Unloading Your $#!+
We've all got some. Many people call it baggage. My last therapist referred to it as "opportunities for growth," language I borrow when I'm feeling generous. In my less generous moments, I refer to it simply as "my shit."
I've got shit, you've got shit. We've all got shit. And this load is far more vast that what you'd admit to having in your "baggage." This goes beyond your unhealed traumas, your unexplored emotions, your carefully closeted bitterness and resentment. In truth, your shit consists of all of that, plus your responsibilities, your power. It includes your most treasured aspects of self, your thoughts, your choices, the consequences of your actions and inactions. It even extends to your literal shit--your clothes and shoes, knickknacks and hobby supplies, your expired canned goods and that dress that hasn't fit you since 2004. It's everything you revere and everything you abhor. It's all the stuff that belongs to you, whether or not you want to own it.
As a human, you accumulate shit like velvet pants accumulate pet hair. It's drawn to you, and you to it. The longer you've been on the planet, the larger load you've had time to accumulate. Mid-twenties? You might still be able to fit it all in that cute Kate Spade you bought for your birthday. Mid-fifties? Might need a U-Haul. It builds up, the shit. But an ever-increasing load isn't an unavoidable aspect of living. It's more the consequence of what you choose to do, or rather what you fail to choose to do, with your shit.
This shit is real. Not in the colloquial sense. It's actual. It has mass, density, volume. In other words, your shit can get heavy. The more there is to hold, the less comfortable it feels to keep a grip on it. Also, some of it stinks. Some of this shit is rotten, festered, putrid. Some of it is ugly, more gruesome than any horror movie monster (or those chihuahuas with the really bulgy eyes and tongues that don't fit in their warped faces). A lot of it is swaddled in the nastiest paper, greasy reams of shame, guilt, and self-judgment. Some of it wasn't yours to begin with, but since you picked it up and started carrying it, it's gotten all mixed up with your authentic shit and now it's like a lousy Gordian knot, all tied together with string as resilient as it is slimy. In short, shit has a tendency to be distinctly unpleasant to hold or examine. And so, humans have a tendency to spend a fair amount of time and energy trying to put it down.
This could be a good thing! Your shit can be unpacked. That's why a constantly expanding load isn't guaranteed as you rack up the years on Earth. Trauma can be processed, healed, integrated. Emotions can be felt, processed, honored. Lessons can be learned, responsibility taken, decisions made and analyzed, gratitude practiced, expansion embraced. You can Marie Kondo on the soul level. Therapy, journaling, meditation, energy healing, art, inner child exploration, shadow work, coaching; the world is full of tools to help you unpack.
You can unload some of that weight. But will you? To unpack it means you have to handle it, look at it, own it. The Goodwill is not sending a truck for this stuff. You can't get a tax write-off for donating it. There's only one way to truly release it, and that's to go through it. Have you ever cleaned out a garage so packed you couldn't park a bicycle in it? Or a hoarding relative's home? It's like that. Only there's less dust and more emotional culpability. To truly unload, you have to be with the shit, in the most intimate of ways. You have to hold out your arms and accept the full weight of this burden as your own before you can unload one single ounce.
Sound fun? It's not. Which is why the more common methods of "unloading" are to pretend your shit doesn't exist, or to try to push it off on someone else. The quotation marks are because neither of these actions will truly reduce your load. The human penchant for choosing these options is why most of us have increasingly more shit as the years go by. Blame and denial don't lessen the load, so if these are your main coping mechanisms, your shit is stacking up like lawn gnomes at great Aunt Phyllis's place. Everywhere you look (or refuse to look), there's more. Before you know it, it's a decorative theme in your life. Gnome pillows, gnome tea towels, gnome-shaped soap in the guest bath. That shit is everywhere.
In a truly quantum act of emotional physics, you'll still feel the weight of this shit, even though you're technically refusing to carry it. It's terribly ironic. Here you are, feeling like your shit is too heavy, dying to put it down. Yet the more you refuse to acknowledge it, to embrace it, to hold it, the more it grows and the greater gravity it develops. The farther away you push your shit, the faster it weighs you down. You begin to cultivate new shit about how hard it is to get rid of your old shit. See? Quantum.
