At Least the Thorns Grow Roses

“We can complain because rose bushes have thorns, or rejoice because thorns have roses.”

— Alphonse Karr, A Tour Round My Garden

There is no doubt that this past year has been a hard one. Were more divided than ever and growing increasingly exhausted by the repetition of disagreements and offenses. We all just want to be heard. We want to be a little happier. We want it all to be a little easier already, and somehow, in our warped minds, we’ve decided instead to go on making the world more horrible and then to give up on it, and each other. We’ve grown collectively cynical. We’ve resigned ourselves to a permanent state of outrage and hopelessness about everything.

It should change, but it won’t. We could change it, but we won’t. We want to be better, but we can’t. It’s too late. I’m too tired. I hate you, and that and I don’t care to deal with it. It’s not my problem. It’s not my place. Nothing is going to change anyway. That’s just the way the world works. Life sucks, and then you die, and I’m just here to make a buck, make a name, and leave.

That’s how I feel sometimes. That’s how a lot of people I know feel too. Every day they wake up, go to jobs they hate, eat food that doesn’t make them feel good, and fill up on coffee to get through. Then they go home to spouses they forgot how to love, watch shows they don’t even like, avoid the news because it makes them angry even though they have no idea why. They go to bed too late even though they have to wake up too early the next day and do it all over again.

They get sad, they get lonely, and no one cares. They want things, need things, and no one cares. They want to do more, and no one will let them. The last time they were happy, truly happy, was grade school and even then, now that they think about it, that wasn’t such a great time either.

Nothing good has happened to them since, and now they can’t imagine anything good happening ever again. There are no miracles, and the bad guys always win. Dreams don’t come true and happily ever after is a lie. So what’s the point?

I don’t have an answer for that friends. I wish I did because I am struggling just as much as you. I have so much doubt and fear, and there are days when I envy those who were never conceived. They never have to deal with being a person, and they never have to deal with disappointment or death. But, most days, I don’t feel that way. Most days, I can see that even though life is hard and painful, its beautiful too.

Most days I’m happy to be here, to breath, to laugh, to eat good food, and to be among other people. Most days I can remember that I am loved and that things are just as good as they are bad. I can see I am lucky, to have a job I hate and a home that needs so much work, and friends who get busy but still care about me. I can see I am lucky to be in love and to have a chance to grow old with someone, even if it means a life of little frustrations, misunderstandings, and mistakes. Life has books, and sunshine, and puppies, and the smell of honeysuckle, and the taste of barbecue ribs and creme brûlée. Life has science, and history, and good people fighting every day to make it better.

We can all join that fight by learning to love life again. When you love life, when you can see all the good there is in it, you can see that it’s worth making better for everyone. You have to see the roses!

That doesn’t mean you should ignore the thorns. This world is certainly going to shit. You have certainly fucked up and failed. The universe is wholly indifferent to your needs or pleas. There will be no breaks, and what you have you have only out of pure chance and hard, dirty work. It will go on like this, people burning down their one home in the universe and burning bridges with the ones they ought to love, and you will be no exception.

But as embarrassing, confusing, and terrifying as a human life is, it’s the most beautiful thing there is. All of it. Look outside right now, the sun, the trees, the people walking here and there, it’s all beautiful. You are lucky to get a chance to see it at all. You are lucky to be so angry and afraid. You are lucky to be here, to love to laugh, to run, and to shout how much you love, hate, or damn it all to hell.

It could be worse, there could be nothing but pain. It could be a hell of a lot better too if we tried. If we looked around and found less reason to be angry and hateful. Imagine if we all found less time to complain and more time to change. Let’s try it. This week just acknowledging that yes, a whole lot of all of this life is shit, but a whole lot of it is good, and right, and rich, and gorgeous, and fucking amazing to be a part of too.

The thorns hurt. People hurt, life hurts, we hurt ourselves, and we never get to do it over, but the roses! The roses in all their colors and sweet smells. The feeling you get of seeing one, and the face of the lover you give one to are all well worth a few scrapes and scratches if you ask me.

Life isn’t fair. Not one of us was promised a rose garden, and we certainly shouldn’t take for granted that we were given one despite everything. It’s no one’s fault but ours that we never tended it and it’s no one’s fault but ours that what we’re left with if more pain than pretty. But we can fix it. We can care for what we have and do the hard work of growing more.

