Tag Archives: should vs. want

Allowing myself to be happy, or, the balance between “should” and “want”

18 Oct

4:41 pm

The longer I am sober, the more I am learning–having to learn, and painfully most of the time–how to allow myself to be happy. I had a friend about ten years ago who used to tell me that I liked being in pain. That I liked not being happy. I took offense to that, as well as feigned confusion: Me? Reaaaaaallllly?

Years later, after sort of (well, OK, totally) confronting my drinking problem, I am realizing just how much truth there is to his observation. I don’t–I never fucking DID–allow myself to be happy, and I drank because of it. I did things I “should,” never things I “want.”

In fact, I had a nightmare the other night in which I was rendered unable to breathe in the midst of a “craving panic.” You know what craving panics are, I’m sure: that anxiety that must be quenched, now, right now, and if it’s not, which it won’t be and can’t be but has to be, you start to feel your insides boil, your heart clench, your throat close…and your breathing stops. You need wine, right now. Yes, it was horrible. I woke up feeling sick, and had to take a few minutes to catch my breath.

And what was I doing in said nightmare? I was sitting in a salon chair, getting my hair cut. But I hated the hair cut. And, I couldn’t tell her (who?) that I hated it. Which made me want to drink more than I ever remember wanting to drink. And, after I woke up and calmed down, I remembered something, a small thing really: when I was about 12, going into the 7th grade, I got my hair cut really short. I don’t remember exactly how it happened, but it was the 80s and my “stylist,” Louise, thought my curls would look SO CUTE short. My mom wore her hair severely short, and she agreed. Me? Not so much. I sat there in silence, though, as my hair was butchered. Tears started to pinch out of my eyes, and my face went red trying to hold them back. I was crying, and my hair was gone. There was nothing I could do. We all looked at each other. “She’ll get used to it,” and “It looks SO CUTE!” I felt voiceless then, and I remember now how often I felt this way growing up.

Fast forward to now, and this voicelessness–stifling my own ideas of what I want, my expression, my creativity–remains to a certain extent. And, it was a large part–an integral part–of why I drank, I see now. Never allowing myself to do what I wanted, instead only what I should, what I thought everyone wanted me to do! I mean, I could go deep into this, but the gist of it is, as a twin, as an introvert, as a perfectionist at heart, as someone with an absentee father and fighting parents, all my efforts went into overachieving as a kid. When I got to high school, this morphed into a masochism that kept me up until 2 am every morning, joining and trying to excel at every single extracurricular activity on tap. College brought a crash-and-burn of sorts in the form of bulimia, heart palpitations, running away to France for a year. And finally, wine. Wiiiiine.

After my early 20s, when I WAS doing something I wanted, I reverted back to my old ways. Late 20s came and went, early 30s. I thought I was doing what I wanted, so why was I drinking all the time, exhausted and anxious and irritated and downright angry? My brain always hurt. I felt alone. Was it supposed to be this way? Everyone ELSE in New York was running around, overachieving, working and then, drinking until all hours, weren’t they?

I drank, that’s all I know. I drank after a long day of doing a job that both bored me and overwhelmed me. I drank all throughout a graduate degree that stressed me beyond which I thought humanly possible. I drank to be able to get the courage and extroversion to reach out to sources, to interview them. I would drink for these very reasons now, if I had my way! I notice now that most of the day, my stomach is sort of clenched, my gut apprehensive: ugh, I have to research this complicated subject matter; ugh, I have to get the balls and the thick skin to be able to pitch and then, face rejection of my pitch; ugh, I have to worry CONSTANTLY about earning enough money to pay my rent. Some of the best days are when I don’t have to think about this shit.

But yet…I LIKE IT. I need it!

See, on the other hand, I NEED this sort of achievement in my life, goals that are gotten by hard work. If it’s not hard-won, if it doesn’t hurt, it couldn’t be worth it, right? I have to achieve at least as much as my competitors, if not more, don’t I? Where is the line between doing something that you put up with in order to “grow” and “push your boundaries,” and doing something that you love and it being easy, almost too easy in the sense that you stagnate, that you never find that sense of accomplishment that comes from a hard job done well?

Sigh. It’s especially confusing now that I’ve gotten sober. I put down the wine glass only to realize that I drank to avoid this edge, this cliff, one which I can neither back away from nor jump off of. I am sitting on this cliff, scared out of my mind, knowing that I “can’t go home again” but pretty sure I can’t fly!

I know now that I drank in the face of these feelings of wanting to do something easier, more fun, more with my grain; while at the same time feeling afraid that I wouldn’t be challenging myself enough if I put down my burden–and, abandon the sense of identity that doing the hard work got me.

I’ve been this way all my life–a highly overachieving, academic-focused person. It’s served me well, and believe me, when I look at my resume and see my degrees from Ivy League schools and “impressive” roster of companies that I’ve worked for, I’m not ashamed. I’m proud, but only to a certain extent. At this point, I’ve realized that life is forgettable if you’re not doing something that makes you happy, that makes your day enjoyable. That’s all that we’re going to the grave with, is a memory of our happiness, locked into every cell in our body. Maybe that’s what gets us to the next plane.

What does being happy mean, though? Right now, to me being happy means not feeling stressed to the point that I’m going to get cancer of the second (voice) and fifth (sacral) chakras. Yet, it also means being challenged, and having the ability to write, to teach, to explain–I am good at this, and I like the process. So, how do I do this AND not let it get to me? How do I reconcile a desire to “achieve” in the sense that most of us here in the US understand–working for appraisal, and winning–and an equally strong desire to “let it go” and work to live? How, in fact, do I allow myself to be happy, no matter what I’m doing for work, or for play?

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