I looked down at the tissue and there was blood and my immediate thought was that I have cancer.
And that it’s probably bad and that it’s going to kill me in the next 6-12 months.
That’s how my brain works and I think that’s how the human brain works as a whole.
We overanalyze and exaggerate our realities in order to prevent ourselves from becoming lunch-meat.
And sometimes it’s healthy — say, you’re in the woods and you hear a bear in the distance — but other times it can just drive us mad.
So, I started to drive myself mad — what the fuck is it?!
The first time, it was a lot of blood.
Then, the next time, less.
But I wasn’t certain everything would be okay.
The uncertainty was killing me, in a lot of ways.
I like when things are certain.
When I know, definitively whether or not I’m going to die in the next 6-12 months or that I’m in the clear.
(And based on a number of things, including my diet, workout regiment, and general stress levels, it’s always more likely to be the latter.)
Because darkness — uncertainty, really — is terrifying to most of us.
We want answers because we assume that once we get them, everything will be okay.
But we’ll always have more questions than we will answers.
So the more effective response is to learn to just be able to sit in that uncertainty.
To bear with that discomfort for a few hours or days or weeks or however long it takes.
To bask in the darkness.
Learning to be okay with no control.
Before we broke up, I thought that when we did I might try to kill myself.
I’d never felt that out-of-control and in love and hurt, certainly, in my entire life.
Because the truth was that I’d never actually invested myself in a relationship in that way.
Before I’d met her, in New York, the longest relationship I’d been in lasted about three or four hours and I always felt like shit afterward.
(Blame it on the hangover but also on all of these deep-seated insecurities and emotions that I’d never fully processed.)
I always believed that on the opposite side of heartbreak was devastation and so I avoided it.
I wanted to protect myself.
So I did for a long, long time and then I met somebody who I genuinely liked and enjoyed spending time with and once you’ve reached that point you can’t really turn back.
So I couldn’t and I didn’t and I was scared because I was losing control.
When we finally broke up after a few months, I thought I was going to be far more crushed than I ever was.
(But to be totally fair, it hurt like hell at the time.)
The second time around, a few months ago, I knew what I was getting myself into.
I knew that it might hurt and that it would be draining and anxiety inducing.
But I felt less scared that time.
Because I could remember all of the beautiful experiences that I’d had in that first relationship and how life-altering that was in so many ways.
The second still hurt — maybe even more so, in a lot of ways — but it also brought with it a series of immutable and totally amazing memories and plenty of unforgettable stories.
I always thought that the opposite of love was hurt and pain and suffering but sometimes it’s, even more, love, too.
What are you protecting yourself from?
I had a pit in my stomach when I put my hand on her back and told her, “I think you’re incredibly sexy.”
I’ve always felt that way — scared, anxious and worried that if I put myself in a particular situation that it’ll almost always end in total rejection.
It was only until recently — maybe the last year or two, at best — when I’d discovered that it’s probably about a 50/50 proposition in the right context and that even when it does end in rejection I always feel better for having put myself out there.
I still spend an inordinate amount of time in my day-to-day inoculating myself from rejection — trying to put myself in situations that are less likely to lead to that ill-fated conclusion.
But everyone does this, in some way.
I have a number of friends who routinely turn to online dating sites and apps in order to stave off their extreme fear of loneliness.
Others who work tirelessly in order to protect themselves from financial burden and total ruin.
And then those who build companies and perform on-stage in front of large audiences in order to avoid the pain of ever feeling unwanted.
Most of what we do is a shallow effort to protect ourselves from the pain that we don’t ever want to experience — something that’s probably more a product of nurture than we’d ever care to admit.
(You know, like a distant parent or a childhood bully.)
I think that where the real growth lies in, instead, is learning to be okay with that occasional and often deeply disturbing discomfort that comes with processing those emotions.
I’m miserable at this.
I often avoid going to bars alone even when I just feel like getting out of the apartment for fear of feeling like a total fucking loser.
The other day, I sat in the lounge area of a bar that was far too exquisite for me and simply sat there by myself drinking my drink.
I sat with the deep discomfort that I was feeling.
It was exhausting a, d frankly I felt like complete shit.
Like I was a total fucking loser who was clearly a social reject.
I let those feelings in.
The universe is totally out of your control.
The most out-of-control I’d ever felt was when I was stuck in the back of a friend’s station wagon, sitting between two kids who were a little bigger than me and the highest I’d ever been, I think, in my entire life.
We’d just gone on a long-winded blunt-cruise around the town of Meadville, Pennsylvania because we were in college and the only things that might be more prolific in college than weed are Natty Light and accidental pregnancies.
And so, I was extremely high in that my paranoia was at about a 12 and I thought that everybody in the car secretly wanted to kill me and now I was stuck.
I had no control over my brain and my thoughts and my world were crashing in on itself and I was frightened.
When I finally got back to my dorm room after a long-winded battle against my psyche that I certainly wouldn’t win, I rolled around in my bed and felt like somebody was crushing my chest.
Paula Dean or something, that racist bitch.
After an hour or two just trying to get to sleep and failing miserably, I ran to our dorm bathroom and proceeded to force myself to vomit into a toilet that still had shit residue from its previous occupant.
As I was leaning over the toilet on my hands and knees with two of my fingers lodged deep down my throat, I remember how lost and lifeless and totally out-of-control I felt then.
And to be honest, that entire year — my sophomore year of college — was a blur, in some ways.
I spent more night throwing up in our shared bathrooms than I can count and certainly more than I can remember.
Apparently, somebody took a shit in one of our washing machines and I don’t think it was me but it could’ve been.
Who’s to say?
And in hindsight, though I wanted to regain control maybe I was far more self-aware then than I’ve ever been in recent years.
I knew that, in a lot of ways, I didn’t have a lot of control over my reality — that my sphere of influence was relatively small and that the easiest way to try and manipulate that was to just continue drinking and smoking and doing whatever it was I’d been doing then.
And that that was okay, too.
Now, I try and control my happiness by avoiding toxic people, protecting myself from difficult emotions, working out regularly, eating a (somewhat) healthy diet and so on.
But the difference between what I do now and what I did then is that, then, I used to simply surrender to the world around me.
That I’d never convinced myself that I was anything but a tiny little speck among billions of other specks.
What’s on the other side of darkness?