“The rose’s rarest essence lives in the thorns.”

— Jalaluddin Mevlana Rumi

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Thanks for reading! If you like this post check out my weekly-ish newsletter for inspiring reads + existential musings on life, love, and inevitable human suffering. Or help support what I do by sharing a cup of coffee.

Featured photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

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Currently // November 2017: Preparing for New Beginnings

It’s been a strange month. The weather feels much warmer than it should be, which you would think I’d be excited about considering how depressing I find fall to be, but it’s hard to enjoy when the days are so short. It’s cold and dark when I leave the house, and it’s cold and dark by the time I get home again and there’s never enough free time in between to get any sun on my skin. Still, I’m feeling much better than I usually am this time of year.

I’ve never made it a secret that I’m no fan of either Thanksgiving or Christmas. I grew up in the kind of chaotic home where tempers flash easily under the emotional and financial burden of the holidays. There is just way too much generational trauma floating around.

But I’m an adult now, and every year I resolve not to let that stress get to me or my relationship. Some years I win, some years I turn into my parents. This year I am winning. I’m practicing healthy communication and making time for self-care. I’m having fun spending time with my family and friends and looking forward to celebrating the New Year spectacularly and to taking on 2018.

But first, here is what I am currently:

Writing the things I always meant to write and no longer writing what I hope will lead to money or notice. For a while, I fancied a future as a freelance writer. I thought I might make my money by adding my voice to the current discourse forgetting that my wits run at a pace too slow for the news cycle or the speed of the internet. I’m built for pen and paper and months, maybe years spent on a single project. That is the kind of writer I have always wanted to be and from now on the choices I make will reflect that

Making room in my home for a new, more creative me. I’m finally following the advice of Austin Kleon and separating my digital spaces from my analog spaces. I now have two desks in my “creativity room” (three if you count my girlfriend’s watercolor desk) one with my laptop, phone, and speaker, and another with newspaper clippings, markers, bits of cardboard, and colorful paper. I want to make something next year, and I need a space in my home devoted to it so I can start devoting space in my mind to it. Now I just have to get my ass planted there. That’s always the hardest part.

Anticipating Christmas break! I might not care much for the holidays but working for a school district means I get two whole weeks off. Not off completely, I do go in and work on a few projects, some paperwork, and do a bit of cleaning up but having a couple of weeks away from the kids helps reset the mind and keep me from burning out and snapping. I will work fewer hours though and devote more free time to—you guessed it—writing! Oh! And I’m looking forward season 4 of Black Mirror, which Netflix has refused to share the release date for but I bet it’ll be very soon!

Reading Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman. It’s interesting and easy to read, but I’m struggling with it. Here’s a fun fact about me, I don’t do comedy. I like to laugh and every so often, I am crack a good joke myself, but I have to laugh alone. I hate feeling pressured to be amused by something. Good Omens is trying to make me laugh and that makes me not want to read it at all. BUT I found a way through it. I joined a weekly reading challenge in the Buffer Slack Community where we agree to read a certain number of minutes a day or week. It helps knowing I only have to suffer through 15 minutes at a time.

Watching Godless on Netflix. Actually, I already finished it, and Alias Grace too. Both were really good! I already had a feeling Alias Grace would be good because it was another Margaret Atwood story, but Godless really surprised me. I’m not a big fan of Westerns normally but the characters, mostly bad ass women, felt real here. No one was all good or bad, and no one was safe. I highly recommend it!

Feeling up and down, but still as hopeful and curious as ever too. I’m beginning to suspect there may be a pattern to this emotional roller coaster ride I’ve been on lately and I suspect that ride may have a lot to do with my hormones. I’m turning 33 next year and some days it feels like I’m a second puberty. My body is changing in ways I understand even less than when I was 14. I hope next year I can get some answers to why I have so much anxiety and such low self-esteem and sadness when I have every reason to feel just the opposite.

Needing a win! It’s been a while since I won a contest or had something I wrote accepted somewhere. Granted I haven’t been trying all that hard, but a few rejections have made getting back up a little too hard to do at the moment. I want to write new. Some piece of poetry, or a personal essay, or a piece of flash fiction that someone would love to publish. I need to feel like I’m making progress….

