Happiness is an Inside Job

Ok, here’s the deal: my inner critic is on fireAnd it’s fucking with me. Big time. 
“Fucking with you big time?” That’s hyperbole if I’ve ever heard some. Good writers make their words stand out. 
Take, for example, these past few weeks: I unlock my computer, add a new tab, arrive at my site, and hit create. Behold, the beauty of the blank white page. I type A, hit delete—type B, hit delete—type C D E G F, hold delete. I simply can’t silence the voice in my head telling me no one cares.
Truth is, I’ve lost sight of my worth as an individual, but while this feeling’s familiar, it scares me all the same. 
What right do I have to bombard the public with tales about my life? 
Sure, it’s their choice if they read them, but it feels self-indulgent and lame.

Once upon a time this blog had a purpose. It gave me catharsis and helped me to heal. What’s more, it connected me with friends near and far, and infused my life with authenticity and compassion. Now I’m afraid to write on it. Afraid I’ll bore the readers away, falling short of their expectations. I’m plagued by this pressure to make myself interesting, both on and off the screen. When I came home from school on December 28, I feared seeing my friends. They enjoy my “crazy stories,” but what if I don’t have enough? I panicked while driving in Emily’s car, worried the silence needed more than just music. The more I ruminated, the more I realized: I am not enough.

I’ve been throwing myself into fictional stories, hindering my own healing and leaving myself vulnerable to my Inner Critic’s attacks. Yesterday, she really struck. But first let’s jump back to December 21, a fateful day in Bella Florence’s existence. I sat at the Bean on Broadway and 12th. My bladder filled quickly, as it does, so I went to the bathroom, as one does. There, for the first time in 2 ½ years, was a clump of crimson blood.
Shit.
Could it possibly be hemorrhoids? I check. It’s not.  

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I run out of the bathroom. “Excuse me,” I say to the blonde to my left. “I know this is awkward, but I just got my period. Would you mind watching my stuff while I run out to buy tampons?”
Beat.
She beams. “I got you, girl.”

Wow.
This is it.
I’m a woman again.
I can connect with other women on a biological level.
Believe it or not, I’ve missed bemoaning my cycle. It’s hard to hear your friends commiserate and realize you’re defective.

My early Christmas present led to a burst of joy that pretty much lasted till yesterday. “Thank you, Body,” “You’re beautiful, Body,” “I love you, Body,” BAM.
.
Where did my Body go?
.

I hit the wall and slump to the floor. Between gasps, tears come. I feel the tug of Good Ol’ ED, and I’m sent into a frenzy. I curl into fetal position, concealed by a blanket, and I realize, I don’t like this.

This is not my true state.
I want to be happy.
I don’t want to be depressed.

 I trek to the bookshelf and retrieve my copy of The Universe Has Your Back. Over a midnight snack of hard boiled eggs, I plow through chapter 1.
“Projection is perception,”
Gabrielle Bernstein writes.
What fear-based stories from the past or projections about the future are you playing on your internal movie screen?”


Well.

Here are mine.

I don’t deserve to be happy.
I am insignificant.
I am not worthy of praise or success.
My friends will abandon me if I do not entertain them.
My family disapproves of my authentic self.
Moral superiority is achieved through thinness.

1) I don’t deserve to be happy.
Because I grew up in a negative household, I don’t see happiness as an inalienable right. I see suffering as a rite of passage: the price we pay for worth. As Bernstein says, We give purpose to our pain, believing struggle and strife are necessary to success or lasting joy or a meaningful life, and we feel safe in a state of conflict or control.” Throughout my childhood, I watched the adults I love suffer and deduced that happiness was reserved for kids. Self-care and laughter vanished for adults.
Perhaps I’ve struggled to write lately because I’ve grown comfortable in my recovery, and that comfort invalidates my words. I recall some wisdom from my fairy godmother: “You don’t need an eating disorder to ask for help.”
I want to believe that, and logically I do. But actions speak louder than words.

2) I am insignificant.
How can one person make an impact? There are billions upon billions of people in this world. And yes, there is only one Bella Florence, but sometimes she just feels lost in the crowd.

3) I am not worthy of success or praise.
Ok, so I’m pursuing theatre, right? I’m passionate about it. It’s what I love to do. Right now I’m writing this play called O Negative. I started it in May. It’s about incest, and I could not be more passionate or invested in its life. Back in November, I submitted it to a competition called the Spring New Voices Festival, the winner of which would be granted a staged reading. I received this email on Christmas Day:

“Bella: Your show O Negative has made the top 8 of the 248 scripts submitted to the New Voices event. The Reading committee will be meeting Thursday to read these 8 shows aloud and determine which will be staged. I will follow up with you on Friday to let you know the committee’s decision. No matter the outcome, you should be incredibly proud to have beaten out so many scripts.”

