s not a card anyone wants to end up with. Am I making any sense at all? God I hope so… In summation, I don’t keep suicide floating around in my brain or in my hand of cards “just in case”. I want to play that card but things and people and “rules” prevent me from doing so. It’s never a last-ditch thing for me…it never has been. It’s never been a “fuckitallimdone” decision. I don’t hold on to it for when things get bad just so I have somewhere to run…so I have an “easy” out. In my opinion, things are already bad and I want out but y’all won’t let me. Yes, I know I can discard it and choose to not let it be a choice for me but I am actively choosing to let it be a choice for me because I want it to be a choice…no one is forcing me to keep that card in my hand. I’m sure we could throw this around and dissect it all day but ain’t nobody got time for that and I don’t feel like I’m making any sense…so let’s move on, shall we?
Something I roll my eyes at and blame voodoo magic on is the timing of this “anniversary” and how I feel right now. I don’t want to get into details, but suffice it to say that June 7th almost became an anniversary twice over…2011 and 2013. For clarification purposes, I have never actively chosen the dates I’ve attempted to take my life…the dates have no significance to me whatsoever unless I survive and they become a date like June 7, 2011. And also, don’t assume that just because I am still here and able to write this post commemorating the first June 7th to mean I’m no longer feeling that way. It just didn’t happen like it almost happened. Capisce?
I never put myself in a pessimist or optimist category and one of my major faults is that I tend to look at how much further I have to go instead of looking at how far I’ve come. If you ask me if I’ve changed, gotten better or healthier over the last two years, I will tell you no. If you ask M, K or a select few friends, they will tell you yes, I have changed/made progress. I concede that things are different…as in how I think and my attitude towards certain things (i.e. I’ve become VERY uncensored, especially over the past six to eight months, not caring much about what other people think about me and just being me and adopting a “like it or leave it” attitude)…but I don’t think things are better nor do I think that I am healthier. When I look at just the surface:
– Me two years ago: suicidal and done.
– Me now: suicidal and done.*
I see no difference. Do you? I will cave and give myself some gold stars in some areas but NO ONE can look at the last two years of my life and say I didn’t try. Some people think (and tell me) I didn’t/I’m not trying hard enough. I’m just at a point where a lot of people are saying, “I don’t know what more I can do with/for you.” And I am wholeheartedly agreeing with them…I don’t know either. I have exhausted the entire pharmacy, being on every kind of medication combination possible. I have been in intensive one-on-one and group therapy for two years. I have done (almost) everything M has ever asked me to do, even if I fought her before surrendering. I’ve never been one to do things half-assed. If I’m going to do something, I’m going to go above and beyond…that’s just how I do. My suicide attempts are no exception. Sometimes I think, “I can do this! I can win and live and be happy!” and other times I’m like, “You are so stupid for thinking you can win.” I feel like I am trying to win a win-less fight.
And it’s funny how I imagined
That I could win this win-less fight
But maybe it isn’t all that funny
That I’ve been fighting all my life
But maybe I have to think it’s funny
If I wanna live before I die
And maybe it’s funniest of all
To think I’ll die before I actually see
That I am exactly the person that I want to be
Oh this roller-coaster of life…it’s what drives us to keep going and it’s what drives us to give up. Some people can handle it and some people can’t. Some people can endure and some people can’t. I probably can endure…if I chose to…but do I want to? Is it worth it? What makes it worth it? Only time will tell, I suppose. I’ve been through a lot…others have been through more. There’s a difference between giving up and knowing when you’ve had enough. I can handle, tolerate and put up with a lot of shit…and not only can I, but I do…on a daily basis. But just because I am strong enough to handle the pain doesn’t mean I deserve it. Granted, I probably create a lot of it myself….but remember: I own all my shit. I don’t feel that the world is out to get me nor do I think that my hell hole is any worse or more miserable than someone else’s. I’m not here writing this to make you feel sorry for me. PLEASE, for the love of God, do not feel sorry for me. I just know my limits. If I’ve learned anything over the last two years, I’ve learned more about myself, who I am, why I do what I do and why I think what I think. I don’t necessarily believe that “that which does not kill you only makes you stronger” but I concede that I am stronger than I ever gave myself credit for…stronger than I thought I was, even if I’ve whimped out a few times and tried to end my life. I’ve told people my story time and again and I’ve gotten a lot of “holy shit”‘s and “I would have never been able to live through that.” and “Oh my god, that’s a lot for someone your age.” I’ve gained more insight into what makes me tick, what I can and cannot handle, what I can and cannot do, what I want and do not want. The last two years have not been all bad. Just like a heart monitor in the hospital…each blip on the screen represents a heartbeat and each blip in my life is a moment of happiness or joy. I’ve had to let some people go and I’ve welcomed new people into my life. I’ve even welcomed some people back who left or that I lost touch with. I’ve experienced some amazing things…amazing good, amazing bad and amazing I-can’t-believe-I-lived-through-that. I don’t have any regrets. I love the people who are in my life and I love them even more when I turn around after falling and they’re still standing there. What hurts and what makes me push them away is that I don’t want to cause chaos for them. I don’t want to hurt anyone or affect anyone’s life while I ride my roller-coaster of ups and downs. I say shit I don’t mean, I shut people out, I get angry and I get hurt…and in doing that, I inadvertently hurt others…and I don’t want to do that…it crushes me. I realize that had I left this world two years ago, and even if I choose to leave it now, I will hurt people. But pro’s and con’s: do I hurt you now by leaving, knowing that that pain will lessen over time…or do I let you hurt/cause chaos for you as long as you choose to have me in your life? I don’t want to hurt you…I don’t want to hurt anyone…yet I know that I affect everyone who comes into contact with me…be you the person I flipped off on the interstate this morning or be you my therapist or best friend, who knows everything…knows my heart…and will do anything and everything to help me keep going.
I thought I had a point in writing this and as I get ready to wrap it up, I realize that I have no point. It’s been two years. A lot of shit has gone down and I don’t expect anything less in the next two years to come…and the two years after that…and so on and so on and scooby-dooby-doo-yeah.
A million different realities
A million different me’s
A million different “A”s
A million different “Z”s
A million steps forward
A million steps back
A million steps up
A million steps down
A million miles away
A million miles to go
A million miles walked
A million miles flown
A million things I want
A million things I yearn
A million things I know
A million things I learn
A million loves lost
A million loves gained
A million loves healed
A million loves pained
A million ways to live
A million ways to die
A million ways to laugh
A million ways to cry
A million ways to hop
A million ways to prance
A million ways to sing
A million ways to dance
A million things written
A million things read
A million things forgotten
A million things unsaid
* This is not a suicide note or me saying, “Goodbye cruel world.” I’m done leaving notes and even if I did leave a note, I wouldn’t post it publicly for a bunch of strangers to read. This is just a lot of nonsensical rambling, trying to put words to my thoughts/feelings and failing. This post didn’t turn out the way I wanted it to and I blame that on my current emotional state, which is probably very obvious if you read in between the lines. But I chose to post this anyway. It is what it is. This is water.
This post started out as a homework assignment my therapist gave me last week. And if you follow me on any sort of regular basis, you know that M (said therapist) possesses voodoo magic. DAMN HER AND HER METAPHORS AND FOR MAKING SO MUCH DAMN SENSE AT THE RIGHT DAMN TIME! GAWD! SRSLY. What follows is what I was asked to do for M this week. She didn’t TELL me to blog about it but it became so powerful and such a huge epiphany to me that I HAD to blog about it. And I will be giving her this as my “homework” and I expect a fucking A with a + AND a gold star next to it.
What I was asked to do by M was to just mindfully listen to this speech (the irony of her asking me to do this will come in a moment) called “This Is Water” by David Foster Wallace once. Then I was to listen to it AGAIN and “respond” to it/discuss it when M and I meet next. What follows is my response. I will attach the YouTube video I listened to at the end of this post but the transcript of the speech will be right here in italics with my personal thoughts/epiphanies in bold.
2005 Kenyon Commencement Address ~ May 21, 2005
Written and Delivered by: David Foster Wallace
Greetings and congratulations to Kenyon’s graduating class of 2005.
There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says “Morning, boys. How’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, “What the hell is water?”
This is a standard requirement of US commencement speeches, the deployment of didactic little parable-ish stories. The story turns out to be one of the better, less bullshitty conventions of the genre, but if you’re worried that I plan to present myself here as the wise, older fish explaining what water is to you younger fish, please don’t be. I am not the wise old fish. The point of the fish story is merely that the most obvious, important realities are often the ones that are hardest to see and talk about. [Srsly. Think about it. What is right in front of you right now? What are you thinking about right in this moment? What are you feeling right now? For me personally, I’m going to say life in general…it is such a simple “topic” yet my thoughts and ideas regarding it cannot be neatly put into words or a box and given or said to someone. It’s a hard thing to notice and talk about even though it’s, quite literally, right in front of my face all the time.] Stated as an English sentence, of course, this is just a banal platitude, but the fact is that in the day to day trenches of adult existence, banal platitudes can have a life or death importance [Seriously. You may think this is figurative but by the end, you will realize it’s literal. Keep reading.], or so I wish to suggest to you on this dry and lovely morning.
Of course the main requirement of speeches like this is that I’m supposed to talk about your liberal arts education’s meaning, to try to explain why the degree you are about to receive has actual human value instead of just a material payoff. So let’s talk about the single most pervasive cliché in the commencement speech genre, which is that a liberal arts education is not so much about filling you up with knowledge as it is about “teaching you how to think”. If you’re like me as a student, you’ve never liked hearing this, and you tend to feel a bit insulted by the claim that you needed anybody to teach you how to think [DAMN STRAIGHT!], since the fact that you even got admitted to a college this good seems like proof that you already know how to think. [Right?] But I’m going to posit to you that the liberal arts cliché turns out not to be insulting at all, because the really significant education in thinking that we’re supposed to get in a place like this isn’t really about the capacity to think, but rather about the choice of what to think about. [Your light bulb should be coming on right about here. The key word is “choice”.] If your total freedom of choice regarding what to think about seems too obvious to waste time discussing, I’d ask you to think about fish and water, and to bracket for just a few minutes your skepticism about the value of the totally obvious. [Do NOT roll your eyes at me…or Mr. Wallace. Keep. Reading.]
Here’s another didactic little story: There are these two guys sitting together in a bar in the remote Alaskan wilderness. One of the guys is religious, the other is an atheist, and the two are arguing about the existence of God with that special intensity that comes after about the fourth beer. And the atheist says, “Look, it’s not like I don’t have actual reasons for not believing in God. It’s not like I haven’t ever experimented with the whole God and prayer thing. Just last month I got caught away from the camp in that terrible blizzard, and I was totally lost and I couldn’t see a thing, and it was 50 below, and so I tried it: I fell to my knees in the snow and cried out ‘Oh, God, if there is a God, I’m lost in this blizzard, and I’m gonna die if you don’t help me.'” And now, in the bar, the religious guy looks at the atheist all puzzled. “Well then you must believe now,” he says, “After all, here you are, alive.” The atheist just rolls his eyes. “No, man, all that was was a couple Eskimos happened to come wandering by and showed me the way back to camp.” [If you’re anything like me, able to “put yourself in another person’s shoes”, your next light bulb should have gone off here. Mr. Wallace will explain this more in a minute but this is my homework and my blog so I’m going to “spill the beans.” Perspective. The religious man (and even I myself, retaining some knowledge from my “Jesus Years”) could easily turn this around and say that God put those Eskimos in that man’s way and answered his prayer. The atheist, being “close-minded”, clearly will not see the situation that way. This is called a dialectic, people…there are TWO sides of the coin…two sides to every story. Neither side is completely right and neither side is completely wrong. Each side is its own truth for whichever person that side “belongs to”. AND YES I AM GOING ALL MARSHA LINEHAN ON YOU. Let’s take God and religion out of this. M says to me often, in all sincerity because she believes it, that “It will get better.” My first reaction is to scoff at her and say, “Bullshit.” because I don’t believe that things will ever get better. But is M wrong? Is she right? Is her statement possible? Am I right? Am I wrong? Is my statement possible? None of the above. Each statement is each person’s truth and belief. I can choose (keyword there) to do one of two things: A) I can continue to be close-minded and not give M’s statement any credence at all and continue to be miserable while I choose to be self-centered and believe my own statement as truth. Or B), I can choose to be open-minded and acknowledge that M’s statement is just as valid as my own (which, knowing M, is probably the whole fucking reason she’s having me do this damn assignment). Neither statement is true or right and neither statement is wrong or impossible. But the acceptance of THAT truth (that neither statement is the ultimate truth) is where true knowledge and freedom comes from. And I would probably make M’s job a lot easier if I would do this more often and quit being so stubborn.]
