I just started reading Augusten Burrough’s new book This is How. It is subtitled Proven Aid in Overcoming Shyness, Molestation, Fatness, Spinsterhood, Grief, Disease, Lushery, Decrepitude & More. For Young and Old Alike. I really like Augusten and his work and gobbled up Running with Scissors and Dry as soon as I could.
A little background. If you know me, you know I’m one of those cheerful optimistic people. I always have a smile for everyone, and I don’t like imposing my bad mood on anybody else.
So then I read the first chapter of this book, entitled “How to Ride an Elevator.” It tells a story about how Augusten was in a really bad patch in his life. He was feeling really rotten. He stepped into an elevator and at another floor a woman stepped in. She saw the down look on his face and told him to cheer up, and then stepped off at the next floor. His reaction was anger, of course.
Then he talks at length about how shallow and false morning affirmations are. You know morning affirmations, right? Standing in front of your mirror every morning telling yourself you’re smart and pretty and all that.
My first reaction to reading that ~ that he discounted morning affirmations and that he stood there with a growly look on his face ~ made me angry. My first thought was: How dare he impose his bad mood on other people and then have the audacity to defend it. How dare he dis morning affirmations. (Not that I actually do them but I agree with them in principle.)
But then I began to wonder why I got so angry.
He goes on to say that his point is this: It’s all emotional dishonesty. When you smile and say banal things to people when you really feel horrible, you’re being dishonest with them ~ sure ~ but more importantly you’re being dishonest with yourself, and when you do a morning affirmation, you’re lying to yourself, the one person you need to be the most truthful with, if you’re ever going to get to the bottom of all the damage that’s been done.
So I began to think about it. Why was I so angry? I was angry because I felt hurt. Why did I feel hurt? First, I always bought into the idea of morning affirmations. One thing that has always gotten me through the worst times was my sometimes-unreasonable optimism. If I haven’t had had that, I think I would have committed suicide.
Second, I realized that there have been people in my life who did not try to hold back their feelings and hence those emotions became my responsibility. I was the one who had to smooth things over and make them feel better. They imposed their bad feelings on me, and that’s why I was angry for Augusten thinking it was perfectly okay to walk around glowering. Not that it was right for this woman to be so forward and impose her good mood on him.
Let me just say: I’ve always had a problem with anger. Not anger exactly ~ the lack of anger. When I was young, it seemed as if I did not have a self to claim. I thought of my body as other people’s property and I spent so much time trying to figure out what others wanted me to be that it took me a very long time to figure out what I really wanted or was. I did not own my own feelings. So, anger? Not me. You've got to feel like you own your self and only then do you have the right to defend it. I’ve only just recently tried to deal with anger.
So, the ironic thing is, what Augusten is saying accomplished exactly what he is trying to do. It was the epitome of what he’s talking about. Emotional honesty. You have to be honest with yourself about your emotions ~ not hide under platitudes, whether they are spoken or expressed ~ in order to heal old wounds. By being honest with myself first about the emotion and then exploring why I responded that way, I realized some things about myself.
It was not a comfortable cogitation, let me tell you, but thank you, Augusten.
Go out and buy this book, people. I can’t wait for the rest of the ride.