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Monday, February 29, 2016

Carry On, Warrior and Guys, I'm Your Friend

The sun shows up every morning, no matter how bad you've been the night before. It shines without judgment. It never withholds. It warms the sinners, the saints, the druggies, the cheerleaders- the saved and the heathens alike. You can hide from the sun, but it wont take it personally. It´ll never, ever punish you for hiding. You can stay in the dark for years or decades, and when you finally step outside, it´ll be there. - Glennon Doyle Melton, Carry On, Warrior
A lot of the books I read are about people who can't confront their feelings. People who hide their past. People who are petty and mean. People who use their secrets and flaws and pettiness to hurt, and their strengths to heal and create. In other words, they're about people. Many of these books contain big, powerful messages, but the messages are tucked away in little puzzles that I have to tease out. The treat on the inside of a dog toy that only reveals itself after just slobbering all over it.

The best of them simply tell a story, and the story has its own truth to it, and neither the author nor the reader have to come out and say it. It's like those times when someone you know says something ridiculous and without having to say anything, you and your friend exchange just the subtlest glances that tell each other that you're on the same page. The idea that someone else is having your same thought at the same time is delicious. Like melted Cadbury Mini Eggs on a brownie.

These books are fun, and I love the puzzles, and I love the ambiguity, but sometimes it's nice to read a book that just tells you what its thinking.
Here's my hunch: nobody's secure, and nobody feels like she completely belongs. Those insecurities are just job hazards of being human. But some people dance anyway, and those people have more fun.
Glennon Doyle Melton seems incapable of not saying what she's thinking. Well, you know what? That's not fair, really. She decided at some point that she just wasn't going to put up a facade anymore. At one point she got sick of being told that her family was perfect, and guessed that "perfect" only meant being thin and wearing nice jeans. Because as a recovering alcoholic, drug addict, and bulimic, whose life felt constantly on the verge of exploding, being called perfect was unbearable. Instead she started to tell her story, giving her power over her past and power over others' expectation of perfection.
Defrosting is excruciatingly painful. You have been numb for so long. As feeling comes back to your soul, you start to tingle, and it’s uncomfortable and strange. But then the tingles start feeling like daggers. Sadness, loss, fear, anger, anxiety—all of these things that you have been numbing with the booze—you feel them for the first time. And it’s horrific at first, to tell you the damn truth. But welcoming the pain and refusing to escape from it is the only way to recovery. You can’t go around it, you can’t go over it, you have to go through it.
You know when you're 36 and still finding things out about yourself that you don't like? And you wonder if maybe this never stops. If there's never a point where you can look at yourself and forgive the stupid things you did decades ago, or even weeks ago, and realize that you were doing the best you had with the tools you had at the time?

Let's say, hypothetically, that you spend a lot of time with noisy earbuds in your ears because when it's quiet you have a hard time being alone with yourself. Or every time you're waiting for something even for 10 seconds, you stare at your phone because there will hopefully be a new article about the politician you hate and by reading it you'll be distracted from the little Inside Out feelings that are telling you all those conflicting things about how to react to the world. Or maybe, again hypothetically, you find yourself throwing your extra energies into things like volunteering and charities because you need to prove to yourself that you're good, in spite of the dumb things you've done.

I don't know, you guys. It's scary to think about. The idea of just being open about everything we have been holding on to and been so ashamed of in hopes that it might heal other people is maybe the most frightening thing I can imagine. Glennon says that people didn't judge her when she told them her story, and instead called her brave. And because she told them they were more willing to share their own. I can wrap my head around that logically, I guess, but have a hard time handling it.
Here's another thing I think about, though. If everyone is carrying around these burdens, some bigger than others, but all of them stressful and terrifying, and then we started talking about them more, maybe we'd stop hating what's in us because we'd see that everyone fights. What if we're not good in spite of the things that hold us back and actually are good because of them? Instead of asking myself what I could accomplish if it weren't for my shortcomings, I can say look at all I have accomplished while living in a reality in which life is messy and gross and potentially humiliating.
Parenting is hard. Just like lots of important jobs are hard. Why is it that the second a mother admits that it’s hard, people feel the need to suggest that maybe she’s not doing it right? Or that she certainly shouldn’t add more to her load. Maybe the fact that it’s so hard means she IS doing it right, in her own way, and she happens to be honest.
This doesn't mean I'm going to start using this blog as a confessional. Just by virtue of you showing up and reading it means I like you on some level. But guys, let's temper that a little. I don't know where you've been. The big S.H.I.E.L.D. helicarrier in the sky looming over this entire conversation is boundaries. The trick is to find a balance between oversharing by using the faceless hordes of internet people (though I'll admit that "hordes" is a real stretch in my case) as free therapy, and just being authentic. Unhealthy boundaries either let everyone in or nobody. The best ones give us the choice about who we let in and who we keep out.

So, what? Share, but don't share too much? Be authentic, but not too authentic, but not too not authentic? Here's my thought: let's just experiment with this on a small level. If your kid wants a dog, but you're not sure if you can handle a dog, you start small. Maybe a fish, then a hamster. Try to open up in little ways in cases where the stakes are low, to people who can just listen. If you're religious, confessing a faith crisis to your official church leader may have consequences you might not be ready to deal with. You have regular meetings, people "worry about you", they bring you cookies, it's a whole thing. But what if you talked about it with someone who you know has gone through something similar?

They won't have the cultural baggage of getting stressed out about you. They're not going to tell your mom, or your youth pastor or whatever. They know what it's like and can just listen and nod and say, "I know what you're saying." Maybe they have advice that helped them, or maybe they just quietly understand without you having to go through all of it. Someone like that would be pretty good, right?

I teach a class of 12-14 year olds for church, and we had a lesson about listening. I gave each one of them a chance to talk about their problems and all I did was listen and ask follow up questions. I could either restate what they said, paraphrase it, or identify feelings they might be having. No relating, no telling my own story, no advice. The next week, they said they wished they could have talked longer. And that they wish they had someone in their lives who would listen to them. Isn't that sad? All these brand new teenagers bursting with worry and emotions, and they don't have anyone who will just listen.

So let it be you. You're the one who can listen. Whether you've been through it (whatever "it" is) or you haven't. But if you have, and you understand, you could be the person who helps someone else in need because you've lived it yourself. If, though, you've never talked about it, and kept it all inside, and put on a facade of contentment, your friend won't ever know that you're a resource. That's kind of tragic, isn't it?

Let's go back to that fish you want to start out with before taking on a bigger pet. Fish are cool. They just listen. They chill. They're there. Be somebody's fish. When someone is in crisis the reaction of the first person they tell is a huge indicator on how they will move forward. Don't jump in their lap and lick their face and hit them with your wagging tail and say pay attention to me (this is all metaphorical, guys). Just watch and listen. Glennon knows hard stuff, and she says,“These things will be hard to do, but you can do hard things.”