I was in a bad place five years ago.
Well, to be perfectly honest I was just in a different place. I thought it was “bad” at the time because I didn’t know that things were also actually great in many ways in my life. The only thing for certain in life is change, so we have only to hope that this change is of the evolutionary variety and not the difficult, stagnant, whiny variety. Alas, in truth, our personal processes are always a little bit of both.
My arm used to be bare, and now it reads like a mini-scroll of my life’s mantra. I ended up writing my truth on my arm and living it in a way that shapes nearly every decision I make.
The reason I tattoo-scribbled all over my arm has to do with a moment in time, five years ago, when “things were bad.” I felt only one thing: dead inside.
I rolled into my supervisor/therapist’s office and plopped down on her vaguely uncomfortable couch and declared that I really didn’t want to be there at all. She was nonplussed, of course, smiled lightly and asked me why.
My reply: “I have nothing to say. I feel dead inside.”
“Dead inside?!” she responded, with a bit too much levity. “Why do you think so?”
Well, of course this made me very annoyed. I was obviously dead inside, which did not do well with exploration. I was dead. Inside me. Black. Yucky. Gross. Devoid of why. So naturally, I refused to expand on such rich content.
“I’m just dead inside,” I told her. “That’s how I feel. There’s nothing else.”
The session went on like this for a time, and as we began to dance with the last 10 minutes, she had a (horrifying) suggestion: “I want you to write about it,” she said.
Seriously? I was the queen of writing about it. I had cured myself of incurable stuff. I’d used journaling to save my own life. I was the Sarno Miracle, the Back Pain Girl from the NYU Panel.
“Write about it?!” Ugh, this woman was on my last nerve. I went boneless, right there on her couch — not as bad as that kid in the children’s book Knuffle Bunny, but bad. I was all slumped over and feeling like having a tantrum. Write about it?!
“Why?” I said. “I mean, duh. But what’s your point?” (This is me being obsequious, and a jerk.)
“Just do it,” she said with a hint of bossypants in her eyes. “Your life is your life, not your clients’ or Dr. Sarno’s patients. Your divorce and your children are not going to be courted from this distance. Write: ‘dead inside’ at the top of a piece of paper, and then just see what comes.”
“Ok, whatever. I’ll do it,” I thought. I went, however, directly to get a pedicure. After all, I needed one.
I took a mini spiral notepad out of my bag. I sat in the crowded nail salon among screaming babies and vapid women with their 20-decibel-cell-phone calls. I penned “dead inside” atop of one of the little pages, the notepad propped upon my lap as my feet soaked in lukewarm water. Then I let myself go, and I wrote the following: (This is an exact transcription.)
like my abdomen is filled with black. and i feel cold. so cold like i have to curl up and bury myself. and then maybe i’d cry, but not for long. i would try to cry. maybe. but then i’d just stare. because the truth would be that there wouldn’t even be tears. there is nothing.
i feel it in my breathing, like shallow, small breaths. and my eyes look down, almost closed but not closed. there is no rest.
there is sadness. sadness with no content attached. just pure. like tears with no meaning.
there is no envy. others do not appear better or different. this makes it worse, like the nothingness is all there is.
there is only the looking forward to numbing it. the wine, the pills, the doctor’s appointments. there is life in the looking forward — for a moment, fleeting, and then gone. but at least that moment.
there is the failure. my whole being having done it wrong by living in my thoughts and how many bad decisions have i made as a result? marriage, kids? the lives I have affected? i grieve. I grieve this death because it comes with the awful reality of the life that my thinking-self created.
the burden of their grief is my burden. i carry it in this black center, this cancer in me. and still i wonder, to what end?
In this moment I felt a shift in myself, ever so slightly. It was a shift in my process that has allowed me to talk about it today and to have written a book that seems to matter. There was a mantra growing swiftly and thoughtfully, taking shape within me. And I wrote…
i see a spark and i struggle not to put a name to it. just to feel it for the fleeting second it comes, and plod along with the faith that it will come again.
that this peace will come to me, gently and slowly, and perhaps within it i won’t need to decide at all.
I stopped writing, right there in my pedicure chair, and took a moment to breathe. Something had happened, that was for sure, but what? A great calm had come over me as a statement settled in my mind:
Be true to yourself, and let your life unfold.
All I needed to do was to be quiet for a moment, each moment, and ask into myself, “How do I really feel about this?” The topic changed constantly, but the course of the river ran the same.
I felt okay with my decisions because I was taking them one at a time, with the most genuine intention I could muster. I was being true to myself, and letting my life unfold. I wasn’t scared anymore, and I wasn’t dead inside. I was alive with getting to know myself, and the trepidatious but invigorating energy which that engendered.
I was going to be OK. I was going to be exactly that which my genuine thoughts and feelings led me to be. I was going to live, for the first time in 36 years, thoughtfully true to myself.
So, here we are today. I’m almost 42 now. I have three children whom I hadn’t really known, yet I know pretty well now. They are spectacular, and I’m really not just saying that. They are insightful and caring and kind and inquisitive and operate with, literally, no malice. None. I know it’s because I’ve made (many little) decisions to raise them that way over all else. I have a new life, a new wife, a new home and a new future. Yay! Balloons! Rainbows shooting…
But guess what? (Listen carefully — here’s my gift to you:)
I’m still dead inside, sometimes. Yep, I am. But it’s different, and here’s why: That first time I was dead inside, I was hopeless. I was caught in the “certainty” that my life was doomed, as the answers which had always sprung forth from my arrogant brain had stopped springing.
The tried and true “I got it!” moments had failed to inspire me, and I’d settled into a creeping depression that life was over. The only moments I’d already determined to count were in the past. The day I wrote that little soliloquy in the nail salon, a new truth was born in me:
Within every death in us, there is an equal pull for rebirth. We just need to be quiet enough to listen to ourselves without judgement, and brave enough to embrace our truths once we envision them.
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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 14 May 2014
Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.
Sachs, N. (2014). Being True to Yourself. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 21, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2014/05/16/being-true-to-yourself/