This post is from a darker and murkier place where I seldom venture much less blog about, and the content may be upsetting and triggering for some who read. Not sure how long it will stay posted, but consider this a warning label for any other survivors who may happen upon it.
I have been seeing my therapist, TM, again on a fairly routine basis. Part of it was just an annual tune-up, because I value his professional expertise in guiding me through the emotional lumpies in my life. When friend J died so unexpectedly, I needed some hand-holding in coping with my grief.
For me, grief is a box that should stay sealed. Forever. It brings out all sorts of infinite emotions I am incapable of coping with in the period it occurs. Which is why TM and I have our annual routine. The box labeled childhood is always leaking something that must be cleaned up and put away in more orderly fashion.
Being human is a messy business. Being human and me is not better or worse than anyone else. Our experiences are unique and there is no basis for comparison. I don’t even want to admit how many years and how much therapy of various stripes it took me to accept that reality.
Yet this is part of why I am back in TM’s office a couple of times each month, discussing acceptance and my perception of reality. For the most part, my view of reality is like a clear pane of glass and the only distortion is what I manifest onto the view from my personal biases and experience. The view is not different for any stranger standing next to, yet our interpretation of what is or is not occurring could be very different.
My better health efforts are starting to show on the outsides as well as on the inside. Yay me, right? For the most part, yes. The rest of it – it’s complicated.
Self-image and self-esteem are things I have battled and struggled and labored feverishly over my entire life. Those who are important to my own worldview, their opinions mean a great deal to me. I value their esteem, and I work hard to earn and retain it. The rest of the population, sure it’s more pleasant if we can get along and interact in a civil and polite manner, but I could honestly care little about what they really think or feel about me. From a public relations perspective and as it may benefit me or my goals and objectives, the effort I put forth to maintain good rapport and friendly interactions varies. But since I am generally a decent, thoughtful person, it costs me little to nothing to be nice to others.
My own sense of self is warped. In my own view, I am an invisibly average sort of person, going through and living my life among the rest of the beings in the world and doing nothing particularly exceptional or worthy of much praise or correction. I have a good work ethic; I try hard to meet or exceed expectations attached to the responsibilities and requirements. In the work I’m doing right now, what my clients think about me personally matters more because I work directly for them, and accounting is not so complex that they could not find someone else as competent. However, my niche market seems to be more in the personal touch I bring to the work. I routinely remember and track significant family members’ birthdays, anniversaries, children’s events and have had success with suggestions for gifts for all occasions. While I myself dislike (and therefore suck) at party planning, I can put together something if called upon to do so. I have attended enough wing-dings in the past that I have a sense of what happens at corporate parties and retreats and can seek out appropriate resources if needed. Thing is, these are small details that may matter to a client and not a big deal for me to make note of and track.
But that’s work. It’s imperfect yet far easier for me to accept a compliment for a job well done than it is to have someone say nice things for and about my efforts in the gym or to overhaul my diet.
A standard disclaimer for me is that I am not model pretty, because it’s true – I am not the stuff even gracefully aging conventionally pretty women are made of. I also tend to discount the importance of physical attractiveness, gauging this as only that I have good personal hygiene and be well groomed when going to work or into most sorts of public forums.
Herein lies the big issue that has me back in TM’s office: I’m reshaping my shape into something more conventionally nice. Good even. I mean, I look okay in my gym leggings and capris. I can wear a racerback tank top and not be self-consciously freaking out on the inside. I actually have some muscle peeking out after too many years of fat slabs over my whole body.
People notice my effort. They say kind and complimentary things, or they say things that sound kind and complimentary with an overlay of snark so it comes out sounding like the opposite. I try very hard not to discount or pooh-pooh it. I am working at upgrading my gracious acceptance.
Mostly, I do not want anyone to ever know that it freaks me out and frightens me when they say nice things. Because it’s not ever that I want them to stop, or be afraid of complimenting my hard work and effort in this regard. If that were the case I’d be wearing baggy sweats and oversized t-shirts down to my knees. And I never want anyone to judge me as so very vain that I brush off their kindness as “I know, and I deserve all your praise and admiration.” Because that’s not me either. I am horrified at the idea anyone would ever perceive me that way.
The fear and the ensuing anxiety is real, though. And even though I know it’s completely irrational, I cannot make it stop.
Hence my back to therapy. My only consolation for being this type of nutball is that there are worse reasons to be in therapy.
For anyone who doesn’t know, I am a sexual abuse survivor. From the time I was 3 until about 12, I was regularly molested, then raped, then sodomized. I was a chunky kid because of it. I would rebel against washing my hair or even taking a bath because of it. I felt ugly then because of the abuse. The fear and self-loathing, the inability to control anything that happened to me or my body – it was real and impacts my life decades later. Those impacts are all but impossible to erase, and the best I can do is mitigate their influence and my reactions to triggers.
So, here I am – back in TM’s office talking about it. I am not going to stop trying to reshape my eating habits so I make better, healthier food choices, nor am I going to stop going to the gym and working as hard as I work to become stronger and burn away the excess fat from my frame. These are really good, really positive steps up, steps forward for me, and I do not want honest efforts that I should be proud of to be tainted by fear of physical improvement and anyone taking note and complimenting me on my efforts.
While I frequently wish myself into a mental and emotional foot-stomping tantrum about not wanting have to have these fights with myself, it’s not something I can change. I comfort myself that my scars are part and parcel of who I am in the here and now. And despite everything, I’m not too bad.
The war for my healthiest sense of self continues, one battle at a time. But I’m winning.