A Skeleton In The Old Magazine Closet
Just when I thought I was a fully processed guru (joking), I got thrown into a tailspin.
Let’s take a break from our regularly scheduled (intense!) programming to talk about something super fresh. Yesterday was sort of a tough Earth School day for me, so I tossed the column I was working on, (Yes! Lots of sex, lies and deceit! Wheeee! 🤪 Don’t worry, I’ll get to that story in a future edition.) in favor of a live update.
So… WTF happened yesterday… Background: An online media outlet is working on a profile about me. This is not new territory. I’ve been the subject of many a profile. But in the old days, I had publicists who controlled the story. Like, if you remember, I mentioned a few weeks ago that the Hearst PR machine wanted to make sure that “burn out” and “Atoosa” didn’t appear together in this one profile that was coming out in the early days of CosmoGIRL! when honestly? Burnout and Atoosa were synonymous at that point. And on the flip side, when I went rogue and blew out of the company, the same PR machine planted bad shit (that was total BS) about me in the New York Post. My point is, often the articles we read have at least a whiff of bullshit. Not always. But often. So in the spirit of Unedited, I was really open with the reporter, putting her in touch with editors who wanted to stab me in the eyeballs when we worked together and just generally opening my proverbial underwear drawer for her. No publicist. No control. Just me, (genital) warts and all. Just kidding. I don’t have genital warts – but after the abortion story, you know I’d tell you if I did. Yeah girl. We’re sisters. 😉
So yesterday, I spoke to one of my former colleagues who had been interviewed for the piece. She was worried about the angle. I had just woken up from a nap (I was up late the night before – ahh – new love! ) so I was in a vulnerable half-asleep state when we spoke and…
I was totally gripped with fear.
Listen, I usually only write about stuff I’ve already processed. Like when I talk about abortions, incest, infidelity – I’m not trying to work it out publicly. I’ve already worked it out using a variety of modalities from different therapies to meditation over the past 13 years. By contrast, this week I was speaking to a guy friend who was telling me he had so much sympathy for me. “Poor thing,” is actually the phrase he used. He couldn’t believe all the shit I had gone through. And yet within the same conversation, he was sharing this really “funny” story his mother would tell him about how she’d see his cute little fingers wiggle under his door after bedtime…because he and his siblings were locked in their bedrooms every night! My heart broke for that little boy. My point is, we all have heavy stuff in our backpacks. We just reframe them for our emotional survival. But that doesn’t mean they’re not there and they’re not weighing us down in some way. I’m sharing my hard-core stories with you because I want you to see that nothing terrible happens when you look at, work through and share your worst fears and experiences in community. We release our shame and there’s a tremendous freedom that comes from doing so. There’s authenticity. Intimacy. Deeper connection in our relationships. If CosmoGIRL! was a love letter to the awkward, teenaged Atoosa. Unedited is a love letter to Atoosa in her 20s and 30s, making her way as a grown up in the world, dragging the heavy baggage from her childhood and making self-destructive choices. I’ve taken so many of these experiences out and analyzed them and I’m excited to share what I’ve learned, in case it’s helpful.
But yesterday put me face to face with an old demon I hadn’t worked on.
I’m not going to lie. This reporter’s (very appropriate) critical thinking had me fucking spiraling. I didn’t use any of my awesome coping strategies that usually work so well for me. I suddenly lost all perspective on what I was doing. Like why am I sharing all this dark content? I wasn’t thinking about making money. I just wanted to be in community again. Is that wrong? Am I an idiot? Am I crazy and no one in my life has told me? This is all stemming from a reporter asking perfectly relevant questions for a piece she is writing. I mean…I was questioning my sanity for a solid 12 hours! 🤦🏻♀️
Because I wasn’t using my self-love tactics (Note to self: Sweet Atoosa remember they are there for you!), I leaned heavily on my closest friends. And my beloved bestie, David, nailed it for me. He said Unedited may have my name, but it is not Atoosa, the human being. A reporter can question or even hate it. And that’s perfectly fine. It’s her job and prerogative. But at the end of the day, it’s just something I am making. It is not me. I had felt completely unsafe! Under siege! I was conflating two things. Atoosa, the human and “Atoosa,” the content creator. It was a major light-bulb moment.
It was a struggle I had completely buried from back when I was an Editor-in-Chief.
My self-esteem used to get so tied up in my magazines. If an issue didn’t have a high newsstand sales number, I just felt like such a colossal failure…useless and worthless. Like, I think back to the choice to put Shirley Manson from Garbage on the November 2001 cover of CosmoGIRL! I loved her. I respected her. She was intense and so kick ass. But she didn’t sell huge on the newsstand for us. In fact…she tanked. That same month Teen People had ‘NSync on their cover. You can guess which one sold better. While I had no regrets about getting behind Shirley per se, I still hung my head in shame for the month. Or when our MTV show wasn’t renewed. Again…it was as though I suffered a death. (Don’t worry DT, my angel, I still love you! 😜) If I’m not successful, then what am I? I was confusing Atoosa Rubenstein with “Atoosa Rubenstein,” the magazine editor. All my value came from being an editor and my whole being was devoted to using my career as an opportunity to bury my past and create a very different future. But when my self-esteem was calculated monthly based on my newsstand sales, it hardly provided the safety I was seeking. It was terrifying.
The 13-year sabbatical did give me a break from the monthly AtoosaCoaster, and I really did build a solid sense of my own self and worth. But the benefits of my old job were still somewhat intact. When we would get an unexpected boon that was connected to my old life, I’d always say “Thank you ‘Atoosa,’” with air quotes. It somehow helped me to differentiate these perks and quirks from my real life. “Atoosa” helped my kids get into great schools. “Atoosa” was a mom some (opportunistic) moms wanted to sidle up to (lots of nice moms out there, too, who were real friends with plain old Atoosa, no air quotes). “Atoosa” secured hard to get restaurant reservations. I didn’t have a job, but my kid’s birth was still announced in People. The “Atoosa” thing was sort of insidious. But I mostly felt the positive parts of my magazine alter ego during my hiatus and I kept it separate my real life. (Which is easy when you have kids - they think you’re lame no matter what!). And I wasn’t putting any content out into the world so the other side of the coin just went unprocessed.
Thankfully, all the architecture was in the right place so that one moment of awesome best friend wisdom yesterday really landed. (BTW - Davey, I wish you had answered your phone like 6 hours earlier, I would have had a much better day!) One super barfy, shitty day of spiraling and spinning out that ended with an epiphany: Although I create a product, I am not a product. I am not a product. I am not a product. And I don’t think this message is unique for me. This is for anyone who parks their self-esteem in their job or anything on the outside. That shit changes. What’s inside us is eternal. That’s why this soul work is so crucial for me. For you. For us. Now that I’m “back,” I gotta know the AtoosaCoaster can and will get triggered. And there’s literally no feeling I hate more than spiraling. Give me grief and sadness any day. So I’ve got my tools ready (hand on belly, hand on neck) and I love my awesome friends, but next time I’m getting myself out the tree, dammit. I’m prepared, this time. I’m prepared.
If you need help getting out of the tree, you know where I am, 24/7, as always at email@example.com.
The soundtrack of my 🤍🖤❤️ :