Self-Helping

We all wanna be problemless. To fix ourselves. We look for some magic solution to make us all better, but none of us really know what we’re doing. That’s all we humans can do. Guess. Try. Hope. But just pray you don’t fool yourself into thinking you’ve got the answer. Because that’s bullshit. The trick is living without an answer.      – Walter Kirn (Thumbsucker)

I guess it is fair to say that I tend to surround myself with the introspective types. Put it to you this way, I definitely take pause when I hear someone claim that they don’t have any major issues. Well, actually, not true. I don’t pause. I lean in a little closer and start asking questions. Not to prove them wrong. I’m truly curious. If they really don’t. How? And why? Did they ‘fix’ themselves? Did they find the book, the therapist, the magic cure that had the answers?  Although, these encounters have been rare, and I have never found any applicable answers, it still fascinates me, this whole concept…not having any major issues.

I get it on some level. Why admit you have issues? Who wants issues? And if we don’t talk about them, then we don’t have to deal with them. If we don’t have to deal with them, then we don’t have to do the work. And who really wants do go down “that blue and lonely section of hell”?

This might work for some, maybe even for years. They might be able to distract themselves with their job, their partner, their kids, with making sure their yard is at least as green as their neighbor’s and their title at least as long.

If this doesn’t work, the next best option is to have a running list of all of the things wrong with everyone else- their crazy boss, their unfaithful partner, their unruly kids. Someone has issues, but it is definitely not them.

I personally prefer to be around those who are not so distracted- people who own their shit, who admit they have issues and have at least some idea where they might have originated from.

Me? I’ll be the first to tell you, I have issues. I’m pretty sure that I purchased my first self-help book at the age of 15. This might give pause to a few of you. That’s almost 3 decades of self-helping, which I could see might seem a bit discouraging. Understandably so. But I had a bit of work to do and not a lot of accessible resources/people to consult…and I might have read too much J.D. Salinger too early. But seeing that everything around me was blowing up, I thought some sort of weapon, or at least shield, couldn’t be a terrible idea. So, in my typical fashion, I went a little overboard. I did pretty much nothing but self-helping…for like two decades.

And then, I stopped. Clearly not because I finally got all of the kinks ironed out. I just decided I was okay with being fucked up. Who the hell wasn’t? I couldn’t really find anyone around me immune to the flood of issues that seemed to decide whether any of us were on our 1st or 5th boyfriend, 4th diet, or 3rd job that year. All of us had issues. Why not just embrace them, find someone who loves us anyway, find a job where we are less likely to get fired, and a circle of friends who don’t need to try to fix us. I guess I just decided I wanted to start living instead of trying to figure out how to live.

So, I shelved my library of 10 Steps to manifesting…, Discovering your Inner…, and Learning to love… I found someone who loved my crazy, I found a job where I couldn’t get fired, no matter how hard I tried, and I found friends who had more exciting things to do other than trying to fix me.

This seemed to work, for the most part. I felt relatively normal. My life looked relatively normal. I had a wonderful partner, a stable job, a group of crazy but highly functional friends.

Well, that didn’t really work either. Turns out, I had some more work to do.

As a lot of us are experiencing, there is no better way to find out or be reminded of what our issues are than to plunge into a relationship. The first twinge of fear we feel that our new love might leave us because of any given issue, and we are suddenly 12 years old again watching our dad drive away or hearing our mom discouraging us from going for that second helping of mashed potatoes.

So here I am once again, a stack of old, dusty books sitting next to me, trying to decide which issue to tackle first. Except, it now seems like those minor issues that were somewhat contained have now metastasized, infiltrating all facets of my life. And there is nothing minor about them.

As I start the process of revisiting all the earmarked pages full of highlighted words of wisdom with my reactions scribbled throughout, I’m kind of just pissed. Didn’t I already do this? You can’t tell me that at least some of these issues didn’t sort themselves out at some point.

And just to make it more interesting, not only did I choose a relationship to remind myself of how ‘fucked up’ I still am, I chose someone who decided it was his mission to tell me exactly how I’m fucked up. Not just in a general sense. No, he was going to actually diagnose me, provide me with textbook definitions describing the extent of my dysfunction, and highlight detailed accounts of my resulting dysfunctional behaviors, patterns, and tendencies.

