Everyone’s talking about tidying up lately. That’s cool, but I want to make a case for not tidying up. And it’s not just to defend my unapologetic disastrousness (I’m a Creative, OK?!!).
The truth is, I dislike disorder as much as the rest of yas. Sure, I’m not as consumed by an unmade bed or half my wardrobe on the floor as some of you might be, but when life feels messy I still have an overwhelming urge to clean it up.
I’m a counselor. A recovering codependent. A former control-freak. For the first 25 years of my life, I thrived on routine and structure and planning and predictability. On being liked and accepted. On pleasing and succeeding and supporting and feeling supported.
When I could foresee uncertainty in the future (whether it be for weeks or hours), I strategized. When there were challenges with or between family members, I jumped into peacemaking mode–I expressed and communicated and pleaded and mended. When I felt uncomfortable feelings, I numbed with my substance du jour, but not before criticizing myself for being “emotional” (the ultimate flaw!).
Fast forward five (ish) years and I’m considerably less neurotic (I know, what was I like before, right?). I even like to tell myself this phase of the “struggle” is the most mindful and gratifying. Tough to be future-focused when you literally have no idea what the fuck the future holds. Still, the past month hasn’t been the rosiest. The “romantic” NYC grind continues to be—well, the grind. The relationship I’d hoped could withstand 5000 miles didn’t. Several old triggers and family wounds I was convinced I’d healed from or learned to tai-chi have found their way past my defenses.
There’ve been rewarding moments–really, really wonderful moments of excitement, inspiration, and stimulation; yet they’ve been stolen by reverberations of painful events and interactions: Grief. Disconnection. Anxiety. Guilt. Loneliness. Frustration. Envy. And that shit’s messy. Feelings are messy. Right now, my life looks like my bedroom after a night out. Like I tried on 16 outfits and left them on the floor. And I dropped and smashed my blush while running to get the Uber and it’s now ground into my rug because when I came home I’d forgotten about it and stepped on it. And there’s a half-eaten wrap from the 24-hour bodega down the street that I’m deliberating between refrigerating or tossing. It’s only been 6 hours…it’s probably still good…
Except, unlike my post-quake Sunday morning bedroom, right now I can’t just hang up my clothes and grab some carpet cleaner from CVS. The mess is there and the mess will remain, at least for now. In time, I might be able to clean up some of it, but other parts of it (the blush stain, prob) may be visible as long as I have that rug. I just have to learn to live with it. To not get irritated or judge myself every time I see it, concluding it’s representative of my flawed and broken self.
Sometimes, when life is messy, we just have to sit in The Mess. We can’t jump into cleaning mode, creating order and certainty and peace, because at that time we don’t have the information or resources or skills to do so. And trying to be in control is stressing us out even more.
We just have to surrender to The Mess (and the hurt, grief, frustration, anxiety, disconnection, powerlessness, etc.). See it like a Jackson Pollock and just trust it’s all supposed to be there and it’s art and it’s teaching us something.
Our best “strategy” is to open the eff up to that uncertainty and conflict and all the sticky stuff that we try so desperately to avoid (but inevitably encounter) because…well, we’re humans, and this is life, and I can assure you this won’t be the last time life feels messy. So learning how to sit in The Mess isn’t such a bad idea.
If you’re living in the The Mess right now:
Be kind to yourself.
Remember things will shift, regardless of your action or inaction.
Remember you’re not the only one who’s sitting in a mess right now. It’s not a measure of your self-worth. It’s not predictive of the future. Remember you’re developing your emotional tolerance muscles.
Breathe. A big, self-compassionate one, right into your belly.
So while you’re lovingly placing your socks into your drawer (individually–not balled!), give yourself permission to be in The Mess right now–without rushing to figure it all out. I’m right there with you.
“You are the sky. Everything else–it’s just the weather.”