Sunday, April 6, 2014

A Matter of Choice

“So what, you want a sugar daddy or something?"
“No, that’s not it…what I want is to feel like I have a choice in the matter…like I get to pick whether I want to work. Right now it seems like no matter how I feel or what’s going on, I have to work.”

It’s true that I make choices every day: what to wear, what to eat, whether to stay at home or go out, whether to call a cab or go out to the road and walk until I’m either picked up by a neighbor, a cheaper cab or a bus. It’s true that on some superficial level I feel like I have the right to make choices in my life, but suddenly it’s also clear to me how much I have felt like I have been led around by the things I did not have a choice about, and how that has shaped my perspective.

I didn’t have a choice about growing up in an alcoholic home. I didn’t have a choice about which babysitter I was taken to as a child. I was told that I had no choice but to behave; that rewards and love came to those who followed the rules, and because I desperately sought love and acceptance, I didn’t feel like there was a choice for anything different.

I didn’t feel like I had a choice when I developed an eating disorder in high school. Everyone told me I was fat, including my own family, and although now I know I have hypothyroidism and a wheat and gluten intolerance that were surely big factors in my inability to lose weight, all I saw was that I could eat the same as others and balloon up when they didn’t. I didn’t feel like I had a choice: I just stopped eating, because if I wanted to be loved, I had to look like I deserved it. Fat thighs aren’t loveable, you see. In fact, sadly, after all I have learned, all I know and all I have worked through – not to mention the fact that I weigh less than I have at any other point in my adult life, outside of my stint with anorexia – I can still look at my thighs and catch myself thinking, “who on earth would love those?

When I first wrote this, I railed about how without choice I felt, and I couldn’t find any of the choice in what I was doing. The more I thought about it, however, the more I realized that there was one place that I had found a choice and taken it: I chose awareness.

When I went to Mexico and found my way into my first Al-Anon meeting, I picked up a torch and started looking around the dark cave where I had been living. I saw how angry I was; how hurt; how completely unable to feel my way out of that dark dank hole from the place I was in. That first summer of Al-Anon, everything I read in the books gave me clues about my life and how I’d gotten to that point, and it was an immense relief because I finally saw how much I had been led around by factors outside my control. That summer I chose to try something different. I had already quit a corporate job and been willing to try on becoming a writer, but in Mexico I decided that I wanted out of the emotional box I’d been in. I could see there was much I could learn and a whole different person I could be inside this awareness, and I stepped in fully, with the help of many people, a lot of literature, and a blog that I started writing more frequently, and a little more bravely.

That was my choice. Much is outside my control, and there is no way I would have known what choosing awareness would have brought me: the highs, the lows, the friendships gained and lost. It was one summer that changed my life forever, and knowing what I know now, I wouldn’t go back. Awareness has brought me more choice as time has gone by: the more I am aware of, the less I am driven by unconscious ideas and understandings, and the more I feel in control of my own life.

I chose and I’m glad, not because I have an easier life, but because I now have the ability to pick a more authentic one. Not everything that brought me here felt like it came from my own volition, but saying yes to awareness did, and picking awareness over and over again continues to make me feel even more me.

I have started to be able to name the machine that kept me imprisoned. I have started seeing the walls of the cage where before they were invisible; I have started to be able to wonder what’s outside of them. In the past year especially, I have found myself challenging some basic rules that I have lived by all my life, and found that they no longer have to apply.

It could be that the mechanism I’ve always had to break things in the past – terrible jobs, terrible bosses, failing businesses – is related to a deeply held desire to break through the idea that I am without choice. It could be that I was trying to twist out of a straight jacket of rules put upon me that have told me that there is no other choice – that I can run, but only so far; that I can let myself come close to failure, but there is no choice, really, and therefore complete and utter failure is not an option, but neither is success, if I’m not following the rules. Instead I stop just short of it: just short of failing because I don’t even know how to do that; there is no room for failure when that was never offered as a choice, and no room for success outside the rules.

Up until this point, invisible audience, I have not felt that I’ve had a choice. Not one. Not ever. Not in anything important, anyway. Yes, I choose to live in Panama, but that was because depression threatened to overtake me in Washington before I left. Yes, I choose to not eat wheat, because otherwise I spend weeks lying in bed. Yes, I choose to be alone, because when you feel like there is no choice in the matter of whether human interaction will ultimately take all your energy away, you’d rather choose to be alone than be railroaded by people whose ideas for what is good for you is based on what is good for them and has nothing to do with you at all.

