I forgot the word for the action of snake shedding its skin or a bird discarding feathers. The word is molting. Past summers felt more brutal than this one, more blunt in their heat and dramatic in events. This summer is a content summer. I don’t do well in still water. I splash and struggle and do not know how to just be. Because I am not still. And even in a calm season, life moves. It’s a waterfall, a shedding snake, a molting bird– the natural process of release commands my life and I just want to grip everything it’s forcing me to unclench.
It’s not that I don’t let go, but that I don’t perceive people as disposable. Recently, I’ve found myself a paper doll in someone else’s game– a play thing that fits easily into the trash when they are done with me. I know this has nothing to do with me. I cannot campaign for my worth. I get that. It still doesn’t feel good to be so prized by someone only to have them scrap you moments later. And it’s happened a lot this summer. While people’s actions are about them, it’s hard not to take it personally. It’s hard resisting the urge to ruminate in all the rejections and erasure. To have someone unload their secrets onto me only to leave. I become a wayward chest carrying all these things that don’t belong to me, things I never asked to hold.
I’ve written about this– how hollow it feels to carve all this space for people who always knew they’d go. My post about the Buchanan’s details this dynamic more, but the truth of the matter is that life is not about the people who leave. It is about the people who stay. It’s really easy to hyperfocus on the three people who don’t want me than the many who do. Not every presence is forever, and not everyone is capable of remaining on this journey with me. I am deeply flawed and loud and selfish and garishly genuine. There is nothing I do that is accomplished as a performance, an affect, an act. That does not sit well with everyone. Those people are not my people. Their departure is a favor, a vacated space that can be filled with better things. I have to trust myself and the universe on this. That’s hard.
Standards is a lonely practice. Not everyone we like can meet them. I’ve marooned myself on the aisle of my own expectations. I assess my asks a lot: Is it too much to ask to be shown up for? Am I conveying my wants appropriately? I try not to rip myself apart in the assessment. I try not to make it about my very existence (if I am too much– a force of nature who speaks in bold and feels in neon; if I am too girly; too silly; too serious; too chaste; too slutty; not cool enough). I remind myself that I am enough: somewhere in the amorphous universe lurked a cosmic craving for a creature just like me and to live as anything else is a disservice to whatever i am here for.
I understand that chasing people devalues me. When I’m trying to win over somebody who screwed me over, I’m breaking my own heart. It’s a comment on my self-respect. That I would rather sacrifice my dignity than be alone? And what does that say about my own company– that I would avoid it at all costs, even if that cost is self-respect? When loneliness bites hard into an endless afternoon, when my hand reaches for my phone to send a text I know I shouldn’t, I remind myself of all the women I’ve been before. I remind myself of who I am to people now: a big sister, a role model, a difficult woman and a good daughter. She is not the character to beg for scraps. She doesn’t need to cripple herself in that way. She doesn’t need to pander through digital alleyways for the chance of acknowledgement. She’s better than that. I am better than that.
I am learning to use something other than people’s reactions as a ruler for my own behavior. Because I love how I run toward everything that makes me feel alive. I love that I tell people that they are special and neat and interesting as soon as I feel it. I cannot control their reaction. I cannot protect myself when another person chooses to play small. The life I’ve built with this strategy is a rich one.
It’s the kind that isn’t boundless and juicy because of a job or a boy or a girl or kids or a degree. My life is good because I kept being good even when it was shitty. I remained myself when it would have been easier to be anything else, to be anyone else. The only life I know wholly is my own. It is the only one I can control. So, I am true blue. I hold myself accountable. I apologize and repent and fuck up and own up to it and keep dancing. Feeling good about my actions makes it easier to avoid harboring resentment toward people who have hurt me.
That doesn’t make letting go easier. I don’t want to let go. Part of it is because I deeply value people. There is another, less saintly, aspect to my retention. If there are enough warm bodies in my life, I can avoid myself entirely. I can allocate all my time to checking on other people, watering dead plants, planting seeds for a fruitless harvest. If I never let go, my hands are always full.
This works the other way around, too. I suck at cutting people out. When dating, I struggle to admit when I’m just not feeling it. Date after date, I pray a lukewarm connection will ascend to a boil because this other person likes me. I never want to disappoint anyone. I never want to upset anyone, and in doing that, I dishonor my own needs. For my own preservation (and out of respect for this other person), it is necessary to let go.
I’ve been holding onto so much for so long. Like a Target customer too proud to snag a cart, I blitz through life with both arms and hands burdened with one too many things. They have to come down, to molt, to fall. Nature teaches this lesson a lot: snakes shedding skin, birds molting, the leaves falling from the trees. I can’t hold onto everything and everyone forever.
I’m done efforting so much. I’m done spending so much of my energy making people who treated me poorly feel ok. I know that I won’t feel ok in allowing uncomfortable vibes just to be, but I’ll try. And I, the people pleaser, must brave her own loneliness– the kind that follows me like a stray dog. I’ll awake to the heat of a notification-less iphone where a former boo would text me good morning and learn a new AM ritual. I’m learning to fall asleep without the tempo of someone else’s breath beside me or a distant TV as a substitute. I’m weening myself off of likes as an escape when I really hate myself– and I’ve hated myself a lot these days. This space I’m moving toward– the one without dead skin and dead leaves and last season’s feathers– is a murky uncertainty. The terrain is unclear and scary, but I’m no longer entertaining connections, people, and pursuits that taste good only to leave me starving in the end.
There are these red yarn bracelets called MyIntent Bracelets. I have two. One says “Vulnerability” and the other says “Chutzpah”. Beyonce has one, and it says “surrender”. I used to think that was confusing and a little disappointing, but I think I get it now. I am in a season of surrender. I’m done hustling for my worth and pushing so very hard. I’m done squeezing my abundance into all the nooks and crannies that were never made for me. I’m meeting people where they are and accepting the truth that, sometimes, I have to leave them there too. Because surrender isn’t the same as giving up. It’s giving in. Giving into life– allowing it to take me where it wants. I’m clueless as to where I’m headed or who will be there, but I’ve surrendered the power I never had over that anyway. To control, I wave the white flag. To everyone who has left, they can have it to. Even before the leaves, in August, I let go.