Baggage. We all have it.
How full it is, what it contains, and how willing you are to unpack it depends on who you are.
And I learned the hard way, as I do most of my life things, that unpacking the bag is more wise than some of the alternatives….
Growing up, I hid each part of who I wanted to be.
I abandoned my own desires and quieted my ideas and ignored my own needs. I tucked away my fear and pushed my pain down and hushed feelings of sadness.
My moves were calculated, and dictated by trauma.
My philosophy was pretty simple.
I just took all of the stuff that I couldn’t hold or handle, and I moved it. It was my quick-fix/out-of-sight, out-of-heart approach that I thought was helping me. I wasn’t intentionally saving it all of this stuff for some rainy day or hundreds of group therapy sessions in my mid-twenties.
I truly had no idea that repressing was not the same thing as processing and that hiding and avoiding wouldn’t have the same effect on my life and my future as acknowledging and confronting would.
I was sort of just aiming for the safe, warm fuzzies.
As I tucked it all away, it was being kept secure and intact in a figurative bag.
And you better believe that my baggeth had definitely runneth over.
It was a dark and ugly bag. Bursting at the seams because it had filled it for so many years, it had become so heavy and I knew in my heart that soon, I would not have the choice to take another step, even in my preferred direction: backward.
I would have done anything to avoid having to unzip that bag and open it up. Anything sounded better to me than confronting its contents, so I avoided it for as long as life would allow me to.
On my road of self-discovery, I have discovered a few ways of handling my own baggage, that believe it or not, won’t actually help.
Here are four:
Hiding the bag.
I managed to hide hundreds of pills from myself over the years to make sure that I wouldn’t lose them, only to never, (ever) find them again. Yet I couldn’t manage to hide this bag for one nano second. It too bulky so it wouldn’t fit anywhere and no matter how many fistfuls of pills I ingested, I knew exactly where it was. I couldn’t forget where I tried to hide it. Insanity. It made me feel insane. I became hyper-focused on this game particular game of hide-and-seek not admitting to myself what I already knew: I wouldn’t ever win.
Ignoring the bag altogether.
Surely it wasn’t there if I told myself that it wasn’t.
I just told myself that the bag didn’t matter and if it did actually matter, or if it were meant to play any significant role in my actual life, it wouldn’t be in the bag in the first place, now would it? I labeled the contents of the bag ‘garbage’.
I could ignore trash easier than I could my truth. Here’s what I wasn’t expecting: Truth is always louder in the end, and it always comes out on top. Truth wins.
Shifting the weight of the bag.
This tactic was pretty reliable for a while, and it worked until it just couldn’t.
Sort of like if you had numerous bank accounts and also a money moving issue, with too much coming out and not enough going in. Eventually playing catch-up wouldn’t cut it, and the problem would explode, exposing the lack of available funds in your account and your inability to cover your ass. In my case, I ran out of stamina and shoulder room. Shifting and moving and changing positions was tiring.
Pawning it off onto willing shoulders, or any shoulders that weren’t mine.
It was like a game of hot-potato. I got rid of it as quickly as I could the second it was back in my hands to the person closest to me, who was standing with their arms out, willing to play the game.
This one was my favorite, go-to approach of ignoring the bag. Although the bag was still attached to me, these innocent gems carried it for me so that I could no longer feel the weight, and there is no better remedy for my conscience than volunteers who asked to carry my bag for me.
I will be the first to admit that it took quite a bit of time after I got sober for me to accept that this bag was mine.
I hated that it was mine and that I was responsible for it and I hated that I felt stupid and embarrassed for denying that it was mine for so long. But after some convincing, I realized that taking ownership of the bag was pretty important.
Accepting that no one else would, could, or should unpack it, was half of my battle. The other half of my battle was the actual unpacking part. I was terrified and unsure of my unpacking abilities. I had to allow the loving, caring, people who were in my life to stand beside me and hold the bag open. I had to believe them when they said that there was beauty packed deep inside, but it was my duty to bend down and scoop out the contents of my bag, one item, one memory, one mistake, one regret, and one tear at a time.
Ten years of recovery and my new life is contingent upon a process that reflects this same process.
I have had to continually live on faith, not knowing if I am going to actually find the beauty in the hard things. I have to accept the love given to me and I have to continue to do the work that I need to do in order to move forward.
And my bag?
Still not empty.
You heard me.
I am still unpacking.
I am still pulling out one thing at a time, dusting it off, and googling the shit out of it to make sure I am handling it correctly. (Kidding)
I am still digging and processing and healing and learning about myself. I have also come to the realization that I am not happy or grateful for all of the things that I have experienced but I am grateful for the lessons that my experiences have taught me.
And one of the most important lessons that I have taken away from all of this is that my personal freedom, and my ability to live and thrive and move forward, was not a result of my initial decision to try recovery.
I didn’t find freedom the second that I made the decision to live sober.
My freedom has been found inside of my baggage.
I found my freedom inside of the pain; in believing in myself.
I found my freedom within my personal belief, that I could, by God’s Grace and through His strength, move through all of the hard things that I had believed for so long, would kill me if I faced them.