The Happiness Manifesto Blog

How I Beat the Living Hell Out of Suffering and Made It My Bitch

Archive for the tag “self-esteem”

Inside Out

So, probably at least partially due to the sacral chakra sledgehammering, I have been taking a long, hard look at some self/body image issues.  Yes, I’ve had them.  Most of us probably have, to some extent.  But as “sledgehammering” implies, I haven’t been dealing with a sigh-in-the-mirror type of reaction – I’ve been calling it “there was a f**k-up in the soul-depositing factory on the day I was made.”  So… pretty hardcore discrepancies between what I feel like on the inside and what I look like on the outside.  And I knew these feelings were resurfacing and running me through the mud for a reason.  Cue the major insight music!

You see, despite these major discrepancies, I have not gone the route of body modification.  Of any kind.  There have been no surgeries.  I have no tattoos.  The only piercings I have are one in each earlobe.  I’ve never even dyed my hair… and except for hunting-and-pecking for split ends, it hasn’t been cut since I was nine years old.  The extent of my makeup inventory is a stick of eyeliner… that I don’t even wear most days.  I neither lie in a tanning bed nor paint myself a chemical shade of orange (I’m so pale I practically glow in the dark).  Basically… I am au naturel.  What you see is the way I was made.  It’s not what is on the inside, but it is the way I was made.

It is weird, despite the disparity between my “inside” and my “outside,” that I never tried to make the outside match more.  Certainly many, if not most folks do, to some extent or another.  But it has always seemed – and this was part of the insight tonight, why it bothered me so much when I thought about doing it – to me, at least, a violation of self.

Now let me clarify.  I take no issue with other people engaging in body modification.  I’ve seen plenty of piercings and ink that I thought looked great on the person who had them, and many folks who got a boost of happiness and/or self-confidence with their newly-dyed tresses.  If it makes you happy, go for it.  More power to you.  I am not at all saying that it bothers me to see *others* change their outside to better match their inside.  And certainly for the more serious changes – transitioning surgery for transgendered folks kind of serious – if that gives you peace with yourself for the first time in your life, by all means – be happy.  Please do.  But when I considered various changes that would better reflect my inside on my outside, on a personal basis, I always had this rather viseral reaction of revulsion.  Like, made-me-shudder-to-think-about-it disgust.  And I never knew why that was.  I have spent many nights in abject misery, wallowing in the it’s-not-fair bog of self-loathing, and yet I just couldn’t do it.  I just have always felt that somehow, the modification would bother me more than the original misalignment.

It finally came to me that that wretched feeling was a feeling of violation.  The violation of self.  I couldn’t modify my outside because I felt that would be violating it – violating me, somehow.  That seemed like a rather arbitrary assessment, in the that’s-not-very-rational sense, until the latter part of the insight came: because seeking inner peace by aligning my outside to my inside was going about it wrong.  Happiness, inner peace, and calm don’t come from external forces – at least not if you want them to stick.  You may get a shopping high when you buy some new gadget or gizmo, but that high doesn’t last forever.  You can’t force happiness by shoving it through your pores with acquired goods.  Would finally owning my own home (if you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you probably know I’m a little obsessed with that idea) make me happy?  Absolutely.  Would it solve all my problems in the world so that I had no more reasons to be sad?  Decidedly not.  A new house wouldn’t be a replacement for a new friend, or fulfilling my higher calling, or any number of not-stuff things that rank much higher on the happiness scale.  My body matching my mind (if that was even possible) might make me smile when I looked in the mirror or give me more confidence when dealing with others, but I would never be truly free of the limitations of the physical self if I aimed to modify it instead of my inner self.  It would be like chasing my own tail (no, I do not have a tail – but you dog people and cat people know what I’m talking about).  Why waste energy chasing after something that is already a part of me?

