Making it to adulthood without lasting physical injury was probably the last time I achieved a goal I’d set for myself. Somehow, I’ve still done a lot in my life, but oddly without ever managing to get anywhere.
I’ve spent so much time being just so angry. Righteous anger can be healthy occasionally, but fuming while a price checker at the grocery store moseys down an aisle is probably not one of those times.
I come by my fury honestly, at least. From 11 to 18, I needed a constant state of rage to get me grown and away. The single-mindedness kept me from focusing on how fucked things really were, but I stuck myself in the trap of thinking “things will be so much better once ___ happens.”
Finally, I was 18 and out to where the walls were bare, but the slate wasn’t blank. Without tangible evidence that people were trying to hurt me, I floundered. Life suddenly seemed less valuable once nobody was trying to take it away from me. I spent a few years putting myself in dangerous situations, but I never got picked up to be an international assassin, and the back-burner dream fizzled. My goal of survival had only one step — live — which doesn’t translate well into setting new, grown-up goals that desire timelines and measurable results.
And without the physical struggle I’d grown used to, I couldn’t get rid of the anger. Reading headlines about people doing horrible things to one another filled me with a violent rage, but as an adult with poor coping skills, I only knew what not to do about it. When I was a teenager, it was a bit more acceptable to engage in fisticuffs, even if it didn’t really solve the problem at hand. Now I’m expected to resolve conflict without resorting to violence, but age alone hasn’t taught me how to do that. The rage just turns inward, where it quickly mutates once that record starts spinning, the one that all of us low self-esteemers picked up around middle school: There’s nothing I can do about this because: I am worthless. Ungrateful. Ugly when I cry. Incapable of making the right decisions for myself.
But when I really listened to that record not too long ago (whose voice is that, anyway?), I realized something other than the fact that I’m a real asshole to myself: It’s a wonder I get out of bed at all. Somehow, I’ve managed to live for decades carrying an enormous 10-ton chip on my shoulder that has actually tried to do me physical harm. Whether I hoisted it up myself or someone tossed it to me, I’ve kept breathing this whole time, and once in a while I even ate a healthful meal at an appropriate time of the day. Occasionally I’ve shaken off the anxiety and had the wherewithal to labor over a sentence or two, even a chapter here and there, toward my excuse-filled pipe dream of being a writer.
Compared to the could-have-beens, I’m doing pretty well for myself. I scored a 9 on the Adverse Childhood Experience Questionnaire, and out of the possible outcomes, I’m on Easy Street, having escaped with just heavy smoking and depression. I’m a pro in avoidance, a guru of hyper vigilance, a sensei of self-loathing and a master at depression, so attempting to achieve goals at all comes with a large helping of perfectionism and anxiety. And I’ve survived everything I’ve done to myself.
So I no longer do more before 9 a.m. than most people do all day, and that’s okay with me.
I woke up today. Anything else I do is gravy.