The lesser good days are when I'm simply pretending not to feel bad. I suppress it because I have to. These are the days I have to work or am obligated to some social function that prevents me from being able to reach the sadness. Sometimes I pretend because I am not strong enough to let the pain in. I feel good only because I won't let myself feel bad. I am numb to the sadness and grief that is bubbling just beneath the surface. I know it is there; I can see it and smell it, but I can't feel it. I simply cannot reach the pain even if I want to.
The super bad days are when I am in touch with the Black Oil. It makes me doubt and hate myself. Everything is so dark; I cannot see the light no matter how hard I try. I want to end the pain no matter what it takes. On those days, I am full of hopeless despair. It is on those days that I want to die. This past year I have had a lot of super bad days; days when I could not pretend but still had to function in the world. Days full of Black Oil when I felt like dying or like I could collapse at any moment under the pressure of normal life. Those were the worst.
The lesser bad days are when I am able to be in touch with my pain without it overwhelming me. I can process, I can cry, I can experience the grief and sadness. Sometimes I can let it out in small quantities, one cup at a time. Other times it comes spewing out at volcano-esque velocity. But the sadness is not Black Oil; it is not shame and self-hatred. It is simply the truth of my experience. It is the sadness locked away inside of me for decades, a veritable vat of grief that wants to be acknowledged, that must come out eventually in order for me to be healthy and well.
My ratio of good to bad days has gradually changed in my favor over this past year. One might conclude that my goal is to only have good days, but that is not so. I want to be Super Better. Super Better, for me, means that I no longer have to pretend and I don't want to die. When I have good days, I want them to be real. No more pretending. And when I have bad days, I want those to be real too. I need to be in touch with and able to express my grief and sadness when they come, and come they will - whether it is because of my sordid past or because of current life circumstances (whatever they may be) that naturally elicit pain. For life is pain; Joy and Sorrow are simply two sides of the same coin. I'm not trying to block out all pain as that would be akin to living a muted existence. I could do that at any time with medication, but have chosen not to. I want to be real, to live an authentic life full of truth. Sometimes truth is beautiful, and sometimes it is pain. I want both. I need both to truly live.
Perhaps I need a new lexicon. The bad days where I am in touch with my pain should not be called bad days; in fact I think I'll start calling them days of true sadness. The good days when I'm pretending aren't really good either; I will start referring to them as pretend days. What I really want is to live an authentic life, which consists of days of true sadness and days where I feel truthfully good.
This notion of becoming Super Better is not my own. Super Better is an online game created by Jane McGonigal where you can design a personalized journey towards health and wellness. Her journey involved recovering from a traumatic brain injury, but thousands around the world have joined in to create their own version. Playing Super Better helps you to build up resilience which supports you in "staying curious, optimistic and motivated even in the face of the toughest challenges." The game encourages you to identify allies, power-ups, bad guys, future boosts and quests while tracking your achievements to reach your epic win. An epic win is something that can only be achieved by tackling a tough challenge, an accomplishment that feels so awesome you will do whatever it takes to get there.
I am a gamer, and so defining my epic win and identifying all the things that make it more or less achievable appeals to me. The objective of my Super Better is "To Live an Authentic Life." This means eliminating pretend days and days when I feel like dying, living only days of truth (be it painful or joyful). The process of outlining this game for my journey has actually been quite helpful in making sense of and giving language to my healing process. This can be especially useful when communicating with my support army. In fact that is the first recommended step in Super Better: to create allies.
All survivors need a support army; if you don't already have one then start building it. Who are your closest friends? Who can you trust? Who is in your inner circle? Who is the closest family member you can count on? Not everyone needs to know everything, and practicing discernment when sharing your story (at least at first) is wise. Admittedly, it is terrifying to think about divulging your abuse secret. But I have read in sundry sources that real healing begins only when the secret is shared. Brene Brown says shame needs three things to survive: secrecy, silence, and judgment. Until you start talking about your story, it will continue to be enshrouded by and fester in shame.
