Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Loving the Bomb and Sucking Out the Poison


If you've been feeling inadequate, lonely, unnoticed, and completely unremarkable this post is for you.

If you're struggling to find your tribe, your people, or learning to 'invest in people who invest in you' then this post is for you.

If you're feeling worthless and somewhat unaccomplished, this post is for you.

If you're feeling like you're doing an OK job at lots of things but not a great job at any one thing in your life, this post is for you.


I know, pretty heavy for a Wednesday morning and for someone who typically counts herself as having "good self esteem" and generally "thinks highly of herself" and who incidentally also likes "to overuse quotation marks" but yes, I have been feeling all of the above for some time now and because I usually work these things out through writing I'm going to try to work some of this out today. I'm not sure if I'll hit publish, but of course if you're reading this then we'll both know I did.

Lately, I keep going back to 6th grade, which for me happened to be at Goddard Middle school in Littleton, Colorado. I had always navigated the school social scene fairly well. I had a lot of friends  in elementary school and had always been part of the (forgive me for saying this) cool kids group. As far as I was concerned I dug school and school dug me and 6th grade was shaping up to be more of the same. As is commonly done, our middle school was the product of two different elementary schools merged together, which also meant the subsequent merging of the social hierarchy from these same two schools. Having never had a problem with these types of mergers before I was confident I would once again be a key part of the social scene and surely this would be the best year yet.

You've no doubt deduced by now that this is not what happened.

As that first week of 6th grade commenced and I set about networking as per the usual customs--sitting with my old friends and the new cool girls for lunch, hanging out in front of school before the first bell rang--something  inexplicable happened... I struck out. Somehow that first week there had been an unofficial yet official vote cast and I was black balled and deemed unworthy of this new 6th grade super group.

It took a while to really sink in. Surely there had been some mistake... why weren't my old friends speaking up for me? Why didn't the new girls (who were definitely the queen bees) find me cool enough?

Did I have my bangs properly rolled and hair-sprayed into a stiff claw-like structure?  Check.
Did I have an interesting back-story about being bitten by a dog on the face over the summer? Check.
Was I wearing Esprit? Check.

What else could I have done? I don't really know what happened, but the facts remained--I was not welcome in this group. Having no other options I became what was known as a 'follower.' A follower was someone who wasn't really part of the group but followed them around anyway during lunch and recess. I knew they weren't my friends, yet some of them had been my friends and so I kept pretending like these kids were my friends, my peeps. Except I wasn't pretending--I knew they didn't want me around but the further we got into the school year the more other friendships and groups were being cemented into what seemed at the time to be impermeable 6th grade tribes of solidified friendship that would last for all eternity, and I missed my window to break into another group. I was stuck. And it sucked you guys, it sucked rocks. 

Of course like all trials I also gained a whole new perspective on my life at the time. I understood how quickly things could change and how precarious friendship could be at this age. I now knew what it felt like to be 'uncool' and to have people consider me as less than. And I also knew this wasn't real. What I mean by that is that I never actually believed that I was uncool or unworthy of their friendship, I just thought they missed the memo. I distinctly remember thinking, Oh...they don't get it. I'm actually really cool and funny. So much funnier than they were in fact. This is actually a really important sticking point here people--I could not believe how unfunny these girls were and yet the kids... they laughed. I don't blame them. In the communist world that is the 6th grade social structure when Chairman Mao makes a joke, you laugh. Anyway, for a while I was actively trying to change the situation, hoping that a well timed come-back or a really sweet cardigan would ease me into fold. But of course that never happened. And while I subtly tried to change the situation, fortunately I never thought about changing myself.

I survived that year and the one thing I knew for sure was that I would never put myself in a situation like that again. This was the first time I would be learning the lesson to "invest in people who invest in you." I eventually accepted the fact that those girls didn't want to be my friends and I had to move on.

