The Value of the Struggle

I took a bit of an unplanned hiatus. Partially because I was visiting my family this weekend. We had a lovely time. But the other part of the hiatus is that I was having a really rough time last week. I’m still kind of having a hard time. I don’t like to admit that. I am more than willing to share the stories of my struggles after they’re over, when I’ve gotten through them and have some insight to share. I do not like talking about my struggles while they’re happening. It doesn’t matter what I’m having trouble with or how many times I’ve talked about it before. When I’m struggling I don’t want anyone to know.

I have spent so much energy throughout my life creating facades. I used to be much better at this than I am now. In the past, my entire life was devoted to making sure that things looked great on the outside even though I was suffering internally. I thought sharing about my struggles was a sign of weakness. I believed that I needed to be able to get through everything on my own in order to be respected. I believed that suffering in stoic silence was a sign of strength. So, I spent my life hiding my pain and smiling through my struggles.

Today it’s much more uncomfortable for me to lie and say I’m fine when I’m not, but I still do this more than I’d like. This is especially true when I am trying to craft a public image. I want people to like me. I want people to think well of me. I want people to think I am strong and cool and that I have my shit together. If it were up to my ego I would only ever post about the times that I am awesome, or the times that I struggled through and overcame adversity all by myself. I wouldn’t share about the times that I spent crying in my room, or zoning out to Netflix for hours at a time, or feeling hopeless. But if I eliminate those experiences from the narrative of me I present here then I’m not being honest or authentic, and I want to be honest and authentic.

So the truth of my absence is that I spent a lot of time watching Alias instead of writing so that I didn’t have to feel lonely and abandoned. I smoked a cigarette instead of bingeing. I got trapped in the bad neighborhood that is my brain and didn’t come out for a few days. I looked in the mirror and didn’t like what I saw. I looked at pictures of myself and wanted to cry. I built a blanket fort on my couch and stayed there instead of hanging out with friends. I was emotionally stuck. The other truth is that I still went to all my scheduled appointments. If I’d made plans prior to getting stuck I kept them instead of canceling them. I didn’t use behaviors to deal with my feelings. I just got stuck feeling lousy and rode it out.

I was reminded during this time that I was exactly where I needed to be and that there is value in the struggle. I can learn more from these stuck places than I can when I’m happy. The growth comes from the pain, not from the contentment. Over and over my experiences have taught me that these things are true. Once I’m on the other side of the emotional stuckness I can see that I have gained new knowledge and insight about myself, but when I’m in it, like deep down in it, these mantras infuriate me. I think, this may be exactly where I need to be, but fuck it, I don’t want to be here. I think, I’m probably learning something valuable right now, but why does it have to feel like this? I think, when will this end? Because when I’m in it it feels interminable.

Right now, I’m beginning to see the true value of the struggle is actually just sitting through it. I never used to be able to sit with my feelings. I always believed I felt too much and it scared me, so as soon as I felt something I reached for a drink, a smoke, or a bag of chips so I didn’t have to feel the feeling anymore. Or if the feelings got too out of control I just starved to prove I could control myself. I didn’t ever allow feelings to happen in their natural course. Today I know that no matter how I feel right now it will go away eventually. Today I know that I don’t have to chase the feelings away, I have to feel them. If I don’t feel them now they’ll just be back later insisting to be felt. I just have to build a blanket fort, be gentle with myself, and wait until the feelings change.

It doesn’t feel good to be in the struggle. It never will. But now I know that I can survive the struggle without falling apart. And I know that I can speak honestly about the struggle. I don’t have to pretend to be anything.

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