I’m Okay and I Will Get There
Sometimes I think the act of writing is magical. That if I write it down, it will come to be or come true. By me going through the act of putting a thought or an idea down on paper or sending it out into the ether(net); by “putting it out there”, the “forces that be” will help make it happen or I will be more inclined to do whatever it is I say I want to do. I will hold myself accountable. Others will hold me accountable. Or I will be so embarrassed I shared my hope or my goal and didn’t achieve it, that I will just have to do what I wrote.
Sometimes this is true. Sometimes when I write something down, it becomes more solid to me; more tangible; more true; more real. Or the most magical thing of all will happen: someone will tell me they identify with something I wrote, or it made them think about something in a new way. Or it inspired them to do something they have been putting off or afraid of doing. That is the real, true magic to me, and I live for it.
But sometimes I write things down simply with the hope that the writing will activate the magical forces of the universe to snap me out of my habit; my comfort zone; my complacency. I dream that I will be effortlessly and magically motivated into new habits and out of old, bad habits, simply because I wrote something down and shared it. It is my very own intellectual “Hail Mary pass”.
When I first started writing, that magic seemed very real. I had so many thoughts and feelings bottled up for so long that I had been so afraid of saying out loud, that when I finally began releasing them, I did start to feel freer and lighter, and that led to more clarity and motivation in other parts of my life. It has been a slow process, but it has also been a really positive journey of growth and self-discovery that I don’t think would have been possible for me if I had not begun writing.
And then other times, nothing happens. Nothing changes. I write. I put things out there, and I’m still the same old me. Just Only Jenn. And sometimes, this is a disappointment.
This is my current reality: thus far, I have not been able to establish a new morning routine full of disciplined exercise, at least 30-minutes of writing, and embracing a new diet. Nope. Since I last wrote, I have changed absolutely nothing abut my morning ritual, or lack thereof. I still eat like shit. I still stay in bed way too long so as not to allow time to write each day for 5 minutes, let alone 30. There is, as of this writing, no fantastic, magical, new me. I’m not freeing up more time on the weekends by writing during the week. I’m still spending most of my Saturday writing because I couldn’t get it together to write each day prior.
At first, I was disappointed with myself. This is a cycle that I have been in for years– yeeeaarrssssssuh! I say I’m going to “turn over a new leaf”; establish some new ritual, routine, or goal-making plan, and I do absolutely nothing to change my current behavior. I know I’m not alone in this. If I were, the diet, exercise, and self-help industries wouldn’t exist. My brain simply continues to follow the path of least resistance, going to its familiar, unproductive routines of yore.
And then comes the big gun: the negative, internal talk. “Of course, you haven’t changed yet. Why would you think you are capable of change? Who do you think you are? You’ll never change. You haven’t changed yet; why would you think you are capable of change now? You’ll always be the same, ugly, unhealthy, fat, unsuccessful loser you are today and have been for decades.” And so on. And so on. And so on. And so on. And so on. And so… you get the gist.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the past several years of writing and reading about why people write, and the habits of artists or other successful people, it’s that everyone has a voice in their head that tells them not to create. It shows up in different forms. For some people, it tells them they’re stupid and untalented. For others, they fight being “lazy”. Still others fight fears of being called mundane, insipid, or boring. Some fear being misunderstood or misinterpreted. There is a wonderful book called The War of Art, by Steven Pressfield, that is both cleverly written and a book full of useful tools to get past what the author calls “Resistance”, or the things that get in the way of our creating. Similarly, in Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott addresses the overwhelming task of writing with an anecdote from her father: “…thirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report on birds written that he’d had three months to write, which was due the next day. We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table, close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books on birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him, put his arm around my brother’s shoulder, and said, ‘Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.’” Knowing I am in good company has been helpful, but it still doesn’t stop the onslaught of negative thoughts from coming.
What’s more, my negative thoughts don’t only pop up when I am writing. They show up when I am at work; or applying for a new job; or trying on new clothes (especially when I am trying on new clothes); talking to a new person I’m meeting for the first time at a party; or when I am hanging out with friends I’ve had for over thirty years; or when I’m alone with my thoughts and attempting to dream about some aspect of my future or plan a vacation. In other words, they are everywhere, all the time, trying to stop me from becoming not only a better version of myself; but even just a regular old “fine” version of myself.
