[This post falls into the categories of “self acceptance through storytelling” and “examining the ways in which we are like our mothers.” I have written a time or two about how when we resist being like our mothers there may be unintended consequences. I recently uncovered some of my own resistance…enjoy]
I live in a new house in a new development. There are 14 lots and so far only three houses built. Our house is at the end of the street and the other two are at the beginning.
I have come to love the open and somewhat wild expanse between us and the other houses.
A couple of days ago I noticed this lone sunflower growing in the lot next to ours.
My mind immediately pictured the 14 acres of sunflowers that are planted every year at a local farm. In fact, they were featured on the front page of our local paper the other day. Buttonwood Farm’s sunflower fields are famous not just because of the flowers, but also because the blooms are harvested and sold to benefit the Make-a-Wish Foundation of Connecticut.
Everyone loves a field of sunflowers, yes? Especially when they serve a greater good. Not to mention that after the blooms are harvested, cows are then released into the field to feast on what’s left.
We are stronger together. There’s no “I” in “team.” Find your tribe. Build a community.
And yet I bristle.
My most recent bristling was the result of two seemingly unrelated things:
#1 I decided, at the last minute, not to attend a writing retreat with the five other women in my writing group
#2 I found myself saying “yes” to doing a book signing event that my body was saying “no” to. I eventually declined, but not without a fair bit of internal drama.
Re #1: In the week leading up to the retreat I could feel the anxiety ratcheting up in my body. Was it because I have come to fear flying? Yes, but it’s more than that, and I can’t quite put my finger on what it is. I adore these women. I adore what we’ve created together. I crave it. So why have I been panic-stricken every single time I attend one of our retreats? Once I decided not to go, relief flooded my body. Then came the regret. Deep regret. I knew it would come. Because I want to want this. These women and me? We’re worth my effort.
Re #2: I’m an author. I am supposed to want to do book signings. This is a gracious offer. From someone who is always so positive and open to life and wants to help others. But I don’t wanna. Just do it. No. What’s the big deal? The other authors who did signings there had splashy promotional materials and my experience tells me that if I invest in splashy promotional materials I will never use them again. In this case, once I had said “no,” it was pure relief, with no regret.
I hear my mother’s voice:
“If people knew what I was really thinking and feeling, no one would like me.”
And “My mother didn’t teach me how be friends with other women.”
Me too, Mom. Me too.
I see the results of that thinking on her life. And on my life.
I see how she has isolated herself, cutting herself off from her entire family. And from friends. I hear it in her voice when she tells me that she can’t stand the women in her bridge group.
“Those silly women who only care about cookies and desserts. They gossip and giggle. They don’t take the game seriously. I prefer to play with men,”she spits, echoing my Grandmother who, upon considering a move to an assisted-living facility retorted: “I couldn’t stand to be around a bunch of stupid, talkative women.”
Sometimes it’s what our mothers say to us, about us, that hurts, but even more than that, it’s what our mothers believe about themselves and other women that cuts into us. Deeply.
In my resistance to not being like my mother, and in her resistance to not being like her mother, we bought into the patriarchal lie of not-good-enoughness.
We turned our beautiful, strong, lone-sunflower-selves into combative, defensive, anxious, disgusted selves.
We must not be ourselves because no one will love us. So we will do things we don’t really want to do with people we don’t want to be with and before we know it, the poison will seep out and either infect those around us or drive them away. We will end up alone and miserable and we die that way.
Because we were taught to be “nice” people-pleasers rather than learning how to truly occupy ourselves with honesty and kindness.
So we entertain suggestions to do things we do not want to do…rather than being forthright, honest, and kind.
We try to force the lone sunflower shapes of ourselves into something we think will be more pleasing…rather than being forthright, honest, and kind.
Because we don’t know how to be forthright, honest, and kind.
Then we find ourselves riddled with anxiety.
Then we find ourselves wanting to spit with disgust.
Then we recoil with recognition…am I just like her?
Or can we stand forthrightly AND be honest and kind?
Like an iron that falls from the shelf and bonks me on the head, the message to never hide who I am keeps coming through.
Like this sunflower, who chooses to stand alone in the somewhat wild expanse, not in a field of its peers:
I CAN stand forthrightly AND be honest and kind. I CAN be myself AND be infinite love AND be infinitely loved.
I can because I already have.
I will close with these words from the brilliant Vanessa Mentor (in both her lovely Haitian French and in English):
Je réalise que plus je vis avec la peur d’être rejetée, moins je m’accepte pour qui je suis.
Si j’ai peur d’être qui je suis, j’ai aussi peur d’aimer qui je suis.
Et si j’ai peur d’aimer qui je suis, j’ai aussi peur d’accepter la compassion et l’amour que l’autre m’offre.
Et quand les hommes ne savent s’aimer eux mêmes ni s’aimer
Les uns les autres, ils créent le monde que nous avons actuellement.
Cette histoire peut changer.
I realize that the more I live with the fear of being rejected, the less I accept who I am.
If I’m afraid to be who I am, I’m also afraid to love who I am.
And if I’m afraid to love who I am, I’m also afraid to accept the compassion and love that the other offers me.
And when men can’t love themselves or love each other, they create the world we currently have.
This story can change.
Much, much love,
This piece first appeared on Patreon. THANK YOU to my current Patrons!
If you love my writing and would like to have access to it when it debuts, consider joining my exclusive community for as little as $2/month ($24/year). I choose this platform so my writing remains both my own, and ad-free. There you will find all my best work. There you can ask me for advice and I will give you my very best answer…and if it’s unclear or you need additional insight, I will provide it.
My current goal is 100 Patrons. When I reach this goal I will make a monthly donation to Women’s March, whose mission is to harness the political power of diverse women and their communities to create transformative social change.