grasping & ego-muffins: a thanksgiving survival guide.
greetings from east london. it’s cold and raining (surprise!!). i *just* put tickets on sale to the public for an intimate little conversation and Q&A i’m doing tomorrow in east london, ticket info is way down at the bottom.
back in the states, i’m sure many of you are reading this from unusual locations, since so many people switch spots for the thanksgiving holiday. you may be in in the most wonderful, comforting place in the world, or in the most uncomfortable circles of purgatory.
it’s thanksgiving! it goes like that.
anthony used to repeat this old quote all the time:
“humans are the only mammals who can make heaven out of hell, and hell out of heaven.”
holidays with family can be heaven-hell and hell-heaven, sometimes from minute to minute.
and since i’m over here in the UK, with nothing to do tonight but watch some peppa pig with ash (neil is off on a writing retreat), i thought i’d toss in a little reflection, since i have the time to do so and i’m not with my own family.
this post can hopefully be a warm little reminder-blanket you can share with yourself or whoever you think may need it (i kept the post public) if this weekend gets hard.
i know several folks right now who have cut off contact with difficult family relations and who are dealing with various estrangements and emotional collapses at the moment. i am writing this post with them in mind and heart.
so, here goes:
for all of you who are preparing to face family, sites of old trauma, fears of new trauma, difficult relations, difficult friends, difficult exes, difficult anything…this one’s for you.
thanksgiving is always ALWAYS a really stressful and super-emotional time for everybody.
so first of all, remember that you’re not alone.
i’ve been through a difficult week myself over here, and it’s led me into into remembering a lot of the basic building blocks of emotions …. and why we do what we do.
a reminder: your true friends and most valuable relationships are the ones who support you even when your ego shows its sharp teeth and your vulnerabilities bite you in the ass and you react.
as neil and i are always reminding one another when we hit a stalemate: if you want to make a container for a healthy relationship: you have to allow the other person to change. change or die.
family can be stubborn: they often don’t want you to change. they can insist that you keep running your life using the same script or program that you were working off five, ten and twenty years ago.
but don;’t forget: you can also be stubborn.
your ego lashes out and grasps.
when people insist you don’t change and try to keep you in your old box, it can drive you nuts, and it can also drive you backwards. it can force you into your less mature self … even when you know you’ve changed and grown AWAY from the person who used to insist on their approval. you want their approval for changing.
it’s a painful paradox, isn’t it.
i had a particular achilles heel come up last week which reminded me i still have plenty of work to do in this department,
the reminder: the rest of the world cannot work on your emotional schedule.
if someone is not ready to hear you, love you, accept you, you cannot make them.
you cannot force open an emotional door that is locked tightly shut.
if you try to force it, you may break the doorknob.
i want to tell you a little story about a break-up i once went through, many, many years ago.
it was one of those interminable off-again on-again break-ups, where we would tearfully re-unite in the nighttime, pledging undying love, only to find ourselves deciding to end it all in the morning. again and again. we were totally exhausted.
one morning, we decided to REALLY end it. the end. END. we are never ever ever getting back together. DONE.
we were out in the countryside at my ex’s parents house.
we’d had this lovely ongoing ritual of going to the same cute farmhouse cafe and getting a muffin. (this farmhouse had great muffins. huge muffins. muffins the size of your head).
on the morning of our final, epic break-up, we stood there in his driveway, staring at one another, knowing it was over. really over.
the conversation went something like this.
ex: “so….this is the end. i think i need some time to myself now”
me: “yes, this is the end. you know what i would like? to skip the that whole ‘taking space’ part and just fast-track to being friends. can we just be friends right now? let’s go get a muffin together. come get a muffin with me”
him: “i do not want to get a muffin with you amanda”
me: “that is cruel, i want to get a muffin with you”
him: “that’s very nice for you, but that is not what i want, i want to be alone”
me: “BUT YOU CANNOT DO THAT TO ME, WE HAVE TO BE FRIENDS RIGHT NOW, AND I WANT TO GET A MUFFIN TO MAKE THIS ALL OKAY, YOU MUST GET A MUFFIN WITH ME NOW”
him: “FUCK YOU AMANDA I DO NOT WANT TO GET A MUFFIN”
…..and on it continued, into a special spiral of hell.
we did not get a muffin.
in fact, we did not speak for three years after that argument.
i think that was mostly my fault.
i broke the doorknob.
my dear friend, the author wayne muller, has a great phrase regarding what was driving me to yell about that muffin.
he refers to this phenomenon as an “enduring vulnerability”.
everybody has them.
i have a closure addiction. i just cannot leave things be until they are FIXED, and everybody loves me again.
i will let my grasping ego and hunger for closure kick around like a bull in a china shop if someone does not provide me the FULL MUFFIN-PARTY that i want, breaking every doorknob in the shop and totally upending my own agenda.
i know this about myself. my friends know it. it can be a problem. it never really goes away.
and this is the thing about enduring vulnerabilities: they don’t go away. you can’t erase them. you can only accept them and manage them, and hopefully identify them when you see them popping up.
back to your thanksgiving table. there you are! sitting next to all the people who bring up your most enduring vulnerabilities.
if you’re like me, you may crave closure – you want to bury the hatchet, to make amends, to break bread, to make peace, whatever – so badly that you can barely physically cope with it.
it does not matter, sometimes.
sometimes you just have to accept that you can’t suck water from a muffin.
(sorry, i had to).
and it can be hard to remember this, especially when you’re drunk on food, wine, broken routine, and tofurkey pie, and sitting betwixt anxiety-inducing in-laws.
you can lose your head and become convinced that their approval is the most important thing on the planet.
let it go, if you can. you cannot force people to see what they truly do not want to see. and if you try too hard, it can backfire badly.
try not to grasp too hard.
don’t break the doorknob, okay?
if all else fails, remember that i love you. i am so, so thankful for so many things: my friends, my family, this patreon. thank you all for being on this zig-zaggy and beautiful journey with me, and with each other.
if you’re feeling lonely, write us a story in the comments and check in. i’ll be reading all night, and thinking of you all.
love and love.