On September 11th our plane seats were rearranged at the last minute, which landed me next to a gorgeous, put-together, beaming woman. Half way through our flight, she began telling me a story. It was clear that her story was a gift to me and to you. Here it is. It is all true.
I will call the gift-giver Karen.
Karen’s grandmother was a tough woman. She was hard on Karen’s mother. One afternoon, Karen’s grandmother called Karen’s mother and insisted she come over right away. She had insisted many things from Karen for many decades. Karen’s mother said that she couldn’t come right away, because Karen was cheerleading that evening and she didn’t want to miss her game. She promised she’d be over first thing the next morning. This was the first time Karen had ever heard her mother say no to her grandmother.
Karen’s mother did rush to her mother’s home the next morning, and found her mother dead in her car. A plastic bag was tied around her mother’s head. The car was still running. There was no note. There was no need for one. Her message was clear.
Karen’s mother never said no again.
She never said no to her alcoholic husband, even when he abused and neglected her. Even when he abused and neglected Karen and her brother. She never said no to a charity, to a friend in need, to Karen’s schools, to an unkind neighbor, to a family member in crisis. The world was Karen’s mother’s to save or let die. Karen watched all of this. She watched closely. Closely enough to decide to live differently.
Karen spoke to her parents daily. She visited her mother one morning and then went home to care for her two young children. Karen’s husband had recently cheated and Karen said No to that, so he was gone. She was a single mother. She said Yes to that hard thing, to single motherhood. To Karen it was hard but true, at least.
That afternoon, Karen’s phone rang and when she answered it, she heard her brother say: “Come to mom and dad’s house. Leave the children. Do not bring the children.”
Karen left her children with a friend. She arrived at her parent’s house to find her mother dead in the garage. A bottle of sleeping pills gone. Plastic bag around her head. Car still running. Dead.
Karen’s father was a mean man and a chain smoker. Karen believes that her mother was hoping he would find her with a cigarette in his mouth, and she’d take him with her.
Months later, when Karen found the strength to go through her mother’s things, she found piles of books titled: “How to Say No.” “How to Become an Assertive Woman.” “How to Know When Enough is Enough.”
We must stop hurting ourselves because we are angry at someone else. That’s what we do.
We are too confused or tired to accept that love should not hurt us. Not that way. We want to be good girls with tidy lives so we do not dare to disturb the universe by telling a few people to be decent or get the fuck out of our beautiful lives. To be decent or get the fuck out of our children’s beautiful lives.
Instead of raging or running, like men tend to do, we swallow our anger instead. We swallow pills, too much food – we turn on ourselves. We turn all that anger that should be directed outward, inward – and that is the definition of depression. Turning anger inward. Then we medicate ourselves- because something is wrong with us. Why are we anxious? Why are we depressed? Because we are ANGRY. And we have reason to be. But anger is so inconvenient and messy. Easier to stay quiet and keep self medicating, one way or another. It’s been easier for me, at least.
If you need to say No, do it today. Do not live a life of quiet desperation or of silent defiance. Do not live in a self created world of self inflicted and undeserved pain. Do not punish yourself for the madness of others. Be sane.
People do not save other people, people save themselves.
To Audrey- my beautiful fifteen year old monkee sister who won’t stop cutting and who uses Momastery to “know what to do next.”
Here is what you do next, precious girl. Stop hurting yourself. Figure out who you’re angry at. If it’s your daddy or the boys in your class or the patriarchy or your mom or the popular girls or the politicians or the liars or the glossy magazines or all of the above- decide. Decide who you are angry with. Step one. It’s not you. There is nothing wrong with you, Audrey. You are new. You are not broken. When I said I was born broken, Audrey….I don’t know anymore. I don’t know if that’s really true. I’m starting to doubt that assumption I’ve made my whole life, Audrey. I think maybe I was actually born whole. You were too, I suspect. You are a fresh, beautiful slate and you need to stop cutting yourself and instead, turn your body and life into a work of art.
Find your anger. Let yourself feel it. It won’t kill you. It won’t eat you up. Become Queen of the Wild Things, Audrey. Get the book. Read it every night.
Then learn that there are two words that belong to you forevermore. YES and NO.
Audrey- say yes to people and trips and activities and books and dreams and plans and conversations that feed you, that fill you up, that make you feel like Audrey. You need no other reason or excuse or explanation for your yeses. You are like a scrapbook right now. Instead of cutting yourself, cut and save and paste experiences and poetry and people that feel like Audrey. After awhile, you will know who you are by looking at all the things and people you say YES to.
Say No to everything else. By the power granted to me by my own thirty year process of recovery (which is JUST STARTING, AUDREY, JUST STARTING! You know I’m talking to both of us right now, right, Audrey? You know that, right?) I hereby give you permission to say NO.
Don’t wait till the end of your life to show the world how powerful you are, Audrey. Show the world everyday. Get on with it. Get angry at the right people. Then get on with it. Create your scrapbook. Become yourself.
Never hurt yourself again. Don’t hurt yourself. There is nothing more beautiful and worthy of love and tender care and protection than you, sweet Audrey.
And you, too, sweet monkees.
And me, too.
Author of the New York Times Bestselling Memoir CARRY ON, WARRIOR
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