Believe it or not, this was something that I actually found attractive in the beginning. We both immediately connected because of our issues. We understood them, where they came from, why they manifested the way that they did. We shared our experiences with each other, providing each an intimate window into the other’s past. We could go back there, together, dismantle those terrible memories, but this time with our strongest ally. I thought this to be one of the most powerful ways to conquer our demons. Fear and loneliness feed them, while love and empathy destroy them.

I loved that he was doing the work, that he had identified his tendencies, weaknesses, patterns, etc. He made me want to start knocking out those ‘10 steps to manifesting…’ while ‘discovering my inner…’, and ‘learning to love…’.

And that is exactly what I am now doing…again…minus the relationship part. I now just get to do the self-helping part. But now with the added bonus of having to heal a very broken heart, build back up my self-esteem, decipher between which issues are actually mine and which are the ones he was projecting on me- all while attempting to silence his voice telling me that I am being too judgmental, too needy, too self-absorbed, etc.

There are now a few more than 10 steps that will need to be knocked out.

But there is something very dangerous for any of us embarking upon this path of trying to fix whatever is no longer working in our lives. This path can quickly go downhill, and it is a very slippery slope.

Yes, I believe it is essential to identify what our issues are- where they come from, how they manifest in our lives, and what behaviors they cause. It can actually be extremely reassuring and empowering to give ‘them’ a name. It gives us back some sense of control and sanity to see their official labels recorded in black and white in an official textbook – something definitive that has been researched, categorized, and verified by a professional. The dysfunction that has plagued us our entire lives is now broken down into chemical responses and childhood trauma: nature vs. nurture. We have an official disorder that has an official diagnosis that has a proven cure. Or, if nothing else, a recommended list of coping mechanisms and a suggested pill or two to take in the meantime.

I guess this is my point. It is very easy to get trapped there, in the columns and categories of those textbooks. We get so excited to finally be able to define what is wrong with us and get our hands on a tangible solution to fix it, that suddenly we start throwing around “I am” and “you are” (insert disorder) as casually as we tell each other whether we are a blonde or brunette.

‘I am’.

I believe these to be the two most powerful words there are. Whatever you follow these two words with is exactly what you are now and exactly what you will continue to be. They become your identity.

Just as powerful, and just as dangerous, is what you choose to follow ‘you are’ with. Whatever you follow these two words with is how you are defining the person you love. Yes, they are ultimately responsible for how they define themselves. But don’t you want to be absolutely sure that you are not contributing to an identity they adopt that is damaging, hurtful, or disempowering?

This is all easier said than done, obviously, and anything but black and white. We want to try to understand ourselves, our partners, friends, and children. We want to label the issues, break them down, and find a solution.

It’s just complicated. Often times, we are in different stages of our self-helping, we have different approaches, our issues are too different to understand or too similar to see.

It is complicated, but it is also essential. If we continue to distract ourselves from dealing with our issues- we avoid, hide, run, or deny: the ‘rug’, the ‘elephant’, the ‘skeletons- none of these will get us any closer to experiencing that healthy relationship, intimate friendship, or dream job. If they did, we wouldn’t be here, right? I wouldn’t be writing this. You wouldn’t be reading this. Because what we actually really want is answers. We want to know what the hell went wrong, to identify what is wrong with us, and to find out how the hell to fix it.

I wish I had those answers for you. I don’t.

I recite my daily mantras when standing in line at the post office. I post my favorite inspirational quotes on my mirror. I meditate. I go to yoga. I go to my therapist, and I take my meds. I try to eat well, I try to do all things in moderation…and then usually do everything in excess, burn out, and start over.

Are all or any combination of these things working? Absolutely no idea. But I definitely have some books I can lend you, some definitions I can share with you, and the name of a great therapist.

I keep doing the work. And I keep living. I now refuse to get trapped in a textbook. I refuse to be defined by a diagnosis or by someone else’s diagnosis of me (which I find is usually a sweeping statement that could apply to anyone to a lesser or greater degree).

In short, I try to be okay with not having the answers. I do my best to acknowledge all of things that are ‘right’ about me. I try to let myself take more risks and feel more. I try to laugh more, and I definitely cry more. I get pissed off more, and I try to forgive more. I let myself love more, and I will most likely get hurt more.

And I try to let myself be loved more. I try to let people love me more… me and every last fucked up thing about me.

“No one can tell what goes on in between the person you were and the person you become. No one can chart that blue and lonely section of hell. There are no maps of the change. You just come out the other side. Or you don’t.”             -Steven King

 

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