If you're fat and fail every diet, if you're thin but can't get thin enough, if you lose your job, if your child dies, if you are diagnosed with cancer, if you always end up with exactly the wrong kind of person, if you always end up alone, if you can't get over the past, if your parents are insane and ruining your life, if you really and truly wish you were dead, if you feel like it's your destiny to be a star, if you believe life has a grudge against you, if you don't want to have sex with your spouse and don't know why, if you feel so ashamed, if you're lost in life. If you have ever wondered, How am I aupposed to survive this?
This is How.
|Publisher:||St. Martin's Press|
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About the Author
AUGUSTEN BURROUGHS is the number one New York Times bestselling author of A Wolf At The Table, Possible Side Effects, Magical Thinking, Dry, Running with Scissors, and Sellevision. He lives in Manhattan.
Augusten Burroughs is the author of Running with Scissors, Dry, Magical Thinking: True Stories, Possible Side Effects, A Wolf at the Table and You Better Not Cry. He is also the author of the novel Sellevision, which has been optioned for film. The film version of Running with Scissors, directed by Ryan Murphy and produced by Brad Pitt, was released in October 2006 and starred Joseph Cross, Brian Cox, Annette Bening (nominated for a Golden Globe for her role), Alec Baldwin and Evan Rachel Wood. Augusten's writing has appeared in numerous magazines and newspapers around the world including The New York Times and New York Magazine. In 2005 Entertainment Weekly named him one of "The 25 Funniest People in America." He resides in New York City and Western Massachusetts.
Read an Excerpt
How to Ride an Elevator
Several years ago when the relationship I assumed was both nearly perfect and my last turned out to be neither and ended car-off-cliff style, I experienced an unexpected and profound personal awakening.
This awakening arrived convincingly disguised as the most miserable and debilitating period of my life — a life that would now be trimmed short from the disease of ruination.
So complete was this state of psychological collapse, it even followed me into elevators.
As I stood in a hotel elevator one afternoon on my way back to my room, it stopped on that floor with all the conference rooms, where they keep the people with name tags.
One such person stepped into the lift, pushed the button for her floor, then took a step back and angled her body so that she was not quite facing me, but neither was she looking straight ahead at the seam where the doors meet, as common American Elevator Etiquette dictates.
Even out of the corner of my now suspicious eye I was able to register the "I'm a people person" body language such a stance suggested.
No sooner had I formed the silent thought, "God, a people person. She better not speak to —" I heard this: "It's not that bad."
I'd been scrupulously careful to keep my thought about her to myself; she had not done the same.
What's more, she'd spoken these words much louder and with more conviction than you would think necessary for a space roughly the size of four caskets standing on end.
"I'm sorry?" I said.
She was looking at me with an expression of incredulity mixed with boldness. The highlights in her spiky hair had a greenish cast in the unflattering elevator lighting and her lipstick provided her with an upper lip that I saw she did not actually possess.
"I said, it's not that bad," and she gave me that frank, eyebrows up, let's-be-real-here, look. "Whatever it is that happened, it can't possibly be as bad as it looks on your face. How 'bout trying on a smile for size. And if you're all out, I've got one you can borrow."
My first thought was, "It's leaking out of me? People can see it?"
My second thought was, "Die, bitch."
But I am much too polite to say something like that so I said, "I'll try."
Encouraged, she continued. "It'll lift your spirits. The first thing I do every morning is smile at myself in the mirror and say, 'You are a powerful, positive person and nothing can get you down today.'"
Thank God the elevator doors were already open and she was on her way out as she finished yammering at me, but just to be on the safe side I reached forward and began stabbing the Door Close button.
Now, I have an uncommonly high threshold for most any category of stimulation you can think of, but especially when it comes to being shocked, horrified, or enraged.
I was all of these things now. After a mere elevator ride that could not possibly have lasted longer than thirty-five seconds. Maybe forty seconds, if we passed through some sort of time-expanding warp.
Once in my room I had to think, what the hell just happened there? Why do I hate Lipstickmouth so much?
I am not a spiritual person, as I was in childhood. But occasionally, one event in my life will so quickly be followed by a second event that so perfectly replies to the first, it gives me pause and makes me wonder if I still have my St. Christopher medal somewhere.
Glancing down at my laptop, I noticed the following bold headline in my news feed:
SELF-HELP 'MAKES YOU FEEL WORSE.' Bridget Jones is not alone in turning to self-help mantras to boost her spirits, but a study warns they may have the opposite effect.
I immediately clicked on the link and was taken to the BBC's website, where I read the article.
Canadian researchers found those with low self-esteem actually felt worse after repeating positive statements about themselves.
