Some of the most transformative personal development work we will do in our lives is work that’s forced upon us. The divorce that forces us to discover our worth. The job loss that forces us to discover our true calling. The illness that teaches us to slow down. The loss and subsequent grieving that teaches us to be grateful and to take nothing for granted.
Even the most self-aware of us may have a list of things we know we could stand to work on – the kinds of things that quietly (or not-so-quietly) hold us back or create pain in our lives. The determined and brave will be working on these regularly, by wrestling with habitual thought patterns, challenging unhealthy habits, taking risks, and by small, daily efforts over a long period of time.
This has been my story up until recently. Although admittedly, my slow, steady effort and slower progress was constantly beset on all sides by addiction, trauma responses, emotional dysregulation, anxiety, brain fog, financial struggle, and a host of unpleasant physical complaints.
I was living a life that by “normal” standards could probably be considered pretty helter skelter. I couldn’t stand being at home, so as soon as I got back from working at a coffee shop, I’d immediately feel the DEEP NEED to leave. Without any time to process my day, my feelings or my current needs, I would just gather my things and leave the apartment without a plan. This often brought me to a restaurant or a bar, somewhere to eat and drink or be around people. This seemed to satisfy some need to feel connected, independent, and alive. However, this often led me to another bar that my friends might be at. And after that, perhaps a punk or metal show, which would keep me out until about 1am.
And so it went, nearly every day.
Living alone the past 6 years, I’d legitimately forgotten how to cook, and lost the enjoyment of it, so I always ate out. All the foods I’d eliminated in the past in order to get rid of a plague of panic attacks I had in 2008 were all back in my diet – gluten, dairy, sugar, caffeine.
Every moment I needed to be doing something. Podcasts while I worked. Articles piled up in 30 tabs in my browser. I was running 5 different brands, so I had 5 Instagram accounts with inboxes and feeds each, 5 Facebook pages with inboxes and feeds, hundreds of emails and texts and facebook messages and polos and voxxers and Slack and Discord messages.
Still, I felt excruciatingly lonely on the regular.
I filled every second with stimulus. I was always seeking connection to others, even as I tried to avoid most forms of intimacy or trust in other people. I was hungover often, and running from shame and a sense of failure daily. I felt out of control, and I felt scared.
On top of that, I was thinking seriously about breaking my lease and moving in with my parents for awhile. Or traveling. Something cheaper. Somewhere that allowed me to actually pay off debt and save money, rather than barely squeaking by each month, praying I never had to ask my parents for money again.
Meanwhile, I’m building my business, and trying to push myself to GET SHIT DONE, despite my harrowingly fast-paced life and total lack of motivation. I’m in a hurry! The sooner I can FIX ALL THIS STUFF, the sooner I can finally feel okay, and feel happy. So I thought.
Then, seemingly out of the blue, my health-related fears drove me to stop drinking (temporarily at least), and begin a super restrictive diet. As a result, it felt safer and smarter to self-isolate at home, so I was cut off from a lot of socially generated connection, approval, and belonging. My lover had too much going on to see me for weeks, so I stopped receiving the weekly physical and emotional support that helps me cope. Suddenly life was very, very different.
A few weeks into my newly hermited life, the global pandemic hit, and we were all advised to stay home, avoid social contact, and sit with the not only the complete uncertainty about what our future might hold, but also the fear of getting sick, dying or accidental-murdering someone else by not knowing we are a carrier for a new flu-like illness. So many people have been forced to keep working, or no longer have income, or have lost someone they love. I am BEYOND privileged to be dealing with the set of struggles I have before me, but they are struggles. And I’m sharing them in hopes it’s useful.
All in a span of weeks, my entire life changed (perhaps temporarily, but certainly to an extreme degree) – I lost access to nearly every thing in my life that helped me feel safe and comforted, helped me feel loved and connected, helped me feel worthy. Or I should say, everything I THOUGHT gave me safety, connection, and worthiness.
So here I am. 75 days into my new, slow, solitary lifestyle. 30 days into the Seattle stay-at-home order.
During this time, every personal demon I’ve known and have never beaten has come to visit me. And I’ve invited them all in.
If we’re in a living metaphor of The Tower tarot card, right now I’m assessing the “wreckage” around me. Taking stock of where I’ve come, what I’ve overcome, and what’s still to be contended with.
It feels too early to be proud, but I really should be. These are demons that have been hounding me for years, if not for my ENTIRE LIFE. And while I hesitate to call this global crisis which has devastated so many people a blessing, the reality is that for me, it has been a kind of fucked up gift and I’m certain that I will look back on this time down the line as “the long, long moment when everything changed”.
So. A moment of gratibragging (thank you Louiza Doran for the term):
I’ve faced being cut off from affection & connection, regulating without a deep partnership.
I’ve faced my workaholism by learning to slow down and believe that it’s safe to relax.
I’ve faced being in solitude with myself and truly listening to my body, which used to be agonizing.
I’ve faced my tendency to hustle for the approval of others by practicing living for my own joy instead.
I’ve faced life’s ups and downs without alcohol as a crutch to numb out.
I’ve faced cooking 100% for myself on a very limited diet, after eating out every day for years.
I’ve faced my imposter syndrome by doubling down on my path to serve people as a coach.
I’ve faced my anxiety and panic, without crutches, by being present and practicing self soothing.
I’ve faced my struggles with intimate friendships by asking for help and doing video chats.
I’ve also completely dropped the ball on doing ANYTHING for my band, Shame Banger, but I’d have to be off my gourd to think I’d meet all my expectations during a pandemic, however much I wish I were that person.
In closing, it’s hard to wrap up without thinking about the people who are suffering so much worse than I am and in different ways. I’m simultaneously trying to go easy on myself for being a spoonie in a pandemic without any of my crutches to lean on… and also wanting so much to get more involved in organizing and activism to help those who have less than I do.
So much needs to change, and I know it’ll need a lot more than essays.I hope that my efforts to support, uplift, inspire, educate, and coach prove to be valuable to some people’s sense of hope, purpose, and possibility. And I hope this phase provides me the puzzle pieces I need to be more active in transforming this world.