I took the first step towards my emotional undoing in college.
At the time it was very important to me that I attend because it meant I was intelligent. A college degree in a frame would validate that I wasn’t a screw up: I was a legitimate human being deserving of respect.
Unfortunately, I started to hate it.
Not college per se, but the program I was enrolled in. The lectures on theories that didn’t stimulate my interest in any capacity were sucking my soul dry. And I felt stuck. I had chosen the area of study, was three years in, and had put a lot of money into my courses (as had my parents). I truly felt it wasn’t acceptable for me to change my mind.
Plus I needed that damn piece of paper to prove my worth.
It all started the day I was born. In my family, being a girl wasn’t valued. Women were considered untrustworthy: they wanted your money to buy purses, were less intelligent than men, and were incapable of offering anything of substance to a conversation.
I know now that it wouldn’t have mattered what I accomplished in school. I could have become a Dr or a lawyer, but the truth would always eradicate the perceived value in the details: I was female, and a professional designation wouldn’t change that fact. The societal status it garnered might put me on the mantel for a while, but my inherent defect would always pull me down again.
Part of me accepted the degrading masochistic beliefs, but my heart stayed loyal to my spirit, which knew I was worth something more than the limitations I was born into. I spent much of my life distraught over the internal struggle between my brain and my heart.
And I carried the battle with me to college, where I found it incomprehensible that I might be worth the effort change would take, and the ensuing happiness it could bring.
I knew where my heart wanted to be: creative writing. I felt overwhelmingly blissful in my stylistics class, where I was given the chance to let the words that came to me pour onto the page. My efforts were valued there, and I received an A+, along with special recognition from my professor and classmates.
But the delight I felt in that class was so foreign to me that it seemed wrong. I didn’t believe I had the right to be that happy. I was generally joy-deficient, which was familiar to me, and therefore comforting. Bliss was foreign and scary.
I felt guilty when I was too happy.
Loaded with all of that luggage, not finishing what I’d started wasn’t an option to me. Failure was worse than self-suffering. If I completed my program, maybe I would be valued, and held in a more positive light. If everyone held me in high esteem for what I had accomplished, then maybe I could learn to love myself. What a truly sad and hopeless undertaking.
So I continued half-assing my classes until the grades started to match the effort: I got a C- on one of my tests. I couldn’t bring myself to do the work, and the bad grade added more fuel to the self-deprecating fire. Sadly, there are times when that C- still haunts me.
But back then, I needed a distraction. I needed to get rid of the continuous feelings of distress. So I made a choice.
It was a weekday, early evening. I was in desperation mode. It was a bit of a joke between acquaintances that if you drank by yourself, you had problems. And up until that point, I could never push through the shame I anticipated feeling if I had drunk alone to actually do it.
But something was different that night: the need to anesthetize the misery was stronger than my want to not feel shameful for drinking alone.
So I ran away from the feelings. I ran by getting completely and utterly wasted. And then I did it again and again, off and on, to varying degrees of intensity, for over 15 years.
I’ve always been wary of anything that seems easy. “What’s the catch?” I’d say. And this appeared to be just that: easy. I could start to feel better one glass of wine in, with happiness intensifying after every sip.
At the time the short-term repercussions appeared to be a hangover, which I’d had plenty of experience managing since a teenager. But the long-term effects were much more damaging.
The depression, aggression, guilt, shame, anxiety, and brain fog for days afterward – they were merciless. So I’d drink to get rid of them too. Soon alcohol became my go-to solo-escape mechanism. Removing the unmanageable feelings became #1 on my to-do list.
I experienced a lot of backlash. Family members said a lot of nasty things. I can only imagine what other people thought or said about me. None of that helped. I was a shell of a human then, and for many years following. I was in survival mode, caught in a self-medicating loop.
I learned the hard way that bullying someone who is suffering never creates a positive outcome.
I’ve also learned that it’s best to air on the side of compassion when considering a scenario you don’t understand, particularly when you know nothing of the history behind the behavior.
Drinking wasn’t about me wanting to have a good time – it was about me not wanting to feel.
If I’m being real, hell yes I’m still pissed off about how mean those people were. But I also know we aren’t owed anything in life, and I’m 100% sure I was no angel back then.
There’s some good stuff that came of it though: my ability to feel and show compassion and empathy for those who suffer has intensified.
And while it really hurt to know that my pain fuelled merciless judgment, it’s always good to know what people are capable of.
I can now make the choice to keep my distance from people who aren’t capable of being kind, and I can work on offering others the love and support I had wished for all those years ago.
Logic would dictate that I should have changed my circumstances in college, helping rather than hindering myself. But fear is one hell of a drug.
I was terrified of facing the feelings and emotions tied to my discontent, and I made the choice to numb myself through self-medicating, a practice commonly used by those who suffer from anxiety, depression, and unresolved trauma.
And now, everyday I must choose to make better decisions. I have to work hard at not taking the easy route when things get scary.
When fear comes knocking, I want to shut it out as quickly as possible.
I’ve had to practice choosing to not get wrapped up in the Facebook and Instagram posts attempting to legitimize alcohol as being a great escape for anyone who’s had a bad day.
Social media encourages us to maintain our addictions, and much of what we see (or don’t realize we see thanks to our subconscious mind) is dangerous noise, particularly for someone who is susceptible to depression and anxiety.
The bottom line is this: it’s very easy to convince yourself that every day is a bad, worthy-of-getting-wasted day, particularly when you’re continuously juggling shame, fear, and unresolved trauma. And it’s very easy to find other people who believe it’s totally acceptable to alter ones mental state in order to avoid sub-par feelings.
But the feelings will always be there to greet you in the morning, ten-fold in intensity, begging to be acknowledged. So what do we do?
We stop running from the bad feelings.
Everyone is running, they just don’t have their runners on. Some people are running while they sit on the couch, bingeing on video games or Instagram feeds instead of creating a clean, loving and safe home for their children. Some people run by binge-eating at 2 am when the whole house is asleep, even though they are severely overweight and diabetic.
And some people run by drinking alone to avoid their feelings of inadequacy and shame, even though they know the alcohol will intensify their anxiety and depression.
I’m learning that it’s OK to be raw and real. In fact, I’m working on normalizing the idea that facing it all, instead of running, is powerful. Because it’s perfectly OK to crumble, even if other people tell us it’s not.
Why are we so desperately committed to pretending we have it all figured out all the time anyway? No one was born with a golden scroll containing instructions on how to kick-ass at everything in life.
Life is challenging and entails making tough decisions, specifically, getting serious about who and what we allow into our lives. Relieving myself of the people who don’t have it in them to be supportive in the ways that allow me to flourish instead of flounder is #1 for me.
Those who only want me for how I can serve them aren’t likely to be giving off inspiring vibes. And I need to be around good vibes to become the person I want to be.
I need to be the good vibes.
Whatever I need to do will be original, in that it’s based on what I feel is right for me. No longer can I live my life based on pleasing the cool kids, and living up to unrealistic standards. I’m sure the task list will evolve (I’m actually hoping to lower the number of tasks so I can focus on the truly important ones).
But regardless of what I end up doing, it’s pretty great to have come to a place in my life where I believe I am worth the effort it takes to change when I feel the need to.
I’m ready to open my heart and mind to the idea that I am worth more than the limitations I was born into.
I’m ready to forgive myself for past digressions and accept that no matter what happens, I am worth the effort change may take.
I’m ready to create a new template for my life. And if you’re suffering, I hope you’ll consider doing the same.