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My family was excited. I was too. But I felt uncomfortable with the excitement. A few days later, I got this:
“Bella: The reading committee met tonight and unfortunately, O Negative was not selected. The premise was very interesting, and we liked the twists the story took, however it still felt rough around the edges. The committee agreed that perhaps with a good editor and/or workshopping, this could be an incredibly strong contender. I hope to see future submissions from you, as we did enjoy the chance to read the show.”
Part of me is ecstatic. I’m 18 years old and this is my first play. But something stops me from celebrating. I’m producing it in a festival this summer, but whenever the subject comes up, I abort it as quickly as possible. My words morph into stammers and my eyes hit the floor.
I’m definitely more comfortable expressing authentically when I’m doing so through a fourth wall.
Inner Critic? What gives? Please let me be proud. Please let me be confident. It’s what I deserve

4) My friends will abandon me if I do not entertain them.
Ah, boredom…my greatest fear…assuming I’m the cause. I guess it’s the people-pleaser in me. And the part that’s afraid of abandonment. It’s been an issue in the past, but this semester it’s been fine. I’ve repeated the mantra I am enough upwards of 1200 times, reminding myself that those who don’t want me are those I don’t want. But lately, I’m paranoid: What if I don’t have what it takes to keep my friends engaged? What if I run out of “crazy stories” and spontaneous adventures and we land in awkward silence and they slowly pull away? I avoid texting. I avoid calling. I fear we’ll run out of things to say. I doubt the validity of “Netflix and Chill.” Shouldn’t my presence and wit do the job? I’ve more or less figured out where this fear comes from…which for now I’ll keep to myself. But now I have identified it. Now I can move forward.

5) My family disapproves of my authentic self.
Yeah, okay, so this one’s big. And I’m not quite sure how to word it. I LOVE my family, but we’re too intertwined, and in the process of detaching from my parents, I fear I’ll disappoint them. First, there’s my sexuality. It’s no secret to my immediate family that I’m intimate with a girl, but it’s definitely a touchy subject and seems to be viewed as a phase. When I talk about it, I feel like I’m trying to prove something about myself, so I’ve stopped. But while it’s smooth sailing on the outside, inside I feel repressed, untruthful, and sad. Then there’s my tattoo. It reads “Be patient,” it’s in my handwriting, and it lives on my left arm.

TATTOO

Getting this tattoo was easily the most exhilarating, empowering thing I have ever done. It nourished my soul as well as my relationship with my Body. This time I marked it not with bone loss but with an affirmation of love. These words bring massive comfort. They are the words I need. And what better way to receive them than from my Body, in my handwriting? To be clear, I don’t believe in regret; I don’t think it serves us. Worst case scenario, I no longer identify with this tattoo in the future, at which point it becomes a marker of who I was at 18.  I’m simultaneously soothed and aroused by its permanence. But I’m afraid to tell my parents. I’m scared of a reaction that will crush my spirit. I’ve thought long and hard about this, about how and when to tell them. I know it will upset them, which will in turn upset me; why stir the pot? For now, I’ll keep the image they have of me intact. 

6) Moral superiority is achieved through thinness.
Is the sky blue or green?
You tell me.
I’ve spent my whole life believing it’s blue.
And now I’m supposed to just believe it’s green?
That makes sense.

Just last night, while babysitting, I found myself envying two prepubescent girls. I marveled at their confidence, at their comfort with themselves and the bodies they lived in, and I wondered: When will it stop? When will that spark transform into shame? And finally…Was I that thin at their age? Bella, what the fuck?! Why does this matter?

…This one’s gonna take some time.

These are all what I call “conspiracy theories.” My mind knows they’re false, but they live in my core. Bernstein says that “Joy is our birthright,” and that “What we focus on we create.” It’s time for me to reclaim my birthright and to rethink what I create.
There’s no shame in self-help.
There’s no shame in being open.
Our Experience is all we have.

Before signing off, I call up a mantra: It’s none of my business what you think of me. No more hesitation. No more censorship. I need to do what is healthy for me.

So today I embark on my spiritual journey.
Today I remember my right to choose.
Today I recommit to my search for happiness.
For genuine happiness.
An inside job.

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