You know we’re together through it all, right? Like where you go, I go? Who you are, I am? Who you love, I love? You and I, you and I, you and I, we can conquer the world in loooove. Oops, got sidetracked at the thought of Michael Buble singing “You and I.”
Anyway. I know, it often feels like we are twins, two bodies developed from one egg, similar bodies and faces but totally different personalities. One of us is more adventurous, creative, silly, fun, outgoing, affectionate, optimistic, and joyful. The other of us is sullen, critical, brooding, mean, depressed, anxious, distrusting, cynical, and prefers to be left alone in a dark room and never touched. Both are pretty hilarious. I guess they at least have that in common.
And by God are they always at war with each other. The happier of us two says, “Go live life, it’s great, everything is so beautiful, let’s make the most of it, I love everything!” while the other creeps away, walking backwards with two middle fingers in the air, screaming, “Everything is fucked. Nothing is safe. How can you be so naive?!”
Happier us says, “Amy, you are beautiful, loved, and wonderful just as you are. You don’t have to be so afraid of being yourself.” Cynical us says, “You really need to lose some fucking weight, Amy. Why else do you think your body aches so much now? Why bother trying to live a life you’re not fit enough to live. Who could love you, really? Really?”
Ah, Cynical us, I see you’ve invited shame to this party. How cruel when you know our history.
Look, I get why we don’t trust each other. Happier us is sick of being dragged down by Cynical us. Happier us is sick of cynical us’s shit. Cynical us is tired of comforting Happier us when Happier us gets its feelings hurt. Cynical us thinks it’s the adult and wishes Happier us would grow the fuck up because there’s too much shit going on that we need to be prepared for.
Neither of us trusts that the other is telling the truth about who we are.
Cynical us lost hope years ago when it saw there was none in the context of all the dysfunction of our family. All it wants is to not be like them. Not be like them. Not be like them. So it focuses on things like being smarter with money, moving to a bigger city, trying to have a healthier marriage, thinking, “God, if I could just do [this], everything would be perfect,” not realizing the set up for disappointment and inescapable failure this sets us up for. (By the way, totally okay to fail, just not okay to wallow in that failure or encapsulate that failure with shame.)
However, none of this touches the core of what we are clawing the steel walls to escape from: that deep, dark, aching, fucked up, vicious cycle of shame, hopelessness, and fear.
Happy us has been fighting to be heard since Day 1. Look how we find things to laugh and smile about even when there is so much to be sad and angry about around us. Look how much we love the ocean, clouds, pink sunsets, rainbows after thunderstorms, the view of and from mountaintops.
Think about how our heart swells with joy when we see puppies, babies, people treating us and each other with kindness, songs that lift us from our feet and having us jumping all around, when we play with children and forget how “grown up” we’re supposed to be.
And writing, oh my god, while Cynical us has definitely inspired more words, it has also, probably without meaning to, opened us up to our pain and helped us empathize and view the perspectives of others. We make a really good first-person perspective writing team. Hey! Maybe we should write a book together! Huh? Huh? Whaddya think?
I know it hurts to get excited about something then let down. I know it feels like we are forever waiting for whatever is meant to happen to us. I know it is easy to think we are what we do. And sometimes, we are what we do. But doing is not the entirety of our being or self-worth. We are worthy just by being…alive, happy, sad, cynical, optimistic, however we show up day to day.
And that life that we keep waiting to happen for us? It’s happening right now, guys! It’s been going on THIS ENTIRE TIME. Mind blowing, I know. Of course, we think about that too, but get so impatient. Oh and there’s also the whole thing where we’re going to die one day but we don’t know when and oh my god, what if I don’t get to do all the things I want to do? That loves to keep us awake in the middle of the night, doesn’t it? We can collectively agree we hate it when we can’t control everything even though we know being in control takes the fun out of life, right?
Okay, Cynical us, maybe this is your realm. Maybe knock it off a little bit?
Cynical us, did you know Happier us feels scared too? Joy feels so good that it is frightening. It is fleeting, yes, but what we don’t understand is that one joy moves out so another can move in.
Joy is an ever-rushing current with an infinite number of stops along the way. We hold so tightly to one joy, one memory, and squeeze our eyes shut til we see stars behind our eyelids because we think if we let go, we’ll never feel joy again. Cynical us, I think you see this happening and you love Happier us so much that you step in to protect us, but it’s okay. You can both open your eyes and arms, let that past joy go, and look together for the next moment, which should be here any second.
Happier us, all Cynical us wants is to be loved, safe, and to be seen as good enough. You have both been taught that to be vulnerable is to be weak, that vulnerability is to be avoided at all costs. You have been through so much, and what you don’t realize is that you’ve had each other this whole time. You’ve worked as a team through it all.
