The Challenges of Change

by Jeanene Harlick | September 28, 2016 5:26 am

I’ve been working on change lately. I thought I’d been giving it a pretty good go for years – I’ve been through so many, countless programs and therapists. But real change, in the real world, I’m learning, is a lot harder, and involves some very different strengths, tools, and tactics, than I realized.

I think the two hardest things about trying to change, about trying to “recover,” about trying to implement new ways to cope with a turbulent, punitive, and self-hating mind are this:

And you’re trying to do this when you’re just so fu—ing exhausted – from so many years of pain, of fighting a mind that constantly attacks itself. And, in my case, additionally exhausted from decades of malnourishment and the physical and psychological impairments resulting from – nearly one year ago – jumping off my apartment roof*.

And that last thing – that suicide attempt – has only added more deceptively-thin but unyielding filaments to the web of interior confusion, pain, tumult and questioning which underlie my dysfunctional coping mechanisms in the first place. Now, the why-am-I-like-this puzzle is even more complicated – possibly impossible – to solve. My mind is such a labyrinth of issue building upon issue, of experience building upon experience, that the only possible end seems the Minotaur.

Each time I have even one tiny victory – one imperceptible (to others) movement toward change – and manage (as I must, because the OCD calls) drag myself out of bed the following morning, I feel as though my body, mind and spirit have emerged from some kind of grueling, Herculean battle with Greek gods throwing emotional and cognitive lightening bolts at each other for days. And I’m once again sitting amid the embers, attempting to recuperate, haul myself up, and return to my troop. But more and more these days I don’t seem able to recover from the battle wounds. Each sortie takes a little more spirit and life out of me, knocks another chip out of my soul – a chip that vaporizes instantly and never comes back.

And as the saying goes, I’m just so tired of being tired.

Here’s one thing that’s so bizarre about my life now: I look at people performing the most routine of daily functions – showing up at work at 9 a.m. and leaving at five; walking down the hall with
*That suicide attempt bears an important reminder, readers: If you’re thinking about – or ever do – taking your life, please consider that if you survive, your life and your relationships will only be exponentially more fu—ed up than before. So in other words: Don’t do it. Not that I’m, obviously, the best role model on this topic – but please, ride the urge out. 
a colleague and enjoying a moment of professional mirth, as I recently observed while in the hospital. And I marvel. I used to be one of those people – just doing normal things, showing up for work, dressing professionally, the usual stuff – and now “the usual” seems an impossible goal or achievement, something only the mighty and good can reach. I don’t want to be accomplished, “great,” make good money, or considered “talented” anymore – I simply want to be “average.” Plus stop hurting people, reciprocate kindnesses and, if I’m lucky, contribute a little meaning to this world.  But I can’t even manage those little things.

Nonetheless I am trying to change, for real, right now, even though I’m sure it’s unapparent to those close to me. But the fact is I’m weak:  The ways in which I’ve dealt with my mind and life events, for the past 20 years, prove it – and I don’t know if I have the strength, or courage, to change. I don’t know if I have the strength to sit with the reality of me and the courage to let go of the behaviors I’ve relied on to make me feel “safe” or “in control”; or the strength to stop myself from carrying through the impulsive, highly-destructive actions I’ve always resorted to when my emotions reach an intolerable boiling point.

I’ve succeeded once or twice, with the latter challenge, the past couple months. But just barely. And the failures have dwarfed the successes.

I wonder a lot lately why I’ve spent so much of the past few years being angry and blaming others, when – even if some of those feelings or beliefs are remotely justified – focusing on them is a waste of time and energy, period. The anger gets me nowhere – and it’s in actuality mostly a cover-up for hurt feelings, and sometimes denial. But you also turn people – and potential listeners or collaborators  – away with anger.

The blame is even more pointless – because I’m complaining about things or issues or systemic, socio-political injustices my little voice will never, ever impact. Because let’s face it people, almost nobody reads me (although I’m grateful to those that do). But, of course, nobody in positions of power read me. So what’s the point of even trying to highlight prejudices or bad practices, or whatever thorn happens to be pricking my vulnerable side at any given moment – things which okay may play some, small role in the state of my life – but which pointing out is never going to make my life better. The only thing that’s going to do that is me. Change is on me.