It’s easy to run this story through kind of a standard liberal arts analysis: the exact same experience can mean two totally different things to two different people, given those people’s two different belief templates and two different ways of constructing meaning from experience. [See, I told you he would tell you.] Because we prize tolerance and diversity of belief, nowhere in our liberal arts analysis do we want to claim that one guy’s interpretation is true and the other guy’s is false or bad. Which is fine, except we also never end up talking about just where these individual templates and beliefs come from. Meaning, where they come from INSIDE the two guys. As if a person’s most basic orientation toward the world, and the meaning of his experience were somehow just hard-wired, like height or shoe-size; or automatically absorbed from the culture, like language. As if how we construct meaning were not actually a matter of personal, intentional choice. Plus, there’s the whole matter of arrogance. The nonreligious guy is so totally certain in his dismissal of the possibility that the passing Eskimos had anything to do with his prayer for help. True, there are plenty of religious people who seem arrogant and certain of their own interpretations, too. They’re probably even more repulsive than atheists, at least to most of us. But religious dogmatists’ problem is exactly the same as the story’s unbeliever: blind certainty, a close-mindedness that amounts to an imprisonment so total that the prisoner doesn’t even know he’s locked up. [Read that last sentence again. Blind certainty. Close-mindedness.]
The point here is that I think this is one part of what teaching me how to think is really supposed to mean. To be just a little less arrogant. To have just a little critical awareness about myself and my certainties. [DING DING DING! BINGO!] Because a huge percentage of the stuff that I tend to be automatically certain of is, it turns out, totally wrong and deluded. I have learned this the hard way, as I predict you graduates will, too.
Here is just one example of the total wrongness of something I tend to be automatically sure of: everything in my own immediate experience supports my deep belief that I am the absolute center of the universe; the realest, most vivid and important person in existence. We rarely think about this sort of natural, basic self-centeredness because it’s so socially repulsive. But it’s pretty much the same for all of us. It is our default setting, hard-wired into our boards at birth. [Here is where I’m going to caution you if you are an over-thinker like myself: this does not mean that you are wrong for thinking this way. Re-read what he said: it is our default setting. It’s “natural”.] Think about it: there is no experience you have had that you are not the absolute center of. The world as you experience it is there in front of YOU or behind YOU, to the left or right of YOU, on YOUR TV or YOUR monitor. And so on. Other people’s thoughts and feelings have to be communicated to you somehow, but your own are so immediate, urgent, real.
Please don’t worry that I’m getting ready to lecture you about compassion or other-directedness or all the so-called virtues. This is not a matter of virtue. It’s a matter of my choosing to do the work of somehow altering or getting free of my natural, hard-wired default setting which is to be deeply and literally self-centered and to see and interpret everything through this lens of self. People who can adjust their natural default setting this way are often described as being “well-adjusted” which, I suggest to you, is not an accidental term. [Insert another light bulb here. What he’s getting at and, correct me if I’m wrong, what a lot of therapy is trying to get at is to get you to “adjust” your thinking in a way that allows you to see what is beyond your eyes and your mind…stepping into other people’s shoes and seeing the world from a different point of view. Again, a very simple concept it seems…but it’s actually quite hard to do. You may be able to do it for an hour here or there or during a conversation with a struggling friend, able to empathize with them. But can you do it all the time? I didn’t think so. It takes practice and a lot of hard work.]
Given the triumphant academic setting here, an obvious question is how much of this work of adjusting our default setting involves actual knowledge or intellect. [Another light bulb. This concept has absolutely NOTHING to do with how good your grades are/were. You could be Einstein and it would not matter in executing this “skill” or concept. You have to find and learn it yourself in your own way.] This question gets very tricky. Probably the most dangerous thing about an academic education – least in my own case – is that it enables my tendency to over-intellectualize stuff, to get lost in abstract argument inside my head, instead of simply paying attention to what is going on right in front of me, paying attention to what is going on inside me. [GUILTY! And to put this into DBT/therapy terms: this is the whole point of DBT mindfulness…to just be in the moment, pay attention, participate. The goal is not to change what is going on, it is simply just to notice what is going on be it good, bad or indifferent. After two years, I still personally struggle with this immensely. I want to over-analyze and think about everything instead of just letting it be. I made the mistake of doing the first part of my homework, listening to this once “mindfully”, at 5 AM. I should have known, coming from M, that whatever she was going to have me listen to was going to make a million light bulbs go off in my head. Remember, the first time I listened to this, I was not to respond in any way and it took immense self-restraint (and a few Benadryl) to make myself STFU and NOT say/write anything. Again, my bad for choosing to do part one at 5 AM.]
As I’m sure you guys know by now, it is extremely difficult to stay alert and attentive, instead of getting hypnotized by the constant monologue inside your own head (may be happening right now). [GUILTY!] Twenty years after my own graduation, I have come gradually to understand that the liberal arts cliché about teaching you how to think is actually shorthand for a much deeper, more serious idea: learning how to think really means learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think. [JOHNNY! Tell him what he’s won!] It means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience. [I don’t even think I can add anything to that sentence…he nailed it…on the head. All the shit I put myself through, all the worrying and over-thinking I do is a CHOICE. It’s a hard to NOT do that stuff because it’s a habit…it’s natural…it’s how I roll. The choice comes in when I become aware of what I’m doing to myself (and possibly those around me), what I’m CHOOSING to pay attention to and being conscious of what I’m doing/thinking enough to CHOOSE to change either HOW I’m thinking or WHAT I’m thinking or doing.] Because if you cannot exercise this kind of choice in adult life, you will be totally hosed. Think of the old cliché about “the mind being an excellent servant but a terrible master”. [AMEN!]
This, like many clichés, so lame and unexciting on the surface, actually expresses a great and terrible truth. [TOTALLY off-topic, but when I read “great and terrible”…I read “terrible…yes…but great” and heard it in the voice of the actor who plays Mr. Olivander in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. Just me? Okay. Moving on…] It is not the least bit coincidental that adults who commit suicide with firearms almost always shoot themselves in the head. They shoot the terrible master. And the truth is that most of these suicides are actually dead long before they pull the trigger. [Again…he nailed it…on the head. I never thought of a gun suicide that way but if I ever choose that route…I would totally go for the head…to make my brain STFU…forever.]
And I submit that this is what the real, no bullshit value of your liberal arts education is supposed to be about: how to keep from going through your comfortable, prosperous, respectable adult life dead, unconscious, a slave to your head [A SLAVE!] and to your natural default setting of being uniquely, completely, imperially alone day in and day out. That may sound like hyperbole, or abstract nonsense. Let’s get concrete. The plain fact is that you graduating seniors do not yet have any clue what “day in day out” really means. There happen to be whole, large parts of adult American life that nobody talks about in commencement speeches. One such part involves boredom, routine and petty frustration. The parents and older folks here will know all too well what I’m talking about.
By way of example, let’s say it’s an average adult day, and you get up in the morning, go to your challenging, white-collar, college-graduate job, and you work hard for eight or ten hours, and at the end of the day you’re tired and somewhat stressed and all you want is to go home and have a good supper and maybe unwind for an hour, and then hit the sack early because, of course, you have to get up the next day and do it all again. But then you remember there’s no food at home. You haven’t had time to shop this week because of your challenging job, and so now after work you have to get in your car and drive to the supermarket. It’s the end of the work day and the traffic is apt to be very bad. So getting to the store takes way longer than it should, and when you finally get there, the supermarket is very crowded, because of course it’s the time of day when all the other people with jobs also try to squeeze in some grocery shopping. And the store is hideously lit and infused with soul-killing muzak or corporate pop and it’s pretty much the last place you want to be but you can’t just get in and quickly out; you have to wander all over the huge, over-lit store’s confusing aisles to find the stuff you want and you have to maneuver your junky cart through all these other tired, hurried people with carts (et cetera, et cetera, cutting stuff out because this is a long ceremony) and eventually you get all your supper supplies, except now it turns out there aren’t enough check-out lanes open even though it’s the end-of-the-day rush. So the checkout line is incredibly long, which is stupid and infuriating. But you can’t take your frustration out on the frantic lady working the register, who is overworked at a job whose daily tedium and meaninglessness surpasses the imagination of any of us here at a prestigious college.
But anyway, you finally get to the checkout line’s front, and you pay for your food, and you get told to “have a nice day” in a voice that is the absolute voice of death. [THAT VOICE. You wanna get under my skin? Tell me to have a nice day in the most cheerful way possible when I’m having the worst fucking day EVER! A death stare, you will get.] Then you have to take your creepy, flimsy, plastic bags of groceries in your cart with the one crazy wheel that pulls maddeningly to the left, all the way out through the crowded, bumpy, littery parking lot, and then you have to drive all the way home through slow, heavy, SUV-intensive, rush-hour traffic, et cetera et cetera.
Everyone here has done this, of course. But it hasn’t yet been part of your graduates’ actual life routine, day after week after month after year. [I don’t think I count because I’ve graduated and I TOTALLY get what he’s saying…boring…mundane…routine.]
But it will be. And many more dreary, annoying, seemingly meaningless routines besides. But that is not the point. The point is that petty, frustrating crap like this is exactly where the work of choosing is gonna come in. [Lord Jesus issa fire…] Because the traffic jams and crowded aisles and long checkout lines give me time to think, and if I don’t make a conscious decision about how to think and what to pay attention to, I’m gonna be pissed and miserable every time I have to shop. [OH…MY…GOD. RIGHT?! If I don’t shift my thinking and I stay “stuck” and focused on how miserable I am standing in this fucking long ass line, I’m GOING to be miserable…but if I think about, perhaps, a really cute cat who is anxiously awaiting my return home…maybe I can NOT be so miserable standing in that fucking long ass line.] Because my natural default setting is the certainty that situations like this are really all about me. About MY hungriness and MY fatigue and MY desire to just get home, and it’s going to seem for all the world like everybody else is just in my way. And who are all these people in my way? And look at how repulsive most of them are, and how stupid and cow-like and dead-eyed and nonhuman they seem in the checkout line, or at how annoying and rude it is that people are talking loudly on cell phones in the middle of the line. And look at how deeply and personally unfair this is.
Or, of course, if I’m in a more socially conscious liberal arts form of my default setting, I can spend time in the end-of-the-day traffic being disgusted about all the huge, stupid, lane-blocking SUV’s and Hummers and V-12 pickup trucks, burning their wasteful, selfish, 40-gallon tanks of gas, and I can dwell on the fact that the patriotic or religious bumper-stickers always seem to be on the biggest, most disgustingly selfish vehicles, driven by the ugliest (this is an example of how NOT to think, though) most disgustingly selfish vehicles, driven by the ugliest, most inconsiderate and aggressive drivers. And I can think about how our children’s children will despise us for wasting all the future’s fuel, and probably screwing up the climate, and how spoiled and stupid and selfish and disgusting we all are, and how modern consumer society just sucks, and so forth and so on.
You get the idea.
If I choose to think this way in a store and on the freeway, fine. Lots of us do. Except thinking this way tends to be so easy and automatic that it doesn’t have to be a choice. It is my natural default setting. It’s the automatic way that I experience the boring, frustrating, crowded parts of adult life when I’m operating on the automatic, unconscious belief that I am the centre of the world, and that my immediate needs and feelings are what should determine the world’s priorities. [I prefer to think of this as “auto-pilot”.]
The thing is that, of course, there are totally different ways [TAKE NOTES HERE!] to think about these kinds of situations. In this traffic, all these vehicles stopped and idling in my way, it’s not impossible that some of these people in SUV’s have been in horrible auto accidents in the past, and now find driving so terrifying that their therapist has all but ordered them to get a huge, heavy SUV so they can feel safe enough to drive. [Empathy. The dialectic…the other side of the coin.] Or that the Hummer that just cut me off is maybe being driven by a father whose little child is hurt or sick in the seat next to him, and he’s trying to get this kid to the hospital, and he’s in a bigger, more legitimate hurry than I am: it is actually I who am in HIS way. [Would you like “The Other Side Of The Coin” for $800?]