I am what I am.  My inside is what it is.  My soul and my mind will be what they are no matter what my body looks like.  Maybe people won’t relate to me the way I would like, because they are going on my outward appearance rather than my inward reality… but that happens anyway, and frankly, those aren’t the relationships we should be worrying about.  I don’t want shallow relationships with people who look only at my cover and not the inner chapters of self.  The person who takes the time to read those chapters is going to know me, whether my cover reflects that or not.  My inner self is incorruptible.  Fixating on the exterior is tilting at windmills.

The foreman at the soul-depositing factory is off the hook.

My People

If you laugh a little too hard at Christopher Titus jokes (especially Norman Rockwell Is Bleeding), you are My People.

That’s kind of been my benchmark for years.

If it’s not been made clear, I come from a rather messed up background.  I’m not going to regale you with my “f**ked-uppedness cred” – because that’s rather beside the point.  And really – I am tired of hearing the same story at the beginning of every “rags to riches” or “success story” by a given author.  Every.  Single.  Time.  “Look, I overcame this!” and “Look, I overcame that!”  Maybe the first speech or book or radio show you hear them do, you say, wow.  But then if you like what they have to say and you want to hear more… you have to hear that same story twenty million times.  By about the fifth or fifteenth time, you’re feeling rather pitiless, like, “Yeah, I know, you were homeless and living in your car, or addicted to drugs, or an alcoholic, or Mommy didn’t love you, blah, blah, blah… I know!  Get on with it!”

Or as Christopher Titus would say, “…come down off the cross and use the wood to build yourself a bridge and get over it.”

Or is that just me?

Now, don’t get me wrong.  I am not an advocate of telling people to hold it all in, suck it up, or otherwise give themselves an ulcer.  But life coaches?  Motivational people?  STILL fixated on their troubled past?  Reliving it with every class or seminar or speech they give?  That just seems… f**ked up.

But Wren, you may be saying, they’re trying to show that if they can come from hell and succeed, you can, too.

Alright, fine.  But you can say, “I know what it’s like to be in a dark place,” without having to go into all the gory details.  And if you’re truly over it, you don’t need to go into the gory details with every Tom, Dick, and Harry you want to motivate.  But these people are telling the same exact story – either with so much pain in their voices you just know it still haunts them, or with absolutely no emotion at all, like they’ve become so numb to the telling of it that it means nothing anymore – over and over again.  Neither of these scenarios sounds very healthy for the storyteller.  And how are they helping others by self-flagellating, again?

So what’s the point of telling and re-telling your dark, gritty backstory twenty times a week to anyone who will hear it?

Oh, yeah.  F**ked-Uppedness Cred.

These people are trying to earn the respect of people who are still in the dark place.

You know you do it, too.  Hell, I’ve done it.  If you’ve been through hell, you look at the Leave It To Beaver-esque families out there, with their support for each other, unconditional love, financial stability, health, and tragedy-less lives, and you kind of stare, like, “are these people for real?”  When the worst thing that’s happened to them is a fender bender or a bad case of the flu, you scoff at their blissful unawareness.  You mock what they consider to be hard times.  You can’t take much of anything they say – let alone their advice or compassion – seriously, because you feel like they just don’t know what the hell they’re talking about.

So the F**ked-Uppedness Cred is important if you want to be respected and taken seriously, and not blown off as some airy-fairy self-esteem cheerleader, giving trophies to everyone just for participating.

Right?

Well, f**k that noise.

I’m a pretty easy-going kinda gal.  Even when I was a volatile brew of emotional meltdown, blinding self-hatred, and distorted thinking, I still put on the happy face, and no one had even the foggiest that anything was even remotely bothering me.  Again – I am not advocating this as a good idea.  In fact it’s a very, very bad idea.  Don’t do it.  But I digress.

I would smile.  I would laugh.  I would make jokes.  And I didn’t tell other people my crap.  When something dropped – usually innocuously – it would stun the hell out of people.  Because I came off as that innocent goody two-shoes whose biggest problem was that tragic C in math class type.  But then I would let slip some hint of my real life and inevitably, I’d get comments along the lines of, “Wait… what?!  You?!!” or “But you always seem so happy!”

