Welcome to Dear Life: An Unconventional Advice Column.
Your questions get sent to various authors from around the world to answer (and please keep sending because I have like 567 writers that want to answer your burning questions. Click here to submit a letter or email firstname.lastname@example.org.) Different writers offer their input when it comes to navigating through life’s messiness. We are “making messy okay.” Today’s letter is answered by my dear friend Suzy Vitello, whose latest book, The Empress Chronicles, just came out! Send us your questions because there loads of crazy authors waiting to answer ‘em. Just kidding, they aren’t crazy.
My mom died when I was 6 and my dad raised us. He did a great- okay, he did the best job, he could. I realize this has colored so much of my life- this loss.
I am a mother now of my own and I cannot imagine my kids being raised without me. But this letter really isn’t about that. (Or, maybe it is?)
My husband and I have recently split up.
I am struggling with the separation but ultimately know it is for the best. We haven’t been happy in a long time. My career on the other hand, is going swimmingly. I have just published my second book and started my own business a few years ago, which has really taken off!
The reason I am writing to you is I have recently had a few people who I have let into my private inner circle “copy” me. I let very few people in as it is. I am extremely private.
I do realize I sound like a child when I say that people copy me.
People say, “You should feel flattered.” But I don’t. I worked so hard to create the things I have created. I feel sort of betrayed by these friends. I know that no one can be me (at least this is what people tell me) but I feel angry and sad that people do this.
I know that this happens in life, and that the more successful we become it will KEEP happening.
Why do I feel threatened? How do I get over caring? Does it matter? I feel consumed. Dealing with a separation and raising my kids and now feeling like I have to fiercely protect what is mine.
Do I just not let people in? Do I become more guarded? (I have 2 books out in the world, so please keep this anonymous.)
I know that people imitate but I didn’t expect it to be friends.
I am worried that because I lost my mom I feel that things will always be taken away from me. I want to let this anger and fear go but I feel betrayed and frustrated and alone.
First off, congratulations for your accomplishments.
I hope that you’ve really, truly taken the time to linger in the “I’m fucking awesome” waters. Have you? Because many of us find that particularly hard. It’s like – okay, that was cool. What’s next?
Secondly, the narrative of your conundrum reveals that you’re not only self-aware, but you understand the connection between childhood abandonment and adult feelings of betrayal. Not to mention the muddy waters of parenting through a breakup.
How do I know this? Been there. Widowhood, then divorce, and finally, successful remarriage, all the while struggling with feelings of jealousy and a worry that I would always be “passed over” when it came to my goals as a writer. I’m no therapist, but I can share a couple of things I learned the hard way. Also, a somewhat stark reality: if you are a successful woman, along with the imitators, there will be haters. It sucks that our culture has not risen above this, but feminism is a work in progress.
Here’s something you might try. The next time one of your friends reproduces something you’ve introduced to her, go to the very endpoint of your fears. What might they be? That your friend will get fame and happiness and credit for something you inspired? That people may think that she was the creator and you were the imitator?
Now, look at the by-products of these fears. Could it be that you’re feeling insignificant because your lifeline to unconditional love (real or imagined) has been severed? Or maybe you worry that there is nobody to whom you truly belong. To whom your life matters beyond anyone else’s. The year after a break up is a particularly vulnerable time, as you’ve intuited – doesn’t matter whether you were the one left, or the one who did the leaving.
And what to do with the shame that those feelings produce? That’s often the question that leads to on-going suffering, isn’t it?
The hardest thing about nurturing true generosity of spirit is that being human thing. Our biology is geared for survival, and our egos are a part of that. Even if we don’t feel generous, we should practice it in that fake it ‘til you make it way because, I’m telling you, loving feels so much better than hating. Tell your copycat friend(s) that you admire her (their) take on your idea.
Find something unique about their “cover” and make a big deal about it. The more you celebrate the humanity behind imitation, the more compassion you’ll be able to muster, and the outcome will be diminished suffering. Swear.
So now I’m going to do something completely derivative, okay? Because I can’t think of a better way to express what I want to say than to offer the wise words of Thich Nhat Hanh: “We can practice to produce thoughts of compassion every day. Every compassionate thought bears your signature. It is your continuation.”
About Suzy Vitello: As a founding member of what the Oregonian has dubbed Portland’s “hottest writing group” (members include Chuck Palahniuk, Chelsea Cain, Lidia Yuknavitch, Monica Drake and Cheryl Strayed), Suzy’s name has graced the acknowledgement pages of many a book. THE MOMENT BEFORE is her debut novel. Suzy lives in Portland, Oregon with her husband, Kirk, and son, Carson, and teaches workshop and classes periodically. Find out more on suzyvitello.com.
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Please note: Advice given in Dear Life is not meant to take the place of therapy or any other professional advice. The opinions or views offered by columnists are not intended to treat or diagnose; nor are they meant to replace the treatment and care that you may be receiving from a licensed physician or mental health professional. Columnists acting on behalf of Dear Life are not responsible for the outcome or results of following their advice in any given situation.