0496 – identify personal baggage that needs addressing, and address it

When I was reviewing my first 50 word vomits, I came up with a bunch of questions that I wanted to answer. I’m looking at those questions now and I realize they’re not all created equal– some are “mere” curiosities (quotes because sometimes those things lead to the most amazing things) while others are more pressing concerns. It’s 3am in the morning and I’m writing because I can’t sleep (I went to bed at 9pm or so, and I’m wide awake now), so I’m going to pick some of the “more pressing concerns”. There’s something about the late night that just invites this sort of introspection.

The one thing I want to focus on is thinking about the role that guilt has played in my life. For almost as long as I can remember, I’ve felt guilty about things. It’s been largely the dominant emotion of my life. I’d like to sit down and process that.

What got me into this line of thinking: I was reading a book called Transforming Your Self, which I wasn’t too optimistic about. I was expecting to flip through it and write it off. But the author had some clear, level-headed things to say about self-concept and self-esteem, and one of the things he suggested was to revisit old memories. If I remember correctly, the idea is this– if we carry around baggage and frustration and we feel fragmented, it’s technically our present imagination that’s responsible for it. Things happened in the past, but the past does not technically exist except in the mind of the present. So when we remember something unpleasant, like say, somebody insulting us, what’s really happening is that a part of our brain is simulating the experience. That person isn’t insulting us any more, but our brain continues doing it to us, for us. This isn’t always useful. It might be a better idea to rewire the brain. This might seem like some sort of memory tampering (Eternal Sunshine of The Spotless Mind?), but it doesn’t need to be so drastic. It’s more like… changing the story we tell ourselves. And this doesn’t require disregarding what actually had happened. I think we’re intelligent enough to be able to know the truth about something while deciding that we’re going to interpret it differently.

While that idea was still fresh in my mind, I went on to visit and have dinner with my parents, and we discussed things that had happened in the past. And I was intrigued to notice that, as we talked about some unpleasant things that had happened in the past (in a lighthearted, comfortable and safe setting), I felt my heart rate elevate. I felt myself sweating. I didn’t consciously feel like I was particularly upset or angry or anything like that, but I was having a physiological response. And I realized, wow, this stuff goes deep. I used to sort of semi-lament semi-seriously that I didn’t have any real issues, that I was just some lazy bugger who was hoping for something more interesting, and now it turns out I actually do have some baggage and shit to deal with. [1]

So this is a couple of stepst towards my trying to deal with and sort out my own shit. It’s not as glamorous as I might’ve secretly wished it would be, and now that I have some sort of problem to fix I do find myself thinking that I’d really like to be done with it as soon as possible because it’s rather inconvenient.

Mixed up in all of this is  of course the fact that this isn’t a new problem, I just have a heightened awareness of the issue that I have to deconstruct and solve. It must have always been there in some way. Or maybe not. I’m projecting a narrative here, hoping that if I solve this problem, I’ll magically become amazing and capable of everytihng I previously wasn’t capable of. That’s probably a bit of a stretch. But I do believe that I can rewire my brain to solve the silly problem of guilt that I have. The challenge is to avoid glamorizing it, to avoid enjoying playing the victim (and this is always a temptation when you’re doing this sort of navel-gazing writing shit… my hope and solace lies in the fact that if I keep going, I eventually get bored of my own BS and want to do something more interesting.)

So this whole vomit is really just a setup for talking about talking about the problem, without talking about the problem yet. I’m sure there have been vomits in which I’ve tried talking about the problem, or at least I’ve acknowledged having the problem– the whole confessional schtick. The first step to solving a problem is to acknowledging that there is one, as they say. They never say what’s the second step, do they? We’ll explore that in the next vomit.

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[1] On hindsight, maybe I just wanted something to point at. I’m reminded of a bit from Prozac Nation, where the author says that she kinda wishes she had a substance problem rather than depression, because a substance problem is something you can very specifically point at and say “yeah, that’s my problem”. You can go get treatment for it. You can go to Alcoholics Anonymous. You have ready-made communities around the world that you can join (and I do still think that’s part of the allure of being a smoker– Tom Chiarella wrote that it was like a club, and not without its charms). At this point now I’m thinking, hey, Wurtzel ultimately sort of got what she wanted– by writing a book about it, she became a rallying point for the thing that seemed to her to be rather… annoying, unfair, “not real enough”.

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