Or I can choose to force myself to consider the likelihood that everyone else in the supermarket’s checkout line is just as bored and frustrated as I am, and that some of these people probably have harder, more tedious and painful lives than I do. [Very possible.]
Again, please don’t think that I’m giving you moral advice, or that I’m saying you are supposed to think this way, or that anyone expects you to just automatically do it. Because it’s hard. [Yes it is.] It takes will and effort, and if you are like me, some days you won’t be able to do it, or you just flat out won’t want to. [Amen.]
But most days, if you’re aware enough [“Mindfulness” for $200?] to give yourself a choice, you can choose to look differently at this fat, dead-eyed, over-made-up lady who just screamed at her kid in the checkout line. Maybe she’s not usually like this. Maybe she’s been up three straight nights holding the hand of a husband who is dying of bone cancer. Or maybe this very lady is the low-wage clerk at the motor vehicle department, who just yesterday helped your spouse resolve a horrific, infuriating, red-tape problem through some small act of bureaucratic kindness. Of course, none of this is likely, but it’s also not impossible. It just depends what you want to consider. If you’re automatically sure that you know what reality is, and you are operating on your default setting, then you, like me, probably won’t consider possibilities that aren’t annoying and miserable. But if you really learn how to pay attention, then you will know there are other options. [There are so many options/possibilities, you can’t even begin to count them.] It will actually be within your power to experience a crowded, hot, slow, consumer-hell type situation as not only meaningful, but sacred, on fire with the same force that made the stars: love, fellowship, the mystical oneness of all things deep down. [Pretty deep stuff, huh?]
Not that that mystical stuff is necessarily true. The only thing that’s capital-T True is that you get to decide how you’re gonna try to see it. [Boom.]
This, I submit, is the freedom of a real education, of learning how to be well-adjusted. You get to consciously decide what has meaning and what doesn’t. You get to decide what to worship. [And guess what else? You don’t need a degree to be able to do it.]
Because here’s something else that’s weird but true: in the day-to-day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshiping Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And the compelling reason for maybe choosing some sort of god or spiritual-type thing to worship–be it JC or Allah, be it YHWH or the Wiccan Mother Goddess, or the Four Noble Truths, or some inviolable set of ethical principles – is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive. If you worship money and things, if they are where you tap real meaning in life, then you will never have enough, never feel you have enough. It’s the truth. Worship your body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly. And when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally grieve you. On one level, we all know this stuff already. [Whether you are aware of that fact or not, you DO know all this already.] It’s been codified as myths, proverbs, clichés, epigrams, parables; the skeleton of every great story. The whole trick is keeping the truth up front in daily consciousness. [I get it, M. I. GET. IT. Working on it… And chances are, I will ALWAYS be working on it. I don’t think it will ever be automatic.]
Worship power, you will end up feeling weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to numb you to your own fear. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart, you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out. But the insidious thing about these forms of worship is not that they’re evil or sinful, it’s that they’re unconscious. They are default settings.
They’re the kind of worship you just gradually slip into, day after day, getting more and more selective about what you see and how you measure value without ever being fully aware that that’s what you’re doing. [Ever heard that phrase about people only seeing what they want to see?]
And the so-called real world will not discourage you from operating on your default settings, because the so-called real world of men and money and power hums merrily along in a pool of fear and anger and frustration and craving and worship of self. Our own present culture has harnessed these forces in ways that have yielded extraordinary wealth and comfort and personal freedom. The freedom all to be lords of our tiny skull-sized kingdoms, alone at the center of all creation. This kind of freedom has much to recommend it. But of course there are all different kinds of freedom, and the kind that is most precious you will not hear much talk about much in the great outside world of wanting and achieving… The really important kind of freedom involves attention and awareness and discipline, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them over and over in myriad petty, unsexy ways every day. [I couldn’t have said it better if I tried.]
That is real freedom. That is being educated, and understanding how to think. The alternative is unconsciousness, the default setting, the rat race, the constant gnawing sense of having had, and lost, some infinite thing.
I know that this stuff probably doesn’t sound fun and breezy or grandly inspirational the way a commencement speech is supposed to sound. What it is, as far as I can see, is the capital-T Truth, with a whole lot of rhetorical niceties stripped away. You are, of course, free to think of it whatever you wish. [Captial-T True.] But please don’t just dismiss it as just some finger-wagging Dr. Laura sermon. None of this stuff is really about morality or religion or dogma or big fancy questions of life after death.
The capital-T Truth is about life BEFORE death. [A. M. E. N.]
It is about the real value of a real education, which has almost nothing to do with knowledge [Yes!], and everything to do with simple awareness [Mindfulness.]; awareness of what is so real and essential, so hidden in plain sight all around us, all the time, that we have to keep reminding ourselves over and over:
“This is water.”
“This is water.”
[It is neither hot nor cold…there is neither a lot nor a little…it is just there. It…is…just…water.]
It is unimaginably hard to do this, to stay conscious and alive in the adult world day in and day out. Which means yet another grand cliché turns out to be true: your education really IS the job of a lifetime. [True knowledge comes from being aware…mindful…not from knowing that 1+1=2. Anyone can be taught that 1+1=2…not everyone can be taught how to just observe and describe and be aware of themselves, others, thoughts and surroundings…to just be in the moment. And even then, you CAN be taught HOW to be mindful, but to actually be able to do it and become a master of it is the true test…the dissertation of a lifetime. When you figure out how to do it ALL the time without fail, please e-mail me.] And it commences: now.
I wish you way more than luck.
Where. The hell. Do I even. Begin. Let’s start with me. I am an introvert. It doesn’t mean I’m painfully shy (just normal shy) or antisocial, it just means that I prefer my own company over the company of other people. People stress me out…be they family, strangers, parties, whatever the case may be. Too much social interaction will send me into panic mode. My idea of a nice Saturday night is a hot bath, drinking a Coca-Cola and a good book or movie…not being at a packed bar getting shit-faced drunk. I’ve always been this way. It doesn’t mean I don’t have friends, but I’m a tad more selective about who I choose to let into my private world and I don’t have a lot of friends and that is purely by choice, not happenstance. Sometimes I wonder if something is wrong with me because I see a lot of my friends on Facebook have friends into the 300’s and I’ve never had more than 90 at any given time. I’m also not one of those people who sends a friend request to anyone and everyone I’ve ever met over the course of my 30 years of life. My Facebook friend rule is that you don’t have to be my BFF, but you have to have known me (e.g. went to school with me), know me now (e.g. you’re in my contacts list, work with me), or you have to have meant something to me, are more than just an acquaintance or someone I said hi to once back in ’96. I try to keep my insanity at bay “in public”…be it on Facebook or in real life. I have my good days and my bad days and I may post a snarky comment here and there but you will never see a status update from me that says “I hate everything #slashwrist”. If you’re around me in public and I’m having a rough day or week, I’ll probably just be pretty quiet; I try really hard to not bring people down with me when I myself am feeling down. Also, if I’m not in a good place, you probably won’t catch me out in public anyway…but commitments are commitments and I tend to be someone who follows through with what they say and doesn’t break promises, appointments or commitments.
I have some absolutely amazing and awesome people in my life that I am beyond grateful for and I am honored that I am their friend and that they are my friends…my best friends. I have two friends in particular that I just love the shit out of. They both insist on living on the east coast which is their only fault, but I like to think we’ve done a pretty bang up job keepin’ it real with each other despite the distance. One lady, C, is the Ethel to my Lucy…the Patsy to my Eddie…the Thelma to my Louise…the Shirley to my Laverne. And I’m quite sure, if there ever comes a time when we do live closer to each other, there will be some new state laws passed. The thing that makes me sort of giggle about this relationship and makes me appreciate it all the more, is that C is over 50. But if you look at our text/e-mail/Facebook conversations, you wouldn’t ever know that (I’m not calling her immature). How we ever even came to be so close given the age difference escapes me because it was just one of those magical awesome things that just happened and I’m so grateful to have her in my life. She plays many roles in my life, however. She can be that level-headed mom voice because I despise my own mother and am more apt to go to and listen to C than I am my own mom. She also has that experience thing that older friends and moms have…the kind where they tell you that the adventure you are about to embark on is a really bad idea, but they know you’re gonna do it anyway, so they just grab a bowl of popcorn and sit back and watch…and you come back to them later with your tail between your legs because you know they were right and you hate that they were right and you’re kicking yourself for not listening to them…and then you turn around and do it again. Yeah…that. But C never says, “I told you so.” She’ll more than likely just laugh at me, call me a “mattrez hag jynseckz hooka ho” and tell me she lives me (yes, I meant to type live…inside BFF joke). C is also someone who will help me hide a body and if you can’t say anything nice, come sit by us. C and I have some of the most epic conversations in the history of friendship (made even more humorous by our autocorrect typos) and we can cover everything from LOLcats, World of Warcraft, dickwagons, relationshit (we’re really good at making up new words), why certain laws exist and why they should be banned…and how to import shit to get around those laws. In summation, C and I often tell each other that we know too much about each other to NOT be friends…so I’m pretty sure we’re in this for life…which is fine by me.
(I am on the right, the darker text bubbles.)
(Ignore the arrow; I have this weird thing where I ALWAYS catch the clock at 11:11, AM or PM, doesn’t matter. I’ve been keeping track since December. Add that to the list of reasons I’m insane.)
(If none of the screen caps/conversations made sense or made you laugh…it’s not you, it’s me and C.)
My other BFF for life, B, is just a couple years older than me, but in a very different place in life…and in the country. Also on the east cost, she’s married with kids. (For clarification purposes, C is also married and has a grown child…who, coincidentally [or not?], has the same name as I do. C had to invent a nickname for me so her daughter and I know which one of us she is yelling at.) B and I have a relationship based on just pure love and nerdiness. We like to be crazy, off-the-wall, different…we don’t follow the crowd, we make our own damn crowd. Our conversations often consist of baby poop, breastfeeding, The Beatles, Harry Potter or Twilight. (As an example, I will be trying to communicate just how much I heart her face…in a text message…and I’ll say, “So the lion fell in love with the lamb. What a stupid lamb.” B: “What a sick, masochistic lion.” I let her be the lion because she is so totally Team Edward…I even bought her a Mrs. Cullen t-shirt for Christmas one year.) We also talk about normal 30-year-old shit and she bitches about her hubby when he’s being a douche-nugget and I’ll tell her that if he doesn’t get his shit together, I’ma go all Lorena Bobbitt on him and cut his dick off and throw it out somewhere in Texas, where hopefully a chupacabra will eat it so it can’t be sewn back on so he can’t make porn movies after B dumps his ass. And she knows I’m not kidding. (Hmm…maybe I should edit that part out…”premeditation” gets thrown around WAY too easily these days…) We are totally convinced that we were separated at birth and when we’re actually physically together, people think we’re sisters; we look that much alike. I think it’s awesome. I just hate the distance. But if you really want to test a friendship, keep it going from across the country and if you still have it after 5+ years, you got something worth holding on to. Both B and I and C and I get into some crazy shenanigans just through texts and Facebook alone; you should see what happens when we’re actually together. I think people are slightly frightened when we are in the same state together at the same time…and people should be frightened…because it’s awesome…and really loud…between the music and the raucous laughter. (Did you a hear a raucous? I didn’t hear a raucous. Can you describe the raucous?)
(We’re dorks…I know…but this is love.)
I would call those two, and probably a few other people in my life, my tried and true friends. They love me for me, all of me, good and bad, and with all the shit I’ve pulled over the last two years (and over our entire friendship), they’re still the ones who’s texts wake me up in the morning and the ones who can make me laugh from a couple thousand miles away with a single word. Aside from all the awesomeness and fun stuff, we’re always there for each other during the bad stuff too. We’ve stayed up late for each other, talking, making sure one or the other is going to be okay. We listen to any rants and always keep close tabs on each other. We don’t have to constantly “check in” or “report” to each other…we know each other SO well, that we just know when something’s not right…when there’s a disturbance in the force. That’s how strong our bond is…for both B and C.
