I came across your blog by accident, but I can't seem to stop reading your words of wisdom. I struggle with other "non-substance" addictions. I'm constantly worrying about who likes or doesn't like me, if I am attractive or thin enough if I am a good mom, wife, daughter, sister, friend. It's consuming and I liken it very much to an addiction to alcohol, pills whatever. Your blogs have made me cry because they resonate. I'm trying to realize it's "ok" to fail or be imperfect, but it's been almost 37 years of thinking it's not ok to be these things. It's hard to motivate, have energy while working full time with two kids, to even thinking about appreciating or loving or forgiving myself for mistakes I've made. I'm not sure what question is tucked away in my message as my mind is all over the place. I guess I'm looking for some advice to start healing, appreciating and loving myself, for the first time in all these years.
-Looking to Begin
Looking to Begin,
When I read your letter I was sitting with a friend and I paused, drew my chest inward and spoke a quiet, Oh.
There’s so much here. I have sat with it for over a week because I wasn’t sure where to start, and admittedly felt unqualified to answer, but that voice is the same one that’s nagging you constantly, and I know enough now to know it is totally full of it.
And still, early this morning, lying in bed next to my daughter I thought, Where do I start? So I did what I’ve learned to do: got on my knees and asked for some help, gathered up a tribe of the heavy hitters and heroes that sit on my bookshelf, stacked them up next to my writing space and started. (More on the books I picked below, they will be part of my Rx for you.)
Some years ago I was talking to my friend Jenny about the pain and emptiness I was feeling after another whammy night of drinking. She said one theory on why some suffer from addiction is that they believe they’re disconnected from God (or spirit, or the Universe, whatever works for you). I would broaden it to say, the reason any of us suffer from anything is because we believe we’re disconnected from God. Which is to say in more agnostic terms, we’ve forgotten who we really are.
So what I wondered when I read your letter was, when did she start to forget who she is? What happened to set off that dislocation? The answer may be something very specific, or many specific somethings, or it could be life running its course on you, as it does all of us. You’re a mother and a wife and a daughter and a professional and a friend and, I assume, so many other roles. Somewhere in your 37 years, you stopped belonging to yourself, first.
So the question is, how do you begin to get back?
In my own experience, and if I categorize all the self-help/spiritual paths/therapies/modalities that address healing oneself, they all fall into two primary categories: content and form. Content refers to the specifics of your life: your family, relationships, past trauma, the “mistakes you’ve made” and form deals with your overall health, spiritual well-being, your constitution. If you think of it like a house, the form is the house itself – the bricks and wood and foundation and plumbing and electrical and the ground it’s built on; the content is all the stuff that goes in it – furniture, food, plants, other humans, pets, our energy, guests. Both are important and have to be addressed equally and consistently to make a happy home, a home you want to live in and return to every day. To take it further, if you focus only on content but never on the larger foundational aspects, no amount of Feng Shui will keep your house from eventually caving in, and if you focus only on the foundational stuff and never address the content, you’ll find yourself living in a sturdy framework with a bunch of moldy sandwiches under your couch cushions.
Spiritual foundation practices like yoga, meditation, or whatever it is that allows you to be still, to organize your energy, to open a channel between you and the divine – to again, remember who you are – is the work of form. Therapy, recovery groups, truth-talking with loved ones or friends, journaling and the like, whatever allows you to unpack and metabolize the specifics of your story – that’s content work.
Any work of healing requires looking at both form and content, LTB. I crafted this all-too-literal metaphor so that you can think about your wonderful self in those terms.
I suspect these words might feel very ‘up there’ and not specific to you, or at least not specific enough to the you that is currently bleeding out. So let’s go there.
I don’t know you personally, but I do know the exact taste and smell and texture of your pain.
Something in my gut tells me there is a thing, or perhaps many things, that are haunting you. You reference your mistakes, and that you’re unsure how to begin forgiving yourself for them. I sense these things are a secret, or at least they're parts of yourself you're unwilling to accept and bright forth into the light very often, if ever. I might totally be projecting, but there’s a frequency that comes through in your words and it speaks to the part of me that stuffed the unacceptable parts of my story for years. I got pregnant in college because I was too insecure and drunk to make him wear a condom, I was an asshole in my marriage, I lied to people when it served me, I drank instead of spending time with my daughter, I stole attention, I cheated at work, and on and on. I fucked up. A lot. And not just because of booze and drugs, which is what I write about mostly here, or because I’m an awful person, but because I am like every other human being who ever existed since the beginning of time: I am imperfect.
