Suddenly, it is spring. And not just spring but SPRING! SPRING! SPRING! Eighty degrees, glaring sunshine, short-sleeve shirts, balminess, wildflowers, fluffy clouds, the whole lot. Spring.
It's so completely SPRING! that I'm finding it difficult to concentrate. I want to be outside, I want to be in the garden. I definitely do not want to be inside, or out of the garden. I badly need to pull off some layers and soak up that clean air, those rays of sunshine.
My life is so sweet right now, it's hard to remember what it was like when things were not so good. And yet, I know it's true. At one time I plowed through life full of hatred and resentment. I burned bridges ferociously. I treated people poorly. I judged most everyone as ignorant and destructive, because that's what I was. My bad behavior was based in fear and self-loathing, and I stayed in that place for so long because I was unwilling to examine my own experiences too closely. And yet I thought I was so enlightened.
Recently I connected with a friend who has a past very similar to mine. She has found hope in recovery programs like AA and a foundational spirituality that has saved her life. Deep in discussion, we marveled at our sad histories and the lessons we've learned since then. She asked me, "How did you get out of it? How did you stop being that way?" I thought for a minute and then explained that, basically, I just got sick of myself. Depression, self-hatred, they are boring and self-centered activities, and I'm just not that interesting. We laughed about that and then I said, more seriously, that some circumstances had to change before I could consider changing myself.
1. I had to leave the religion.
2. I had to leave the state.
3. I had to leave the house.
If I'd been a wiser person, maybe I could have changed from within, regardless of my external circumstances, but I'm not. As long as I was a Mormon, living in Utah, with such social anxiety that it bordered on agoraphobia, I couldn't take the steps necessary to turn my life around. I just cycled through my destructive habits, and even when I realized how horrible I was being, I couldn't seem to pull out of it.
The first steps I took toward a better way of being came when I fully embraced my loss of faith. When I turned in my church resignation I was filled with such a feeling of love and peace. I released so much anxiety, fear, and resentment from just that small act. And for the first time I experienced authentic compassion, because I realized how harshly I'd judged ex-Mormons in the past and how wrong I was about their reasoning and consequences. I was also able to be more fully my true self, because I wasn't smothering it to fit into a prescribed role.
That taste of freedom was an important first step, but it wasn't enough. I still struggled because I was surrounded by church culture. In Utah, it's very difficult to be neutral on Mormon issues, and that's what I really wanted to be. I didn't want to fit the stereotype of a "bitter ex-Mormon." I needed to get through the process, which can be akin to the stages of grieving, but eventually I hoped to be done with it. I just wanted to let it go.
And this problem was not only related to religion. I felt trapped in old relationships that had become painful or irrelevant. So many people expected me to be -- for good or ill -- my old self. And increasingly, I was not that person. On the one hand I felt like I wasn't allowed to change, and on the other hand I felt like I didn't want to change, because -- let's be honest here -- it feels awesome! to be pissed off. It really gets the blood flowin' to be all righteously indignant, which was basically my default state.
So the next steps came when we left Utah. We came to California and I thought, Finally, I can truly transform and leave that baggage behind. Nobody has to know anything about my past. Nobody has to know that I used to hate everyone and had to be right about everything. I can let go of the need to be the smartest person in the room. I can be a loving person, a gentle person, a supportive person... maybe even a good person, but at the very least a different person, finally.
Of course, it wasn't like that at first, because I had done nothing to overcome my social anxiety. Before I left Utah I rarely left the house. I had panic attacks almost daily. Instead of making or keeping friends I spent most of my time obsessing over my children and compulsively scrubbing baseboards. And for a while, this was my pattern in California. I didn't know anybody and I didn't want to know anybody.
But the people I met here were infuriatingly friendly and supportive. They pulled me out of my shell, against my will, and so I had to decide who I was going to be, what face I was going to present to this world. The truth is that I was just as inclined to anger and self-righteousness as I'd ever been, so I had a choice to make. Did I want to continue in those patterns because it wasn't natural for me to behave a different way? Or was I going to fake it, despite my deep longing for authenticity?
