So, this is what happened.
I got a bad haircut. A really bad haircut.
I've been going to the same hairstylist in San Francisco for seven years. She's amazing, she knows my hair, and she has given me haircuts and colorings for near free the last few years because I've been putting my money towards building this thing. She calls it the Holly discount.
She's the beez.
Since moving to Los Angeles, I have been paralyzed about finding a new hairstylist - I only trust Helen. So I forewent getting my hair cut for seven months, waiting until I could make my way to San Francisco, which happened to be this past week.
Because it had been so long, I forgot to tell her the important things about how I wanted my hair cut: A-line, long bob, undercut. It almost hit the mark, but on the left side it had this little triangle thing going on. It wasn't bad. It just wasn't perfect. And because I'm a perfectionist, I couldn't let good enough be.
On Friday morning, back in Los Angeles and desperate to fix the little triangle, I called another hairstylist. One from Yelp with good reviews. Liz. I explained the situation - "Small triangle thing on left" - and she happened to have time that day to see me. Lots of time. This should have been a red flag, but it wasn't. I wouldn't let it be a red flag. I told myself it was a miracle, the heavens above were opening up another sweet little door for me to step through, the universe was winking at me.
I got to the appointment, thanked Liz for "fitting me in", and before I knew it, was doing the thing I used to do - not asserting my needs for fear of being difficult. I showed her one picture of me with good hair and she got impatient as I scrolled for more - "I get the idea", she said. So I stopped looking. When I asked her if she knew what an undercut was and she said "That means many things," I didn't press the issue further - I thought to myself "How bad could it be?" And as she started cutting layers into my hair, I sat paralyzed, smiling at her in agreement, though everything in me screamed OH MY GOD, NO.
Thirty short minutes later she made one last pass over my hair, tugged the ends, and met my gaze in the mirror. She was beaming with pride at her creation - which happened to be The Rachel - as I sat staring back with the same forced smile I'd worn since the beginning. She gave me the little hand mirror, spun me at an angle, and asked me for final approval. I smiled bigger. "It's great! I love it! You're amazing!!!"
I got in my car and immediately texted my mom and sister. My mom suggested I make a gratitude list. My sister told me I was beautiful, and it was just hair. Which made the whole thing that much worse - my pain was met with a suggested fix and a silver lining - and for the first time in two years I lashed out and told them both to screw off (among other things - sorry guys I love you). I texted Laura a picture of the tragedy, who said some of the right things at first, but quickly started sending me pictures of bad haircuts. I told her too soon and stopped texting her. I bit the bullet and texted Helen, confessing what I had done, who simply replied: "Holly...where are you?"
Hell, I replied. Hell is where I am.
The last seven days have been agony - physical, mental, emotional. I'm mad at myself for not going into either cut prepared; I'm mad for not letting the first imperfect haircut just be or better yet, just flying back to San Francisco to have Helen fix it, as I'm going to have to do anyway. I'm mad for not sticking up for my wants with Liz, and I'm stuck on how awful it looks. All I can think about is me in Italy with bad hair, what my hair will look like after sex (should I happen to have it), how much time it's going to take to grow it out, etc. I keep taking that one odd four-inch lock in the back and lifting it up in disgust, muttering aloud "How could she??" I keep going back to the moment where she said an undercut could "mean many things" and recreating it with assertive Holly there instead, who says "To me, it means one thing. Want to know what it is?"
What has been even more frustrating is the amount of resistance there is - by myself and others - to my pain. I GET it's just hair, and I get it grows back. I get my self-worth is defined by what's on the inside and not by my physical looks. I get five billion worse things could have happened to me and ARE happening to others around me. It is not lost on me that it's a petty fucking thing to be so consumed by my hair. So, I have had the added pressure of feeling wrong for feeling what I'm feeling, and thinking what I am thinking. As if beating myself up for beating myself up has ever worked before.
I've been struggling to pin down why it's such a big deal, but - as embarrassing or petty as it may be - my hair was the one thing I really liked about how I looked. I don't wear make-up that often. I haven't bought fancy new jeans in years. I skip shaving most things most days. But my hair I could count on. My hair WAS a big deal, IS a big deal - to ME. And so it feels on the most primal level, devastating. Also, it's not just about the hair or the cut. I've been under a lot of pressure (self-induced), I'm tired, I am going through the motions of life and rarely do I let myself have a good old fashioned freak out. This was almost an excuse to throw a shit fit.
A few days ago, on Skype with my friend Mary, I went off for the first time about the hair affair without apologizing all over myself for it. I told her all the things, from how alone I feel in my pain (because who cares about my first-world problem?), to how much it's killed my self-confidence, to how angry and unforgiving I am about it all, to how angry and unforgiving I am for being angry and unforgiving. Mary listened to me, heard me, and at the end of my rant thoughtfully replied that it might just be hair, but it was teaching me something, and whatever it was teaching me was going to be big.