I found this to be particularly true for my own journey. In fact, sharing my story has been the most healing part and here is why: deep down I felt unlovable, unacceptable, and fundamentally flawed because of what happened to me. That's why I kept it a secret; if people knew the terrible truth then they would surely be disgusted and leave me! Ironically, when you give your loved ones a chance to really know you, when you let them into your pain and see that they love you anyway, it deconstructs the prison of shame. When they stand by your side (and they will), when they listen to your pain without running away (and they won't), then and only then you will know what your deepest fears aren't real and never were. By sharing my secret with those I trust and experiencing the fullness of their support, I have never felt so loved and lovable. And when I see that I am lovable by others, I am able to love myself. This is the essence of healing.
The second part of Super Better is identifying your power-ups. These are things you can do that make you feel better or stronger. My power-ups are:
- Talk to someone in my army; let them know I am struggling and allow them to give me support
- Cuddle with my dog in bed while watching Netflix
- Eat healthy, plant-based, nutritious food
- Practice yoga and meditation
- Stay connected with friends and family by sending messages, emails, or cards
- Go to lunch with a friend
- Go for a run, or if I don't have enough energy...
- Go for a walk
- Listen to uplifting music
- Get a massage
- Create space in my schedule for several hours or a weekend alone in quiet introspection, which allows me to...
- Watch birds at my backyard feeders
- Read a book about holistic or self-healing
- Read a book about a person who inspires me
- Relax in my hammock, doing absolutely nothing
- Take my dog hiking
- Clean my house
- Write in my journal
- Paint, draw, or color
- Ride my bike
- Complete a small house project
- Listen to TED talks or On Being
I also have a list of super power-ups. These things are so effective that they truly have the power to change my outlook even on dark days. I have much less control over these events but when they happen I am super grateful and their role in my healing is not lost on me. They include:
- Getting a text message from my brother that says "Love you." He is my biggest supporter (I write more on his critical role in a later post called The General), and the one whose love has been the most healing.
- Listening to an audio book on healing
- Listening to Pema Chodron on meditation and letting go of samsara
- Connecting deeply with a friend or family member
- Witnessing something rare in nature such as a breathtaking sunset, a rainbow, holding a baby bird, or having a butterfly land on me
- Prudence - my somewhat alterego who takes over when things need to get done and I don't have capacity to feel the pain. She organizes the pretend days, which move me further away from authenticity.
- Assbags - this is a general category of people (like my horrible neighbors mentioned in The Spiral) who are uncaring and make my life difficult. The world is full of these people, and you never know when or where they will show up.
- Unhealthy boundaries - these creep up in many aspects of my life including working too much, poor time management, overcommitting, and some personal relationships such as my mother.
- Self-neglect - most often the product of unhealthy boundaries, stretching myself to or just past my limits without equal time to rest, relax, and repair is a surefire way to elicit a meltdown. My epic meltdowns are in exact opposite of my becoming Super Better.
- Time with my family
- International travel
- A weekend retreat
The point of all this is to understand and anticipate when interaction with my bad guys is unavoidable, and to make sure I have enough power-ups and future boosts in place to make it manageable. Playing Super Better helps you build up 4 types of resilience - emotional, physical, mental, and social - in order to get closer to your epic win. One specific key is to strive for the magic ratio of 3 positive experiences for every 1 negative. Awareness and identification of what is positive and what is negative for you is the necessary first step.
I'm just now getting into Super Better so I have little to report regarding the online achievement tracker. It's taken me this long to get my arms wrapped around what works and doesn't work for me on the path toward my healing. They say that the journey is more important than the destination. Likewise, the process of outlining the parameters of my Super Better game has made me more understanding, aware, accepting, and proactive in moving myself along the path toward healing.
For more information listen to Jane's Super Better TED talk. To get involved and proactive in your healing journey, start your own Super Better today!