Attachment, Vanity, and Other Word Poison
A path to cleanse ourselves of the weight we put inside of our own poisonous words (Lifestyle Essay)
Words are a meditation that I seek out daily. And often, I find myself attaching a respective weight to most words. I learn what I need to improve on through the exploration of these words and their heaviness. We each can feel their distinctive mass in different areas: love, kill, loathe, mourn, and hunger all texturing their own unique identity over our bodies. You can feel a word in your gut, your head, or your heart. And I’ve surfaced two recently that I find congregate in the same area, with a clogged thickness and a burdened force: right in the middle of my chest. Attachment and vanity make up their names. And through even more words that can be found inside this article, I’ve chosen fragment by fragment, to let them go.
Your words, terms, and vices might be different than mine. Perhaps more specific: Alcohol, gossip, or social media. Maybe our words share an essence. Even if they don’t, I hope you can find peace in the process of this essay and apply it to your own body and the weighted locution you’re carrying. I’ll start with mine:
The Weight Of Attachment
In my world, attachment is the most important word I’ve been able to identify. It is the blanket statement that has historically pinpointed the root of most unhappiness and dissatisfaction I’ve experienced to date. What’s tricky about attachment is that it’s stuck inside me like broken glass. Fragment by fragment, I work to remove the weight of it in my life with acute precision, as if I’m in a game of Operation. Many words are this way, but I find the vice named attachment can be stuck deep in my being between the hard-to-reach nooks of my identity.
Attachment (as defined in my own life) is any judgment I make about my identity through the eyes of another human. Traditionally, this is not Webster’s correct definition of attachment. But, it is mine. To me, attachment in our human bodies always lies in the supposed-to-be of our world. Attachment to a job you don’t hate, but that you dislike because you’re supposed to be working in the industry your family is in. Attachment to an old partner because you’d loved them over a long course of time that’s supposed to be an indication of who you end up with. Attachment to a way of life that you’ve always been told is supposed to make you happy over time. The supposed-to-be’s came to us early and in lists:
You are supposed to graduate from a specific college with a degree
You are supposed to have a family and kids by age XYZ
You are supposed to work the same career jobs until age X so you can retire at age Y and die at age Z
There is nothing wrong with your desired life aligning to the way things are supposed to be. But I find that for myself, I can develop unhealthy attachments to all of the predisposed ideas about what my life should be. If you’re reading this article today, you know that I am a writer. It’s my truest and purest form of identity. If I had to write my profession on a card, I would put the word: writer. Although, I’m also a technology consultant. I have done well within the tech industry and have made a respectable reputation with the people I’ve met in this area of my life. Because of this, I used to fight with someone (who you’ve already been introduced to in section two of another article) who would often tell me that writing is my hobby and tech is my profession. Monetarily, this statement would appear to be consistently true. But, for my own identity, it blew my self-esteem. When I bought into this and attached myself to this person who fed me these statements, I started exhausting myself with extra and unnecessary work that yielded little to no reward within consulting. I stopped making writing a priority and put every egg I have in the corporate basket. I held hands with the idea of what my life was supposed to be according to someone else, someone who I thought was very smart and important at the time. My quality of tech work suffered and I made no steps forward in my writing career.
When that time in my life ended, I learned to detach from that idea. I had to undergo countless self-help books and ego deaths to resonate and honor myself in the idea that I am a writer. First. This looked like a lot of things: waking up at five in the morning to make time to do what I love before I even started working, spending money on conferences, missing people’s birthday parties to attend workshops, and even justifying the idea that my work deserves an increasing audience. Surprisingly, when I started doing this, my quality of work in tech actually skyrocketed. I felt more fulfilled and could put more energy toward the tasks I faced at work. My coworkers and bosses appreciated my milestones within the writing industry as well. An idea that I thought was impossible because…isn’t work supposed to be at competition with your passions?
My writing visibility started taking off within bookstores, magazines, and articles that came out of virtually nowhere. Literally, the day after this person, to who I had attached my identity, was gone. In this detachment process, I learned a lot of other things I wanted to rid myself of. I stopped pursuing the friend groups I had always been in and stopped hanging out with who I was supposed to because the interactions felt empty. I stopped feeling the need to live in a city I was supposed to be in. I stopped involving myself in any activities that were drinking-centered because it didn’t make me feel like my time was being spent how I wanted it to be. Because supposed-to-be was detaching from my brain.
Attachment is a word that roots in us through trunks of fear. We’re afraid to be lonely, judged, or forgotten. It’s a word that can keep us living in versions of our lives that we don’t want to remain glued to because we’re too afraid of the temporary discomfort that takes place when we un-stick ourselves to stand on our own, in our own unsupported ideas. And yet, picking out the mosaic pieces of ourselves in an operation to shed the weight of our attachments is the single way to become free.
The Release Of Attachment
I haven’t mastered it yet, and I have a feeling I’ll be working toward it for many more years. Regardless, in the nine months that I’ve been actively picking out my attachment pieces, here’s a checklist of where I’ve made progress:
I stopped holding the idea I need an idealized number of friends in my life
Three friends, four friends, ten friends: whatever the number I don’t care. I invest energy where it feels pure. I don’t need a large group to go shopping with when my closest connections are busy. I only keep my energy where it is cherished.
I ceased the idea that I have to pedestal my time toward activities I do not enjoy in order to sustain the above friendships
If social outings are the glue holding us together, it is likely a relationship I do not want. I want to be surrounded by with people who I have fun making art, cooking, going to breakfast, and hiking with foremost. That’s where my deep connection is. Social outings are no longer my priority when building relationships (Which doesn’t mean they don’t happen).
