How many pieces of yourself, can you give away before you are completely lost? I don’t know the answer, all I know is I think I have been doing it all my life. I think I have literally been tearing small pieces off and handing them out, like candy, all my life. When I ask myself why, all I can come up with are these little bits of dialogue that I have heard from loved ones and strangers my whole life:
~ “Just smile for me, your smile is so pretty”
~ “Come on, it doesn’t cost you anything and it would make me so happy”
~ “Just a little bit, to make your Father (insert Brother, Mother, Sister, Boyfriend, Teacher) Happy”
~ “Don’t be so self-centered, what can it hurt, it’s just….”
~ “Come on, if you just sacrifice a little, I can have my dream, don’t you want me to accomplish my dream?”
A record on repeat inside my head that has caused me to put my own needs, dreams and desires on hold in order to make everyone else happy. A message ingrained so deeply, that not once in my first 40 years of life, did I even question “why” I should have to give away little bits of myself in order to keep others happy. Why it was my job to make anyone happy, everyone except myself?
What does this look like? It looks like letting some guy/s kiss me rather than hurting their ego. It looks like leaving the last pastry on the plate and the chocolate in the box. It is what “nice” girls do, it is quietly accepting that you come second, or third or fourth, or not at all.
I have given so much away, that it is really very hard for me to tell you what I want. I can tell you what I don’t want, and that seems to only bring more of what I don’t want into my life. It has taken me well over a year, to be able to come up with even a ghost of a thought of what I want out of life. I am also handcuffed between what I want and what I should do and be. This indecisiveness is not actually natural to me, although it is where I have been stuck for almost a decade. It translates down to almost every aspect of my life, and yet typically I am a get her done kinda girl. All I need is a plan and I can accomplish anything, I am persistent and diligent and effective. In the absence of my own plan, I have been adrift, still working, still sacrificing just not really getting anywhere, just floundering and exhausting myself doing it.
I am angry, because this is my responsibility, I’ve done this, I have given myself away in small bits and for far too little in return. While I never questioned that others deserved the very best, I was accepting that somehow, I didn’t need it. I remember being in my early twenties when I realized it was ok to ask for something, I wanted but didn’t need. I was raised to understand the difference between a want and a need and to never ask for something if I didn’t need it.
With the advent of the #metoo movement over the last few years, I think it is pretty safe to say that a large portion of the female population have found themselves triggered almost on a daily basis. I know it has been a long bumpy road for me and as the rage, fear and sadness has persistently wreaked havoc on my nervous system, I have tried to understand what we as a society need to do to change the status quo. The truth is, just like many others, I don’t really know where we go from here. I just know we cannot go back.
There has been a great deal of focus on how we need to start raising our boys to stop accepting that woman have to appease them, that we need to instill love kindness and respect for woman. That boys will be boys is not an acceptable excuse for poor behaviors. And I agree with all of these things. When I speak to my male friends, I often find that they cannot comprehend the level of fear and vulnerability that woman live with on a daily basis. They cannot comprehend the need to carry their keys between their fingers as weapons in case of an attack, or the need to look in the back seat of their cars prior to getting in. Park in well-lit areas and never leave their drinks unattended.
And while, I think we can agree that men need to become more aware of the fear and realities we have lived for our entire lives. I think we also need to analyze what it is that we need to teach our daughters that is different from what we learned. One of the things that I want to eradicate, and that word is maybe not strong enough for how passionately I feel about this; that you should not give up a little piece of yourself in order to make others happy, because those small things that can add up until you have quite literally torn yourself apart to please others.
It has become so ingrained in me that I do not know when it started but I know how it feels and it is not OK. I am a nurturer by nature, taking care of others is written into my very DNA. I have no desire to mute this very valuable part of myself, nor do I think I could even if I focused on it. It is my gut instinct to help, it’s my first response to assist, and I love and respect this part of myself. However, there is a huge difference between being of service and being in servitude and I am done with the latter. More importantly, I refuse to perpetuate this compulsion onto my children.
Breaking the habit is much harder than I would like to admit, it’s not as simple as saying no to others. It requires that I alter my thought patterns, it requires that I stop my hamster wheel of a brain and somehow set new directions. I have always done courageous very well, I defend others effortlessly. What I do not do well, is self-preservation, setting and following through on boundaries and self-care. Sadly, as I look around at many of my dear friends, I am not alone, and in this instance I really wish I was.
As I think of the many amazing woman, I am blessed to call friends, I think of being “busy” until utter exhaustion sets in, I think of putting passions and hobbies on the back burner because of this same busyness and I think of how hard it is to get together, because life just has to many responsibilities and not enough hours to steal a moment to enjoy ourselves. I really envy and respect my male friends, because they never seem to feel this way. Not to say they don’t have their own issues to deal with, and life is certainly busy all around. But more often than not, if my man friends are tired, they just say they are tired and stop, if they want to hang out with their friends, then they do and if they have a passion, they find a way to fit it in…and here’s the real kicker…they don’t feel guilty about it…and the world does not grind to a halt either.
Slowly, I have been practicing the absurd behavior, of not doing things I don’t want to do. (And I don’t mean chores, cause honestly stuff still has to get done.) I am learning to accept that when I am tired, I need to rest, and when I am stressed, I need to set time aside for myself. I am learning to pause before acting, it is giving me a chance to really assess whether I need to do it, or whether I am about do something that is a disservice to myself. I struggle with the compulsion to de-prioritize myself every minute of every day. I have made a few small breakthroughs and have failed utterly more than once or twice. And yet, I know I cannot go back, it’s only forward from here.