They said phrases such as "I am a lovable person" only helped people with high self-esteem.
The study appeared in the journal Psychological Science. They found that, paradoxically, those with low self-esteem were in a better mood when they were allowed to have negative thoughts than when they were asked to focus exclusively on affirmative thoughts. Repeating positive self-statements may benefit certain people, such as individuals with high self-esteem, but backfire for the very people who need them the most.
No wonder I had found that woman so offensive. Sometimes things feel that bad.
Sometimes you just feel like shit.
Telling yourself you feel terrific and wearing a brave smile and refusing to give in to "negative thinking" is not only inaccurate — dishonest — but it can make you feel worse.
Which makes perfect sense. If you want to feel better, you need to pause and ask yourself, better than what?
Better than how you feel at this moment, perhaps.
But in order to feel better than you feel at this moment, you need to identify how you feel, exactly.
It's like this: if California represents your desire to "feel better," you won't be able to get there — no matter how many maps you have — unless you know where you are starting from.
Finally, trained researchers in white lab coats with clipboards and cages filled with monkeys had demonstrated in a proper clinical setting what I myself had learned several years earlier in a rehab setting: affirmations are bullshit.
Affirmations are dishonest. They are a form of self-betrayal based on bogus, side-of-the-cereal-box psychology.
The truth is, it is not going to help to stand in front of the mirror, look into your own eyes, and lie to yourself. Especially when you are the one person you are supposed to believe you can count on.
Affirmations are the psychological equivalent of sprinkling baby powder on top of the turd your puppy has left on the carpet. This does not result in a cleaner carpet. It coats the underlying issue with futility.
If affirmations were effective, a rape victim should be able to walk in her front door following the attack, go into the bathroom, and, with her silk blouse hanging in shredded strips from her collarbones, scratch marks bleeding on her breasts — one nipple missing — and her bangs pasted to her filthy forehead with dirt and dried semen, say to her reflection, "I am too strong and independent to be hurt by negativity. I feel unafraid and powerful. I am grateful for the opportunity I have had tonight to experience something new, learn a little more about myself, and triumph in the face of adversity," and then feel perfectly okay, maybe even a little bit rushy on those feel-good endorphins runners are always going on and on about.
When in fact, what does help the person who has been raped is to chew it up and then spit it the hell out. And by chew it up I mean talk about it, write about it, paint it, make a movie about it, and then be done with it and move on. Because here's the truth about rape: you do not have to be victimized by it forever. You can take this awful, bottomless horror the rapist has inflicted on you, and you can seize it and recycle it into something wonderful and helpful and useful. You can, in this way, transform what was "done" to you into something that was "given" to you in the form of brutally raw material. You can, in other words, accept this hideous thing and embrace it and take complete control of the experience and reshape it as you please. This is not to deny the experience and how devastating it is; it is to accept the experience on the deepest level as your own possession now. An experience that is now part of you. Instead of allowing it to be a tap that drains you, you can force it into duty in service to your creative or intellectual goals.
Many people do not want to admit to themselves or others when they are feeling distressed, anxious, insecure, lonely, or any of the other emotions people feel that exist uncomfortably outside the superupbeat umbrella. So it's chin up and sprinkle, sprinkle, sprinkle.
Should I have smiled when that woman stepped on to the elevator?
"Good afternoon. You must be here for a conference. I hope you're enjoying it."
"Good afternoon to you, too. And I am enjoying the conference very much. Always nice to be out of the office for a change of scenery."
"I hear you. Well, this is my floor. You have a terrific day."
"I will. You do the same."
Is that the scene as it ought to have played? Would an exchange of greasy, zero-calorie pleasantries improve the world?
Is the act of making an effort to remain positive and speak in familiar, nonthreatening clichés better, healthier for us, emotionally?
I don't think so.
Why couldn't that woman just speak the plain truth and say something like, "I don't know what's wrong, but I do know that I've looked into the mirror and seen your expression on my face. And I don't really have a point, I just wanted to say that."
Now, there's nothing nasty in what she said; she wasn't crazy or rude.
It's just that, there was nothing useful in what she said, either. No nutrition at all. Truthfulness itself is almost medicinal, even when it's served without advice or insight. Just hearing true words spoken out loud provides relief.
It's not that I wanted her to say something helpful; I hadn't needed her to say a word. What was offensive and kind of vile was that she obviously saw on my face a mood dark and powerful enough to warrant an intrusion.
She then proceeded to both express her disapproval of my mood and suggest I wear a mask that projected the opposite of how I felt.
It was just disappointing that dishonesty was her automatic response to my obvious unhappiness.
In our superpositive society, we have an unspoken zero-tolerance policy for negativity.
