Sunday, August 20, 2023

Notes on Self Shedding

Several years ago, I went through a great purging of stuff from my house. It started small--

I'd taken the books off the bookcase in my office so I could dust, but in the process of filing them back onto the shelves, I realized, for various reasons, that I didn't want some of them anymore. Maybe they were books I read and knew I'd never read again. Or they were books I hadn't read, and had to admit, I would never read. Some were books I hated. I'm thinking of you, Clarissa, by Samuel Richardson, the only book in my entire college English major career that I could not finish. Who am I kidding. I could barely get past the first chapter. It's the eighteenth century. It's a novel told entirely in multi-page letters. It's misogynistic and repulsive. But I digress. 

The clearing out of books led to the clearing out of knick-knacks I realized I no longer wanted, and pictures on the walls and carpets and lamps and furniture. In the midst of all of this purging, I discovered the Marie Kondo craze and doubled down on my efforts. If something in my house didn't give me joy, I thanked it for its service (literally. I know. It's silly, but it felt good) and then I carted it off to Goodwill. 

The whole process was amazingly liberating. It also left me with a lot of blank spaces in my house that, for a while, I didn't know how to fill. What things did I want to look at and step across and light my way? 

But even more broadly, how did I want to spend my time, and which people did I want to spend it with? 

These shouldn't have been hard questions to answer, but somehow, they were. 

For the past two years, I've been going through intensive therapy. It started as a way to work through unresolved childhood trauma, but I quickly realized that I had issues in my present that needed addressing, specifically, that the coping mechanisms I'd adopted to make it through and out and beyond--while once, necessary--were no longer helping me. In fact, they were hurting me, and worse, sometimes I was, in turn, hurting the people I love.

But throwing out a toxic pattern in your interpersonal relationships is so many times harder than tossing out dumb, enraging eighteenth century epistolary novels or plastic beaded fruits or a shag carpet. And once you see the toxic pattern for its terrible toxic-ness, how do you actually change it? 

Well. I don't know. But I do know step one. It's telling the truth. 

About what you don't want in your life and what you do. It's finding the grace to forgive yourself for doing what you needed to do to survive.

It's thanking that old self for its service, before letting it go.


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