There’s Sorry and There’s Stupid

“Trust is like a mirror, you can fix it if it’s broken, but you can still see the crack in that mother fucker’s reflection.”

~Lady Gaga

I spent a lot of time thinking through this post, considering it from different angles and reflecting back on my own personal experiences and lessons. The one truth I came to realize was that there will be a number of people that won’t agree with my perspective. Which is fine – I don’t claim to be the only answer out there. All I can say is what I’ve learned and realized over the years.

Trust is a tricky thing. Some people claim it’s something you earn, others that it’s something you hand out indiscriminately. Some people feel it’s strong, nearly unbreakable, while others consider it delicate and fragile. Some people think it can be repaired once broken, and others stare at the shattered fragments and see nothing but an incomplete jigsaw puzzle.

What do I see?

When I was younger, I believed that everyone deserved to be trusted. I handed it out to everyone with a smile, confident that I’d receive the same treatment. I was taught by those with authority around me that I was supposed to trust: my peers, my elders, my friends (not strangers – that was going too far). I was blissfully stupid, and I got exactly what I deserved: betrayal. And that first lesson was hard.

Know those trust falls?

My so-called friend thought it would be funny to let me fall. And I guess it was a riot because everyone else in the class laughed and made fun for days. Meanwhile, I was left with a sore back, sore head, a bitter taste in my mouth, and the first twist of the knife in my heart. Oh, the teacher scolded, but that was the end of things. One more betrayal. After all, kids will be kids, right?

No one can see the knife – be it in the heart or in the back – but it stays. Each betrayal buries it deeper until the trust that exists between those two individuals shatters completely. That’s the only thing that saves you from the damage being wrought by the knife. Whispered conversations behind the back (which you’re not supposed to hear but ALWAYS get around to you), “forgotten” promises, blatant lies – they all add up. People decide they’re “harmless,” and wave away the fact that they’re breaking your trust.

And then it snaps (or you do).

You stare at the destructive remains of the trusting bond you shared with a person, and you don’t know what to feel. Relief that they can’t hurt you anymore? Anger that you allowed them to hurt you for so long? Sadness that the bond is gone? Misery that you were manipulated? Despair that you’ll never be able to put those pieces back together? Everything at once? Fragile or strong, the trust is now gone.

Sometimes, that trust stays gone. Friendships die without trust (well, any relationship does). Is that a loss? No. True friends don’t behave that way, and you’re better off without them. Other times, those same people bounce back into your lives with big smiles and offer you the bond of trust again. Often, they act as if nothing ever happened, as if they never thrust a knife into your back and destroyed some part of your life.

And you know there’s another knife in their hands.

Do you extend that trust again? Or are you smart enough to walk away?

I spent a lot of my life being stupid, and I paid for it – over and over and over again. My back is covered in the metaphorical scars of betrayal. As time went on, I stopped trusting people, stopped extending it to those who showed smiles that were too big, used the words, “trust me.” Does that mean I made the right decisions all the time? No. I’ve removed knives from my back in the past year.

And it still sucks every time.

Now, I might accept apologies from liars, but I never trust another word from their mouths. I expect manipulators to continue doing so, and I watch everything they do. Promises made from people I know that don’t keep them are expected to be broken, and I make alternate plans. New people that come into my life are watched like a hawk, and I don’t trust them – not for a long time. I refuse to do trust falls.

Is this healthy?

I’m the first to admit it probably isn’t, but it’s what people have taught me. I spent too much of my life being stupid, and I’ve finished with that phase of things. There ARE people in my life I trust. They’ve stuck with me through everything and proved there are decent individuals in this world. Is the list long? No. Am I worried that it’s a short list? No. A tight, small, STRONG circle beats a big, weak, floppy circle any day.

So, yeah, maybe you won’t agree with my view on trust. That’s okay. If you haven’t experienced the same level of betrayal, I’m glad – and I mean that. I hope that continues in your life. No one deserves to carry a back full of scars.