Beneath the catchall of negativity is basically everything that isn't superpositive.
Seriously, who among us is having a Great! day every day? Who feels Terrific, thanks! all the time?
Nobody, but everybody. Because this is how we say hello to one another.
"Hey, Karen. How are you?"
"Hi, Jim. I'm great, thanks!"
It doesn't matter if what we say isn't really the truth because they're not really asking how things are in our life and we're not really telling them.
Just like when somebody sneezes, we don't say "Bless you" because we're worried a demon may seize this open-mouthed, closed-eyed moment and take possession of the person; we say "Bless you" because that's the thing to say.
If you said to a person, "Hi, how are you?" and they told you they were very anxious because they suspected their teenage daughter might be sexually active and this was just not okay, you would probably feel extremely awkward, try to look concerned and empathetic, but also get away as soon as possible by explaining you were late for a meeting.
If you're at all like me, you would suspect the person had some sort of mental illness and from that moment on, you would do your best to avoid them.
Because they answered truthfully the question that you, yourself, asked them.
Please believe me when I tell you that I am not suggesting you suddenly start yammering on about all your problems next time somebody asks, "How's it going?"
I'm saying, wait. Look at this thing we all do without even thinking about it.
I'm also saying, look at this little lie we tell. Do you think there might be others we aren't even aware of?
I'll go ahead and tell you right now, yes, there are others. Some not so much lies as misunderstandings. Or inaccuracies.
In fact, you can be a very honest person and yet not be living a truthful life.
And not even realize it.
This matters because stripping away all the inaccuracies, misunderstandings, and untruths that surround you is exactly how you can overcome anything at all.
Truth is accuracy.
Without accuracy, you can't expect to manifest large, specific changes in your life.
It's not enough to believe something is true.
Knowing in your heart of hearts that the world is flat has absolutely no relationship to the actual shape of the planet, which will continue to spin on its spherical ass despite your belief in its flatness.
Because we only rarely have the opportunity to know the full truth about something, we have to try for as much accuracy as possible. Accuracy can be thought of as an incremental percentage of the truth.
Once again, by "truth" I don't mean "your truth" or "my truth" or some stretchy, pliable, and fully customizable definition of Truth that suits our ever-changing needs.
I mean only the in-your-face, ignore-at-your-peril, star-sapphire-bright, no-wonder-therapy-failed, singular, shackle-cracking, like-it-or-not, rock-bottom, buck-stopping, mind-reeling, complete-transformation factual truth that resides at the center of every one of your issues and dreams and roadblocks and tragedies and miracles.
This is not the truth you tell yourself in order to not rock the boat, or to smooth things over or keep everyone comfortable.
The truth is humbling, terrifying, and often exhilarating. It blows the doors off the hinges and fills the world with fresh air.
This is why your search for the solution to the problems, issues, and obstacles you're dealing with in your own life must begin with your mouth.
Specifically, the lies that come out of it.CHAPTER 2
How to Feel Like Shit
Wipe that fucking smile off your face.
Unless, of course, you didn't put it there. If it just happened, great. You can leave it be.
But if you did manufacture that smile to try to maintain a sunny, positive attitude, get rid of it. Put your bitter scowl back on.
And stop standing up so straight.
Instead of trying to alleviate some of the uncomfortable and unpleasant emotions you feel by "trying to be positive," try being negative instead.
You can stand in front of your affirmations mirror if that makes you feel better. But this time, name the actual feeling you feel and not the daisy wallpaper version.
Even if the sound of these feelings spoken out loud is so ugly to your ears. Even if it takes you a long time to find the words. These can be your new Rosemary's Baby Affirmations.
This will help you get in touch with how you actually feel.
"I feel hopeless and fat and stupid. And like a failure for feeling this way. And trying to be positive and upbeat makes me feel angry and feeling angry makes me feel like I am broken, like it works for everyone else."
If that's how you feel — however you feel — then you have a baseline, you have established a real solid floor of reference. Even if sometimes you feel more negative than you want to admit or more depressed or lonelier, it's important to observe your feelings instead of trying to manage them or turn away from them.
You can inspect these feelings, individually.
"So why does trying to be positive make me angry?"
You can investigate why you might feel a certain way. See if you can trace the feeling all the way back to the first time you felt it in this context. Anything you learn about your feelings and why you might feel them is potentially useful because you may end up recognizing what it is you need to change in order to actually start to feel better and not merely tell yourself that you feel fine.
Maybe you feel pressure to be positive because so many people rely on your good, fake-positive energy? If that's the case, screw everybody else. You're not a bottle of Valium.