Yep, me.  News flash: not every person with a tragic past a) does drugs b) drinks to excess c) dresses goth and/or slutty and/or gangster d) screws anything that moves in a desperate search for love or e) flunks out of school and/or gets arrested.  Some of us rebel by being good.

Yessir, when I was a teenager, I was an honor student, participated in all sorts of extracurriculars, held down a job, was a teacher’s pet of sorts, didn’t do drugs, drink, have sex, or get into trouble, and otherwise could have played the “good influence” role on any after school special there ever was.

All while… living in hell.

And I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been condescended to by people whose biggest problem that I could tell (since they lamented to me as though I was their confessor) was… they didn’t always get what they wanted.  But because I never said, “Let me tell you about real problems… ” and instead took their problems seriously, they presumed I found their plight to be equally tragic and the worst thing I’d ever heard.

Now I know I sound a little heartless here, and I don’t mean to be.  If you don’t have the perspective to put the little annoyances in perspective, then it’s going to seem huge and horrible in your vision when you encounter them.  I get that.  But if there’s a continuum of tragedy, and death and rape are on one end, and a parking ticket is on the other… the death and rape end gets to shake their head at the parking ticket end when they start going on like they’re a cast member in Hamlet.

So, I’ve been scoffed at for not wearing my F**ked-Uppedness Cred on my sleeve, and it used to annoy the bejeezus out of me.  But I still couldn’t bring myself to do it.  I don’t know why.  It’s just not in me.

But I’ve come to the place where I Just Don’t Care and It Doesn’t Really Matter.

Think I’m a naive?  Go right ahead.  Think I’m BSing you when I say “I understand where you’re coming from”?  Scoff away!  Because I Just Don’t Care and It Doesn’t Really Matter.  I don’t feel the need to win some tragedy contest or earn Extra Horrifying Bonus Points.  If someone is in a place where they can hear what I have to say, then they’ll hear it.  If they’re not, then they’ll find some other excuse to not do so even if I gave them a detailed dossier of Why I Understand Your Pain.

This isn’t to say “my secrets will die with me!!!” as much as it is to say, you’re not going to hear my sob story twenty million times.  If something is pertinent to a conversation, and perhaps actually helpful to furthering the discussion, maybe I’ll share it.  But I’m not going to go around announcing it so that I have the immediate respect of the other F**ked-Uppedness Survivors in advance.  Because I shouldn’t have to.  I want people to judge me on my present, not my past.  If my words have value, they have value in the now, not because I have a good sympathy-garnering story to tell.

So, judge me how you will.  There will not be a Chapter One: Out of Darkness autobiographical horror story in The Book.  But hopefully a few folks will read it anyway.

And I will try really hard to not stare at the Cleavers of the world like they have antennae sticking out of their heads when they talk about how wonderful their life is, except for that awful day when June broke the heel of her shoe and skinned her knee.

Because isn’t wonderful what we’re all aiming for?

Your Body Is A Temple

Part of my spiritual upbringing included a whole lot of “Physical realm bad.  Spiritual realm good.  Must punish physical body in order to achieve spiritual enlightenment.  Physical body doesn’t count.” type messages (and yes, I imagine that being said like a stereotypical caveman grunt.  Though I suppose cavemen might have had wondrously complex languages, you get the point).  So for a very long time, even as I thought I was maturing and growing, I still treated my body like a trash heap, and thought of it that way, too.

You’ll recall my previously stating how I came precariously close to becoming a full-fledged hoarder until I moved into my current apartment, which caused me to look the problem square in the face and deal with it.  I still am, four and a half years later.  It is a long and sometimes difficult process, but so worthwhile.  I never fully realized until I started watching the show Hoarders what this said about how I thought about myself.  In more than one episode, it has been made abundantly clear that some of the people surrounded themselves with trash because they thought of themselves as trash.  They perceived themselves as not worthy.  They thought they were disposable.

That was me.  I thought I was unlovable.  Easily discarded.  Worthless.  Trash.

Having that revelation brought front and center planted the seed of thought that I needed to re-evaluate my relationship with self.

