Saturday, February 22, 2014

What's wrong with being broken?

So.... I was in Barnes & Noble last night to see how I could spend some of my Christmas gift card. I found myself perusing some of the usual sections I gravitate to .... medicine, for a book on migraines and found it WOEFULLY lacking. I literally found two books, and one of those was "Migraines for Dummies." I'm not looking for a dissertation and stuff I can't understand, but I need more than that!

Well, one of my other haunts was right across the aisle from that -- "self-help." I have my own self-help library, so I really, really didn't need anything, but there was one book I wanted. I have an e-edition of it that I've purchased (as a PDF), but I love actual paper I can touch, move, flip, mark up. There's something about a real, tangible book that can never be replaced by an e-book. I found the book and then realized I really didn't want it, at least not right at this moment. It wasn't moving me to pick it up and run for the register. So I kept perusing; after all, what's one more self-help book for the library....

But after perusing title after title, I got more and more dissatisfied. Nothing seemed to click. Then it hit me: why should I buy one more book which will tell me that I'm broken and here's what needs fixing and how. I know I'm broken. You are too. So is the Pope. So is the President. So is the person next to you on the commuter train each day or stuck in the traffic jam beside you. We're all broken people.

Maybe we don't need to be fixed.

Now, before I begin, let me say that there are very obvious exceptions to this train of thought: (a) already-diagnosed mental health issues, (b) addiction issues, and (c) abuse issues, whether you are victim, perpetrator, or both. For these situations, if you aren't already getting professional help, do so post-haste. Get out of the self-help section. There's bootstrapping, but these aren't situations that warrant going solo.

However, for those of us with average neuroses .... from "oh God, every pair of jeans in the store makes my butt look 40 feet wide" to "I can't figure out why I can't seem to get happy in my particular place in life" .... maybe we don't need fixing after all. Maybe we need to learn to live in the brokenness, to embrace the lessons within, to live where we are. That doesn't mean we stop trying to improve and do things better in life. It doesn't mean we don't take that fantastic job opportunity that finds us out of the blue. It doesn't mean we don't take a class or improve our health or stop trying to be better .... just that maybe we need to stop overanalyzing every.single.aspect.of.everything. while thinking "I've got to fix all these broken pieces and put them together into a perfectly {there's that word again} planned and designed life...."

We just maybe need to realize that it's okay to be broken. Only Leonard Cohen said it much better:

Ring the bells that still can ring. 
Forget your perfect offering. 
There is a crack in everything. 
That's how the light gets in.

I walked out buying only a book on piano chords. Best money I never spent. And maybe I'll learn to play "Anthem" (the Cohen song) while I'm at it.

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

My own personal demon

I've done a little reflecting over the last few days, just off and on, ever since the news broke about actor Phillip Seymour Hoffman's death. First off, no comments on that other than to say it is a horrible tragedy, and we will never know the whole story -- only that something apparently had a stronger hold on him than even the love of his family and friends and the accolades of his career and life.

And that is what has me really thinking. For years I have been fascinated with the psychology of addiction. I've vascillated back and forth myself on whether or not food addiction is truly an addiction (I believe yes, and I may delve into that here). I've wondered what it is that makes a brain turn to heavy quantities of substances -- be that prescription pain killers, street drugs, nicotine, food, whatever it is -- to numb their emotional pain or simply attempt to rise above whatever low circumstances they find themselves in.

I admit that part of me is baffled and angry. Here is someone who had something I wished I'd had the courage to pursue: a life on the stage and screen. Oh, I doubt I would have ever made it past the "Shopper #2" credit on screen (at least for many years) or gotten many callbacks, but who knows? I know now (albeit a bit late in life) that I feel very much at home in front of an audience, so I should have tried....... and here is a person who had top honors, huge respect and love from family and peers and colleagues. And it all seemed nothingness, emptiness, compared to whatever in his soul said, "You're a fraud. They can't possibly love the real you."

Was that it? I hear that voice too sometimes. It belongs to a demon named Perfection. Dan Pearce wrote about it in his superb "Disease Called Perfection" -- enough so that the first time I read it, I was crying big salty tears. I try not to listen to that voice, I try not to give it space in my head or my heart or my life, but there are days I hear its echo, I see it in my reflection when I look in the mirror:

..... You're a fraud. And they're on to you. ....
..... You're not good enough. How did you get here?  ....
..... Enjoy this. It's not going to last.  ....
..... That was a colossal error. Bet that puts the final nail in the coffin, won't it? ....
..... You can't even do something that simple, how in the world do you think you'll be able to (fill in the blank)?   ....

I battle this demon: every. single. day. It may be in a small way, just a brief fleeting thought where I can brush it off my shoulder and go on and not have it return. Other days, it clings to me, wraps itself around me like the best film and refuses to unwind. If you have never heard its voice, God bless you, because you are truly one of the blessed. If you've heard its ugly whispers, I need say nothing more. You know its rasp, its spitting hisses all too well.

For years, I tried to drown out its voice with food. Other people do it with far more dangerous vices, some with deadly consequences. Suicide either way -- slow or fast, it all depends. But I will fight with everything I have not to let the demon have me. I will scratch and claw with all my might for my sense of self, even damaged as it is, because I refuse to let Perfection win. I will reach out for help when I have to, even though I would rather chew a jumbo roll of tinfoil than admit I need help. (Yes, I am just that stubborn.)

This battle -- and how we fight it, how we win and lose -- is something I'll continue to ponder for a long time. Something I'll battle every day of my life, just as I have for life so far.

And for the family and friends of Mr. Hoffman, please know it wasn't you. Other bloggers have written it better than I, but it bears repeating. Perfection had him, and the mocking voice told him that none of this was enough, that he wasn't enough, that all of this was a sham and so was he, that only his pain was real and it would haunt him forever -- that no love was good enough to save him. Only he knows the real story and sadly, he's no longer here to tell it. All I can say is from this one soul damaged by Perfection is that it was not you, and not your fault. You did all you could. Perfection said it wasn't enough.

Perfection is a lying bastard. Never ever ever forget that.