That stuff is all fun and awesome, but it’s not why I’m writing this post. I’m writing this because I’ve had the topic of “friendship” on my mind and some questions that have kept me up late at night. As an introvert, I’ve already told you I don’t have many friends and that’s the way I like it. Quality over quantity. Another reason is because it will take some time and patience on your part if you want to be a part of my life. I don’t let just anyone walk in and out of my life as they please. As harsh as this may sound, you have to prove to me that you want to be in my life and that you’re not gonna fuck with me before I even consider letting you past the threshold of the door. (Some of you will end up fucking with me anyway, but that’s the way the ball bounces. Don’t be sorry I trusted you; my mistake, not yours.) If I tell you I trust you, don’t make me regret it. If I tell you I love you, I mean it. I love hard and with all that I have and if I have been given the opportunity to be your friend, I will do my best to be an awesome friend for and to you. I’m not saying I will be perfect…in fact, I’ll probably tell you straight up that I’m gonna fuck up here and there, but we’ll talk about it and I’ll apologize and we’ll resolve the issue and then hug…promise. To those that mean the most to me, I try hard (especially with those girls on the east coast) to remind them that I do love them, that I think about them often, and that I value and appreciate them. I’m the kind of person who will mail you random cards and shit just to make you smile and/or give you a warm fuzzy. I will post stupid YouTube videos and pictures on your Facebook wall that will make you snort-laugh. If I’m out and about and I see something that makes me think of you, I will buy it and give it to you, take a picture and text it to you, or just holla somehow and tell you, “Yo bish! I saw dis and I thought of you! I heart your face!” That’s just how I roll. That is how I like to be a friend for someone. I do the same shit for people who live down the street as I do for those who live across the country. (And just to tell you how corny B and C and I can get, we’ll watch the same movie/TV show at the same time and text our commentary and sarcastic remarks back and forth to each other or on Facebook for the public to see [the SuperBowl was festive this year]…because we are dorks and that’s how we roll. It’s also quite entertaining to our mutual friends…especially C’s daughter who thinks her mom is insane when C is in the computer room busting a gut reading my running commentary on Downton Abbey.)
(Side note: If I’m weird around you, it means I’m comfortable.)
I am also that friend who, despite her own insanity, will drop everything to be there for you. This sometimes backfires on me. I am SO gun-ho about wanting to be needed and wanting to be liked, that at times, I forget to take care of myself because I’m so busy trying to take care of you. I know what it means to feel like you have no one to turn to and no one who understands you, especially in regards to mental illness. But sometimes I question if I am really THAT friend you should call if you are experiencing/going through some of the same hell that I am (e.g. depression, anxiety, suicidal ideations, etc.). On one hand, I’d like to think that I’d understand more than most and that I can probably empathize better than those who are not in the same boat. But…it’s kind of like AA. In AA (I only know this because my half-brother is going through AA/rehab), you are told to NOT associate with other people in recovery. It’s not hard to fall off the wagon, be it alcohol or depression. Yes, people in AA will probably understand you a lot better than your never-been-drunk-in-her-life BFF, but you and that person may be at two completely different places in your recovery. One of you might have been sober for 15 years and can easily say no to a beer…then the other one of you sees an episode of the Simpson’s where Homer is chugging a beer and you don’t have the tools to stop yourself from running down to the corner store to grab a 6-pack. I learned this lesson the hard way during my time in group therapy.
As I’ve said before, I was initially very quiet and closed down in group, not even letting the therapists into my world and there was no way in H-E-double-hockey-sticks that I was going to let the OTHER crazy people that made up the rest of my group in. That just sounded like a bad idea from get-go. BUT…it happened anyway. Right after I opened my mouth for the first time, I was invited to a little coffee date with some of the “groupies” after group. They had been doing the Starbucks thing for some time and I knew that, but I never had any interest in joining them and there was something that just didn’t sound right about it…I just didn’t know what it was…until I started going. Then I was like, “THIS is the reason this is not a good idea.” Picture this: a bunch of crazy people (across the board from BPD to bipolar disorder and everything in between, a lot of whom have interpersonal relationship issues, including myself) sitting at a Starbucks…talking about…what else? Crazy shit. Suicide. Depression. Issues. And I was like, “No no no no no no…see, we just spent 90 minutes in a group therapy session doing this shit…I ain’t gonna do it in PUBLIC at a Starbucks with people I don’t really even know or trust.” I went a few more times but then things started going downhill and I saw the drama coming from a mile away and got out before shit hit the fan (praise the sweet eight-pound homebirthed baby Jesus!). Some of the others weren’t so lucky and I’m sure they needed extra individual therapy time after that fiasco (even I needed extra therapy time because they dragged their drama into the group room and I said, “HELL. NO.”). I told myself when I started going to that group that I was not in it to make friends and I slipped a little because I was trying to give myself a push and get my butt to do something out of my comfort zone and get some bonus points with my therapist…but I ran the hell away from the Starbucks group when I saw things starting to go awry. Group therapy was not/is not meant to be a social or support group, it’s a skills training group and it just does not sound like a good idea to make friends with people who are just as fucked up as you are.
But what do you do when you have people like that who were already in your life before you lost your marbles? I’ll tell ya right now: I don’t have a fucking clue. Hence the reason for this post.
I spend a lot of time alone, voluntarily (introvert, remember?)…and I don’t mind at all. The less people you chill with, the less problems you deal with. One of the cons to doing that is that I don’t get a lot of “practice” interacting with others and really, I am not usually called upon by my friends and the people I know to be a friend…or in other words, I go to them if I need them but people don’t usually come to me when they need someone (B and C are probably the only exceptions to this rule). I also find it REALLY easy to go into “friend mode”…dropping all my shit, however heavy it is, in order to be there for someone in need. And I usually don’t mind because I enjoy being wanted/needed/chosen…I like being there for people…being that person they can always count on. Contrary to popular belief, I love to love…I enjoy caring about other people because I know how much it means to me when I know someone cares about me. I feel that I am really empathetic, non-judgmental and a good listener. I try not to act like someone’s therapist or give them advice because I know it drives ME nuts when people do that to me. I may inadvertently dispense advice in the form of sharing my own experiences and what has or hasn’t worked for me, but I try not to tell people that they should do A, B or C. Being called upon to be someone’s friend is also a great distraction for me because even though my load is heavy, it’s a nice break/distraction when I get to focus my attention and energy on someone other than myself. But this can sometimes backfire. I am SO gun-ho about wanting to be there for another person that I forget that my load IS really heavy and while that person deserves my attention (and I want to give it to them), I also need to pay attention to myself and my needs and throwing myself into someone else’s crisis sometimes makes me forget about me and then later, when the other person’s storm has passed, I’m a mess because I’ve neglected my own emotions. As much as I would like to think that I am a great friend, I sometimes wonder if I really am…and I don’t say that in order to be told that I really am a great friend and I shouldn’t be so hard on myself. Here’s where I’m going with this: a few weeks ago, a friend that I got to know while attending my pharmacy school sent me a message on Facebook telling me she was feeling suicidal. I’ve known this lady long enough and I know enough about her to know she has some legitimate depression issues and that was sort of the thing that brought us together as friends in the first place…that mutual understanding and empathy. I also know that she’s been struggling with depression for a long time but she is also someone who talks about suicide “lightly”…and I say “lightly” because she’ll talk about it while having no real intent or plan to carry it out…sort of a flippant “I would be better off dead” thought…a thought that, in my opinion, everyone has (“normal” or otherwise) at some point in their life. Correct me if I’m wrong but I think most people, at one time or another, have just gotten pissed and frustrated with life and wished, for a split second, that they could just disappear…but most people don’t give it much more thought than that. I do not like pity parties and I refuse to respond to flippant comments like, “ohmygod I’m so fat/ugly/stupid”. I’m not a “chaser” either…if you want to cry and run out the door hoping I will run after you…forget that shit. I will hold the door open for you, wave, and go back to what I was doing. I don’t play that game with my mom and I don’t play it with any of my friends or acquaintances. It is not my job as a human being or friend to meet your attention-seeking desires and to pump you up and blow smoke up your ass by saying things like, “No, you’re not ugly Narcissa…you’re so pretty!” Don’t fish for compliments in my pond because I’m not biting. Please don’t take this to mean I am a cold-hearted biatch and never compliment anyone…but I do it when it’s not “expected” of me, if that makes sense. If you post a picture that I find gorgeous, I will leave/give you a compliment that says as much…or I’ll send you a random text/note or something and just tell you that I think you’re awesome, thanks for being my friend. If you take me shopping and you try on some pants and ask me if they make your butt look big, I will fucking tell you to take those damn pants off because your ass looks HUGE. I’m not in the business of lying, no matter if it’s a “white” lie or a lie that really won’t hurt anybody. If you tell the truth all the time, you don’t have to remember anything. Some people post more serious things, but it’s done very flippantly…case-in-point: the aforementioned friend…H. H drops suicide bombs a lot…either on me personally or in public on Facebook. I don’t fuck around with suicide. I am also not someone who “announces” a plan to kill myself for the world to see because if I am intent on carrying that plan out, I ain’t gonna tell nobody…I’m just gonna do it. The caveat is that when people do things like this, be it H or someone else…I get confused. Is it really a flippant comment I can/should ignore or is it a legitimate cry for help? Do I send her a text or message and ask her if she’s really okay or just ignore it because I know that she does this kind of attention-seeking stuff? I never know and I prefer to err on the side of caution and ask if she’s okay because I don’t want to dismiss a suicide comment and find out later that it wasn’t flippant; it was a serious cry for help and I ignored it. It’s kind of like the boy who cried wolf…you do/say things like that one too many times and people will eventually stop believing you/responding/taking you seriously…and then the one time you’re NOT crying wolf, people ignore you when in actuality, that was the one the time people should have really responded. So H sent me a message on Facebook late one night and I saw it as a very serious crisis (I still don’t know if it really was…if she really was minutes away from offing herself…or if it was another flippant comment said in exasperation). Again, I don’t take suicide lightly so I stayed up to talk to her (and this was the day after a mini road trip and I was tired as fuck) and made sure she was going to be okay or if she/I needed to call 911. Based on the conversation we had, I determined she was fine, at least for the night…and I made her promise to call me or 911 if shit starts going to hell in a hand-basket. In another conversation, she said she could really use some support right now and would like to see me because she knows a little bit about the last two years of my life and she knows I have the kind of empathy and understanding that only people who have been/are in similar situations can have for each other. I agreed to meet her for coffee after an appointment with M one afternoon. After confirming a time and place and saying goodbye, telling her to call me or 911 if she needed to, I began to wonder if I really should have done that…agreed to meet up with her. It wasn’t because I didn’t want to see her…but I wondered if I was really the kind of friend she needed right now because I myself am in the midst of my own personal hell and entertaining my own suicidal ideations. On one hand, I can probably understand and empathize with H more than most of the people in her life…but on the other hand, I have my own suicide and depression issues and I wondered if it was a good idea for me to involve myself in her situation. One, I’m pretty open and blunt about suicide…I don’t sugarcoat the facts or the gruesome details of my own experiences and I didn’t want to exacerbate H’s emotions. Two, is it a good idea for one suicidal person to try to talk another suicidal person out of suicide?…kind of an oxymoron if you ask me. Three, was I okay/secure enough with my own issues that meeting up with H wouldn’t be a trigger for me? In hindsight, I probably should have run this idea past M or K before doing it…but I wasn’t thinking straight when I made plans to meet H…it was late at night and I was delirious with sleep deprivation. In the end, it all worked out I suppose because after H canceled that date on me, she proceeded to cancel two more and after the last one, I said fuck it and stopped trying. So I never met up with her. If you really want to meet up with me, I’ll go…but I don’t play this “let’s make a date and cancel” game…drives me bonkers. H is also what I like to call an “askhole.” An askhole is someone who constantly asks you for advice and always does the complete opposite of anything you say/suggest. It’s like…why even ask? You’re killin’ me, Smalls! Over the past few weeks, H has pushed my buttons one too many times, to the point where I am considering unfriending her. But I hesitate because 1), I don’t like hurting people’s feelings and 2), I don’t want to kick someone when they’re down. Based on my own observations and knowledge, H does a lot of talking but not a lot of walking. She’s in an abusive marriage (I don’t think it’s physical, but it’s very much verbally and emotionally abusive) and she hates the guy and the guy hates her and if she’s telling me the truth, it’s really not a good environment to be in whether or not you have psychological disorders to add to the top of the sundae. H has kept me up WAY past 3 AM on many nights telling me just how bad it really is and in my own fucked up crazy mind, I see an easy fix: leave. I get that battered wife syndrome and all but H has SO many people, more than just me, that have her back and are willing to help her get out and get a divorce…but I guess she prefers to stay and bitch about it on Facebook. She always has an excuse/reason not to leave as she’s giving me all the reasons why she should leave. (I know that I also live in a toxic environment…but it’s not abusive to the point where law enforcement could intervene and I know that I don’t have a whole lot of other options right now. It is what it is. And I know that. Do I like it? No. Do I bitch about it? On my blog and to certain people and my therapist, yes. But there’s a difference between my situation and H’s. And that’s radical acceptance. I don’t really have a choice right now…H does. Also, I’m working on trying to find a way out. H isn’t. I’m not saying I’m better than H or any of that bullshit…I’m just trying to explain that I am in a similar situation but I’m doing my best to cope with it in the here and now while brainstorming ways to get out. I have a goal. I’m trying to be proactive and help myself. H is just sitting there complaining and not doing a damn thing to help herself.) H has asked me about my own journey and my own suicide attempts and what I’m doing to help myself in my own toxic environment. I’m not ashamed to talk about my suicide attempts or what I’ve attempted/how I’ve attempted to do it…but H was asking for details and I’m all, “Aw hell no!”