I Do Not Have to Be Good

Wild Geese

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting–
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

–Mary Oliver

I do not have to be good.  I do not have to be nice.  I do not have to  assume your intentions are good when your words are not.  I don’t have to be grateful to you for suggestions I didn’t ask for.  I do not have to be grateful to you for anything, in fact.  I do not have to protect your ego.  I do not have to pretend I’m not hurt and offended when I am.  I do not have to try anything just because it helped you, and I do not have to defend my choice not to.  I don’t have to defend any of my choices to you.  I do not owe you any explanations.  I do not have to agree with anything you say about me that doesn’t resonate with me, especially when it’s about me.  I do not have to defend who I was or who I am now to you.I am doing the best that I can, and I’m struggling severely.  I do not have the energy to take care of other people’s feelings.  I’m generally a pretty nice person–I want to connect with people, and I don’t wake up in the morning scheming about how to hurt their feelings.  I used to do everything I could to avoid hurting anyone’s feelings, to avoid making anyone feel badly, because I thought I’d done enough damage in the world already.Eventually I realized I was taking care of everyone else at my own expense.  I was letting people hurt me over and over to avoid the risk that saying no would hurt them.  It was letting everyone I interacted take away a little piece of me, and if I’d kept it up, eventually there wouldn’t have been anything left of me.  I’m not going to do that anymore.  I can’t.  I’ve come to understand that it’s in neither my nature nor my best interest to keep quiet when someone says something that hurts me.  I’m sure most of us don’t want to hurt each other, but how can we know we’ve hurt someone unless they say so?  Sometimes you step on someone’s toes or jab them with an elbow without even realizing.  When someone points out that we’ve hurt them, we feel terrible.  Some of us apologize, but some of us compensate by lashing out, accusing, even bullying.  Luckily, I’ve reached a place in my own healing where I can see that the lashing out isn’t about me.  I can’t say that it doesn’t hurt me or make me angry, and I can’t say that it doesn’t still make my heart rate jump up to 120 and make me feel hot and lightheaded.  But it no longer makes me feel like I have to kill myself, and it no longer stays with me for days or weeks.  I can set it aside because, once I’ve calmed down, I know it’s not really about me.But I can’t let it go without saying something because silence is not something I do anymore.  Silence is what lets people keep trampling over my boundaries and stepping on my toes and jabbing elbows into my ribcage like I don’t even really exist.  I do exist, and I do have a voice.My blog is not everyone’s cup of tea, which is fine.  If you don’t like it, if you don’t like me, feel free to click the little red X in the corner of your screen.  No one’s stopping you.  It’s okay if you want to unfollow me or never follow me in the first place.  You can call me a bitch or an asshole, but don’t be upset when that doesn’t bother me–I say far worse things to myself every day, so your insults will need a lot of work if you want to hurt me with them.  Just don’t assume that I’m going to pretend what you say helps when it doesn’t.  Don’t assume that I will be silent in response to words that hurt.


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30 responses to “I Do Not Have to Be Good

  1. Hurrah, well said hon! Well said! XX

  2. You just posted my favorite poem in the world. I have always had this poem on my refrigerator. And EVERY time I hear that first line I burst into tears…Understanding *anew* that I “do not have to be good…”

    Hear, hear.

    I hope the finances are somehow going to be there come the new month. If not, contact me. I will help. It is not a good reason to do away with yourself. Ok? No strings.

    • Yes, realizing we don’t have to be good is incredibly freeing and powerful. I’ve spent most of my life taking care of everyone else’s feelings and needs, and it cost me dearly. I just can’t do it anymore.

  3. this is great. well said indeed! xx

  4. Jay

    Amen! Thanks for introducing that poem to me. It is very special.

  5. cougarblogger

    “Sometimes you step on someone’s toes or jab them with an elbow without even realizing. When someone points out that we’ve hurt them, we feel terrible. Some of us apologize, but some of us compensate by lashing out, accusing, even bullying.”

    You’re incapable of apologizing and taking responsibility for your cognitive dissonance. You should feel terrible when you make a mistake and lash out. But no. Your way is to passive-aggressively write randomly for support from people who have no idea what you’re really talking about. Stop behaving like a coward and a bully and perhaps your life will change for the better.