So I did. I devised this really awesome and tactical plan over the summer.  Ready for it? Make Amber D. my best friend. That was my entire plan. Sure it was an all-my-eggs-in-one-basket type of plan, but what did I have to lose? Miraculously, it worked. Amber and I became best friends during those next two years of middle school and I attribute some of my very favorite childhood memories to our friendship. Amber and I are still loosely in touch, I went to her wedding 6 years ago and we cried when we saw each other. Even though we don't talk often I still count her as the first true friend I ever had. We didn't get in petty fights, we didn't do any of that middle school girl crap to each other. We were just really good friends. And as time and distance separated us over the years we would always pick back up where we left off. In the end, being kicked out of the cool kids club was one of the best things that ever happened to me.

Back to the present day. One of the most surprising things about being a grown up is realizing that I don't have things more figured out, I have them less figured out. Having moved 4 times in our 10 years of marriage, all while becoming a mother, learning how to parent and how to be a wife while still trying to maintain me is difficult at best and one small shove away from a tight, white jacket and a padded room at worst.

I love this online world I'm a part of--outside of my family it's been one of the most consistent things I've had in my life the past 10 years--but at the same time I've often felt like my 6th grade self again... not quite cool enough. Except often it's worse than that. I don't feel good enough. Part of it is simply finding the time to pursue some of my goals and interests (I'm working on that--it's been really hard trying to find outside help), but the other part are feelings of sheer inadequacy. It is easy to get caught up in the comparison trap. There are so many people killing it at what they do. In the words of Mr. Cool J, they are doin' it, doin' it and doin' it well. Whether it's being a mother, a wife, a blogger, an artist, a decorator, a photographer, being a friend, or even making friends I have felt inadequate and have struggled to feel competent in all these areas of my life as of late. Now unlike my 6th grade experience I haven't faced any mean girls per se (at least not overtly), but I haven't found my Amber D. either. But also unlike my 6th grade self I've allowed myself to be sucked into the lie that I am not enough. Right now every little thing from how I parent to how my house is decorated for Halloween feels sub par, and for some reason this is getting tangled up in my actual self worth. Which only makes me want to get down on myself more because I know better. These things are not who I am and do not equate to my worth. And yet...the feelings say otherwise. Not a fun cycle to be caught it.

Forgive me for switching gears yet again, but I promise this will all come together...there are a couple articles I've read in the past few weeks that have really stayed with me through all this crazy self-doubt and feelings of worthlessness lately. They go in completely different directions, but they correlate in an unexpected way.

The first article is from Elna Baker a name some of you may recognize as a contributor to This American Life. In the article Elna talks about her history with weight loss and general negative body issues. It was really her last two lines that hit me hard and you don't need to read the entire article to get the context, although of course it will help. After talking about extreme weight loss and surgery to remove excess skin, and still not feeling happy with her body and feeling like a hypocrite at the same time she closes with this: "The truth is I think everyone should genuinely accept themselves--everyone, except for me. This is the disease I am still trying to overcome."

Ugh. On one level or another we all get this. For me, I sit here as someone who writes about our value as human beings regardless of our abilities or disabilities, regardless of our successes or failures... I feel like I could look every single person I meet in the eye and tell them they are priceless beyond measure simply for existing, and yet I struggle to believe this about myself. 

The other article comes from an interview with Stephen Colbert. This was a surprisingly good and insightful read, but it's long and you have to read to the end. Honestly, it's well worth your time--read it here. In it he says that one of his improv teachers told him the most important lesson he could pass onto them was this: 'You have to learn to love the bomb.' He goes on to say, "It took me a long time to really understand what that meant.  It wasn't 'Don't worry, you'll get it next time. It wasn't, laugh it off.' No, it means what it says. You gotta learn to love when you're failing... the embracing of that, the discomfort of failing in front of an audience, leads you to penetrate through the fear that blinds you.  Fear is the mind killer." 

Whoa, right? It gets better. 

