Thursday, February 16, 2012

Finding Meaning In That Which Was Lost

Whenever people read the tattoo on my arm, I can see in their faces what they're thinking..."Um, whatever, why the fuck would you get that stamped on your skin?" And I understand. Sometimes even I find myself staring at it and thinking the same exact thing, especially given the twists and turns my life has taken over the last couple of months. I've had times when I want to get it lasered off, because no matter how hard I try, I can find no meaning in the words. They seem hollow and pointless. Yeah, six months after getting it. But then I remember that tattoos are signposts along the journey of our lives. They should always remain, because they tell a story of who and where we were at a specific point in time.

But I've finally found lasting meaning in the words. It's a reminder that what most people are told (and accept as truth) is a lie. A lie that's said so often, and taken for granted to such a degree that people never question the truth of it: "If you don't love yourself, nobody will." That saying, or some flavor of it, is repeated in self-help books, therapy sessions, Facebook posts, and innumerable other venues. It's usually said by or to people who are having a hard time loving themselves. It follows the "pick yourself up by the bootstraps" logic. Which is another lie--it's always used as an analogy for overcoming and conquering. But it's a feat that is physically impossible, and likewise it's almost always an emotional and mental impossibility for people. Those who are able to do it have no need to do it. The correct analog for "picking yourself up by your bootstraps" is something that's an exercise in futility, not of success, overcoming and rugged individualism.

The plain and simple fact is that many times we do need people to show us the way. No matter how hard we try, we can't convince ourselves of the things we want to believe about ourselves. More often than not, it remains impossible to overwrite the tape that's looping in our heads, the tape that tells us who we are, what we're capable of, and more insidously, who we aren't and what we're not capable of. We try to love ourselves so that others can love us. But it's kind of like telling a person with a broken leg that in order to get it fixed, he must first walk to the hospital. Yet people refuse to understand the dichotomy, they keep repeating the lie because it sounds good. More to the point, I think they keep repeating it because that's the only option they have. They don't have someone in their life whom they can watch love them in a way that shows them the way. That isn't to say they don't love the people in their life or that the people in their life don't love them. But if someone is constantly having to remind themselves of their value, having to continually assert positive thoughts about themselves, there is one inescapable truth--they have no one in their life who is able to love them in a way that shows them their true value. They don't have someone who is capable of overwriting the tape in their head with the good, real truths about themselves. The truths they so desperately need to believe. When we lack someone we can watch love us in this way, the only thing we're left with is trying to love ourselves, to pull ourselves up by our own emotional bootstraps, oblivious to the fact that as we pull up, we exert equal force in the opposite direction which ultimately leaves us exactly where we started.

And that's why the words up my sleeve have meaning and lasting value. They speak truth. They tell something of the world, not as it should be, not as it's said to be, but as it really is. Many times we do need someone to show us that we're worthy of being loved, that we have value, and that we are enough. We need that in order to believe it, before we believe it ourselves. This is evidenced by the fact that we keep having to affirm the things we want to believe about ourselves; we affirm them ourselves because the people we've chosen to have in our life--even though they may be wonderful people, even though they may care about us deeply--aren't equipped to speak the language that affirms it for us. It is then that we fall back on the only thing left at our disposal, even though it is utterly ineffectual. And that is a tragedy of the highest order.


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