And so are you. And so is he. And so is she. And, and, and…everyone. THANK GOD FOR THAT.
I want to take you by the hand, LTB, and tell you something. Are you listening?
There is absolutely nothing you have done or said or thought that makes you ‘not okay.’ Nothing. Zero. It simply doesn’t exist. You cannot become unlovable and you are already forgiven.
So whatever your mistakes are, lovely, I urge you to begin to unpack them. Therapy is great for this, and when our house is in need of an overhaul (or a burning down, in my case) it’s a perfect place to start. I also personally read like a motherfucker looking for help and clues and answers, and so I’ve included my favorite books below as starting points. Writing in a journal can also be great. Whatever it is, start putting down your truth. I personally scoffed at the idea of unpacking the past and hated the idea of therapy because I knew they would go straight to my childhood and mommy and daddy and ugh, really? So much psychobabble. But the reason it’s important, I’ve learned, is that when you unpack your past and sift through it, you start to understand your story. You can separate out your own voice, needs, wants, and desires from others. And when you understand your own story you can decide which parts to keep and which to leave behind. By unpacking our past we can make it just that: the past.
It’s also important to note that not too long ago I was sure – just totally sure – that if anyone ever knew what was really inside me, it would be unacceptable. I would probably vaporize. I couldn’t physically let the truth spill out of my mouth for some time because I was so used to masking and lying and protecting. So I watched others do it first. I read stories of truth and I called on the women who’ve gone before us like Maya Angelou, Annie Lamott, Mary Karr, Brene Brown, Cheryl Strayed, Liz Gilbert and Glennon Melton. I checked my heart for frequencies that resonated and understood the truth when I heard it because of they way the words felt in my body. Then I started to put my own words to my truth. And now you’re reading this.
You just start. In fact, you already have by writing your letter.
The crux of your letter deals with two sneaky, dickwad characters who seem to be occupying your house: perfectionism and worry. These folks aren’t my personal Achilles heels, and we’re dedicating this week’s HOME podcast to talking about them. Your letter will be the impetus and opening (it will air Wednesday morning).
You’re wise to call them “non-substance” addictions. That’s exactly what they are. They’re manifestations (symptoms) of forgetting who you are, which is beautiful and true and totally amazing. They’ve also got a little something to do with control. Anne Lamott and Pema Chodron talk a lot about both and proffer much better guidance than I can provide, so I’ve included them in the list of books below.
I love your letter, LTB. I wish I could push myself right through this computer screen and give you a good hug. Your story is like so many others, and the fact that you found my blog, wrote the words and hit send is a damn good message from the universe that it’s time to come home to yourself. Love and more love to you.
Books I Recommend
- When Things Fall Apart by Pema Chodron – I call Pema “The Mothership” and my friend Holly, who has read at many or more books of this breed told me listening to her audiobooks in Rome recently changed her life. I really prefer her audiobooks because her voice is so soothing and wise, and she herself is quite funny.
- A Return to Love by Marianne Williamson – This book is kind of my Bible, in that I pick it up and open a page whenever I’m lost and bam! a big ol’ heap of healing rushes in. Marianne’s work is based on “A Course in Miracles” and I prefer her interpretation of the text because it’s digestible and so, so, so potent. I have both the audiobook and hard copy version. I’ve given this book away more than any other.
- Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed – This is a collection of column letters she wrote when she was Dear Sugar on TheRumpus. I think about it daily.
- This is How by Augusten Burroughs – He’s one of my favorite writers and this is a self-help-ish sort of book about topics from alcohol addiction to losing weight to dropping shame to finding love. It’s funny and irreverent and tough love.
- May Cause Miracles by Gabby Bernstein – My friend Holly turned me onto this and her. This book is a 40-day meditation, mantra and journaling plan that helps you work through your fears in bite-sized pieces. Small, basic and powerful practices over 40 days. I recommended it to a friend recently and she said it’s changed her life. Holly says the same. Also love the audio version because it includes the meditations.
- Stitches by Anne Lamott (or really anything she writes) and also, her Facebook page
- I also would add anything Brene Brown has written, Glennon Melton’s Carry On, Warrior and Jen Sicero’s You Are a Badass.