Some observations from rock bottom

Today, one of the people I follow on Twitter — a friend I’ve never met in real life, but who I hold dear, as I do so many of my Twitterati — wrote this:

Each time I’ve made significant changes in my life, I’ve hit rock bottom first. I need a strategy to help break that cycle.

Although I don’t know her very well, I felt the truth of her sentences all the way to the center of my heart and soul. I too feel as if I have never managed to change my life-path until issues were forced, walls were hit, dead ends and edges of cliffs reached.

If you wait until things are so bad it seems the choice is between change or death, then you don’t have to take responsibility for the change. If you wait until things are so out of control it feels as if the choice is between killing yourself or upending everything and starting anew, then you don’t have to take responsibility if things go badly, if the change turns out to be a mistake, if your choice is wrong.

Many times in the past few years when things have been less than optimal I have said, “Well, I didn’t have a choice. I was going to die if I didn’t change things.”

So, reading the quote from the Twitter-friend pushed many, many buttons in me. Buttons that are almost worn away from being pushed, time and again, especially of late, buttons not unlike a snooze-alarm that goes off at regular intervals and I keep pushing, turning away, tearfully (or angrily) pleading, “Just give me some more time, please,” before crawling back under the covers and refusing to face the challenges of the day.

I answered:

Sometimes, find I’ve allowed cultural/others’ expectations of/for me to supercede my heart/soul path & pain is that divergence.

Which is a deep, soul-truth of mine and a major part of why I keep pushing that button. I have lost track of knowing — if I ever really did know — what it is I want, who I want to be, how I want to be, because the noise of the world’s expectations has always been too loud for me.

When I was born, the local Irish-Catholic ruler/seer of the small town in which my father’s family was centered saw me and did one of her vision-gasps, predicting: “He’s the one, that one, God picked him, the first American Pope!” A story I was told, again and again.

When I was seventeen months old and my father died, I stopped crying. Aged into near adulthood in infancy overnight. My aunt told me that since I had been born I had been comforting people, that I had a gift for empathy and holding others up. I don’t think this is actually true, but it was told to me, again and again.

When I went to school, I was already able to read, thanks to my aunt, Sissie. By second grade, I was so far ahead of the other children, the nuns had nothing for me to do. They assigned me first graders to “read” with, as in, tutor. And when we took Catholic school testing, I was pulled aside and told I had tested higher than any student in the country and God must have a very special plan for me and I should be very careful not to fail Him. I doubt my test scores were that high, but it was told to me, again and again.

When I dropped out of school at sixteen, a local theatre teacher took me under her wing. She sent me to a program at a theatre in Baltimore. One of the teachers there told me, “You are great, but you are not good,” (which I later learned Ruth Gordon had said about Barbra Streisand, so, plagiarism) and then said, “A talent like yours — that voice and that ability to bleed truth from the soul, is a great responsibility. Don’t fuck it up.”

When I grew older and it became clear I wasn’t going to be a pope, or fulfill any plan of any — now small g — god, nor any sort of real actor, singer, performer (I was not only not good, I wasn’t great either), all that I had left was my empathy, my gift for holding other people up. And, again, Sissie saying, “What you really are is a writer, and sooner or later, that book will happen!”

I felt, always, it was my role — my job — to take care of everyone else. Which is funny, because I am practically unable to take care of myself. Or, so I have always believed.

Here’s the thing: I realized that the definition of “take care of myself” by which I was measuring me — like the definitions of “god’s special plan” and “a talent like yours” and “success” and “love” and — well, all those yardsticks by which we try to measure the answer to the question, “Am I good enough?” were parameters set by other people. On real examination, most of them didn’t ring true to me.

But I was programmed to please. So much so, I spent decades of my life trying to make happy where happy would never be made. I couldn’t have friends or love, because to do so was a betrayal.

My problem. My choice. No one but me to blame. But it took rock bottom for me to say no. It took a few years of me praying every night that I would die in my sleep, or that the chest pains and sorrow I felt, the physical force of my unhappiness, would finally make my heart stop beating.

I left that situation. Am I better off? Yes. I’d have died had I stayed. I have made many friends, soul-deep friends, casual friends. I have done things without fear that what I’m doing — joys I might have — would be judged as betrayals. I have slowly come to believe I am entitled to some joy, some self, without having to ask permission.

I am about to spend a week in New York during which I will visit with new friends (and old friends with whom I have reconnected) and meet people in real life who I have only spoken to on Twitter, and, equally important, I will spend time with myself in a place that has always felt like home to me, always felt like the location where my heart and soul are most at ease, a place that has always been my impossible “I’m not good enough” dream of a life.

It wasn’t, it turns out, this life. And, for the past few days, I have been crying, berating myself, wondering what I might have done, songs I might have sung, loves I might have loved, books I might have written, had I learned — believed — earlier that I was enough.

I need your help, to remind me that the yardstick I’m using to measure “enough” — of all the cruel others who told me what I was not, or what I ought, the most harsh judge of all has been me.

This, right now, is bottom — again — for me. Stories I can’t quite tell, ways in which I have set myself up for rejections and affirmations of the sort: “You are not enough. Not smart enough. Not young enough. Not pretty enough. Not employed enough. Not forgiving enough. Not empathetic enough. Not Not Not Not.”

So, I’m in some pain down here at rock bottom. But, since I’m here, a change is gonna come. Right?


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