Embrace the Happy

"Just Be"
Image by John Hain from Pixabay

Let me set up the scenario for you: something amazing just happened (you choose the amazing because that definition is different for everyone), and you are dancing on air. You can’t wait to share the news with everyone around you, hoping for the same cheer and light to infuse their day, even if it’s just for a fleeting moment. You can barely keep still, and the words jumble together. If you battle depression, this moment shines even brighter for you because it means you’ve climbed out of the pit and felt the sun on your face for the first time in days, weeks, maybe even months. Your face feels like it might split wide open, you’re smiling so bright. Your present your news and pause for the reaction.

And they just stare at you.

The entire world falls back around you in shatters, and you feel like a complete and utter fool. If you’re really unlucky, you receive a lecture about having the nerve to be so cheerful during “this time” (I’m not referring to any time in particular – sure we’re experiencing COVID-19 right now, the upheaval of race relations, the trauma of LGBTQ rights being revoked, but there are also individual times that get thrown at you). All of the life goes out of you, and the chasm splits under your feet to cast you back into the pit.

How DARE you be happy?

Because no one on this planet is ever allowed to be happy (well, except for them, of course – don’t you dare ever consider doing the same thing to them). Happiness must be squashed out at every turn, crushed into the mud and silenced lest it brighten the world. You spend 95% of your life depressed and miserable, and – dammit – people want to push that to 100%. What’s the phrase: misery shared is misery halved? Yeah, that’s bullshit; misery shared is misery compounded.

The truth is you have every right to be happy, regardless of when it happens. It’s not like you have a crystal ball to predict and plan out your moments. Happiness is random, spontaneous, and, frankly, the times it needs to be shared are when everything is falling apart. You can’t just save it up until “time is right” – who knows when that might happen? Do you want to wait months to share the news that you got a job? Got engaged? Are pregnant? Bought a house? Finished a story? Will you still feel the same rush of joy months down the road?

Of course not!

Share the news when you have it (not before – you’ll jinx it). Don’t feel guilty about your happiness, and don’t let anyone rob you of your joy and excitement. You’re entitled to be happy! Every person on this planet has that right! If the people around you feel a need to lecture, then they aren’t the people you need in your circle. You should be allowed to be yourself at all times with the people who support you, and that includes being allowed to share good news – whenever it happens.

If you wait until the “right moment” for something…are you prepared for that moment to never happen?

Out of the Box

“The further you get away from yourself, the more challenging it is. Not to be in your comfort zone is great fun.”

~Benedict Cumberbatch

There are plenty of people out there that like to stick to their plans, never deviating from the precise details they spent so much time working out – and that is definitely one way to go about things. Hell, I spent a lot of my life following that pattern; I accomplished exactly what I set out to achieve.

Yay.

If that’s all you want – the success of a job well done – then, by all means, keep to the paved path. However, if you want to flex your muscles even the tiniest bit, you’re going to have to grit your teeth and set some challenges. I don’t mean goals (you do need those, of course) – I mean out-of-the-box, out of your comfort zone, risky challenges. These are steps that still coincide with your ultimate dream, but they’re not on that careful map you worked so hard on. They involve a stretch of your creativity, and they’re probably scary (in fact, the more they scare you, the better). Those kind of challenges.

You want your blood pumping.

Why? Because, ultimately, those challenges make you a stronger person. They push you to grow beyond the boundaries you thought you had (crazy when you discover how far you can really go), and they teach you skills you never imagined you were capable of.

Maybe you’ve only ever written fantasy or literary fiction. This time, you sit down to try something new, a strange idea you’d never consider normally because it’s not what “you’re known for.” Did you know you could write that level of horror?

You help tinker around with electronics every day, and you can repair just about anything someone hands you. You have endless boxes of parts and equipment stacked up in your garage, collecting dust, so you decide to go through them, just to see what’s there. Did you imagine you could assemble an entire computer from scratch?

