A Conversation With Essence Atkins On The Toxicity Of Bitterness
I am absolutely and unequivocally in a season of bitterness right now. Every risk I've taken, every opportunity I've gone out for, everything I've tried to manifest in the past 18 months has left me with egg on my face. And I'm tired. I'm out of try. I'm out of hope. And worse than that I'm stuck.
Sometimes I laugh to myself as I prepare questions for interviews because I know I'm going to ask about feeling like you're not enough and I know no one probably needs to hear the answer that follows more than me. Case in point Essence Atkins, who I knew before I even dialed into our Zoom call was going to speak a word to me. I've followed Essence ever since I interviewed her at Essence Fest a couple of years back and felt that serene wisdom Gabrielle Union often speaks of when she talks about her. The interview was about her new movie, "Christmas Dilemma" in which she makes her directorial debut, making her one of those chosen people, as I call them, who is leaving the pandemic better than when they entered it. I talked to her about the two camps of "survivors," so to speak. The people who feel like they've lost a whole year due to the pandemic and the others who've successfully pivoted and come into a new version of themselves, and she told me she certainly counts herself among the latter.
"There are definitely days that I have just allowed myself to wallow, right? Wallow in my own whatever, whatever it was, sometimes it was fear, sometimes it was anxiety, sometimes it was just like sadness about some of the things that have occurred this year. And then you have to decide not to allow yourself to stay there. I think it's important that we acknowledge our challenges, particularly at a time of civil unrest, particularly at a time of people losing their lives and so much tragedy. I would never recommend like, oh yeah, just push past it and just go ahead and put one foot in front of the other. There are days that you really do just need to sit with it and process and cry and talk it through and pray, like really pray and release it. But you can't stay there. You can't stay there. And I'm definitely not one to stay anywhere where things are going to get the best of me."
Essence chalks that attitude up to the New Yorker in her, which may explain why I feel like I don't have any of it in me. (Twelve years in NYC does not a New Yorker make apparently.) But I dig a little deeper and ask for a specific mantra or belief or anything that has helped her sojourn through these past nine months of peril and the actress told me this.
"Love. Love yourself, love others, love those around you, love the people who curse you, who hate you, who undermine you, love. And it doesn't mean that you can't have boundaries and it doesn't mean that you allow them to be close. But love, it just helps you release stuff, you're not burdened with bitterness because bitterness is a root and you can't put a root in a box. Once you're bitter, that thing grows like...mold, Bitterness is like toxic mold. It just spreads and it can't discern that the bitterness is only supposed to go toward others. It'll be toxic to you too so I think it's really important that we don't get stuck in that."
As I take in Essence's words, I mentally remind myself this is not an Iyanla Vanzant session and I don't get to harp on that point, but I want to. More than that, I need to. Check the video below for more on why Essence says love is the only salve for bitterness.