Last week, I wrote a post called The Slow and Certain Heartbreak of Playing It Safe. Let me rephrase: I didn’t so much as write it as it tumbled from a place deep within me. I was sitting at a Starbucks and all sense of time and place evaporated and I was the odd bird in the blue dress squinting into her laptop screen, furiously typing away, on a mysterious mission. Hours bled by. New Yorkers came and went, shuffling right by me. Normally, I’d notice them, marvel at their details, the hints of humanity they gave off. But that morning of the post, I glimpsed none of it. I was pure focus.
I had something to say.
And I said it. Them. And when I was finished writing, I read back through my words and I felt my heart dancing in my chest, and my lips curled into an involuntary, novel smile. An almost dizzying sense of panic and purpose gripped me, not entirely familiar. I edited a bit because I am a devoted and inveterate tweaker, but then I did something meaningful: I hit publish. Doing so made me feel strangely rebellious, but more than that it felt good. And right. The fear lingered, large and luminous, because in the post I was, for me, playing it the opposite of safe.
I was writing true things. Things I’d been tucking inside for too long.
And then my words were out in the world! A bizarre, beautiful thing. I began hearing from people. One of the first: Lindsey Mead. Dear friend, fellow writer, gorgeous, thoughtful soul of souls. She told me she liked the post and she pointed out a small typo. In one spot, I’d written sacred where I’d meant to write scared. We texted back and forth about this, the powerful meaning of this particular mixup, and Lindsey wrote a post, exquisite as ever, about it. Perfectionistic me? I went and corrected the typo. Immediately, thank you very much. (Work-in-progress indeed.)
And then there were more responses, in the comment box and elsewhere. I heard from people from my past. There were a lot of thank yous. It turns out that many of us have been playing it safe in our lives, many of us are scared. And this was immensely rewarding to know that I had reached people, that I was putting something universal maybe into words. I was, I’ll be honest, on a bit of a high. I went on a date with Husband that night. I’d asked him to read the post right away because I trust his judgment and he knows me better than anyone. I wanted to know if there was anything he thought I should change. That I asked him this at all is evidence that I have a way’s to go. I was playing it safe in my dogged attempt to play it un-safe. Work-in-progress, me. But he responded that it was a great post and that I shouldn’t change a thing and that night at the little restaurant around our corner, across from the man I love, I felt more happy and alive and electrified than I had in a long time.
But the next morning? Let me tell you about the next morning. I felt shaky. Scared. Doubts flooded me. Regrets. I wondered why I had written the post at all, why I had dared. I wanted to crawl back inside my shell, to undo what I had done. But a few hours (and several cups of coffee) later, I saw things differently, more clearly. I had what I labeled as a Truth Hangover. Now, we all know that I have a sordid and ongoing story with drinking and I’m plenty familiar with booze hangovers, but this was different. And yet it wasn’t. In many ways, it was the same. I felt shameful and shaky and a ruthless, rattling onslaught of those horrible shoulds. Not fun. At all. But then I saw it, what was happening. My Inner Critic (Tara Mohr‘s compelling terminology) was in an uproar because I had spoken the truth. This critic was wagging its finger (pardon as I mix metaphors) and telling me to go back to being the good-girl, pleaser, playing-it-safer. And I was tempted to do just this. It’s easier.
But I don’t want easy.
I want true.
I want real.
I want to be who I am and not who I feel I should be. I want to live big and ask questions that matter to me and get somewhere. And part of getting somewhere is exploring where I am.
Where I am: Ugh. These have been among the hardest six months of my life. I’ve been anxious and sad and an emotional mess. And what’s made it worse? Trying so doggedly to hold it together, to appear like I’m fine. I haven’t really meant to deceive anyone, but more have been subscribing to the fake it to make it paradigm. But this hasn’t been working so well for me.
I’m reading a new book now, by another author I so admire: Brené Brown. The book is Rising Strong and I’ve barely made a dent, but I’m already riveted. In the introduction, she writes: “And rarely do we see wounds that are in the process of healing. I’m not sure if it’s because we feel too much shame to let anyone see a process as intimate as overcoming hurt, or if it’s because even when we muster the courage to share our still incomplete healing, people reflexively look away.” Brown goes on to argue that sanitizing our stories about falling and rising is troubling and all-too-common, and has created a “Gilded Age of Failure.”
Wounds in the process of healing. Yes.
I see now that this is why I felt the way I did in the aftermath of my original post. Because I had not shared a simple, sanitized tale. No. My words came from loss and longing and confusion and desire. They were not tidy. They contained anxiety and anger and exasperation. But they also contained love and light and hopefulness.
Here I am today at another spot in my city. A salad place this time. And I am that odd bird again, this time in a summery black and white toile top, fiercely focused on my loyal screen. Only now do I pick my head up and look around, at the people. All the people. Alone and together. Conversation swells and subsides. Outside, the sky is gray. Rain might come.
The truth: I’m in it. In some kind of process, on some kind of path. I don’t yet have the clarity to name it, to sound-byte its message. But shit, that’s okay, that’s grand. We all go through stuff, we all fall and rise again (if we are brave enough, Brown would wager) and what I’m here to say is that I’ve fallen recently. But I’m no longer facedown. My face is up, turned toward a kind, but uncertain sun, and I’m doing the work of figuring out how to rise again.
And with these words and the words from last week? It’s happening. I feel it in my head and heart and hands as I type these messy, meaningful words. I’m getting somewhere. And my heart pounds again, a brilliant thumping jig, and that private smile comes once again. Somehow, this matters.
I will not wait to figure out what happens to write it. I will not wait for the wounds to heal to look at them, to honor them.
See the big building above? It’s the Equitable Building, a sparkling skyscraper in midtown. I worked there, as a lawyer, for less than two years. I was a baby. In my early twenties. I was full of pinstripe bluster and naiveté. Nothing bad had yet happened in my little world, and yet I was also so scared and kind of lonely in my youthful fear. I remember moments of looking out the window at this city I love and thinking, wondering, What will I do with my life? How will I matter? It was all cliched and pretentious, the stuff of bad coming-of-age novels, but goodness it was me.
This past Sunday, Husband and I walked the girls past the building. I didn’t even realize it and it was Husband who paused and pointed up and said to the girls, See that very tall building? Mommy used to work there. And my babes? They smiled and stared up, wonder in their blue eyes, and that was that.
I’ve moved on.
I’m still moving on.
Aren’t we always?
My wounds are healing. Moment by moment, word by word, they are. And that is something, isn’t it?
If you need to look away, do.
And if you find any typos, please tell me 🙂
(Thank you for reading this long long post. I’m a wordy one these days.)
Have you ever experienced a Truth Hangover?
Do you agree that we all have wounds are in the process of healing? Is this maybe what it is to be human?
Any fellow Brené Brown fans out there?