Two truths, one lie:
1) My mother told twelve-year-old me that she “would rather have a dead son than a gay son.” This incident would set my eating disorder into motion. Years later it would also fuel my creative writing, helping me to win awards and a publication.
2) I once fantasized about my therapist assaulting me. This disturbed fantasy, and the difficulty I felt trusting my therapist, would stem from the trauma I experienced as a kid. A session or two after I talked with my therapist about this, we would both laugh about Ariana Grande, my romantic woes, and our own relationship. I would feel safer than I ever had.
3) As a preteen, I felt so isolated and hopeless, I dreamed of killing myself by swallowing two handfuls of my grandfather’s pills, the ones he stored in the drawer right underneath his desk. Ten years later, I would resolve all my mental health issues and live a perfect life, happily ever after.
In my creative nonfiction workshop, we dissect fact and fiction, searching for the truth and who determines it. We cultivate our own voices, our commitment to the craft, one grueling word at a time. We debate about the merits of reconstructing dialogue, of filling in the blanks of memory with what we see fit, what we determine as real, or real enough.
The lie: #3. I do not believe in happily ever afters.
Despite rejecting the notion of happily ever afters, right now I am the happiest I have ever felt. Not all of #3 is false: with the help of my therapist and my friends, I have worked through my childhood angst, my early adolescent eating disorder, and my trauma. I have won grants to write and research about issues I care about, my mindfulness game is #onfleek, and I feel more fulfilled than I ever thought possible.
So why disbelieve in happily ever afters, if happiness pervades my life now? Because the concept “happily ever after” imposes the idea of a static future, a false notion that we must always feel happy to live with meaning and authenticity. We so often hide behind filtered photos and statuses saturated with cheer to preserve this image of happiness; we push ourselves toward marriage, toward money, toward whatever our analgesic of choice, in many cases with the hope that they will provide us with infinite joy, an elation that will erase all our unpleasant emotions forever. Perhaps Pema Chodron puts it best, my argument that we should strive toward healing and hope, without the assumption that we must always feel happy to enjoy a full life:
Maybe I will get rejected from every graduate school I apply to this year, and I will suffer a temporary, yet devastating bout of self-doubt. Maybe I will marry someone in ten years and our firstborn child will grow up into someone I cannot recognize, a human being socialized to believe in ideas I find distasteful, repulsive. Maybe 40 years from now I will look back and wish I had written more, researched more, or learned more – that I had lived my life in a different way.
But the inverse must work too, then: if happiness can dissipate with time, so can pain. When I starved myself all those years ago, little did I know that a decade later, I would attend a national conference and present a program about eating disorders that many people would love. When I doubted my therapist several months ago, I had no clue that I would write about him in a piece that everyone in my current class loves – in particular how he expressed his care, how I accepted it. When I wrote an angst-filled series of posts just last year about a breakup, I in no way foresaw how full my life would feel now, with so many compassionate friends and mentors.
The point of this post: never give up. Identify your values and stick with them. Seek out resources, like the ones I share at the top of this blog, like talks and books about self-compassion and vulnerability and courage. Appreciate every moment – the happy ones, the sad ones – because none of them will last forever.
In my creative nonfiction class, we analyze how authors end their stories, where they choose to cut off a narrative that in real life never ends. Because, that, really, is what I believe: the story never ends, even when it feels like the last page.
As I write this, I sit in my dorm room in St. Louis, Missouri, my right leg bouncing up and down, my fingers hovering over my laptop’s keyboard. My professor’s memoir lies to my left; her critique of my newest piece’s title rings in my ears. I look at the bright blue blanket sprawled across my bed, and I think about what I will want for breakfast after I wake up and go on a jog – what the first bite will taste like, how it will feel, afterward, to be full.
Another day, another vulnerable-as-heck blog post from Thomas. Also, friends, I created a “Publications Elsewhere” section at the top of this blog, if you want to check out my other writing. I hope this section will expand as my ~ writing career ~ takes off at some point. Thank you for reading, and I would love to read your thoughts – on this post, on anything at all! Sending everyone lots of love and light.