Loving that it has been two whole years since the last time I considered myself to be a smoker. I put down my last pack of Marlboro Menthol the day before Thanksgiving, 2015, and while I may have had a drag here and there, maybe half a cigarette once or teice, since, I’m still so proud of myself. I love my clear lungs, my improving health, and my sense of taste and smell. I love knowing I’ll never have to stand outside in the cold killing myself slowly because of addiction. I love being free, feeling strong, and knowing that one less thing in this world has control over me. It’s not easy and even as I write this, prou, I still miss it, but I love living too much to go back.

Hating white male privilege. I’m sorry I know that may set some of you off or turn some of you away but I’m tired. I’m tired of lawmakers. I’m tired of sexual harassers. I’m tired of the trolls. I’m tired of the excuses, the denying, and the arguing. I’m tired of explaining. I’m tired of not saying anything. I’m tired of the ignorance and the insensitivity and the refusal to just listen. I’m tired and I’m already renewing my call for More Women of Color in my life and in my social media feeds, in the shows I watch, in the podcasts I listen to, and the voices I amplify for 2018. I urge you to do the same.

Hoping that I can spend this last month of the year surrounded by love and light and all the people who bring joy to my life. I need that more than ever I think. This year has been a hard one, both physically and emotionally. I hope I can let go of all that disappointment and start again. I hope we all can. It will be hard but I hope we can all help each other to get there. 2018 has to be a new beginning for us all.

All in all, November was a good month. I made some big decisions and I made time for myself and my loved ones, but it isn’t over yet. I still have so much to time and love to give before the year is out. I just hope there will be enough month to give it all in.

But, what about you? How did November treat you? Did you spend Thanksgiving with family or friends? Did you cook or clean? Have you started your Christmas shopping? How stressed are you right now?

Let me know in the comments!

***

Thanks for reading! If you like this post check out my weekly-ish newsletter for inspiring reads + existential musings on life, love, and inevitable human suffering. Or help support what I do by sharing a cup of coffee.

The inspiration for this posts come from Andrea at Create.Share.Love.

Featured photo was taken by photo by Noah Silliman on Unsplash

Love Better and You Will Be Better by the Act Alone

“When we love, we always strive to become better than we are. When we strive to become better than we are, everything around us becomes better too.”

— Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist

 

Humans are social creatures, and we need to feel connected, understood, cared about, and loved, and we need it like we need food, water, and air. We’ll do anything to get it, and when we get it, we’ll do amazing and ugly things to keep it. Sure, being loved makes you want to be better, it’ll make you want to do the right thing, be the hero, be the bigger person, but when you can’t, it only makes you better at hiding who you are.

When we love someone we want to give them our very best. It’s normal and completely understandable. We do it because they deserve it, and, if we’re being honest, we do it because we are afraid to lose them. We hide the truth of who we really are and give them a storybook version we long to believe in ourselves, but the truth is you are not made only of giving and grace. You are also selfish, needy, angry, frustrated, sad, scared, and stupid, but none of that is very loveable is it? So it has to go away. We cut it out and pack it away, and we believe it’s gone forever.

Love has made us better, right?

Sadly, no. What happens when we cut ourselves in two like that, banishing one half to the crawl space, is that all that ugly only festers. When there is no one to check its size and power it grows, and it learns there are other ways out. Emotional baggage, childhood trauma, and all that fucking fear twists itself up into unrecognizable shapes and re-emerges in strange, troubling, abusive, and suffocating ways and the more of you it takes over, the more of yourself you hide, and humans will tend to be the worst versions of themselves in secret.

When you care for someone, you have to face your truth and learn to be your whole self, and you have to do it continuously if you want to have any hope of being your best self for them.

The truth is you are not perfect, and your loved ones should know that. Not just because honesty is always the best policy, or even because by hiding so much of yourself in dark and damp corners you allow the worst parts of yourself to fester, but because you cannot really love someone if you are faking who you are. It is through wanting to love someone well, rather than wanting to be loved that we strive to become better versions of ourselves.

Here “striving” means failure and fucking up out in the open for all to see but learning from it and trying again and again to do the right thing and “better” means a more whole, healthy, and authentic you. Real, healthy, fulfilling and freeing love comes out of growth. It’s a process, and it can’t happen in the dark. Love can’t happen in the dark.

But we’ve been doing it all backward. We’re trying to be better for love rather than allowing the act of loving to make us better. We are trying to be worthy of receiving love rather than becoming the biggest and best source of love we can be. My God we are doing it all wrong.

