I opened up a bit last week about some of the negative things I’ve been told about myself throughout my life. It was barely the tip of the iceberg in terms of things I’ve dealt with, but it got the point across. For the duration of my time on Earth, the feedback from those around me has been pointed and, at times, pretty brutal.
It seems strange because those who know me know that I don’t let disrespect go unchallenged. I have more than a few stories that involve confrontations with strangers over random nonsense. I find respect to be a big deal and, if someone yells at me in a parking lot, I’m going to yell back. Whatever I am supposed to shout here, apply it. I’m from New Yawk! That kind of exclamation. You get the idea.
When it comes to loved ones, though, I have always had a bit of a blind spot. Sure, I’ve pushed back at times, but I process those words differently than I would some rando in the supermarket telling me to move my cart. I take them to heart. I imagine that there’s truth to them, otherwise why would they be saying it? They’re supposed to care about me, right?
It takes years of being removed from the situation before you can often see what is truly happening. Someone will gleefully cut you down and then offer you a phrase like, “I’m the only one who will tell you to wash your face so you look better than me.” They frame their abusive tirade as a show of kindness. That must be the reason. They’re doing it to help. That’s why it’s happening now. That’s why it will happen next time.
I absorbed it all and saw each venomous statement as an opportunity to better myself. Maybe I’m incapable or unlikable. Maybe it’s on me to change that. After all, why else would they be saying it?
Sometimes when I tell the story of my heart attack in 2012, I brush past some parts. The recovery from my quintuple bypass was kind of difficult. Those I had been arguing with immediately prior to my heart attack were freshly removed from my life… but not entirely. During my first week home recovering, they’d still leave taunting messages on my answering machine. Their voices would ring through my house telling me that my heart attack was my own fault and I had no one to blame but myself.
This is the part where a lot of people gasp and I totally get that. I gasp too in hindsight.
While fielding those abusive phone calls, I remember being angry, but also recognizing how that anger had been the catalyst that led to this cardiac event. I could no longer react that way or even feel that way. It was a real time trial-by-fire and f I didn’t learn to get my emotions in check, I would never survive. Both my children would be left without me.
Searching for absent support wherever I could find it, I felt more lost during that time period than ever. I reached out to disinterested family members who advised me to “just go watch a funny movie or something.” That’s when I rushed up to my bedroom, closed the door and, as I often explain, just “lost it.”
That much is true. But my flip-out wasn’t just an act of breaking things, in fact, I didn’t break anything at all. This episode was about my sure-fire belief that I would fail this test of patience, now when I needed to do it the most for my health. I knew me. I knew my feelings. I heard those poisoned messages from a toxic lifetime of swirling in my brain. I stared into the mirror and spoke some words to myself.
You can’t do this! How are you going to do this?! You are going to die. You’re going to die because you can’t just get a hold of yourself. You’ll never do it. You can’t do it!
Over and over and over. I said it as I looked myself in the eyes. I knew deep-down in my heart that being calm, especially at this stressful time in my life, was nearly impossible. I couldn’t do it.
And then I left that room and did it.
I’ve been doing it, to the best of my ability, ever since. In that moment, I did what I had been doing my whole life. I was absorbing the words, taking in the criticism, and pushing forward to prove those them wrong with my actions. I had done it to those who doubted me before and, in this moment, I was doing it to myself.
I think about the day a lot and how absolutely sure I was that I would never be the person I knew I had to be. Growing up around adults who yell and scream trains you to believe you have to become one too. To trim that out of my life in one foul swoop was much harder than it ever was to give up red meat. Yet, here I am, smiling with a bowl of rice.
I know that if I can do this, I can do anything. Others may cut your down, but that doesn’t mean you can’t put yourself back together and grow. I did. It’s what I needed to do. It’s what we all need to do, no matter what anyone says.