…I am NOT going to give you step by step instructions on how to off yourself. 1): I put a lot of time and effort into researching that shit. 2): They were all lethal methods; the only reason I am sitting here typing this now is because I was caught/found. 3): I am not going to be responsible for you ending your life by giving you the tools/knowledge to do it. I once steered a conversation in the direction of therapy, DBT therapy specifically, and H messaged me last week to talk to me about it. And we did. And H, verbatim, said to me, “Will it make me stronger?” I did a *facepalm* and then, being the honest and blunt person I am (plus, I was getting a little irritated and pissed off at her by this point), I said, “No, H…it won’t. Not if you just go and sit there. You have to want it to get it. You have to decide you want it more than you are afraid of it. DBT therapy is great…if you are willing to make it work for you and if you are willing to put the effort into making it work. It isn’t magic and it will not happen overnight.” H didn’t like this answer because she quickly changed the subject…back to her abusive husband. By this point, I was pretty much about done. She sat there and told me all the shit I already knew and, being the tactful person I am, I called her on her bullshit. I said, “H, you are pissing me the fuck off. You sit here with me, night after night, telling me how much you hate your husband and how much you want out, and the minute he travels out of town, you blow up his Facebook page with ‘I love you’s’ and ‘I miss you’s’…this is so counterproductive and maybe I don’t know jack because I’ve never been married…but if I hate someone I once loved, you can bet that there will be no ‘I love you’s’ coming out of my mouth anytime soon, if ever.” Five minutes of silence passed and she said, “Well…thanks for talking. I’m gonna go.” I didn’t even say goodbye. I just logged off the computer and gave birth to this post. I am now Googling how to politely unfriend a “friend” because I think I have decided I do not want this person in my life, even if it’s just on Facebook. I don’t need it and I don’t want it. But what stops me from hitting that button is my heart. I don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings and if H is really in the pits of despair as she claims, I know how much a simple “unfriend” can hurt, imagined or legit. I don’t want to kick her when she’s down and I don’t want to give her another reason to hate herself or her life nor do I want to be the reason she posts her next status update of, “I have no friends; everyone hates me.” I also don’t ever want to be listed in a suicide note as one of the reasons someone took their life. “The person I thought would understand and validate me the most left me.” I would never get out of therapy. So it’s a catch-22. I HAVE made it so her shit doesn’t show up in my news feed but I haven’t taken the final step of actually unfriending her…because I don’t know how.
I have another post to spit out tonight, but I’ll post it separate from this one; it’s a follow up to my “It’s not you, it’s me.” post…do’s and don’ts, friendship edition. Stay tuned.
Today is my last day of DBT group therapy. My reasonable/rational mind is saying that it’s time…it’s appropriate…all the facts (e.g. I know the material, I’ve been taught the skills, I’ve been doing this for a long time). My emotional mind is saying, “NO! Don’t make me leave! I need this!” And my wise mind is saying, “It’s time. It will be okay. Change is hard sometimes but it’s for the best.” (The fact that I am able to observe, recognize and break down those three states of mind is probably solid proof that it’s time to “graduate” and be kicked out of the nest but it still doesn’t mean I like it or that I think I’m ready to fly on my own.)
Back in November or December of last year, K grabbed me after group one day and asked me to give some thought to something she’d like me to do. I was a little wary, but I said I’d think about it. She asked me if I would be willing to attend a teen/parent DBT group session and share my DBT experience/journey because she was having a hard time getting that group motivated and committed to the process/journey and she thought that with me being young with a pretty good story to tell, my words might be able to get through those thick little teenage skulls. My immediate reaction was, “Aw hell no!” because, if I haven’t mentioned it before, I don’t like groups and I don’t like talking to a roomful of people I don’t know, especially judgmental teenagers. But then, after my 12-hour processing time, I was like…hmm…okay…I’ll do it…for K. I later saw it as backhanded compliment…that K thought so highly of me and my personal DBT journey that she would personally ask me to do this.
I never got the chance to give my “speech” and it wasn’t because I was no longer wanted, but it had to do with confidentially/HIPAA laws and stuff. As far as I know, the idea is still on the table, it’s just not really moving at the moment. I may get the chance to say this to a DBT group some day, but just in case I don’t, I’ll preserve it here. And whoa…my lightbulb just went off: my hope is that, by posting this on the interwebs, someone considering DBT therapy and/or having a hard time committing to the process will stumble across this little gem and it will give them something to think about and/or the motivation/encouragement to JUST. KEEP. TRYING.
This is a tad out-dated as I wrote it back in December and I’ve had a birthday since then and I am no longer in a DBT group. But read this as if I were and read it as if it were a real speech given to a roomful of (hopefully) attentive people. This is what I would have said:
Hi, my name is J and I’ve had an okay week and some skills I used were……oh wait…this isn’t a check-in is it?
I like to write down my thoughts before saying them out loud so that I don’t cause harm to myself or others. You’ll laugh. You’ll cry. Oh wait…that’s me. I chose to write and read this aloud because 1): I have been told I have some awesome writing skills; 2): it will help guide me and prevent any long-winded tangents; 3): I’m not a professional public speaker and 4): when given the time, I prefer to write as a way to “prepare” and think about what I want to say rather than fly by the seat of my pants and quickly try to put my thoughts together for an audience; it gives me time to edit myself, choose my words wisely and take out all the swear words.
I was first approached about talking to you all today by K. After my own DBT group session one day, she asked me if I would do her a favor. I gave her my signature one-eyebrow-raised-did-I-hear-you-correctly-and-if-I-did-I’m-not-going-to-say-yes-or-no-right-this-minute expressions because, if you’ve had any experience with therapists, their “favors” are usually things to be wary of. You should get the details first and not commit to anything in blood before agreeing to do it because it will usually require you to step out of your comfort zone and/or go beyond what you deem as your “normal” behavior and/or do things that test your limits. K’s favor asked me to do all of the above.
I was asked to speak to you all, in part, because I am young and most of the time, I’m the youngest member in the adult DBT group. But the more I thought about this opportunity, the more I realized that despite my age, my situation is not all that different from yours…the teenagers. I am often asked when I will be graduating from high school and, after telling people I already have a diploma and two degrees, I tell them that I am 28 years old (almost 29 actually…yikes!)…and even then, I am sometimes asked to show my driver’s license to prove my age. But apart from that, due to many circumstances and decisions made by myself and other people, I have had to return home and am currently living with my only surviving parent: my mother. (If you’re wondering, I had lived on my own for many years prior to this situation and I am fiercely independent; living at home is not easy, even at almost 30.) Sometimes even I question how old I am because I see and experience a lot of the same things I did when I was a teenager living at home.
I have mixed emotions about being here and talking to you all…this will make more sense when I tell you that I didn’t utter a single word in my own DBT group for about ten months. I have been in my DBT group for about a year now, I think. I have been through all of the modules at least twice. My own personal journey that landed me where I am now has been going on for about 18 months. I started out with individual therapy and after a few months of that, I was “strongly encouraged” to start going to group therapy. You should note here that I am very introverted and I “don’t play well with others.” So when someone says “group” to me, I cringe…I don’t like being around people as a general rule and I really don’t like strangers and I really really don’t like being in a situation that requires me to get personal, to any degree, with a roomful of people I don’t know. I like it even less, if that’s possible, when it is “forced” upon me or “strongly encouraged.” I fought my therapist (who is not K, but is on the DBT team) for a good two months or so before finally agreeing to go to group. I will admit that initially, I agreed to go just to make my therapist shut up and stop nagging me…and because she asked nicely and said please. If you guys haven’t covered it yet, you will get to an interpersonal effectiveness lesson on intensity…your “asking” intensity level and your “saying no” intensity level, which are both on a scale from 1-10…with 1 being not very assertive about asking for something or saying no to something and 10 being very assertive about your request and not taking no for answer or being very adamant about saying no to a request. My therapist was a firm ten in asking (I like to think it was more like “telling”) me to go and I was at a firm ten…probably more like a firm twenty…in saying no to her request. Don’t ask me how I came to be sitting here because after a year, I still don’t know how I got duped into it. I sat in the same chair, in the same spot for 90 minutes every Thursday afternoon for ten months and would not even introduce myself or say my name, much less comment on my week or mention any skills I had used or worked on. I’m sure some people wondered if I even knew how to talk. I listened to what was being said…sometimes. But if I may be honest, a lot of it went in one ear and out the other for the first few months. I don’t know why or when I started to actually listen and pay attention. I still wasn’t saying anything, but I was at least participating now…even if it was only in my mind. I was frustrated with the group from the get-go. Aside from not wanting to be there, I was all, “What the hell is this mindfulness crap?” (It was a few weeks before I even understood what mindfulness was because I was so hell-bent on not speaking that I didn’t bother to question something I didn’t understand.) Please note that me choosing to be quiet and making it no secret that I didn’t want to be there was not done out of defiance or stubbornness. My behavior was the result of a distorted belief that I wasn’t worth it, that I couldn’t change and that any and all efforts to help me do so would be in vain. I felt I was wasting the therapist’s time and a space in group that could have been given to someone else who needed it more than I did…and no one could have convinced me otherwise. So there I sat…for ten months…rarely making eye-contact with anyone who spoke and not saying a single word. The most you usually got out of me was a shake of the head to let the facilitating therapist know that I wasn’t going to say anything or participate. Then one of the therapists would ask me if it was okay if they could say my name and introduce me to the group; that usually elicited just a single nod from me.
I cannot tell you what the turning point was for me…I can only tell you that it happened about two months ago. I have a couple theories about what led me to finally open my mouth, but in the end, it doesn’t really matter why because I think I’ve said more in the last two months of group than I have in the last two years of my life. I had not only stunned myself with my new behavior, but for the first time, I had rendered the therapists speechless…which is not an easy thing to do. I just opened my mouth one day and said, “My name is J.” and I haven’t shut it since. (This can be a good thing or a bad thing, depending on who you ask.) Not only was I taken aback by my newfound voice…the therapists were too…not just because of my willingness to finally talk, but by how much information I had actually been absorbing from just sitting there quietly for so long. At first, I felt that my mouth was a faucet that couldn’t be turned off…I felt like I was talking non-stop and that people in group, including the therapists, were getting irritated with me. Apparently, after not talking for so long, I had lost the ability to determine when I was talking too much because it turned out that I was actually doing just fine. Not that I had to prove anything, but me finally talking and participating proved to the therapists (and myself) that I was actually listening, absorbing and, albeit, using the skills that were being taught. And not only could I parrot what was being taught and what the acronyms DEAR MAN and GIVE FAST stood for, I had my own fifty cents (that’s like the “two cents” phrase but I’ve adjusted for inflation) to offer on almost anything we talked about. That’s not to say that I knew everything and was all of a sudden a black belt in DBT…but I was putting all this information into more relatable and understandable terms and putting my own unique spin and interpretation on things. And it came as quite a surprise to me when I learned that the therapists enjoyed and appreciated this new side of me…but my fellow group members did, too…some of whom had been in the group with me for some time and knew this was not my usual MO. I remember having a one-on-one session with my personal therapist after one of the first days I had said something out loud in group and K actually came into her office (courteously) and told me to not be so hard on myself and come out of my cocoon a little bit and share my thoughts and experiences. K thought I had a lot to offer and she asked me to open up a bit and give people a chance to benefit from my personality and any two cents I had to offer on a topic.
