If I can just explain

The truth is I would use your approval as a proxy for the approval I’m withholding from myself.

If you say it’s okay, I can rest easy, ignoring the voice in my own head that says it’s not.

It’s easier to win the outside world’s favour than my own – its standards are always lower. It lets me off the hook, and I can just go on living, without asking myself why that voice is telling me it’s not okay.

But I’ve never been trying to convince you of anything – only me.

The Spiral

Is anything ever really over?

Is there ever a hard line? The closer you look, the blurrier it gets.

I’ve always seen in far too many shades of grey for my own good. Clarity is not a natural by-product of my thinking. But there are times in my life I look back on, with the benefit of distance, and see that they have been completed. They are no longer swirling around me, impacting my existence. They are done. They didn’t come back from the dead, and there is zero risk that they ever will. They were, and, now, they are not.

Other things, well…we go round and round the carousel, and sometimes we forget how it looked from over here, until here we are again and, oh yes, just like last time. But different. But still.

It’s not clean, and it’s not easy, and if you don’t laugh you might cry. When will it be over? Maybe it’s just the kind of thing that never ends.

The Undelivered Letter

A few months ago I did a thing I had vowed never to do. I sent a letter to someone I had promised myself I wouldn’t contact again. I had known for a long time that I was depriving myself of resolution by not attempting contact, but I had been prioritising avoiding the discomfort I perceived I may cause them by reaching out. My world would not let it go, and so I relented, changed my priorities, and wrote the damn letter.

If you’d like an interesting exercise, write someone you love a letter telling them all the beautiful things you’d like to tell them, and then read it back to yourself as if you had received it. If you want to make the whole thing a lot more uncomfortable for yourself, write them a letter that you actually send, keep yourself a copy, and read that back as if you had received it. Compare and contrast. Because those two letters, I’m fairly confident, are going to be different letters.

Though I hadn’t kept a copy, my letter in this instance was returned to sender, and so I had the very literal experience of receiving it. I hid it for a couple of months, unwilling to look at it. But my world would not let it go, so eventually I relented and opened the fucker up.

I had actually done the first part of the above exercise at some point fairly recently because a guy on YouTube told me to. I’d written them an unreserved, matter-of-fact love letter, which was a fine but hardly revelatory experience to read back, given the facts I had already written them countless unsent letters over the years, and I’d also very deliberately worked on using my experienced love for them to inform my newly constructed love for me.

The Undelivered Letter, though, that, as they say, hit different. It was different. It was well constructed, it was warm, it was light, it was funny. It was self-aware. But it was also dripping with deference and apology. And, as I now have self-esteem to speak of, I found that particularly off-putting. As a person who loves me, I didn’t understand why I was so sorry to confess my love. Why was I apologising for taking up space, when I was there simply to wish me only good things? Sure, I was teasing myself about it, but why was I throwing myself at my feet? Why did I think I was so unworthy of my time and attention? The whole vibe fatigued me.

And that’s when I understood why this has been haunting me for so long. I lost a part of myself when I fell in love with this person, because I was so ashamed to fall in love with them. More accurately, I was ashamed of the part of me that couldn’t be without them once I had. The part of me that was desperate for them to reciprocate my love, and thus acted in desperation when they turned their back on me. I disowned that part of myself for many years, and I didn’t recognise it again until I read that fucking letter.

That was the resolution I needed. I needed to accept that part of me back, even though it was offputting. That part of me still craved my love.

This was a saga I had accepted would never be over for me, despite never being anything else either. So I was reluctant to believe that an Undelivered Letter could hold within it The Answer. But that point of focus that I couldn’t disengage myself from has dissolved. I simply don’t look there anymore. I can look there, but there’s nothing in particular to see anymore. My world has let it go. I have let it go.

We hold onto things for a reason. Often not the reason we think. Trying to let go through force of will may be ill-advised, but that doesn’t mean our fate is to keep holding on. Maybe we need to write a letter, or look in the mirror, or do the thing we’re afraid of doing, I don’t know. But I think our world tells us what needs to be done. I’m just particularly bad at yielding to its direction.

Hayley

The only woman I’ve ever really viscerally wanted to be is singer-songwriter, Paramore frontwoman and ‘hair dye tycoon’ Hayley Williams. And that’s not a thing borne out of fandom, especially, though I have come to appreciate her work in recent years. It’s because part of me resonates so keenly with her, in a way I can’t really explain. Part of me believes I could have been her – should have been – if only, if only I hadn’t failed at being, in all the necessary ways.

When I was younger I was downright jealous of her, and I masked it with disdain. But I was the one who was scared to sing. I was the one who was scared to be in community. I was the failure, and I knew I had no right to criticise her, so the disdain ate at me, and wouldn’t let me forget it.

As I grew older and wiser, I let myself admit that I even enjoyed Paramore a bit. But they remained a ‘guilty’ pleasure. I didn’t want anyone to know I listened to them, and any time I did, which wasn’t often, I felt oddly on display. Who can hear this and what must they think!? As if anyone would think anything at all.

Her solo material was what let me reconcile my complicated feelings about her. We have some important similarities. We’ve had some importantly similar experiences in our lives. We have similar faultlines. We’ve learned similar lessons. But through that and despite it, she was able to continue becoming the success that she is and deserves to be. And I…well I never even seemed to begin. I had been holding that against myself, and she, most than most, reminded me.

What were the differences between us that led to our divergent paths through life, even as we traversed similar terrain? How was she able to build and maintain a fulfilling career, while every avenue I even thought of pursuing collapsed around me in short order? Why could she sing and I couldn’t? Why could she integrate and I couldn’t? We were both in pain, so my pain wasn’t the reason. How could she do it, and do it so well, and I couldn’t do it at all?

Well, there are very good explanations, of course. But that’s another tale.

Off the grid

I grew up into a person who believed very strongly in self-sufficiency. In every sense. It was not only what I sought to achieve, but also something I believed was necessary for me to achieve in order to become worthy.

I don’t think it was just an unreasonable ideal I was chasing to validate myself. I think it was also, maybe mostly, a defence mechanism.

In more recent years, I have been more ideologically inclined toward interdependence. Being off the grid started to seem selfish and short sighted. The easy way out and the road to nowhere. True self-sufficiency started to look not only illusory, but also just theoretically suboptimal. Being part of a bigger, better whole now seems, for me, to be the only logical route to a good life.

The problem is I am bad at interdependence. I am constantly, unintentionally, dropping off the grid. If I could keep believing that was where I am supposed to be, things would be easier for me. But I don’t. So they’re not.

If I didn’t need anyone, I wouldn’t need them to forgive me. If nobody needed me, I wouldn’t let them down. I wasn’t just chasing self-sufficiency to become worthy; I was running away from my inherent unworthiness. But it’s not until you face these things that you realise they were never really true to begin with. The only way I’m going to accept my actual worth is to keep doing stuff badly and being forgiven.

Which is not my preference, quite frankly – I prefer to be flawless.