    Certainly can’t make things worse! Happy thanksgiving.

    Approve this one but first carefully craft your reply so as to refrain from lashing out, accusing and bullying. I dare ya.

  6. cougarblogger

    Oh and also, ” But it no longer makes me feel like I have to kill myself, and it no longer stays with me for days or weeks.”

    You’re welcome. Bitch. ; )

    • Cougarblogger: after I read this post and all the comments and then posted my own comment at the bottom, I clicked back to Kyra’s November 20 post, “Surrealism and Detachment,” because I had left a comment there several days ago and I wanted to see if she had published and responded to it or not. But no, it still shows as being in moderation.

      Then I read YOUR lengthy comment, which was posted after my unpublished one, and Kyra’s lengthy reply to you, which you took great offense at. Then I understood what you are going on about here.

      In case you miss my reply to your “helpful suggestions” comment on Kyra’s November 20 post, here is my suggestion-meant-to-be-helpful for you. I think you would be really great doing volunteer work with abused and abandoned animals. Running a no-kill animal shelter, for example. That kind of thing should be right up your alley. You can pretty much totally control animals. The more stubborn animals you can declaw and muzzle, or lock in a cage.

      For their own good, of course.

      ….I am not a psychologist, so I could be mistaken. But in my non-professional opinion, I think that when you say “Bitch” you are projecting what you see when you look in the mirror.

      • I’m sorry. I don’t like posting negativity, hositility, hatefulness. Really, I am sorry. We all make mistakes, we all screw up from time to time. I’ve been guilty of being bitchy-without-just-cause more than once that I’m aware. Especially back when I was going through menopause, oh my Lord. That was rough. Now that I’m an old great-grandma I’m much more mellow.

        Here’s the thing: when I was seriously suicidal, my pain was so HUGE, so UNBEARABLE, that I was like an animal that has been run over by a freight train and in lying there almost cut in half and.. if someone were to come along and try to help an animal that has just been run over and is in intense pain, even the sweetest animal is likely to lash out and BITE at the people trying to help it… NOT because the animal is “bad” or a “BITCH” but because the poor thing is hurting so much, she can’t stand it, she can’t even think straight.

        So when I reach out to try to help a suicidal person, if that person turns around and BITES me, metaphorically speaking, I try to remember how I was years ago when I… HELLO…. HUNG MYSELF. Yes, that is right, when I worst in unbearable agony with no escape I got so desperate at one point that I freaking hung myself and it is a miracle I survived. I am glad now, that I survived! But at the time my pain was literally absolutely beyond bearing and that is why I hung myself at the age of 15. So now, when I see someone like Kyra hurting so much that she talks of wanting to die, I understand, I want so much to help, and… I also understand if she gets pissy and does not want to be helped. I GET IT. And frankly, I am absolutely amazed at how well Kyra has handled this madness with Cougarblogger!!! Wow. Kyra ROCKS.

        Again, I am sorry I got negative… bitchy… whatever, toward Cougar. It’s just that jumping down the throat of a sucidal person because they did not care for your long list of presumed “helpful suggestions” is so……… WRONG!!!

      • It’s not even so much that I didn’t like the suggestions. I mean, they weren’t particularly useful or relevant to me, but that in and of itself is not all that objectionable to me. What I object to is the tone in which they were presented. Someone who’s never spoken to me before came in and assumed she knew about my life and relationships and how to fix them. In general, I don’t assume that people are going to go back and read a bunch of my old posts, but if you’re going to make sweeping statements about my life, maybe you should make sure you understand at least some of the context first. This person clearly didn’t.

        It’s the attitude that I object to. Authoritarianism has never worked with me, and the fact that she went on the attack reinforces the thesis that her suggestions were really about her, not me.

      • WELL SAID. And I am totally with you on the authoritarianism attitude being a huge turn-off.

        My maternal grandfather Holt was the Associate Warden of Leavenworth Federal Prison in the 1960s. He and my Grammy lived in the huge warden’s mansion on the prison grounds, because the warden had his own home nearby. My granddaddy had servants and trustees jumping through hoops to please him. But he never, not once, ever gave me, his own granddaughter, a direct order. He treated me with respect, even when I was a little girl!

