Addictions and taking baby steps

When I was a little girl, I remember this so clearly. I was perhaps eight years old or there abouts, and at the time of this memory, I was standing in the bathroom beside a cupboard used for storing towels. I asked my mother this question: “Am I good?”

My mother answered me as best she knew how, telling me that I was good as I could be. She knew me well- I could also be stubborn and strong-willed. As any child can be. But in light of her response, I remained unconvinced. I wanted more than a ‘pat’ answer. I wanted truth. And I wanted the truth to be what I believed: that she knew me as being someone kind and good. Someone inherently upright. I wanted her to say of me- that who I was, the person I was becoming, was someone worth affixing the label “good” to.

I have never forgotten that moment, although there are other moments in my life of which I still wonder about now as an adult. Times when I was bullied in my middle school years and taunted for all manner of reasons, not the least of which being that I wasn’t pretty enough, classy enough or mature enough. I remember those moments as survival, moments in which one couldn’t care less about being good. One just wished to live through it with one’s dignity intact.

I remember too, not living up to certain expectations others had of me and rebelling against the desired good in me. The little girl who strived to please became rebellious against the golden standard of ‘good’. Because it just wasn’t worth it to work so hard. Who needed good when they could be ‘bad’ and get the same attention?

I am approaching my fortieth birthday next month, but there is still a little girl inside me that cries out to anyone who will listen, “Am I good? Good enough? Am I worth noticing? Do you see me?”

I hear that little girl’s voice in my writing, when she hits “post” on a Facebook status, blog or article.

I hear her in my conversations with colleagues, friends and family.

I hear her talking in the staff room, in the classroom and in graduate level discussions with her own classmates.

I hear her at the supper table when she is talking to her children and Husband.

I hear her relentlessly ask the same question over and over and over: “Am I good?”

And interwoven throughout every conversation, every thought, every nuance of language both spoken or otherwise, she asks of those around her, “Am I worth something? Am I good?”

It is a need- an addiction, if you will. Yet one so subtle you might never even notice it (were she not to write out the truthful words of it all here). It seems so harmless, really.

We often think of addictions as being those outwardly noticeable compulsions that lead one to dependence, obsessions and habits. I admire those who are able to talk of their addictions, who are able to share their experiences. I see great courage and strength in those who tell their stories of addiction. But I have never really thought of myself as having an addiction. Never really seen such in me. Strangely, addictions can show up in the form of needs so seemingly benign- needs that we all innately crave- that these same innocent of all addictions can compel one to want something so deeply, they are willing to go to great extremes to get it. I should know- I have one of these seemingly innocent addictions. I crave positive affirmation. I just want to be good, and I always have.

I have always wanted people to think I am good. Think I am quality. As someone with value. And there is a little part of me that curls up inside when I feel disregarded. Cast off. When I feel as though I were invisible. There is still a little girl inside that feels darkness settle over her like a cloud at times. Because in truth, she has always wanted to be noticed. She has always wanted to be considered by those she holds in high esteem and even otherwise, to be enough. That girl- I know her well, she has always wanted to feel special. Always wanted to be seen. She has always wanted to be ‘enough’.

Good enough.

And at times, this obsession has become a singular preoccupation in my life, at the expense of all other priorities. That’s how it is with addictions. They take over. The first step is admission. And here I am. Telling you, my friends, that I struggle with this. I have an addiction to approval and it is at times insatiable.

For me, in living with myself and my idosyncracies, the best way of acknowledging this messy part of who I am is through my writing. I have started to live my life out loud and in the open because I love being able to share my thoughts and musings with others. I love connecting to people. Love the relationships that develop. I love creating community with my confessions, so that we can share our lived experiences together. But there is also another reason for which I have often held shame and that is this: I need people. Deeply. For many different purposes, some of which are noble. But some of which are not.

I must confess.

In connecting with other people in both private and public spaces, I am able to feed the addiction for approval. For I want it very, very much. I am able to feed the hunger for confirmation that I am ‘enough’- enough in every way, in everything I do, not the least of which is my writing. And I am able to meet this need through the encouragement I garner from things so minute as an opinion to concerns of utmost importance. Affirmation is an addiction. And it can consume a person’s thoughts. It can drive a person crazy. And there can also be shame. Shame in admitting all of this messiness about my truthful self ‘out loud’; for who wants to be seen as needy and weak?

I am nearing middle age and yet, I still want to be perceived as admirable. I still desire to please others so as to hear them tell me how good I am. And all this, even though I know I am loved. Even though I know that I am cherished by a Father. Even though I know. My head admits it, yet my heart still needs some convincing by times. I still have that need for approval even though I know that who I am is who I have always been meant to be.

Even though I know.

So I take comfort tonight: that confession is a baby step toward healing. Believing in myself and my inherent worth is a close second. Knowing I am loved and cherished and teaching this to my heart, the underlying foundation.

I press on. Tonight I walk forward, making progress with baby steps.

One little footstep at a time.

