46 Reflections

It was my birthday a few days ago. I turned 47.

As is customary around my birthday, I let people know that it’s coming – I mean, I wouldn’t want to deprive them of an opportunity to wish me well, write me a card or send me a gift. I was raised better than that! (Utterly untrue, my mother would be horrified by my behaviour. Living life my way – check.)

So my birthday came and went and I had a lovely day. I made myself pancakes, and got loads of lovely messages on Facebook and Instagram. I received cards and a few gifts and I was a happy birthday camper. There was snail mail and a bunch of flowers.

The cranks of defining ourselves by a number turned, the gears whirred and here I am, 47. Age has never meant much to me, I don’t recall ever longing to be an age that I wasn’t, whether that was enticingly older, as some younguns probably do, or younger, as seems to be the focus for too many adults. The good old days, the best is yet to come, I don’t really buy into that. Whether it’s the best of times and/0r the worst of times, those seasons befall us all, regardless of age.

On my day off this week, when I was still 46, I decided to go on a little day trip. I love to jump in the car and just go, without much of an idea what will unfold. I packed a little bag with my watercolours, brushes and paper, a book to read, some birthday biscuits my sister made me (yum!) and I tossed a proverbial coin between heading for the Yarra Valley, or the Mornington Peninsula.

And the winner was….

Day Tripper
Day Tripper

This is one of my favourite parts of the world. I love the colours, the way the wind whips through your hair at the beach, there’s so much of my childhood that’s connected with the Mornington Peninsula. I don’t wish those days were back again, but I love my connection to this place.

As I drove down to the beach, I got to pondering about the year that was just about to be over, the year of 46. I asked myself what I’ve learned, and wondered about what’s the same, what’s different, reflecting on what shaped the year… and right in the midst of those reflections, the notion of being better (or not) than 45 year old me popped up.

Poppycock to that!

It seems to me that it is very popular, particularly in this age of ‘inspo’ everything, to get fixated on bettering ourselves.
Yet, bizarrely, looking back is off the menu – hell no, you’re not supposed to do that. Just spend a little time on Instagram or Twitter and you’re sure to see some inspo meme about never looking back, about every day having to be better than the last, about only competing with yourself. At times, it comes across as an almost religious enslavement to self-improvement.

Once more, for the cheap seats in the back, POPPYCOCK!!

I’m for being what most of us would generally think of as ‘good people’. I’m for kindness and compassion and being welcoming and polite, and for spelling things properly. I’m for remembering to smile and for not talking on your phone when someone is serving you. I’m for offering your seat to someone, and paying for a stranger’s coffee occasionally, and waving when someone lets you into a stream of traffic. I’m for all of that.

Do I need inspo-y memes for those things? I sure hope not.

So, aside from not wanting to become an amoral asshat, what’s behind all this ‘every day in every way, I’m getting better and better’ self-improvement malarky?

Here’s (some of) what I think is behind it.

I think sometimes people don’t like themselves very much, which is heartbreaking.

Perhaps these feelings lead them to go on a quest to be a more acceptable version of themselves. But are they on that quest for themselves, or for someone who has said horrible, hurtful, insensitive words to them somewhere along the line?

Are they trying to be ‘more’ because they see themselves with clarity and want to work more kindness or compassion or discipline into the mix, or do they beat themselves up about things that simply aren’t true.

Are they (we) running towards something or from something? A lot of us are wounded by the echoes of words spoken in the past. Words are very, very powerful. And their legacy can be devastating.

I think people run from their past, from themselves, from really pondering where they’ve been and come from, because sometimes, for some people, that kind of reflection scares the shit out of them. Things seem too big to overcome, too scary to face. I have felt those things. I have known that fear.

Here’s what I know now that I didn’t know ‘then’. People carry deep wounds. People go through things you wouldn’t wish on anyone. Ever. I know that, because I am one of the wounded, and I ran for a long time.

What I can’t come to grips with is how you’re supposed to ‘better’ yourself without paying heed to anything that’s in the rear vision mirror. You have to do that, to some degree. You simply have to. Okay, you don’t have to, because who the hell am I to tell you anything, but I had to. I had to stop running, which was pretty full-on, and then I had to do something that required more courage than I thought I had, I had to look at what I was running from.

Am I ‘there’ now? Am I in the fabled land of personal perfection? Fuck no. But I am not held back by as many of those tight, suffocating bindings that previously kept me down. It was like those ropes were alive, and if I dared to struggle against them, they tightened their grip on me until I couldn’t stand the pain.

Better to just accept that I would always be broken, that I could never be anything but broken. Better to just stuff those feelings down. Some of us do that with sex, with food, with zealous religious belief, with aggression, or withdrawal and isolation, or alcohol. Ahh, that feels much better. No it doesn’t. Not for more than a moment.

I don’t have a ‘3 simple steps to freedom’ ending to this post. If anyone tells you they do, it’s bullshit.

In fact, I don’t really know how to end this post, as I cannot possibly wrap up this topic neatly. So here’s what I’ll do.

I will use my very powerful imagination, and look you in the eye right now.

Every one of you.

And with tears in my eyes (they are real, not imaginary), I want you to hear me say this – you are not irretrievably broken.

You’re not.

You’re not wrong, or stupid, or too much of anything, or too little of anything, you’re not ________.

You’re not. It’s not true.

They don’t get to do that. That’s not how we’re supposed to use our words, to break people’s spirits.

