This is a concept I’ve been trying to figure out how to put into my own words for some time now, but I couldn’t think of the right way to do it. I’m still not sure if I can properly explain myself in a way that won’t lead to frustrating amounts of misinterpretation, however I’m going to try.
Over the past few weeks I’ve been trying to get involved in as many community organizations as I can manage to keep up with. Partly as a way to distract myself from tempting excuses for downward spirals, but also as an attempt to actually participate in constructing some sort of future for myself. I’m not career planning or setting up any solid long term goals or anything crazy like that, but I am trying to be part of my community in a more intentional way. See, if there is one thing I’d like to think I’ve learned over the past year, it’s that being independent and being able to take risks isn’t about distancing yourself from people and obligations. It is the opposite. It’s about knowing you can take those risks because you aren’t ever alone. I had a taste of that kind of bravery when I was in situations where I HAD to depend on people and (and this part is especially important) they depended on me. The idea that I was even capable of being useful to other people was revolutionary, and it made me feel secure enough to occasionally accept help without feeling guilty or weak. It was intoxicating, and I want more of that. I want to have family everywhere I go.
So, I’ve been dabbling. Getting more involved with Food not Bombs, working for the local homeless shelter programs, going to Books Behind Bars with student groups, playing with tools at Habitat for Humanity, and fighting my urge to hide and go back to being reclusive and fearful in general on a daily basis (a fantastic perk of volunteer work is that no one cares if you are a bit crazy or unable to commit long term). I’ve met some awesome people. I’ve learned new skills. I’ve discovered that friends are more valuable than pretty much any other resource, and sometimes the most useful thing I can do is to help connect two people who can help each other, even if I have absolutely nothing else to contribute. I have even come close to having entire days where I go without feeling like a terrible person for still not having what you could call a “real job”. Sometimes I miss the ability to be a stranger in my neighborhood, but on the bright side I’m relatively sure that if I ran into someone in a dark ally late at night we would just recognize each other and wave.
Is it selfish to do these things in part because it works better at improving my confidence and self esteem and for far for less money than therapy or alcohol? Probably. Am I going to let that stop me? Hell no! (I won’t lie, it is tempting to talk myself into feeling guilty when people have the nerve to thank me for doing things I actually enjoy, but I’m working on it :P) The other thing I’d like to think I’ve caught on to lately is that feelings are rarely worth agonizing over any more than the amount of agony they cause on their own. They just happen, and there is nothing we can do about it but experience them. The danger lies in the stories we tell ourselves about them and the pathologies we invent to explain them. They might be completely valid and even useful short term, but if you let your narratives make choices for you instead of the other way around, you give up any hope of evolution. You can’t decide what you are capable of or where you end up, and people who claim it’s all about attitude still make me want to resort to violence, but at least we should consider that just because things have always been doesn’t mean they always have to be.