After being in this group for as long as I have, I have seen many people come and go…but one of the first things I almost always hear anyone new say is, “Damn…I wish I had been taught these skills in school or earlier in life.” Just because you are here and/or diagnosed with a disorder does not mean you are crazy or condemned to a life full of chaotic emotions, bad relationships and poor coping skills. While the information taught here is geared towards those of us who have difficulty regulating our emotions and such…the information is also very pertinent to “normal” people, too. If I had a class in high school that had taught me this information and these skills, I probably could have saved myself (and many other people) a lot of headaches. I could have substituted a DBT class for a math class because Lord knows I don’t use the Pythagorean theorem out in the “real world”…but I do use DBT skills. But my personal conviction is that all things happen for a reason…there is no such thing as luck and there are no accidents or coincidences. The reason why I ended up in the place I now find myself may not be evident right now…or ever…but there is a reason for it. And for all I know, part of that reason is to be here today to share my experience with all of you.
If you find me smiling or laughing as I talk, it’s because I can talk the talk but I’m not very graceful while walking the walk. (Judgement, K…I know.) I know the right answers to the questions being asked and I can regurgitate the DBT book word for word, but it doesn’t mean I always excel in the execution. Am I better able to work through my emotions and deal with stress and relationships now? Yes…but I’m not a master of it and I don’t/can’t do it all the time. I have my good days and my bad days. One of the most frustrating things for me, even now, is that one day, I can be very mindful or I can execute a DEAR MAN or opposite action with such awesomeness that someone has to call Marsha Linehan so she can give me a gold star. But then the very next day, I feel like I have completely failed because the skills and knowledge I used yesterday aren’t working for me today. And to be honest…it pisses me off sometimes. But that’s part of mindfulness…no judging…just rolling with the punches…accept it for what it is. Yesterday was yesterday. Today is today. Do what you can and what you know how to do in the moment you are called to do it. It won’t happen perfectly every time…sometimes it might not happen at all. There are still days where I just want to throw the DBT book out the window and there are still concepts I struggle with. I am a textbook Type A personality and an OCD perfectionist to the core…so when I don’t understand something or things don’t go as I feel they should or how a book tells me things should go, it grates on my nerves. But I’ve finally learned (sort of) that it doesn’t matter that I don’t do it perfectly or that I don’t do it all the time…all that matters is that I continue to try. There’s some radical acceptance for ya. So…I have continued coming to group…even on the days I don’t want to…even on the days I am having a panic attack…even if I am having one of the worst days of the last week or month. I may not hear or absorb a single word anyone says…but at least I go…I participate just by showing up. (And over the course of twelve months, I think I’ve actually only missed two days of group…one because of snow and one for a personal reason.) I even surprised myself about four months ago when I showed up to group not even 24 hours after making another attempt on my life. I was still dealing with some of the physical and emotional repercussions of what I had just done and I wasn’t really coherent. I sat in here for 90 minutes, tears silently rolling down my cheeks and I don’t remember who was in group that day aside from the facilitating therapists and I can’t tell you a single thing that was said that day…but I showed up.
In reflecting on the past year plus, it occurred to me that group participation and the one-on-one sessions with my therapist have been (and continue to be) great practice arenas. All of the therapists in this building, and I would think even more so with those on the DBT team, are all trained to listen, validate, and not pass judgement. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think those are things we want from most anyone we come into contact with. I, to this day, have a very rocky and toxic relationship with my mother. She doesn’t even know what DBT stands for…she just knows that I go to some “safe house” for 90 minutes every Thursday and that I will fend for myself regarding dinner. I think you guys, as teens and their parents, have a very unique opportunity here…to learn and work on these things TOGETHER. It allows you to validate each other…to even know what validation is and how to do it…and being here will probably help you learn to take a deep breath and think before you say or do something that is harmful to either yourself or someone else. Even if you don’t follow a specific skill step by step…if you can at least be mindful enough to just stop yourself for that split second and take that breath before acting upon an urge or saying something you may regret later…congratulations, you are one step ahead of most people. If you get nothing out of this group other than how to be mindful and recognize when you need to take that deep breath, I consider you a success.
Being able to be here every week and practice these techniques with the peers in my own group and then one-on-one with my therapist has given me the confidence and reinforcement I need to be able to use these skills out in my own world. Sometimes, my therapist will call me or we will be sitting down during a session and I will point-blank tell her that I am pissed off at her…be it something she said/didn’t say or did/didn’t do. And she will look at me with the biggest grin and tell me, with such exuberance, that she is so proud of me and loves it when I say things like that. And I’m like, “Are you deaf? I just told you I’m mad at you!” I laugh at this because it isn’t a “normal” reaction to anger and you probably won’t ever see someone so happy to be told to take a hike into next week. She is proud of me because I’m now able to be assertive and communicate and express myself in a way that gets my point across effectively, efficiently and without the fear of being judged, chastised or attacked for whatever it is I am upset about and for not physically hurting myself or someone else in the process. She listens to me, validates my feelings, and doesn’t judge or criticize. She doesn’t retort with, “Well you shouldn’t feel that way because of x, y and z.” or “You have no reason or right to be mad at me.” or “Oh yeah? Well I’m pissed at you, too!” She tells me, instead, “I hear you and I understand why you are upset.” Then we discuss it and resolve it…whatever the situation calls for. Sometimes all I need is just the opportunity to express my feelings and explain why I feel the way I do and I’m over and done with it. Sometimes the situation calls for deeper exploration and resolution. But being able to practice doing that with her has given me the confidence to do the same thing out in the “real world.” (I know…as a teenager, I hated it when adults used the “real world” cop-out, too.) Keep in mind that while my own therapist loves it when I tell her I am mad at her, you more than likely will not get the same response out of people you come across in your daily life…but that’s where the practice comes in. I probably won’t get that type of response from most people but I’m prepared enough now to handle that, stand my ground and just focus on my actions and thoughts, not theirs. And as a little tangent: my own therapist has watched me go through a good chunk of this DBT journey but she hasn’t seen it all. She wasn’t leading the group in the beginning…but K has been here with me since day one. I pushed her away many times. (As I picture this in my head, I see it like palming someone’s head and keeping them “at arm’s length” as they’re swinging their arms wildly at you in hopes of being able to clock you.) I never even let K cross the moat that surrounded my fortress. In fact, for many months, I didn’t even know what color her eyes were because I would never look at her. But she was patient. She didn’t force me to do anything or push me beyond my limits, but she never gave up on me either. And while the person you see here today is a result of my own effort and is my own personal triumph…I think it’s K’s, too. It means a great deal to me that someone was not only as willful as I was (which is no easy feat) and didn’t give up on me, but is now also so…I don’t know the right word…impressed?…proud? Whatever word you want to use…she is enough of it to ask me if I would come and speak to you all today. I think it is a testament to my progress and I consider it a privilege. To be thought of as such a “success story”…to know that someone thinks my journey is remarkable and worthy enough to be shared with others is one of the best compliments I have ever received.
We are all here because we essentially have unhealthy habits…be they unhealthy coping skills, unhealthy distress tolerance skills or unhealthy communication skills. For me personally, I came into this group with 27 years worth of bad habits. Some of you are younger than I am and some of you are older…but I think you will all concede that habits are hard to break. So don’t be hard on yourself or give up easily…you all have habits, good and bad, that have had 20 years (more or less) worth of reinforcement…give yourself more than a week or two to unlearn those and/or learn to use healthier ones. It’s hard to wait around for something you know might never happen…that you might never get better…but it’s even harder to give up when you know it’s everything you want…to get better. This type of therapy isn’t immediate gratification; it doesn’t happen overnight; it isn’t bibbity-bobbity-boo magic…the thingamabob that does the job. It takes effort and there has to be some flexibility, acceptance and willingness on your part…you have to want it to get it. A joke I’ve had in my arsenal for many years is this one: How many therapists does it take to change a lightbulb? One…only if the lightbulb wants to be changed. Don’t give up on this group and this process. The minute you think of giving up, remember the reason you’ve been holding on for so long. Decide that you want it more than you are afraid of it. I’m still working on that. Some days, mindfulness happens naturally without any conscious effort on my part. Other days, I have to literally stop myself in my tracks and take a minute to get my bearings and take note of what’s going on, either with myself or my world…and go forth using whatever skills I need to in order to navigate through my day or situation. Some days are better than others. I still have a long way to go, in my opinion…but I also think I’ve come a long way to be able to be here talking to you…because Lord knows if this were three months ago, there is not a chance in H-E-double-hockey-sticks that I would have agreed to talk to you all today. If you had told me a year ago that I would be here doing this today, I would have called a therapist for you. I consider myself a “work in progress” and am by no means the poster-patient for DBT…but I still earn gold stars every now and then. If you take anything away from me today, take with you some self-validation and a reminder to not give up when you get frustrated or don’t understand the material. If I had succeeded in my missions to abort my participation in this group, I wouldn’t have this journey to share…and I would probably still be wondering what the hell mindfulness was.
I’ve been quiet for a while…no new posts…and that’s because I’ve been too busy crashing headfirst BACK into an emotional shitstorm. Yep, I did it again…I “fell off the wagon”…I took my one step (I would say it’s more like one and three-quarters of a step) back after taking two forward. I was |___| this close to believing all the people who told me that things were going to get better and that my misery wouldn’t last forever. I was SO close to accepting things for what they were and just living in the moment. The evidence is right here in my blog! I was so busy being awesome that for the first time in 18 months, I gave up my suicidal ideations…I was too busy to entertain those thoughts. For the first time in 18 months, I marked a “0” or “1” on my diary card for suicidal ideations. I told my therapist to file that under “miracles” because I didn’t think there would ever be a time where I would be able to do that. I never pictured myself in a spot where I could actually leave my suicide security blanket and “go out and play.” It. Was. Awesome. And I say “was” because I am writing this while under my suicide security blanket…my fort. I will, for now, collectively refer to the past three months as “The Awesome Months” for they were indeed awesome and as much as I hate to admit it, they are also over…for the time being.
I’m so angry with myself because I don’t know if I had a say in whether or not I fell off the wagon. Do I have a legitimate chemical imbalance somewhere in my brain that I have no control over? Or am I so “whipped” that it is this easy to fall back into a pattern of misery, suicidal ideations and self-harm? I’m mad that I let myself get kicked down again. And I’m also mad because I don’t know why or how it happened. Things were great…they were AWESOME…and then I tripped over myself right before Christmas…and I don’t know if Christmas is to blame for my current mood or my fall just happened to coincide with the holiday. I honestly don’t know if Christmas was just way too emotional. I had (or thought I had) mastered acceptance and mindfulness by the time Christmas rolled around, but I hadn’t quite yet mastered distress tolerance (the module, ironically, that we just finished in group therapy) or anything else, thus allowing Christmas to inadvertantly get the best of me. I felt great because I had these stupid DBT skills by the balls and then I trip over a piece of lint and here I am at rock bottom again. WTF? My therapist (and her cohort, K) always says that it is easier to use the skills when you’re NOT in a crisis; the true challenge comes when you need to use them while IN a crisis. And she is absolutely right. My therapist also always tells me that emotions and situations, good and bad, don’t last forever. She’s right about that, too. I don’t know what to do right now…except strangle the next person that mentions mindfulness or distress tolerance to me. DBT can suck it right now.
