A few weeks ago I was at a bar watching a comedy show when a friend of mine fainted mid-set. It was only 9 p.m. I had been with her the whole time and knew her passing out was not related to booze. Something was wrong.
I tried to wake her, get her to sit up. When that didn’t work I grabbed a coat and put it under her head and yelled for someone to call an ambulance. I went digging at her wrists for a pulse, thrust my fingers under her nose to feel for breath (all of this was done with too much fearful force to actually be effective. It wasn’t until I saw a strand of her soft hair laying gently over her nose rise and fall, like a pretty flower waving in the breeze without a care in the world, that I knew she was at least alive).
A few other friends in the bar were there by our sides immediately. Rubbing her back, asking her questions, calling the squad. One friend had the instinct to grab a wet cloth and gently stroked our sudden patient’s forehead and neck like a mother cooing over her sick child.
The scene was scary and moving all in one flower-dancing breath. The medics came and lifted my friend onto a gurney and rolled her outside. I grabbed our credit cards from behind the bar, gave someone my beer, and headed outside, planning on grabbing my car and following the flashing lights to the hospital. No one should wake up in the emergency room alone.
Nothing could have been prepared for what happened next.
I was already a little shaky. We didn’t know what was wrong and if our friend was going to be OK. But as soon as I stepped outside my eyes shifted to a man with his cell phone out. He was filming her being loaded into the ambulance.
Before I even could comprehend what was going on, my 130 pounds of fire sprinted in heels full speed toward the man. I shoved his hand with the phone out of view of the ambulance and put my finger in his face. I don’t remember what I said, other than a lot of telling him he should go have wild sexual relations with his jank-ass flip phone. Adrenaline surged through me as I chest bumped his cell phone. I knew enough in that angry state to not break his phone in half, although I could practically feel it happening in my hands, imagining how good it would feel.
Maybe I should have been prepared for this. Because for every three gentle friends with a washcloth, there is a fucking asshole ready to capitalize on someone else’s vulnerability.
It took me two days to calm down. When I finally did I was kind of in shock. My friend was OK, thank goodness, but it was scary how quickly and acutely rage consumed every part of me. When you are that angry, that defensive, you don’t feel like you’re in a furnace, you feel like you are the furnace. Ears ringing, steam thriving, everything happening too fast to do anything other than destroy what you are fed.
That Friday Paris happened.
I watched helpless as other people raged about the cruelty of the furnace that makes up half the world. I thought about how I wish they could step back, not blame, not have one-sided reactions to things that required a wider perspective if we wanted a long-term peaceful answer.
I watched angry that others were so angry at the wrong people. I watched angry that the same people making a France flag filter on their profile pics were the same people who renamed French fries Freedom fries not that long ago. I watched sad as all sides reacted to each other, accomplishing nothing.
I thought about how I had just experienced my own state of extreme rage. Fuck that guy for fucking with My People.
I get it. I understand how both sides happen and how embarrassingly human we all are. I still feel helpless. I have no answers. I guess I’m just thankful.
About a week after my friend went to the emergency room, I cleaned out my Gmail inbox. Again, embarrassingly human. More than 22,000 unread emails dating back to 2009. It took me about an hour and a half to work through deleting them all.
In 2009 I was in a terrible situation with an addict. As I checked boxes to send their contents to Internet hell, I had to resist the urge to read the emails from him. I’d catch snippets, here and there. Half-hearted apologies, check-ins from my scared mom, messages from the landlord asking why the door was punched in.
I can’t believe how far I’ve come.
Actually, that’s not accurate. I never really doubted I would be OK. I never have. I’ve always felt something deep inside myself that ensured I had everything it took to survive anything. What I can’t believe is how bad it got. When you’re in traumatic situations, you don’t realize you’re in a state of survival until much later. Until things get better.
And things are so much better.
My People are people who deserve to be in my life now. I deserve my life now.
Your twenties are hard. You spend them trying to figure out who your boss is only to realize there’s no such thing. You’re in charge, which is terrifying until it isn’t. It’s kind of like how you never see the leaves falling, just one day they’re on the ground and fall has started.
I’m thankful to live in a time and place and with a family that is a net. Combined they are a built-in security system that generally keeps life’s assholes with flip phones, the furnace fires at bay. But what it really takes, what makes survival happen at its most positive and efficient, is love, particularly self love.
This is maybe the first time in my life I can say without shame that I am proud of who I am. I have had all these incredible privileges, of course, but this took work. I was given the foundation, I was given the house, but I decorated the living room, I fixed the sink, I cleaned the windows and paid the electric bills. And I love it here.
I love that my immediate and pure reaction is to tell the guy potentially hurting my friend to go fuck himself. I love that I don’t think I have answers except that there is no immediate one. I love that I can forgive the person that took up space in my inbox and give thanks for the people who checked in on me.
Why are we so afraid of praising ourselves? Because of douchebags who do it on the reg. BUT, I wish we could embrace self love a little more. It can be quiet, and should be most of the time if it’s genuine, but everyone has something brilliant inside themselves that someone else covets.
I see it in women all the time, this fear to say, “Look what I did!” We shame ourselves and so do a lot of other people. It holds us back. I have noticed myself reacting to other women’s insecurity, too. For all my feminist leanings, I am conditioned to take a man’s word more seriously because of the way he says it — not necessarily because he’s a man, but because men, boys are taught to speak differently. Would Donald Trump POSSIBLY have gotten this far in the presidential election, hell, in business, if he were a woman? Fuck no.
So this Thanksgiving I say thank you to me. To that 2009 me who survived. To that two-week-ago me who fought for a friend without doing harm. To that me that took shit because she didn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings, because that was admirable too. To that me today who is thankful for everything she has and the people she was given and the people she now chooses. To the future me who protects this sense of personal freedom in a healthier way than ever before.
I think self-love is different from confidence. I’ve always felt confident. Donald Trump feels confident. But self-love is admitting when you fucked up and not killing yourself over it for years. Self-love is asking someone for help because their brilliance is different from yours. Self-love is seeing why you matter and others do too.
I have what it takes to survive. So do you. And peace starts within yourself. Find it. That’s how we start to fix shit.