The Importance of Not This

I’ve written to you before and I am confident I will write to you again about society’s impact on our lives. My own lived experience, professional research, and the work of others have brought me to one conclusion; society has an agenda that has very little if anything to do with us as individuals. As a woman, I’ve expressed the oppression I have felt as a woman to be small, polite, obedient, submissive, quiet, and filled with servitude (Brave Not Perfect).  It was almost two years ago I wrote “Too Strong for Who” and the words in that blog are still true today.

As the years have gone by, I’ve been able to stand back and look beyond my own gender, race, and socio-economic status. I know my privilege and restrictions as a white, middle-class, woman.  I will say loudly and clearly that I do not understand the experience of others because I have not lived their lives. However, in stepping backward I am able to see if society has its preference we all have a submissive, suffocating role to fill. In the creation of capitalism and the nuclear family the roles society has for us were created far before our inception.

Bucking the Standards

Why am I writing this to you? You might be thinking I have a baseball bat (or ax like at my trash the dress party) against modern life. I don’t, but I have some real problems with how we are living. I also don’t have a single loved one who has not encountered serious problems in their life because of societal standards. We are living in a society where profit and image are held above our humanity yet our humanity is pleading to be heard.

Prior to the pandemic, alongside almost everyone else, my friends and I were buzzing around “fine.” We were following all the latest trends for raising children, running those children everywhere they needed to be, keeping our weight down, complaining about when we couldn’t keep our weight down, doing 99.9% of all domestic work in our homes, some of us were working, some of us weren’t and didn’t have access to financial freedom, and the list goes on and on. Yet during this time after dozens of playdates, morning coffees, and afternoon margaritas not one of us said, “You know what, this shit is crazy, who the hell made the rules of this game, and how do we quit?” Instead, we took the badge of motherhood and being a wife with honor and buzzed right alongside the beehive.

In the aftermath of the pandemic, I have spent many nights with friends cozying up with a glass of wine listening to story after story of “not this.” As we sit and honor each other during these talks I sit with the dichotomy of deep regret and gratitude that it took an international pandemic to unearth our way of life.

Grow and Learn Together

I have always been a child who learns the hard way. I poured bacon grease over my hand once just to prove to my mother that I can stabilize the jar while pouring out the hot oil. You cannot in fact do this safely. The lessons that came from the pandemic to my friends and I felt very similar. Like a lesson we could have learned from each other painlessly. The difference was that we did not have a wise mother telling us what was safe, good, and right for us. Instead, we had a world telling us exactly the box we needed to fit into in order to find our happiness. No wonder we got burned.

The pandemic itself became unearthing for better or for worse. Keeping up our lives as they were before was not sustainable. In hindsight they would have probably crashed at some point we would have all just had to have reached our own trauma limit instead of collective trauma. In a way, the pandemic brought a gift, the gift of, “not this.” The “not this” looks different for each of my friends that I cozy up next to, but the words bring the same truth; I am not fully myself and I want above all else to be gloriously human.

In their stories, my friends share loneliness, burnout, desire, crumbling perfectionism, toxic relationships, mental health breaks, and the list goes on and on. Yet this time instead of pushing our strollers while we pushed our feelings down we’ve been able to say to each other, “I don’t want this anymore.” I am honored each and every time a friend shares their truth with me. While our experiences vary, our struggles are almost always the same. I’m suffocating in this life, I need to breathe and just like the Little Mermaid, I want more. Unlike the Little Mermaid, the more is not a prince charming.

In these conversations, my friends don’t know what is next. I sure as shit did not know what was next two years ago this time. I’m still not quite sure. That part is OK. The profound impact of “not this” is the first step towards integrity towards ourselves. There is too much to shed, too much to unpack, and to learn about ourselves, to truly know what it is we want. How could we, with all the noise of the world?

As I’ve watched my beautifully vulnerable friends come to the realization that they want more out of their lives I’ve seen each of them bravely stand up for themselves. The standing is always the same. “Not this.” Each friend is flush with joy they have come to these words and full of rage about what has brought them here. Perfect, they are absolutely perfect. Through their powerful words and willingness to be open to the unknown, they are walking themselves back to their humanity.

I’m grateful to be walking beside them loudly declaring, “not this,” well before I softly fold into myself and say, “ah, yes, this.”

Jessie Cooper

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