Sorry. As a Canadian I am intimately familiar with that word. We are considered a polite people but it is possible that we are just more passive-aggressive than some of our neighbours. It is true that we have a tendency to apologize, so here goes. Sorry I haven’t been around more for the past two weeks. I am working on a project in a different medium that is consuming my time right now and will return to writing next week. The problem isn’t that I don’t feel inspired, it’s simply that I’m too ADHD to concentrate on just one project at a time.
You only have one life, you might as well try to make it an effective and exciting one!
Anyone who works in the mental health industry can tell you that almost everyone struggles with crippling self-esteem for some of their life.
It is an epidemic.
We are a generation that cannot love ourselves and are intimately aware of our shortcomings. You don’t really need to tell me my faults; I have spent much more time fixated on them than you have. I know my personality quirks, some of you have pointed them out time and again. I know that I have issues, I really do. Chances are that you are keenly aware of your foibles as well.
I’m losing my hair. Actually I have been losing my hair for most of my adult life but for some reason the process has been ridiculously slow, for which I am somewhat grateful. Every now and then someone will delight in pointing out this fact to me – like I haven’t spent hours squinting in the mirror bemoaning my fate. I like to turn to them and exclaim, “I am? I did not know that!”. I turn around, pretending to try to look at the back of my head and mumble, “Are you sure?” This usually shuts them up, at least until the next time. Some of you know what I am talking about – you have weight issues, or a mole, or some physical issue you aren’t proud of. SInce you were young people have commented on your mole. Kids made fun of you. Someone has called you ‘fatty’ or ‘four-eyes’, or ugly or short or whatever. Apparently you did not know you were fat – it was awful nice of them to let you know.
I used to have a female acquaintance who seemed to derive great joy from pointing out my physical shortcomings; she thought it was hilarious. I, however, found it less than amusing. At the time I was struggling with how I looked and her cruel attempts at humour only entrenched the insecurities I already had. To this day if someone compliments me on my looks I am prone to be dismissive and blow them off. My wife, who understands me better than most, is apt to say, “shut up and take the compliment”. She’s good for me… and a redhead. I have a few other friends who know me enough to see beneath my overt confidence and realize that, like most of us, I am prone to feel bad about myself.
Growing up I was taught by an unforgiving society that any attempt at self-promotion was called “arrogance”. Telling others you were awesome was an unforgivable sin and punishable by derision and scorn. Adults told me, told you, not to brag because bragging about yourself was very, very wrong. Be humble, I was taught. People who talk about themselves are egomaniacs.
I have learned a little about ego and narcissism since those days.
“Liking yourself” is usually not a sign of an insecure and arrogant person. People who are ok with who they are do not need the approval of others and are usually not fixated with gleaning the approval of others. Self-confidence is a very good thing, when authentic. Appreciating your skills and personality, even loving yourself, is a very good thing. It’s time for someone to say it – it’s important to like who you are.
It’s time to make peace with you.
I am keenly aware that I will probably never be perfect. I am fairly certain that I am not going to be an underwear model anytime soon (hold on to that visual image…). Chances are I am never going to be famous. I might even turn out to be a bald old man some day. I’m trying to be good with that.
As I have often said on this blog, the opposite of poor self-esteem is not good self-esteem. The opposite of poor self-esteem is self-acceptance. Learning to like and appreciate who you are is perhaps the meaning of life or at least the beginning of wisdom. There is nothing you can do about your shape, beyond cosmetic changes. Most of you are going to gradually lose the fight with gravity, the older you get. You may never be rich or famous or popular.
Are you ever going to be ok with that?
There is no magic formula for poor self-esteem. There is no way you can suddenly think you are awesome when you have spent a lifetime loathing who you are. Healing begins with putting away the microscope and the unrealistic expectations. You don’t need to pretend you are something you can never be. Making peace with your shortcomings has nothing to do with thinking you are beautiful or perfect or brilliant. It has everything to do with putting down your weapons of self-destruction and refusing to let yourself fixate on what is missing. Like most things in life it’s about changing how you think, not how you look.
