The times are more and more frequent that I feel a tide of that intense, visceral feeling roll over my body. It is burning and all-consuming and it drives me in everything I do. It is alive and gnawing, and although I try to stop it, I can feel it multiplying inside me every day.
I depend on it, though, because it pushes and stirs and draws me through the threshold of where I need to be. It propels me; it wakes me up in the morning and whispers in my ear as I try to sleep; it digests all my other emotions and instincts. It always wins, no matter how hard I try to silence it. It has total control of me, twisting my words and manipulating my tone and forcing my legs forward when I feel I can’t even stumble an inch further. The feeling inspires me to succeed in the situations that I can’t face alone; of that there is no doubt. But it exacts a high price, because it gives me no option but success. If there is no success, then there is no point, it murmurs icily.
This starving beast is my haughtiness, my envy, my greed, my vanity; it encapsulates every single deadly sin. This hideous, twisted mantra is jealousy, it is conceit, it is entitlement, it is arrogance; this feeling, this pitfall, rises up inside me like a volcanic eruption, and suddenly I can see the flames of the white-hot fire of self-preservation like the ones that lick the walls of my stomach, tickling my throat, thrusting my limbs into a fiery dance of competition, inspiring a kind of jealousy that I have no choice but to conceal yet also no choice but to satisfy.
Tonight, I watched my friends compete against me. And I couldn’t stifle it. The envy froze my hands to my side while everyone else applauded; I felt pangs of a wicked, selfish relief creeping into me each time they fumbled their words. I couldn’t help but feel elated each time one of them felt defeated.
I sat and listened to my talented peers perform some of the most soul-wrenching poetry I’ve ever heard, so enticing it made me lean forward in my seat, crane my neck to get closer to the heat coming off of the words, extend my ears so that the passion and the humanity rolling off their tongues could find its way to me. I drank up this poetry like warm, friendly liquor on a lonely barstool; I inhaled these talented performers while their voices made my cheeks prickle and my heart flutter. Yet each time I saw a friend, a classmate, a comrade become a masterful orator, glowing in the spotlight, I sank deeper into the dark quicksand, the endless vortex, the self-destructive pit that was my tiny seat in the enormous audience, and I let the monster inside of me absorb all the joy I might have felt at hearing the art.
It was art, yes, but there was no beauty in the way I internalized it. It was an art on which the green-eyed monster inside of me fed and developed, evolving into a sense of fury and outrage I couldn’t even recognize or comprehend. Even now, I feel the audacious heathen purring and licking its fingers with content; it is dormant, but it is ready to spring to life at the next affront against my pride. It is my longest companion, my most enduring motivation, my most damning flaw.
I feel ashamed of it. I sit here now and try to swallow it, erase it, ignore it, destroy it. But it alone is the petroleum that manages to spark the engine of my determination even after the longest night of relentless, bone-shattering work. It will follow me into the highest of highs and the depths of despair. You have to be the best, it hisses. You cannot let them beat you. You cannot let them see you fall. It pits me against people I don’t even know, against my own brothers, against the ones I love the most, against even myself.
It is the most powerful thing I know; I can’t see or breathe or speak without it, can’t even think without its steady murmuring of the euphorically addictive, poisonous motivation into the back of my mind. It makes me afraid to see others do well because I know it will make me feel hopelessly inferior and insufficient, the way I feel when I think of the size of our universe or of all the people who have roamed the earth before me. Is this what is has to come to? Anyone else’s triumph is my despair, the affirmation of my subordination?
Better than them. Hubris weaves the words behind my eyelids and in front of my fingertips, into my eardrums and out again, so that at last, they conduct even the rhythm of my heartbeat, the soundtrack of my survival. Can you imagine the shame if you let them beat you? My friends, my family, my companions, my role models. Be better. You have to be better.
There is no escape. Without it, I am capable of nothing. With it, I am the embodiment of the monster it represents.
I am afraid.