I think I’ve mentioned before that my home life is not a very validating environment, so my DBT skill usage is constantly being challenged. M and K tell me every week that I’m doing good and fine and awesome and they give me gold stars for getting out of the house on non-therapy days and for participating and talking in group. Then I come home, still feeling awesome, and I actually feel like talking…so I do…to my mom and her boyfriend or whoever else happens to be at the house. But after about one sentence, I am told to take a chill pill and shut up. So in all honesty, I get really confused. I get a “yay!” from one peanut gallery and a “shut up!” from the other. Uhhh…what? Encouragement from one source and invalidation from another. I would like to say that I am reasonably intelligent, maybe more so than the average bear, but there are times where I feel so absolutely stupid because I don’t understand simple concepts. At almost 30, I do not know when I am talking too much. I have M and K (and my peers) telling me that I’m doing great and that they value what I have to say, but I say one sentence at home and am told to shut up, that I am talking too much. WTF? What is too much and what isn’t? At this age, you would think I would have figured it out by now…but no, I haven’t.
My mom, as I’ve come to learn, is very good at being passive-aggressive. This isn’t really a new revelation but it’s more obvious to me now than it was before. I did, miraculously, receive a pair of Beats headphones by Dr. Dre for Christmas…and they made me really happy…momentarily. Because, you see, the headphones came with an unspoken annotation of, “I bought these for you, now suck it up and be happy.” Translated: “I have no reason to be unhappy and moody right now because I just received a really expensive gift from the person that I have managed to financially drain and thus, shouldn’t have ever received the headphones in the first place and I don’t deserve the headphones because I’ve also been emotionally draining and a complete shithead this year…but here are the headphones anyway…go…you must be happy from here on out, no exceptions.” Yep…ALL of that crammed into one set of headphones. Fuck it. Take the headphones back. I’m not going to be bought. I’m not going to smile and be awesome just because you made tuning (puns are so much fun!) you out more awesome and fun (I don’t think my mom realized these were noise canceling headphones). It’s really not worth it if it’s going to be a quid pro quo sort of deal. Thanks, but I’ll keep my cheap-o headphones that allow me to ride and deal with my emotional waves as they come.
God, I’m so pissed! Pissed at the world and pissed at myself. I didn’t want to see the bottom ever again, much less so soon after catching a glimpse of that silver lining. Fuck. The light at the end of the tunnel turned out to be another oncoming train. It’s like life is fucking with me…dangling that proverbial carrot in front of my face…teasing me. “See what you can’t ever have? Na na naw boo boo!” And I’m pissed because I don’t understand. I was doing everything right, everything I should have and could have been doing to make my life better and going in the right direction. Where did I go wrong? Unfortunately, there is no disclaimer anywhere, in the DBT manual or otherwise, that says if you do steps A, B and C…you will get X, Y and Z. Oh, if it were only that simple… I really have no other words to say other than that I’m pissed…and fuck. That’s a good word to use right now. Fuck. Therapy is nice but screaming FUCK! at the top of your lungs for 10 seconds is a lot faster and cheaper…instant gratification.
I spent a majority of today’s one-on-one session with M apologizing. I must have said “I’m sorry” about a hundred times. She finally told me to shut the fuck up (and not in a mean way, but in a nice I-know-you-and-it’s-really-okay-because-you-have-absolutely-nothing-to-apologize-for kind of way). I also apologized to M last Thursday for giving her a shitty group therapy session. K was gone and so it was M and one of the original facilitators I had and a “guest” therapist who was thinking about getting trained in DBT. The group was small last week…I’m guessing it was due to the holidays…a lot of people busy and out of town. Not to say that I bring the party, but group therapy sessions have been a little more fun and awesome over the past few months (at least for me) due to my “enlightenment” and good mood. I was in a bad mood on Thursday and in fact, I didn’t even want to go to group…but I wanted M, so I went. That guest therapist picked a really shitty day to observe a DBT group. I felt like shit later because it was not what I would call a “typical” group therapy session…it was smaller than usual, K was gone and it was a review of the distress tolerance module; no new information. M, bless her heart, was facilitating and trying desperately to get the four of us that did come to group to give her the answers to the questions she was asking. I am normally like Hermione from Harry Potter…first hand in the air, pick me pick me!…except I usually ax raising my hand and just vomit out the answers. I was in no mood on Thursday and M was struggling to get us going…and I felt like shit for not helping her out and for giving that guest therapist a shoddy glimpse of our DBT group. We were SO quiet, in fact, that M actually ended up letting us go a few minutes early and I headed straight for the door but not fast enough because M managed to grab me. I had put 3’s on my check-in sheet in response to suicidal ideations which meant she had to do a safety check and she also sensed that I wasn’t doing so hot, and thankfully (for me), it also gave me a chance to apologize to M right then and there for my shitty group performance instead of ruminating about it until I saw her today. Then, as I said before, I spent most of today’s session apologizing to her for God only knows what…everything…to the point where I actually said sorry for saying sorry so much. Fo’ realz. She told me to shut the fuck up. And I tried…but a few more “sorry’s” slipped out…and I apologized for those, too… I should probably mention that over-apologizing and apologizing for things like this, things that don’t need to be apologized for, is a DBT no-no…as in it’s something we should refrain from doing.
As I recounted Christmas to M and all that happened over the holidays, we spent an extra few minutes talking about my relationship with my mom and how we just seem to “feed” off each other’s emotions and/or how mom’s mood so dramatically affects my own mood. And it’s very true. I won’t deny it. I’ve said from day one that if momma ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy and she will make damn sure that you are not happy if she is not happy; how dare you be happy if she is not. I love my momma, don’t get me wrong…but a lot of the time, I feel it’s more out of obligation than because of how I actually feel; she is my mother and as her child, I am obligated to love her because that’s what children are supposed to do…but that’s another post for another day. My mom and I don’t talk about the deep and serious stuff. When and if we try, one of us ends up in tears and it’s usually me because I can’t get any sort of validation from her and I just end up more upset than I was before we even had the conversation, so I’ve learned to just not have the conversation at all…damage control. My mother is the queen at passive-aggressiveness. She will never come and directly ask for things and she will never tell you how she really feels. She wants to make you guess and read in between the lines instead of saving everyone the headache and just spitting it out. Some examples: I recounted the last few Christmas’ for M today and one involved the year where my mom and her boyfriend agreed that they weren’t going to exchange gifts with each other that year and they were going to just buy things for us kids. Boyfriend was cool with that; didn’t get my mom a thing. Mom goes and buys Boyfriend a really expensive gift and gets her panties in a knot when there is not a present for her from Boyfriend under the tree that year. Boyfriend is very literal and if you agree to not buy presents for each other, he ain’t gonna buy you a present…and it’s not because he’s a dick, that’s just how he is…they each agreed to not buy presents for each other so he didn’t. He doesn’t play mom’s games and why he’s even still with her after eight years is anyone’s guess but bless his heart because he takes the heat off me sometimes because my mom will end up being more mad at him for coming home late than at me for my pissy attitude and not emptying the dishwasher. Next example: my mom, in passing and through “subtle hints”, says she really wants to go out with Boyfriend for New Year’s. Remember, Boyfriend isn’t good at reading in between the lines and you have to pretty much tell him point-blank what you want or he won’t get the hint. My mom wants to go out REALLY bad but does she ask Boyfriend? No. She gets pissy at him (“punishing” him) and everyone else because she’s now in a bad mood because she’s not going out tonight and Boyfriend is all WTF? And I come along and whisper to him that she’s mad because he didn’t take her out and he’s all, “She didn’t ask!” And I’m like, “Duh.” That’s what most days are like in this house. You would think, with all my psychological and emotional issues, that I would be the one causing the most turmoil in this house but I really don’t think it’s me…or at least not all the time. I don’t like to rain on other people’s parade so instead of chatting or hanging out with people, be it mom or her boyfriend or whomever, I prefer to put on headphones and write or self-soothe BY MYSELF in my room away from everyone. This often gets misconstrued and misinterpreted; I am often accused of avoiding and being a bitch. I may be avoiding, but it’s a coping skill, not a bitch skill…I need to step away from you so I don’t snap and kill you…you are exacerbating my emotions and I need you to leave or I need to leave. And also remember that I am a hardcore introvert and I don’t possess the best people skills nor do I possess the tolerance to be around people, no matter how many, for any length of time. I enjoy me, myself and I and as a coping skill, this works out great because I have no one adding to my misery but me…but in a backasswards sort of way, choosing to avoid and isolate adds to my misery because I get chastised for it. Damned if I do and damned if I don’t.
All that to say that I am constantly invalidated at home. M and K work their asses off to set up skills for me and teach me how and when to use them and when I try in therapy or group, I am praised and “rewarded” for my attempts, even if I fail. When I try those same skills at home, it blows up in my face and/or I somehow come out feeling like I just totally failed using the “right” skills and I beat myself up for doing “wrong” when I really did “right.” I only get M and/or K for a total of about two and a half hours every week…and they spend that time teaching me skills and helping me navigate the rough waters…but that leaves however many more hours and days at home where people proceed to wipe away every skill and piece of information I learned. What I’m getting at here is that my therapist gave me another great metaphor today: Learning to use the “right” (“healthy” is a better word, I think) skills in an environment like mine is like trying to set up a tent during a windstorm. Picture yourself doing that…go on…I’ll wait.
Not easy is it? Frustrating, isn’t it? You said a lot of cuss words, didn’t you? Welcome to my life! Not only do I get frustrated and mad, I end up making things even worse for myself because I beat myself up for improper skill usage when in actuality, I did a great job…I just didn’t get the desired result, validation or reinforcement and am somehow manipulated into thinking I did something wrong. WAY back in one of my first posts, I said one of the first things you have to learn in DBT is that you cannot control how other people react to you or your behavior. I can do everything “right” and I can do it until I’m blue in the face, but that doesn’t mean I am going to get any other reaction than what I get out of my mom, her boyfriend, or whomever else I am interacting with. As easy as that is to say and believe and know, I still fail to remember it in the midst of being manipulated into thinking I did something wrong when I actually just executed a skill correctly and in a healthy way.
I’m not going to blame my mom for me being in the place I am right now or for the place I have been the for the last 18 months, but I will say that she has probably hindered more than she has helped. After visualizing M’s metaphor today, I wondered how different the last 18 months would have been had I not been living at home. M and K get two and a half hours every week to get through to me and help me work on getting healthy and my mom spends the rest of the time completely (and inadvertently) destroying everything M and K have set up for me. M and K and myself are trying desperately to set up that damn tent and my mom (or someone or something else) is the wind that knocks it right over as we are cussing and throwing our hands up in the air. I know that song by Chumbawamba that says, “I get knocked down, but I get up again, you’re never gonna keep me down”…but I’m a little tired from getting up every single time I get knocked down. I tried physically doing this to prove my own point. Sit down (and not in a chair…get on the ground, legs crossed). Then get back up. Sit down. Get back up. Keep doing it. You get tired after a while, don’t you? You just proved my point. I’m tired. I’m worn out. Do I want to give up? Not entirely, but I’m too damn tired to give a fuck and I’d rather just take the easy way out (interpret that however you want). The easy answer to this whole conundrum is to just move out and get out of this environment. The caveat is that I am not well enough to hold down a job and I am, even at almost 30, completely and financially dependent on my mom. I hate it. It hurts my pride. It’s one more thing my mom can hold over my head (and she does). But I don’t have any other choice right now. I have to make this work in order to make myself work, emotionally and physically and it’s just an unfortunate revolving door that I have yet to figure out how to get out of. So again, I won’t blame my mom for my current emotional state but I can’t help but wonder how different things might have been or might be in the future if she didn’t spend so much time blowing down my carefully constructed tent. I need to find some tent posts to hammer into the ground somewhere and I don’t know if that needs to come from within (as in trying harder to not let my mom get the best of me) or if it needs to come from learning some other DBT skill and knowing it well enough to execute it at home. The answer, my friend, is probably blowing in the wind but it’s definitely not the wind coming from my mom.
Throughout the past three months, I tried really hard to not psych myself out (no pun intended but lol anyway) by telling myself that I was finally happy and that I was finally “getting better.” But in the deep recesses of my mind, that is what I really wanted to be happening…I wanted to start New Year’s off with a literal bang of awesomeshitsauce…but I failed. And now, I get to greet another year that I was not ever supposed to see because I wasn’t supposed to have lived long enough to see it. I also have a birthday coming up that I wasn’t supposed to see, either. And I don’t believe in New Year’s resolutions because I usually break them sometime around 12:02 AM on January 1st. Very futile. And resolutions are also a great setup for disappointment which I seem to be doing just fine at without adding a New Year’s resolution to my stack of shit to do.
