As I write this with a clear and happy head at 6AM on January 1, 2020, I am struck by the remarkable things I have accomplished over the last couple of years.
I lost sixty-five pounds adopting an Ancestral/Keto lifestyle.
I quit drinking alcohol.
I restarted my Bikram practice after a twenty-year hiatus.
I broke a nicotine gum/vaping addiction after fifteen years.
I stopped biting my nails, a shame-inducing habit I’d had since I was a toddler.
I chose digital minimalism and significantly reduced my screen time.
I cooked at least 700 meals from scratch.
I fasted for four days more than once and am doing a 7-day fast soon.
I launched my website CarlaGericke.com where I blog about The Art of Independence.
I co-host a weekly local cable access show called Manch Talk.
I co-host the best podcast you have never heard of (yet) called Told You So.
I celebrated my twenty-fifth wedding anniversary to a man I love and who loves me back.
I write in my journal every single day since the day I promised myself I would.
As of May 1, I published a collection of award-winning short stories, flash fiction pieces, and essays about my activism in New Hampshire. Buy your copy of The Ecstatic Pessimist today!
But, the most important thing I did is to finally, fully internalize the notion that in order to advocate the virtues of individual liberty and personal responsibility—from health to wealth and beyond—it has to come from the inside out.
In order to be free, I had to understand me.
A friend who hasn’t seen me in yonks recently said: “I don’t know what you’re up to, but your aura is, like, totes a different color.” I don’t know if auras are real. I can’t see them. I didn’t think to ask what color my aura was, or what color it is now. But aura or no aura, I am totes different; I am a better, less anxious, more balanced, me.
If YOU want to change, you can. You just have to choose YOU.
We hate to admit it, but there is a very simple recipe for feeling good. You know the drill, routinely: eat right (low carb, medium protein, high good fats); get enough sleep; exercise; don’t abuse the fun stuff; and sometimes hang out with other humans. Routinely. We know it, and yet, if you are like me, you resist anything that smacks of “routine.”
After a very unmoored childhood, I waited almost forty-eight years, three continents, two careers, one miscarriage, and an arrest to start following the script routinely. And while I have always set, met, and surpassed my professional goals, leading to success as a lawyer and nonprofit executive, in my personal life, I’ve resisted looking too closely at what makes me tick. This resistance involved copious hard drugs, hard liquor, and hard partying. YOLO, baby!, until your friends do start dropping like flies.
A while ago, my husband Louis randomly asked: “When are you happiest?”
Me: “On holiday, d’oh!“
Louis: “What is it about vacation that you like?”
“Well, for starters, there’s more,” I wiggled my eyebrows suggestively and we laughed, “and, I suppose, because I get enough sleep, and, oh, I read a lot.”
Louis: “You realize all of those things are within your daily control, right?”
Me: Oh, screw you, Babes, hmm, huh, wait a minute… Dammit!
Another “huh” moment was when I accepted my calendar didn’t just have to include work obligations and Things That Must Be Done, but rather could, and indeed, should include the things you love to do. Things like, “Massage,” or “Call Kari to Chat,” or “Date Night” are totally acceptable ways to spend your time, and that:
1. It’s OK to schedule fun;
2. You are more likely to do it if it is on your calendar;
3. It’s satisfying and healthy to treat yourself like a priority.
These observations may seem obvious, but they helped me understand that I was “The Keeper (and Giver) of My Time,” and that this is the most important job I will ever have, because… this is literally… my life. All life is, after all, is figuring out how you have spent your time (your past), how you are spending your time now (the present), and how you plan to spend your time (the future). Your time equals your life. Spend it wisely.
The radical notion that I could tweak my “everyday experience” to feel more like vacay simply by choosing to read in bed instead of, say, watching another episode of a show that would still be there tomorrow, or arguing with some idiot online, was… liberating.
The next part of “Unpacking Me” involved one new habit, two books, and a quote.
The new habit was journaling. First, my sincerest apologies to every friend who over the years suggested I keep a journal. For every eye-roll, every semi-disparaging sigh, every “yeah, yeah, whatevs,” I’m sorry, and promise to accept all future Moleskines with super extra delight. Now I know.
Seriously, if you only adopt one new habit this year, make it journaling, by which I mean, keep a handwritten notebook and write in it each and every day with a firm commitment that triggers something terrifying inside yourself if you don’t. Natch, scratch that, since that’s a perverse incentive and there are better, more positive ways to motivate yourself, which I only figured out by, you guessed it, writing shit down in my journal.
How about this: Stick to journaling routinely because positive habits create positive feedback loops which lead to positive outcomes which make you want to do the good things more. It’s like a cocaine habit, except the exact fucking opposite.
The first book in question is Charles Fernyhough’s “The Voices Within: The History and Science of How We Talk to Ourselves.” I’d heard a segment on NPR and thought it sounded intriguing.
Then I started reading the book.
Then I became hyper-aware of my own thoughts.
Then I started hearing a lot of voices.
Then I worried I was crazy.
Then I stopped reading the book.
