Up until the other day, I hated Valentine’s Day.
I used to be sort of indifferent about it. You know what day I really love? February 15th. Discounted candy, anyone?
But for real, my husband Chris and I never really celebrated. We could go out to dinner or buy each other shit on any day of the year, with a lot less hassle.
And I don’t claim to be an expert on relationships, but I’m of the mind that if you only do that shit for each other one day a year, you’re probably doing something wrong.
Anyway, on February 14, 2013, I got really into Valentine’s Day. Chris had gotten back from Afghanistan the previous March (that’s a whole other story for a different day), and I just wanted to do something normal. Without delving too much into military life and living with a combat veteran, I’ll just tell you that our lives had really changed from what they were pre-deployment, and I just wanted to feel like a regular person who worried about regular things. So, I cleaned the house and ran all over town getting a tan and buying Chris something (I don’t even remember what it was), and getting dolled up and making plans and getting excited that he’d gotten me a rose and a heart-shaped balloon.
In the midst of all that running around, my father called me that afternoon. As was customary, my parents always called me on Valentine’s Day to tell me how much they loved me, which, at the time, I thought was weird. It’s crazy how we can take such things for granted.
Anyway, he called me to wish me a Happy Valentine’s Day. I told him how swamped I was and I’d been running around all day. I remember it was a Thursday. I remember standing over the sink with my phone wedged between my shoulder and ear while I washed dishes. Our conversation couldn’t have been more than five minutes. I told him I had to get going so I could get everything done before Chris got home from work. I told him I’d call him the next day. I told him I loved him and he told me he loved me. I never did call him the next day, and on Saturday, February 16th, I got the call that Dad had passed away.
And because of all of that and because losing a Dad who was only 44 years old is a real bitch, I hated Valentine’s Day. I hated that I got wrapped up in all the hearts and flowers garbage and that it made me cut our last conversation short. So, I’ve spent the last four Valentine’s Days seething and rolling my eyes at people who got into it. Because if they only knew my secret and very special pain, they’d feel differently.
Blah fucking blah. Cue the sad violin.
I was talking about this with my friend and gym mom Linda in the parking lot outside the gym the other day, and she just looked at me like I was an idiot and told me that it was a stupid reason to hate Valentine’s Day. I was a lucky girl who had a Dad that wanted to make sure that I knew how much he loved me. And let’s be real; he was drunk during most of our conversations, and they always had about a 50/50 shot of going south. Our short call ending in an “I love you” could have just as easily been him hanging up on me or bitching at me or me hanging up on him.
That’s what happens when you think you and your problems are special.
I’ve really been trying to connect the dots on this idea. I tear through personal development books like Matt Damon in Good Will Hunting. Mark Manson probably did the best job of talking about it in The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck. So, I’d already begun wrapping my mind around the idea that a lot of our pain and anguish and worry stems from this notion that our problems are somehow special or unique. For me, it got worse because I retreat when something shitty happens. And I will tell you from experience; isolation is the goddamn fertilizer that makes the delusion of uniqueness and the “woe is me” attitude grow.
Personally, I blame my parents for telling me I was the smartest and the prettiest and the funniest (well, that part they were right about), and that shitty song I remember singing in school, you know the one:
Because you’re special, special
Everyone is special
Everyone in his or her own wayyyyyyy!!!
And participation awards. It’s probably a little their fault too.
The truth is, common sense would dictate that if we’re all special, then NONE OF US ARE SPECIAL. We can’t all be fucking special. If you want to feel special, go get your fingerprints done.
So, I already kind of knew this but I didn’t really grasp it until I started going to AA meetings (again, a whole other story).
I’ve felt my fair share of shame in my life, but hitting a point so low that I felt like I needed to go to meetings took the cake. I don’t really believe in rock bottom, but I knew I didn’t want to see what was beneath the incident that scared me straight…straight through the doors of an Alcoholics Anonymous Meeting. During my second meeting, the group leader called on me and even though I wasn’t going to share, I still had to utter the words, “Hi. I’m Alicia and I’m an Alcoholic. I’ll pass.” Shame. I felt nothing but shame.
Funny thing, though; the longer I attended meetings, the more I realized that I was not alone. During my first share, I only shared, “Hi. I’m Alicia and I’m an alcoholic and I fucking hate that I’m here. Thank you.” Two strangers hugged me. One chick who was sobbing and way worse off than I was started thanking me for my words.
The more I listened to their stories, the more I realized that I was not special and neither was my problem. I shared my low point with other members and they just kind of looked at me like, “That’s cute. Now let me tell you about some real dark shit.” And while I still don’t love the idea that my life has come to this, I can say that the shame and sense of loneliness disappears a little each day.
You know what? I’ll bet that’s why they all call each other when they want to drink. It’s almost like you’re more inclined to do stupid or self-destructive shit when you’re feeling alone and isolated. It’s almost like their shared bullshit is what bonds them to each other. That’s some groundbreaking shit right there. Mind BLOWN.
I’m not special; that’s probably one of the most comforting life realizations I’ve had in a long time. Nothing snaps shit right into perspective like talking with someone else and hearing, “Yeah. Been there.”
I sometimes wonder how Dad’s life would have been different had he known this.
I’m not the first person to have a drinking problem. I’m not the first person to lose her dad. He wasn’t the only person to ever die young. I’m not the first person to hate Valentine’s Day. My husband isn’t the only guy to come back from war with PTSD. My bank account isn’t the only one to have a pitiful balance. And I sure as shit am not the only person sitting on a shitload of student debt wondering, “Why the fuck am I not more successful and how the fuck am I supposed to pay this shit back?”
All those people that I envy or put on a pedestal have problems just like the rest of us. They’re not fucking special either. I’m not the only one with problems and neither are you. Your shit stinks just like everyone else’s.
How comforting is that?
No matter how much your life starts resembling a dumpster fire, there’s always someone in the same boat. And they’ve survived; you can too. And once you realize this, it’s sort of impossible to feel alone.
As I stood in the parking lot, listening to Linda tell me what’s what and that I’m one lucky chick to have had that phone call as my last conversation with my Dad, I realized that she too has her shit. My other friends do too. My friends with kids and the nice cars probably don’t remember the last time they took a shit alone. My AA friends probably all showed up to their first meeting hating themselves.
All I can do is keep going. Keep moving. Keep trying to live my best life. And be thankful for the shit I do have, you know, like a kickass final memory of my Dad on Valentine’s Day.
There’s nothing life can throw at you that it hasn’t already thrown at someone else. And in that regard, my dears, you are NOT ALONE. Quite the contrary, actually. We are very much together in our shared pains in the ass. You’re gonna be okay.
You’re not special, just like the rest of us. Baggage buddies for life.
So, the next time you feel like isolating or wallowing or complaining, try asking someone else how they’re doing. You’ll both feel better.
Happy Valentine’s Day, you hot fucking messes.