He then goes on to talk about losing his dad and two of his brothers when he was 10 years old to a plane crash and yet he is a genuinely happy, even joyful person who carries no anger in his heart for the circumstances of his youth. He talks about his mom, "'And by her example I am not bitter. By her example. She was not. Broken, yes. Bitter, no.'" The article goes on to say, "Maybe, he said, she had to be that for him. He has said this before--the even in those days of unremitting grief, she drew in her faith that the only way to not be swallowed by sorrow, to in fact recognize that our sorrow is inseparable from joy, is to always understand our suffering, ourselves, in the light of eternity. What is this in the light of eternity? 'It was a very healthy reciprocal acceptance of suffering,' he said. 'Which does not mean being defeated by suffering.  Acceptance is not defeat. Acceptance is just awareness,' He smiled in anticipation of the callback:  'You gotta learn to love the bomb,' he said."

I just want to make sure you're paying attention because this is the kicker. Colbert goes on to say, "Boy did I have a bomb was I was 10. The was quite an explosion. And I learned to love it. So that's why. Maybe, I don't know. That might be why you don't see me as someone angry and working out my demons onstage. It's that I love the thing that I most wish had not happened." 

I've been trying to figure out for weeks how my 6th grade experience relates to my present life. I think the main lesson is in learning to love the bomb--the embracing of circumstances in your life that  will breed acceptance, which turns into strength and helps you rise above. In 6th grade I learned to love the thing that I most wish had not happened. Being a social outcast was the best thing that ever happened to me at that age. I was freed from being this person who had to fall in with the social norms that dictated what it meant to be popular. For years now I have had this realization that I'm a little too artsy for the mainstream crown and a little too mainstream for the artsy crowd. 6th grade was when this realization was starting to come into focus and had I been accepted back then I'm not sure I would have been the same person I am today. I learned to love the bomb. I didn't realize it, I wasn't trying to, but I did. 

Today, the rejection I sometimes feel if a blog or Instagram post doesn't go over well, if my art isn't fawned over or if a personal connection doesn't meet my expectations has at times filled me with self-doubt and feelings of worthlessness. And the main difference is the source of these feelings. In 6th grade it was easy to reject the idea that I was a nobody or that I was unworthy when someone else was telling me so. But self-doubt and feelings of worthlessness that stem from within? That is some seriously poisonous, mind-altering, toxic crap. There is no fear more crippling, no restraint stronger than the doubts and false beliefs of worthlessness manufactured inside our own brains.

Exhale. I think I'm getting somewhere.

After expressing all this self-doubt, inadequacy, anger and shame the other night to my husband which culminated in cussing, crying, walking outside in the dark barefoot and more crying I finally came in and asked for a blessing (something we do in the Mormon faith). I was reminded of my worth. I was reminded that it is infinite and eternal and nothing I can do or be will alter that. I was reminded to be still and know that I am God, which is so very different from my usual approach of trying to make/do/be and know that I am awesome! Trust me, my method doesn't produce lasting results.

In closing, learn to love the bomb...yes, Yes! Embrace when you're failing in order to break through the fear that is, as Stephen said, the mind killer. I didn't want to change who I was in 6th grade and I don't want to change who I am now. If I lose a few followers or readers being myself, if my art fails to impress or a friendship doesn't blossom, I trust that in time, I will find my people and my people will find me. The bombs in our lives are our circumstances, not us. This is the difference between having a failure and feeling like I am the failure. So yes, learn to love the bomb.

But when you find yourself spiraling down in shame, fear, inadequacy, worthlessness, guilt, anger, and self-loathing, you suck that poison right out, because that shiz is lethal

41 comments:

  1. Anonymous2:52 PM

    I've commented a few times and always said that we have very different backgrounds -- I have chosen not to have children, different religions, etc ... but man I could have written this blog post. I go to a lot of therapy because sometimes I just don't know how to not hate myself. So amen sister! I get it. Seriously -- suck out the poison! Love the bomb. Such good advice. Thank you for this today!

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    1. Anon--so glad this post resonated with you. It really means a lot that no matter our backgrounds we all go through the same things. Best to you.
      XO

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  2. Melissa3:26 PM

    Beautifully written post. You are so insightful and reflective. I have had such a similar experience as a woman I my 40s. I feel like many times my self esteem is much lower than when I was younger. I question my decisions, thoughts, actions so much more now than I ever did as a teen. I would have expected it to be the opposite. So good to know I'm not alone in feeling this way. I really appreciate your blog and your encouragement.