Here’s to fucking up and here’s to the end of another shitty year we’ll one day be strangely nostalgic for. (I really should have purchased some alcohol…)
Yes, you get two posts in one night because it’s been that long since I’ve written and today was such a mind blowing day that I am inviting you to experience it with me.
In my “Slumber” post (which is required reading, by the way), I prattled on about how music is my nirvana and how powerful it is. In the beginning of that post, I also said I had an uncanny ability to find the most appropriate songs at the most appropriate times. Today was no exception.
Yet another part of DBT-focused therapy is radical acceptance (which is part of the Distress Tolerance module). *insert a HUGE sigh here* Acceptance, much less radical acceptance, was/is/probably always will be the bane of my existence and therapy. It is something I will fight and struggle with and cry over and embrace and punch over and over and over again. In a nutshell, radical acceptance is the acceptance (toleration if you want another word) of everything (your life, situation, a relationship, a feeling, a thought, etc.). Now that doesn’t mean that because you accept something, it’s good or okay…it’s just acknowledging that it happened/is happening and you have no control over it (other than what you let it do to you). “It is what it is.” If I had a nickel…
(As a disclaimer, any DBT skill I explain/talk about is always easier said than done.) Radical acceptance takes a lot of practice and a lot of work and after over a year in this therapy group, I am still learning and practicing this skill and there are days where I’m really good at saying, “Fuck it. It is what it is.”…but there are just as many, if not more, days where I say, “I hate you, Life! Y u gotta b such a biatch?! If only I had done this or that, or said this or that…” and on and on and on. Broken record. You continually beat yourself up for all the coulda woulda shoulda’s. Stop that shit. Seriously. (When I figure out how to do it, I’ll let you know.) Acceptance is not a skill that comes easily, if at all, and for me personally, it’s often something I get to after I’ve already beaten myself up (in DBT, they call that “suffering”) if acceptance even comes to me at all. Group and homework this week, as it so happens (but not really because all things happen for a reason), is all about radical acceptance. My peers and I managed to fill all 90 minutes of group time with our musings (and bashings) about acceptance and we probably could have continued until the sun came up if the therapists had let us (sometimes I swear they are grateful for that clock…oh who am I kidding?! I’m grateful for that clock some weeks!). I had some pretty awesome epiphanies this week and even came out with a new a favorite “soundtrack” song. (For those of you who are behind on the required reading *ahem*, “soundtrack” songs are songs I could put in a movie about my life and they would be dead-on perfect for a particular scene.) Before I even knew we were approaching our radical acceptance module, I wrote the “In My Mind” post. In that post, I rambled on about how shitty I thought it was that I wasn’t where I wanted to be in life and things hadn’t gone according to my plan…the one I so meticulously laid out for myself. That song helped me get a little bit further in accepting that “shit happens.” And I said helped…it wasn’t a cure-all…maybe saying that it gave me perspective is a better way to put it. So I walk into group last week with “In My Mind” already floating around in my brain and THEN the therapists want to go and pull the radical acceptance module out on me. It’s moments like those where I wonder who is Big Brother’ing me because sometimes things like that are just way too freaky, even for someone like me who’s own personal conviction is that all things, good and bad, happen for a reason. I walk into group singing, “Maybe I’ve just forgotten how to seeeee…that I’m not exactly the person that I thought I’dddd beeee…” and the therapists go and slap me upside the head with the radical acceptance unit. Really?! Seriously?! BUT…it was what it was…so I rolled with it. (Like what I did there?)
Our homework asked us to list out three really important things that we need to work on accepting and three less important things we need to work on accepting. (Obviously, I was already one step ahead of everyone else.) And then we get to pick those six things apart and attempt to “radically accept” them or at least be aware that we need to work on accepting them for what they are…be it life in general, a situation, a person, what have you. I’m an OCD over-achiever so naturally, I listed FOUR really important things I needed to work on accepting because I just enjoy making things really difficult for myself. I said above that I had already walked into group singing “In My Mind” so accepting my life for what it is, despite going completely OFF the charts of where it was SUPPOSED to go, was my #1 thing I needed/wanted to work on accepting. (I said the song helped…it didn’t “make it all better.”)
After that lovely 90-minute group session, I was hit with epiphany after epiphany. I wrote all over my homework page (I’m so glad we don’t actually have to hand those in). I like to write (duh) and so I write A LOT. Sometimes it’s a blog post, sometimes it’s a one-sentence musing or random thought that gets shoved into a text message, a Facebook status update, a 140-character Tweet, or written all over whatever piece of paper I happen to have handy. One such epiphany that I patted myself on the back for (and later found out that my therapist LOVED…so much, in fact, that she asked me to save it and repeat it to the group later this week) was this one: I’ve mentioned (I think) in some of my posts that I was, at one point, majoring in psychology. (If I didn’t mention it before, I’m mentioning it now.) I haven’t totally given up this dream and while I now realize I could probably never be a therapist, I do enjoy taking notes on serial killers, so I imagine, in my perfect healthy world, that I could be a criminal profiler some day. I also said (in my “About Me” section, I believe) that I am that proverbial preschooler who incessantly asks, “Why?” I’m curious about anything and everything and I like figuring out what makes people tick (myself included). People say TV makes you dumb. I say it only makes you dumb if you let it make you dumb (e.g. you watch Honey Boo Boo and/or Keeping Up With The Kardashians). My TV generally stays on the Discovery Channel, the National Geographic Channel, TLC, or the Investigation Discovery Channel. I don’t condone nor do I believe in everything I see and hear…BUT…I enjoy learning about different people and our world and all the who’s, why’s, what’s, and how’s of almost anything. Yes, I am much more inclined to watch a documentary about Aileen Wuornos than I am Toddlers & Tiaras, but that’s just because I have this weird fascination with crime and serial killers that I haven’t quite figured out yet. (And as a side note, I would much rather watch a real documentary on crime scene investigating, graphic photos and all, than watch CSI or any other “fake” TV drama series.) All that to say that I “enjoy” (I say that lightly) watching Hoarders on A&E (and the TLC one, too). (If you don’t know what hoarding is, click HERE. Remember people, Google is a wonderful tool.) Yes, I have to turn my head away or turn the program off if it involves animal hoarding or anything really nasty but those are insignificant details. In my brain (which is always running rampant with random musings) as I watched Hoarders this past week (which, unfortunately, was one that involved animals so I only watched the other person’s story and not the story of the animal lady…if you don’t know, most of the shows document the lives of two different hoarders per episode)…something hit me: When it comes down to it…as least as far as those of us who have psychological and/or emotional disorders…aren’t we ALL hoarders? Some people hoard THINGS…tangible items…but some of us (the “mental” ones) hoard emotions and feelings. The crux of the behavior that is “hoarding” is a mental disorder marked by an obsessive need to acquire and keep things, even if the items are worthless, hazardous, or “unsanitary”. How are we, as non-hoarders and emotionally dysregulated people, any different? Do we not sit in a group for 90 minutes every week trying to learn skills that will aid us in “throwing out” all of our “garbage”? Pick your chin up off the floor because you know I’m right. BOOM! Mind-blowing, huh? Well that’s what you get when you put a TV in front of an emotionally dysregulated almost-30-year-old who cannot radically accept her own life and throw away all the garbage that consumes her life on a daily basis.
I’ll have to explore this theory in group, but I wonder sometimes if I’ve made my own journey even harder because I am such a perfectionist. It’s so hard for me to just let go of shit. I remember being in school, back when we had to hand-write (in cursive, no less!) our essays…none of that 12-point-Times-New-Roman-double-spaced shit. If I made a mistake, no matter how tiny or fixable that mistake was, I crumpled that paper up and started writing my essay all over again…even if I was almost done with it the first time. It had to be perfect. And my life has gone SO far off of perfect that it has literally eaten me alive. But fear not…because I’m working on letting go of that habit. I’m learning to live in the moment.
Remember wayyyyyy back where I mentioned the “In My Mind” song and post before I got into this long-winded tangent? Come back to that now. There is a part of that song that says, “And in my mind, I imagine so many things…things that aren’t really happening. And when they put me in the ground, I’ll start pounding the lid, saying ‘I haven’t finished yet’…I still have a tattoo to get…that says I’m living in the moment…” On the pretense of doing my best to remain anonymous, I’ll just say that I like tattoos (and piercings) and I did not take that part of the song lightly. Every single time I heard that song, I put “get a tattoo that says you’re living in the moment” on my Bucket List. Well ladies and gentleman, today was the day where I got to check that item off. And right here is where I’m going to make this entire post make sense and tie it all together (I promise): I couldn’t sleep for shit last night/this morning. I had a semi-early therapy appointment today so once the sun started to grace me with its presence (however uninvited it was), I said fuck it, got up, and just started watching YouTube, Googling random shit and listening to music (of course). What song should come on? “In My Mind” by Amanda Palmer. What verse should stick out? The part about the tattoo and living in the moment. What are we learning/practicing in group this week? Acceptance and living in the moment. What bright idea do I come up with to do after my one-on-one therapy session today? If you guessed “accept your life” and “live in the moment”…you are so totally wrong…well…sort of. If you guessed “get a tattoo that says you’re living in the moment”…you are so totally right! And yes, I am so totally dead serious.
Now my tattoo ideas come off as being impulsive but what really happens is is that I sit on the ideas for months, even years, until a bee flies up my butt and I go all Nike and just do it. I’m an instant-gratification kind of girl. If I want something bad enough, I kinda sorta want it NOW…I have little patience for appointments or shipping time. So there I am, 4 AM in the morning, gathering the #s of my favorite tattoo shops, when they open and also looking at where I want my tattoo and what font I want it in. I went to my therapy appointment, made a few phone calls and a couple hours later, I walked out rocking some new ink. And you know what? I think it’s fucking awesome. Not only is it totally meaningful (in more ways than one…everything about it is meaningful, down to how I arranged the words and where I chose to have this permanent piece of ink needled into my skin), it’s totally applicable, it’s a great affirmation and reminder…IT IS WHAT IT IS. I’m sure you’re wishing my story ends there, but it does’t. Well, chronologically it does, but I didn’t tell you about what I found while Googling tattoo placement and font ideas before I even stepped foot into the tattoo parlor. Remember A LONG time ago where I said I was really good at finding appropriate/applicable songs for their appropriate/applicable moments? I had never heard or seen this song before. It was nonexistent in my world…until this morning. Behold, my little angel faces, the little gem I discovered today and the end of my post (finally):
If this life is one act
Why do we lay all these traps?
We put ’em right in our path
When we just wanna be free
I will not waste my days
Making up all kinds of ways
To worry ’bout all the things
That will not happen to me
So I just let go of what I know I don’t know
And I know I’ll only do this by
Living in the moment
Living our life
Easy and breezy
With peace in my mind
With peace in my heart
Peace in my soul
Wherever I’m going
I’m already home
I’m living in the moment
I’m letting myself off the hook for things I’ve done
I let my past go past
And now I’m having more fun
I’m letting go of the thoughts
That do not make me strong
And I believe this way can be the same for everyone
And if I fall asleep
I know you’ll be the one who’ll always remind me
To live in the moment
To live my life
Easy and breezy
With peace in my mind
With peace in my heart
Got peace in my soul
Wherever I’m going
I’m already home
I can’t walk through life facing backwards
I have tried
I tried more than once to just make sure
And I was denied the future I’d been searching for
But I spun around and hurt no more
By living in the moment
Living my life
Easy and breezy
With peace in my mind
With peace in my heart
Got peace in my soul
Wherever I’m going
I’m already home
I’m living in the moment
I’m living my life
Just taking it easy
With peace in my mind
Got peace in my heart
Got peace in my soul
Oh, wherever I’m going
I’m already home
I’m living in the moment
I’m living my life
Oh, easy and breezy
With peace in my mind
Peace in my heart
Peace in my soul
Wherever I’m going
I’m already home
I’m living in the moment