You may be wounded. From the place that I live, wounded is okay, in fact it’s good. As I’ve walked through dark places, the word ‘wounded’ has become a life-alteringly different descriptor than ‘broken’. Wounded meant I could heal. I have healed. I am healing. (I am aware that wounded won’t sit well with everyone, it is what sits well with me. This is not prescriptive, it’s personal.)

Wouldn’t it be great if you could click a link and download something that would bring you through? It’s certainly the way we live now, click and ye shall receive. But I don’t think it works. What works takes a lot more time, and couarage, than that.

I could make those things I just said to you into a bright, shiny Instagram ready poster, sure. I won’t though.

You deserve so much more than a meme.

So much.

With love,

Annette x

 

 

 

 

 

 

24 thoughts on “46 Reflections

  1. First up, I did the whole ‘drive for clarity’ thing myself this week. It’s awesome.

    Second, I think you’re on to something with the ‘sometimes I don’t think people like themselves very much’ thing. I’m in my thirties and it was only recently that I realised I’m actually a pretty damn cool person, and I don’t have to look to others for recognition or affirmation. One of the nice bonuses of age, LOL.

    I am flawed, but everyone is. That’s what makes it all so bloody relatable and why I like people more now 🙂

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    • It definitely comes with age doesn’t it? Reflecting is so powerful, I love a ponder. And if you get a day trip in too, bonus. I’m flawed too, we should start a club.

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  2. You is good people, Nettie. You!
    One of my favourite people on the planet. What a beautiful way to spend a day. I love taking road trips. I love what you are saying here. And I think that wounded is a really interesting distinction. I prefer it to ‘broken’. Fixed is the other end of the broken continuum and it is far too much of a finished ideal to fit with real life. Plus, there is something vaguely romantic and comraderie(-ish) about being the walking wounded, shoulder to shoulder. Life is an odd twisted journey. I like being on the ride though. And it is great to be seeing the view with you!

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    • You’ve hit the nail on the head Rach, insightful you, there is a deep camaraderie in being shoulder to shoulder with others who recognise their wounds. I love that.
      You’re good people too Rach. How frickin’ awesome that we found each other on the interweb. LOVE THAT. And you.

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  3. Thank you for writing this post, Annette. I agree with you – I think a lot of people are so unhappy with themselves that they can’t bear to look back at where they’ve come from and what’s contributed to who they are as a person along the way. Like you, I think it’s important to do that reflection in both an inwards and backwards direction. And I think not letting people tell you who you are or what you’re bad at etc. is key to becoming happier within yourself. Easier said than done, of course, as are most things. Anyway, loved this post a LOT x

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    • I’m glad it resonated Jacquie… it is in the same vein as your post on self care, which I really enjoyed. It takes us a while to work this stuff out doesn’t it?

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  4. That has to be one of the best things I’ve ever read about all this self improvement blah blah. Tears streaming as I read it….it came on a day I needed to hear it. Thank you.

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    • Oh Lynne, I simply cannot tell you how much your words mean to me, and how humbled I feel to know that you’ve had such an emotional response. This is what people that turn their noses up at blogging don’t understand – sharing our stories can be incredibly powerful. All day I’ve been thinking about a particular day many, many years ago, when I first ‘cracked open’ for want of a better term, and cried like I’d never cried before… and from that day to this, all the work and self-care and permission I had to give myself to feel my way through my pain.. to be at this place now…. it’s indescribable. I wrote this post for you. Thank you for sharing your response to it with me.

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  5. a very heartfelt post, thankyou Annette!
    happy birthday to you! … sounds like you had a lovely day! … my type of lovely too!
    yes I think often wisdom comes with age! … not always though!
    I’ve always been a bit of a delver, seeker, improver/changer!
    more so because I want to evolve and learn by mistakes! instead of always making the same ones!
    these days I’m pretty easy on myself! I believe I’m an ok person! I try to be kind, considerate and be compassionate with others! everyone has their journey and personal demons to conquer or not!
    it’s good that you can air your thoughts and reflections in a supportive space!
    wounds can heal and it sounds like you are moving in a good direction!
    too late in the day now I’ve lost my train!!! love m:)X

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    • I’m all for improving from a place of acceptance Merilyn, rather than from painful dissatisfaction that messes with people’s sense of self love. I love that this blog is a space to talk about real things. I’m so grateful for that.

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  6. Beautifully said Annette. I love the idea of wounded as opposed to broken, it conjurs thoughts of being able to heal and thrive, yes maybe with various levels of scarring but healing and thriving and loving those scars nonetheless xoxoxo

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    • That’s the thing that has perhaps surprised me most along the way Rachel, that the scars are actually strangely important to me, because they are part of what makes me who I am. I certainly would not understand many of the things I do without those experiences of being brought low.

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  7. I love this Annette. I particularly love your description of being ‘good people’ – nailed it. I’m about kindness and compassion too, towards others AND yourself. I agree with you about looking back too – the past happened, you shouldn’t live there but you might need to visit and collect up any pieces of yourself you left behind x

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  8. Sounds like a great birthday. What a lovely idea to grab your paints and go somewhere gorgeous, good for you. I agree with all if these ‘quotes’ and ‘instructions’ and ‘memes’ which keep popping up, I think we just need to remember to Play nice and Be happy, oh and spell correctly! x

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  9. Hi Annette!
    First a Happy belated, belated birthday! I wish you all the best!
    This is such a beautiful post filled with words of wisdom.
    So true that they are no steps to freedom or happiness. You can find them inside you only if you dig deep enough.

    Like

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