It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat. ∞ Theodore Roosevelt (excerpt from the speech "Citizenship In A Republic" delivered at the Sorbonne, in Paris, France on 23 April, 1910)
I am broken.
I am bowed.
If my emotions were flesh they would be bleeding.
Over the years I have had a confidant. I have laid my heart bare with her. I have shared every doubt, fear, flashback and catastrophe along with every moment of renewed hope and every moment of celebration. No one holds more of my vulnerability than she does.
A few days ago our relationship spun apart unexpectedly and she has threatened to reveal all my dirty little secrets.
Strangely I am not broken so much over the loss of the relationship because the time had simply come for it to end. I am not even aching over the implied threat of the ultimate betrayal.
I am anguished at the thought that someone believes I have confided a secret so great that it could ruin me.
In the wake of this I had to ask myself what I am truly hiding. Secrets are sick, especially the ruinous kind. They so often block our paths to the freedom and happiness we covet.
So what is my secret?
You know what we love in this modern world? We love a rags to riches story. I was unhappy, fat, poor, oppressed and now I am happy, thin, wealthy, free…
We like to imagine that life works this way. We hope that someone can make it that way for us.
But life is not like this at all.
At best we take our lives from wrecked to radiant in halting steps.
We confront our trauma and then, if we are truly diligent in our healing, we confront our triumph. I say this because when we have suffered great loss, disappointment, abandonment, or abuse we arrive at the crossroads between hope and hopelessness and almost, without fail, we choose despair and the failure of our dreams.
Hope simply costs too much! We prefer to preserve it as a nebulous possibility to be developed some other day with some other person or in the midst of some other dream.
In my case, I conjure hope and happiness and then curse its vessel with shocking regularity. This is my greatest confusion and my greatest struggle because my deepest wound is one of seduction and betrayal. Happiness looks a lot like seduction to the wary eye.
Nowhere have I confronted this crossroads of hope and hopelessness more frequently or intensely than in my relationship with my partner. This is the greater part of the secret my confidant holds. She has the emails I sent in the midst of fear, anguish, flashbacks and betrayal. She holds my shame and my humiliation over the failures in my relationship and in my own happiness.
Yes. There is tremendous shame here. In those moments when my happiness rots on the vine because I simply can’t choose to believe in it, I feel as worthy of vilification as a Baptist minister caught in a sex scandal.
This is my most ruinous secret: Sometimes I do not know how to be happy.
Sometimes I feel downright crazy too. Hell, sometimes I am crazy. I am not afraid to do crazy my friend. It’s a talent like any other!
There is almost as much shame in the ugliness that can sometimes be my relationship. Often I cannot tell if the relationship is my failure to choose happiness or if the rotten, putrid stench of my fear about the relationship is what keeps it from consistently thriving.
This would be anguish enough on its own. But on top of it all, this makes me feel like a fraud.
Because I offer people the hope that they can take their lives from wrecked to radiant. I stand for the idea that we can best our traumas and finally achieve the full expression of our potential. I expect myself to be the living embodiment of this idea.
To see the hope of a better life come to fruition for client after client is not enough. I must be the happiness poster child. I must stand as a living breathing example of the triumph that never falters. This is what I tell myself at 2 AM when I fear the revelation of my imperfect life.
So now we arrive at the greatest anguish of all. This is not what I meant to create!
I have become a prisoner of my dream. I have dragged my relationship with my partner and my own quest for happiness into an antagonistic rivalry with my desire to offer my gifts to the world. I have created a nightmare of a vicious circle that means I can never be human and still succeed.
In this scenario, if I am less than perfect then I am somehow ill equipped to serve. If there is any ugliness in my household then I cannot help you find relationships that nourish. If I am still undone by some of my own trauma then I cannot help you confront yours. If happiness sometimes eludes me for even a moment then I am not worthy to help you claim yours.
This is the essence of shame.
Dr. Brené Brown, who literally researches these issues has defined shame as, “fear of disconnection — it's the fear that something we've done or failed to do, an ideal that we've not lived up to, or a goal that we've not accomplished makes us unworthy of connection.”
So, I am here to destroy my “if you only knew!”
I will start with my relationship.
It’s damn messy. Sometimes we shout so loud the neighbors (three houses down) can hear. Last week I literally threw him out into the street at 10 PM praying I would have the courage to leave him out there all night long. Thankfully it started to rain. Or I might have actually left him standing on the corner wondering where to go. I was that mad!
Thank God we aren’t the only ones. The guy downstairs and his wife give us a run for our money at least twice a week.