So that brings me to another ingredient I realize I need for change: Acceptance. Am I – (are you) – willing to accept the world as it is, that certain disparities are always going to exist, and that I’m certainly not going to play any role in reversing them; can I not only accept these things and stop fighting them (it’s a losing battle), but also accept the state of my life? Particularly in comparison to others’? My life (your life), is what it is. Deal with it, Jeanene. A lot of people have it worse than me. Accept the fact that I have no fu–ing control.

It all seems too much right now, as I approach Oct. 23, that one-year “anniversary” of my suicide attempt:  Having to not only face up to my culpability in the state of my life, and my failure to “recover,” as I’ve seen so many others do –  while simultaneously attempting to cope differently with the painful psychological, existential and relational issues which have been present and growing ever-more complex and entangled for years.

Oh, and there’s one other thing I can’t comprehend learning how to do, if I’m really going to change. I don’t even know if it’s something a person can learn; it seems you have to be hard-wired for it: This concept of liking oneself. As far as I’m concerned, I’m a loathsome individual who’s treated many people – including beloved, supportive family members and friends who’ve made great sacrifices for me – horribly in my worst moments and inadequately at my best. How does someone like that ever like themselves? There’s just no excusing nor forgiving some behavior – especially when it’s directed toward the kindest, most undeserving of people. There’s no secular Hale Mary’s I can perform to atone for the sins of my past. There’s no walking away from them – nor the consequences of those acts and other choices of my life.

I do really believe there are people born into this world who just weren’t meant for it. The Cosmic Stork dropped them, by mistake, in the wrong universe. And I think perhaps I’m one of those people. Neither my mind, my spirit, my actions, my beliefs, my character, my person – fit anywhere. If alternative galaxies or wormholes or matrixes or whatever do exist, maybe I belong in one of those, I don’t know. But it’s sort of nice sometimes to think about whether, when I die, I’ll wake up in the place I was originally supposed to land in.

Because as I approach the date marking a year since that October event – an act I ceaselessly reprimand myself for not carrying out successfully – it becomes increasingly untenable for me to live with the pain and burden I continue to cause others, the loneliness (self-imposed) of my life, and the bleak fact that there’s nowhere for that life to go anymore. What, I constantly wonder, am I even fighting for? And why – goddamnitt – does this stupid, primal instinct of self-preservation, combined with intense fear (memories of the hellish rehabilitation process following the jump), keep getting in the way of me carrying out the act that will delete me from this particular quantum plane forever?

True change is much harder, and takes far more courage and strength and discipline and inner paradigm shifts than I ever imagined. And I don’t know if I’m up for it. I don’t know if I care if I’m up for it. And wouldn’t everyone be better off if I wasn’t?

I do know one thing for sure:  I harbor newfound and profound respect, awe, admiration and wonder for those in my life – and outside it – whom I’ve witnessed overcome greater inner demons, hardships, and addictions than mine. My hat’s off – truly – to all of you. You are the bravest people I know, and I can only hope the rest of the world comes to appreciate what it took for you to learn and implement – through sheer will and courage – new ways of handling the external and internal vagaries every human battles, but which some battle more than others. You know, it’s silly – I tend to think I’m uniquely cursed with the dense, dark cloud of angst and bad luck I feel is constantly showering toxic rain upon me, directed by Karmic forces who just don’t like me. But that’s bullsh–. Life is hard for everyone. I’ve just taken the weak way out. Over and over again. And now I fear it may be too late to find a way out of the lovely, intricately-designed, interior labyrinth I constructed.

Don’t let the same happen to you, please. If I am to take any solace from this ineffective life of mine – those of you that can, try to change – start little! – now. Don’t be like me. Don’t end up in too deep a chasm to climb out of – a chasm you didn’t realize you were digging all along.


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