I wasn’t going to talk about this, but I feel like I have to. I have to because my face has been OUT OF CONTROL the last two weeks. No seriously, I had a bacterial infection on a zit. How does that even happen? My dermatologist couldn’t tell me, but I won’t get into the nitty gritty of what he then proceeded to do and how I’m sitting writing this with pieces of tissue across my face because things are bleeding and oozing (sorry, I know, too early).
I tried to tell myself, and the dermatologist, this was happening because I was getting my period. But this never happens this bad. I’d be in a crisis unit if this occurred every month. No, this is one of those rare breakout sessions that happens when I’ve been colliding and hoarding and holding onto moments and toxic feelings for too long and they begin seeping out through my pores.
I think I know where it started. At that dinner with Stephanie and her husband a few weeks ago. I’ll admit I probably put too much pressure on the night, but I know she did too because she showed up exactly thirty seconds after us and I showed up fifteen minutes early.
I guess it’s important here to tell you a little about Stephanie. She’s one of those very strong only children. The kind who hung around with adults and quickly developed an intolerance for child-like antics. She is very serious. About everything – her style (which is great), her hair (which is long and thick and naturally blonde) and her life choices.
She met her husband in college and because he was an economics major and over six foot, she made it her mission to marry him. And she did. And at the wedding five years ago we all thought, good for her. She’s bagged herself a handsome, wealthy man and moved to Chicago with him so he could make money and they could move to the posh suburbs and she could have babies. Which she did. Just one for now, but they’re planning on four.
I, on the other hand, spent too much money on new pants for the dinner because I had one of those moments of crisis the week before when the weather turned and I realized I have no good clothes and in order to fill that void I must spend an exorbitant amount of money on a pair of designer pants which, in the dim lit restaurant, don’t look any different than pants from the GAP. And because I keep doing things like that I keep getting further and further away from any possibility of being able to support a child or a mortgage. But I do have a career.
And I thought over and over on the ride over how I’d sell myself to her. Because, to be honest, I do feel like there’s an unspoken competition. Who is doing better. Who has made the better choices. Whose choices have worked out the best so far. She has a house, a baby, a husband. She doesn’t work, which at twenty-eight is whatever you want to make it. I have a new husband and a career.
So getting ready and in the car, I was rehearsing things I was going to say to her in my head. Should I act nonchalant? Should I tell her about the stuff in my life? Should I be honest or just follow her lead? I’m not spilling out any honest, raw emotion if she doesn’t. I’m not falling for that again.
Obviously, we all got a drink. But I didn’t order a second when everyone else did because I needed to stay calm and Steph was making it difficult. She had arrived determined not to out shine me, but to out zen me. She must have decided on her car ride over that she would not be the frazzled new mother, but the cool new mother who doesn’t have a stress in the world. So when I asked her about motherhood she just said, “It’s amazing.” And I said, “That’s what I hear. But I still don’t know if I’m ready. I mean, how do you handle the lack of sleep,” and she kept saying things like ‘Whoa, calm down. You’re never going to get pregnant if you’re so stressed out.”
Or how when we started talking about a mutual friend I no longer speak to and I simply explained to her how difficult it’s been with the wedding and not having her there and she got this look on her face and was like, ‘Whoa you’re making me stressed!’ and I’d say, ‘No, I’m not stressed about it, I swear. I’m just telling you the story.’ And she’d say, ‘Ever since having a kid I just don’t care about this kind of stuff anymore. Ya know?’ and I’d say, ‘Well, I don’t care I’m just explaining it.” So we left dinner and while Jay told me how he thought it was a successful night (because he got along with her husband who he’s never met before), I was seething.
“It sounded like you two were chatting the whole time,” he said. “We were. But she kept doing this thing where she’d act like I was so stressed. You heard her. With that pregnancy thing. It was just really annoying.”
“Well, maybe you were coming across stressed,” he said.
“Oh my god! I wasn’t. She was gaslighting me. I am totally chill.”
By the time we got home I was still thinking about it. I was thinking about how she told me she was meeting some mutual friends after dinner to watch some baseball game at some bar. She invited me but I wasn’t in the mood for a sports bar. Besides, it was a Tuesday. In bed I was thinking about how she was going straight from dinner to the bar where she would tell all the people she was with me and they’d ask how I was and she’d say, “So stressed. She was making me anxious just sitting with her.”
But I’m not stressed! I yelled at her over and over again in my head. The next day I woke up with a cyst on my chin. I was still thinking about Steph. If I wasn’t stressed then, I realized, I’m definitely stressed now. And am I going to bring this stress into the next dinner I have? What if this is how I really am and I just keep shutting it down and moving onto the next thing, and all this stress I think I don’t have is just radiating off of me?
Whether or not Stephanie was telling me to calm down was a deflection of her own stress or I really am that obviously stressed out, I started to think about how I don’t really know how to ‘calm down’ (outside of eating Xanax).
In Elizabeth Gilbert’s memoir Eat Pray Love, she talks about the importance of rituals as a place to put down negative emotions, to process the moments we pick up throughout the day and leave them there. “This is what rituals are for. We do spiritual ceremonies as human beings in order to create a safe resting place for our most complicated feelings of joy or trauma, so that we don’t have to haul those feelings around with us forever, weighing us down.”
“Much later I opened my eyes, and I knew it was over. Not just my marriage and not just my divorce, but all the unfinished bleak hollow sadness of it…it was over. I could feel that I was free. Let me be clear – it’s not that I would never again think about my ex-husband, or never again have emotions attached to the memory of him. It’s just that this ritual on the rooftop had finally given me a place where I could house those thoughts and feelings whenever they would arise in the future – and they will arise again.”
She goes on to say that if your religion or culture doesn’t have rituals, or you aren’t drawn to the ones you’ve been exposed to, that it’s absolutely necessary you make up your own. And I think that’s kind of what actress Carole Lombard meant when she was asked about God and replied, ‘I think your temple is your everyday living.”
Your temple is your everyday living. I can’t get it out of my head. If my temple is my life then what’s sacred about it? What areas of peace and serenity and devotion have I built into it? What rituals can I create that allow me to leave the things I need to drop? Where can I find grounding when I’ve been away from my soul for too long?
For now, cooking has become my ritual. Maybe it’s because I’ve been working from home and have more time, but the last few weeks (post Stephanie) I’ve been drawn to the rewarding pastime of creating and mixing and stirring things into form. I guess it’s become, inadvertently, my ritual. One of the few moments throughout the day I find my mind at peace – not thinking about anything else but the task at hand. And I’ve decided to let that be the place that I drop everything. The time of day I allow myself to let go of whatever I’m harboring.
Other rituals could be as simple and gratifying as lighting a candle every evening. The simple act of lighting a match, the symbolic nature of burning, is grand enough to be a ritual in the temple of your life. A place for you to burn away the day. Or maybe it’s a cup of tea every evening. The drum of the kettle, the whistle, the collision of hot air. This can be your ritual. The moment the tea touches your lips is the moment you release it all.
Photo by: Tore Yngve Johnson