self image

Mulish

I’ve spent the better part of the week being momentarily grumpy over people telling me about me.

You deserve better. You should get a real job. You should go back to school. You should settle down. You deserve a good man. You would be a great mom. You should. You are. You. You. you.

Here’s the thing:

I decide who I am now.

Give it a minute to sink in. I had to. I looked at that statement and balked immediately on the idea of how selfish it is- how self serving. I’ve been told my entire life that relationships are about compromise. Meet them half way. Give of yourself to others. If you love someone, you do what is necessary to make it work. I’ve been working my entire life to be a better person, to be likeable, generous, and humble.

I sat on a couch on Saturday listening to someone earnestly break up with me (my first foray back into the dating world since my divorce). My knees were bent, legs folded under me with bare toes and a raw uncomfortable feeling welling in my chest. I notched my chin onto my palm and watched the shapes his mouth made when he couldn’t look me in the eye. The small divot of fabric over the dip of his collarbones shifted as he wet his lips, punctuating the faltering half prepared emotionally honest statement:

I’m not in a place where I can give you the kind of relationship you deserve.

I must have made some noise of distaste because he paused, brought short by the way my mouth twisted sideways on sour bitten back words. I thought for a moment about the last time someone told me I deserved better. It was a similar moment- sitting quietly curled on a couch as someone walked away.

My ex-husband moved out on Valentine’s day after a month of half heated arguments and new car payments. Everything he deemed worthwhile could be neatly packed into the dove gray Honda Fit.

I was leaning a shoulder against the porch rail; there wasn’t room for me.

He packed his records, his khaki pants, and his inability to compromise away as he told me I deserved a husband who could provide the kind of life that could afford a family. He gave me a hug, fingers digging into the doughy skin over the small of my back before squaring his jaw before driving away – complacent yogurt flavored happiness left me soft and mushy. The dogs were strewn around the living room the way we used to discard clothes. Now, the laundry was started once a day and his shirts never got softener.

J is a kind man, but selfish. L is a sweet earnest boy, but naive.

Neither of them knew me. Neither of them really tried. I was a convenience and an interest to be appreciated, enjoyed, and set aside.

Today I woke up and slipped on my shoes, unreasonably pleased that for the first time in my life my “skinny” jeans are too big. I’m not losing weight for any other reason than I’m happy. I’m not waking up in the morning for any other reason than I look forward to seeing what happens in my day.

I don’t kiss people I don’t want to any more. I don’t sleep with people because “no” seems like such a hard word to say when someone wants something from me. I don’t have to be anything but completely content with the state of my life as is.

I looked up at L, tilting my head and catching a glimpse of the black and white tiled kitchen out of the corner of my eye, only half paying attention to what he said next.

“I don’t see this going anywhere. I can’t be the kind of boyfriend you expect. I can’t be in the kind of relationship you deserve-”

“That’s great, however-” I remember how he looked at me for the first time then when I held up a hand to stop him. He really looked with soft brown eyes and a half scared breath. He saw me, that 35 year old woman who was leaning into the comfort of that brown couch. He saw the way my jaw went tight and I lifted from that core lace inside myself that knows when something is not quite right. I listen to that voice now. I respect it. I want to encourage it because that voice is the basis of my self worth: ignoring it says I can be ignored. I never raised my voice. I didn’t snap. If anything I smiled the words out like a sigh tasting of warm lazy sheet mornings. I spoke from a place of love, because no one loves me more than me. “You don’t know what I deserve. You don’t know what I expect. If this was about me in any way, then this would have been a conversation. This is about you. I’m sorry that I’m taking away your ability to feel like the good guy here, but please, leave me out of your excuses. You already left me out of the decision.”

I shrugged and pulled my sandals back on. I wasn’t going to argue. I can’t fight the way someone feels any more than I can fight the fact that it rains sometimes. I will admit to being annoyed that I’d shaved my legs and that my skin was soft to a touch that wouldn’t come. I was annoyed that something I had been enjoying on a moment by moment basis had been extrapolated out into the future and therefore to a place of uselessness. I was hurt, embarrassed, and horny- never a good combination.

What I wasn’t? Devastated. Overwrought. Depressed. Raging. Thrilled. Broken.

I gave him a hug at the door, his fingers pressing against the back of my neck and the curve of my ribcage before exhaling on his front porch- happiness burns spicy inside me and melts away the grayed layer of soft over my bones. I took a moment to rest my head against my steering wheel and just feel the loss of a small bit of something exciting and simple- the feel of a smile pressed against my temple or the touch of his forehead to the nape of my neck. I breathed in and told myself, the only person who has to live with me on a daily basis, what I deserved:

You deserve to live your life for you.

Yes or No questions.

