Hi. My name is Katja. I’m a total Trainwreck.
Think about the last time you had this experience: you were in some public place. Maybe at work, maybe at a party, maybe at a work party (ack). Maybe it was with a bunch of moms or guys at the gym or other people in your community. You didn’t feel great that day, you kinda picked up something off the floor that you’d worn two days ago and hadn’t gotten around to putting away yet, and hoped it wasn’t too wrinkled or dirty because you just didn’t have the energy to figure out something nicer to put on. You arrived at your location realizing you left something important at home, and felt embarrassed about it. You were just getting really down and low, working up a nice lather of awful feelings about this whole damn day and this awful event and all you wanted was to be home in bed. And then, across the room, you see That Person. You see That Person around sometimes, and they’re always so together. Why can’t you have your act together like That Person? That Person always looks nice, with clothes that are just right on a body that is just right and hair that is always done right (or the right car and the right sports skills, or whatever it is that embodies “Right” to you in this moment…) and That Person never forgets their important things. Whenever you talk to That Person, everything always seems to be going right for them.
Why can’t you just get it together like That Person?
And there you go: the whole rest of your day/evening/the event you’re at, you spend berating yourself that you’re not together like That Person, that if only you were like That Person, you’d have put on something nice and clean for this event and in fact, you’d never leave clothes on your floor! You work up a whole imagined life for That Person, in which every aspect of every day is just right, and you compare yourself to it, carefully noting all the many areas in which you don’t make the mark.
And then you proceed into whatever your habitual response to a good bout of self-loathing is: you vow to make some kind of (doomed) change like going to the gym before work every day or never eating another cookie again, or instead you sink into a nice puddle of despair and splash around in it for a few days (much to your family’s/roommate’s/friends’ delight – not! which you notice and add to your pile of Reasons I Hate Me.) Or both, consecutively.
Sound familiar? It should. Because the reality is, we’re ALL Trainwrecks.
Nobody has it together. Not even That Person, despite all outward appearances.
And outward appearances are part of the problem: we live in a culture obsessed with appearance, and combined with that, we live in a culture where we don’t really know the people around us. Everyone is too busy, and we move around a lot, so we don’t know the whole story of everyone’s past anymore like people did hundreds of years ago. Sometimes that’s good – it’s liberating to have the chance to start over. But it’s also a hinderance, because it fuels this idea that we can somehow achieve a state of Not Trainwreckness, that we can leave all our Trainwreckage behind us and start fresh and Never Do It Again – and that’s really not possible.
When I was a kid, I was very embarrassed about going to the bathroom. I never wanted anyone to know that I ever even entered a restroom at any time ever. I would hold my pee for an entire day and not pee until the evening when I got home so that no one would know that I peed. How dumb! Everyone pees!! Eventually I realized this was dumb, and that everyone pees, and further, that my kidneys didn’t love this habit, so at some point in high school I think, I started making myself go to the restroom promptly and furthermore, announce “I have to pee!” every time. (I’m almost 42, and I still do it: old habits…)
That’s a ridiculous story, but my point here is that whatever it is that you don’t want people to know, it’s not any different than peeing. Everyone has messy, smelly, wrinkled moments that they wish no one knew about, or that they try to keep secret so that no one will. Everyone wants to appear to be together all the time. No one wants anyone to know that they pee. So we all go around trying to keep these secrets, trying to always put our best face forward, and we are all believing each other’s facades while we are feeling awful about our own: there’s another way.
Just be your own Trainwreck! Some days you’re feeling pretty good, things seem to actually be going right, and you’re chugging along – this is great! Other days you experience a “minor derailment” – no problem, just smile, remember that you’re a Trainwreck, that we’re all Trainwrecks, ask for some help if you need it, and get back on your way. Sometimes there’s a massive wreck, full of impressive explosions and freight spilled everywhere along the tracks for miles. That’s ok too! It’s a mess, and it’s ugly, and it’s definitely inconvenient, but it’s real. So be honest about it: ask friends for help. Come up with a few simple sentences you can use in public – something like: I’m going through some tough stuff at the moment and I want to apologize that I’m a little distracted – and then move through your days as best you can until you get it all cleaned up.
That’s the beauty of acknowledging not only your Trainwreck, but the universalness of Trainwreckage: when you’re not trying to hide it, you can ask for help. But further, when it’s just a normal part of your understanding of what it is to be human, you also don’t have to make a huge deal about it. You don’t have to get worked up and panicked, you don’t have to try to pretend it isn’t happening, you don’t have to justify it by making it bigger than it is, you don’t have to make promises that it will never happen again. You’re a person. You’re allowed to have a wreck sometimes. That’s all there is to it!
Sound hard to accept? Let’s go back to the pee example: you’re just allowed to go pee. You don’t have to make the need more urgent than it is to justify your need to pee, you don’t have to promise that if you pee this once you’ll never have to pee again, you don’t have to pretend you don’t have to pee – just go pee! Peeing is a natural function of people. It turns out, Trainwreckage is also a natural function of people!
So, great. You’re wrecked. What do you do now? Here are some of my favorite ways to get myself moving again:
Ask for Help! Find a friend you trust and talk to them about Trainwreck Theory. Make some plans for supporting each other the next time you wreck, and to remind each other that hey, you’re a Trainwreck! It turns out that it’s such a ridiculous phrase, that being told by a caring friend that you’re a Trainwreck can insert a moment of humor into the situation. That’s generally just what you need to allow yourself to shift your perspective. Especially since you and your friend will have already discussed Trainwreckage, the phrase will have meaning and compassion along with humor. Once you feel your perspective start to shift, you can move on to figuring out what you need to get up and get going again – and believe it or not, every time you do that, recovering from wrecks gets easier!
Get outside! When we humans surround ourselves only with humans and things made by humans, we get really trapped in our games. When we go out into the rest of the world, when we listen to the trees and watch the squirrels and the birds, when we see plants growing (and also when we see them dying back) – in the observance of these things, we can understand what it is to be human. If we only ever compare ourselves to other humans, we get very wrapped up in artificial constructs. When we put ourselves back into connection with our context – the whole rest of the world! – we can understand who we are, and we can take the human games much less seriously.
Find an Elder! Elders have beautiful perspective on these kinds of things. If there is an elder in your life who you trust and respect, cultivate a practice of sharing your wrecks with them in humility. You may find that you can laugh together about them, and further more, they may have some very good advice for you!
Pema Chödrön is an amazing wise woman. She’s written many books, all of which can be helpful, but my favorite is When Things Fall Apart. If you’re feeling like Trainwreck Theory resonates with you but you don’t really have anyone you feel safe to talk about this stuff too, get this book! Read it! Give yourself 15 minutes at the beginning and end of each day to just read a page or two and think about it. You can call it meditation if you like 🙂
Have Some Tea! Just the act of making tea for yourself is a wonderful first step to getting yourself going again. It’s all about doing something to shift your perspective! There are plants who can help encourage that shift, as well – I particularly love Tulsi (Holy Basil, Ocimum sanctum) for this work: it’s my pick-yourself-up and dust-yourself-off herb of choice! Whether you are experiencing a minor derailment or an all out mulitple car pileup, Tulsi can help you get things moving again. You could add Linden (Tilia spp.) as well – I like to call Linden a “hug in a mug”. Together, these two herbs are just what you need: one to give you a hug, another to help you back up. There are more herbal suggestions in this post about feeling graceless!
Whatever you do, the most important thing to remember is that To Trainwreck Is Human: we all do it! Even That Person.
You can share your favorite Train Wreck moment, and your favorite strategies for getting through it, in the comments!
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