I am the one thing in life I can control
I am inimitable, I am an original
I am not falling behind or running late
I am not standing still, I am lying in wait
Life doesn’t discriminate between the sinners and the saints
It takes and it takes and it takes and we keep living anyway
We rise and we fall and we break and we make our mistakes
And if there’s a reason I’m still alive while so many have died
I’m willing to wait for it. – Hamilton, “Wait For It”
I spent this summer feeling like garbage. Not in the sense that I was sick, or mentally disturbed (there were times where I did feel like that, of course). But I felt like literal, human garbage. Like I was someone you could tie up in a neat, fragrance-packed knot, and place on the road for the trucks to sweep up or the cats to find.
I don’t say this for pity. I don’t want your pity. It was what it was. It is what it is.
A few months ago, I went through a very traumatic, very messy situation. It was traumatic because I made it traumatic. It was messy because I went in like a hammer. I think Miley got it wrong when she said she came in like a wrecking ball. A hammer goes for smaller targets. It hits hard. You can aim a hammer.
I was all in, entirely committed. A little too committed. Sometimes I acted like I should’ve been committed. And I gave up too much of myself. Not because I was being asked to, I want to clarify. None of this was coming from anybody but me. It was my first time feeling anything that real. I felt like I had to be whatever fit the very model of a modern, major woman. Because that would have made us fit. That would have made us last. That would have made me worthy of whatever this was.
At times, I became someone I didn’t recognize. I muzzled my voice.
But it was okay! Love changes you sometimes, so it’s okay. Love makes you change everything about yourself to fit a highly idealized picture in your head that will probably never come to fruition because for the love of god you’re human. Right?
I imagined wild pictures of a blissful future, papering over my vast problems. I kept running out of money, which deeply embarrassed me because it reminded me that I was nearly 30 and didn’t have a full time job, which made me feel like a colossal failure. I didn’t get into a PhD program, which ruined my conception of what I thought my life should be like. I cried all the time. I gained weight. I felt useless. Like garbage.
But I pretended it was fine. Everything was fine, I told myself as I stared at my phone, night after night, because God forbid I engage in actual conversation. God forbid I actually open up. I was so afraid.
And then it all fell apart.
Afterwards, I went a little, well, crazy. I tried to demand answers. I found myself circling a drain of self-loathing I thought I had left behind when I kicked my eating disorder, but now since I didn’t want to binge or hurt my body, I lost days of my life to tears. I lost people in my life that meant the world to me. When I look back at the time, I feel deep guilt and embarrassment.
My problems – my attachments, my inability to be my own person, my lack of stable finances – ate me alive. I didn’t really have a life outside. So when this major event happened, I didn’t just lose one aspect of my life. I lost people I considered my family. I lost, what I thought was everything, because – and this was a big epiphany – I had nothing left of myself anymore.
So there I was. On my own. And I had no idea how to handle it, because I had no life outside of this thing that had consumed me for so many years. And of course, I did all of the things people do in these situations – I threw out everything that meant something during that time, I Facebooked things I shouldn’t have, I looked at pictures of new relationships and used them as excuses to get really, really sad. But I started to realize that maybe the reason this was all hitting me so hard was because I had allowed myself to be so consumed by something, that I completely forgot to take care of myself and my own needs. And as a feminist, that realization didn’t just break my heart. It pissed me off!
If any young girls are reading this – do not make those mistakes. Have your own life. Because when things go wrong, as they sometimes do, you will find yourself feeling marooned in a vast sea of your own making.
My friends kept telling me “you’re handling things remarkably well.” That amused me, because my friends weren’t seeing me when I would go home at night, lay in bed, look at the laundry that wasn’t done, the floors that weren’t swept, the garbage that wasn’t taken out, and be unable to sleep for hours because of the pit of gnawing anxiety that had settled itself around my heart. Why should I take out the garbage? The garbage is still here. It’s inside of me. I can’t let go of garbage in my heart.
And of course, in the deepest recesses of the night, the fear that snuck up on me and has been tiptoeing around the edges of my soul since I was first thrown down at the playground. There is no point to love. You will be put out into the street with the other garbage, and taken away to rot.
