This article was published in the September 2016 issue of Blank Spaces Literary Magazine and was featured in the book, Just Words, Volume 1. Check it out here.
For many years I mistook ridicule for love. I didn’t have a solid understanding of what it was to begin with, so I roamed around looking for attention, because to me, it meant caring.
And I’d take it in any form it came, positive or negative. If someone took the time to make fun of me – to my face – they cared. Strangely, behind-my-back ridicule was earth shattering. I think I felt that if it happened in front of me, I at least had a chance to validate it or reject it, defending myself with a rage-filled tirade, or laugh along with everyone else at the joke, which happened to be at my expense. If it was done in the shadow of whispers, I had zero control, and the thought of that happening scared me senseless.
So the goal in the early years was simple: get someone to pay attention to me.
Attention was love, and I had no love for myself or, I felt, from others. I couldn’t see past the self-loathing long enough to sense when someone truly cared for me. That confusion led to a lot of emotional degradation, which was both self-inflicted and extended from outsiders.
Negativity – in all of its flavors – was what I was used to.
I quite naturally exuded and gravitated towards it. Hate was my jam: people called me Angrea, and believe me, I earned that nickname!
I dished it out as much as I took it. My self-loathing manifested into all of my relationships: poison attracted poison. I was incredibly toxic to myself and others, and had zero grasp on how to control any of the thoughts that frantically invaded my mind. The toxins permeated through my skin, attracting more toxic people and scenarios, which only served to validate my behavior. And I excused away everything with a “he/she is doing it, so it must be OK if I do” thought process. Hate attracted more hate.
Desperation stinks, and invites more of the same. When you are desperate for love, you end up with a fake version of it, one you accept as truth because it’s all you know and it’s all you think you can get.
But time does not equal love. Quality matters.
Five minutes of authentic connection is worth more than a 2 hour, $200 dollar dinner paid for by someone doing it solely to appease their ego. (I’ve experienced that quite a few times.)
When we don’t have a clear definition of love, we try to fill that emptiness with all sorts of dangerous, counterproductive thoughts and activities that evolve and intensify as time goes on. Thing can get out of hand quickly if we don’t find ourselves sooner rather than later.
Much of this downward spiral is fed by the fact that to some, negativity is comforting.
I know many people have a hard time understanding this truth, and here’s my rendition of it: familiar is comfortable.
When negativity is familiar, we gravitate towards negative feelings and scenarios.
And when we are caught in the throes of it, we don’t see the way out as being better, we see it as the unknown path, which is scary. So we reject it. This is why it is so hard to change life-long patterns. We fear change, and stick with what we know, regardless of the suffering the stagnation brings.
The goal is to take the unknown path.
Dip a toe into strange waters, and try it out. I’m one of those people who did just that. My journey started quite abruptly: there were simply no other routes left to take. I had to change something because the sadness was consuming me, and the path I was on was eroding so quickly, I had to get off it.
The process began when I started feeding myself thoughts and activities that were based in love, not fear. It was small-scale at first, with books and readings that inspired me, closely followed by a daily mediation practice that allowed me to clear my mind of the hyperactive, anxiety-laden thoughts that ruled my life for over 20 years.
In the beginning, I could barely sit for five minutes, and it felt like a futile effort. But then I began receiving small, 30-second glimpses of nothingness, where my mind was clear of fear and negativity. And I felt peaceful for the first time in my life.
Meditation was a life-saving activity for me: It flipped my distorted belief that calm comes from outside sources on its ass.
My daily practice opened the door to the idea that I could trust myself, and that my contributions to this world are important. I realized that my positive, authentic self was something worth sharing, and that when I allowed that part of me to just be, other people responded with their true selves as well.
This is an amazing thing to witness, and what the world needs more of: people acting out of love for themselves, and others, instead of aggressively masquerading as something or someone their not.
Here’s the statement to remember:
You will not die from uncomfortable feelings, but you can die from activities that serve to avoid the feelings that pain you.
Giving myself permission to be the person I am, not excusing away what makes me different, and releasing the need for outside approval – these are the greatest gifts I ever gave myself, and continue to give myself every day. Saying no to comparing and focusing solely on the stuff that brings me happiness and peace is what my life revolves around now.
That’s not to say there aren’t things I do that I don’t like, but generally those activities are superficial, fold-the-laundry type stuff. All the rest brings me a lot of joy. And meditation is the #1 player in helping me to filter out the thoughts, activities and actions that aren’t a good fit for me.
Today, I’m fascinated by the levels and degrees of degradation I put myself through. The things we will convince ourselves of in order to hold onto a false sense of control: It’s wild!
To think that I was so beaten down that I accepted any form of attention as love is truly incredible.
What’s even more incredible is that I was able to turn all of that around in the past two years…
What this journey has engraved in my mind is that when we outgrow a space, we must find another one that better suits our needs. Change is necessary for growth, and we don’t have to fear it: it is not the enemy.
When we push through the fear to find a new space, the boxes of thoughts and feelings that merely take up space, rather than serve a purpose, don’t need to come with us.
Shedding what you no longer need will make room for thoughts and activities that support your growth. I have done this, and continue to do it, with every thought, activity, and scenario that no longer serves my soul. And I am living proof that it works.
It comes down to trust and a lack of options: I had no other choice but to leap into the unknown, and trust that no matter what happens, all will be well. And that I can handle it.
Because the world needs more me, and less hate.