“For fear you will be alone
you do so many things
that aren’t you at all.”
A year and four days ago, I found myself painfully hungover, stumbling through the aisles of Red’s Indoor Range, waiting for my turn to pick up a gun and shoot it into the dark metal ether. I’m sure there were targets. There were men. Men and tension. It was packed to the gills.
Guns. This is a great idea. Guns will make you feel better. Shooting guns will somehow make leaving the person you desperately loved stop hurting. Right? For fuck’s sake, try something new!
I stared at rows of men with three, four, five different kinds of guns each. Rifles. Handguns. Scary military tactical shit I don’t even know the names for. They owned these guns. They owned multiple, many, myriad guns. They had more guns at home. They wore gun guy clothes and had gun guy faces. They were happy and I was dead.
If someone told me a year before that I’d spend my next New Year’s Day recovering from a sobbing whiskey bender in a gun range, I’d have laughed them out the door. Are you insane? Don’t be ridiculous. That would never happen. Not ever.
It occurred to me to retrace my steps. The irony of my being there was not lost on me, and I clearly didn’t belong. Hey everyone! Look! Liberal Feminist Nonbeliever in a Gun Shop! It was like that scene in The Game where Michael Douglas wakes up in a cemetery in Mexico. He’s been drugged and all his rich guy Wall Street money is just gone. All he has are the clothes on his back. “WHO THE FUCK AM I AND WHAT HAVE YOU DONE WITH MY REAL LIFE?” I was not myself. I had not been myself for a year. I had reverted to a prior release and it was all glitched up and full of bugs. Crashing.
It was finally our turn, and we walked through the sound room in our headphones to the actual range. There were ten or so stalls where men and a couple women were firing their weapons, and as we walked about two feet behind them, someone shot off a round.
I jumped violently, instinctively and froze. I looked behind me into the face of my friend wearing the same expression as I was. FUCK THIS SO HARD.
NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO. Nope. Absolutely, completely, and utterly no. Not ever. Fuck guns, fuck this place, fuck these insane people and fuck everything in this zip code and this city and the world, get me the hell out of here right this minute before I completely freak out and collapse into nothing.
At the end of 2013, I wrote a post called The Year of Yes. I was trying to come out of my solitude bubble and do more things with people since I had finally learned to do life without boozing and I missed being adventurous and spontaneous the way I thought was when I drank a lot. (I wasn’t, that’s just an illusion where alcohol makes you think you are those things, but really you’re just drunk and reckless.) I wanted to say yes to things and people and fun and love and life.
And so I did. For a year, I said yes. I said it over and over and over. I said it when I knew I should be questioning, when I was pushed past my boundaries, when my feelings were destroyed and I was going against what I knew in my deepest heart to be true and good for myself. I sacrificed myself for an idea I had, an expectation that wasn’t real. I forgot all the things I had learned and thought if I just said yes it would be enough.
The best, most fulfilling, most happy life is built on balance. Being our best, highest selves is only possible when we are our own highest priority. People act like being selfish is bad. That you should sacrifice for your family, for your kids, and your spouse, and your partner, and your pets, and your job. You should give up your time and your money and your health and your love to these things. Our culture teaches us to be martyrs. We are meant to fulfill our responsibilities by putting ourselves last.
Ideally, we should aspire to be good humans first and foremost. And the only way we can be good people to each other is to be as selfish as possible when it comes to our health and our mental well being and our needs as living, breathing humans. If you are run down, exhausted, stressed out, tired, abused, brokenhearted, addicted, sleep deprived, unhappy, and angry, you cannot be the person you need to be for the people who love you. You cannot be there for yourself. You become diluted, transparent, and you find yourself shooting guns into the darkness of your heart wondering where your years went.
Our health is not a given. Our mental acuity is not guaranteed. We could all wake up tomorrow and it be our last day. We will lose everything we care about and then we will die. Maybe not in that order. When you start thinking about life in terms of gratitude and time and love, if we stop acting like we have forever to do the things we want to do, then we see very clearly what is important.