I hate to say it so plainly, but getting someone to love you is among the easiest things to do in this life. It’s as easy as a few well-placed lies and a bit of clever manipulation. No human has ever proven themselves above using such tactics. Hell, I would go so far as to say such shady strategies have been encouraged. Society has turned love and friendship into games people play, and in our need and greed, we’ve forgotten the whole point.

Being loved is no confirmation of how good, beautiful, smart, funny, or valuable you are. The truth of who a person is always shown in how they love. And when we combine honesty with all that love we have to give, we give the kind of love that is real and right and finally become that person we have been pretending to be all along.

But you can only do that by being your whole self first. Bring all your ugliness into the light and love the best you can, with all you have, right now, then growing as you become wise, confident, secure, and happy.

Strive to love better, and you will become better by the act alone.

***

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Our Words Fail Us, and We Fail Each Other

“War is what happens when language fails.”

— Margaret Atwood

We all fight with someone, even the people we love the most. We fought all the time, nearly daily for some, but it’s rare we reach for physical violence to get our point across. It is common to reach for emotional savagery at the slightest threat to our self-image, our way of thinking, or our sense of control. Real or perceived we are quick to hate, to degrade, and to cut off people around us for the smallest transgression because we have lost the ability to really tell one another how we feel, and to really listen to the feelings of another.

We’ve all utilized violence at some point on siblings or schoolmates. Some have hit their children or had to fight a stranger. Worse are those who have struck a spouse, a parent, an animal. I’ve seen it all and done my fair share too. I have been hurt and hurt others. I have had my sense of safety taken away, and I have felt pride in taking it from others. But I hate that version of me that was so stupid and so weak as to think there was any reason to feel pride in such brutality. I hope to never act so brutish again unless I have to use force to save my life or the life of someone I know.

I’ve come to see violence as something to only be used as a last resort and only when violence is first used on me. I now believe that there is no end to the ways a conflict can be resolved as long as both parties want to. Growth has made me sensitive to the ways I see communication break down around me and the way people have come to see physical violence as the second step after verbal violence is utilized as the first.

Violence is an instinct. Little kids do it and have to be taught not to do it. It is also a learned behavior too. The more they see other people doing it, the more we do it, of course, but I’ve seen babies not yet walking and not yet witness to assault hitting and throwing things out of frustration when they feel their needs have not adequately been communicated.

I work with children in a space that isn’t home and isn’t school, and in this place, they are a little freer, a little more themselves, for good and for ill. I find that at any slight correction, challenge, or frustration they fail to communicate their feelings and instead head right for violence, first verbal and then physical.

I have to slow them down. I work hard to teach them that there are other things to try first. I tell them they can talk to me, tell me how they feel, and I will never punish them for that. I do it because I understand they are being raised the same way I was, to believe that any show of emotion or expression of need is a sign of disrespect. Their feelings are being forced in, and their ability to communicate is decaying from non-use.

As a result, they have no idea how to simply say they are unhappy, that they don’t understand, that they are frustrated or hurt, or to ask for space or time to process what is happening around or inside themselves. They don’t know how to say what they need, and they have no desire to hear what other people need either.

They only know what they have been taught— that respect and understanding come after you have forced it from someone. They have been taught that there is only one right and one wrong and that the one who is right is the one who hits harder.

As we get older, we gain some control, or at least we learn who we can’t hit and who we can. We still don’t know how to talk, and we still don’t know how to understand though.

That’s not to say we are all violent people. No one wants to start there. No one wants to yell, humiliate, or hurt, we do it when we feel we have no other choice and that place is different for us all but none of us have the strength or patience we might have if we’d worked at communication or seen proper examples of it. All of us has given up on someone, some of us have given up on whole groups of people we will never meet because we are convinced that they are incapable of understanding us and us, them.

But there is always a point, and there is always a way, it’s just hard to do, that’s all. Language is a poor way to describe all the complexity and shades of meaning and feeling that exist inside of a human being, but as long as we are each trapped inside of our own perspective and consciousness, barred from the minds of one another, we have to use what we have, our words.

