In life, there are outside events and there are inside events.
Outside events are what I like to call frosting. Graduations, marriages, the wearing of cute red shoes, parties, promotions, trips to the park, holidays at the beach. Check your Facebook page and you’ll see what I’m talking about. People tend to showcase their frosting all the time, and for good reason. Those are the things we celebrate. We want to share them because they make us happy.
Inside events are the flour, milk and eggs bit. The cake underneath. The regular things.
I think part of the reason I got so messed up when I was younger was because I was on the hunt for frosting all day long. I didn’t think happiness could really be felt in the ordinary, unglamorous side to existence. I certainly never experienced happiness in those things. All I knew about those things, was that it was simply too quiet. There wasn’t enough noise to drown out the thoughts I had which told me I was not okay. There wasn’t enough distraction to make me forget how sensitive I was, how simply unsure I was that I could really fit into this world. I found it near impossible to navigate people and social dynamics and my own unrelenting insecurities. These things were particularly difficult because not only did I feel OUTSIDE, like I never quite belonged anywhere, but I also felt as though I was too much and not enough all at once. Those are confusing things to feel at the same time. I thought that if anyone knew just how awful my thoughts were, just how judgmental and greedy I was, how uninteresting, petty and jealous I felt, how grabby and anxious I could be, well, I was certain no one would like me. No one would say, Hey – awesome take on life. Let’s be friends. Never did I walk into the world, throw my hands confidently into the air and declare “HERE I AM!”. I remained, at all costs, hidden behind things which prevented me from being seen.
My frosting became alcohol and ecstasy pills and lines of speed and very loud music. I danced for hours and days and I didn’t think about anything other than the music surrounding me. Actually, I did think incredibly profound thoughts about the nature of reality and I’m quite certain I discovered the secrets of the universe, only I can’t remember any of them. I was both lifted beyond myself, and rooted firmly to the ground with a feeling that I belonged somewhere. Just as I was.
I loved that world like one might love their abuser; with desperation and the belief that there was nothing better for me. No alternative option. The road out seemed long and hard, and it was only when the pain of standing before it was greater than the pain of walking along it, that I knew my jig was up.
The first true thing I learned about myself when I left that world was that I was strong. The second true thing I learned was that I had far too much tie-die. And flared pants. What shocked me most was that I experienced strength not as a feeling I waited for but a decision I made. And if strength could be a choice, could bravery be a choice, too? And kindness? And tolerance? And maybe even love? And if all those good things were choices, then surely all the bad things were choices, too?
Hopeful as it sounds, that discovery pissed me off. It was like realizing there was a whole island of jewelry and coffee and cute outfits and really good books and an abundance of joy waiting for me, but that to get there I had to take off all my clothes and swim twenty kilometers through shark-infested water. It seemed like a whole heap of hard to me. Scary, life-risking hard. I mean…sharks! I had reached an existential crisis. My own self was telling me that the only way out of this mess, the only way to find peace and love and belonging, was to examine myself fiercely and take complete responsibility for what I saw there. That there was no one and nothing to blame for the way I was. For the way I felt. I said to myself, “Self, this blows.”
Eventually, I went to the kitchen. I unpacked the flour, eggs and milk. I was angry, but I measured and sifted and followed the instructions. I got bored, and then tired, and then more than little defeated. I mixed and I beat and I checked the packet to make sure I was doing it right. Who in damn blazers has TIME for this?, I cursed. Why is this SO DAMN HARD? Sweat and tears. Tears and sweat. The flour, milk and eggs said nothing. They just sat there silent in that big old bowl looking more than a little smug, if you ask me. I said to the flour, milk and eggs Okay guys, I hear you are where it’s at. Work with me. Help a sister out, would you? But they stayed silent. Not even a peep. Hours, it took me. I was in that kitchen for so long I thought I might grow my first grey hair in there. But then the oven timer went off, and I walked over to the door and I pulled it open and out came a CAKE. A little burned around the edges and a some might have said it was a tad on the caved-in side, but it was a cooked cake.
For the first time in my life, I – little old flour eggs and milk me – had power. I felt powerful. I realized that while I might feel grabby and insecure and jealous and judgmental and too much and not enough all at once, those things are not who I am. I have inside me the capacity to be all the things I dream of – generous and secure and tolerant and loving and peaceful JUST BY CHOOSING TO BE.
It was a freaking miracle.
Perfecting the art of cake-baking is a practice. It’s a practice, just like learning any new skill is; photography, meditation, the matching of shoes to jewelry to outfit. Time, repetition, and a whole lot of patience is essential in mastering anything. Baking the perfect cake happens when we not only accept our flaws and like ourselves in spite of them, but when we present our whole selves to the world without hiding beneath anything. Appearances, our children, pleasantries, alcohol, humour, perfectionism, none of it. Is there anything which represents security and self-love more than showing up exactly as we are?
It’s a daily practice simply to believe we are worthy of taking up the space we occupy without being accompanied by all those things we hide behind. That is vulnerability, and it’s really, really scary. It’s a practice just to forgive ourselves and try again tomorrow. It’s a practice not to yell at our husbands for misplacing the car keys for the hundredth time, to remain open and grateful when somebody is highlighting a character trait we could improve on, to continually choose love over fear. It takes practice just to take our clothes off and swim.
But all I know is that I want to be inside my life, winning conquests others know nothing about, discovering the power I hold which says, at any given moment, this is not how the story is going to end. All I know is that there is jewelry and coffee and cute outfits and really good books and an abundance of joy with my name on it, sitting on that island, just waiting there, hoping I will come.