Whenever you’re bored, you putter around in the kitchen. You’ve made cookies dozens of times, and you can bake a mean cupcake – everyone tells you this on a regular basis. You’ve never attempted anything “significant,” though because you’re just a home baker. Did you have any idea you could bake a tiered cake with your own two hands?

You love attending cons, and you marvel at the ingenuity in the people around you; they’re so talented. You wish you had more to offer than your comic t-shirts and cat ear-headband. You’ve glued some foam together before, but you’ve never even touched a sewing machine. Did you realize you could sew a unique costume from a design in your head?

Stop sitting in the box!

Yeah, the outside of the box is unknown territory, and the challenge is as daunting as scaling a mountain. The feeling you get when you reach the peak, though…nothing feels that good. You amaze yourself, and you start to wonder more, to ask yourself more questions.

“If I did this, what else can I do?”

Suddenly, your checklist of dreams gains color and depth, and it becomes even better than it was before. Those challenges drive you forward in a way you wouldn’t believe. They have a way of silencing doubt and bolstering confidence. Yes, you have to overcome the shivers and hesitation each time, but the risk is worth it. I challenge myself with my writing all the time: can I handle this topic? Should I pitch this article? Maybe I should try setting this in this genre? The rewards have paid off each time, and my writing has continued to improve. If I hadn’t challenged myself, I wouldn’t have some of the contracts I do, I’d only have a handful of insipid short stories, and I wouldn’t have half of the novels I’m working on. I would have hamstrung myself.

Think about what you’re trying to accomplish, and then think of something just outside of reach, something that scares you. Then go do it.

Never Ever Stop

Image by J Garget from Pixabay

Things are always easiest when they’re rolling along smoothly – no one doubts that. When you can check boxes, climb rungs on the ladder, or even just cruise along down the freshly-paved sidewalk with a smile, you feel good and the world is at it’s brightest. It would be amazing if life stayed that way, but the universe has entropy at its heart (and no one is that lucky, regardless of what they might tell you).

Enter the complication.

You end up staring at something you can’t check off the list. The rung snaps under your fingers (or, worse, your feet). An earthquake breaks the sidewalk in front of you, leaving a chasm. You’re left feeling down-trodden, miserable, defeated, and all you want to do is circle back around and go home to hide in a blanket fort. While I am a big fan and supporter of the blanket fort, they aren’t the answer. Life doesn’t persist and continue or become interesting in a blanket fort – not for more than a couple of hours. You have to keep moving forward if you want to reclaim that high of accomplishment and success.

You have to persevere in the face of adversity.

Of course it’s hard, and sure, no one ever enjoys pushing against obstacles. It requires work, you’re going to sweat (sometimes literally), and you’re going to need a hefty dose of motivation – constant, driving motivation from deep inside yourself. Every day, every moment, you have to grit your teeth (maybe not literally – that’s bad for your jaw) and push forward. That obstacle isn’t going anywhere unless you do, and until you remove the impediment, you won’t make any progress toward your goals, your dreams, or even just your everyday life.

Perseverance comes in a lot of different forms, all depending on what you’re trying to accomplish. Maybe it’s continuing to write, edit, and submit your work for publication – refining your style and voice with the notes you receive in response. Maybe it’s marketing your particular skill set to potential employers/clients in order to obtain contracts, adjusting your pitch to attract the highest quality and most beneficial work. Perhaps it’s practicing speaking in front of a mirror until your voice no longer shakes so you can stand up to someone, demanding a right you’ve earned. Or it could even be something as simple as getting up every single day and reading five pages of a guide or manual for something you’re interested in. Forward momentum is still momentum, and it’ll get you across the chasm when you build up enough speed.

You just have to be willing to keep going.

In the face of thankless work (the finish line is likely still miles down the road – this is just a hurdle), with detractors on the sidelines, and with the knowledge that future obstacles are going to arise, you have to be willing to keep going. How important is your dream? Your goal? Your happiness? If it’s worth it, you’ll find it easier to persevere against the brick walls, and you will get through them.