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    1. Right? Self awareness that comes with age can be a curse and a blessing--like you I'm constantly checking myself. I guess the idea that you just stop caring what other people think and do whatever the crap you want to in your Golden years is starting to look appealing. :)

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  3. Oooooooh, so good and hits close to home. Thanks for sharing a piece of yourself...XOXOXO

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    1. Thank you. And you're welcome. XO

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  4. Beautiful. I feel you.

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    1. Man...why don't we live close to each other?
      Thanks for your comment. :)

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  5. I'm going through some self-challenging stuff right now as well. Midlife crisis? I don't know. But I'm trying to dig out. Thanks for being so honest. And giving me some powerful thoughts to think about.

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    1. Jen--I was actually wondering if this too is a mid-life crisis. Especially that whole idea that I feel like I know less as an adult than I did as a kid. Best to you!

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  6. This is the first time I comment here, but I have been following your blog for some time now, as I find you are a wonderful person, a talented painter, a loving mom of fantastic children and a very nice looking wife. The list could go on really.

    Usually long posts are not for me, but this time I went through it thoroughly. Why ? I could relate. Last week, I went through a similar evening with my husband and ended up crying a lot. Well, you are not alone having such feelings. I am living in Italy and feel very close to you. I'll try to figure out what my bomb is or was.

    Thank you for this post and keep on writing.
    xxx

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    1. I love Italy. And I love that we can feel connected on opposite sides of the world...one of my favorite things about blogging. And good luck finding and embracing your bomb. Just remember, YOU are amazing and wonderful. Say it to yourself until you believe it. XO

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  7. Hey, it happens. The crap, the fan, the chaos. It all happens.
    You got this. Loved this post.
    Rebecca

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  8. Anonymous9:45 PM

    I have been in a similar situation recently. I highly recommend the podcast "The JV Club," which is women talking about their adolescence and relating it to their adulthood- it's wonderful and often ends up covering self-esteem issues, as well as a lot of other deeper subjects.

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    1. That sounds like a good listen--thanks for the recommendation!

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  9. Oh... I've been an avid fan of yours for a long time. Though while we were both in NYC I'm not sure I knew how to show it. Sometimes it's simply a case of not knowing how to relate to someone you perceive as SUPER COOL. That's you, by-the-way.

    I find myself back in a small UT town now and methinks I came on too strong initially with my 20-years-on-the-EastCoast-self. That and many other self-defeating thoughts roil around in myhead as I wonder why EVERYONE doesn't like/love me here. Because it is more marked in a small town. As I wrestle, what's important for me is to triumph in maintaining a generous heart towards them all. Sometimes that's hard and I can't muster my usual levels of happy energy. But, as mentioned, bitterness is never a good solution. Neither is perpetual self-pity. Moving through it is the goal, and roaring at ourselves that our worthiness for love&belonging is never on the chopping block. Ever. I may not always be someone people can relate to, but I should never think to myself that I'm not commendable. It all starts with self, which you pointedly stated. Of course, you're right. May it sink in and feel real to us all. Oxo

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    1. Oh love...the feeling was mutual. I always thought you were the bee's knees. And yes getting down on ourselves for being ourselves (which naturally include being fallible or HUMAN) is so self defeating...but so easy to do. We all really do deserve to feel the full measure of our worth.

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  10. Anonymous9:41 AM

    I think I will keep this post saved for re-reading and re-reading. My life has had a few bombs, and I've always been a coulda, shoulda, woulda, woman. Maybe I should start loving the bomb. Thanks for this post. I needed to hear this.

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    1. UGH! I too can get stuck in the coulda, woulda, should's and they are the worst. Good luck to us both for breaking out of that cycle.

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  11. I don't comment often, but this post really hit home for me. I have felt all of these things, especially recently. This move has really been an unexpected punch in the gut, good as it has been for my family. Change is hard. I think you're awesome.

