“Self-actualization does not lead to self-control. It just leads to more guilt.” – Todd Sedlak
I just got off the phone with a friend of mine, fresh out out of rehab, her second time. She has called and text me at all hours of the day and night telling me how depressed she is, how she can’t keep it together, how she doesn’t know herself anymore. And I want her to make it. I want her to keep her head up. I want her to beat this addiction that holds her like a vise. I don’t know if she will. And when she’s not consumed by her past and what’s its created in her, she’s a perfectly pleasant adjusted woman. That’s her other side… and it’s slowly consuming her.
Another friend of mine might lose her kids she can’t get her life together. And she doesn’t think she has a problem, she doesn’t see herself the way we do. She keeps slipping further and further away. How she’s a shadow of herself. She won’t take calls, she won’t take advice or see family or friends. Truth be told, I don’t know where she’s sleeping tonight.
But it’s not just addictions or compulsions. I learn this more and more as I get older. We all have demons the things that do more than damage, they take hold and don’t let go. That’s our Other Side. Completely us, not a different location outside ourselves, but a place we can’t escape that’s been created within us. We can’t understand how people, even those closest to us, got to that place, their place. Because it is wholly theirs. Just as ours are ours. When you’re the one there, as much as the pain, the damage, the hurt, the choices inflict the negative, we don’t let it go. It may not be good but it’s ours. It’s no longer whether or not you want to stay, it’s about how you endure it, manage the consequences.
No one outside our experiences can appreciate what leads us to keep returning to ours. Sometimes its our own choices; the girl who starves herself, or the one who can’t stop eating. They both cry themselves to sleep at night because they know better, but they just can’t help it. The abuser who knows nothing else, the drug dealer who didn’t graduate from high school and can’t get a job, the murderer who never had a chance to break out of the cycle of poverty. The gambler, the sex addict, or the prostitute. Sometimes, it’s what has been done to us: the abused, the raped, the lied to, the abandoned, and the traumatized.
Sometimes it doesn’t even seem to be something we’d recognize as trauma, appear significant, or even start off as something bad. One of my college roommates couldn’t get out of bed for three days when her boyfriend of few months broke up with her, I didn’t realize immediately, but it was the worst thing she’d ever been through. And holding her hand one night, I could feel how deeply she was hurt. It was real for her. I had to appreciate it, I couldn’t NOT. It was palpable for her. The darkest place she’d ever been in her head.
Pain is pain and pain changes you.
Go too far, don’t go far enough, stand still, say things you don’t mean, take it out on the wrong people, sabotage something that used to matter… All popular responses. It’s how you want to feel and maybe you can’t help yourself. Maybe you’re just so used to it, you don’t know anything else. And you don’t ask for help because you think, “I can’t bring someone into this” or “I can handle this.” But you know that it is affecting those around you and if care, it just sucks more, because your pain is becoming someone else’s. And there aren’t words, there aren’t explanations, there isn’t even a lack of awareness… you know it’s happening. But somehow, letting it continue is harder than choosing something else. And then you think you’re better off alone. Or that they’re better off without you. So the place, the pain, the demons that were yours aren’t just yours anymore. That’s the biggest illusion. So, at the base of it all, at the place where we recognize ourselves beyond and outside what we’ve experienced we are left with one thing: guilt. Compound the pain times ten.
We’re not alone in being alone. That might be the only silver lining. Accept that one can’t fully grasp what you’re going through, and on the flip side, appreciate that you can’t exactly go through anything with someone else either. It’s not yours.
But if the people you love are worth the struggle then you have to recognize the places that they occupy in their darkest moments, the parts of them that are irreparable and permanent will always be their other side, a place you can’t go, fix, or change. Stay firmly planted on this side now and be ready to maintain that position, again, and again, and again. You can’t go to their other side with them but sometimes it’s the things we return to from our other side that makes all the difference.