But what is different now, is what happens after hearing my internal negative monologue. This is what I do now (and full credit to my therapist who gave me this visual image to help me do this): I picture my internal monologue as a record on a record player. I let that tired, old, crappy record of self-loathing play out. I allow it to play until it stops. Then I take a minute, and I breathe. I lift the needle off that record; lift that record off the player, and I smash the shit out of that record. I take a minute, and I either move on, or on very special occasions, I put on another record — a newer record of my very own, creation of positive things people have said to me, and I let that play for a moment. Admittedly, it is still a rare occasion I put on that new record, and I need to practice putting it on more often and learning to memorize its lyrics as steadfastly as I learned to recite the old, negative lyrics. Most of the time it is just enough for me to smash the negative record into bits and move on with my day.
As simple as this sounds, for much of my life, stopping these thoughts, let alone smashing and moving on from them was not only an impossible task, but an option I didn’t even know existed. It never occurred to me that I could do that. Instead, the negative thoughts would creep into my brain, and that was the end of any positive thought or hope or dream I had. My dreams, goals, and hopes were smashed by the voices. Not the other way around. For a long time, I simply accepted them as inevitable. I was simply too damaged, and hadn’t had enough support or positivity to overcome this negativity and self-loathing, and I never would. I didn’t have the desire to stop them because they were such an ever-present part of me, I thought they were me. How could I stop myself from being myself? Myself was simply a damaged individual who would never amount to anything.
But very slowly, over a long period of time in recent years, I began wanting to stop the negative thoughts in my head. I was getting older and more tired of them, and I wanted to not succumb to them anymore. I began wondering what my life could look like if I stopped giving into them, but I had no idea how to stop them. When my therapist introduced this new visual aid of picturing the thoughts as a record playing, something clicked for me. I had a tangible method to try.
In the beginning, when the negative thoughts would make their way in, all I was able to do was simply recognize them for what they were — a tired, old record. It still played; I still succumbed to it, but I began recognizing that they were just thoughts on this record; not a core aspect of my very being.
After a while, I tried to stop the record from playing. At first, I was not successful, but then bit by bit; instance by instance, I learned to lift the needle. Sometimes I was able to lift the needle only for a second before I put it back down. Eventually, more time grew before the needle went back down until I was able to stop the record from playing at all, and then I was able to lift the record off the player.
It was a while before I was able to take that lifted record and smash it, but eventually I did, and I was so excited. I thought, “now I can achieve anything!” But when those negative thoughts came back, and that record kept trying to play, I thought I was a failure and that I’d never be able to smash it again.
What I’ve learned is that these thoughts — this record, is a part of my life; it is a part of me, but it is not all of me. It will very likely be with me forever, but it plays less often, and it’s not as loud as it once was. When it pops back on in the jukebox of my brain, it no longer stops me in my tracks and smashes my hopes and dreams. When I hear it’s familiar opening notes, I simply go, “Oh no… I don’t like that song anymore” and hit “next”.
So, in the 14 days since I wrote A New Priority; A New Routine; A New Me?, instead of berating myself for not yet establishing the said new priorities and routines to lead to a new me, I am putting on a record that says, “It’s okay you haven’t changed everything about yourself in the past two weeks. It’s okay you haven’t broken and changed all of your bad habits. If you want to, you will. You are okay. What you’re doing is enough for now. You will keep going, and you will succeed.”
This new record is a lovely change to the broken song of old; that familiar narrative of feeling like I’m nothing. That record used to play incessantly — it was on repeat, all day, every day for most of my life. It is such a relief — such a joy that I am able to let that old record come to an end. It is even better when I don’t allow it to play at all. The fact that I can actually stop or prevent that record from playing feels like a freaking super power. And it frees up so much emotional energy and space for me to move forward instead of standing still or curling up into a ball and just giving up.
No, I haven’t written every day. I haven’t changed yet, and that’s okay. I’m still here, and I keep coming back. And for now, that is enough.