After reading the book The Secret, which was filled with a revolutionary concept for me at the time, I decided that instead of beating myself down with negative self-talk, I would beat the negativity down and squash it like a bug.  And so the process began.

At the beginning, I felt a little Stuart Smalley-like, as though I should have been staring in a mirror and telling myself, “You’re good enough, you’re smart enough, and doggone it, people like you!”  In other words, I felt more cheesy than the entire state of Wisconsin.  But I stuck with it, and after a while it became less forced.  I began to actually believe I was good enough, and smart enough, etc.  I felt less corny and more like I was having a deep psychological breakthrough.

Now, I had tried counseling a couple of times in my life, and other than it occasionally being nice to have someone to vent to, didn’t feel like it was helping me much.  This utter willpower maneuver of mandated positivity did more to repair my psyche than any outside person telling me that my thoughts were unhealthy ever did.  And I began to believe that I deserved love; I deserved happiness; I deserved respect.  Don’t all people?

But just recently this awareness took a new turn.  Even though I had been accepting that I deserved to be happy for a while now, I still wasn’t looking at my physical form with a whole lot of self-love.

Several months ago, I finally caved to months of pressure from my doctor to try easing up on my strict vegetarianism.  After over nine years of strident near-vegan “purity,” I agreed to try “a little fish” and see how I felt.  The doc felt I wasn’t getting enough protein or omega-3s.  She wanted to see if the omega-3s would help my mood, and the protein help balance my blood sugar (I was so hypoglycemic, I was crashing on a near-daily basis.  Sometimes more than once a day).

Holy mother of nutrition, did I feel almost immediately better.

The sugar crashing all but stopped.  I can now count on my fingers the number of times I’ve sugar crashed in the months since, instead of it being a given that it would happen regularly.  I had more energy, too.  Oh, and… the perpetual always-coldness began to let up, at least somewhat.  I’m still “the cold one” in a group, but there are times where I actually feel warm now.  That was nearly unheard of.

I quickly dubbed myself a pescatarian (someone who eats fish, but no other meat), and figured that was that.  But I had opened up the floodgates.  My body started having cravings I had thought were long dead.  It wanted more.

I fought it.  I already felt guilty; I thought of myself as a “failed vegetarian” or “weak” for giving in to what my body obviously needed.  I wondered why others seemed to do so well on a veggie diet and I didn’t.  You know how people are supposed to lose weight when they go veg?  I actually gained weight.  About 30 pounds.  I did not understand how that happened.  It brought up even more body-hate in my mind, because I used to be a stick.  Suddenly I felt ginormous.  I fasted as much as I could without putting myself in a diabetic coma, and my weight didn’t budge.  I restricted what was “acceptable” fare more and more.  I ate low-fat this and diet that.  Still fat.

So I caved.  All or nothing, right?  If I had already failed as a vegetarian, then I had failed.  Might as well go out with a chicken pot pie in hand and enjoy myself.

And I felt even better.  This was counter to every nutrition book I had read for the past decade (all aimed at vegetarians, mind you).  What really caused me to make the pescatarian-omnivore leap was reading a Jillian Michaels book on diet and nutrition.  She had recommended twice the amount of protein that one of my cherished veggie books had done.  Twice.  That wasn’t exactly splitting hairs.  That was a completely different take on nutrition.  So I started searching for more information online.

In addition to a mountain of blogs and websites I still find myself getting lost in for hours, I found an interview with Lierre Keith, a former vegan for twenty years and author of the book The Vegetarian Myth.  It got me interested enough that I bought the audiobook (I have found that I love listening to a good non-fiction audiobook, in addition to reading them normally).  I’m still listening to it, but so far it is proving to be one of the most profound books I’ve ever read in my life (and as previously noted, I’m a bibliophile of epic proportions).  This isn’t some machismo rancher looking condescendingly down upon the wussy vegetarians and telling us how silly we are; this is someone who had many of the same motivations I did (save the animals!  save the earth!), and struggled with many of the same moral issues, who recognized her own willful blindness to the truth about everything, and slowly – and not without a fight – came around.  I can’t even begin to do it justice by attempting to summarize it here; but truly, if you really want to know about saving the animals, saving the earth, our health, the industrial food system, and how things really work, I can’t recommend this book enough.  So many of the things we think we know are wrong.

