I Want To Break Free

The dark voices inside my head were clamoring especially loudly this morning. You may know these voices. They’re the ones that say things like:

Maybe you are just lazy.”

You wouldn’t be in this situation if you just tried harder.”

If you’re miserable, you must have done something wrong.”

You screwed up, and there’s no way to fix it.”

You suck.”

In other words, all sorts of friendly, constructive things designed to encourage self-love and healthy worldviews.

I’ve made efforts to quiet these voices, but every once in a while they crop back up. Even when they’re not screaming at me, they’re all too often murmuring in the background, a never-ending susurration of bile and self-pity. But where do these voices come from? It’s different in everyone’s case, but I would think there are some common threads, ones that most likely involve unhealthy internalized philosophies.

I was not raised in a traditionally religious household. My family was originally Catholic, and I got as far as my First Communion before they moved on. After that, it wasn’t uncommon for us to refer to ourselves as “spiritual but not religious.” a moniker I used myself for some time. The kind of New Age spirituality that proposed positive thinking as a panacea and focused on the “energetic” nature of things.

In case you couldn’t tell, I don’t exactly subscribe to these ideas any more. But somehow I still find my life shaped by them, in ways that often blindside me. I must have been exposed to them at just the right age that they settled deep within my subconscious, and have since resisted determined (and not-so-determined) efforts to remove them.

Let me give you an example: I must have been in third or fourth grade, and my family was still going to Catholic church. Something must have been said to me at Sunday school that day (I don’t remember what), but it literally put the fear of Hell into me. I couldn’t sleep that night; every time I closed my eyes I was faced with lakes of fire and brimstone where I was convinced I would spend the rest of eternity for the most minor of transgressions.

Once my family changed faiths (which is really what it amounted to, in the end), that guilt stayed with me. But this time, it wasn’t because of something I had done, it was because of something I hadn’t done. “In a bad situation? Well, just think positive! Put your intentions out to the universe! Didn’t work? Well, you must have just not been trying hard enough! Everything happens for a reason!”

Telling a teenager/young adult who might be starting to struggle with undiagnosed depression to just “think more positiver” isn’t exactly the most helpful advice.

But somehow I still managed to internalize some of these ideas. One sometimes jokingly refers to “drinking the Kool-Aid” in reference to taking odd, outside-the-norm ideas to heart; it’s not so much that I drank the Kool-Aid, it’s more that I was exposed to it in an aerosolized form, absorbing it more through osmosis than anything else.

And I think that’s where some of my dark voices come from: the internalized, however unwillingly, teachings of my youth. And because we’re exposed to them so young, it can be hard to excise them later in life. They get laid into the foundation of our personality, literally shaping how we view the world. They are, in effect, already inside our defensive perimeter.

How can I get rid of them? I don’t know. In all likelihood, they’re a big enough part of my personality that I may never be rid of them. At this point, the most I can do is to try and quiet the voices of doubt and guilt, keeping them at bay.

But in the dead of the night, when you’re alone with nothing but the darkness inside and the darkness without, it’s hard.

4 thoughts on “I Want To Break Free

  1. Ailea

    I hate that. I, too, say some of the most… awful… things to myself.

    These are some really good thoughts on origins, though. This thinking really permeates our society – the idea that if you don’t have what you want or need you aren’t trying hard enough, that you didn’t wish hard enough, or that you just aren’t a good enough person. That if any single person really tried to pull themselves up by their bootstraps, they, too, could make a gazillion dollars, and have a perfect family the never fought, and have a self-cleaning house, and look like a supermodel, and be completely healthy. It’s a pervasive narrative, though, because it seems like it obviously should work that way. And it does to a some extent. It is highly unlikely that you will succeed without working hard. “Unlikely”. We tend to forget, though, that lots and lots of people work really hard without success or without fast success. Some people work really hard and succeed in the end. Other people succeed early and fuck it up in the end. Some people never achieve success. A lucky few get things handed to them and achieve success without ever working for it.

    And then we have to define “success”. What is the ultimate goal here? Is it the multitude of wishes that we have in our head, or the long range deep seated dream? Is it being happy and comfortable, or even simply being happy? Are our wishes not something we ever completely achieve, but only there to cause us to keep trying?

    On our death beds, we will have the ability to look back and decide ultimate success or failure, I expect. (Perhaps we will be lucky and go quickly enough to not have to actually go through those thoughts.) But in the interim – I believe that failure cannot be applied at any particular step. It’s not failure so much as not success yet. Gotta keep trying, re-imagine how we are trying, or redefine success. Ultimately, I think that the path is more interesting than the destination.

    Regardless of which route you choose in this path ahead, give those little voices a swift and solid kick in the junk for me. Nobody should talk to my friends like that.

    1. Joshua Post author

      You reminded me of another important origin of these sorts of voices: the larger American culture. As children, we are inundated with the message that anyone can be anything, because “all men are created equal.” This, coupled with our country’s Puritan-induced schizophrenia and work ethic, makes for one heck of an unhealthy environment? How may kids are told they can grow up to become president if they just work hard enough? Nearly all of them.

      Of course, the dark corollary to “You can do anything if you just try hard enough” is “If you didn’t succeed, it’s your fault because you weren’t passionate/dedicated/obsessed enough.” And like you said, every situation is different. Some people succeed easily, whereas people with just as much preparation and talent fail. A huge part of whatever makes the difference seems to be nothing more than pure, blind luck in the face of a cold, uncaring universe.

      And don’t worry: I’m doing my best to whack-a-mole the voices whenever they crop up, and I have quite the vivid imagination…

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