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    Turning Gold Into Heroin

            Many of my friends from college have become very successful. They have good careers, found compatible partners, and started their own families. I’m happy for them. They are people I love, and when someone I love seems happy, I find great joy in that. It’s my wish that all the people I care about live happy, successful lives. I’m sure they have their problems, as do we all, but from my perspective, they appear happy.
             My life has taken a very different course than most people I went to college with. I’m single, never been married, have no children, and I’m still finding my career niche. I’ve done lots of different things, played in bands, and traveled extensively. That said, there is probably much about my life that they envy. The freedom, not being responsible for anybody but myself, and the variety of experience my life entails. Truth be told, there is much about their lives that I envy. Stability, roots, a life partner, a successful career, and a sense of self that I sometimes can’t seem to find.
             That may come as a surprise to them, but it’s true. I just spent a marvelous few days with many of these people. Villanova was playing in the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament in Boston, and many alumni made the trip up here from all over. As is often the case, when the thrill and fun and excitement of being with these people I love and respect is gone, when the memories we created are now just that, memories, I’m left with a sense of emptiness and failure that I’m very familiar with. As wonderful as the weekend was, when it’s over, it kicks up many of my inadequacies, insecurities, and feelings of being less than.
             This delayed reaction of pain comes off of a weekend of love and joy and connection. It comes after feeling great about myself and the friendships that I’ve maintained. It comes after lots of attention and compliments. This inner turmoil is the flip side to the Clint that they know. I’ve always been very different from these people, but loved and accepted. I’ve always been seen as very unique, creative, one-of-a-kind, maverick, highly individual, stand out from the crowd. And they embrace me for that. Even people that I didn’t know came up to me this past weekend and asked me my name, saying that they “wanted to meet me” because of the way I dressed, how I looked, and how I behaved. This happens surprisingly often when I put myself out there, completely show up, and really be myself.
             I don’t say this to blow my own horn, but to emphasize that as good as that felt, it doesn’t last very long, because deep inside me, I don’t believe it. What I experience is a sort of emotional hangover. So the highs I just experienced make the lows I feel now more pronounced. The comparisons between me and these people make me feel worse because I don’t feel I measure up to them. And that’s coming completely from me, not them. I own this.
             I start to compare my life to those I went to school with, and all I see is failure. I don’t necessarily feel it when I’m with them, and if I do, it’s buried deeper within me, overshadowed by the joy I feel being in their company. Overshadowed by the fun I have with them. Overshadowed by the love I receive and the love I give. But it’s there just the same. I just don’t connect to it as much. When they’re gone, I feel it. So the joy is almost like a drug to me, with the inevitable crash afterward.
             This is awful because what I experience with them is real. It’s not a phony high, like a drug gives you. It’s authentic. And yet because of my own inner emotional mechanics, I twist it into a form of addiction. How the fuck can I take something so good, so positive, like love and connection and joy and fun, and eventually turn it into something painful? How can I take something that real and beautiful and turn it into something ugly? How can I take gold and turn it into heroin?
             A piece of this is because I’ve created a system within me that is convinced that joy must come at a price. The net result must always be “zero”, because any happiness I feel must be balanced by an equal amount of pain. I don’t do this consciously, but I do it. It’s what I saw all the time growing up, so I internalized it. I fight it though, because a part of me knows that it’s not true. And that pisses me off. I almost wish all of me believed the emotional zero-sum-game model so that I wouldn’t have any conflict over it. If all of me bought it, maybe I’d be happy in my misery. But I’m not. I don’t like being this way. I want to change it.
             Change is often painful, but I make it worse by hating myself for being this way. I don’t accept myself as I am. I just want to be different. Now. So I get stuck in self-hatred, and that makes growth nearly impossible. It’s a cage that I build myself then drive myself crazy trying to free myself from. How fucked up is that?
             I know that I’m violating a law of emotional health by comparing my insides to other’s outsides. And yet that’s where I’m stuck right now. I hate admitting that this is where I’m at. But it’s honest. And I've decided not to do a heavy re-write, because I’m afraid of talking myself out of posting this the longer I wait. So this may come off as more raw than usual. Just like I feel right now. Raw. And I want to be well done.

    ©2009 Clint Piatelli. All Rights (and a meat locker full of Wrongs) Reserved.

    Reader Comments (2)

    I wonder if we all don’t suffer from those exact feelings on a regular basis. It is just a matter of intensity. I hate weekends. With my job put aside for a couple days, if there are not gigs to fill the void, I feel very alone and envious of those that have an engaging life partner. Instead of getting busy, I withdraw. That means practicing the horn, eating, and sleep. Lots of sleep.

    On the other hand, I love weekends. It means hanging with friends, making music, and socializing. Then Monday comes. I hate Mondays. I think of guys like Clint that have the flexibility in their lives to follow a meandering wooded path instead of a concrete highway as straight as an arrow.

    It is like Christmas, visiting the Grand Canyon, witnessing the birth of a child, winning a race, getting laid, seeing your first bald eagle, going to a Stevie Wonder concert (or in your case, Mega Death), waking up to 12” of fresh snow. We all have to face the aftermath.

    I am struggling. You are struggling. Others are struggling. And to stretch the point, all of us are struggling in some degree; even your fellow alumni. I was in the Westin Hotel last weekend and I felt like you were very near me. There were signs of Villanova everywhere. I was there for a music teacher’s conference as a guest of a friend. In the midst of the energy, accomplishment, and determination I feel in a music education environment, I felt enthralled. I also, in some ways, felt like I might have missed my calling. On the drive home, I did what I have recently learned in yoga. I gave thanks for the experience and tried hard from then on to stay in the present moment. That is all I, and you, and they have control of. In fact, at that point, at that very nanosecond, we are equal. The present moment is a pretty cool hang.

    April 2, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterGlen Carliss

    Glen, as always, your comments drip with truth, are insightful, thought provoking, articulate, and tender. I'm thrilled that you can relate to what I'm communicating and that you resonate with my experience. To echo something you said in the last paragraph; "We are all fighting a battle". I wish I knew you were at the Westin.


    April 2, 2009 | Registered CommenterClint Piatelli

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