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    1. Change is hard. Even when we think we understand the scope or 'we've been there before' (in our case). Sending love, prayers and good thoughts your way.

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  12. Amy... Oh, Amy. This is fantastic. I hope you learn to love the bomb because you are the bomb!!

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  13. Great last paragraph. That shiz is lethal. Yes it is.

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  14. You don't know me - first time reader here - but gosh I needed this today. Thank you. Thank you for the rawness and the sharing of what you learn... some of us (ok esp me) have much to learn on this subject still. Many hugs your way.

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    1. I think this is one of those things in life that will be on a constant rinse and repeat cycle. If only have to figure something out one time... like you I still have much to learn on this subject and will be revisiting these lessons often. Hopefully this is one small step further. XO

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  15. It's amazing how badly I can hate my past, but love my present self. We are on a teeter totter. Thank you for this post, I wouldn't be me without my past, and you wouldn't be you without yours. And that is beautiful to me.

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  16. This post was perfect. What I really needed to here.
    Awesomeness. :-)

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  17. needed to read this. I think I will revisit it too with time x

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  18. Angie6:24 PM

    Found you through Design Mom and...Thank you. I so needed to read that.

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    1. Glad it resonated. Thanks for stopping by.

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  19. I had this exact conversation (emotional breakdown) with my husband yesterday. Great post!

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  20. I really needed to read this today. I'm struggling with so many of the same things, and you articulated them so well! I think we had very similar 6th grade experiences! Sometimes thinking back on that year is borderline traumatic - I have had to do the same thing, look back at how that year shaped me in crucial ways for the good. I actually read the Elna Baker article and watched the Colbert interview recently too and they both resonated with me. We don't know each other, but I think you may be part of my tribe nonetheless. ;) Sending love and thanks from San Diego...

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  21. This is great. I'll share it with my 9th grader. We talk about this often...but I think you articulated it better than I ever have. She is so kind hearted and doesn't really understand why people change just to be popular...she is a lot like you (artist, plays guitar, free spirit). High school is so much better for her than middle school, but she still struggles to find her tribe. I tell her it will happen and if she stays true to who she is those friendships will be the best and most rewarding. The journey can just be lonely sometimes. She has friends but no one really close. I found my dearest friends in college...and it was worth the wait. XO- Wong

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  22. P.S. The struggle is still real for me as well...as I listen to my daughter I hear her saying the same things I am thinking. But man when you meet those peeps in your tribe it is the best EVER and I am reminded of why it is important to love "the bomb"

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  23. You alway say it so well. Well done, well said. That shiz is lethal.

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  24. Love this, love you! I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t envious of your amazing talents in art, music, writing, homemaking, jokemaking, etc... AND your consistency in sharing them on this blog. Can we just live next door again, for more than a few months this time?

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  25. You are so talented at expressing yourself. This is one of two posts you have written now that speak to the deepest parts of my soul (the other was your response to the person who wrote to you about abortion). I had the worst day today. Worst. It isn't chance that your Insta post led me here to read this. Never stop writing and sharing. You are making a difference to so many I am sure. I know you do for me. Thanks.

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  26. My best friend Kym F sent me this link. Feeling less than and worthless and low low low is such a crippling place to be, but knowing I'm not the only one to feel this way, and that, in fact, I'm in good company, is healing. Thank you for sharing and being open and vulnerable. It's very powerful. I just finished a book right now that you might enjoy. Right now. While you are working through these feelings. Love Warrior.

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  27. Catching up on your blog Amy...!!such good writing!! I can relate to this so much as well. I can't wait to talk this over IN PERSON! with you tomorrow. Can I just say how impressed I am that you keep this up? This blog, this everyday? This hard, hard work that is a blessing to you now, will be a blessing to you in your future (and in your childrens' future) and obviously is a blessing to soooooo many other people!! This is hard. And you're doing it! You're the bomb;) xoxooxoxx

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    1. And I just read the date...ha! THis is old news!! But we can still talk about it;)

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