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Joy of alternatives…

I sometimes think about alternatives.  What is it that makes one conversation interesting and another one not so much?  Why is it that one minute I am happy and another minute, sad?  Why are lions not tame and puppies wild?  Why is dessert last and veggies first?  Why am I so consumed with alternatives and not with other more reflective topics?  Topics like… planning our Labour Day camping trip?

Alternatives are to me by definition, opposites.  They are that which is and that which is not.  For instance, I am a teacher by trade, but I often wonder what it would be like to be a full-time writer instead.  The alternative is this: live in the tried and true, the steady source of income; or take a leap of faith and plunge into the unknown world of self-employment.  Quite an alternative of choice in that last sentence.

Life-altering.

I think of alternatives with even greater stakes, those which change the course of a life.  And these alternatives are the hardest ones to ponder.  But what has got me really thinking in the last little while is what the alternative would be for me if my life was more dramatic.  Flashy.  Fascinating.  More content driven.  I am after all, a writer; and writers want to gain readership.  But how?  Would it make for better writing material if my life were more tragic?  More interesting story lines if I was funnier? A greater demand from my readership if I had a more sensational life story?

My life is so…bland.

I was reading about a writer today who deals with addictions.  As a result of telling her story, hundreds and thousands of people have reacted to her experience and shared their own tale of woe and heartache.  There are many, many people out there with painful life stories.  Many who suffer addictions.  Many who are depressed and suicidal.  Many who are desperate for answers to life’s dilemmas.   Desperate for hope.  And it got me thinking this thought.   Unless your life is lived on the brink of disaster, there is seemingly so little to share, to relate to the greater world out there.  For what people want to read about are life experiences that mirror their own, or on the contrary which provide worthwhile reading material to keep them from living that kind of life.  What people don’t want to read about are ordinary lives lived in predictable ways.  Because who really wants to read about someone’s tough day as a mom when they are just about to pop a pill to end their life?  Or who really needs to hear another rant about someone’s bad day when their own alternative life is too horrific to even contemplate?  And far worse are those of us whose lives seem to be peaches and roses…who wants to read about that?

I think people want sensational storylines because it is not only more interesting to read, it opens the reader up to raw, edgy and honest material that challenges and moves people to different levels of understanding.  Sensational reading material is vulnerable and transparent.  Sensational seems more real because it bares all.  And it holds back nothing.  It is tragic, poetic, mystic and dramatic in one messy package.  While ordinary, as the alternative, is quite the opposite.  It is boring, uninteresting, un-provocative.  Predictable.

Same old, same old.  Ho hum.  Why do I care, you ask?  Because I am this: boring.

However, is it worth it to be the alternative?  To live life in that larger than life place, just so one can be read and thus validated?  Is it worth it to live a shattered life so as to have a story to tell?  Is it worth it to be turned inside out so as to compel people, and thus draw them in?  Is it worth it?  Is the greater trade off, that of trading in a perfectly good, perfectly normal existence for a more dramatic life that is noteworthy, worth it in the end?

Hard call.  I know that some would say it is worth it.  Particularly celebrities who have cashed in on fame with the cost of their privacy.  Even ordinary people would say they would not change a thing about their lives when tragedy or fortune comes calling. How can we say what is best for our lives when we know no other life than the one we are living?

I digress.  What I am really analyzing here is what makes great reading material, and the alternative, what does not.  At the end of the day, people want to read the words of someone they feel a connection with.   And when the connections are made, readers are able to feel empathy and understanding from those writers who KNOW HOW IT IS from personal experience.

It is so validating for both the reader and the writers when the written word strikes a chord. Ordinary folk who live lives that command little attention from the outside world can still make an impact.  The ripple effect is not as wide but it is no less real.  These writers and players are quietly going about their business, raising families, holding down jobs, paying off mortgages, solidifying relationships and trying to be decent citizens of the world.  No one notices if they drop off the social scene because they are not limelight seekers.  Neither do they demand that people notice.  They have nothing to prove to anyone other than their closest circle of family and friends.

This group of people is the largest sector out there.   It is thus worthwhile to know the hearts and minds of these ordinary folk particularly when they are the status quo.  It is important to find out how ordinary people live out their ordinary lives when the majority of us in this big old world are likewise ordinary people living out ordinary lives.

There is strength in the status quo.  Everyday people are where it’s at.

Because even ordinary people can have extra-ordinary stories tucked away inside.  I’m all for talking to everyone regardless of stereotype, age, social class or distinction.  People are people are people.  So whether people suffer addiction or depression or the baby blues, people are struggling to make it through the best way they know how.  And sometimes the world needs to hear from people whose lives are larger than our own.  And other times it just needs to hear from the regular folk who are plugging away on the periphery.  Either way, there are truths to be heard and understood.  From the mouths of those who are the greatest of us to those who are the very least.

At the end of the day, it is not the story that has the greatest importance but the storyteller.  And regardless of whether the package is covered with delicate tissue or a brown paper bag, inside is a gift that is worth unwrapping.  The gift.  A life story unique and unparalled.  Like no other, and never to be replicated.  And truly, how extraordinary and rare is that?