On Badassery

Our ideas of what it means to be “strong” and what it means to be “weak” are too simplistic. One might even argue that they’re misogynistic, if one buys into the idea that women are naturally more emotionally expressive than men are. A “tough” person in idealized form in the west seems to be a person who never cries, who never allows themselves the release of pain necessary to keep from bottling everything up inside until it explodes into psychosis or manifests as a truly spectacular meltdown.

I’ve given this dynamic a lot of thought in my life. I’ve even meditated on it a bit in my article “Why I Need Feminism”. I have always prided myself on my strength, my toughness, my ability to take powerful emotional hits and push through them without falling down, without breaking apart and giving up. I’m proud of how tough every major life event I’ve lived through has made me. When I look back at the person I was five years ago, (or ten, or fifteen,) I can see a marked improvement. I’m proud of the scars that I’ve earned, and I’m proud of how, with every deep wound I’ve been dealt, I’ve gotten a little tougher, a little more resistant.

The first time my heart was broken, I didn’t leave the bed for two weeks (except to eat, etc.) I spent those weeks reading books my ex-girlfriend loved and trying to find the smell of her hair on the pillow. To be fair, my whole life had fallen apart and the breakup was just icing on the proverbial cake, but when I look back at how I handled it, how hurt I was over the ending of a toxic relationship with that horrible, manipulative, misandrist abuser, I almost want to laugh. I look back and think, man, I was weak. I had a lot to learn. I certainly had a lot of maturing to do.

I bounced in and out of a chain of toxic relationships after that, and with each one I got a little tougher. I suffered some major failures and had some dreams crushed, but each one that fell apart made me stronger. I lived through some gnarly situations, dealt with legal threats, death threats, and a crazy ex-girlfriend who stalked me on campus so relentlessly I had to start carrying mace with me. Eventually, I got married, and amidst the maturing that happens when you become a husband (especially a house-husband who has to do literally everything for your partner) I reached a solid place where I felt like I was safe, like the worst of the pain was over. My father used to tell me that the only thing that scared him, the only thing he thought that could break him would be losing me. A year after I married my first wife, I told my father that the only thing that scared me, the only thing that I thought would break me would be losing her.

When she reconnected with an old boyfriend of hers and suddenly demanded a divorce in late 2014, after four and a half years of being in a relationship, it broke me, utterly. My worst fear, my only real fear at that point, had come to pass. When I look back at that moment, I look back with mixed feelings. I was tough enough not to retire to a bed for two weeks, but I was weak enough that I still took her back four times after that, even against the advice of friends and family.

What I look back on with a sense of pride though is how I handled the pain those first few weeks, those weeks when the shock was strongest and the knife in my heart was at its keenest. I took a week to pack everything I owned, arranged transport and decided to move back to my hometown. I had no reason to stay in the city, so I figured I’d start fresh closer to my friends and family. For the first week back in the Gold Country, I hauled brush from dawn until dusk and consumed little more than chicken broth and coffee. I listened to U2’s “Wake Up Dead Man” on repeat and during my nights I spent time researching my options, looking for jobs locally and looking into joining the US Air Force. In one week, I lost 30 pounds and two belt sizes. In two weeks, I went from being able to run a quarter mile without stopping to being able to run a mile and a half without stopping. When faced with adversity, I chose to fight. I took action and got strong. When I look back now, I smile a little, because the foundation I set down during that year, during one of the most hellish years of my entire life, established me where I am today, and left me a great deal stronger than I was before.

So what does it mean to be badass? In my mind, the West has it all wrong. A badass isn’t someone who carries a gun and who holds her tears inside despite a soul that’s so wounded it’s tearing itself apart. A badass isn’t someone who gives up and collapses and cries at the drop of a hat either. In my mind, a badass is someone who feels, who cries openly when the pain is great, who releases anger in creative, non-destructive ways, who sees a problem and chooses to move (or fight) past it. A badass is someone who knows that the pain will pass, who focuses on the future, and on how to make things right again. A badass is someone who might be the victim of others, but who chooses to not remain a victim. A badass is solution-oriented. A badass feels pain, but does not indulge in it. A badass says “yeah, this sucks, but I’m going to fight until it doesn’t suck.”

That’s what being a badass means to me.

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