To be honest, I'd been thinking this exact thing, but because it's just hair I hadn't let myself believe there was much to be learned beyond having the courage to rock a bad 'do. But in that moment I got it, saw it. It might have *just* been a bad haircut, but nonetheless, it had thrown me in the fire. And when we are in the fire, it doesn't matter what it was that put us there - what matters is how we burn and what we learn. And I learned a lot.
4 Lessons From A Bad Haircut.
1. Pain is pain is pain. Hear me on this: it does NOT matter what causes your pain. When you find yourself in it, you are in it, and whatever trivial or significant thing got you there does not matter. Your pain is not arguable, EVER.
2. Empathy matters. Something really nasty happened in me last Friday after the haircut as I tried to process my pain with other people. I needed to be heard, I needed to be upset, I needed to metabolize the anger, and as I was reminded over and over again it wasn't that big of a deal or told "at least it ins't x", it started to make me physically hurt. I paid attention to this, because I saw it as it was happening, witnessed it from the outside. I noticed how quickly I shut down and stopped asking for help, how alone and stuck I felt. The haircut was bad enough; not being heard or allowed to feel was outright painful.
I work with a lot of people who are in pain and in the thick of the mess, and so often when someone tells me they are hurt or struggling or sitting in the darkness, my first inclination is to fix it for them or to give them the exact right words that will lessen their pain. This is NOT empathy, it's resistance to empathy, and it's resistance to the human condition.
This experience reminded me in the most personal and obvious way that it doesn't matter WHY anyone is in pain, it matters that they ARE in pain, and that we don't have to ever say the right thing or the perfect thing, but it is our responsibility to let them feel, honor their feelings, and hold the space for that. It is entirely toxic to try and change someone's story, disallow their feelings, find the silver lining, or try and fix someone's problem. If we plan to serve our brothers and sisters, we must always show up with as much empathy as we can possibly muster. We make a difference not by "making it better" or saying the perfect thing; we make a difference by allowing their pain and sitting in it with them.
3. You are not the Bhudda or Jesus Christ. And (most likely) you never will be. You are a human, having a human experience - not an ascended master. Which means that you are not so far progressed that you are exempt from being human about things. I often get stuck in this trap, thinking I'm "too spiritual" to be mad or angry or fret about the small things like my outfit, the size of my ass, or my hair. Call it the Curse of Knowledge - I know what the "right" thing to do/think/say is, and so I bypass what I'm actually feeling and go straight to the WWJD. Which leaves me not only stuck with the original, unprocessed pain, but leaves me cut off from my experience of being a human.
Seane Corn has a saying - "You can't get to the bless you without the fuck you" - which means we can't find true forgiveness when we haven't actually processed the pain or the wrong. We can't blot out our humanness just because we know better. On the podcast last week, Seane explained that when she is in a state of anger, she honors it and works with it by starting first with a "Fuck You Letter" - an unfiltered letter written to whoever or whatever caused the anger in the first place - and then moves through a process of investigation and release. I did this last week - I wrote a letter to Liz and myself dripping with hate and vitriol, and then moved through Seane's suggested process for investigation and release, and it was better than both sex and almond milk lattes (or even sex with almond milk lattes). You can hear the entire process in the podcast, here.
4. If there is something about your identity that you're really attached to, you will lose it. In our HOME Podcast interview with Glennon Doyle Melton (Momastery), she talked about how the things that have been the most closely tied to her identity - the things that made her her - are the things that have been tested the most. Being a mother, being a party girl, being a wife, etc. Our tendency as humans is to create identities that are distinct and separate from the collective. Call it ego, call it individualization, call it whatever - we are born to create a fixed identity. And we will cling to certain things in order to deeply ground in that identity. For years, it was my career, my social network, my wealth, my men, my taste in good wine, my taste in whiskey. And now it's not much different, just less dangerous. I'm a writer, a photographer, a yoga teacher, an entrepreneur. I have good tattoos and a refined palate when it comes to coffee. But the thing I'm probably THE most attached to and the most fearful of losing is in terms of this new fixed identity is my palatable appearance. Yep. I'm afraid of not being attractive, because I think I'm still defined by it. Enter shitty shitty haircut.
The beautiful part of this whole losing important parts of our identity thing, as Glennon so eloquently put it, is that while we may see these losses as a strike against us or a door closing, what really is happening is that we are receiving an invitation to something more. I truly see this as an invitation to see what my self worth is truly constructed from. Hint, it's not my fucking hair.