My therapist says I rely too much on an arbitrary timetable for my life and that I’m being way too hard on myself. To that, I responded, “I’m hard on myself because no one tells me not to be.”
When you live the life I live, surrounded by people who have done ridiculously accomplished things, it can be hard to not feel like a little troll in the corner belching out inadequacies left and right. My mom used to joke around with me that I have the skin of a tortoise. Hard, impenetrable, impervious to mockery or jokes. And in 80% of my life, that’s true. Not when it comes to this. When it comes to this point in my life, every setback gets me in the soft underbelly.
I tried to stay as busy as I possibly could because any time i was alone, I felt the white heat of grief come in like a torrent. I spent several hours in my car, listening to songs girls listen to when this shit happens (obviously Taylor Swift’s entire discography got played the hell out this summer) and slowly, quietly, saying goodbye to a version of my life that I thought would come true and didn’t.
Now, there have been absolutely incredible things that have happened to me personally this year. I wrote an Afterword to a book that got published. I spoke at a conference. I got a job as a freelancer. I published an article on Upworthy that got nearly 2,000 likes. I talked to several people about possibly writing a book. I’m probably going to end up writing more than one book by the time I’m 31. I’m back in theater when I thought I would never get on stage again. I’m singing again, and in front of people! And now that I’m singing again, I never want to stop. So, of course, there were parts of this year that I wouldn’t take back for a second, and I’m so happy and grateful for those parts of my year. And for the first time ever, I actually like being by myself, making my own choices, and developing my own voice.
But to get to that point, I had to fall apart, and this year, I fell apart. I fell apart a hundred times. I felt humiliated, heartbroken, abandoned, you name it. I still feel like I’m falling apart every once and a while and I have no timetable for when I will stop falling apart. You can’t put a time limit on how deeply you feel, how wide you grieve. Eventually, I know, it will get easier. When you break a bone, the part that broke becomes the strongest place on the bone after it heals. I should be entirely built out of titanium. And I don’t want this experience to take away my capacity to love, because that’s one of the best things I do. I love people so much, I forget to like myself sometimes.
People appeared in my life. They took my hand. They wiped away my tears. And they told me I was the furthest thing from garbage. Slowly, like a caterpillar starting to break through the cocoon, I’ve begun to believe what they’re telling me. I started to laugh. I remembered what it felt like to play. I took long walks. I started meditating again. I remembered what it felt like to lose yourself in the arms of people who hold you tight, who aren’t letting go, who honest to goodness won’t leave.
One of my favorite sayings stems from a Buddhist proverb – “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.” I think at this point of my life, I was ready to be taken apart and put back together again by the teacher called Life. I was ready to be forced to look at the parts of myself that were, in fact, garbage – the addictions, the compulsions, the mania, the loneliness, the pained – and toss them out into the street.
When you’re in pain, you can’t be of service to anyone. So my job right now is to sit with this pain, and to deal with it, and to not burden someone else with my shit. I will not be seeing anyone, at all, until I am done feeling this pain. To do otherwise would be a great disrespect to the work I still have to do on myself. Lord knows, I have a lot of work to do. But I want to do that work. Jumping into a new relationship, or a new anything, wouldn’t fix what’s going on in my heart and mind. It would put a Band-Aid on it. I don’t want easy fixes. Give me the hard lessons that make me a better person.
I still have all of the same problems but my mindset about them is shifting. The other night, I went to go visit my new nephew. He’s long, with huge arms and legs, and my other nephews don’t care about money or traumas or break-ups or loss. Their world revolves around this new, pink, wrinkled thing their mommy brought into the world. The middle one (my godson) had a terrible stomach bug so he wasn’t allowed to get too close to the baby, but while my sister and I were talking, he sneaked up to the baby and put his hand on his foot, and I noticed and didn’t say anything because he was holding the baby’s foot. It was one of the most beautiful act of love I’ve ever seen.
May I always remember that within the garbage lies the greatest gifts, and may I have the courage to wait for the next gift.