When we decide to make hard changes in our lives, we find ourselves facing down our own personal demons. These demons – or Big Bads – come in all different shapes and sizes.
My demon was alcohol. (Or at least that is how it first presented itself.) Your demon may be another type of addiction. Or a hard truth about your marriage or partnership. You may have suffered a trauma or endured a life-changing loss. Your job may be slowly killing you.
Regardless of what our individual demons are, there is one tool we all need to slay our Big Bads and change our life: ATTITUDE.
Telling your story
“Her confidence is tragic, but her intuition magic.” –Train
When I first got sober, I told very few people the why behind this change. But without exception, those few people were shocked and questioned my decision.
“Really? You don’t seem like you have a problem.”
“You’re never going to drink again?”
Their shock shocked me. And, even though I knew my choice was the right thing for me, I quickly joined them in questioning my decision.
While their reactions were disappointing, the most surprising and hurtful response I received was no response. A dear friend, upon my sharing with her vague details of why I quit drinking, offered me a slow blink and a quick change of topic.
In that uncomfortable moment, I knew just what to do. When others do not acknowledge our pain, we quickly move to start stuffing it back down. We need the uncomfortable moment to end. I downplayed my struggles and stayed small so as not to upset others.
The truth about these reactions is this: People do not want you to change because they are terrified it might mean they have to change. They may love you, but they also love the way things used to be. They love what you do for them and what you don’t do for them, namely make them uncomfortable. Even if the status quo is exquisitely painful and you are losing your soul, they might rather you live in a familiarity of dysfunction than force them to suffer the unknown.
This is where your attitude comes in.
The secret ingredient
“Fine. I’ll be my own best friend.” – Me, age 5, to my older sister after she declined to play with me
Without any “in real life” support, I turned to the sober blogs and eventually started my own. I found three or four bloggers whose voice and stories resonated with me. All of them were written by women who were slogging it out alone with their demons. No 12 Step Programs, no tried and true path – but they were winning.
A few months ago, after years of following them online, I decided I would bring these women to life. I contacted two of them and asked if they would meet me. Talk about a trust fall. It is one thing to share your truth in the anonymity of the Internet. It is another thing entirely to meet a stranger whose read your virtual diary and share coffee and sandwiches with her. And yet, they both graciously agreed.
One is Canadian; the other, American. I met with them separately, but in the course of the conversations I asked them both about their secret ingredient. Beyond blogging and having a desire to change, what had worked for them?
They live 3,000 miles from each other and I met them three months apart, but they both told me the same thing: Attitude.
“At first I treated myself like a house plant,” Emily, the Canadian, said of early sobriety. “I gave myself some food, water and a bit of light.” Eventually though, this petite soft-spoken librarian who sews her own clothes added one more ingredient: “I developed a punk rock attitude,” she said in a strong voice, her eyes dancing.
The American, Sharon, is a grandmother and dog lover. She was even more blunt in her assessment of what worked for her: “A Fuck You attitude,” she said, in between bites of her strawberry and pecan salad.
“If you live in the dark a long time and the sun comes out, you do not cross into it whistling. There’s an initial uprush of relief at first, then a profound dislocation. My old assumptions about how the world works are buried, yet without a few days in hell, no resurrection is possible.” – Mary Karr
Women accommodate. We work around and in between our partner’s bad moods, our coworkers’ inabilities, our children’s whims and wishes. Accommodating others is how we get shit done, every day. But this tool of productivity slowly becomes our undoing, as we never quite get around to accommodating our own needs. Often, when we do make the motions to accommodate ourselves, we can be meet with the uncomfortable reactions: You want to stop drinking with me? You want to leave me? You want to change?!
And the yearning to accommodate, a Force of Nature with its own gravitational pull, begins to tug on us again. You can make others happy and comfortable, this yearning says, just stuff your needs down. Stay small. Stay the same.
Over and over and over again we must resist that gravitational pull – with attitude. Punk Rock. Fuck You. Grit. Determination. Resolve. Call it what you want, but dig deep within yourself and find some. Bottle that magic up and keep it close.
Resist with attitude. And then rinse and repeat.
And for those of you out there who think you do not have a Punk Rock attitude in you, I say this: Fake it till you make it. That’s right. JUST PRETEND. Fool yourself into action. Fake the part. It may feel silted and unnatural, but if you do it long enough and it becomes the real thing.
And then you – and the world – will finally meet the rock star hiding inside you. I can’t wait.