Originally published January 29, 2009
I’ve gotten into the habit of drawing a face on the steamed-up glass door of my shower each day as I step in for my daily sudsing. The face represents my mood: sometimes it frowns; sometimes it looks confused; more often than not lately it smiles. The shower face serves as a playful little daily reminder: Here I am! This is how I’m feeling right now.
Thoughts create reality, and I’ve been thinking quite a few positive thoughts lately, and mostly feeling upbeat as a result. After a lifetime of letting other people’s opinions determine my perception of myself, it feels foreign to be validating my own worth. But here I am, starting to recognize myself.A week or so ago I was feeling down as I stepped into the shower, but I optimistically drew a smiley face despite myself. I thought it might cheer me up. But when I glanced over at the little face I’d drawn I noticed that all the moisture in the shower had caused drops of condensation to run from the eyes. My smiley face now looked like it was crying. At first I felt sorry for myself. How had the shower found me out? But then I had to laugh at how intuitive and wise my shower door seemed to be. The smiley became a self-fulfilling prophecy.
When I was around the age of 13 I was riding in my dad’s truck with him and my brother after a day of working on his sod farm. I’d mowed the huge sod fields by pulling a large set of gang mowers behind a mid-sized farm tractor. I was pretty good at mowing (in fact, I still love to mow the lawn), and so I was feeling proud of a day’s work well done. My dad, brother and I were eating handfuls of Milk Duds and chattering away as we drove.
“You guys want to go to the bar for a soda?” my dad asked.
My (younger) brother cheered enthusiastically but I shook my head. I knew what the bar meant. It meant sitting in a dark, smokey room with a bunch of grimy men in jeans and baseball caps who smelled like beer and occasionally eyed my (bigger-than-average) breasts. It meant they’d want to talk to me even though I didn’t want to talk to them, and when I didn’t talk they’d laugh their hoarse laughs and say things like, “Whatsa matter? Cat got yer tongue?”
And my dad would laugh with them. They were his drinking buddies. Me? I was just his daughter.
“You don’t want to stop at the bar?” my dad asked, seeing my reluctance. “What’s wrong with the bar? I’ll buy you guys a soda.”
“I just don’t want to go, okay?” I muttered.
“You’re no fun,” my dad said. He held up the box of Milk Duds and gave it a shake. “You’re like this,” he jeered, “You’re a dud!”
He hadn’t said it in a hostile way; he was joking. He and my brother had laughed, and neither of them noticed when I turned to look out the window and watch the scenery roll by, tuning them out, feeling outcast and invisible. They didn’t realize how I’d taken the comment to heart. I thought of duds in terms of the fireworks we kids loved to light with my grandpa on the 4th of July. The duds were the ones that didn’t work, the ones with wicks that burned down and then merely sputtered and went out. No sparkles, no smoke, no flash, no bang. Duds were disappointments, a waste of time and money.
That’s me, I thought miserably. Nothing but a dud.
I spent much of my life seeking validation from other people and only rarely, or so it seemed to me, getting it. So I learned that my feelings didn’t matter. I learned to set my own emotions aside and focus instead on trying to invoke feelings in others so that their reactions to me, whether positive or negative, would define me. I felt frustrated and out of control when I couldn’t seem to make people feel the way I wanted them to feel, or react the way I wanted them to react.
But I can’t make people love me or even like me. Either they’ll be drawn to me because of who I am and what I do and say…or they won’t. I don’t need others to tell me what I want and need to hear about myself in order to feel worthy of love and respect. I can only tell myself those things, and sometimes even believe them. The years since I’ve learned about codependency have been about discovering, for the first time in a very long time, that no one defines my reality but me. And no one dictates my moods but me.
Me and my shower, that is.
Photo by Mixy Lorenzo. Creative Commons license.