        I don’t think it was just because he loved me. He was smart and self-confidant and he had the kind of job that would probably go to most people’s heads. But he respected people — unless they disrespected HIM, that is! Then, LOOK OUT.

  7. 1) I’m fairly certain I want your entire poetry collection as evidenced by your selection here.
    2) I’m quite certain that I need your attitude as expressed in your selection here.

    • That’s most of my poetry collection, but a lot of it is just in my head. I went to a fine arts high school and majored in creative writing, so I read a LOT of poetry (and fiction) from a lot of different sources. A good deal of it has stuck with me, and even if I don’t have the book, I can usually locate the poem somewhere online.

  8. “…our culture treats anger like it’s evil, which is BS.”

    Hello. RIGHT.

    Anger makes me uncomfortable because it triggers in me an avalanche of traumatic memories, of being verbally and physically battered by enraged abusers.

    But I believe that without my anger rising up to fight for my survival, for my right to BE, I would have been dead long before my time.

    I think anger is similar to physical pain. I do not enjoy feeling pain, but I’m glad I have the capacity to feel pain, because it informs me when something is wrong and needs to be corrected. People who are born without the ability to feel physical pain do not stay healthy very long.

    I also see anger as being like a knife. In the hand of a surgeon it can be a life saver, but in the hands of a killer, look out.

    When anger is used to stand up and fight against abuse and injustice, it’s a wonderful thing.

    When I read your last post, Kyra, I wondered how you survived. Then I read this post and I understood. You have an amazing strength and intelligence that is rare and wonderful. Ninja, indeed!

    • It makes me uncomfortable too, for much the same reason as you, but less than it used to.

      I used to think I just never got angry. Mildly annoyed or irritated was about as far as I thought it went for me. In my mind, anger was associated with my mother’s out-of-control rages: screaming, tearing us down, threatening, throwing things. On the rare occasions I did get angry, I perceived myself as being as out of control as my mother, but in reality, most people couldn’t even tell I was angry. I was more demonstrative when I was annoyed, but anger felt so dangerous that even feeling it seemed uncontrollable.

      Of course, I was literally killing myself with an eating disorder, starving and purging away all the feelings I thought were too dangerous, although I didn’t see any connection at the time. That ended up in my spending two years in a residential program for people with treatment-resistant mental illness, where I worked with the best therapist I’ve ever seen. It took her a year and a half just to get me to admit that I was angry. One day, I was ranting about something–I think the administration had done that I didn’t like. I was going off on that topic for several minutes, and somewhere in there I realized that what I was really angry about was some stuff in my relationship with my therapist, so I ended the rant with, “And you know what? Just…fuck you.

      Her response (best ever) was, “Yeah, I was getting that.” Then she chuckled and said, “I’ve been trying to get you to say that for two years.”

      It was the first time in my life anyone had responded to my anger calmly instead of with greater anger or guilt or justifications. It sounds dramatic, but it changed my life. When I processed this conversation several days later with my therapist, I referred to having yelled at her. She said I hadn’t yelled, and I said I had definitely been yelling. “Kyra, I could barely hear you,” she said. Cue another dramatic perspective shift, in which I realize that my perception that I’m out of control when I’m angry does not actually reflect reality. I can be angry without destroying the universe.

      My anger’s what’s driven my political and advocacy work–it’s easier for me to get angry on behalf of other people than myself. I see things that are wrong and broken, and I want to make somebody fix them. So I find a candidate who I think will make things better, and I work my ass off for them. I’m also learning (albeit more slowly and unsteadily) to be an advocate for myself. I think anger is what let me finally stop killing myself with self-harm and eating disorders because I could finally get mad at my abusive parents instead of trying to destroy myself for the crime of existing and having needs. Anger lets me mark the times when the way someone treats me is not okay, and it helps me realize that I’m not a helpless child anymore, and I don’t have to put up with it.

      I really like your knife analogy for anger–it’s very much on point. I’d also add that a knife can be protection from anyone who might try to harm you–in fact, I sleep with a knife next to my bed for that reason. It can kill, protect, and save. Just depends on how you use it.

