Like most of you I have grown up with denial and enforced positivity. My parents came from the generation that smoked weed, swung and knew how to twist. They were also the first generation to use the Pill and embrace free love and random strangers. My parents and their friends were so desperate to break away from the conventions of my grandparents’ generation that they threw a lot of babies out with the stale bathwater. One of these babies they might have done well to keep was a little infant called “commitment”. There was a lot of swapping of partners and lifestyles and as each new placebo solution failed to secure lasting happiness many of my parents’ friends embraced the bottle. Alcoholism was the final placebo and unlike the others it seemed to deliver because so many of my parents’ friends and both my father and my step-father made solid, unyielding, lifelong commitments to alcohol.
And how did the sixties flower-children deal with this new menace? The pretended it didn’t exist. Mostly. And those who faced it head-on did so with intense positivity, mantras of goodwill and positive thinking so bitterly-enforced it was almost Victorian in its censure. My mother’s friends who’d been so liberal and fun became in middle-age, tyrannically joyful, with painted-on smiles and desperately positive thinking. A lot of manifesting and visualization went on. But not much confrontation.
Enter my generation and the mash-up of blood-letting confrontational support groups, sweat lodges, primal screaming, drumming, counselling, recovery scams and finally when you’re all talked, sweated and screamed out, Vipashna for 14 days of mandatory silence and reflection. And when none of that lifted the fog of despair and hopelessness, you realise it’s all your fault and it was something you did in a past life. Your pain and confusion is karmic. So, regressions, clearings, reliving the imagined past, Scientology if you have the cash and the gullibility for it and, finally, when all else failed, Jesus. Forgiveness from an invisible God courted through daily nagging of overworked Jesus. And the hypnotic repetition of prayer does begin to soften the edges of pain after a month or so and after a year your own story bores you stupid and brings about a healing of sorts. But it doesn’t stick.
Soon the pain returns. Why? Because my parents’ generation and mine were brought up to believe that happiness is our right. Not only is it our right, it’s the way a functioning, healthy individual should be and if you’re not happy at least 70% of the time and if you’re not discreetly managing the episodes of depression with parties, sex, booze or anti-depressants there’s something wrong with you.
But what if there isn’t? What if depression, despair, anxiety and generalised hopelessness are actually healthy responses to dysfunction?
I have spent a lifetime beating myself up for failing to think positively. I wake up depressed every morning and I give myself a stern talking-to about my failure to use my will-power to organise my thinking, emotional responses and attitude. I am a perfect product of denial. I have bought the bullshit 100% and the failure to be the perfect child of the hippy generation has made me a very confused adult.
I force my thoughts into brittle affirmations of gratitude and optimism and wonder why I’m so fucking exhausted all the time.
Today on my morning walk, which I take religiously in order to stay healthy, I started my usual gratitude mantra and then just let go and admitted I was bloody miserable. It’s incredible how much weight seemed to dissolve with tears that flowed unchecked. True I had to avoid other morning walkers but there are always two sides to every street. When I’d done being honest about my feelings I looked at the REAL reasons I was so unhappy. Forget past life misdemeanors and chemical imbalances, misery comes from not having what you bloody-well want and need in your life. True there are things you cannot change like chronic illness, age, loss and the past but to some extent these things can be managed by addressing the things you CAN change. It’s strange but when you boot denial out and admit the truth you can identify the root causes of your unhappiness so easily and then and only then can you start to build a pathway towards achieving the things in life that will create happiness.
Happiness is never permanent. Nor is it fleeting. It’s probably not even all that real. Rather than mumbling affirmations and using aggressive positive thinking, which is just another form of denial in my opinion, start using all that freed-up mental energy to create steps towards achieving goals in your life. And let them be a mixture of short-term and long-term goals. Short-term goals give you a real boost when they come to fruition and they help in the maintenance of commitment to long-term goals.
So, building a case for negativity. Allow it and admit your own truth. Then relax all forms of denial including formulaic mantras, booze, partying and avoidance and free up your powerful imagination to find ways to change your life. I want to be successful in the field of musical theatre and literature and I want a beautiful home of my own surrounded by an exquisite garden and filled with music and friends and family. Oh yes, and peacocks!
Big dreams. So, how do I begin? First I need the product to sell. Accordingly I have written musicals and books and am using my imagination to find ways to get my work out to the world. So, what do I do to achieve my goal?
Right now, I’ve approached four brilliant performers in London and pitched a cabaret of my own songs to them. It took courage and balls but incredibly, they agreed. In the first instance it will be performed in small venues that have door deals because no-one has a thousand of dollars to make it happen. But even thousands of dollars wouldn’t guarantee success. Harmonic teamwork and a decent product is more likely to garner success and yes, a little bit of luck. Right place, right time.
It may take years before I’m walking in a garden of my own and rhapsodising over the symphony of green that welcomes me every morning but I have taken steps towards my goal. So am I happy? No. I’m longing for the life I’ve envisaged. And when I get it will I be happy? Yes, there will be episodes of joy and peace but life has its own urges and they will start stirring and demanding new experiences and new creations and yes, the old angst and dissatisfaction will return. And I will have to raise the lid on my perfect existence and face the wingless worms craving flight. Life isn’t static anymore than the Universe is. Movement creates energy and demands change and flow and yes, longing for the next phase is normal and regretting the past is normal. Negativity is as normal as positivity and necessary if life is to progress.
I wish I could wind back the clock and tell my father and my step-father that it’s OK to feel sad. It’s OK to want more from life. Instead of suppressing all their pain and longing with alcohol I wish they could have been honest and pursued lives commensurate with their goals. But it is what is. They’re gone now and I hope they are exploring paradigms and possibilities without restraint.