Let me confess something I’ve been telling myself all my life:
I’m really not a great person.
I would like to be, in my heart of hearts, but I know I’m not. I have a lot of issues and beyond that I have so many survival mechanisms and defenses that I terrify my own self. The khepri is a little beetle and symbolically it pushes the sun towards the dawn. The real beetle it represents is much less statuesque – it rolls a ball of shit, quite literally.
My lessons post-Kindlings 3 have been multiple and difficult but I’ve been thankful for them daily. The one lesson that’s stuck with me is something a lovely human being once said to me: ‘You’ve always been good to me, and I’ve always been good to you, and that’s why it’s never hard seeing you after time has passed, even if we aren’t best mates’.
I am guilty of being selfish, demanding, intense and immature. These are things I know about myself and have been trying to improve since I saw what was there. The one difficulty – though really a blessing – I have is that once I’ve seen the worst of myself I can’t go back there. That’s how I rebuild every single time, from the desire to be ten times better. Change or die.
My other big flaw is not that I act the victim, or centre my own experience, though I am guilty of that too. My big flaw is giving people way too much authority over my happiness, and seeking their validation for how I feel and think. That is unhealthy and after a while it becomes self-harming.
In my world, I am always the one in the wrong, and the people I love know this to be true. I would sooner pin something on myself than on someone else, and when I’m angry at someone I dedicate an immense amount of energy to gaslighting myself out of my anger and confirming with myself that I have, in fact, overreacted.
That was the first thing I started burning to the ground when I decided the time was ripe for a change. I’ve spent my life being convinced by the people I loved that my instincts were false, that what I saw wasn’t true, and that my interpretation of what I saw was heavy-handed or wholly inaccurate – this when I know myself to be a rational, logical, almost too coldly analytical human being (NB: another flaw – computing emotion is a massive challenge, and causes total combustion). After a while you stop trusting yourself; you stop believing that you have a good measure of a situation, and you start conceding your power to people who you think know best. You stop seeing that people may be good but that they can only receive you as far as their own experience allows.
That isn’t a mistake I will make again in a hurry. You have to see yourself as a person of worth before you can be good to others. A lot of the goodness I’ve tried to show people came from seeing all my flaws (and I can list them for you if you want) and all my hang-ups, and wanting to offer people what they needed because I didn’t know how to give it to myself. But that’s the shift I started feeling in myself this year – that rather than give people from my own place of pain, fear and insecurity, I would fill my own bucket first, rather than die of thirst trying to quench everyone else.
And that meant letting a few people down, and cutting a few out completely. Because I am not a great person, but every day I try to be kinder, and nicer, more fair, less hardened. I can’t fix any of my mistakes but I can make sure I don’t knock my head in the same way twice. It works some days and others it’s hard, but I never get out bed wishing anyone harm, and I don’t go to sleep counting off my kill list anymore (I’m actually Jon Snow and about as much of a stubborn pain in the ass); when I’ve hurt people I realise it first and act to rectify it, immediately if possible, but in time if I think that’s what they need more from me at that moment. It’s treading a balance between loving yourself and being honest about who ‘yourself’ really is – your triggers, defences, and capacity for utter shittiness.
So if someone decides i’m not great, and doesn’t think I deserve a chance to prove them wrong, then it’s farewell with great love. I used to try to explain myself to people who’d already made up their minds about me. That right there is madness, and I’m trying to prove to myself these days that my brand of mad is more quirky than self-destructive. It isn’t fair to keep a scorecard of who hurt you when you aren’t keeping track of who you’re hurting; it isn’t fair to keep score of how much you do for others as a defence against seeing yourself clearly, and your own weaknesses. Letting go was always hard for me but thanks to a few lessons I’ve become a professional of late.
No one is responsible for your self-esteem, for your validation, for your self-respect, and if you give people that much power over you, you have to realise that doing that is an exercise in agency that only you can put a stop to. We are only responsible for ourselves. We cannot control other people – what they think, how they react, what their context is. We have to respect it though and realise that whatever hurt we feel, and whatever retribution we think we’re owed, we might never get our absolution, our moment of reckoning. And who needs it anyway? Shake the dust. Burn it to the ground. Build something new and beautiful from the ruins of a life, a love, a friendship that maybe wasn’t for you, or isn’t for you anymore. It’s okay to walk with shaky legs and cling to trees in the cruel winds of other people’s opinions. But in the end let their winds fuel your fire. You are far too radiant and magnificent to let it blow dust in your eyes.