To listen is exhausting. It takes a lot of energy, emotional and intellectual, to hold your own mind back, to trust enough to let your defense down and listen to another. It’s even harder to be vulnerable and ask someone to expend such energy on you. We try once, twice, and the third time we’re done not seeing that the first time we sounded frustrated, the second time we yelled, and the third we used insults and threats. There was never real communication. I see this every day.

No one learns how to communicate rigorously.

No one learns to consider that they are wrong.

No one believes there is honor or pride in giving time and consideration to needs, ideas, or ways of living of others.

The effect is worse in groups and worst of all in nations. Too often violence can seem like the only course of action to take, not last but at all. We work ourselves into a frenzy declaring that our way of life our thinking or land must be defended at all costs. We are right, and they are wrong, and words will do nothing. There is nothing to say to “those people,” they wouldn’t understand if we tried and we will not allow ourselves to be infected, manipulated, deterred, or distracted from our aim. EQUALITY, FREEDOM, JUSTICE, PEACE! Worthy causes to die for, but to kill for?

Maybe. I won’t say I believe that there is no place for violence. Sure, there are wars worth fighting. There are people who can only be saved if someone else was to die, but I don’t see those kinds of wars being fought. What I see when I watch the news is wars being fought that might be solved with listening and an exchange of ideas and empathy, and I see wars not being fought where genocide, mass rape, and the exploitation of children has been taking place for generations.

What I see is nations acting like people, fighting for respect and control and not for equality, freedom, justice, and peace.

What I see is here at home a divide furthering between ideologies because talking is exhausting and listening is just too hard. I see people who are sure they are right, that there is no other way to see it, and that communication is no road to resolution. I see tension building and a canyon-sized divide between the purity of each sides way of seeing the world. No one is willing to build a bridge. The bridge builders of the past are disillusioned, and the would-be builders can only see what the other side won’t do.

So, violence is quickly becoming all that is left because we’ve not built the strength nor the desire to keep trying, again, and again, and again.

We’ve not been raised to believe that people can come around by words alone. We’ve not been raised to believe there is a middle ground in that canyon separating us from one another. We’ve not been raised to understand that people are mysterious and complex and in need of love and understanding the same as us. We have not been raised to see each other as equals only as beings to dominate, manipulate, and use for our own emotional ends. We’ve not been taught that words will get us what we need.

The average person isn’t out there beating people up and humiliating them, but we are internalizing and perpetuating the same way of looking at the world and thinking about one another that leads to violence on more massive scales. We are protecting and excusing the violence that breaks out on individual levels seeing it through our own upbringing and justifying the pettiest reasons.

I just want to see us all try another way and try a little harder.

Try being patient. Try being quiet. Try being open, sympathetic, and kind.

Work the muscles in the mind that express and understand. Learn how to use your words and learn the meaning of words that other people use. Consider that you might be a little wrong and that the people you have written off might be a little right. Not just the people you know, but people half a world away too. Think about what war is and what it’s cost is worth. Teach your kids to do the same and teach your loved ones through their interaction with you. Take the time communicate. I promise it is no waste.

I’m talking to all of you, myself included. I am talking to all sides of the issue those who have never listened and those who have tried listening so much they’ve given up hope that it works. I’m talking to you.

I’m talking to us here and now and to everyone in the future because if we don’t learn to sharpen and strengthen language, make it better and make it work nothing will change.

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Thanks for reading! If you like this post check out my weekly-ish newsletter for inspiring reads + existential musings on life, love, and inevitable human suffering. Or help support what I do by sharing a cup of coffee.

Featured photo is by Georgia National Guard from United States [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Relationships Take Two, and That Includes You

“It always takes two. For relationships to work, for them to break apart, for them to be fixed.”

— Emily Giffin, Heart of the Matter: A Novel

I’m a terrible friend.

I don’t text back. I don’t answer calls. I don’t send snaps or reply to Facebook comments. I don’t call to check in, and I don’t know what to say when my loved ones are going through hard times, so I say nothing. I’m a terrible friend. But not because I don’t care, but because I’m scared. I’m afraid I have nothing to offer, and I’m sure no one wants to be bothered with me. It’s selfish, even if I tell myself it isn’t and it’s wrong even if I tell myself it isn’t malicious. The truth is I’m not doing the work, and it isn’t fair.

The truth is I’m not doing the work, and it isn’t fair.

I’m lucky to have friends that understand, but lately, I’ve started to feel guilty. I shouldn’t let them pick up the slack just because I’m too afraid to try. We all deserve to have people reach out toward us everyone in a while to remind that they care and that we are too important to lose.

We all want to feel like we matter. We all want to be wanted. We all want the people we love to let us know with their actions not just with their words that we are important, liked, and desired. When our friends call us or send us funny videos to cheer us up, we feel good. When someone we love cooks our favorite dinner, buys us flowers or offers a back rub at the end of a hard day, we feel good. When family, co-workers, and spouses forgive us for our outbursts or let us know it’s okay after having made a mistake, we feel good.

We do deserve those things, but I’ve seen too many people who demand to be loved, understood, appreciated but make no effort to show anyone else the same. They see themselves as worthy of near worship and see humbling themselves and giving of themselves as degrading.

Relationships, whether they are romantic or not, familial or not, new or old, platonic, professional, or passionate, no matter what they are, they all take two people to make them work and grow. If just one gets forgets the boundaries, loses interest, or puts themselves at the center the whole thing fails. I’ve seen it, and lived it myself, time and time again.

This week I celebrate 15 years with my girlfriend, and people are always asking me how we got this far. They want to know the secret, and I tell them it all boils down to seeing another person as worthy of all the same caring and effort you know that you deserve and then setting your pride aside to do it.

We see ourselves as the main character of a story in which everyone around us only serves to move our own plot forward, but the truth is we are also playing the supporting role in everyone else’s story too. In this world, there is no center. We are all connected to one another and we all push and pull one another in all directions all at once.

If enough people decide to take more than they give all connections weaken and the world becomes a place where loneliness, struggling, and suffering becomes unnecessarily prevalent.

I’ve watched people let their relationships fall apart saying “Well if so-and-so wanted to talk to me they would” or “If so-and-so wanted to see me they’d make the time”, all the while they never reach out or make the time either. They say these things and never see how much they expect and how little their effort is in return. I’ve watched them condemn others for the exact same ways they are failing too.

I don’t think anyone means to be hurtful. It’s just the society we live in now. There is so much bad advice floating around about how we should treat each other and how to stay together or strengthen our bonds.

Everyone says that people who love you will just come to you. They say that anyone who wants to be a part of your life should have to earn it first. You shouldn’t have to chase anyone, you have already done enough. You shouldn’t have to do anything more. If people want you they will do whatever it takes. You aren’t being mean. You are only protecting yourself, respecting yourself, getting what you deserve.

But all that is only half the story. They never tell you how much you have to give of yourself and they never tell you that you should! We should be vulnerable, giving, and forgiving. We should be doing so much more to earn the love of the people we want in our lives. We should be giving second chances and calling even when we didn’t get a callback and inviting them again even when they didn’t show up last time. We should say good morning even if they didn’t say it back and we should do something nice even though they snapped at us yesterday. We should reach out even if they didn’t reply last time and we should let them know we still want to be friends.

You have to let go of your own needs and just be there for someone else for a while. Not all of the time, but, yes, some of the time. You have to take turns being the center of the universe.

Do it because we are all people and we all make mistakes. Do it because none of us come out of our childhood knowing how to have healthy relationships or how to keep those relationships together.

Do it because you care and because you know deep down that every relationship takes work from both parties. It requires vulnerability and a willingness to humble yourself. It requires that you occasionally stop thinking about yourself, give up, and give a little more than you might be getting in return. It requires leading by example and making room for our flaws and forgetfulness. If enough of us make compassion, humility, and understanding part of our relationships we can change the narrative and make giving the goal of every relationship rather than receiving.

Do it so that when it’s you not doing enough because you were busy, too stressed out, or too self-centered, the understanding and love will be there when you return.

***

Thank you for reading! If you like this post check out my weekly-ish newsletter for more inspiring reads + some small existential musings on life, love, and inevitable human suffering. Or help support what I do by sharing a cup of coffee. Thank you!

Featured image by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Stop Helping So Damn Much

“Our help is usually not very helpful. Our help is often toxic. And help is the sunny side of control. Stop helping so much. Don’t get your help and goodness all over everybody.”

— Anne Lamott

I heard something last week, and I can’t get it out of my head. It was one of those moments when you are told an ugly truth about yourself, one had denied so long you weren’t aware of anymore, one you are embarrassed to find you hadn’t concealed at all as well as you thought. Everyone knows your ugly truth but thought it better not to tell you and to let you go on making a fool of yourself.

