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Oops, I Dropped My Baggage

I've been carrying a lot of baggage lately to spare other people's feelings and keep the peace within family, friends, creative work, and activist circles. This week, I tried to pick up one last little thing as a favor for a friend and ended up dropping the whole load all over the place.

Tears, insomnia, swearing, ranting to innocent bystanders, and furious anxiety baking ensued. (My therapy cookies did turn out great, though.) I had days of heartburn and a whole night of lost sleep. My poor husband was so exhausted from taking care of me that he had to call in to work.

This is not normal for me.

I'm used to being the adult in the room. I'm the voice of reason. I'm the one who diffuses the tension with a well-placed compliment, thank-you, or joke. I'm the giver. I'm the responsible one. I'm the one who always offers to--

Okay, so it's obvious how I ended up in this situation.

I'm a sucker. I am too nice. People use my face as a stepladder and think I don't mind because I do such a good job of pretending I don't.

I keep tricking myself into thinking that others care about my values, goals, contributions, and companionship as much as I care about theirs--that we both see ourselves as part of the same team. Sometimes I am right, and I make wonderful bonds with people who make this whole life worth living. Sometimes I am wrong. Sometimes I feel betrayed, and I stuff the hurt into a bag and carry it around quietly, figuring it will teach me a lesson and make me stronger with all that weight training.

Sometimes that strategy does serve me. And other times it's just too much.

Like this time.

This year, I've had all of my vacation time (and more) vacuumed up by the bottomless and exhausting needs of family. I've watched in horror as individuals I've supported and promoted in their work toward (I sincerely believed) common causes, and who, like me, are good at appearing more okay than they really are, have failed to live up to their own hype, abused their powers and resources given to them in good faith, and severely hurt innocent people in the process. I've been ghosted and replaced by companions I've helped to launch their dreams. I've been resented for my well-meaning contributions and (tiny, humble) personal successes out of bitter, spiteful envy. I've been used and discarded. I've been hated (I don't think that's an exaggeration) for my wee, anonymous talents and my attempts to be helpful. Or for being loved and not entirely self-loathing. Or for breathing the same air as needier, more pitiful people. For not giving enough, never enough. Or for being honest about something hard to hear.

I've kept myself busy making excuses for badly behaving people in my life: that person is old; that person is immature; that person is traumatized beyond the possibility of healing; that person must be rightfully offended by something I have accidentally done to hurt them, and it's too painful for them to even talk to me about it.

It is such a mercy to drop the dead weight of those unsolicited excuses along with all this other crap I've been lugging around. I was embarrassed and upset by the mess I made when it happened, but now I don't want to pick it up again.

I do have to clean up the mess, though, and I have begun the work of sorting things out, deciding what goes in the trash and what I give away and what I'd like to clean and repair and restore to a better place in my life.

I contacted a couple of people whose relationships I wish to keep and had hard conversations about how they have either unknowingly hurt me or unknowingly asked too much of me. These people are true friends to me, and even though the conversations were hard and (at least for me) sloppy and tearful, they made me feel heard and understood and cared about. I trust that these friends sincerely value my friendship and honesty, and it is a relief to have had those conversations.

There is a second category of people who have been a real drag, who I believe to be so self-absorbed or damaged that, although they truly don't mean any harm to me, they are not able to hear or understand my concerns. These are people who have already dismissed and shut down my previous attempts to connect about my feelings. And yet, they are people who, for important reasons, I do not want to try to banish or antagonize. So I've talked to mutual loved ones and/or teammates who have also been harmed by these individuals, so we can help each other create healthy boundaries around these people's behavior moving forward--and back each other up in compassionately enforcing those boundaries.

There is a third category of people whose baggage I have tossed in the dumpster, because I feel no obligation to put any further effort into the relationship.

Amen, alleluia. I have Kondo-ed my social life.

In a quirky coincidence, there has been much ado this week about the last new moon (Super Black Moon or whatever) and its related astrological call to cut out crap relationship dynamics and start fresh in a spirit of self-love. I have duly noted and appreciated the horoscopes that have been shared with me.

Also, I just want to throw out into the interwebs something I truly believe and have learned through personal experience: If you ever feel like someone secretly hates you, you might be right. But know that for every one of those cowardly jerks, there are probably many, many people out there who secretly admire and like you, and multitudes more who would love you if they got the chance to know you. Other people's baggage is not your cross to bear. Surround yourself with people who want to use their past and present challenges as a springboard, not an anchor, and you'll travel light and far in this life.

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