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In her book Quit Like a Woman, Holly Whitaker posits that creating a life that doesn’t require numbing agents is essential to our well-being.
Sounds simple and obvious, right?
Of course, I don’t want to numb out on drugs when I’m parenting, wife’ing, and working. Only sh*tty losers do those things—not middle-class shero moms, like myself.
Or have our lifestyles simmered to a boiling point where we are actually numbing, spacing, leaving, maybe even disassociating ourselves away from reality without even being fully conscious of it?
I know I was.
The alarm goes off at five in the morning and the exhaustion in my bones demands a minimum requirement of 10 more hours of sleep. Just before surrendering to that fever dream that I wanted to finish, today’s to-do list flashes before my closed eyelids. A surge of cortisol rolls through me and my feet reflexively touch the floor.
I muscle my still half-asleep body through a Peloton ride with Cody Rigsby on no caffeine hoping that one day I’ll get the burst of energy everyone talks about. My reward is overly percolated coffee that waits for me like a loyal dog who will never leave my side.
I trudge back in from the below-freezing garage to start food prep for myself and two beautiful angel babies who require a come hell or high water well-rounded breakfast every. single. day—because I will not compromise the gas I put in their tank.
I embrace the tight wire of waking those angel babies up gently. I’ve already been up for an hour and a half, and I still have edges to square before the train leaves the station. Their doting dad will always switch hit with me on this one, which makes for happier angel babies and less pounding around from me.
Once they’re up, it’s a well-rehearsed dance that only deviates if someone is having, god forbid, feelings.
My default is to replace morning melancholy—but it’s Movie Day, Taco Tuesday, or Ice Cream Cone Monday—and play butler to their needs because I can’t take their sadness, anger, or really any other emotion except f*cking gratitude for making this life possible for them. The finale of this leg is always the same: the train leaves the station for a single drop-off thanks to a shared carpool and a teammate who equitably pulls the weight of what it takes to be normal.
Once I settle at my desk, the day whirs by in a spin cycle of multi-tasking as much as possible.
Staying busy is my method for staying far away from how I really feel, which is missing my kids and yearning for space to actually, you know, inhale with awareness.
It’s a discipline to tamp down thoughts on that unnecessary sh*tty tone I took with my spouse, forgetting to give the big resistant one a love pat letting her know with my body “I’ll see ya later, sis,” and share in a calm moment with my son who is always offering, “Free snuggles! Come and get ‘em on the couch while they’re still free!”
In spare minutes when the longing starts bubbling up past my throat, I consciously replace those ever-present thoughts with planning for the three to four glorious hours we have together as a family: a super crappy at-home workout with kids playing or fighting at my heels, one family activity, homemade meal, and lots of books before bed.
We’ll grab some good moments together and then, and only then, I can exhale fully.
The above routine continues day in and day out for five straight days in a row, save room for after-school activities, chores, and prep needing to be done on specific days so the whole thing doesn’t collapse into a f*ck-it sandwich.
Are margins this thin in real life?
I feel like I’m melting and dislike 95 percent of the people I see on a daily basis. I look around at my peers who are running the same type of machines and they seem fine.
I want to feel fine and more. I want a sense of joy in my life.
Even thinking this feels greedy; my inner dialogue responds the same as it does with my kids: “just be grateful you even have any of this.” Joy can begin once I can push off from these complicated mental gymnastics.
Is that for real though?
Does joy have to be on a schedule, and is it really joy we’re waiting for on the other side of the to-do list or is it something else? Like breathing on your own schedule or using the bathroom before you feel like you’re going to have an accident?
If so, that’s not joy–it’s another feeling: relief.
Wait, what the hell?
I know, it’s confusing.
It wasn’t in that amazing Pixar movie “Inside Out” (if only). But yes, consider for a moment: during the workweek when you’re running your daily grind of hustle culture, are you feeling joy throughout the day—or are you, like me—waiting for it to all be over for the one glorious power hour you can spend in bed reading?
So often we think we’re reaching for happiness, joy, and contentment when really that’s not the case. We are waiting for the clock to strike “Relax” so we can unfurl our eyebrows, check the last box from the day’s routine, and call ‘er done.
It’s the sitting down after having been on your feet all damn day.
It’s the bewilderment and awe for us privileged people with partners in the home to think about when we see single parents doing it all.
Wait, how the f*ck?
This simple mix-up for confusing relief with joy is also what led me to subconsciously seek myopia with the finest IPAs the West coast has to offer. But that’s another story for another day.
So, dear reader, is it joy or relief you’re reaching for?
Is it with joy or relief you pick up your phone and check your feed multiple times per day?
Is it joy that has you eating the third donut in the breakroom? Or relief when you deny yourself any sugar at all because you’re “trying to be good”?
What about checking work email before or after hours? Is that a bolt of joy you feel when there’s something in there waiting to be read?
It isn’t just moms who get a DUI while driving with their kids who are numbing themselves. It’s every single one of us using something to alter our emotional state in order to avoid sitting in silence with the feelings in our bodies. I know, “meditating” is impossible for us overly busy, double load types.
Here’s where I invite you to begin:
Close your eyes and instead of focusing on your breath put your mind directly in your heart space.
How does it feel to exist in this space?
Think of your heart as separate from your mind and ask her, “How are you in there?”
After you’ve said hello to your sacred heart, use your mind to ask your heart one more question.
Now that we have determined what relief is, and that it’s not the holy grail we thought it was, ask your sweet heart, “What brings me joy?”