For as long as I can remember, I’ve had paralyzing self-doubt. Some people doubt their beauty. Some people doubt their intelligence. Some people doubt their athleticism or their math capabilities or their decision-making skills. I doubted the entirety of my self-worth. When others would point out my positives, their words might have well as been Sanskrit. I was unable to process their praise, much less accept it. I would deflect with self-deprecation, never responding with a simple “thank you” because I couldn’t own it. Still, those kind words, repeatedly offered, planted seeds. They gave me permission to entertain, at least briefly, the modest notion that maybe I was more than I felt I was.
Since the beginning of January, I’ve been considering a party to celebrate my 50th birthday next month. But, every time I would think about it, I would determine it wasn’t worth the money. Or I’d create a guest list only to decide no one would forgo their Memorial Day weekend plans to celebrate with me. I stressed about choosing a place where my vegetarian, gluten free, dairy free, beer connoisseur, and junk-food junkie friends alike could eat. I worried people wouldn’t find parking. I borrowed all manner of trouble looking out for other people, while the number of excuses I invented to avoid looking out for myself was macabre. My potential birthday party morphed into a monstrous, self-imposed migraine, and I decided perhaps it wasn’t worth marking the occasion at all.
I mentioned this during my weekly mental health session on Monday. My therapist, knowing the only way out is through and the only way through requires action, decided I needed to plan this event. The exercise in putting myself first, in believing I mattered enough to selfishly devise an entire day around my own likes and wishes without considering what others would choose, would be excellent skill-building practice. As I sat in her office pondering my preferences, it hit me. I had no idea substantive idea what I love. I had no clear preferences. It’s a blindspot I developed over a lifetime of never feeling worth the effort of asserting myself. My default has been to allow other people to choose where we eat or what we do or where we travel or when we go. I learned early on that anything I wanted was silly and wrong, not to mention undeserved. So I let others take the lead because I lacked the clout to choose. I was never in the driver’s seat, only along for the ride. By asking me to uncover my preferences, she handed me a permission slip, carte blanche to put my hands on my hips and declare, “It’s my birthday and I can do whatever I want and if others don’t like it or feel inconvenienced then they can stay home and miss out.” I didn’t have to feel guilty about it, either. It was a required assignment. Insecure rule followers are comfortable being told what to do. It’s safe.
Because I wasn’t sure what I wanted, I concentrated on what I didn’t want. My aversions, unlike my preferences, are clear cut. I didn’t want to go to a baseball game. I didn’t want to eat sushi or pasta. I didn’t want to cook or bartend for others. I didn’t want to invite people out of a sense of obligation or guilt. I didn’t want to stress small details. I did not want negative people, no matter long we’ve known each other, involved at all. I did not want a party where people bring black balloons and Depends to suggest I’m at the precipice of death. Little by little, through the process of elimination, my mind was freed to discover what I did want. I was able to create a game plan that felt life-affirming, fun, adventurous, memorable, and empowering.
And since it was my birthday and I could do what I wanted, I decided to rebrand it. So, I am not having a 50th birthday party. I’m having a twenty-four hour Re-Birth Day. I know I don’t want to operate my next 50 years through the same rubric. I’ve been slogging through a quagmire of issues that have plagued me since childhood and, thanks to my insightful and supportive therapist, every day I feel better about myself, more confident, less willing to deal with bullshit and naysayers and energy suckers. This is where I start owning my life rather than letting others direct it. This is where I begin self-advocation. This is my damn story. I deserve to tell it without someone else’s narration. I no longer need an advisory board. It no longer serves me.
With these things in mind, I’m approaching the next seven weeks as a growth quest. I know I won’t be able to return all my demons to the Upside Down before my birthday, but I might be able to sequester the remaining troublemakers in a soundproof cage long enough to create a better headspace for taking positive action for myself. Initially, I needed someone else to hand me a signed permission slip to look out for myself. It was a jumping off point, and you have to start somewhere. I accept that…for now. With a little practice, I’m sure that by this time next year I’ll be writing all the permission slips I need. The year after that, maybe I won’t need any at all.