I have had a lot of sex.

There, I said it.  I’ve banged my way around the country and left cities behind so I could walk into a grocery store without the heated “OH DEAR GOD! I vaguely remember telling him I’d call…”

I’ve had wild sex and group sex.  I’ve slept with best friends and complete strangers.  I’ve done the nervous STD check when it’s gotten to the point of oh man, I just don’t know.  I’ve let myself be used and used other people.

There is one moment that I want to talk about, because it is a time that I used to let shape who I was in the sack.  It affected my self esteem and ate away at me from the inside out.  It fed the little voice in my head that told me I was unworthy of real love. (Also, I’m going to write it as a story as a way of distancing myself a little bit from it so I can tell it.)

**

“You really want to sleep with a bald chick right now, don’t you?” She asked, elbow on the bar while a man tinkled away on a baby grand piano.  The bar was made of white marble.  The walls, smooth and cold against her shoulder blades, tilted upward to a graceful arch thirty feet above.  A chandelier glittered at the top- the crown of this aging princess.  There was a baby grand piano on a raised dias that was home to a little man with limber fingers and a soft velvety voice.  He was background music to the rich as they smiled and chatted pleasantly.

She was a wildflower in the center of this manicured garden of the drunk.  They whiled away their time in legal battles, high powered money pushing, and politics.  They were glossy like magazine pages and drove cars that purred.  Her car clattered.  It clanked and was held together with duct tape, a coke can, and sheer force of will.  She’d scrounged her shoes from next to a dumpster- black and white two tone doc martins with a magical message written inside.  Her jeans were ripped and didn’t fit like they cost more than ten dollars, which made them more honest than she was.  She grinned like she would eat them, suck the marrow from their bones and floss her teeth with their hundred dollar blowout hairstyles.  In her head she imagined them as pampered declawed house cats, while she ranged long boned and mangy.

He smiled, looked abashed, and waved for her drink to be refilled.  He was short, round, and wrapped in a designer suit.  He had dark greying hair and a credit card made of metal.  It clinked against the bar as he rolled his cigar between pale clammy fingers.  She liked that he wanted her, but was completely uninterested in him.  He ran the entire IT department for a big name company that owned most of Cincinnati.  She liked that he ordered her absinthe, bohemian and green.  It tasted like licorice and burned sweetly across her tongue.  The bartender, a sweet little blonde thing from kentucky, had brought it back with her from Prague after a fully financed whirlwind trip was tendered to her as a tip.  The girl- too young- played with the fire that melted the sugar cube and ran her fingers over her scalp.

“I do.” He replied as she took another drink.

“Good.  Maybe you’ll learn something.” She knocked back her drink.

She came to puking in a bathroom.  The seat was cold and hard against her forearm.  Everything was blurry. His voice sounded from outside the door.  She grumbled something about being cool while her stomach forced her body into painful convulsions.

Black.

She came to again with his tongue between her legs and tears smearing her makeup.  He grunted like a pig and humped against her leg. She whimpered and couldn’t remember saying no.

Black.

She woke up and he was sprawled across the bed.  Plush and round and naked.  He snored and she bit back a yell.  Pants.  Must find pants.  A scramble through an apartment she didn’t remember, just a vague impression of size, expensive swedish furniture and a huge glowing window.  She snatched up her shirt, threw on her jeans, snagged her shoes and fled.  Still drunk in the street, barefoot and clutching her shoes and purse she tried to get her bearings.  Big buildings, harsh daylight, grainy texture like an old movie.  Car, parking lot, and a stuttering run.

She didn’t realize she’d left her glasses until she’d gotten home.  She never saw them or him again.

The next night she switched bars, found a tall tattooed gum chewing freak and took him home.  She told herself it was better this way.  She told herself the only way to get over something was more of the dog that bit you.  She’d thought she was a sleek wild cat in the midst of tame housecats.  She’d never realized she was swimming with sharks and cats hate water.

**

I have too many stories like that one.  The ones where I never said yes, but I never said no either.  I have too many stories where I just throw something special away because I was sure I didn’t deserve it.

There were too many times I kissed someone because I felt sorry for them.  Too many times that I slept with someone because I thought it was what they wanted.  I never thought about me.  I never thought my opinion or my worth mattered.  There were exceptions, brilliant beautiful times that scared me, but mostly it was just sex.  That’s what I told myself.  Just sex.

Except now it’s not.  It’s not ever going to be just sex ever again.  I’m worth more than that.  I deserve to be cherished and loved.  I won’t let myself be used.

I haven’t slept with Jacob again.  I am not going to sleep with him again until I’m sure it’s just me in there.  I’m not going to let myself be used just because I feel like it is something he needs.