You know, sometimes just giving yourself permission to feel any emotion without judgment or censorship can lessen the intensity of those negative emotions. Almost like you're letting them out into the backyard to run around and get rid of some of that energy. Optimism is pretty much an essential quality if you want to be a relatively happy, contented person. But a positive outlook can't be purchased through a few affirmations thrown against the mirror.
Optimism sprouts from the knowledge that you are in control of your own life, not your past and not those around you. Part of being in control is taking responsibility for how you feel. This means not just admitting to uncomfortable feelings but then examining your circumstances to see what can be done to change these feelings at the source.
Real optimism is not the pep talk you give yourself. It is earned through the labor involved in emotional housekeeping.
This means asking yourself questions like, are these negative feelings you're experiencing the result of something in your life right now? Or have they been simmering away in your cauldron of mental sickness for years and years?
Negative feelings and behaviors transform over time into compulsions and habits. In my experience, these kinds of feelings need to be broken, not resolved. They have become habits, long drained of their emotional power.
I was angry for many years with a friend, and at a certain point, this anger felt dusty to me. I was tired of looking at it, tired of having it inside me. I did little more than ask myself, "So wait, am I still holding on to all that anger? Really?"
The answer came in the form of a dry sadness, an old sadness. And a resignation. But there was no longer any anger. There was even some compassion.
All I had to do to reach this truth was to ask myself how I felt about the person, in real time, and then listen for the answer.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "This Is How"
Copyright © 2012 Augusten Inc..
Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
How to Ride an Elevator,
How to Feel Like Shit,
How to Find Love,
How to Be Fat,
How to Be Thin,
How to Feel Sorry for Yourself,
How to Be Confident,
How to Fail,
How to Get the Job,
How to Shatter Shame,
How to See the Truth Behind the Truth,
How to End Your Life,
How to Remain Unhealed,
Why Having It All Is Not,
How to Get Over Your Addiction to the Past,
How to Be a Good Mental Patient,
How to Make Yourself Uncomfortable (and Why You Should),
How to Finish Your Drink,
How to Hold on to Your Dream or Maybe Not,
How to Identify Love by Knowing What It's Not,
How to Live Unhappily Ever After,
How to Feel Less Regret,
How to Stop Being Afraid of Your Anger,
How to Be Sick,
How to Lose Someone You Love,
How to Let a Child Die,
How to Change the World by Yourself,
This Is Why,
Excerpt: ITL[Toil & Trouble]ITL,
About the Author,
Also by Augusten Burroughs,
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This is an amazingly simple, straightforward book. I plan to read it over and over again, and believe me, that's rare for me. In fact, I plan to buy hard copies and distribute to certain friends and family.
I hardly ever write reviews. This book is an exceptional gift to the world in the times we live in. If you are sick and tired of pop psychology and want the truth about your situation, this is the book for you. The author cuts through the b.s., with a machete. He literally reasons with you as to why all the conventional wisdom on these issues is completely wrong. I suspect he's done a lot of self investigation. If you are the slightest bit skeptical, I suggest you down load the free sample. You will know what he says is true on a spiritually intuitive level.
Augusten Burroughs has a trademark style of writing, which is funny and irreverent and on full display in this latest book.
I tried to enjoy this book but couldn't. It was missing the wit and humor I was used to from Burroughs.
Burroughs breaks free from the typical self-help genre and with true grit writes off the edge of the page pulling the reader with him. He takes the reader to the interior of the soul and teaches us how to not only survive life's tragedies rather how to remain in the present, connected, while finding beauty, even if only a glimpse, inside the deepest pain and darkness people will face. He offers navagational tools and a mirror which reflects truth in its raw form. Augusten Burroughs writes as a maestro, playing his symphony of words.
This book made me laugh and cry and seriously stop to think about certains things that I and other people do on a regular basis without even knowing what we're doing. There's a chapter in here for everyone!
No, I really do. The paper they're printed on would be better used for bird-cage liners, or shredded for mulch. Psycho-babble, clap-trap, "I'm OK, You're OK" -- good grief, if we're all OK why are we reading these? This book, however -- no sugar-coating, no garbage. Just full, brutal honesty. From ending your life without committing suicide, to becoming "thin," to dealing with the death of a loved one -- you'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll feel the sting of a wake-up slap across the face. Burroughs is not here to comfort you. He's here to show you how to reach deep inside for those nuggets of truth that you've so carefully wrapped in camouflage and hidden away. Because, as he says, truth is a force. Hiding it is like standing in front of an on-coming tornado and saying "I don't believe in tornadoes;" that's not going to stop the wind from blowing you away. Get this book. Really.
Gives you a differamt take on reality . Inprtational
One of the best books I have ever read.