I’m going to try to write about this, but I’m not sure I’ll be successful. It’s a weird thing to write about, especially because I’m very good at disassociating from it. Mostly because it’s intimately wrapped up in the trauma I survived as a kid, and well, I learned not to feel it in order to survive.
A few things happen when you grow up in poverty and have an alcoholic father who drinks himself to death. One of those things is boatloads of shame because you are always an alien. You are always hiding. The adults in my life were masters at hiding in plain sight, and I learned that too. The fine art of pretend. For me, the only way out was escaping through books. But I always felt not good enough. It was worse because–as much as I loved my father–he was often a petty, cruel man who neglected me. Not because he wanted to–but just because that’s what alcoholics do. My mama was a great mama, but she was a recovering alcoholic who really wasn’t aware that the disease was about more than just drinking. So, I learned all this shit about who I was. And I internalized and blamed a lot of their actions on myself–thinking that–if only I was better–my father would stop drinking. If I was worth more to him. And then, poverty basically drills into your brain every day that you don’t have a right to exist.
Trauma like that? It’s a multilayered bitch.
A lot of people refer to self-worth as self-esteem. That’s probably why I have a hard time seeing the issues I have because I have decent self-esteem. Most people would say I’m a self-assured, confident woman. I go after the shit I want. I know I can do stuff. I basically always have had that. As much as my parents did the wrong things, they also did a lot of right things. Like instilling this belief in me that I could do anything. Even my name reflects that. My mother was my biggest cheerleader, and my dad spent endless hours teaching me all the things he knew–whether it was colors or numbers or baking bread. I want to stress–my parents were good parents. Which is why this is hard. Why it’s so tenacious and confusing. Why it sucks.
Part of the neglect I suffered required that I fix things for the adults in my life. Being the fixer, my needs didn’t count. Who I was didn’t matter. It always took a backseat to someone else’s weakness. So, I could never be human. That just wasn’t a thing. It was so bad that I basically never knew about emotion until my 20s. I got very good at disconnecting from them. The shitty part is that–disconnecting from bad things means you always can’t feel good things ever. So, I went through several years of numbness–basically living for other people. I had to take care of them just as much as they took care of me. I had to be the strong one–the competent one. I had to talk my mama down from the ledge when she was terrified about money, for example. I was the one doing the budgets and making sure we had meals. So, I got really good at surviving. But, on the other hand, my entire sense of self-worth was wrapped up in saving people, and I was not allowed to be scared. And it’s something that I hard-core struggle with to this day.
It’s a constant battle to choose myself over other people. I will always automatically choose the priorities of other people over my own. I will often forget to eat to meet someone else’s deadline. I have a hard time talking about my needs. Until a few years ago, I operated on zero boundaries. I am a magnet for dysfunctional people. It’s a vicious cycle that I’ve slowly been unlearning. It has kept me from connecting with people and unraveled a lot of relationships. I fundamentally see myself as a burden, so I often protect others from me. But, even when I don’t, I always keep people at arm’s length. Given that awareness, I work hard at vulnerability–at sharing who I am and not sugarcoating it–because believe me–I don’t want anyone to know about any of this. But shining the light on it is how I heal it.
I thought I’d gotten past a lot of this self-worth BS before moving to California. To the point that I really didn’t think I had any issues anymore. I liked myself–no, loved myself–like truly. I was making healthy choices. I was affirming boundaries and not engaging shit I learned in childhood. It’s been a tough road for me. But moving here was way more traumatic than I thought it’d be, and I immediately felt displaced. The drive out itself and leaving every single support I had in life–only to find this place I never connected to–and no one here to lean on–was rough. It reinforced that core belief I learned in childhood that I am alone and will always be alone. And so I started hustling for worth. If you’ve read Brene Brown’s stuff, you know what I’m talking about. It’s an extremely awful feeling, but it’s really second nature to me–so I was knee-deep in it before I even realized I was drowning.
For me, it initially showed up in not standing up for myself to keep the peace–which resulted in a ton of anger and resentment–and disenfranchisement in my living situation. I saw it fairly early, thank God, and course corrected–setting lots of boundaries–mostly with myself–but the damage was done on my end. I felt myself isolating more and more–throwing myself into work–because at least I could be useful there. It was easy to distract with all the busy that is my life. At least I could feel good about what I was doing. And I kicked ass–which felt great–like I was reclaiming who I used to be. But it triggered this other feeling–that no one really values me unless I’m being who they want me to be–which–of course–triggers mistrust and more resentment. And I just found a new well of anger that I knew had little to do with the current situaiton. And there was also this belief that they don’t want the messy girl who’s tired and struggles with this job every day. They want the girl who disassociates and gets the job done. It was this constant battle–one I often lost.
I’ve mentioned before that I’ve never really struggled with long-term depression, but I’ve had bouts of short-term depression, and anxiety is a huge thing for me. PTSD requires a certain amount of depression as an always thing, but I’ve been grateful that I’ve always been able to crawl out of it. I don’t stay there long. Oddly, it’s the shit my parents taught me that allows me to feel okay most of the time. I started back up with my therapist in January, I think, because I recognized I was as close to depressed as I basically get, and while I knew what was happening, I felt like I was existing in the land of reaction and shutdown rather than an intentional response that reflects the functional adult I’ve worked hard to be. I had landed in this self-worth spiral because I felt like I didn’t deserve all the good things I had here–and instead of pursuing all the things that pushed me to move out here–I was still just working and isolating. It was all that shame and BS surfacing. I worked on it, on my own, but I’d hit a wall.
The hard thing is that I often don’t connect the feelings to things I’m doing. And when work got really bad this spring–just soul-suckingly bad–and I wasn’t able to be the achiever I so needed to be–I went through yet another crisis of worth. And it was so frustrating. I felt like therapy was helping, but then–in my last session–I mentioned how bored I was with work–and how frustrated I was that I wasn’t being useful. And my therapist said–“Oh, so self-worth again.”
So, since then, I’ve really been working a lot on that stuff. Identifying the trauma points and exploring the related grief–trying to identify where the shit comes from. On some level, I’m so very over examining this stuff, and I really just want to be done with it. But I realize that all of this stuff is surfacing for a reason, and that it’s never going to be done. There’s no coincidence that the work situation is what it is right now when self-worth was a major thing I was dealing with. The Universe provides you with opportunities to heal–always. I believe this. But it’s really quite hard when it’s rooted in so much trauma that you can’t even feel the grief you know exists.
Does that even make sense?
I’m not sure, but that’s the reality. So, I’m eager to work on it more when my therapist returns in mid-July.