The divide is not as large as it seems and guys, it is most definitely NOT your fault. Not your fault, not your fault, not your fault. You did not do this to each other. This divide was dumped on you by people who had their own inner divisions and pain dumped on them. HOWEVER…it is your responsibility to try your hardest not to dump your inner turmoil on anyone else. We are meant to stop this intergenerational trauma, which is why I’m writing all of this in the first place. It is really important we find a way to get along.
Happier us sees being openly joyous as being vulnerable – naive, childish, silly – so it allows Cynical us to step forward with its complaining, sarcasm, bitterness, and resentment. That seems to speak the language of the media and of most of the so-called “adults” around us and acts as a protective shield. The only thing is, that shield doesn’t just protect us from painful emotions, but every emotion. There’s no filter.
Cynicism, rage, shame, bitterness, and fear have been the water around us for a very long time, and we, with our empathetic, sensitive spongey nature and need for love and acceptance, have soaked it all up until we are so swollen and dripping with it.
Life is hard enough as it is. Division outside of us will destroy us if there remains division within us.
Cynical us, keep protecting us as you do, as what you do keeps us alive. I appreciate that. I know you are doing what you’ve always done, survive in whatever way possible. There is nothing wrong with you, nothing to be ashamed of. (Ha, I sound like Happier us and can feel you side-eyeing the fuck out of me. Sorry. I promise I’m not taking sides here.)
All I am saying here is that you can relax. We don’t live in that dysfunctional family home anymore. There’s no violence, abuse, gaslighting, or negligence going on anymore.
I know you must be sweltering under all of that armor you’ve layered on throughout the years, so take some of it off.
You had to grow up so quickly. You never really got to be a child. I know you resent Happier us sometimes because it is so child-like, bright, sunny, light, and free, but I know how much you want to protect that joy too. I see you. I’m not going to ask you to be who you are not because you are needed and loved just as you are. Like I said, you’ve kept me alive, you’ve gotten me through a lot of shit. I am only asking that you don’t close yourself completely off and that maybe you tell shame to fuck off, we’ve had enough for a lifetime, it’s no longer welcome here.
Happier us, thank you for keeping the child in us alive. Keep looking for the rainbows after storms. Don’t be so afraid to sing out loud when a song comes on that you love or it just gets stuck in your head. You have the most infectious, deep belly laugh and you always find stuff to laugh about. Keep making up goofy songs about your dogs and picking them up and dancing around the house with them. Don’t stop unabashedly loving “The Little Mermaid” or other Disney princess movies. Be the little girl you never got to be.
Bake cookies because you love to bake cookies – quit worrying about sugar being “the devil” and don’t let diet culture take you away from something you love to do. Enjoy your ice cream and don’t let guilt or shame about your body keep you from savoring it.
Wear all the floral prints you want. Buy the skirts and dresses that twirl when you spin in a circle and twirl your heart out.
Who cares if no one else gets as excited when the thunder roars as you do?
Those pretty flowers you notice on your walks are there for you to notice and see beauty in them. And that eternal need to see and hear the ocean? Don’t laugh it off or ignore it. When you need to see the ocean, go see the fucking ocean.
Ride your bike, dance, hike, go for walks or jogs, swim, and forget you ever heard anything about calories burned or weight loss or any of that bullshit that tries to take the joy of just moving your body for the joy of it away from you. There’s nothing wrong with simply enjoying your body and your life, and there’s absolutely nothing you need to be or do to “earn” or “deserve” that joy.
Cynical us tries to shut you down so much, I know, but it is trying to protect you because all it was taught is that there is nothing in this world but fear and shame. When you’re vulnerable, it feels vulnerable too. I’m not saying it is healthy, but it has always done its best with what it knows, as have you. And this is not me shaming or bashing the Cynical us, but showing I understand where it is coming from and I feel so much compassion for it.
So, friends? Can we really try being this? I’m not asking for perfect harmony, that doesn’t exist. It’s okay if we fight, but can we do it more productively? Can we start the work of understanding each other better and empathizing with each other? We are all equal here. We all serve a purpose. We can protect each other without demoralizing one another.
Can we work together to heal all of the hurt, anger, shame, criticism, betrayal, abandonment, rejection, negligence, and abuse we’ve been through together. Can we try to thrive now and not just survive? Be okay with each other as we are? Not argue so destructively and angle to continue the cycle of abuse we experienced at the hands or words of others? Try to love each other even if we don’t always like each other? (And understand it is okay if we don’t always like each other as long as we respect one another?)
Can we have peace? Compassion? Forgive each other? This body we share is exhausted. It is so worn down from this war we’ve been waging throughout our life together. My nerves are raw. My bones ache. My spirit is ragged. Please, I beg, can’t we find a way to get along?
I hope this letter has brought some perspective to this division inside of us. I surrender, white flag and all, and await your response in the hopes you both will come to an agreement on the best way to move forward…together. I really do love you, I hope you know that, just as you are.