I just finished reading this self-help book, which I normally wouldn’t have done, but it’s by Augusten Burroughs, so I gave it a shot. It’s called This Is How: Proven Aid in Overcoming Shyness, Molestation, Fatness, Spinsterhood, Grief, Disease, Lushery, Decrepitude & More. For Young and Old Alike, and I guess I was expecting it would only be half-serious, or not a self-help book at all, but, surprise! It is a sincere, straight-up book of advice, as if spoken to you by a know-it-all formerly-drunk uncle who has been through several cycles of Life’s Wringers and really wants to tell you The Truth.
And I like some parts better than others. But the little diamonds in the dog shit (and he claims to be a master at finding them) make the rest worth it. Certain ideas resonate like a punch in the throat. One second I’m reading along, thinking, “this guy’s kind of a pompous ass,” and the next I’m tearing up. Like at the anecdote about the mother whose son (named Sean) drank himself to death alone in a room. Jeez. But that chapter is about regret, and letting go of it. Letting go of it by recognizing that “nothing worth having comes easy.” Simple stuff. But what grows you up? What makes you compassionate and empathetic? What makes you wise? Looking back, what events changed the course of your life, leading to the person you’ve become, in the life you’re leading today? It’s the times you’ve been left. The times you fucked up. The times you got hurt. Right? You got marinated and tenderized so you’d be more delicious for what was coming next. How about that metaphor? So, now I will type for you. (Ellipses are by me, to indicate parts left out. He’s not that annoying.)
Consider the bounty of your dead. All the people you have lost in your life have taught you what value is. They taught you how rare it is to breathe, how unbearably beautiful and sacred it is to feel an ache in the center of your heart…
Recalculate all the wrongs that have been done to you and examine the benefits that happened as a result of them. Be grateful for the bad things that happened and were in some way responsible for the good things that followed….
Telling yourself you’re thankful…is not the same as being thankful. It’s not the same as feeling that although betrayal hurts in the rudest, most brutal way, it does leave behind some highly valuable knowledge in the form of experience. Because each betrayal is studied by your instincts. And human instinct is ancient and reliable, utterly mysterious and possibly capable of great genius. I believe that refined, fluent instincts are a person’s most valuable asset. My own instincts have repeatedly guided me against the grain of logic and probability. When I have trusted and followed their direction, they have never been wrong. I don’t know how or why. But I know that every significant experience — positive or negative — sharpens them and makes them more accurate.
Only by embracing all you regret and not denying it, only by placing the highest value on what you’ve gained because of all you’ve lost, does regret lose the ability to cripple you.
The more rage you contain, the harder you need to work physically. And by ‘work’ I do not mean ’emotional work’ as in therapy; I mean work as in housework, lawn work. Bench presses at the gym, gymnastics, a trapeze class. Smart people sometimes feel they are ‘of the mind’ and not of the body, so they pay perhaps less attention to this area of their lives. But even Einstein was a sack of meat.
Rage is associated with a low serotonin level. Exercise cranks up the levels of this neurotransmitter. The effect is soothing…
…get to know its source, and then get it on with. Because tracing an emotion to its root cause doesn’t mean you then go and mentally move back into the past and live with it.
Also, you have to try to be nice enough for somebody to like you enough to be willing to rub your back.
Pissed off people need back rubs and they also need gym memberships.
— Augusten Burroughs, from This Is How