Tag Archives: unhappiness

Nightvisions: Of Dreams and Wakings

Dreams. I don’t remember them often. I wake to a hazy shade of blank in the morning, most days.

Not this morning. Somehow aware I was sleeping and dreaming, I couldn’t shake my disturbing visions — splicings of abuse and trauma all swirling in my head.

The Characters

Coffee shop, old-style American ’70s joint with tattered vinyl booths, a stainless steel coatrack by a jukebox, long counter filled with blue collar workers, lotsa beards. Felt like a truck stop. Waitress straight out of Alice — dark roots, blonde, overtight calves from too many long days, older looking than her years. Blue diner uniform, white apron, frequent smoke breaks.

Scene two: Junkie, rat-trap apartment with cracked plaster, taped fractured windows, bugs skittering across worn floorboards. Old furniture once-loved in better places than this — ’80s brown floral couch, round sidetables covered with threadbare cloths, wobbly coffee table, old console TV with rabbit ears. Thin woman with scarred arms from years of lesions and self-harm. Natty mousy hair, dry and dull, messy and barely tied back. Sunken complexion, decaying teeth, sad hollow eyes. Needle and pipes at couch’s end table.

There was also an old rancher in the country. Broken swingset, overgrown lawn. Guy with a penchant for jean shirts, in his 40s. Isolated. Likes working on his truck.

Dreams being dreams, mine was a swirl of childhood moments with these three. Incestuous, abuse-filled snippets, albeit somewhat stereotypical.

They flooded at me, images of things some of us should never imagine but others have tragically lived.

Remembering

And that was horrifying but it was more who and what these people grew into that ate at me. How you can never undo that loss of innocence. How we get imprinted at such visceral levels as to what we feel about the world, thanks to our encounters in our youth. How cynicism and hopelessness find us through experience.

This is a "joke" picture people post to Facebook, etc, but imagine growing up with this guy as Dad. It's a little disturbing for me. Should we unsee this?

We joke about embarrassing photos of others, calling them “things you can’t unsee,” but what if an entire childhood is formed that way? With the things that can’t be unseen?

I had a nice comfortable upbringing, aside from an asshole child molesting teacher at my Catholic high school (with whom I had no contact). The rest is par for the course — adversities and challanges aplenty, just not the soul-destroying kinds.

Even still, moments with certain beggars on the street, brushes with homelessness, imprinted me deeply at a young age. And it was in passing, at best. Yet.

But this morning’s dream haunted me on waking. I realized I’m often guilty of judging people for who they are now, with little consideration of what the may have moved past in becoming who they are. What abuses, adversity, horrors may have helped shape them.

I have a neighbour, a burn-out former junkie who seems to be a pathological liar, and I’m suddenly wondering what it was that got her to where she is now. What kind of childhood did she have? Where did the wrong turns come? What could she have expected otherwise?

A cynic would say soul-crushing is a compounding experience. Every hurt adds to the last. Every layer of dejection lands atop another, slowing wrapping us up from the world, walling us off. Like the outcome is unavoidably dire, and one can’t unravel that damage.

For some, I’m sure that’s true. Adversity has the same way of affecting us. When everything keeps being hard, it’s sometimes easier to fall into survival mode than to remember that thriving can be a choice, a series of actions.

But when it comes to people like those I dreamed about, the damage is often long done. If they don’t overcome that hardship as a child, they often pay the price through lacking education, all but determining the lives they’ll live largely marginalized, paycheque-to-paycheque, unprepared for a complicated adult world.

From Whence We Came

I don’t know what it is that makes some able to fight past all that, but I’m so glad that resilience can be found in the world. I’m glad not all souls get crushed and stay that way.

I grew up in a white low/middle-class neighbourhood, a mix of kids. My days seemed fun like anyone else’s. We kept our doors unlocked, had some neighbour parties, all knew each other like you’re supposed to, way out there in white suburbia.

Now, though, I know two families had incest happening, another had violent abuse beyond the screaming fights we all heard.

Another had drug-addicted kids by the age of 15. One family had parents who were addicts. I found needle works in their sofa when I was 14 and had no idea it was for heroin then.

Sure didn’t feel like it when we were all out there on the street doing neighbourhood snowball fights. Knowing now what I didn’t know then, it sort of taints the memories on some days and makes them more awesome moments on others. For a brief time, we were all kids and having fun. For a little while, some snowballs whizzing through the air put us all on equal ground. Life could be good, even just for 30 minutes.

It’s safe to say I feel like I’m living the end of the movie Stand By Me this morning, as I remember the life we all had but tempered with the knowledge of an adult who one day learned the deep dark secrets each of us had back then.

I lived so close to darkness in some of those homes. It never touched me personally. I don’t think it ever dampened my light. I wish I could have helped them.

But deep down inside, I’m glad I was able to be ignorant of those worlds until much later. I’m sure it helped me have a wider worldview.

I’m sure the years of looking-but-not-seeing have affected greatly the way I see the world today. Knowing how “normal” people seemed, yet how they were anything but, seems to have shaped my very skeptical view of what others being what they project at us.

I guess, in a way, being raised so close to some of the things I dreamed about last night yet so insulated from all the happenings, has defined a lot of my empathy and perceptiveness in life and in writing.

It’s funny. We’re shaped as much by what we didn’t know, it seems, as what we did. What a weird world we live in.

***

And that’s where my headspace is this Monday morning. I wish I could better wrap it up and put a bow on it, but I can’t for the life of me figure out how this one ends. Much like my dream.

The Struggle to Identify Your Struggle

I had an interesting Twitter debate this morning after someone spoke of a Starbucks kid who screwed his store over by twice not showing up as the “keyholder” to open the shop.