Checklist for Living with Zero Obligation:
1. Stop buying shit you don’t need.
Every time I get right with one facet of myself, I have other bad habits just waiting to creep right in and undermine my whole game plan. Saying no to things we don’t need and making financial decisions that get us where we need to be are the foundation of being able to let go of our other toxic obligations like unfulfilling jobs and bad relationships. Get a budget, stick to it. Sometimes you have to say no to fun. It sucks. We’re adults. Sometimes life sucks. Get over it. Stuff won’t make you happy.
2. Don’t say yes to things in the future you wouldn’t do right this minute.
I don’t mean stop going to work and being someone’s mom for the day or whatever, but just stop saying yes when you should say no. Don’t friend that person on Facebook. Don’t go to that party for that dude you don’t like. Skip your work happy hour. Don’t overcommit yourself to obligatory bullshit you hate when you should be cultivating a hobby or hanging out with your cute boyfriend. Stop having coffee with strangers from the internet who bore you to death. Do things you actually want to do. Spend time with people you like doing things that are valuable.
3. Don’t stay in bad relationships.
Don’t make exceptions for people who deserve to get kicked the fuck out of your life. Friends, lovers, even parents. Cut the ties. Say goodbye, feel terrible and sad and die a little, love them still, but leave. Now. You know when it’s wrong. Get out. There is always someone else. Stop choosing people based on if they like you, make sure you like them and they deserve to be with you. Being alone is good for you. Try it. You’re not obligated to sacrifice your own happiness for someone else. You deserve to be happy and so do they. Find people you love and who love you, then you can move mountains together.
4. Say no to things that make you feel bad, no matter what people think.
It’s okay not to drink, or not take drugs, or not to have sex when you don’t want to. It’s okay not to smoke weed or cigarettes or eat things that make your insides feel like death. It doesn’t matter why if it feels bad. It’s okay to go to bed early and go to yoga in the morning instead of staying at the club until 3am. FOMO is bullshit. You know what’s cool? Being healthy and fit and feeling awesome. Go to bed.
5. Don’t stay in a job you hate doing things you find unethical.
Let’s not rage quit with a brick through the glass tomorrow, but find a way out. If you’re not doing what you want to be doing, find a way to get there. Make time. If you’re bored, if you’re sluggish, if you’re depressed when you wake up, you need a new career. Stop saying yes to dumb shit and get your life together so you can wake up everyday and be happy to get to work. It doesn’t matter if it takes a year or five years. You’ve got a long life left yet, make it happen. You can do it.
6. Live where you need to live.
This one is harder, but it’s just about prioritizing. For me, location is more important than space, but quiet and quality is more important than money. If you need to move cities or cross an ocean to be happy, doing 1-5 can help you get what you need in #6
7. Say yes to what you love.
Sometimes we are so buried in obligation it’s hard to know what we even like anymore. For me, it’s travel and music and food and culture and fulfilling, creative work, and those things braided up together in every possible way with amazing people who I love next to me. Every rule for me leads back to this. My goal is to have the maximum time and money and flexibility and freedom to do this as much as possible. Find out what you love and then go get it.
8. Break these rules when you should.
There is no night out you haven’t had before unless you are in a city that requires a passport or perhaps if it is March in Austin. In that case, you say yes and you dance all night and watch the sunrise. Sometimes the consequences are worth it. Nothing is absolute. Sort yourself out and start at the beginning. Balance is about finding the middle way and allowing yourself to say yes when the time is right.
The gun shop wasn’t my last heartbroken hangover. It wasn’t the last dumb thing I said yes to because I was searching for something to fill that void inside myself. It wasn’t the end of my yearning for distraction, for time or excitement or newness to tantalize me out of dealing with my sadness and pain. It won’t be the last crazy thing I do that feels wrong. Learning to return to the center, getting back to self care above all else, this is a map thats seared into my heart now. I am that happy, positive, optimistic, exuberant girl I always was. I like myself and everything is awesome. I just know how to say no now. No guilt, no regrets.