The number of times I’ve laid in various locations in my various homes in the various places I’ve lived over the past 43 years crying in a heap because I thought I was a giant piece of shit and completely unlovable, unlikable, and unworthy defies quantification.
The truth is that I’ve lived the better part of my life trying to be anyone BUT me because frankly, who the fuck would want to be ME?
I’ve fucked up more than I’ve gotten right, got married for all the wrong reasons (both times), didn’t tell the man I loved that I loved him and he went and died on me, lost pretty much everything (a few times), manage my mother’s retirement but can’t seem to keep my own money in the bank, and have a 17-year-old cat that’s nicknamed The Vomit Comet because he’s better at recycling than the entire city of Portland.
I have stretch marks all over my body because a consistent weight had eluded me for the past 20+ years, I really suck at putting my clothes and shoes away, I see the chair in the corner of my bedroom as a storage unit, and I enjoy eating crunchy things in bed that make crumbs.
I’m a veritable fuck-up. And if I posted the above as an online dating profile, I would get EXACTLY zero hits/winks/messages/flirts and instead, get a plethora of block/hide/don’t show again/provoke membership cancelations by wronged parties.
So today’s Hard Truth is about those voices in your head, because my love, they’d sure as shit better be on YOUR side.
It’s easier to talk about what’s wrong
Goddamn. Isn’t that the truth? If the complete dumpster fire that was the 2016 election has taught us anything, it’s that people are super comfortable talking about anything and everything that is wrong.
Here’s why: When we talk about what’s wrong, we never run out of things to talk about. No one wants to be the asshole who just ran out of words, serenaded by the sound of crickets.
Right now, you can list 30 things that are wrong — with your life, your desk (this fucking desk!), your relationship, your job, your kids, your pets, your car, your neighborhood, this country, race relations, white privilege, feminism, the hem of your dress, the way you look in that sweater, how long you had to wait in line for your coffee, traffic, homelessness, poverty, Syria (fucking Syria, y’all), police brutality, privatized prisons, and that motherfucker who lives on your block and never cleans up after his goddamned dog and you see him just leave the giant turd sitting there at least three times a week from his horse of a hound. I mean, you see it.
That was 22 things and it took me roughly 45 seconds to write. And that really sucks because I could have gone on for another 1000 words with ease.
The saddest part of the ease with which we can talk about the things that are wrong is that where we live each day — social media — reinforces how popular wrong things are to talk about.
Tell me this: How many times have you read a “friend’s” Facebook status about something good and felt the pang of jealousy rip through your gut like two-day-old Chinese food? I mean, this person is your “friend” and their good thing made you feel a bad thing.
Even when we see good, it’s hard to let it in. And then there’s always that asshole in the YouTube comments on the amazing video of Dolly Parton rocking Jolene with Pentatonix and Miley Cyrus (I don’t care who you are, it’s fucking brilliant), saying something hateful about a beautiful musical collaboration.
Fuck that guy. Seriously.
The biggest challenge I think we each face each day is what I call the Default Switch. Where we go as soon as something gets hard and doesn’t feel right. Our comfy place.
And it’s super easy (effortless, even) to make shitty our default switch.
Those voices in our heads — the ones that tell us all the things that are wrong with ourselves and the world around us — we give those fuckers the mic way too often. And the hard truth is THIS LIFE IS YOUR STAGE.
Yours. Not theirs.
And if the voices in your head aren’t on your side, you need (we need) new voices.
I had to learn to talk about what’s good
Have you ever dreaded making a call to a certain someone because you just knew it would be an endurance exercise? You will be in for, as soon as the line on the other end picks up, at least an obligatory 20 minutes of mmmhmmmms and oh, really?s in response to a litany of pains and woes.
I hate those calls to those people. But I know I’ve been that person — the purveyor in woe-is-me and baby, I can bring that shit and serve it up like it’s a curated collection of first-edition books, signed by Jesus Christ himself.
I had to learn to find what’s good. And then I had to learn to talk about it.
Time and silence helped. When I’m running around like a hooker at a dick factory, it’s almost impossible to see the good. I get blinders on and all I can see is dick, dick, dick. When I learned how to be still (it’s not easy) and started asking myself what was good that day, it got easier.
Here’s something that helped me. It’s a little app called Headspace. It’s free with a subscription option (like, $13/mo or $95/prepaid for the year) and cheap at the price. It made me start slowing down 10 minutes a day and most importantly, it put the voices in my head — the ones telling me everything that was wrong — in STFU mode (Shut the Fuck Up for those not well-versed in vulgar acronyms).
I mean, 10 minutes a day. Everyone reading this has 10 minutes a day. Think about one stupid thing you wasted 10 minutes on yesterday and thats your 10 minutes for Headspace.
Once I was able to stop for a few minutes each day and calm the voices down, I started doing something else immediately after my 10-minute (now, I’m up to 20 minutes) meditation: I started making a list of 10 things that were good in my life and the world.
At first it seemed super stupid and gratuitous. There were days it took me forever to make that list of 10 stupid things.
Now, it’s pretty easy. See, I used to judge myself for the things I would put on the list.
But I put Clark Kent yesterday. I should put something new on the list.
That was good for me but that feels really selfish.
Y’know. Shit like that. But I stopped. When it’s a day where it’s hard to make the list, it’s easy to find the good constants in my life, like Clark Kent and my dorky dog Hippo. They can go on the list anytime.
And over the past year, I’ve found more and more people making their way onto my list. And that had a lot to do with how I’ve began curating the people in my life.
I had to take a hard and not-so-fast look at my people
When the voices in your head are telling you you’re shitty and you deserve fuckall, it’s a pretty good time to take a look at the people in your life. Odds are, the people in your life aren’t treating you well.
Returning to an arts and creation-centric career path has put me in touch with powerful people who are in relentless pursuit of awesome, ready to lift others up because they know they can’t reach awesome alone. This is a far cry from the toxic people I’d surrounded myself with (and in many cases, become — because we emulate the behaviors we see rewarded) in the crushing world of startups and consulting.
The people in my world now are generous. Loving. Fun. Honest and vulnerable. They can’t lie, but when they try, you can tell and ask them what’s really wrong. They are friends. They are people who you stand up and raise your hand for when they ask if anyone can help them move. They’re the ones you think of when you see an audition notice that’s perfect for them, so you drop them a link via text and tell them to submit. They’re the ones you have a genuine smile for when you collide mid-day on a random train platform, instead of the grin-and-bear-it cringe.
Good people in your world make it easier to think about good things and feel good. And they’re also the people you want to have around when things turn to shit and you need open arms, dry shoulders to cry on, and loving ears to lay a laundry list of swears on when you just cant hold the hurt in your heart anymore.
So, about those voices in your head
They’d better be on your side, those voices. Life’s hard enough a place to stick around without a herd of fuckers with nothing good to say living rent-free in your psyche. And some people in your life won’t like it when you decide that you want to focus on the good. Hell, I get unsubscribe notices all the time that people miss “the edgy, fuck-you Erika.” Which is okay.
Because I’m not that person anymore. I give no fucks about people who don’t like where I spend the fucks I have to give.
I’ve just found a better way to spend my limited supply of fucks.
And those shitty voices in my head get none of them.
But I won’t lie — there are days where it feels like I’m playing a giant game of whack-a-mole with the shitty voices. Slay one and another pops up.
But that list of all my fuck-ups and unpretty characteristics above…
Yeah, that list. Those things are me.
But the good things that I see about myself each day become easier to see each day. Seeing the good first — few of us are taught that.
But if we can learn one things as grown-ass adults in search of a better life, maybe seeing the good first is one thing worth learning.