Winning the war of attrition inside your own head.
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Left to their own devices, my dreams were often quite grim as a young boy. The arduous waves of false turmoil were enough to regularly shake my slumber and leave me gasping for breath, which as a youngster, had me wondering if alternatives to sleep existed. A necessary evil, my mother’s announcement of “bedtime” was enough to nosedive any enjoyable feeling I experienced all the way to unforgiving depths of my psyche.
Fed up with this alternate reality, I aimed to hack the night terrors by creating a pleasant experience in my head before I slipped into reverie. The gap between my mother tucking me in and my eyes sealing shut for the night became both a sacred and advantageous period for me.
My mental imagery was a combination of grandiose, extrinsic matters and simplistic, yet painstakingly elusive feelings.
In my vision — the same one I replicated in my mind ad nauseam for years — I created a guest house for myself in my family’s backyard. Inside its confines were some of the hallmarks of what any adolescent child would and could imagine: a movie theater-esque projector screen covering the wall, a video game nook, a basketball court capable of transforming into a hockey rink at the push of a button (still waiting for you guys to churn that one out, Amazon), and an indoor swimming pool with a water slide spanning three times the height of my childhood home.
I hated going to bed, but in this hallucination, I found the sense of joy and calm that had always evaded me. And beyond the glimmering boy cave itself, these lucid dreams were the manifestation of three elements of life I was never able to make synonymous: peace, quiet, and solitude.
For me, peace didn’t correlate with quiet, solitude never meant peace, and quiet never resulted from being alone. No matter how entrenched I was in silence, there was always noise.
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Like many of you, I talk to myself all day, every day. Regardless of whether the discussion is relevant to what’s happening or not, the conversation inside my head continues without a hiccup.
Anything I look at, there’s a description said to myself. Anyone I acknowledge, an opinion formed. And anything I’m feeling, language is quickly placed around the sensation to (attempt to) make sense of it.
Even if I close my eyes, a conversation follows shortly after about why I’m closing my eyes, what the purpose of it is, how I’m feeling, what I’m missing out on, what I have to do when I open them, and so on.
Unfortunately for me, I grew up allowing this internal dialogue to set the table for my entire experience of life. And even unluckier for me, the interchange wasn’t all that pleasant.
Given I already told you how peace and quiet always eluded me, it’s no mystery when I say the inner exchanges I experienced were, quite frankly, hellish.
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The commentary was more like lighter fluid to my already raging fire of unwelcome emotions. The verbal abuse grew exponentially over time, no matter how minuscule the stakes, highlighted here with an example of something as simple as walking across the street:
“Why are you moving your arms like that? Who are you trying to impress? You look like an idiot. Move this way. No, that’s not right. Why did you pick these clothes out this morning? Honestly, it doesn’t matter what you wear. Everyone knows you’re full of shit and insecure. I don’t see why you can’t just be normal, damnit. Everyone else somehow manages, yet you can’t seem to get it together. You just have to make a federal case of awkwardness out of everything you do. Why can’t you just be fucking NORMAL?!”
Try that 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Not only did I not want to go to sleep at night, I hardly wanted to get up in the morning.
The backbiting comments and scathing criticisms slowly debilitated my confidence, enthusiasm, and eventually, willpower. These attributes were especially easy to part with when I succumbed to the belief that no matter what I tried, I couldn’t turn the volume down on this dreadful oration — the dialogue would continue no matter what.
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Here’s the part where I went horribly wrong: I identified with this inner conversation as if it were me talking — like a distinguished voice of reason coming from my soul. I listened to every word this voice uttered and labeled every bit of it as truth, which often kept me from speaking up, trying new things, and simply allowing myself to be happy instead of nervous or on guard.
But this cynical bastard wasn’t actually me, was it? I know in my heart I’m not that negative. I mean, sure, I go toe-to-toe with self-deprecation every so often and occasionally fall victim to spell of hypocrisy, but generally speaking, I have far more love inside me than I do criticism.
It was at that point I realized I had fallen victim to a serious bout of decision fatigue, and couldn’t possibly continue paying attention to every little thing this inner voice would emit.
I also realized that if I’m the one noticing the voice, then the voice couldn’t possibly be me. After all, I — or at least my understanding of I — cannot be two places at once.
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I finally got that I had an inner roommate. A term coined from Michael A. Singer’s bestseller The Untethered Soul, this cranky son-of-a-bitch had taken up residence in my head and was hellbent on shaping my decisions to reflect a safer, more reserved outcome in my external reality. And looking at it objectively, how could I blame this guy? I had stayed alive listening to him up to this point, so it’s obvious what he was chattering wasn’t all that counterproductive.
I did have a heart, however — one conspicuously absent from much of decision-making over the years. My heart, though it rarely got the call, was responsible for the most beautiful and breathtaking moments of my life. It had proven itself every time it was called to the plate, and for whatever reason, I was simply wasn’t giving it enough playing time.
Though my inner roommate was the one hogging the plate, I was the one sending him up to bat in the first place. I had forgotten I was the game manager, the shot-caller, and the absolute final say, regardless of how much shit came out of his mouth.
Negotiating with this asshole was a fool’s errand, and it was time I stop allowing him to have such influence over me. He can chirp all he wants but as long as I continue sitting in the director’s chair where I belong, the more his bullshit will be seen for what it is — an annoying, erratic, fumbling summary of all my fears (which I already know and don’t need to have recounted every second of the day).
To perpetuate the baseball analogies, my inner roommate gets on base. My heart hits the home runs.
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Left to their own devices, my dreams are often quite pleasant as a young man. I often repeat my vivid vision of the indoor ice rink and elaborate gaming temple not because I actually desire those things, but to subconsciously allow the little boy who conjured up those ideals in first place to experience the peace I’m lucky enough to go to sleep with these days — knowing it can be taken away at a moment’s notice.
My inner roommate preyed on his impressionable naivety, but all is not lost. That little boy has taken up residence inside my heart, far more humane quarters than that of the mind. Here, the boy is treated with love, compassion and benevolence. There is no argumentative roommate. He is only accompanied by the dear people, place and things I have been so fortunate to encounter throughout my life’s odyssey.
As for my inner roommate? He’s still talking shit — actually has been the entire time I’ve spent writing this piece. Except he’s been relegated to solitary confinement, and I merely peer at him through the figurative glass from time to time. Watching him argue with himself as if he were deliberately avoiding resolution. The conversation simply continues. Just as it always will.
In the meantime, I’ve promoted my heart to captain of the ship — to lead my quest throughout life’s obscurities. Unlike my inner roommate, I’m not forced into exasperating, repetitive decision-making.
I can simply live life, taking it all in at a comfortable pace.
Fast enough to excite me, yet slow enough to appreciate.
The little boy especially appreciates it now.
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