For most of my life, whenever I was confronted with extreme emotion – especially the loud, yelling kind – I would shiver like a chihuahua and search desperately for the nearest exit. Not this time. There were some opinions this weekend about how I live my life and they were vehement. Maybe I shouldn’t be proud of standing up, shouting straight in someone’s face. But I am proud. I gave as good as I got and I didn’t sit there and take what was thrown at me – something I did in different situations for a reasonable portion of my twenties. Taking someone else’s story as fact, especially someone else’s story about you, can be poisonous and that poison can eat away at your soul. I know, because I had to spend the first half of my thirties collecting pieces of myself from where I’d abandoned them, chewed up and forgotten.
Obviously, someone else’s opinions and stories won’t bother you unless you see a nugget of truth in them. That’s when other people’s opinions – as infuriating as they can be – are valuable. They can shine a light on a part of you that needs attention and love.
What needs attention and love right now is me.
You can’t ignore a child and expect them to flourish, you can’t ignore your career and expect it to expand, you can’t ignore a houseplant and expect it to be all perky and green. You can’t ignore yourself – your real self, whatever that means to you – and expect to thrive.
I need to surrender my habit of allowing my worth to be determined by outside factors. I need to surrender the fear that makes that possible – the fear of not being enough, the fear of not doing enough, the fear of not doing it right. Because when I judge my value by based on what I’ve written, the zeros in my bank balance, how my family thinks of me, how men think of me, it detracts from me.
When I get caught in a loop like this, it’s like I float out of my body. I go about my life. I look before I cross the street, I answer email, I do the dishes. But I’m not conscious of any of it. My brain is so far lost in what has happened or what might happen that I have no idea what is happening.
That’s why I’m proud of myself for being angry. It took me a long time to learn how to be that present with my emotions or that willing to share them. I dropped right into what was happening and anger is was what I found. It felt pure, somehow. It was a pure emotion that burned through me and I allowed the fire to the surface, instead of letting it blacken my internal organs. Without even trying, I fought fair. I was mad, but I didn’t hurl accusations or character denigrations. I just let how I was feeling in that moment fly.
Now when I think about how to let go of identifying myself through other people’s stories, I start to worry. Worry about how I can change that, how I can do it right, how I can be right so I can get what I want. Doing exactly what I’m trying to move away from.
But if I drop into the present moment, things start to feel clear. It’s a crisp, sunny day in San Francisco. I’m sitting in a cafe with a latte and a bagel. I can see the sun shine on dark blue and bright green and warm orange. I can take a deep breath, my fingers can type, I have legs that can run, and a brain that can think – and then accept when it’s time to stop thinking. I have plenty of money for the moment and ideas on how to extend that moment into the more socially acceptable future. I have a home today, I’ll have a different home on Saturday, and I have several good options for homes in the future. I have friends who love me and things to look forward to. I have so much and, when I focus on that, it’s hard to remember why I was worried in the first place.