I haven’t written for a long time because when you’re sorting through whatever-the-fuck, being personal can be very scary. First, because it’s so easy to get too personal when you’re still miles from an a-ha moment or, worse: a not-so-steady place in your very special sect of recovery. (And honestly, aren’t we all in some form of recovery right now? Who among is isn’t at least a little fucked up?)
I’ve spent the last almost-half-a-year (Jesus!) trying to sift through the feelings that were starting to dictate so much of my day: I knew I still wanted to be a writer, but I didn’t know what I wanted to write anymore. I knew I liked to share my stories, but I also know that I can be a reactionary person who often doesn’t take enough time to work through what’s brought me to a specific place. I knew that vulnerability doesn’t scare me, but I know that “vulnerability” has been used by me in a very fluid sense — I’m “vulnerable” in that I share some things, but keep back key pieces of information that would help me get better or let my friends get close to me. And I knew that I’ve often used writing as a means of validation. Because I, like most of us, have that awful need to be liked and/or appreciated. And I realized over the course of the pandemic (which still rages on in Ontario, by the way) that relying on the approval of other people was, well, fucking terrible.
Which is something I know I’m not alone in. Most people want to be liked and loved and respected and understood. Most of us aspire to be looked upon fondly by people we know and (especially) people we don’t. I mean, hi: look at us over on Instagram, hashtagging to high heavens and contrived as shit. But also, most of us know this and can treat the app as just that without hanging our entire self worth on whether something is shared enough times. My problem is that when it comes to my work, I’ve tied myself so tightly to productivity the hustle culture myth that I was left not knowing who I really was. Or maybe even worse: I didn’t know why I was doing any of it. Did I really like writing or did I like the promise that if I just kept going, things and life and assignments would just get better and better? Was I tethered to that myth that if you work hard enough, you can outrun who you really are and land softly in the arms of an industry (any industry) that loves and champions you?
Well, duh. Of course I was. Who wants to slow down long enough to acknowledge how burned out they’d become? (A sign of weakness. No!) Who wants to try to face and being unpacking your demons when you can put on your public face and play into the character you’ve created for yourself? Who wants to do the work — the real work? The work that won’t earn you anything but the ability to go about your day without wanting to slide into a pit of quicksand?
And alas, here we are. At some point this spring, I realized that I was Don Draper (yet again), hugging that man at the end of season seven, stripped of polish and persona, and literally embracing the feelings that weren’t meant to see the light of day. I realized that for everything I say about embracing one’s baggage, I still saw mine as dead weight; literal tonnes of reasons why I will only ever be worthy of love and a lovely guy and friendship and any semblance of a career if I can outrun it through working and performing and pretending I’ve solved any and all aspects of my past. I may write and speak openly about my mental health and alcoholism, but that doesn’t mean I’ve necessary made space for those things in a real way. I’m the queen of compartmentalization. I can acknowledge what I’ve dealt with and will deal with forever while telling myself that if I don’t look at them directly, they’ll leave me alone.
And it doesn’t actually work. At some point, and after many weeks and months, you begin to tug at your spool of thread just enough (with the help of a therapist or pal or mom or dad or whomever) and begin to acknowledge that you’ve only ever been just you; that your mental health is part of a richer, longer story and that your drinking (or lack thereof) is a disease to be respected, but not ashamed of. And you also realize that you do, as a human being, need to feed yourself; that you need to eat despite spending decades doing the opposite because you believe shrinking yourself is what you deserve, and when you’re just tiny enough, you’ll have proved that you’re worthy of adulation. You make the link that addiction and anorexia really like to hang out, and that being “in recovery” is fucking solid, and “totally recovered” is a myth. And then you look at the life you have, and realize that you never really needed to run away from it. That your friends and your family and the cats and most people you like and talk to have always loved you, and never asked you to take on the starring role as yourself in a movie about you.
Which is a lot. It’s a shit-ton! Fuck, guys, it’s been a real winter/spring. But for the first time, I feel like I’m writing to you from a place of myself instead of who I hope you’ll be entertained by when you click on the link. And I’m writing to you from within the comfort of my stupid little life — my simple afternoon of typing outside on my parents’ deck while my neighbour plays his guitar for his kids (it is very adorable!!), and the McDonalds drive-thru is backed up across the plaza because not a single one of us is above delicious cuisine. Cheryl Strayed ends Wild with the following quote, which I’m obsessed with:
“It was my life — like all lives, mysterious and irrevocable and sacred. So very close. So very present, so very belong to me.”
And I think I finally understand that now. I think I’m getting closer to finally being enough. I think I’m finally ready to sit still and to treat what I do with the respect of something I really enjoy and means a lot to me, instead of a stepping stone to some new realm of success. I think learning to like and see yourself is plenty successful. And I think to be able to share feelings and stories with people you like and love and laugh with is even more so.
Will I go back on this at some point, likely in a moment of feeling super-low or convinced I got it all wrong? Of course. But that’s what recovery looks like. A lot of unfinished business that you start to organize, even if you still have to keep it all in some 1980s office-era filing cabinet. But hey, that’s just part of my stupid little life. And I’m excited to get to live in it.