Sunday, August 22, 2010

Cleaning Out My (Mental) Closet, a.k.a.: Holy crap! I didn't know I still had this thing!

Anyone who knows me (and even some who don't, thanks to my propensity for telling my troubles to random people in elevators) knows that since about January I've been going through a sort of mid-life breakdown. Well, breakdown is too harsh a word. Crisis? Predicament? Calamity? Whatever. Basically, I realized that I needed to make some very important (read: life-altering) decisions and I just didn't wanna. (insert pic of me sticking out my tongue here.)

So, being the queen of distraction (I'd like to blame adult A.D.D. but that's just shorthand for an uber-short attention span combined with a heightened ability to procrastinate beyond all reason) I found ways to divert myself from the hard decisions at hand. Most of those ways included ingesting copious amounts of alcohol and not less than five skull-busting hangovers ( I promise you, a hangover at the advanced age of 41 isn't a pretty site). I dropped 20 pounds, but I can't say I worked hard at it--I lost complete interest in food for about four months. It's easy to get back to your high school weight (less than, actually) when just the idea of putting food in your mouth makes you want to vomit. The ultimate diet plan, eh? Move over Weight Watchers! I killed myself with volunteering, applied for a hundred jobs I didn't want (no interviews though--the laugh's on me), and sweated my way through re-planting my entire backyard by myself. All so I wouldn't have to think. Brilliant plan, right? Especially since while I was doing all these things, all I really was doing was thinking about the things I didn't want to think about. In other words, try your hardest NOT to think of a blue-eyed polar bear for the next two minutes....ha ha.

Thus, seven months of angst. But things are better now, mostly because I've finally made the hard decisions. Plus, (and here I get really corny, so either break out the tissues or be prepared to roll your eyes) I have been amazingly fortunate to have friends who have literally pulled me--kicking, screaming and scratching--through this period in my life. If it weren't for them....well, all I can say is that I love them more than life itself, and have come to realize what that phrase "family isn't what you were born into--it's what you make it" really means. My friends ARE my family. Okay, now you can roll your eyes.

So, in a symbolic nod to my new frame of mind, I decided last week to tackle my closet. Which, as disconnected as it sounds from my seven-month long dilemma, actually made a ton of sense. My closet isn't big--my house, built in '71, sadly lacks closet space AND storage (male architect, obviously--wink) --but it was positively crammed to bursting with over a decade of stuff that I couldn't seem to part with. Which in a weird way is what I realized has been going on with my brain the last half-year plus. Too much STUFF in it.

I'm talking about the stuff that we all accumulate over time. The expectations, the aging-thing, the guilts, the desires, the petty jealousies, the regrets, the bitterness, the resentment, the holy-hell-how-did-time-get-away-from-me-so-fast??s. The excuses--always a fave of mine. If I hadn't been doing (fill in the blank) then I could be (fill in the blank) by now. And so on.

So I started pulling stuff out of my closet, and with every removal (and some stuff was pretty hard to get out, given how packed in it all was--I mean, really, does anyone, anywhere, need 67 pairs of shoes???) I felt my spirit lighten a little. Away went the dress I wore to my 10-year high school reunion--a tight, panty-grazing, electric blue number with mesh cut-outs on the side. Not because it doesn't fit (depression as diet-aid, don't forget) but because it's from a time in my life where partying was about all I did, and that is definitely a "party girl" kinda dress. I'll admit: letting go of that was hard--I'd always envisioned a day I would put it on and hit the town. But putting it in the "donate" pile felt good--and that feeling that I still need to be 27 went with it.

Next went about 35 pairs of shoes (hey, I know I kept 32 pairs, but a girl's gotta have choices!). That was tough too, because every pair seemed to have a special association with it. I wore these on my date with that super cute "actor" who'd been an extra on Titanic. That pair was from my first big meeting as a freelancer in San Diego. The other pair--the stiletto black sandals with silver accents--was my first $100 splurge. Those ratty Avias--complete with blood-stain from a popped blister--are my "first marathon" shoes. But into the "donate" pile they all went (well, except the blood-stained Avias--nobody in their right mind would want those stinky, gross things). As did my need to obsessively revisit past events. I'd spent most of the last seven months going over and over and over past decisions, ad nauseum, as if by constantly picking at them I could somehow change the consequences that resulted. I realized as carefully laid those sandals down in the pile for some other woman to wear that I can't changed what I've already done any more than I can change the orbit of the Earth around the sun.

So on it went--for three solid hours, I culled, cleaned, evaluated, and ultimately dumped more than half my closet. And looking at the space (wow! I can actually see my clothes now, rather than guess at what they are based on their color and position) I felt an indescribable sense of lightness. Like I'd actually accomplished something worthwhile. But it was more than finding freedom among the shirts, dresses and belts. It was also realizing that letting go of "stuff" isn't going to kill me--material stuff or mental stuff.

For me, at least, holding on to "stuff" from my past truly prevented me from moving forward. Especially my expectations of what "should have been." I was so entwined with the idea of what I should have accomplished/achieved by this point in my life that I had almost become resentful. A resentment I covered with a quick and ready smile, true, but it was there nonetheless, like a bitter cherry inside a really yummy looking chocolate.

Letting go of the guilt--which was accompanied by several bridesmaids dresses I'd been holding onto out of a weird superstition that by getting rid of them, I would somehow adversely affect the marriages of the friends I'd worn them for--was probably the hardest for me to do. I love guilt. I wallow in it. It's probably the reason I'm such a gun-ho volunteer.  Guilt for things both large and small. Guilt for breaking someone's heart (in the ironic justice of the universe, I realize now that he was my soul mate and I would give anything to go back in time and respond differently when he said, "I love you."). Guilt for making selfish choices that haunt me to this day. Guilt for thoughtlessly spewed words that I can never take back--even though the people (one person in particular) I said them to have probably forgotten them by now. Guilt that I didn't try harder. Guilt that I made decisions out of fear and uncertainty, rather than be brave and do what was right for me.

So what now? I have a relatively clean closet and a relatively clean mind (there's still a smidgeon of that guilt left, like that cobweb in the topmost corner of my closet that I can't reach). And I'm feeling better than I have in months. The funny thing is, I hardly even realized that I had so much crowding my pea-sized brain, but obviously it has been there for quite a while--like that electric blue dress. I don't need it anymore. Either the dress or the angst. It's freeing, really. More room in my closet--both closest--to fill up with the things that I actually want to own. Like my future.

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