Love is a gift and sex should be the celebration, not the wrapping to tear and throw away.  And damnit.  I want those glasses back.

Poisoned well water and self doubt taste the same.

Warning: This is a weird post and I totally almost deleted it because I was all UGH you’re gross.  Then decided to let it stand because fuck, it’s the truth- and I’m here to be honest.

**

Okay, here’s the thing.

I have deep seated self image issues just like almost every other girl I know.

When I was a teenager, my father bought me dresses- yellow flowing dresses with pastel flowers and a delicate neckline.  I liked baggy t-shirts, flannel, and loose jeans.  He would suggest I wear makeup.  I’d throw my hair into a ponytail and slouch into class and try to hide.  The first time a boy asked me out on a date, it was a joke.  I shaved my head in college, because I didn’t want to have to buy shampoo.

I lost my virginity to a drunk guy I picked up at a bar.  It was unspectacular and embarrassing.  He smelled sour like old rum and could barely get hard.  I spent years wishing I’d lost it to my first boyfriend who thought I was beautiful and wrote poetry on my arm.  He’d been extraordinarily tall and sweet, with soft hair that fell to his shoulders in loose curls.  His smile was crooked and his body was warm.  I remember making out with him in the back of his Jeep Cherokee and the feel of his erection through his jeans.  It scared me.  I broke up with him in a hail of insults and spectacular self loathing.

Later, I wondered if he would have held me like something special.  If he would have touched me like I was fragile.  I always thought it would have been a better first time than the drunken pawing I threw it away on.

But there’s this part of me that always believed I wasn’t worth much fuss.  That I was bland, average, and pudgy.  That I wasn’t funny or intelligent.  This small voice that told me that I was unworthy of love.  I listened to it for decades.

It was alot like drowning.  I’d crest for a moment: driving and the sun would come out from behind the hill just right to backlight the leaves on the trees and make the whole world glow with this absent minded beauty that would take my breath away.  I’d think in those split seconds that I needed to remember this- to hang on to that moment because it proved that there was something vibrating in the heart of this world that loved me enough to let me glimpse it.  Then the car would turn and the glow would fade along with the moment.  I’d get distracted by someone picking their nose in traffic and laugh.  The world would lose enough luster that I felt normal again.

I started drinking and that feeling got worse.  I’d drink to feel normal and happy at first, then it would sort of spiral out of my control and suddenly I was doing something disgusting and heartbreaking.  So I had to drink more to forget what I’d done, and it would start the whole cycle over again.  I stopped trusting women, because I knew what I was capable of- so fuck anything that could do the same to me.  I started sleeping with more and more people, hoping that they would love me enough that I could maybe love myself.  I confused sexual intimacy with love.

I’d move, change bars, change scenes, change my hair, my clothes, my drink.  Nothing worked.  I still hated myself.  I ate too much and started believing my own hype.  I went for weeks without showering, just so I could feel as gross on the outside as I did inside.  It was like I was trying to encrust myself in a warning label.

People would slip into my life- unexpected people who kept trying to get me to see how beautiful I was.  They’d just clamber right over the walls I threw up around myself.  Sometimes they walked away when I cut them.  Sometimes they cried.  I pushed and pushed. Only one ever stayed- but at a distance.

It was like being in the bottom of a well.  I could see the light, the ropes people were throwing me to climb.  I just didn’t think I was worth saving.

I wish I could say that one day I just woke up and it all changed, but that would be a lie.  It’s taken years of tears and hard work.  I still slip and I still feel uncomfortable in my own skin.  I push for compliments.  I’m needy.  I work myself into a spiral of self doubt that plunges me back into self destructive habits.  It’s a constant fight.

The only difference is I take the hands.  I try to let down the walls.  I try to talk about how I feel instead of bottling it or drowning it in booze.

It’s like going to sleep at an awkward fourteen and waking up thirty and still feeling the same way.  My ass is too big, my thighs slide together when I walk.  I have a pudge under my chin and around my hips.  I don’t like being naked.  I don’t like being seen.  But now I’m willing to admit it.  I’m willing to say: “I don’t feel pretty yet, but I know that I should.”

So, I’m terrified to meet a guy I think is hotter than me.  I’m terrified I’m going to see disappointment in his eyes when he realizes I’m not a size six- not even close.  (Well, maybe closer if I’m shopping at Anne Taylor because GOD BLESS HER she sizes large.)  I’m nervous and that brings all of these ugly insecurities right to the surface.

So yea, just thought I’d share.  Cause the more I talk, the less it’s inside me and the more I can face it.  Someday, I hope to be able to stand in front of a mirror and feel content.  Not happy, or thrilled, just content to be me.  I think that’s when I’ll really start to shine.