My mom recently sent me an article about Monica Lewinsky.
The article, titled “Monica Lewinsky is Back, but this Time it’s on Her Terms,” sounded intriguing.
So I read it.
And then it broke my heart.
I didn’t realize we are only four years apart (she is 40, I am 44).
Thinking back to when I was her age, I must admit I did some very regrettable things (and got involved with some very regrettable folks)…..but since none of those oopses involved a U.S. president, mostly even I don’t remember them now.
But Monica Lewinsky can’t go an hour without remembering.
A few months ago I posted a blog called “Handling Hate Mail, Hateful Comments, and Hate.”
In this post, I shared one comment – just ONE comment – that cut me straight through….which is one of (in comparison with Monica Lewinsky) just a handful of comments I have received over the years in my semi-public profession working with recovering and recovered people.
At one point during her recent TED talk, Lewinsky asks, “Where is the compassion?”
I have often wondered the same.
The haters who post and write and call anonymously are one thing….but today, very few even bother to hide their identity.
That boggles my mind.
Where is our fear of repercussion? Where is our compassion?
Where is our humanity?
We just spew out our hatred and anger and condemnation so freely….and then….what? Go home and hug our kids? Kiss our partners? Vent to our friends about how mean such-and-so is for gossiping about us at the office? Hope for a five-star review on our annual performance review at work?
Do each of us (or most of us, anyway) really have two personas – the kind, nice, hard-working, hopes-to-be-understood-and-respected-and-loved daily one – and that “Other One” – the one with the really white skin who wears the scary dark cape and has retractable front fangs?
I know both live inside of me.
For me at least, this is what happens when I start thinking about how I want my life to be different.
Then I start thinking about people I know (or don’t know).
Then I start assuming their lives are working out in ways mine is not.
Then I get jealous of them.
If left unchecked, such ruminations can go on for minutes….days….or my whole life.
I can spend my whole life immersed in comparison envy – jealous of my own imaginings of how much better someone else’s life/relationship/body image/income/success is than mine.
It goes without saying that the side effects of comparison envy are equally unpleasant.
The other day I was scheduled to do a media interview.
I hadn’t done one of those in awhile, but I still remembered the drill.
RULE #1: Wear makeup on camera, or risk appearing to have actually died during the interview.
(Not ideal under any circumstances, but especially not when you are filming a television spot about eating disorders!)
And I was totally prepared to make sure I looked alive and kicking on camera….except for one tiny detail.
I couldn’t locate my makeup.
To make matters worse, the day before I had finally taken the plunge and dyed my hair raven black with purple highlights.
Which meant the most likely outcome would unfold as follows:
Pale skin + black hair + harsh TV lighting = on-camera Zombie.
Otherwise, however, all this was pretty cool.
I’ve pretty much been makeup-free for months now, and I hadn’t even noticed!
Thinking back, I’m pretty sure it started last fall when my boyfriend and I were driving down to Galveston (where Houstonians like us go when we want to visit the beach). We were talking about a show we’d seen on dramatic makeovers, plastic surgery, etc.
I shared how I’d seen some of my Facebook friends posting pics of themselves without makeup to celebrate “Makeup-Free Day.” He laughed and said, “Makeup-Free DAY? How about Makeup-Free YEAR?!”
I thought that was a pretty cool idea.
A few days ago, I blogged about what I do each morning to wake up and fully prepare to live another 24 hours.
However, there is another facet of my process I didn’t share in that post, which is preparing for our own death daily.
I have found much of my light through a daily meditation practice, which includes as much study and service as it does actual meditation.
In one of my study sessions, I read an essay on the topic of preparing for your own death that I’ve never forgotten.
The story went like this:
A man approached a great king asking for self-knowledge. The day he arrived happened to be the day of the annual kingdom-wide fair, and there were festivities everywhere! Magicians, jugglers, fire walks, jousts – it was nearly too much for the simple country man to take in! In answer to his request, the King replied, “Take this bowl of water and walk through the streets all the way to the end, then turn around and walk back. If even one drop of the water in that bowl spills, I will have my best swordsman cut off your head!”
The man was floored….terrified….and (being as how it was the King and he couldn’t just take back his request and leave) determined not to let one drop of water spill from the bowl. He walked very carefully, keeping his eyes firmly fixed on the bowl. He looked nowhere else. Somehow he made it all the way there and back to the King without spilling one drop. Then he asked, “Why did you ask me to do that?”
For a decade and a half, I struggled mightily every day against an eating disorder, depression, anxiety, and self-hatred.
To this day, I am still not 100% certain what it was that kept me from offing myself, let alone waking up again and again into another day of certain hell.
But whatever it was – is – it is still with me.
It still helps me wake up every morning and prepare to live another day.
My dad and I talk about this a lot – he grew up under challenging circumstances of an entirely different sort, yet he too woke up every morning, the youngest of four in a reliably chaotic household, and set his mind towards the future.
He simply determined that HIS future would be different – and every choice he made in each present day was weighed against his vision of that future.
Today, he is living in the exact future he envisioned in each of those days, beginning oh so many decades ago.
Perhaps that was what kept me going – his example and knowing his story – even though I surely didn’t view that as my inspiration at the time (I was far too caught up in my own darkness to see much else back then).
