I think what I’ve realized is that pain will haunt you. It can be distracted away. You can drink until you forget. You can shoot up until it feels good. You can eat, fuck, gossip, binge, binge, binge until you think the pain has dispersed and found another home to ruin. But, the pain will rattle around in your bones. It will hide itself until you think you’ve nixed it, until you think you’ve forgotten it, and then it will resurface, ready to rob you of that joy on your face.
It’s difficult to fathom how much time and energy you will expend trying to stuff down that pain. Avoidance and distraction become your two closest friends when all you want is to forget. And, the thing about what you avoid is that whatever it is you’re not facing ends up multiplying. The more you refuse to look at it, the larger it grows. Make a habit of forcing yourself to forget and distracting away the truth and happiness, harmony, peace will be distant hopes on the horizon that push themselves further and further away.
It’s dramatic, but we have an avoidance and distraction problem. When the pinnacle of emotional success and okayness is the illusion and superficial look of happiness, we will always find it difficult to let ourselves be where we are when we are there. A movement of positive thinking has made us nearly incapable of emotional fortitude and soulful resiliency. Forcing happiness upon ourselves is not strength. The only thing that matters about happiness is how we feel and when we give ourselves an illusion of happiness in order to project it out to others, we do nothing for ourselves except continue the lie that our joy exists on the other side of our ability to distract ourselves from our pain.
There is nothing particularly strong about taking all measures necessary to avoid ourselves. When our insecurities and fears become aspects of ourselves we feel compelled to cover up and hide away, we do ourselves (and our peace of mind) a disservice. We teach ourselves that happiness requires delusion. But, delusion is weakness. Only when we give ourselves permission to face down the monsters, the darkness, the demons that live inside all of us, do we find ourselves on the opposite end of weakness. It’s the strangest dichotomy of our time that vulnerability and the instinct to expose ourselves fully is actually what will bring us inner strength. That being exposed is safe is the oddest contradiction.
I’ve always wanted to be strong. For most of my life, I have appeared strong and confident to others. Yet, this strength and confidence that they would see was not mine. It was an illusion. It was built off delusion, off being alarmingly talented at avoiding and distracting myself away from any emotional response. As someone who feels very deeply, I had learned early on in my life that I could easily be swallowed by my sensitivity and so I built up barricades. My walls were not obvious because who I would present to the world was charming and likable, someone distracting other people away from her own problems. For many years, vulnerability was not even a word in my vocabulary, never mind something I actually practiced.
And yet, I desired strength, which I misinterpreted as the appearance of strength, not the feel of it. I was not yet aware this was a key distinction in my life, that just because others labeled me as happy or strong or beautiful or confident did not mean these things were true. These attributes were only as true as I believed them to be. And, I did not believe in my own strength (or happiness or beauty or confidence).
Over the past couple years, I have allowed myself to be vulnerable, to admit openly to myself that I am at times fallible, insecure, unsure, petty, judgmental, and any number of unfavorable attributes that I spent years repressing and disallowing myself to feel or confront. When I look back on that stretch of time, I see that I have healed many parts of myself, but more importantly, I have emptied out all the parts which convinced me that how I felt was invalid and shameful. I have let myself be honest. I have seen the truth of who I am. I have peeled back layers that I had been avoiding for over a decade. It has been terrifying and exhausting and excruciating and laborious, but lately I have noticed the fruits of my labor. I have seen new pockets of strength within me. A true strength, and a true foundation of self. I have watched my sense of self transform from a straw man into something real, something true, something I can believe in. I can trust who I am and I don’t think I’ve ever been able to say that before without silently knowing I actually couldn’t.
It’s a weird sensation: to finally understand and make sense of a years-long effort which was mostly experienced in the dark, with uncertainty and doubt. Of course, part of this knowingness is also the knowledge that this does not indicate a sense of lasting happiness. I no longer live within the delusion that I can hold onto anything. Everything is fleeting and I do not fight against that truth. But, at least, I know I can weather it. I have proven to myself that I am capable, that whatever uncertainties lie on that horizon before me, I believe I can withstand. I do not believe anymore that I can lose myself and perhaps on the off-chance that I do—lose myself, that is—I know what home feels like and I can follow that light—however far into the distance it may be—back to here.
And, maybe, without even knowing what I was fumbling for in the dark, I’ve found something I never knew I needed.