Brené Brown writes a lot of books about being brave and also has blog posts where she focuses on that, too. And I have to confess, I haven’t read all of them. But in Rising Strong, she wrote about an epiphany she had while doing a project for her master’s program and talking to her family:
“I realized that much of what had been dressed up as hard living was really addiction and mental health issues. Yes, there were wonderful folkloric stories of struggle, triumph, and rebellion, but there was also story after story of trauma and loss. I remember at one point in our conversation saying, “Jesus, Mom. This is scary. What the hell?” Her reply was, “I know. I lived a lot of it.”Brown
That realization led her to an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting and to stop drinking. My own close family wasn’t like that when I was growing up, not really, unless you count my mom’s addiction to cigarettes and after I was three, my mom really was just my only close family. My parents divorced, sister married, brother went off to college. My stepfather came and he liked cigarettes, too, but that was kind of it.
Or so I thought.
But then I saw some patterns of behavior and how pain led to lies, how shame led to different forms of escapism, how that all manifested because of how much people hurt.
Anyway, it was pretty brave of Brown to recognize and realize things and then work on her addictions especially during those couple of times that she craved drinking because she was super anxious. She is also adamantly against the drinking culture because she sees “drinking culture as a great cover for pain.”
There are so many ways we cover our pain.
This week one of my friends called me, sobbing, right before I had to run a board meeting for a nonprofit. I had five minutes to make sure she was okay enough for me to only text her for the next hour. She was. But she hurt. She hurt so much. And I was so angry that I couldn’t just be with her because I had another responsibility.
And that made me think about choices and needs. And how do we survive with that pain.
Brown writes in her blog a long excerpt about going to her therapist when her anxiety was roaring up. She had. Just quit sugar and bread.
“I thought I was going to come out of my skin. I sat across from my therapist, Diana, and said, “You need to give me something for my anxiety. I can’t take it. There’s nothing to take the edge off anymore. I’m freaking out.”
Diana calmly replied, “What do you want me to give you?”
Infuriated by her calmness, I said, “I don’t know! Medicine. Something for the anxiety! I’m like a turtle without a shell. I have NO SHELL! No booze, no muffins, nothing! I’m a turtle without a shell in a briar patch. Everything in the briar patch is poking me and jabbing me. It hurts.”
She said, “Maybe we should talk about getting out of the briar patch?”
I was pissed. “Get out of the fucking briar patch? That’s your advice? Instead of giving me a new shell, you want me to live somewhere less prickly? Seriously?”
Diana said, “You don’t need to find a different place to live. Maybe we could just think about a different way to live. One that doesn’t require that heavy shell.”
That excerpt felt so real to me when it comes to conceptualizing pain and the work that it takes to get out of briar patches and prickly places.
My friend felt miserable because of certain situations and locations that she’s been in for years. She was in a prickly place and didn’t like herself because of it even though she is one of the most extraordinary people I know.
We all are so hard on ourselves and sometimes the act of being hard on ourselves, the negative talk, the self-judgement? That becomes a negative spiral and addiction, too.
The question really becomes: How do we navigate out of those awful places and spaces in our situations and in ourselves? How do we acknowledge that sometimes we have to move on, move forward from our past patterns, our jobs, sometimes even our relationships? How do we become someone who doesn’t need a shell?
In our own lives in this house, much like Brown, I think I’ve become a bit addicted to work as we navigate suddenly being the full-time parents of a child with mental health and developmental issues. And by bit addicted? I mean terribly addicted. It’s something I lean on and even complain about because it makes me know that at least I’m keeping the family financially afloat during all the chaos of trying to keep our child okay. We’re honestly not aiming for anything other than okay right now because that’s how raw and traumatic and difficult things are here with them.
And that’s okay, too.
We all have to navigate ourselves, our worlds, our situations, and try to find ways to do it without spiraling into negativity and addictions and shells. Sometimes that is so hard. I know it’s hard for me. I hope that we can be brave and open and honest together though as we aim for okay and for even better than okay, too.