      • Once again, I am blown away by your deeply intelligent reply.

        I went through a period of trying to medicate my angst with alcohol. Quickly learned the hard way that alcohol unleashes the anger demon in me, so I haven’t had a drink since January 15, 1990. Although I came close when I was going through my last divorce in 2001. Too close, bought a bottle, then poured it all down the sink.

        Luckily I never hurt people when I was drinking and being a rageaholic, I only hurt/broke things. Inanimate objects. But still. My raging scared myself, so I stopped before I did any more damage.

        Kyra, what you said: “I think anger is what let me finally stop killing myself with self-harm and eating disorders because I could finally get mad at my abusive parents instead of trying to destroy myself for the crime of existing and having needs.” OH BOY, you hit the nail on the head right there! The crime of existing and having needs… when we learn that we, that you and me, have just as much of a right to be here taking up space on this planet as anyone else — when we learn that our needs are no less important than the needs of any other person — when *I* finally learned that it is really OK for me to BE, it was like I could BREATHE at last. Really, deeply BREATHE. Like I wasn’t using up too much of someone else’s oxygen, you know?

        I, for one, am very glad you are here. I know by reading the comments on your blog that there are a lot of other people who feel the same way.

        Do you know how awesome you are? I can’t even allow comments on my blog. I did allow comments on a blog I had in the past, until someone attacked me in almost exactly the same way that cougar person attacked you, and I was not strong enough to handle it. I crumbled inside like a little girl. I deleted my old blogs, deleted my FB account, I basically committed online suicide, if you know what I mean. Now after a couple of years I am coming back out of my hidey-hole with a new blog, but I still don’t allow comments.

        Kyra you kick ass. And I mean that in a very good way. 😉

      • I never went through a rage stage. I think I was able to skip it because I was working with such a good therapist when I first started dealing with my anger. I could get it out of my system in therapy, so it didn’t build up and come out as rage. Later, martial arts helped a LOT. There’s something really gratifying about beating the crap out of something until you’re physically exhausted. I had to quit when I got sick, and I really miss it.

        Dealing with mean people used to destroy me, and I couldn’t deal with putting myself out there either. I don’t have some dramatic Oprah story of how it all changed or anything, but I think getting away from my family was the biggest step. Once I was physically away from them, the physical and emotional distance let me finally begin to figure out who I am separate from them. Gradually–I’m talking over 5 or 6 years–I stopped giving a shit what most people think of me, and I stopped letting people treat me like crap…all because I started to realize I’m not the person my family sees me as and treats me as. There are still people whose opinions matter greatly to me, but those are the people I know well and trust. If one of my friends said such mean things to me, it would mess me up pretty bad. But people I don’t know generally don’t bother me that much anymore. If I wouldn’t trust their judgment of someone else, why should I trust their judgment of me? They don’t know shit about me. When I work on political campaigns, I get all kinds of people yelling at me and threatening me, and mostly they just amuse me.

        My personal favorite is from this last election cycle. The candidate I was working for made improving mental health care a major part of her platform, and she mentioned it in almost every speech and debate. One night, I called a guy about 8:30 in the evening, and he started yelling at me for calling so late. (The guy was in his 40’s, so it’s not even like I called Great-Grandpa after bedtime. Also, 5:00 to 9:00 PM is standard call time for every political campaign ever.) “Did she [the candidate] tell you to call this late?”

        “Not directly. Our field director has us make calls until 9:00 PM, and she answers directly to the candidate, so I’m sure she knows we’re making calls right now.”

        “Is she insane?”

        “No, sir, not that I know of, but she does have a comprehensive plan for improving mental health care. You can read it on our website, or if you give me your email, I can send you a position paper from–”


        When someone’s being a jerk, I actually find it really empowering to be sarcastic back at them.

  9. Kyra and Alaina: there is not a big enough LIKE button for me to press, to show how much I resonate with what both of you are saying about anger.

    The metaphor I am currently working with, as a means to accept and feel my own anger: as a warning system that alerts me when my boundaries are being violated or someone is treating me in a dangerous way.

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