That was something like that feeling that I felt in the middle of Anne Lamott’s 2017 Ted Talk, 12 Truths, in which she casually advises us all to stop helping so much. Our help, she says, isn’t as helpful as we think it is and our help is often toxic and nothing but a nicer way of controlling the world around us.

As soon as she said it I knew I was one of those chronic helpers Lamott is talking about. I want to help everyone all the time with everything. The more I love you, the more I want to help you. I tell myself I’m helping, but maybe, probably, I just want to control the people around me.

Looking back I can see that there have been many times when I forced my help on others, even when it wasn’t needed, wanted, or constructive. There were many times when my help may have been toxic and all I was doing was controlling the lives of others. I told myself I was doing the right thing, the best thing, the helpful thing, but I wasn’t.

Helping is a form of manipulation and, here is the real secret, manipulating people is a thing I struggle not to do.

I’m ashamed to have written that line. It feels like admitting a truth I am trying to convince myself is a lie. It’s admitting that I am a bad person. I swear I have the best intentions, but I also have little patience for people learning their own lessons and failing on their own. I know better than them and if only they would do things the way I say they would be better. We would be better. I would be needed, wanted, appreciated, helpful.

I would be good.

And that’s it, I just want to feel like a good person. I want to feel like a better, smarter, and more powerful person. I want to be good enough to be in charge. I want people to look to me when they don’t know what to do. I want to be wanted and respected, and this is the way I have chosen to get that and to live with myself too, by helping.

I feel bad for wanting that, and for some of the actions I have taken to feel it but here’s the thing, at the same time Anne Lamott was placing a mirror in front of me, she was also letting me know that I was not the only one who needed to hear this. I’m not the only one who needs to stop and examine what they were doing. She hadn’t said, “Lisa, you need to stop helping because you are toxic.” She said we all needed to stop helping because we were all too controlling and toxic. We all have a problem with manipulation.

It’s human to want to control the world around us and all the people in it. Being in control is comforting and being needed gives us purpose. But at the same time, we feel bad for wanting those things. We know it’s wrong, and futile, to try to control others. We also know that we have to give people space to live their lives and learn their own lessons. But we want what we want, so, we do what humans are good at, we play a few mental gymnastics, make a few good excuses, and tell ourselves that for this reason or that whatever we’re doing is the right thing to do.

We split ourselves off from what who we want to be and who we really are. We disconnect and deny the distance the two. We can’t see that we are not always good and we are not always doing the right thing.

I can be controlling, and I sometimes nag, and whine, and manipulate people into doing what I want the way I want it done but who doesn’t? Who hasn’t tried to keep people close and safe by making ourselves indispensable? Who hasn’t tried to make sense of the world by forcing our beliefs and our way of life on others? Who hasn’t, out of love and fear, employed less than honorable tactics to “help.”

Being a person is scary. Caring about people is scary. Feeling unimportant and unneeded scary. It is normal to try to keep people safe and close and to control the way they see us, but it isn’t always right. That is a truth that has to be confronted if you want to get better.

So this week, try not helping so much or try helping in ways that don’t put you at the center of the problem. Just listen. Just learn. Try taking a step back and letting people be the solution in their own lives. Let people walk their own paths, and you just focus on walking yours.

It’s why we are all here after all.

P.S. Here is Anne Lamott’s entire beautiful, inspirational, bittersweet Ted Talk:

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Featured image via Ian Espinosa on Unsplash

Self-Loathing for the Egoist

 

“He who hates himself is not humble.”

— Emil Cioran

What is it about self-loathing that is so damn satisfying? When I say satisfying, I don’t mean that it feels good. It hurts to hate yourself. It’s depressing, and it hinders you from realizing your potential, from taking care of yourself, and from being truly happy. It’s cruel and abusive, and yet, we all do it, some of us compulsively. Why do we do it? Why can’t we stop?

I am a chronic self-hater. I don’t like myself very much. I don’t see any reason why anyone else should either. I think I am a failure. I think I am ugly. I think that I am annoying and stupid and I feel like a burden to everyone around me.

I am hard on myself. I keep a running tally of all the ways I have pissed people off, said something stupid, made mistakes, made more work, or made the wrong choice. I remember that I always do this, that I always forget, and that I am always wrong.

