Loving the Chaos That is Me
“I got demons tap dancing for my soul. I’m allowed to compete but I can’t dance.”
I wrote those words eight years ago. I was describing my personal struggles with dieting, exercise, and quitting smoking while my father was dying, and I was working at a company that openly hated me. Almost everything in my life was a fight and I was tired of fighting. I wanted some peace, but I couldn’t figure out how to get there.
Back then, I looked at my bad habits as demons – evil things actively working against my best interests. I loved them, hated them, fought with them, nourished them, and made love to them. They were the salvation I needed when my world had gone dark. I self-medicated, drank, smoked, and fucked myself through my 20s as I struggled to want to be here, to live. I forced myself through day after day after day until help came prescribed in a little bottle that I fought myself to open.
And things changed. I suddenly had breathing room, some space to look at my demons and some time to figure out how to subdue them. I attacked them with everything I had, using every tactic available. I would place pictures of myself in bathing suits to reaffirm my ugliness. I would call myself names. I would make nutritious food that I didn’t like and force myself to eat it. I would refuse to eat if the only food available was off-plan. I would over-exercise on too little food – working out while lightheaded was the norm. I quit smoking because it was affecting my ability to exercise as much as I felt like I needed. Everything I did, loving or not, was to starve my demons into nothing because then I would be in charge. I would have control. My life would be mine.
I fought hard. If a person ever told me I was doing too much, they were the enemy. I picked through the people in my life and pushed out anyone who tried to shift my focus. I pursued friendships that were about my goals – relationships that did not last for obvious reasons. I studied. I planned. I exercised. I hungered. I focused all my energy on straightening myself out. I was going to fix my shit, exorcise my demons, and live a better life.
And as fucked up as all this was, it was an improvement of sorts because I had energy. I was actually doing something. Prior to this, I sat at home and hated the world. I had no motivation to change. I endured. I shut everyone out of my life unless they could fulfill a specific purpose for me. By focusing inward, I was less hostile to people and I could tell myself that everything I was doing was good for me. I was working on the real enemy, myself, and everything was going to be better. I was Buffy and I had demons to slay!
Then my dad died.
It’s been seven years and everything in me still pauses when I think about that time. My world stops. I stop.
When he died, everything broke: my world, my life, me...
It is impossible to remain unchanged when you lose someone you love beyond measure. I shattered and had to find a way to piece myself back together. And I did, but the once broken is never the same as before. I went through the motions – I retained the same routines, kept the same friendships but it all felt different from before.
I stopped hearing what people were saying and started noticing how they made me feel. I was this giant, exposed bundle of nerves – it was so easy to hurt me. And when people did, I didn’t attack them as I’d done in the past. I also didn’t ignore them and beat myself up for being “too sensitive.” I looked at them, really looked at them and assessed their role in my life.
I realized that life was painful enough without having people inflict it on me. I became less critical and more accepting of people’s differences. My empathy grew. I allowed myself to be sensitive and stopped thinking of it as a weakness. I listened more and allowed myself to care about people with less fear of getting hurt. I learned that the potential to hurt was always there, whether intentional or not. I decided to learn how to manage the pain.
I stopped looking at myself and seeing various demons that needed culling. Instead, I finally saw myself as human with all the contradictions, non-sequiturs, irrational fears, and indescribable loves. I am a perfect fucking mess…just like everyone else.
I grew and learned that I am not my enemy. I never was. I just lacked empathy for the most important person in my life: me.
Old habits die hard, though. I still fight with myself, beat myself up for my humanity. I’m getting better about it, though. I don’t refer to parts of myself as demons anymore. That narrative was dangerous - I used it to abuse myself. For more than a year I fed myself a diet of frustration, disappointment, and shame. I told myself I was worthless, ugly, stupid, and a failure for things like being hungry, tired, sick, hurt. I gave myself no space to be myself; all I could see were the things I wasn’t doing; the goals I didn’t meet. I Othered my humanity and I hurt myself convinced that it was for my own good.
Now, I try not to look at my mistakes as damning.
I refuse to lie to myself and say the end justifies the means. If I have to hate myself to reach a goal, that goal is crap. I choose to love myself. I choose to place myself above all the bullshit people say I should want and have.
I decide what I need. I design my own path. When shit gets ugly, I go back to my map and look for alternate routes. I assess the importance of the goal and evaluate the potential outcomes of reaching it.
I work at not judging myself. At loving myself. At appreciating what I can do instead of punishing myself for what I can’t. I accept that change takes time. I remind myself that I am worthy and loved, first and foremost by me. Now when I fight, it’s for acceptance and inclusion and against the lies that tell us that’s wrong.
My demons aren’t my demons anymore. I accept myself and love myself as I am and I change to embrace more, not less of myself.
These days I get to be unapologetically and irrepressible me.