Anyway… let’s get this Amtrak train of thought back on its rail.  Honoring my body.

So, okay, I’ve been now exploring the world of traditional foods, homesteading (if ever there was a thing that I get passionately obsessed with, it’s homesteading), and the like, and learning about the nutritional needs of my body from a non-vegetarian perspective.  I feel like a new student in a completely foreign field of study, with so much to learn, and so little time.  But this metric ton of knowledge was all pointing to the same personal revelation: I had willfully been ignoring the very basic, very human, very physical needs of my body, relegating them to “weaknesses” and “unimportant” in the name of some “pure” ideal that was impossible to attain (yes, vegans, even you are not eating without death.  Just because there is no meat on your plate, doesn’t mean animals weren’t killed as pests on the farm, or by a harvesting machine, or for fertilizer, or when farmland was deforested or prairie turned into farmland, etc.  Read The Vegetarian Myth.  I promise, it’s not condescending.  It’s someone who wanted the same things you want).

So why were my very natural needs being given the short shrift?  Because I still felt my body was not “worth it”.  Not worth what?  Surviving?  Thriving?  Did I truly believe I was put on this Earth to suffer?

I took a look at how I was treating my body otherwise.  I either was punishing it with exercise, or none at all.  Eating junk, or not enough.  I didn’t respect the food I was using to nourish myself: the perpetual load of dirty dishes, my hadn’t-been-cleaned-in-ages refrigerator, the splatter-covered microwave and toaster oven.  The kitchen wasn’t the place to create sacred nourishment, it was the place to throw together something convenient and get the heck outta there.  No attention was paid – ironically, as I thought of myself as “food conscious” – to the act of nourishing my body, even as I obsessively counted calories or ounces of water.  Allergy season caused me to look at my bed – covered in pet hair, sheets rarely changed, the mattress producing a renegade spring that had stabbed my hand and drawn blood once already.  A litter box right next to it, which was placed there to try and prevent one of the kitties from peeing under it (it worked, but she has shifted territory again, so it’s rather moot at this point).  In addition to the spring escapee, all my bedsheets are old and threadbare, hand me downs, stained, torn, and otherwise just as problematic.  Even my bed frame is almost as old as I am, and a hand me down that used to be half of a bunkbed.  I’ve never in all my 33 years had a bed that wasn’t a bunkbed, or part of one, let alone something larger than a twin size.  I had to throw out the egg crate cushion I had on it to try and make things more comfortable because a kitty peed on it.  I had a dream where I was told this was like sleeping in my own filth.  And you know, it’s true.  There is a literal litter box right at the foot of my bed.  How was that respecting myself and the place where I was supposed to get rest?

Being that I’ve been living off of savings and grace since I lost the day job last year, now is not exactly the best financial time to go to a furniture store and buy a nice new full-size bed with a comfy mattress and new thick sheets.  I accept that I deserve these things now, but to buy them would lead to a case of… aaaaaand how am I going to pay the rent?  So.  I did the best I could with what I have.  Washed the blankets.  Changed the sheets.  Vacuumed the mattress, the box spring, all the nooks and crannies, the heat registers around the side of the bed.  The litter box is getting moved this weekend (it will take some furniture re-arranging to find it a new home).  I’ll shampoo the carpet then, too.

I also went a little cleaning-frenzy in the kitchen and did the dishes, cleaned the fridge, and the microwave.  Checked for expired beyond use foods and tossed them.  Cleaned the floor.  Now when I open the refrigerator door, it feels so white and clean… and pure.  Because I’m honoring what I put into my body.  I’m honoring where my body gets rest.  My body isn’t the means to an end, or a sub-par vessel that doesn’t count.  It isn’t “a bag of water” as one of my friends terms it.  It’s a temple.  One that I am the proud caretaker of.

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