Three years ago I learned how to fluff a down pillow. Karate chop two sides, karate chop the other two sides, smooth out the crinkles and then add one tiny chop chop at the top. It makes the pillow full and fluffy and inviting, and makes my couch look balanced, demure and extra leathery. I usually fluff the pillows as a sign for guests that things are just fine -- my pillows are voluminous (but not too fluffy) and, therefore, my life is, too.
Nothing could be further from the truth, of course. Life is lovely. But my innards are usually churning on something. They've been doing that since I was 19, probably earlier, but that's the time of my life when I began facing a lot of big questions about self identity, religious identity, religious community, life purpose, emotional abuse, sexual abuse, spiritual abuse, ugh the list goes on for us humans. There were a lot of things that came flooding to the surface. Fast forward to age 32 and I've got a working theory on people:
there are friends who fluff their pillows and there are those who don't
Some people can let you into their inner circle in a healthful way, while others stay back. Some run in circles with themselves, which makes it really hard to figure out what's ever going on. I'm somewhere in the middle -- I'm a pillow fluffer in remission with occasional flair ups.
There are a lot of reasons I fluff my pillows: I am trying to fool myself (see, this doesn't hurt so bad!); I am trying to fool others (See, I've got this all figured out!); I am trying to avoid the truth (Just keep fluffing, fluffing, fluffing ... and it'll all just disappear).
At the age of 19, I decided to start looking at what I knew. What could be seen, what could be verified. Essentially, I stopped fluffing the pillows and disassociating from the life I was leading and began looking at some deep, troubling things inside me. What happens when we stop fluffing the pillows? Ugh. Well, for starters...
Things get a little messy
A hallmark of fluffing the pillows of your life is denial. When you stop denying what you are experiencing or thinking or feeling, everything floods to the surface and ambushes your sense of well-being. Think about it, though, and it makes complete sense (at least, it did to me): the moment you decide to not live in an alternate reality, that's precisely when REALITY feels the most threatening. Stabilization isn't really an (immediate) option because you're just beginning to give yourself room to be alive in your own life. So, take heart: messiness is a sign that something is stirring, and that's a good, good thing.
Things feel confusing
The thing about fluffing your pillow is it makes everything easily explainable. It lines all things into a beautiful row and delivers a powerful message, "Everything is fine, as long as I'm perceived that way." Letting the truth bubble up, letting your inner wounds have a place at the discussion table of your life, that's confusing as f*ck. It is overwhelming -- you're OUT OF CONTROL, don't you know it? Get things together, make things make sense right away, like the good old days. Going back is always an option, but it's not worth it.
Things feel lonely
If you live in denial your whole life like I did, the reality of what you've been avoiding feels messy, confusing and especially lonely. It's lonely when you stop preparing your life for the approval for others. What's the point of fluffing your pillows if no one is going to see them? What's the point of self improvement if no one is going to applaud me on a regular basis for my external achievements?
Things get better very, very slowly
The choice to stop fluffing the pillows of your life for friends, family, religious leaders, God, is the first step to loving all those people with the very best part of yourself. The person I was at 19 knew how to love others in very limited ways because she had these gaping, massive wounds that were all met with trivial religious guidance and selfish "please get better in 2 weeks" support.
It wasn't until I told myself YOU'VE BEEN SHOT IN THE FACE AND YOU'RE NOT OK did I finally start to heal. How many of us do this on a daily, hourly basis? You hurt, you ache, you struggle -- and what's the answer from the world? Suck it up, move on, it's not real, fluff a few pillows and you'll be fine. We tell people "You'll be fine" when what they really need to hear is, "I see you've been beaten up every day for your entire life. That might take some time to heal from."
Fluffing in remission
It takes time to let emotional pillow fluffing be a thing of the past. But with a commitment to truth and a whole heckuvalotta courage, things do get better. In fact, the urge to fluff your pillows becomes an ally, a sign that something deeper is afoot. And this weekend was a perfect example. I was feeling especially emotional about the dishes. After several weeks of trying to "fluff" the situation away, I began to feel this combination of obsessive inner rage and sorrowful abandonment. Why? Because Lee doesn't wash all the dishes. (To be fair, he and I agreed on some roles and chores in the house, and dishes were squarely on me while other things are on his plate.)
To make matters more complicated, I'm an intensely analytical person and when emotions get mixed in, they don't blend well initially. I have to pick one rational thought and then a big giant emotion and try to make them be friends to figure out what's really going on inside me. I knew my emotions weren't matching the supposed culprit, so I knew I had to bring this (seemingly) very silly topic to him. I sat down with Lee about the dish-washing commotion, and a lot, a lot, a lot of tears later, I was crying about something completely unrelated. I won't go into details about that thing, but it was something equally worthy of the rage and sorrow I had misdirected toward dish-washing support. It turns out, Amanda needs a little inner TLC and needs some solace. The plan for this is ongoing. I share all that to say that the real source of my angst often doesn't surface without me recognizing that I'm trying to fluff the pillows. The difference is nowadays, things get tended to, rather than fluffed.
Things I stopped telling myself
The road to remission is long, but worthwhile. The first thing I did was offer some ooey gooey TLC to the messages in my mind. I stopped telling myself:
It's not that big of a deal.
You're stronger than that.
You're a grown woman. Don't be so needy.
And instead I replaced those things with:
If it matters to you, it matters.
If you feel it, own it (but don't necessarily act on it).
You're a grown woman who feels, and we need more of you.