I have never had a drinking problem. In fact, I’m a one drink woman because two puts me to sleep, but I had a therapist once plead with me to go an AA meeting.
She had spent months, maybe years, watching me spin inside my own illusion that my pain was somehow different, that my angst was somehow greater, and that no one could understand my personal hell, at least not without feeling a great deal of judgement towards me.
I was pretty far down the rabbit hole of separation. There was me and there was everyone else. Everyone else had it easier. Everyone else felt more at peace. Everyone else was lovable. Everyone else….everyone else…everyone else….but not me. not poor me.
There was you and there was me.
And none of you, could understand or relate to me or my pain.
So my therapist told me to go an AA meeting. She wanted me to sit in a room with other people, who just like me, suffered. People, who if I passed them in the grocery store aisle, I’d assume had it all together. People who both look like and not like me, but nevertheless feel the same feelings and worry the same worries.
I didn’t end up at an AA meeting, but I did end up in group therapy and the desired effect was just the same. And it was there that something fundamental shifted in me. For ten months, every week, I sat in a room with about ten other women all awash in their shame, their obsessions, their stuff. And it looked an awful lot like my own stuff.
Put simply: I woke up to our sameness. I woke up from the illusion that no one would-could understand the agony I experienced. I woke up from the idea that everyone else, but me, had it together.
Let’s go even further back in time…
At the height of my anorexia, more than a decade ago, I was leaving a dental appointment and stepped into the elevator to leave the building. I rode down with a woman whom I had never met—a stranger. She blatantly eyed my lithe frame up and down. Then said to me “Oooh girl, I only wish I had whatever willpower you’ve got.” Not even a week later I went to get a bikini wax, and laying there on the table, vulnerable, naked, and insecure the waxer said to me “You must work out, you have a perfect body.”
In both of these cases gave a pacifying half smile and I said nothing aloud. Yet inside I was screaming: “I don’t eat! You want the perfect body?! Stop eating! You think it’s willpower? No it’s soul-level terror!”
These women had made assumptions about me. They had placed themselves on one side of line and me on the other. In their mind, they were fat. I was not. They had no willpower, I had it spades. They were lazy, I was on top of my game. They were wild pigs and I was smoothly in control.
Yes, there assumptions were wrong, but the point is that I was doing the same thing.
Me and my pain over here, everyone else over there.
And I needed to wake up. The separation was killing me. Literally.
Recently a client confessed that she had taken money from her office’s petty cash box. She’s paid it all back by now, but the shame of her actions still plagued her. While she seethed with self-judgement, I felt nothing but empathy and our shared humanity.
There isn’t any part of her that’s different than me. I’ve been lost. I’ve made choices that hurt other people. I’ve acted from insecurity. And while I consider myself a person with boatloads of integrity, if you went through my (or your) whole life with a fine tooth comb you could easily find where I’ve faltered.
Over the past six months I’ve noticed myself slip a bit into otherizing. It’s been a natural period of creative fallowness and incubation where it’s all too easy to look at other people who are in creative flow and think, once again, that they are somehow better than me. Them over there, me over here.
This matters to me because when I’m lost in this place I feel half alive, half connected, half of service, and half myself. I know that each of us is here to serve by being full and whole, not dimmed to a mere fifty percent.
I’m naming my own otherizing here for myself and for you, should you find yourself drawing this unhelpful line in the sand.
There is no human experience that we have alone. It’s up to each of us to tear town the chambers of isolation that comparison and fear build.
It’s just you and me, them and us—all together.
That person you idolize. That internet guru. That person you loathe. The bully from high-school. The person on the front of this week’s tabloids. The one who beat you out for that job. The suitor who liked you, that you didn’t like back. The noisy neighbor and the perfect-from-the-outside acquaintance. The criminal and do-gooder. Yep, all of us. Our pains and sorrows. Anxieties and dilemmas. Joys and callings. Sacred reverberating essences.
Say it with me: WE.
Here’s a wonderful and related TED talk from Elizabeth Lesser: