I recently wrote about how I have been frustrated and sad, but recognizing some ways to look at the situation in order to overcome it. And then I got a phone call from someone who was crying, telling me how much they missed me and how much they needed me. Then I got a text that something atrocious happened to one of my close friends. Then I had something go down with someone I really liked in a city I have three more weeks in. And I just lost it.
I’m 1,700 miles away from people who need me. And continuing the trip makes me feel selfish. Because I am always there for my people, am literally not there right now, and won’t be for a while. And I don’t have my real-life network available to me beyond my phone.
You’d be a sociopath if you just picked up and left the home you’ve lived at your entire life and your entire network of friends and felt nothing. Or just spent 11 days with a friend who lives far from you and really enjoy spending time with and felt zip. Or felt yourself grasping for a steady figure--any steady figure at all because NOTHING is steady in your life right now--while you’re in a city for not very much longer, feel like that person has hurt you, and just be like oh well.
On the road, you’re peaceful, excited and happy. You’re also frustrated, mournful, and overwhelmed. You are all of these things. Sometimes the scale tips in one direction and you have the time of your life in Boston or it tips in the other and you find yourself in Asheville Googling how many Tide pods you’d have to eat in order to meet Jesus.
Also, sometimes that scale tips in the negative direction for a day. Sometimes it’s a week. Sometimes it’s fifteen minutes and comes in and out of your day multiple times like getting hit by a powerful wave after floating on the ocean in the sunshine, minding your business.
I was told by an ex (mind you, this is emotional abuser language):
“If you’re this tough, take-no-shit-type person, then why are you crying?”
Here’s the thing. You can be both. You can be tough as nails and super emotional. And guess what? Usually, the people who are the former are also the latter. Because it takes being in tune with your emotions to be able to truly handle and take care of the shit that comes your way.
You can be a strong bitch and resilient and brave and feel pretty amazing about yourself (your body, your mind, everything). You can also have moments where you’re overcome by confusing, conflicting emotions. When I’m happy, feelin’ myself, or acting silly, it’s genuine. It comes from a place based in reality because I worked really hard to get there and I’m proud of who I am (while recognizing that I am also a work in progress). When I’m sad or upset or feel like breaking down, it’s… also genuine. These are all facets of the same person because I’m not a fucking robot.
I had been told for over a year that I was weak for experiencing pain (and funnily enough, that pain was coming from the person who was telling me that, which is a fabulous tactic when you hurt people and don’t want to own it) and that I should just get over it. It took a while for me to realize the messaging I had been fed was false. Let’s think about what makes us “strong” in our society when faced with negative emotions. What does that look like? It looks like “I’m going to ignore it because I can’t change anything that happened” or “I’m not going to cry” or “I’m going to pull myself up by my bootstraps.”
But here’s the thing: you can’t exactly pull yourself up by your bootstraps if you haven’t processed what’s going on. Pulling yourself up by your bootstraps isn’t “tackling the issue.” In fact, actually pulling yourself up by your bootstraps when you haven’t tackled the issue isn’t, well, possible.
It’s difficult to sit with your emotions. I’ll even admit that when I got back from Hawaii, I definitely smoked more than usual and had a hard time eating. I’ll admit that. (And it’s hard to admit that because it’s embarrassing.) I think the natural thing to do is to try to do things that numb the pain. We are human; we are biologically wired to avoid pain because it signals to our body “you are in danger; get out of there!” The thing about distracting yourself, however, is that it doesn’t solve the problem. It’s just delaying the inevitable. You do things to turn off your brain (go into a dating frenzy and fuck everything you see, use substances, overeat/undereat, etc etc; hmmm these sound familiar to me…) and then the feelings you’re trying to avoid just come back with a vengeance. Ignoring your shit doesn't make you strong... because it’s actually really, really easy.
After using convenient coping mechanisms that feel safe and comfortable, you “move on,” but then you go through all of it again later. You feel the pain, stuff it down, feel the pain, stuff it down. And each time it comes back, it’s stronger. It’s a vicious cycle filled with temporary fixes. The hardest thing to do is to actually take time to recognize your emotions and honor them. That takes strength.
And since I’ve made a promise to myself years ago to no longer hurt myself, it’s downright frustrating that I can’t do the stuff I used to do. It feels like FUCK, I WISH I didn’t love myself as much as I do so that the unhealthy coping mechanisms were available to me. This sounds weird, but sometimes I wish I was back in a place of denial and could do things that are bad for me. Because those things, in moments of pain, feel pretty fucking good. Retreating feels good. Undereating/bingeing feels good. Drugs feel good. In the moment, all of these feel pretty fucking amazing. THAT’S WHY MOST PEOPLE DO THEM.
If you know me, you know that I love my friend Shanaz very much. If you REALLY know me, you know that I am indeed in a group chat called "Daddies Anonymous."
Luckily, what I have that feels good and is healthy is the ability to write. At the very least, I have this. But it’s also not enough. Because what do I do? Stay in and write all day?
It feels uncomfortable to reach out to friends sometimes. It feels like the biggest hurdle in the world to get out of bed and go to that spin class. It feels raw and vulnerable to get on Instagram and say hey, I’m having a really hard time and I need some help right now. Please remind me why the fuck I’m even doing this trip. Please remind me that I can do this because I am not feeling that way right now. Please remind me how hearing about my life has brought you comfort because that’s what keeps me going; the messages I get from people who read my stuff and say “I’ve felt that way, too! I feel less alone because of you” or “I feel like I can do things outside of my comfort zone because of you” or “I took charge of my sex life because of you” they are powerful. And not just for me—for everyone. If you ever feel tempted to tell someone how proud you are of them or how much they mean to you or how much they’ve helped you, do it. Something so simple is much more life-changing than you’d ever think. Trust me.
When I write a blog post about how I’m at peace with everything one day and then a few days later I am doubting everything I just wrote, that blog post isn’t a lie. I honestly wrote what was in my heart at the time I was writing it. And that last post wasn’t a mask to be like “ha ha don’t worry everything is fine.” Everything was fine that day… and then the next day it wasn’t. That is called life and being human. There are days when I feel so confident that what I’m doing is the right thing. And then there are days I want to jump ship and return home to support the people who need me and avoid the emotional toll of accepting that the people I meet on the road are fixtures in my life with zero permanence.
A very kind coworker and friend reached out to me and reminded me that “Just like you said in your [last] post, what you share about this journey on your social media is a Photoshop of your life. It’d be the same if you were rooted in your ‘forever place’ for the next 8 months though.”
She is absolutely right. We all have our own shit. And if I weren’t experiencing these negative emotions that result from the trip, I’d undoubtedly experience some from something else. Because life isn’t painless. These travel-related problems that have come up would evaporate… but then be replaced with new ones. Like feeling disappointed in myself or restless because I always want to see new places and, well, wanting to jump off a bridge once I read the lease of a New York City apartment. (And after seeing what my rent in Austin gets me--a dishwasher, a washer/dryer, a parking spot, SILENCE—I can’t go back, you guys. Please don’t make me go back.)
So I’m going to keep going. It’s going to be hard. But what was the point of this trip? To build a new network of friends? (I have enough of you weirdos—and thank goodness I do.) To get into a relationship? (Hell no.) To get into a comfortable routine? (*spits out food laughing*) Or was it to challenge myself, explore, and do things that make me feel good?
This is the time when I go back to the list I make before I arrive in every city filled with things to do, places to eat, and experiences to buy tickets for. And I start checking them off. When I do this, I’m doing the right thing and rediscovering the purpose of this trip. Last night, I got a pedicure, ate at a place I’d been meaning to try (Torchy’s), bought 3 new books at Bookpeople, and started writing this post--and I already feel a tiny bit better. Time heals all wounds, but healthy coping mechanisms speed up the process.
Passionate about everything having to do with the body, Dana Hamilton writes about sex, dating, relationships, body image, and eating disorder recovery. She is a regular contributor to Playboy and her work has appeared in VICE, Cosmopolitan, Marie Claire, New York Magazine, Teen Vogue, and SELF, among other publications.