I find some point in time when my actions could have changed everything and because I acted this way instead of that the whole train of events, and all the hurt feelings and frustration that result are on me. I can trace my negative impact all the way back to my birth. I am the worst; I tell myself this at least once a day.

I don’t want to feel this way. Hating myself is not something I enjoy doing. I want to love myself because somewhere deep down I know that I not only need it, but that I deserve it. I know this but I can’t get there. I have listed things I like about myself. I have told myself I am no more flawed than anyone else. I tell myself I am beautiful and smart and kind and worthy of love and happiness. I have treated myself and forgiven myself, and still, I fall back into old habits. I have tried, and some progress has been made, but I still can’t help hating who I am.

Clearly, giving myself a few compliments and staying hydrated are not the way. Or, they aren’t the only way. Self-love needs more than words; it needs an acknowledgment of the pain that brought you to such self-loathing. It needs an investigation into what purpose it serves and what satisfaction is derived from such thoughts.

Within each of us lives the ego, or our identity and sense of self. To act in an egotistical way is to put oneself at the center of your world at the exclusion of others. When we think of the egoist, we think of someone who is selfish and mean, ruthless and uncaring. Someone who thinks they are better than everyone else. We don’t think of ourselves as acting in an egotistical way when we heap hatred on ourselves because to us we are acting in a way that put everyone else above us.

We love other people more than ourselves. We value them more than ourselves. We take their blame and pain and anger and place it on ourselves. We carry the load for everyone and put ourselves down for not doing more. We don’t think we deserve as much as them. We don’t think we are as good.

But who we place above anyone else has nothing to do with who we are placing at the center. When we are so focused on ourselves by imagining ourselves greater than others and worthy of more, even if what we are giving is hatred, negativity, and insults, we are still acting in an egotistical way.

Maybe this is a form of control, a way to make sense of the world and feel some part of which way it turns. Maybe we are like a child who has simply gotten into a habit of seeking out negative attention because it is better than no attention at all. Maybe this is a way to make yourself feel important. Maybe we want so badly to be the best at something that we are willing to accept being the best at being the worst.

Self-hatred is a real concern. It is unhealthy and negatively impacts your mental health and quality of life. The pain that led you here is real, and your feelings are valid, but the result you are chasing may not be what you think it is. You are not giving yourself what you deserve, punishing yourself, or being honest with yourself. You are not making the world better or making people around you feel better either. You are putting the spotlight on you.

I realized this when someone I love, and who loves me too, pointed out how the feelings of others often got overshadowed by my self-hatred. When things went wrong, when I hurt someone’s feeling, for example, I focused on how I was always doing this and making mistakes and saying stupid things and fucking everything up, not on the person I had hurt. I thought I was helping by letting them know how awful I was, but I wasn’t. I was serving my egotistical self and making myself feel better by focusing on myself.

Admitting that I have been acting in an egotistical way has made me view my self-esteem in a new light. There is more to it, of course, but it is helping me make further progress in my healing. It is helping me see the difference between what is real and what isn’t. It is helping me find the right path forward.

So, take a look at how you feel about yourself. If you are you a chronic self-hater start asking yourself what purpose it serves and explores why it is so hard to stop. When did you start to hate yourself? When did you start to believe that you were less worthy than anyone else? What prevents you from seeing the flaws in others as well, or letting them take responsibility for them? What effect has your self-hatred had on others?

Often the expectations we put on ourselves and the blame we place there are unrealistic and wildly beyond what we would place on anyone else. Sometimes our motives for doing so aren’t apparent to us. We have to consider that we may be indulging in giving ourselves special importance as someone who is especially damaged. We may be looking for someone else to give us the love we should be giving ourselves. We may be looking for ways to be rescued or special acknowledgment for how we suffer.

Self-criticism is the middle road you should be trying to achieve. A realistic view of your strengths and weakness and your progress toward becoming a healthier more whole version of yourself through the pursuit of wisdom and fulfillment. Self-criticism is an important part of self-love. It is nothing less than what we would offer another human being that we loved. Able to see their flaws and their strengths without placing them above or below what is normal. To do otherwise would be cruel.

Be humble in your ideas of both the positive and negative aspects of yourself. Remember that you are never to blame for as much of the good or bad that happens in this world as you think you are. You are just plain old regular good and ordinary everyday bad.

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