Women: We don’t snore, we don’t perspire, and we don’t pass wind. If we didn’t bitch, we’d explode! —Kathleen Madigan
If it wasn’t for whining I probably wouldn’t have a job.
No one likes a whiner, so they say. This is a truism that is, not surprisingly, often true. Going around in life complaining about everything from the weather to your lot in life is a great way to die alone.
There is a time and a place for everything (I am cliché guy today, apparently). We have been taught, however, that repressing your feelings is also not helpful and there are actual psychological disorders for people who cannot, or will not, deal with their feelings. Whining has a cathartic effect for the same reason talk therapy works. I don’t really know the logistics of how it works, but it does. I’ve seen it thousands of times.
As you have no doubt discovered by now, I am not really talking about whining. I needed a cool tagline that would entice you to read this far and hyperbole helps clarify and get us thinking. “Whining” is considered a character flaw. The problem is that we have a tendency to label any honest complaint, any legitimate need to unpack, as whining. As children we are forced to “keep our opinions to ourself”. We are taught from early childhood, “If you don’t have anything to say, don’t say anything at all.” Again, true… sort of. As we grow we devalue our feelings, minimize our issues, and stuff our pain and frustration down.
“There is always someone who has it worse than you!”. Who cares! Sometimes that isn’t very helpful. Of course some people are dying, losing someone, battling stuff I can’t even imagine. I get that. The problem is, again, that this doesn’t make me feel any better. It minimizes my pain, your pain. It is a critical statement that puts us in our place at the expense of our heart and mental health. It is a reminder that you are weak, or pathetic, or self-indulgent.
So feel sorry for yourself if you want to – but give yourself a time limit. Let those bad feeling flow, but not for an entire day or even an hour. For some reason this actually can help, when done honestly and with a measure of restraint. Don’t stay there, however. Maybe you need to talk to someone, someone who is not your best friend who loves you, but lacks objectivity. Perhaps that friend is just what you need and I am wrong. Whatever you do, do something.
Just keep moving, you whiner (kidding).
I am getting shockingly old. I’m not quite sure how it happened but one day I was mildly cool (back when cool was a thing) and seemingly the next day I was old. How did this happen? I was always the younger, crazier, extremophile. I have a one year old grandchild now. What the hell happened!?
The older you get the faster time seems to go. This is not just an illusion, it’s a scientific fact that is just one more way aging sucks. When I was a teen life went on forever. I was never going to get old. I remember watching a rerun of Logan’s Run wherein people were zapped when they hit 25 (or went to heaven). I have a vivid recollection of thinking, “What’s the big deal, you’re 25!” Where did the time go?
There is an old cliché which goes something like this, “Make the rest of your life the best of your life.” It’s cheesy, as clichés are, but also contains a grain of truth. Have you ever noticed how old people tend to be a caricature of themselves? Their nose and ear hair aren’t the only things that keep growing. It seems like seniors tend to go one of two ways, either more bitter or more gracious. Some old people could teach classes on bitterness. The accumulated effect of tragedy and pain, age and trauma, just leaches the happy out of some older adults. The closer they come to death the less they seem to live. Maybe this is nature’s way of preparing us for death but I really don’t want anything to do with it.
I remember some years ago seeing a religious punk band in the states and noticing that there was this really really old guy dancing in the front row with piercings, and leather and a shaved head. It seemed kind of comical until I found out this was his band. The kids on stage were being mentored by this aging Fonzie. When I spoke to them about him they suddenly perked up and stared at me, straight in the eye. This guy was their hero. He was the coolest old fart they had ever met. They worshiped the ground this geriatric walked on. This was their pastor, their mentor, their biggest fan and supporter. I was inspired.
I want to be like that old dude. I want to live my second half in such a way that shocks the conservatives and inspires the youth. I want to suck the marrow out of life and leave on a thunderbolt. No one wants to look back at their life and wish they had given it a better effort. I may never be rich or famous but I want to be effective, leave a legacy, change lives. There has to be more to life than accumulating a bunch of junk and arriving at death with a good-looking corpse.
i occasionally show up at parties my kids go to. Don’t get me wrong, I have a standing invitation. My boys hang out with people I like and who give me a measure of respect, probably because I am so damn old. It’s an amazing experience, hanging out with people half my age who appear actually happy to see me. I get to play the icon for a few minutes, the one old fart who is having a good time with them on a Saturday night.
