Thursday, May 24, 2012

How Life Works

Recently I spoke to someone dear to me, and she expressed the idea that “maybe only 10%” of her problems came from her parental issues and that the rest was about things that happened after she grew up. At the time I couldn't figure out how to fully express my response to that, so I let it go. But it has been on my mind ever since.

So, I want to bring together a couple of the things I've been talking about for the past week or two. First, the sense of being broken that arises when your childhood wasn't particularly good (who knows, maybe it was really really bad, or maybe it wasn't The Worst Thing Ever) and second, the sense of self-hatred that comes along with it. Because I believe that the real deal is this – maybe it isn't literally about the things that happened to you; maybe it's about how you learned to respond to those things, and what those things made you believe about yourself. It's about what those events taught you about How Life Works.

One of the big problems that comes from this borrowed sense of How Life Works is the inability to accept that you deserve anything better. For me, and perhaps for the women I am closest to in my life, we became unable to choose or to make decisions for ourselves based on a “best outcome.” We accepted what came into and out of our lives without really thinking about it or about what we wanted – because what we wanted didn't really matter.

As always, I can't speak for you or even for my own sisters, but as for me... well, I learned early enough that a man, ANY man, even a bad one, was better than no man. So I accepted the first one that came along, the first one to pay some attention to me. Was he a good man? Was he good FOR me? Was the relationship healthy for me? I never even asked. But I didn't have to make that decision, anyway, because I had no right to choose between good or bad. I didn't deserve any better than whatever I got.

And honestly? I got lucky. I had a couple of loser boyfriends after high school, but they drifted away before anything really unfortunate happened. I got married in my mid-twenties to a nice enough guy. He was harmless, if useless; he was a child, not a partner, and I was a surrogate mother at best. But I didn't really CHOOSE him. He just showed up, he liked me, and since I took care of him, he just assumed I would marry him and then I did. I don't think he ever even officially asked – he just introduced me one day to his mother as the woman he was going to marry. He wasn't a bad guy, but in the end he wasn't the right guy... only I never bothered to make that decision at the beginning. I clearly remember thinking that this was my one and only chance. That surely, no one else would ever want to marry me. It didn't matter that he wasn't right, just that he had showed up.

This pattern of not-choosing, of not-deciding, is so insidious. And such a relief! Your life just happens, and you just go along with it, and nothing is ever your fault. You never chose it, so in a way, you didn't do it. You aren't responsible. And really, deep inside you know it, even if you won't admit it, that when it all goes wrong it's really what you deserved all along anyway.

So think about it, even if just for a little while. What did your family teach you about How Life Works? Mine taught us that you hold on to the hand you've been given. No matter what. Even if you don't like it, because what you want or like or need is not important. What's important is that you accept what you are given and try to make the best of it. And then you wait. You wait for it to get good or you wait for something to go so bad, so very very wrong, that the hand you hold is literally taken away from you. And then it's over, but it's okay because you did your best, you got what you deserved, and it still isn't your fault. Because you don't get to choose and that's How Life Works.

Except.... that’s all bullshit. What I want matters. What I need matters. I matter.

I can choose, and I choose to take care of myself. I can choose, and I choose to give of myself to people who are worthy of it. I can choose, and I choose to be loved. I can choose, and I choose to protect myself from those who would do me harm. I can choose, and sometimes I choose you over me - but sometimes I must choose me. Because I matter, and that’s how life works.

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