“We both know that you’re not flawless
That don’t mean you ain’t a goddess…”
“Dear Me”, Madeline Merlo
Lately, I seem to notice a lot of folks writing letters to themselves. These letters show up all over as the social media memes of self-help and empowerment gurus, in country song lyrics, in bestsellers, in therapy sessions…you name it. People writing as if they were writing to a dear friend. Or to themselves in the future. Or to their drunk selves as a reminder to remember who they really are and what they really want even when they’re three bourbons in (OK, so I probably DO need one of those memos stuck on the fridge…).
These affirming letters serve as a vehicle for looking at our lives from the outside; as if we’re not actually talking to ourselves, which is dicey at the best of times; but to a friend who is struggling, someone we love and want to encourage. I admire the sentiment of this…it can be a good thing to step outside yourself and view ”you” from the perspective of other people. To love your imperfect self. I have a lot of respect for someone who has the courage to choose to move beyond their own limiting thoughts and take another perspective on their own lives… ostensibly, a perspective that can help them see themselves more favourably, in a more loving and gentle way, as they live and grow.
But…what about when that out-of-self experience tells a very different story? What if Dear Me turns from a loving portrait of a friend who humbly isn’t aware of her greatness, to a portrait of someone that their friends sometimes secretly roll their eyes at, and whom they sometimes can barely tolerate?
OH MY GOD WHAT IF THE THINGS I WORRY ABOUT PEOPLE THINKING ABOUT ME ACTUALLY ARE TRUE?!?!
I recently had some experience with this. I asked someone I respect for some honest feedback about how I was handling an ongoing situation that was creating stress for us both. And God bless her, she was brave…and really, really honest. And I had to force myself to sit quietly for a hot minute (thanks again Victor and Carol for the reminder to stop, shut up, and B-R-E-A-T-H-E….) to not cry, and not freak the eff out with pistols blazin’ (my normal reactions to criticism, more on that in a sec) at what I was hearing. What I was hearing was that in spite of my efforts to the opposite, I was actually making the situation more stressful, because I tend to wear my heart on my sleeve (guilty as charged); I am loud, cussy and emotive (yup). I always speak exactly what’s on my mind (um, yes) and sometimes forget to even say good morning because I’m already pre-annoyed by 6am. Shitballs. OOOOOOHSHITOHSHITOHSHIT. Epic fail on the human relations scale. No one wants to hear that….
I could just feel that bitch ‘Shame’ about to do a mic drop….and then go get together with her wing-girl ‘Guilt’, drink some cheap chardonnay and make nasty posts all over the wall of my mind all night.
But breathe I did, thank God. And as I did, I realized, yeah, I probably needed to hear that. Ever notice how it turns out that your best friends aren’t the ones blowin’ smoke up your ass all day? They’re more likely to kick you in the ass instead when you need it?
So, back to my little moment. I was really struggling. So I stammered out “I’m sorry” in a really shaky voice. And then went and hid out for a while to think. I was not in love with or feeling tender towards my endearing little “quirks” in any way, at that point in time. I could barely manage to be in my own skin.
People will tell you it’s hard to gracefully take a compliment. Ummm, Unh-uh, no, it is way harder to take criticism without freaking the fuck out. I have struggled hard with this most of my life, as a hard-core perfectionist.
It is damned hard to internalize the reality that you’ve unwillingly annoyed, hurt, or made uncomfortable, people you give a shit about. And then, tougher still to be strong enough to make amends and gracefully do something about it. I don’t know about you… but this is my worst nightmare. Having to admit to all the imperfections I can’t really “fix” because they are integral to, well, me, but that I do need to do something about mitigating to help my relationships. So yeah, ironically, some other member of my squad might respond to something like this with a shoulder punch, a couple shots of tequila and “well, fuck ‘em if they can’t handle you. Don’t compromise yourself and be someone you’re not just to please other people”. Yes… true. Kinda. But only to a point.
We can be a badass, but we also have a responsibility to not be an ass; to be our best selves, as well as our “real” selves; and to be respectful of how we affect the people around us. Whatever our personality type. Whether that assaholism shows up in our silent ignoring of someone, or the full fire-hose effect (which is much more likely from me)… we have an obligation to cowboy up and own that shit when called on it.
But still, I was stung. Hard.
In time, I remembered that, well, I had asked after all, and she took the risk to respond in honesty. Mom always said “If you don’t want to hear the answer, don’t ask the question” (thanks, Mom).
For her bravery, true friendship and honesty, my friend did not deserve the usual defensive bluster of a trapped animal that had slowly become my go-to when being criticized, simply because it had become ingrained behaviour. She wouldn’t understand that this had become my pattern after decades where criticism had been the weapon of choice of a significant person in my life, who, when not liking where I was going, would try to deflect by breaking me down to get me out of their way. (This is the freaking-the-eff-out norm I alluded to earlier).
There it was – another light bulb moment.
This time wasn’t that old pattern; here was a person who cared about me, and who truly just needed me to tone it down and reel it in some, for her comfort, while we negotiated our way together through a tough situation with the minimum of discord. Different, tooooootally different.
So… there I was, and here it is… my letter to me, done my way……
Remember that you are a big presence. Not wrong, but for a lot of people that is too much whiskey in their teacup before noon. They don’t know that behind that big presence sometimes lurks a woman who isn’t quite as sure as she looks, that she is often NOT OK. Know your audience, and dial it down a notch til you read the room. Your besties will expect your bluster as part of you… other people might not.
Speaking of reading your mind… Remember that not everyone wants to deal with all your strife. Cuz they’ve got their own trunk of shit to haul around too. Save it for your wine-and-whine-ride-or-dies. Remember that what was really pissing you off ten minutes ago or kept you awake all night is not the problem of the person in front of you now, who has no idea what’s been going on up in your head, and if they see anger and frustration, they’re gonna think you’re mad at them. For no reason. They can’t read your mind.
Remember your indoor voice sometimes. Go outside to yell and scream. Because scaring the bejeebers out of a middle aged woman is never a good idea.
Sometimes you need to remember that although you should always be accepting of yourself – and love the sum total as human, with faults – not everyone else has to. And that means you also need to love enough, those who love you, to help them feel comfortable around you. That isn’t compromising the real you, it’s respecting the needs of others. Those who love you will allow you a “real” moment when it’s warranted, but not as a steady diet. Remember there is beauty, power and grace in shutting the hell up as often as there is in being large, in charge and takin’ no prisoners.
So go get the hell on, ya crazy beautiful animal, and live your best life. Stay wild, stay loud, brave, cussy and proud. Because that kind of is part of who you are. And really, your people do love you for being just who you are. But remember also that no one rides alone, we all have our needs as well as our moments, and the drunk asshole on the Lido Deck is always the last one to get a seat on the lifeboats. Don’t be the asshole.
I’m a 64 year old aging hippie with a sarcastic tongue and out of control ginger hair. I am passionate in advocating for women “of a certain age”, especially we single ones, because we aren’t quite dead yet, in spite of the fact that we are often largely invisible and made to feel redundant on many levels. I hope to make you think, make you laugh, and mostly, feel like no matter where you are in life, you are never alone, and whatever dumb thing you think is going to sink you, won’t. Because heaven knows if that were true, I wouldn’t be here.