Someday, when I am much older, I want to still show up at the party for a good time. I can’t stop the aging process but I can decide what kind of old fart I want to be. Making the next part of my life the best part of my life is entirely my choice. I have some things I never had before, things like wisdom and experience which others find helpful. It’s up to me whether or not anyone will want to listen.
I’ve confessed before on this website that I work part-time at a drug and alcohol counseling service on the west coast. Over the years there I have learned a few things, and nothing more important than this – many of us choose to spend our lives chasing a feeling of “good” or “better”. We are convinced that there must be something more to life We have been taught that if we could just change our situation, or take a certain pill, or find someone to love us, then we will feel magically feel “good”.
It’s a trap.
Real life has very little to do with feeling good. There are obviously other, much more important things than feeling something that is fleeting and ultimately deceptive. If you don’t believe me just ask anyone who has struggled with addiction.
Quitting drugs and alcohol is relatively easy, seen in perspective. There is the initial detoxification, usually 5-6 days of discomfort and sick. Depending on any number of factors you may experience sweating, restless-leg syndrome, diarrhea, upset stomach, itchiness, and usually insomnia. Five or six very, very long days that seem to go on forever, then they end. This is traditionally followed by a period of general wellbeing, unless you are coming off of opiates. These little babies have an added bonus – you may have a week or more of absolute exhaustion. What the opiates giveth the opiates taketh away…
Quitting a destructive habit is relatively doable. Unfortunately this is, contrary to some 12-step nazis you may know, only a small part of the issue. The real battle is your life, the other 95% of addiction that is often not mentioned. Your life is your problem, not the meth (take that in context).
After the initial bad stuff addicts often experience a period of months wherein things go much better – they are excited about new possibilities and feelings, they actually have feelings that they allow themselves to enjoy. Food starts tasting better, activities that were once arduous become enjoyable again. You begin to believe that things can change, can really change. This period is rarely long-lasting and usually sets up a person in recovery for a fall.
That’s the thing about addiction. If there is an evil, it is addiction. It’s that old Bugs Bunny cartoon with the good angel and the evil angel speaking into your ear. Drugs are amazing, that’s why people do them. For a while. Ever after you remember the good times and it’s convenient to forget that this is the same voice that took your joy, your relationships, and stole your soul. That’s the thing about evil, if it sounded like evil we wouldn’t be tempted. In the movies the best Satan is the one that is cool, not creepy. Did you see Constantine? Sexy, french, white Armani suit. Very “satan-y”. Evil doesn’t look like that guy in the alley wearing the trench coat. Evil feels right at the time – it tells us what we want to hear, it speaks only good things into that void that is desperately looking for happy. It’s like… dating!
As the good book says, there is a wide road, a way that seems right at the time, but the end is destruction. That voice that has been breathing on you is wrong. It’s the voice that tells you that you have been ripped off by life. It’s the same voice that tells you that if you can find someone else to love you, then you will be happy. It’s the noise telling you that the real world is boring (which it is) and you need to feel better, or feel something, or just feel different. Many of us spend our entire life chasing the dragon, trying to feel something different, something better, something “good”. It is, after all, a wide road.
We’ve been raised on Coke commercials and beer ads telling us that life is about spiking volleyballs, being young and thin, and partying in Jamaica. It’s very intoxicating, this quest for feeling good. It often reflects a deep sense of dis-ease with our lives and a pervading sense that life isn’t turning out the way we imagined when we were young and dumb. There has been far more disappointment and hurt than was advertised. This is often coupled with some intrinsic understanding of our own mortality, of missed opportunities, and of a life that seems to be steaming forward faster and faster. Add the hurt of others, the pain of failed relationships, the boredom of the routine, the lack of money to live the rock star dream, and the horrific struggles with self-worth that most of us battle all our lives and you have a potent cocktail that is screaming out for something more. Some of us drink or take Percocets. Others of us do a variety of more socially acceptable forms of self-abuse and soul crushing.