Just fake it 'til you make it, I told myself. So that's what I've done. And slowly, very slowly, that's the person I've become. I still have my moments, believe me, when I am sullen, quick to judge, flaring to anger at the slightest provocation. I'm still defensive, and anxious in big groups. I still fight to retain those threads of compassion, and not compensate for my self-doubt by being self-righteous. I've never lost those tendencies, only smothered them, because I want to be happy, and somewhere along the way I decided that I deserved to be.
Not too long ago, I found myself in a rapid backsliding decline. That's when I decided to get involved with Deep Green Resistance, around the time that I wrote this post. I became depressed and hopeless; I saw destruction everywhere, and my hand in it; I could see only the wasteful and slovenly ways that my species behaves, and my sadness mounted and my judgments flared and just like that, I was back at square one. I guess I have a tendency for extremism, and that's where I gravitated as I came to an awareness of deep ecology, as my connection to the Earth strengthened and deepened.
I don't want to say anything against DGR. Derrick Jensen's work has powerfully and positively influenced my life. But I had to catch myself on a downward spiral as a result of my focus on the movement. For me, personally, I could not find a way to combine that commitment with a stable and compassionate existence. It just did not work. Because I desperately did not want to think so badly of my fellow humans again, I turned much of that angst inward, and thus began a steady deterioration.
The truth is that, most of the time, I'm just trying to get through the day without shitting on anyone. I wake up in the morning and I tell myself that I'm not going to do it today -- I'm not going to yell at my kids, I'm not going to bristle when that not-so-nice lady tries to talk to me, I'm not going to wonder why that dude is dressed like that. I'm just going to smile and fake it because I feel that somehow, eventually, I will make it. Rarely do I get through the day without being an asshole, but I keep trying, and life is so much more bearable and even sometimes truly lovely as a result.
So that's where I found the edges of my commitment, my zealotry, my extremism: I just want to be happy and free, and I want to help others be happy and free, and I can't do that from a hard line. Selfish? I guess it is. But I'm not climbing back in the hole -- not for anything -- not for anybody.
My friend, being a spiritual AA sort of person, believes in the power of making amends. I have been thinking about this a great deal, because I do have the desire. I wish I could write a letter and make some effort to reverse some of the harm I've done. But I'm not sure I'm ready. When I tried to sort this out with my friend I realized that it's not because I'm not ready to forgive -- because of course these things go both ways. I was hurt as well, sometimes so deeply that I cut off contact. I am ready to forgive, but I'm not ready to be forgiven. I'm not sure that I've really changed all that much. I'm not sure that I would behave so differently if thrown into a situation with someone I've hurt, and been hurt by, in the past.
Not long ago I was thrown into such a situation. I was nervous and made several attempts to back out. But I reminded myself that this whole fake-it-til-you-make-it thing has been working so far, and this is the time to test it. So I went, and I smiled hard and allowed this new excitement and joy to bubble to the surface. I didn't hide myself; I didn't hold back. I talked about my chickens and my plans for the garden and my kids' school and I let it pour forth despite the mounting expression of distaste on her face. I left shaken and disturbed, but happy, because I was going back to my real life, this beautiful life that I'm building carefully by hand, one brick at a time, which is the only thing, ultimately, that really matters.
I write those "let's make amends!" letters in my head, but I never put them to paper. When I made the decision that participating in DGR was unhealthy for me, I felt relieved, like I'd sloughed off another old skin and emerged fresh and shiny, but I worry that I may have acted, on some level, from simple cowardice. Maybe such a letter would be written from cowardice, too, not for others to heal but for myself. When I think of my old life, I picture a road littered with bodies, and I think that I am just trying to make myself feel better for something I can never, ever change, not on any fundamental level. What if I write those letters and then my old colors bleed through? What can I wreck, and how badly, if given a second chance?
So the letters, for now, are unwritten. But the intention is set.