When there is no choice, there is no celebration available for making decisions that are based on my own best interests. If I don’t choose to leave but feel like I have to for my own survival, I don’t feel like I can own my own volition, because it never felt like mine at all. Something else was driving the boat that picked me up in the middle of the night and whisked me off to another land; if I haven’t felt like I had a choice, how could I claim that was me?

This fucker is big, invisible audience. BIG. Suddenly it’s clear why I couldn’t own them: my own decisions, because they never felt like they were mine. When I needed out of a situation, I’d get sick, because simply saying no never felt like a choice I could make. So that’s the part I have to reconnect with: the part of me that feels like she has a choice in the matter and in this life. 

When I first wrote this blog post, I wrote the following section without feeling like a had a choice in any of these things. Now that I've realized how much awareness has brought me, I cna see that I can choose a lot of what I listed here, but it still felt important to leave the original list in. 

If I had a choice, how would my life be different?

If I had a choice, I wouldn’t be working, that’s for damn sure. I’d be paid to enjoy myself. I wouldn’t be dragging my feet to answer emails to people I don’t care about or whose own needs don’t mirror my own. I wouldn’t worry so much about whether I fit into a specific size. I’d get to choose who my partner was instead of waiting and hoping for him to choose me. I’d write my goddamn book because I had something to say, not because I thought people would think me yet another person who claimed they were writing a book that they never finished. I’d spend more of my money on good beer. I’d stop acting like I like wine, because I don’t, not really. I’d stop smiling when I felt like I wanted to cry. I’d tell more of my friends that I love them and miss them, and also that I don’t have it in me to have to explain to them why I’m different, because I have no idea why I am...and that as much as I love them, I am most likely never coming back. I’d tell people to fuck off when they ask me why I’ve traveled the world alone, because I think the real answer should be obvious: I’ve never found anyone who would travel it with me, and that thought makes me feel unlovable, and even more isolated.

I’d stop worrying about what people thought if I had a choice. I’d stop trying to justify my decisions, not just to others, but also to myself. I’d stop feeling like I should be able to give up coffee, especially because I live in one of the best coffee producing regions in the world. I’d stop saying yes when I mean no. I’d have more meaningless sex, and let it mean more. And more than anything, I’d hate myself less for all the ways that I am me: the bookworm, the language geek, the pagan, the girl who can only rarely stay up past 10 p.m., who would probably get laid more if she could stay awake until the bars closed, the analytics nerd who thoroughly enjoys balancing her checkbook, even when there’s very little in the account.

If I had a choice, I’d dance more. I’d sing more, and try to blend in less. I’d slap more men who think I can’t understand them when they talk about how beautiful they think I am, but I’d believe them, too.  I’d stop wondering so much if I’ve hurt my family by choosing my own happiness above being near them. I’d stop berating myself that I can only write deeply and introspectively; that my ability to write humorously has long since evaporated.

If I had a choice, I’d be able to own that there are many people that I’ve helped already in my lifetime, and that sharing my story will inevitably help many more. I would choose to stop listening to people when they tell me that owning my gifts and my skills signifies that I think my shit doesn’t stink or that I’m egotistical.

It may seem like I’ve had all the choice in the world, invisible audience, but the truth is that the world is only as free as we see it to be. I’ve seen a prison, so that’s what I’ve lived in. I’ve seen rules that I had to find ways to live with, instead of simply dismissing them completely. I’ve seen my own fear reflected in the faces of others, and I’ve allowed it to stop me instead of questioning whether that fear was reason enough to stop move forward. I’ve cried and fought against what I thought was inevitable, and it gave the life I live here an impermanence: an idea that despite all I have built and all I have done in my own defense and on my own behalf in the world I have made in the land of eternal spring, it will all be taken from me, because there’s only so long you can escape before you’re found.

 And that’s what it’s felt like: like I was living on borrowed time; like all good things must end, like I may have thought I had a choice in the matter, but sooner or later my choices were going to lead me to ruin, and I’d have to go back to the world I hated full of rules that I don’t want to apply to me, and I’d have to buckle down and get rid of this idea that the world could be anything -- absolutely anything  -- that I want it to be.

So now I can. Now I can take all those things that I thought I couldn't do and do them. I can make different choices than the ones that my unconscious would have driven me to. I can live a more authentic life because I chose an aware life, and that awareness has made all the difference.

Love and aware kisses