Vulnerability and the Selfie
I’ve been trying to get the hang of taking selfies for the last few years. I don’t like having my picture taken. I never did. I’ve had a lot of insecurities to get over. Not only do I not like having my picture taken, but I don’t like other people to see my picture. This blog has been a place for me to be vulnerable. I am adjusting to writing with an audience in mind.
I spent the morning looking through the handful of pictures I have on my phone to see which one I was okay enough with. I chose this one for a lot of reasons but mostly because it makes me just nervous enough. So here’s the ugly truth, as it were. I’m turning sixty this year. I’m losing my hair and have gained a significant amount of weight in the last few years. So the double, no triple, chin thing is a big insecurity. The glasses are another one. I have few pictures with my glasses on. Sunglasses are okay because they are huge and cover most of my face. There it is. This isn’t the picture I’m crazy about. It’s the one that challenges me to be okay with imperfection. I am practicing at being okay with other people seeing my imperfections.
Other people’s opinions
If you read my last blog you know that I really like Brené Brown. She is one of the people I admire for their honesty, and willingness to be vulnerable. There are few these days that are willing to take the chance of being publicly vulnerable. I like what she said in her Netflix special, “posting your live bikini wax isn’t being vulnerable.” I like how Brené Brown addresses the judgmental criticism of others. In a nutshell she says, it’s so much easier to cause pain than to feel pain. People like that are taking their pain and working it out on other people.
We don’t have to take to what people say and hold it close to our heart and rehearse it. I’ve done that. I did it for years. And breaking the habit of not listening to criticism is hard. We think we want to know what other people think about us. Really what we want to know is that we are accepted and loved for who we are. The reality is not everyone is going to like us or accept us. Furthermore not everyone can be trusted with our story. Not everyone is safe and cares about us. A lot of people are hurting and afraid of rejection. I think most of us are. Even people who appear really confident on the outside may in fact be truly scared on the inside. People who off load their insecurities in the form of criticism don’t deserve our attention. They haven’t earned our trust and therefore don’t have to be given access to our heart just because they have an opinion.
My Grandfather used to say, “Betty, most people live in silent desperation.” And while I believe he was on to something. It’s only half the story. I lived in a state of desperation for years. I wanted to be accepted. And when we aren’t accepted for who we truly are, we seek approval by being what people want us to be. Rejection can do a real number on our self image and self esteem. Mine was in the gutter for decades. It took courage to fight my way out of that smelly gutter. The problem is that misery likes company. If I felt bad I want company. I wanted someone to feel bad with me. I was all too willing to wallow in the mire but I didn’t want to do it alone. The worst thing for someone wallowing in the mire is to come across someone who has washed off the gunk and is laughing and playing in the sprinkler. It’s downright unnerving. And at times we just throw gunk on them because it makes us feel better. It’s an awful thing to do but hurting people do it every day.
The War on Fear and Pain
I found out the hard way that close friends can get mean real quick when you climb out of the gutter. I used to have friends that I really thought were friends but it turned out they really weren’t. The dynamic of those friendships had to change when I stopped attending the after work pity party. When I stopped indulging in self pity my so called friends were all too ready to drag me back to the garbage dump. I didn’t realize that they were really only spending time with me because we had one thing in common, a shame based way of thinking. They wanted to keep rehearsing their pain. I wanted out of my pain. The more effort I made to break free the harder it was to stay in relationship with certain people. As it turns out I had to make the decision to either end the relationship or forever stay in the gunk. I ended the relationships. It was hard. It was especially hard when I had no one to hang out with. There was no one to go the movies with, no one to go out to dinner with and no one to share my life with. It was damn hard. I hated it. And nearly every day I wanted to run back to the gutter just to have some someone to play with. It was hard when they didn’t understand why I didn’t want to join them in the garbage dump.
I don’t know where the ability came from. I can only give God’s grace the credit. I wouldn’t have made it without it. I cried a lot. I ate my way through the ice cream aisle of the grocery store. I binge watched everything. But, eventually I got out. And I haven’t looked back. I don’t drive by the old neighborhood, so to speak. In my former life I used control to offset my fears. I don’t live like that anymore. I also don’t allow myself to be manipulated by others. And it was a war to come out of those behaviors. I can however attest that it was well worth the battle. I stopped fighting with people and starting fighting my fears and addressing the source of my pain.