I just knew that, every time I was tempted to think the way my life felt was the worst any life could ever feel, I would read or hear about someone whose life was so much harder, and who was still choosing to make good come from bad.
Gandhi. Mother Teresa. Martin Luther King, Jr. My American Indian grandparents. Random biographies and novels I read in the library (I was an avid reader growing up, and still am).
Here, in these stories, I found my heroes and my mentors.
I went for my annual checkup today.
I really love my doctor – a delightful first in my medical history.
She is easy to talk to, practical, and (a must for anyone who has ever suffered from an eating disorder) non-dramatic when it comes to the normal ebbs and flows of medical test results and daily life.
When she asked how I’ve been doing, I shared I feel better than I ever have before in my whole life.
I feel more balanced – insides with outsides.
I feel healthier in my relationship with my body.
I feel really good about my mental state.
I feel like a better “me” than I’ve ever been able to be before now.
But then I told her sometimes I still worry when I don’t eat everything I want to include in my meals every day.
And that is when she said it – a nugget of pure, true wisdom I am sure will stay with me for the rest of my life.
I have a handful of loved ones in my life right now who are experiencing longer-term painful circumstances.
In one case, the pain is medical. In one more, financial. In yet another, the pain is less well-defined as she wishes for (but day after day does not act to build) a life that feels like a better “fit” than the one she has now.
And it gets to me.
It all gets to me.
Sometimes their ongoing pain feels very, very personal.
I wake up at night worrying, or praying, or both.
When morning comes, they are right there on my mind.
Following visits and phone calls, I feel like I need to grieve and heal and rekindle hope – as if their pain is my pain.
Needless to say, this isn’t working well for me.
This feels like a weird post to write.
I say that because I have only now just realized (at a newly-minted age 44), that the challenge I thought I was having with forgiving others is not the challenge I am actually having.
By that I mean – in a way, actions others take that affect me are literally none of my doing, and thus they require no further action on my part.
I have no choice about whether someone else does something or says something, or doesn’t do or say something.
Scenarios can range from whether or not my partner says “I love you” to whether or not my parrot, Pearl, decides to bite me.
I may have preferences (I prefer hearing “I love you” and not being bitten), and I may even try to influence the choices others make according to my preferences.
But ultimately, what they decide to say/do/don’t say/don’t do is totally not up to me.
Or, as one of my favorite mentors, Byron Katie, likes to say, “What others say and do is really none of my business.”
I find this sooooo interesting!
To further complicate matters, I can find myself embroiled in differences of opinion as far as whether those others made the “right” choices (interpreted here as: “the best choices for me”).
For instance, I might think Pearl’s choice to bite me is a very bad choice indeed – a choice that requires my eventual forgiveness.
Pearl, on the other hand, may think his choice to bite me is the perfect communication tool that produces no need for self-explanation – and certainly not for forgiveness!
Which brings me back to an earlier post about my efforts to relearn self-forgiveness.
Since forgiveness at its core is a self-loving act, and a choice that may or may not impact others but will always positively impact me, this realization essentially sends me to square one.
Here is an example.
Let’s say someone says they think I am very stupid or ugly (or both).
So now their words are out there, I have heard them, and I have choices:
What complicates matters a bit (for me at least) tends to be my relationship with that other person.
Here is how this tends to unfold:
I have actually experienced a certain number of situations in the last few years with Category 1 and 2 persons.
Because I feel more distant from these types of individuals, it is easier not to take their words personally (even if I still want to argue with them and change their minds).
But when it is Category 3 Person I am dealing with, the challenge amps up a notch or three.
Here, I think the reason is because I figure they DO know me, they ARE close to me, and thus perhaps their words and actions (or silence and inaction) may have some merit.
I have in the past assumed this means I need to forgive them.
But now I’m realizing this, too, is a matter for self-forgiveness.
When these times come, my mentor, Lynn, encourages me to look to see if there IS any merit to consider!
Sometimes I look back with awe – and, frankly, horror – to remember all the years I spent “waiting.”
I was waiting to recover later (after the eating disorder had delivered on all of its [false] promises).
I was waiting until I had more friends, a better personality, more money, a boyfriend.
I used to go out shopping, buying clothes for a person I wasn’t who had a life I didn’t have.
I would think “Well, I’d better buy this bikini/party dress/lingerie set – just in case.”
Finally, one day I asked myself, “Just in case of WHAT?”
If there is one realization I would say is both persistent and perfectly-timed for the start of my “Year of Living Intuitively,” it is this:
If I want to be happy, I have to fight for it.
I say this because life IS hard.
It is hard for all of us. And if I choose to, I can always find hardships – mine or others’ – to focus on.
In fact, without even breathing hard, I could keep myself miserable 24/7 just thinking about the incredibly painful, awful things happening all over the world right at this very minute to people, animals, and the Earth.
With all that grimness so visible and readily available, I have to make a conscious, intentional, and absolutely consistent effort to find the bright bits and hold on tight.
I have decide that every glass that looks half-empty at first glance must also have a less easily seen twin that is half-full….and then I have to muster up the guts to walk over and introduce myself and make a new friend.