I know of what I speak. My own shit recently went fully western. This is unusual for me. I am something of a paragon of personal power. Of owning shit, I am a regarded expert. Alas, I am also fully human. And without realizing it, I fell into that eminently human pattern of trying to unload my shit on someone else. That someone else was my spouse. Sorry, babe.
I was mightily unhappy about the state of quality time in my life. Not only did my spouse and I not spend enough quality time together, I was also lamenting the complete lack of dedicated time with friends that had developed for me. My husband and I used to travel often. We used to spend every weekend adventuring, if not in far-flung locales then in our own Big Sky backyard. And four years ago, I had two very close friends with whom I spent time on a regular basis. They both moved to other states in the summer of 2019, and now I found myself too often alone, without plans and unhappy about it.
Did you catch that part about four years? Four. Years! That's how long ago I dropped my shit. But we'll come back to that. In this more recent moment, I knew exactly where my shit could be found. Right in my husband's lap. He never travels with me anymore. He makes plans with his friends and I get left out. Well, the truth is, he really doesn't make plans. He's a seat-of-the-pants fellow, always has been. So I can't make plans with friends, because I am always waiting to see what he's going to do, and by the time he decides he's going to do something I'm not interested in, it's too late for me to connect with anyone else (because most other humans do make plans). Woe. Is. Me. I'm lonely. My life is bereft of close relationships. This sucks. And he'd better fix it quick, because I'm sick of this!!
I was, you know. Quite sick of it. Four years is plenty of time to accumulate a healthy load of shit. A heavy load of shit. Weight that I could feel, even though I wasn't willing to pick that shit up and carry it myself. I truly did feel deeply lonely. Many Sunday evenings were spent noticing the empty places inside of me that hadn't been filled up in my free time. There were bouts of depression. My creativity suffered (notice the infrequency of blog posts lately). I felt disengaged with my work. I was just going through the motions of living, because life felt heavy. Heavy from a load that I wasn't even willing to look at, much less unpack.
I couldn't unpack it...because I wasn't owning it. I had made it my husband's problem. He was the reason I was lonely. He was the reason I spent so many weekends longing, unfulfilled. He was the problem. That shit was on him.
Except, it wasn't. And, thankfully, I came to my senses. I realized I'd dropped my shit. If I want to travel, I know how to make reservations. If I want a specific adventure or just more focused time with my spouse, I have a voice with which to ask for these things. If I don't want to spend my weekends alone because of last-minute planning, I can make plans ahead of time. I can make those plans with my honey, with friends, or with my own damned self. I had utterly ceded control of my social schedule to someone who had no idea they'd been given that job, and then I was indignant about that poor man's job performance. For the love of all that's holy, I had let four f'ing years go by without seeking to fill the time I used to spend with my two best local girls!
That's a spectacular fumble of personal power for this seasoned proprietrix of sovereignty. I'm so grateful for the skills which didn't slip through my fingers in this chapter of my life. Upon realizing I had misplaced my shit, I didn't engage in self-judgement or punch a ticket for everyone's favorite ride at the emotional carnival, the Shame Spiral. Instead, I sighed and started gathering that shit up. All of it (I hope). Putting it all back in my arms, holding it all close. This is my job. My happiness, my fulfillment, my friendships, my satisfaction; my job. My shit. Which only got so suffocatingly heavy because I tried to pawn it off on someone else.
Is it fun to own your shit? Not often. As we've established, it's heavy. Human nature tempts you with the idea that you can just put it down and turn your back on it. You could make like a small-brained lizard, working off of the "if I can't see it, it's not there" theory. Your ego will happily offer you the idea that it's not really your shit. It's their shit! Your spouse, your boss, your kids, your parents, "the man." Put that shit back where it belongs--with them!
But none of that is true. Worse, ignoring or misplacing your shit is the quantum gateway to drowning in it. If you've read this far, you needn't ask me how I know. Don't fall for it. Just own your shit. Yeah, it's hard. But you aren't alone. I've got some. You've got some. We've all got some. And the only way to have less is to embrace what's yours.