Truth be told, at times I have been so terrified by our disparate economic situation and my partner’s dependence on me (such is life of woman with some resourses in the third world, don’t you dare judge me) that my fear has thrown me into horrifying flashbacks to a time in my life when the danger was truly high. In those moments, I have nearly lost my mind at the thought that he needs me (and therefore, won’t let me go). At still others, I have literally lost my mind at the idea that he doesn’t need me at all. Mostly I have been afraid that he doesn't really love me, that need is all there is. All the tenderness and devotion in the world cannot quell this fear.
Sometimes there are lies and betrayals between us. At others there are accommodations and compromises that shock the conscience of this hell-bent-on-her-independence hard head.
Is my relationship healthy by the restrictive standards of modern fantasies about perfect and healthy relationships?
And I am not even sure I want it to be. I have experienced great tenderness and immense pleasure in this relationship. I have also learned more, grown more, failed more, and stood up again anyway with this man than I ever have with any human being other than maybe my daughter. Oh, and believe me, she and I raised the roof a few times ourselves before she hit puberty and ironically gained her senses.
What’s my point?
Fuck the perfectionists of this world and their judgment of my imperfect world. If anything in my story or my life is so egregious that it destroys my work then let it be destroyed. There is no point in doing this work if I can't do it as myself from right where I am.
Fuck the perfectionist in me too.
Sometimes I want to leave this relationship, sometimes I want to choke my cohort to death and sometimes I sit contentedly listening to him sing Coal Miner’s Daughter (with an Arabic and Spanish accent) at the top of his lungs while smoking his hookah pipe and think, “This is the life.”
Now, you know what else…
My imperfect life tain’t nobody’s bidness but my own.
Am I always happy? No! Am I always miserable? Not by a long shot! Does this beat the shit out of sitting alone in my office in Massachusetts going out of my mind with loneliness? Hell to the yes. So, until I create something that beats the shit out of this, I think I will stay a while. As long as I want!
We do the best we can at the level we confront and we keep confronting it until we ascend. It’s best if we can enjoy ourselves a little too. To suggest we can arrive at a new level by brute force of will is a cruelty. To suggest that a radiant life is a perfect life is to forever put off our experience of vitality for another day.
Bottom Line: I’ll take my life and my love at 90 Proof. I like color and mess and distress as much as peace, sweetness and clarity because it’s in the muck and the mire that I grow and its in the respite that I achieve according to my growth. I am emotionally ambidextrous. What can I say?
Oh, I know. This is what people pay me for.
I am as comfortable in the middle of the disaster as I am in the middle of the sweet spot. I am a chaos whisperer. I know how to speak to the core of the upheaval and command it to yield it's treasure - even if I sometimes stumble around for a bit when the chaos is my own. That is all I teach and that is all I ever claim to pass on. In my presence you too can speak to the chaos and you can walk away knowing how to do it all on your own. Nothing about my work requires you to be in endless contact with my ingenious system [insert sarcastic tone] or even with me. I will show you how to call your chaos by it's true name. I will call you by yours! Then when the time comes, I will help you to rupture even your bond with me.
This brings me to perhaps my greatest points of all:
Why do we think we need to perfect everything anyway?
Don’t we have any room in our minds for a wild and wooly ride?
Where is our capacity to embrace our own humanity?
This happiness shit isn’t for the faint of heart you know. Trying to claim it is like trying to walk uphill on two broken legs if you ask me. Set those casts and start marching my lovely.
What else are you gonna do? Commit suicide? I’ve considered it more than once (since yesterday)! I let that option go though. Life has a way of wiping us off the face of the map eventually anyway. May as well let things take their natural course.
As to my search for happiness, I have learned a few things.
- Roll with it baby. Your emotional state is about as fixed as a busted fire hydrant. It can be gushing one minute and trickling the next. Ditto your circumstances and your perspectives on your circumstances!
- Fuck the perfectionists. What do they know anyway? Not how to live wide open. Wide open is messy.
- When it comes time to stretch yourself, find someone whose idea of helping you is to lead you into your own wisdom, truth and desire in the midst of the maelstrom.
- When someone threatens to tell your secrets beat them to the punch. It’s an extremely satisfying and freeing experience if you ask me. Its worth at least two days of excellent sex and 5 cups of hot chocolate.
- Go get yourself an adversary. Call me when you've got one. Valhalla is reserved for the warriors. Only the Valkyries can escort you there and for that you have to die on the battle field. You must be marked for death. So, be careful what you ask for.
Oh, and a few other confessions, while I am at it…
Number 1: I’m fat.
Number 2: Somewhere there are some naked pictures of my breasts (circa 1996) with the name Merle Haggard written across them. Man had some kind of autograph! That was some real estate he had to cover. If you feel really committed, last I heard, a man called Rooster had the negatives.
Ready to cast off your shame and claim your radiance right where you are?
Pick a sidekick who is gloriously imperfect and not afraid to shout about it.