The debate came from completely different perspectives — I’m getting on in my 30s, spent 15 years in retail, dreamed of a better day working in “real” jobs, but eventually realized my job never solved any of my problems in my life; meanwhile, the other debater’s in her early 20s, dreaming of a better time in a real job, and probably believes the same as I used to, that life really gets better with a different job.

Trouble is, one day you wake up and you realize that all you did was put on different clothes and cash a bigger cheque.

You dreamed of the trappings of success, but never realized it was really just a trap till it really had hold of you.

Deep down inside, the smarter-older you realizes the job has fuck all to do with your true happiness — it just gives you better means to avoid the issue and hide from the truth.

Anyone blaming their job for unhappiness probably needs to think twice.

I can’t tell you the hell I put myself through believing it was my job that was costing me any happiness in life.

I thought, “Oh, it’s a do-nothing, go-nowhere job. It’s why I feel so held back in life. I don’t make enough, I don’t do enough, I’m not special enough. I know — I’ll quit! I’LL SHOW EVERYONE!”

After two years of trying to get by in an endless parade of bad-fitting jobs, part-time work, and self-employment, I realized the job was never the problem.

No matter what I did, that current of discontent still ran through me. I was my problem.

Let’s face it, not everyone’s going to have a job that speaks to who they are. Not everyone gets to work in a career that radiates their true nature. We need labourers and waitresses too, you know.

There comes a point where the job just doesn’t matter.

If you think a career’s all you’ve got going in your life, then, yeah, okay, I can see how you might be in for a world of suck.

But that’s your choice. You’re the fucking idiot that’s decided some dude with a wad of cash has that much power over who and what you are. God help you if you ever lose that job, y’know? Be MORE. Expect MORE. Live MORE than just your job.

I’m not my job and I’m not my bank account.

I’m the chick with a way with words who really digs thinking and living a contemplative life of slowness and relative quiet. I’m the chick who can find god on a riverbank and think there’s nowhere else I should be, and no one who should be with me. That’s me. When I leave work, I contribute to my end-of-life legacy with things that speak to me and who I am. Not as much as I could… that troubles me. I want to do more. But I’m further than I was, and do more than I did, and these are good things. And I know the things that call to me, that I should do, and that I know are going to be done. My time, my way.

My advice?

Don’t look at your relationship or your job as your source of unhappiness. I betcha dollars to donuts that the source is inside you. Things you’re likely not doing or facing, and it’s easier to use life situations as “obvious” blames than it is to do the hard emotional work of realizing a lot of answers lay within.

Running’s easy. Standing and fighting? Then you get a cookie. And some bruises.

Good luck with that. It’s so not the 2010 way — avoidance is an artform. We got yer pills, your cars, your portfolios, your adventure vacation packages, yer smart phones, yer funky gadgets… shit, we even got Lady Gaga. Is she a chick?

Is that ALL there is? Isn’t there more? We’re the wealthiest the world’s EVER been — so why the fuck are we all so empty?

Rip the fucking scab off. Prod your wounds. Do all the things that scare you. Find more to satisfy YOU in life, and stop blaming your inability to do so on your spouse or your job. It’s a choice and a matter of values. Make it happen. It’s quality, not quantity, so think about it.

Hiding behind time demands as an excuse for a life half-lived is a sissy 2010 thing. MAKE CHOICES. You can’t BE everything or DO everything, so CHOOSE. Offend people and don’t go to a few engagements. Big fucking deal. CHOOSE.

Seriously, if I could sit every 20-something down and say, “All this angst and sadness you have? Your shitty retail job isn’t the problem — your reaction to it is. Everything you need to know about life, you can learn here and now. If you want.”

And if I could sit every 40-something down and say the same thing about their office jobs? I would.

Because you’ll never learn about people better than in the workforce — their capacity for evil or infinite goodness, their irresponsibility and unexpected nature are all unavoidable, daily.

Don’t cop out and blame your job for unhappiness unless you really know you’re happy everywhere else in your life. If you quit and get the rude shock at another job that you’re still going home empty inside and, gee, that place has assholes there, too, then you’re in for a really crushing emotional defeat.

Trust me, I know! Been there, done that, the t-shirt didn’t fit.

Stay with the devil you know. Try a new sport, find hobbies, do things you love. Remember to take time to do things that make you a better version of you. When you feel you’re on the way there, then you can make other changes.

Otherwise, you’re likely just doing more harm than good.

Changing should always be done on the inside before you attempt the outside. If you’d like to see it take hold, that is.

Pfft. I don’t know, I’m still on my journey. But what I DO know is, I’m happier here, “on my way,” than I’ve ever been — and I don’t have a job or savings or security. I have more inside me, though, than I ever have, and I credit that to the really hard choices I’ve made to learn about myself and all my damage, over the last 3 – 5 years. I made some mistakes along the way and I’d rather others learn from that.

Fix you, and the universe will follow, seems to be the lesson things have been teaching me. Jobless? Moneyless? What I got you don’t buy, you don’t get given, and you don’t take. You earn it, slowly. Self-knowledge, faith, belief, and you learn it by going crutch-less and not dishing out blame.

Yep. Fix you. The universe will follow. It’s a fucking amazing thing.

PS: Sometimes your job really is a steaming pile of shit and you should run for the hills. But, you know, just make sure of that.

From There to Here

In 2007, I spent 7 months working for a toxic employer.

By the time I left my job, I was close to the highest I’ve ever weighed, at my most negative and always whining, feeling sorry for myself, and feeling pretty hopeless about everything, especially about writing, which I’d been sucking at for nearly a year at that point.

I quit that job, even though I was always taught leaving a job in less than a year was a crime I’d be judged heavily for. I realized  one day in August that, if I didn’t leave, it’d be the end of any Steff I ever knew; I was approaching the negativity point of no return. Continue reading