I stopped downplaying the accomplishments I’m proud of to be more palatable to the person asking about them
I decided what I wanted to be known for and started showing up as that
Particularly with social media. I hate sharing my personal life online. So I stopped. And now I share my writing and art life online - which is where my true identity is.
I stopped trying to consistently make sure everyone online knows I’m still pretty
I really love my looks. And I don’t need to externally validate that anymore online. I can post myself if I want to, but I know that I don’t need to. And that feels like a great relief.
When something feels right to me, I do it. I know my real friends and family will understand and support me even when it doesn’t align with their ideas of me
The Weight Of Vanity
I hate the word vanity. The image the word vanity shows me looks similar to a thousand pane mirror maze. Each frame of glass distorts my view of myself and I spend hours obsessing over the imperfections in each pane of my bent reflection, rather than just getting the hell out of the maze.
Vanity (as defined in my own life) is the idea that I need to be seen for only my polished qualities and that there is no room for admittance of where I fall short.
For a long, long time vanity was attached to my identity. And where is my core identity? Writing. I wanted to be known as the best of the best from square one. In my first year, I would never admit that I had a bumpy start, even when it could’ve helped me. When I was rejected, I blamed external factors and refused to tell even my most trusted confidants what was going on behind the scenes. I was dishonest with myself about the validity of my shortcomings. I refused to even tell my following that writing was not my only source of income. I thought shielding this would make me a more credible source. (Which I now know the opposite to be true)
Vanity didn’t stop at writing, whatsoever. It also poured into my appearance. I’d post a photo and make sure that I looked perfect even on my worst mental health days. When I was a Sophomore and Junior in college, I even whitened my own teeth in my pictures on an outside app before I would post them. My teeth were literally fine. They were a good shade of white without editing. But at that time, I felt that even my own beauty was a competition. And not looking perfectly aligned with an idealized beauty standard would’ve sent my whole world crashing. I was so insecure, all of the time. And it was absolutely miserable.
I’ve started my way out of the mirror maze. And occasionally I still get stuck in a distorted reflection. But day in and out, I’ve detached from the word vanity’s weight in my life. Here’s how:
The Release of Vanity
Something I love about people is their quirkiness. I love that my best friend, Rahmin, will be the first person to take care of you but also the last person to respond to your texts. I love that my friend Ashley is such a perfectionist, but her best art is painted when totally unplanned. And I’ve learned to love discovering these things about people. The people whom I deeply love are the people whom I’ve deeply met. I’ve gotten to see all parts. Good, bad, worst. And so I’ve been working to re-center my life on meeting myself a little deeper every day rather than presenting a little more polished, posed, and collected.
Realizing that gave me a lot more confidence in my own totality rather than just the pretty parts we’re striving to be known for. For example, the writing I do for myself straight-up sucks. A second-grader could write my journal under the table. I honestly like that it sucks. I write in a journal things like: “I’m feeling really hungry, I need to buy toothpaste, and the weather today kind of reminds me of my favorite book. I came up with a cool idea for a T-Shirt.” Writing junk is a new thing that I’ve learned to love. It’s helped me tap into my own creative process without the idea that I need to show up, even for myself, as the best. I’ve started painting too, even though I’m not as good as my friends - I’ve stopped feeling like I need to be. Something that vanity would tell us is a lie. I don’t have to always be “great.” I don’t even need to be good at everything I showcase. I just need to be honest and meet myself more deeply when I try something. Because the deeper you meet yourself, the less room there is for vanity. And when vanity is gone, we can shed the shell of who we’re supposed to be and give ourselves the gift of simply being.
"Perfectionism is a self-destructive and addictive belief system that fuels this primary thought: If I look perfect and do everything perfectly, I can avoid or minimize the painful feelings of blame, judgment, and shame." - Brene Brown
A few things I’ve done to help rid myself of vanity-thinking:
If I’m aware there is gossiping going on, I began to remove myself from the conversation
This can be subconsciously hard, but I deem it the best thing I’ve ever done for my own self-esteem. If you stop speculating and judging others all the time, you’re probably going to stop doing it to yourself too.
I clean my room, go to the gym, practice meditation, nurture my body, and I love myself very, very deeply
When you can present the best version of yourself to yourself: physically, mentally, and spiritually: you stop caring who else is in the audience.
I don’t force myself to be presentable when things are going wrong
I let myself have the bubble bath, the cry session, or the Saturday in bed when I need it. I don’t have to be perfect. I just have to know I’m there for myself to get through it. There’s no room for vanity in that equation.
I’ve grown comfortable with people not liking me: as long as my intentions remain pure
Something that has changed my life and my fear of how I present myself is the following question: Were intentions been pure behind my actions? If the answer is yes, I don’t sit with opposition, negative speech, or loss of a friendship/relationship/follower for another moment. My intentions were pure and if I can say that, I can move forward. My esteem doesn’t deserve the hit. I don’t need to double down to prove anything to anyone.
Today we have talked about my weighted words. The ones I’m releasing into the world as vices and the ones that back this article as a healing regime during that process. Whatever your words might be, it is my wish for you that you sit with them long enough to find out where their fragments might’ve fallen in your body. And piece by piece, you remove them. In this game of Operation, we learn who we really are. And it’s not a string of words. It’s a raw state of being that no singular term could ever define: A visual mosaic of taking ourselves apart to come together again in the name of self-discovery.
Thanks for reading today. I really appreciate you being here.
PS: Here’s some of that art I was talking about :)