A couple of years ago, I found myself in a Joanne Fabrics. It was one of those rare occasions when I had several hours to myself and I was in the vicinity of a shopping plaza. For me, I find it cathartic to push a cart up and down the aisles of a craft store like Joanne Fabrics or, I’m ashamed to admit, Hobby Lobby. I feel, in those moments, that I’m surrounded by possibility. Maybe, just maybe, I’ll feel a little bit happier in life if I buy that wooden sign that says DREAM in cursive lettering. I know I’d be a better person if I just finally learned to sew. I would truly be happy in life if I repainted every room in white, got all white furniture, and bought all of the those glass jars and votives down there in aisle 7 and put them on my fireplace mantle. In these moments, I feel possibility, innovation and the opportunity to reinvent myself through consumerism and home decor.
On this particular day, a few years ago, reinvention was at my fingertips. I was holding one of those reusable, washable mats that you put underneath your dish strainer. This was exciting to me because I knew that the mat was washable and would be really nice and convenient to own. I looked at the price many times, flipping the tag in between my fingertips. It was about five dollars. I had the mat in my hands, turned it over several times, put it in my cart and then, eventually, put it back on the shelf where I found it. I did this with a picture frame and some gel scrap booking pens, too.
I walked out that day with nothing. I had managed, during my leisurely stroll down the aisles of the craft store, to talk myself out of buying these little luxuries because I had convinced myself that just being in the store that day, alone and without my children, was enough luxury for one day. I felt guilty, I mean really bad, about myself for even considering such a splurge. I drove home feeling wistful about an opportunity lost but also content in my decision not to treat myself for no good reason.
This is a general pattern for me. Why am I am this way?
I don’t really have an answer. Is it nature? Is it nurture? Is it a little bit of both?
Andy tells me I am "playing a martyr" because I seem to take comfort in a perceived constant process of suffering. When I think of a martyr, I think of someone who put someone else's needs in front of hers. I think of someone who died standing up for her beliefs and values. I'm not that selfless. I’m just a woman who feels A LOT of guilt A LOT of the time. I am also a woman who can practice relative restraint who also self imposes constraints with confidence and comfort. I'm also constantly rationalizing and over analyzing everything and almost always come to the same conclusion: I don't deserve x, y, or z.
Hey 90's kids: remember Wayne’s World? I think My mantra could easily be, “I'm not worthy!!I I'm not worthy!!"
Some of my lack of worthiness stems from my upbringing. I was surrounded by salt-of-the-earth women. The elder women of my youth were reliable, trustworthy straight shooters who put their heads down, worked around the clock and rarely, if ever complained about their lives. My family was not rich by any means and my parents worked hard to support me and my brother. My grandmother raised over half a dozen children and half of the neighborhood. They chopped wood and nursed the sick, put food on the table and mucked barn stalls, oftentimes before 9 am on any given day. Not to mention that they always had time for me, a nerdy, verbose child who talked their ears off and demanded their attention. Not to mention that they had time for everybody else, too. I married into a family with a matriarch holding a similar resume: a nurse, a member of the Navy, a woman who raised rambunctious boys born only 11 months apart, a woman who cleared the trees on her remote northern Minnesota land with one baby in her belly and the other strapped to her back. It goes without saying that they all walked uphill, both ways, to school every day. In a snow storm. I've seen these women give so much to so many and ask for so little. I pale in comparison. I am small in their shadows. I will never be as strong and resilient as they are. I'm turning forty and I just mastered boiling an egg. I've never chopped wood. Blood makes me pass out.
I'm not Worthy!
Other particulars add to my habit of not deeming myself worthy of life's luxuries: I was raised Catholic, I am Polish. I'm first generation. I'm a woman. I cherry pick from my social identity wheel to create negative beliefs about myself. I was raised by people who didn't get more milk if the milk ran out before pay day, people who actually remember what lay away was because they used it. My family taught me that I have to work for what I have and to never live above my means. My faith taught me about sin and sacrifice and society cultivated my imposter syndrome. I've developed an identity from all that I have seen, done and experienced but, can this be it?
Let's not forget about nature. This goes back to, what in the hell is going on inside my head? Where do these thoughts come from that drive my emotions and prevent me from relishing life a little more and indulging in simple pleasures like five dollar dish mats? Was I born with it? Was I destined for lack of worthiness? I had to dig into this.
Hey Parks and Rec fans! I asked Andy for tips because I like to say that his life motto is, "Treat. Yo. Self".
Andy is the yang to my yin when it comes to enjoying life's little pleasures. He has no problem buying a new blue dress shirt to go along with the 17 other blue dress shirts he owns, dropping some bucks on a raffle gift basket full of maple sugar candy, coffee mugs and candles, or spending some G's on a mancation where he rides on a beer bar bicycle and indulges in some me time at Downtown Disney. True confession, we are such polar opposites that most of the time I am pissed as hell as his actions, yet, for the sake of introspection, I am equally envious of Andy's ability to seize the day and approach pleasure without reproach. After asking Andy how he can be so nonchalant and confident about himself, he said never feels not worthy enough as a person to buy a new tie or that he doesn't deserve to buy new underwear. (Yes, another tough purchase for me. The day I bought 3/$20 muffin-top control panties from JC Penney, I almost walked myself straight to confession.) Most of the time, my judgy stoic New England self looks down on his frivolity which causes extreme friction when it comes to budgeting and decisions about leisure time activities. I even choose hobbies that are perceived as a punishment to most- "How exciting! I ran 26.2 miles, lost a toe nail and made my nipples bleed! Hurray! That was FUN!" However, I also have to thank him because he checks me when I second guess taking care of myself and has even forced me to go to the doctor when I say I won't go because I don't have the time or can't afford it.
Feeling unworthy comes from fear. This article (https://www.huffingtonpost.com/tim-burkett/wake-up-from-the-trance-o_b_9078986.html) elaborates. The author says, When we’re stuck in fear-based thinking we are driven by a need to succeed or dominate in order to feel that we have value in the world. We act out in inappropriate and destructive ways. The more we do this, the deeper our trance of unworthiness becomes."
I have anxiety. This means that I'm in fight or flight mode way more than I should be. My sympathetic nervous system pumps out hormones that present as hostility, anger, and yep, a trance of unworthiness. My body and mind is tired of preparing to fight the tiger jumping out of the grass so I swear, yell and think poorly of myself. Yet, the Huff Po author gives me hope, "Emotions are powerful. They tend to drive our lives. Drive sounds negative, but it can also be positive. Look at Barack Obama. He’s smart. He can run different narratives simultaneously—philosophical ones, psychological ones—but it’s the depth of his hope, courage, joy and love that sustains him." (PS, don't you miss Obama? I sure do.)
I think it's about time that I start running some different narratives and let go of whatever in my nature tells me I'm not worthy. It's time to see my history from a new lens and take my nurturing role models at face value: they kick ass, they change the world but their narrative doesn't lessen mine.
I also think the yin could use a little more yang and vise versa. Maybe I should buy more five dollar dish mats and Andy could buy less raffle baskets filled with maple sugar candy and coffee mugs.