Here’s one more interesting fact about addiction. The very thing that you are looking for with addiction is the very thing that gets taken away from you. Ask a opiate user and most will admit to you that they started abusing their meds because they felt a sense of energy or a ‘warm hug’ that opioids initially provide. You can get an enormous amount of work done high on meth or Oxys, or even some strands of pot. You are amazed by the general feeling of “good” you have been missing for so long out in Normieland. Everything about the up-front experience with drugs is awesome – more happy, more energy, a great sense of focus, being stoned. Months later when you can not get out of bed because you are exhausted after sleeping twelve hours you still wonder if taking another pill or whatever will give you back the happy it has so subtly taken away from you. One of the single hardest things to do with an addict in counseling is help them enjoy things that were once fun but no longer hold any thrill. Their whole life has become deadened. What the drug giveth…
The thing is, the real world doesn’t make you happy, so get over it. My job may be amazing but it can still suck if I decide it will. I have an amazing family that I can choose to abuse or ignore if I want. I have been able to experience more than many people in this life and I can easily decide to live a life of bitterness or regret or jealousy or fear. Life in the real world involves lowering your expectations – sorry but it’s true. It’s only once we change our mind that our life truly begins to change. Anyone can quit smoking, given enough help. Not wanting to smoke is a different kettle of fish, as they say. People who constantly battle with weight, or smoking, or pretty much any issue in this arena understand implicitly that “just stopping” doesn’t really work. You may white-knuckle yourself out of eating that Whopper but nothing has changed. It’s no surprise, then, that counselors will tell you “change your mind and your butt will follow” (ok, not all counselors but ones that sound exactly like me). Changing what you do rarely is enough.
Changing how you think about what you do is everything.
Many years ago someone told me to “Imagine that I was setting up two lines to snort. One line would be cocaine, my drug of choice. The other line is Drano”. Now the someone asked me, “Which one is worse for you?” Well, the answer was obvious, wasn’t it? Of course the Drano is worse for you, it’s a horrific poison. The cocaine, on the other hand, makes you high (which is good) and then doesn’t kill you (which is also good). The choice is obvious.
“Wrong!” he said.
“If you snort the Drano you are only going to snort the Drano one time. In fact, you may not even snort much of this Drano. The experience is going to be intense, real, and relatively short. You will learn some valuable lessons about Drano. You will be able, after little prodding, to convince yourself that you will never snort Drano again.”
Obviously you see my point.
There is a way that seems right…
It’s one thing to live, it’s another thing altogether to have a life. Spending your whole life looking for something outside yourself to give your life meaning is an invitation to heartache. Many of us are learning that no one else is going to take responsibility for making me whole and I have only one short life to figure out how to be happy.
I can blame the world for my life but in the end no one but me loses.
I wish I could say I have learned all these lessons. I can’t even say I came up with all this rant. What I have learned, however, is that I need to keep thinking about this stuff until something rubs off on me. I am constantly tempted to do what is cheap and feels good at the expense of something better. The more I learn about myself and my demons the more I change, and that has to be a good thing. Learning to sign a peace treaty with my insecurity and poor self-image can’t help but make a difference in my life.
It’s easy to pontificate like this to a bunch of strangers. It’s another thing altogether to have to live this stuff out in front of people who I can hurt.
It’s an odd sort of day, today. After 21 years of driving my kids to school, today instead I’m driving myself. My 5 kids are finished school and I’m beginning. I have a studio art class this afternoon and an art history and beginner French later this week I’m both excited and weirded out.
Change always feels so uncomfortable at first, doesn’t it. Like new clothes you were happy to buy, but not so much to wear. I actually have a couple pairs of never worn coloured denims, bought in the spring, still tagged, waiting in my drawer. They just don’t feel like old faves yet, and make me notice myself too much. Maybe that’s what it is about change, it makes us notice ourselves too much…
Yesterday a friend and I loosely talked about our upcoming fall plans over lunch. I say ‘loosely’ because I’m almost a little afraid to believe in new things, in plans. And yet here one has arrived in spite of. A new ‘great perhaps’ stretching in front…
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