07 October 2010

Giving It Up

I've always held the theory that people either "expand" or "contact" as they get older.

Not literally--well, okay, sometimes literally--but I've noticed, especially after 30, that a person's reaction
to, say, a difficult life situation, comes down to the most basic of two choices: we either move towards the situation or away from it. "Moving towards" involves stuff that doesn't feel good at the moment: feeling the pain, figuring out what one's lessons are, facing whatever truth needs to be faced. It's the path of growth, and, like most things that are good for us, is not that much fun. But like exercise, and broccoli, and writing thank you notes...it makes us feel better later. MUCH better.

 "Moving away" from the situation IS fun...well, it feels like fun at the time. In NYC, one can keep incredibly busy, which not only is distracting, but makes one feel important. "I'm really busy, therefore I MUST be doing something important", could be alternately the motto for either NY/LAers.,or a hamster in his wheel. I speak from experience: I have spent a lot of time as a rather glamourous hamster.

When you move away from a difficult situation--when you drink a lot, or lie to avoid "hurt feelings", or get lost in the arms of yet another Troo Luv, or do anything that distracts you while at the same time  feels really good--a necessary part of you is at risk of genuinely dying. I'm not saying "never have a glass of wine after a hard day at the office". I am saying that what I've learned recently is: sometimes, you need to be quiet, do nothing, and listen.

It's HARD TO DO.    -DAMN!

I've always been a "runner towards": I can't help it, it's part of my nature. I learned this in a very concrete way when, 15 years ago, a grownup was beating a child on the street, and I ran towards the situation, not away. I got my hand broken with a tire iron for my foolhardiness, but the adult got sent to jail, so that worked out as a reasonable trade. But there are nights when I can't find much good about myself--I'm not 22 anymore, or I'm not successful enough, or my nose is not currently fashionable--when just knowing I ran towards and not away, makes me think, "well at least there's that. " -More permanently, I learned that I can do that. I can face difficult truths. -Eventually. But there's always another growth step, isn't there? The next trick is to feel the bad stuff and face the hard stuff: without wallowing in 'em. As a songwriter, I can rationalize "wallowing" big time--this isn't selfpity, it's research for a song, dammit! I NEED to hang on to these emotions! They might be worth something someday!-Sheesh.

I ran into someone the other day who'd been a close friend, a long time ago. He had contracted. He didn't want to know anything knew: he had his ideas and beliefs, thank you. He had the same opinions as he had a decade before, but now they'd solidified into unshakeable dogma. When I first knew him, he was enthusiastic, curious,, and made lots of mistakes-but some of them turned out pretty well. Now he made no mistakes...well, not in his eyes, anyway. Other people made a LOT of them, according to him. His life philosophy had become "I don't want to hear it."

I've been like that. I recently had to grovel to a friend because I'd been so uncompassionate and so judgmental when she went through a breakup a few months ago. I was so busy feeling superior, that I couldn't and wouldn't feel her pain. I mean, she deserved it for making such stupid choices, right? -Well, ladies and jellybeans, the old adage is true: Karma IS a bitch. I had to get broken open, recently,to let the light shine back in. I had to look at some choices I'd made. Oooops. Not so hot.

It's been hard. It was the hardest time I've ever been through. There was a time when I was young enough to think I had the luxury, of having time to run away from the situation. I drank enough, "fell in love" enough, and ran around enough to distract myself from whatever the Universe was holding up in front of my face and saying"LOOK AT THIS", about.- But I don't have that time anymore. Never did, truth be told. Now the stakes are higher, and the world says "grow, or else." So I had to expand, to let in light, to look at what hadn't worked; I had to, essentially, choose what I wanted to be when I grew up.  And this time? No backsies, as we said in childhood.

So this time? I cried. And learned when to stop crying. I had some wine. And then didn't for a while. I looked at where i'd been lazy, or selfish, or had ignored my own inner counsel; I looked at how I'd lied, or been thoughtless, or ...or...or.... But I also learned that self-flagellation is no substitute for actual CHANGE; part of grieving was learning when to stop. I started to look at  the insanely painful situation with what my wise sister would call "radical acceptance" and my mom would call "emotional economy": I accepted it.
This thing happened. It can't unhappen. I wish it hadn't happened. But now i will accept it completely and move on.

The folks I know who choose growth--in ANY form--are the friends i've watched grow into wiser, finer, stronger folks. The friends I had who chose "running away"...well, I don't know what happened to them.
Every day I force myself to choose growth of SOME kind--reading, or thinking, or reaching out with hardlearned compassion--and every day it's a chore. But I look in the mirror lately and I see--well, okay, I see someone who could use a little Botox in places, but I also see a woman who has worked really hard to earn my trust and respect. I don't know if I would have met her ever, if the Terrible Thing hadn't happened.

But it did.

And weirdly?

I'm grateful.