But the voices in my head did not shuddup. And, thanks to journaling, I was able to isolate them. Some were smart and helpful, a couple were wise and pleasant, a handful were manageable assholes, but one, one was a Certifiable Cunt.
World: Meet my ego.
My 2020 mission is to kill this Cunt. (Do your best, she says, and just to show her who is boss, I write that down. Every time I hear her nasty, belittling, backstabbing, negative, cunty voice, I take notice. The more I see her, the weaker she becomes.)
From my notes, I discovered The Cunt’s negging is always in the second person, always with a “you,” or “your,” or “you’re” statement. She’s meaner than my worst enemies (and I’m a libertarian politician, so my enemies are… loud and plentiful).
A typical mind-convo goes something like this: “You’re useless!” “What have you accomplished in the past five years? Nothing!” “Why haven’t you finished your book!” “Why did you say that?!?” “Why didn’t you say that!?!” “Not good enough!” “Never good enough!” And my all time favorite worst critical comment that can shut me down for days, “Who cares?”
Fuck you, Cunt. I care.
Why? Why do I have this voice in my head who only talks to me in the second person as “you,” and never “me/I”? Who is she, if she doesn’t think she is part of “me”? Where did she come from? And what will it take to kill her nice and dead?
Around this time, I ran across a quote by Lao Tzu on Pinterest: “If you are depressed you are living in the past. If you are anxious you are living in the future. If you are at peace you are living in the present.”
I want to be at peace, so next, I started reading Eckhart Tolle’s “The Power of Now,” which I’m pretty sure I read years ago but the message just didn’t resonate with me then. Important ideas are like that sometimes, you need to circle back when you are ready. The book’s back cover says, “To make the journey into The Power of Now we will need to leave our analytical mind and its false created self, the ego, behind.”
Sounded to me like I’d found the roadmap to kill The Cunt: a little mental time travel, baddabingbaddaboom, and, voilà, peace in the now, right?
Then I started to delve into my past.
I looked at the story I told myself about my childhood. Child prodigy! Genius-level IQ! International travel! Exotic locations! Chauffeurs and maids! Penthouses with elevators that opened into the apartment itself! My whole persona was wrapped in this belief that my upbringing had been oh-so-glamorous, diplomat’s daughter, what, what, that I had never stopped to consider—not true, I taught myself not to—the potentially damaging effects of living on an entirely different continent, separated from your—my—parents, when you are—I am—a ten-year-old girl. Sure, we spoke on the phone once a week, usually for less than five minutes because international calls were crazy-expensive back then. We mostly talked about the weather. The standing joke in our family was that my sister, Lizette, and I would always ask, “Please send money!”
Please send money to buy your own—my own—toothpaste when you are—I am—ten years old.
Please send money to buy your—my—first bra when you are—I am—twelve years old.
Please send money to buy your—my—first tampons when you are—I am—thirteen years old.
Please send money to buy your—my—first bottle of booze when you are—I am—fifteen years old.
For a while, I wondered if the negative back-talk stemmed from suppressed memories of awful teachers or matrons or “Mean Girls” who bullied me, but, for me, unlike my sister, that wasn’t the case. Sure, I was bitterly hungry for five years straight, and any All-Girls boarding school is going to give you some food and body issues, and I did for a time become a compulsive exerciser, and I definitely leaned into my neurotic nail-biting, but for the most part, Pretoria High School for Girls gave me a solid education, impressive leadership skills, a stiff upper lip, and, at least publicly, what appeared to be a great deal of confidence.
In the Mystery of Carla’s Secret Cunty Ego, turns out, the culprit all along, was… me.
After my parents left me at that ivy-covered, cabbage-reeking hostel with its metal-framed prison beds, I was so alone, so confused, so sad, so devastated, that in order to cope, I told myself my parents were dead.
When you miss something so intensely that it is easier to pretend the subject matter is dead, you are probably going to create a few voices in your head. When you are also a very bright, analytical child, you know, deep-down, the “Dead Parents” narrative isn’t actually true.
So you create a voice that starts with bargaining (if you run that extra lap, they will come get you), moves to chastising (you should have done better on your math test, then they wouldn’t have left you here), and eventually settles into something malevolent (of course you are a failure at everything you do, even your own parents don’t want you).
But here is the reality: No one said these things to me but me. So no one gets the blame—if there is any to assign—but me. My parents genuinely loved and spoiled us when we did spend time together. And because no one else created this monster, no one but me gets to off her. No one but me gets to set me free.
For my entire life, I said awful things to myself in my head, and I allowed that voice to become an integral part of my internal life. No more. True freedom comes from loving yourself, and the way to love yourself is to like yourself, and the way to like yourself, is to know yourself, and the best way to know yourself is to examine yourself, and in examining yourself, you have to figure out what the hell you are spending your time on, both physically and mentally. And, from now on, I am not spending another second being mean to myself. I do not blame Little Cunty Abandoned Mini-Me. From now on, my slate is clean, because I choose what’s in my head, and I choose to forgive all of me, now, and in the future, which is always now.