Today and the last few days I’ve been trying to be especially nice to myself. This is a little tricky for me because I was raised to be unselfish. That is not a brag. It’s the best way I can describe my puritanistic Quakerish upbringing. The rules for being a god-fearing meeting girl were that Pride goeth before a fall and those rules still really ring loud in my head. I was taught it and real life experiences reinforced it. It’s been sort of a self-inflicted commandment for as long as I can remember. Every time I was proud I got slapped in the face with some kind of humiliating life experience that sucked. So keep your head down and let good things pleasantly surprise you. That was my motto for most of my life. I don’t believe that anymore but it still kind of haunts me. I walk around waiting for bad things to happen if too many good things happen in a row. Does that make sense?
When I was a kid my parents were always broke. My clothes were handmade or birthday presents from relatives. Sometimes my parents would come across extra money and we’d splurge.Those were the best days. I’m sure my parents were just like me and most people who have experienced poverty. When you finally get money you usually spend it twice over on the things you’ve wished you could have for so long and then you end up worse off. It’s taken me a long time to reprogram that way of living out of my head. But that’s not the story I want to tell.
I was always one of those girls who always cared about how I looked. I was shallow that way. Or you could say I was creative and I liked to express myself visually. It depends on how you look at it. Anyway, I loved fashion and being forced to wear clothes that I thought were “dorky” was incredibly painful. One day, when my parents were going through a stage of letting me wear pants (they went through stages where I could only wear dresses) they bought me some Guess Jeans at PriceClub. Remember PriceClub? We would go on these amazing shopping sprees and my parents would fill up a cart with $400 worth of merchandise. Most of it was for their business but sometimes fun things for me would jump into the cart.
I dreamt about having Guess Jeans for so long. Getting them affordably at PriceClub was life-changing! I could finally be like the other cool kids. And they looked so good on me too! Those little zippers at the ankles?!!! I loved those jeans like I have never loved anything before. I wore them as often as I could. I was proud of them. I was proud of how I looked in them. It was the BEST.
Then one day I forgot to lock my locker during P.E. and they were stolen. I had to wear my baggy sweatpants to the rest of my classes that day. Green baggy sweatpants with my regular shirt. I was crushed. I cried. I loved those jeans so much and they were just ripped away from me by some other poor kid who wanted expensive jeans too. I had to get over it. It just was the way it was. So I moped and learned not to get too attached to any material object because you never know when it’s going to be taken from you.
A few years later my parents bought me another pair of Guess Jeans. My parents were so nice. They really wanted to make me happy even though these kinds of clothes were frowned upon by the elders of our religious gathering. These jeans were white and they had zippers up the back. I loved them sooooo much. Not as much as the original blue ones but they were much more appreciated because I knew they could be taken from me at any moment.
They weren’t taken from me but they did end up being a painful memory.
I don’t remember all the details but I was wearing them on a camping trip with extended family. Why was I wearing white jeans on a camping trip!? That’s pretty weird in itself. I have no idea. Probably because I wore them all the time and I wanted to look cute ALL the time. Just ask my parents about how they bought me a butane curling iron so I could have curled hair when we went camping. I’ve always been a vain one even though they tried desperately to teach me not to be. Anyway, I digress.
So I’m wearing my cute jeans and my uncle mistakes me for his wife. They were recently married and my Aunt and I do look similar from the back. She’s a bit taller than me but we both had the same brown hair and we both were thin. AND I wore her old jacket that she gave me. So I can see why he might mistake me for her. Don’t worry, nothing bad like him accidentally pinching my butt or anything happened.
But what did happen is that my mom took me aside in our tent and told me I couldn’t wear my white jeans anymore. I was shocked. Why???!!! Why couldn’t I wear my favorite jeans? They were like a security blanket for me at this point. How could someone take them away from me after I had lost my last pair and these new ones meant so much to me? Were jeans not allowed anymore, I asked? Do we have to go back to only wearing dresses? No, she said. It’s not that. It just that you look too good in them. What?!
That took a while to sink in. I look too good in my jeans? To who? To your uncle. What?!!! My uncle that I looked up to as a godly man was lusting after me? He was old in my eyes (like 30-something to my young 16) and really cool. He was smart and intellectual and I loved listening to him talk at meeting (church) because he made the hard concepts more understandable. He was humble too. I really looked up to him. How could he possibly have evil lustful thoughts? It was so confusing. And scary.
My Uncle never did anything that made me uncomfortable. But I definitely gave him a wide berth after that. I always walked around afraid of men—which might have been good protection for me. I never was abused. I was never raped. The worst me-too moment I ever had was a boss harassing me over the phone. So I’m lucky. Lucky and scared. Or scared lucky.
Wow. This is not where I was going when I started this post. I was talking about being nice to myself when it feels counter-intuitive but somehow it turned into a post about having material things taken from me and sexism. While losing material things is a valuable lesson (one I learned again when my brother’s bicycle was stolen right off the porch while I practiced the piano a mere feet away, and then again when I was in college when his bike was stolen right out of my garage and then when my laptop, camera and new $200 backpack were stolen in Italy…) these things happen and I’ve come to expect them. I’ve come to be okay with it and to look for the bigger lesson.
What I wanted to share is that we need to be kinder to ourselves if we are going through hard stuff. This rings so wrong to me because I was always raised to be against self-love. It was the very opposite of what I was taught. I was taught that self-love is hedonism and you might as well be partying with the devil. I was taught that we are born with wickedness in our hearts that only Jesus can take away. I don’t know that I believe that anymore. I know this could be controversial and I don’t really want to argue. I just want to be kinder to myself so I can heal and get better.
The practical way I am applying this is not trying to be so perfect when I’m going through something hard. Quitting drinking is hard. Being mentally fragile is hard. Quitting and being mentally fragile during a pandemic and a civil rights movement is exponentially hard. Maybe the last time when I tried to quit and I got grumpy and then super sad it was a side effect of how hard it is to quit something your brain has used to cope for a very long time. I didn’t even know I was using alcohol for that. Maybe I wasn’t. I have no idea. I don’t feel like I was but I can be kinder to myself if it’s going to help me get through this.
Going forward I am going to quiet my inner lectures and let myself chill with my thoughts. I can stop beating myself up for failing on so many fronts. I don’t have to be perky and happy. I don’t have to be the perfect mother or a touchy-feeling partner (I’m not a cuddler) or domestic goddess when I’m quitting something that is addictive. Maybe it’s okay to eat a little more or have a little sugar or just be a bit stand-offish. I can put ice cream in my coffee because we ran out of milk. I can take an Advil for that arthritis that’s flaring up. It’s okay. I’ve stopped watching the news. I’ve stopped reading Facebook. I’m writing my thoughts to my beloved lurkers again. I’m doing some self care. Not hedonism. Just quiet self care.
And I’m trying to be nice to other people too. Everyone seems a little down these days. Even my kids.
How are YOU?