It was not easy to go to the theater and buy one ticket. It wasn’t easy to stay home when I knew everyone else was at a party, or some celebration. I have spent a lot of holidays alone. And I’m not looking for pity when I say that. I am just putting it out there that in order for me to come out of the place of pain I had to walk through another kind of pain. It wasn’t easy. It was gut wrenchingly painful. But it was worth the pain and loss. What has made it worth it is the safety, peace and joy that I now have.
Waging the War
In the past I would have sacrificed my own happiness, emotional safety and enjoyment just so I could be with my family, or those I called friends. What I had to come to terms with was that a number of those people simply didn’t value me. As a result they didn’t respect me. I wasn’t treated as if I mattered. I remember one Christmas in particular. I was at my son’s place. I was invited to dinner. The house was full of people. My son was in the garage with his younger brothers and few other guys. They were smoking weed and drinking. I don’t do either. I sat in the living room by myself with no one to talk to because my daughter-in-law didn’t want me in the kitchen. I didn’t just assume that. She told me so.
I sat there miserable because I was ignored the whole day. It hurt. It was awful. When I decided to leave early my son was hurt and offended and accused me of being antisocial. and ruining his holiday. Not OUR holiday, HIS holiday. It didn’t matter that I had been ignored and shoved in a corner as long as I was there when he wanted me to be there. He didn’t want to talk to me. He didn’t want to spend time with me. He wanted a mom he could pull out and prop up like the artificial tree. And when the season was over he could put me back in the closet. As long as I didn’t drop needles like a real tree, it was okay. For a long time I played the game. I played the game because I wanted family. I wanted to spend time with my kids. But this wasn’t fun. This was hurtful. And even though I was physically there I wasn’t included.
I had four sons. Everyone of them is an addict in different stages of addiction. Three have spent time in prison for drug related issues. That isn’t who I am. It isn’t who I want to be. And it isn’t the life I have chosen for myself. It isn’t the life I chose for my kids. It’s the life they chose despite my every effort to prevent it. As I sat there that Christmas Day I made a decision that was long in coming. I decided this was the last holiday I would spend miserable because I spent it with people who didn’t value me. I made the choice to spend my holidays (and every other day) with those who were sober, even if it meant spending my holiday alone.
I have spent every Christmas alone since my mom died in 2013. I haven’t celebrated Thanksgiving with family in as many years. I have not attended one birthday party or other family occasion for the same reason. And if you think it’s been easy it hasn’t. I have cried a river over the lack of family. There are times when I have fought with the temptation to just show up even though I knew no one would engage with me. I tried to convince myself that being able to just watch them in their lives was enough. It wasn’t. Watching family and being a part of family are not the same.
This war I have waged is one of being true to myself. It has included establishing boundaries and holding them firm. My family is not safe. They destroy each other. Even my sons, who get along really well, have the potential to drag each other down. They are not good for one another. Two of my sons who have been in recovery did so while they were incarcerated. One is still locked up. So while I got to visit them it wasn’t across the family dinner table.
Peace and Joy on the other side of war
Today I spent my first Mother’s Day with one of my sons. He is sober and wants me in his life. He has done that by pursuing relationship with me. He has put forth an effort to include me and engage in conversation with me. Because he is willing to make the effort, so am I. We just went out for coffee. We hung out and enjoyed each other’s company. We talked. We laughed. We had what many people would consider normal. To most people this would not be a big a deal. But for me it was a great prize. My son’s eyes were not bloodshot because he had to get stoned before he could spend time with me. He didn’t need me to pick him up because he got his license suspended because of a DUI. He didn’t talk on the phone with someone else while I sat there wondering why I showed up.
It was mom and son being normal, being ourselves. No pretense. No anxiety. Nothing went sour. I walked away feeling good and nothing got in the way. It was safe. It was peaceable. It was enjoyable. It was what I had waged this war for in the first place. We both won today. We won because we got to enjoy each other in a way that was safe and enjoyable for both of us. This was right up there with his kindergarten macaroni art. It was offered with a smile and a proud, “Mom I made this for you.” This is my way of hanging it on the fridge.
This was the peace I have fought for.