The Contents of the Backpack.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Over the last several months, my backpack has gotten heavier and heavier.  I usually have a book and some extra medicine and of course my purse (I am a purse carrying lesbian).  Later, I added a tooth brush, my makeup (would that would make me a lipstick lesbian?), some “smellant” repellant… these things alone are light, but cumulatively they would cost me extra on a flight to anywhere.   Then there’s my coffee cup and water bottle each has its own mesh side pouch, and they swing and sway with each step I take like saddle bags on a pack mule.  Later, I added the extra set of clothes  and then the pajamas.  Then I put in the valuables and keepsakes — the things I was afraid would disappear from the house in my absence.  I looked like a walking tinker’s wagon except instead of fixing things along my way, I was tearing them down – me included.

I think there is a lot of tearing down that one has to do when searching for one’s authentic self.  I told my counselor once that I wished I could be a Vulcan, like Spock on Star Trek, no emotion just pure sensible logic.  I would be set.  I might even understand the eleven uses of the comma that in 42 years and two master’s degrees later still somehow escape me.  I used to tear myself down with the constant berating I would give myself.  If I treated my friends the way I treated myself, I would probably be in jail.  Self-hatred is a common hobby among women I think, but my skills are professional.  My drinking was to drown that inner voice that told me how ugly and stupid and useless I was, but that inner tyrant is a good swimmer with a good microphone.   At first, my sobriety only amplified that voice – loud and shrill and mean.

I found out that that my depression was anger turned inward and my anxiety was self-centered fear.  If the Universe did revolve around me in my angry self-centeredness, then I was a black hole where misery stood still and festered.  I am not that person anymore.  That tyrant may not be dead, but she is in a vegetative state.  I do not mourn her loss.   

I know that as I have gotten older I have had to mourn death.  I have mourned the death s of two grandmothers, the deaths of classmates, the deaths of old lovers but it has been in sobriety the last few years that I have begun to mourn other deaths.   I have finally mourned the death of that person I thought I would become.  I thought I would have been successful by now, but professional and financial success has eluded me.  I had the luxury once of tasting what wealth might be like.  Years ago, my husband and I made nearly thirty thousand dollars in one month.   I immediately did the calculations in my head and assumed that by the end of the year we would be well on our way to being millionaires.  Security, luxury, ease would be ours.  I would be happy joyous and free, but that was not exactly the feeling I experienced.  I just wanted to drink more.  I wasn’t happier.  I wasn’t fulfilled.  I was just able to buy more expensive drinks.

That month of illusionary wealth left me in a “now what?” state of wondering.  The next month our business fell apart, and we were left owing thousands in taxes as we had neglected our quarterly responsibilities.  It took nearly seven years to pay off the taxes.

At least that was one hurdle I don’t have to lunge over.  I know what I would feel like without the burden of debt.  It left me realizing that it was the inside that needed comforting not the outside.  I wish money could buy happiness.  I would have had the best month ever.  For me, it can’t.  At least that is one shadow I don’t have to chase anymore.   I couldn’t pay off the inner tyrant to be silent and chasing money was only a distraction, so if I couldn’t buy her off, I would have to get rid of her in another way.

I also had to face the death of professional achievement.  As I mentioned, I have two master’s degrees yet have failed to put them to use.  I remember with my first degree thinking that once that was accomplished I would feel smarter and that would make me feel better.  When my diploma came in the mail all framed and matted with the gold school seal embedded in the mat, I remember feeling like an utter fraud.  So in all my wisdom, I thought maybe a different degree would do the trick. The very next semester, I was in another program at another school pursuing a new dream.

My husband was in the program to be an underwater archaeologist.  It looked like fun.  It seemed like an adventure, and I, being as learned as I am, had done a lot of research about marriage and education, and I decided that if we had the same degree, we would keep similar interests and thus maintain a rock solid marriage.  That didn’t work out either.  I guess I didn’t count on the alcoholism, the bi-polar II-disorder and the discovering I am gay.  I was looking outward and covering my –isms with distractions and alcohol – anything I thought would make me feel better not be better.

One of my favorite writers, Anne Lamott wrote that, “Not forgiving is like drinking rat poison and then waiting for the rat to die.”  That goes for self-forgiveness as well as forgiving others.  My marriage has failed maybe because our relationship didn’t growing in ways that we did.  I forgive us.  There are people in my life who are disappointed, angry, disgusted, devastated… and feelings I am sure I haven’t identified yet, but they feel these things because I am a lesbian.  I forgive us — them because they can’t yet accept who I am and me because I did not know who I am.

Self-discovery is an essential ingredient to a meaningful life, of that, I am convinced.  I had no idea how difficult and wonderfully painful a journey it is.  I am discovering that I am not such a terrible person after all.  This girl who was awkward and strange trying to do the straight thing is not all that awkward and strange as the lesbian God made me.

Although, I have this backpack with my stuff in it, it can only get so heavy as there is only so much room in it.  My stuff consists mostly of things I need to function properly in this society.  The other bits are pieces of my past and mementos of my history that are somehow also clues to my future.  They don’t have to be the baggage anymore, just items that fit in my backpack, and when my backpack gets too heavy, I can put it down, I can silence that inner tyrant and I can rest.

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