this week's guest post (our 100th post) is brought to you by the lovely Miss Mary Max
Earlier this week, my kitchen flooded.
Worse, it flooded from a backed-up sink. (Apparently, one of my neighbors never got the memo about not pouring grease down your drain. Public service announcement: please don’t pour grease down your drain.) The result was my kitchen, immersed in water and in garbage. Coffee grounds, food from meals I hadn’t eaten, grime. It overwhelmed me. Worse: my brain quickly transformed the situation from a crap consequence of one neighbor’s bad decision, to proof-positive of the filth in which I’m meant to live.
Let me explain. I have nearly ten years of recovery -- and the vast majority of the time, I manage to value myself in a way I never expected to be possible. Still, in a corner of my brain that I’ve yet to fully, permanently clean, exists a perspective that creeps up more often than I’d like: My iPod falls out of my pocket as I grab my keys, and I look at the cracked screen and think, “I’m not meant to have nice things.” The law firm I intern at hosts a marketing event at a designer shop, and I think, “I have no place in those stores." My kitchen floods with someone else’s trash, and a familiar despairing shame says, “This is how you’re meant to live.”
It’s incredible, in some ways, that after all this time in recovery, I can still fall into that mode of thinking, that voice that says, “You don’t deserve… You are not worth… You are not meant to have…” That voice was a standby in my life before treatment, but it has – unfortunately – also been here since. It’s only in managing that despair and that shame, unpacking them and challenging them, that I’ve started to feel alive – and to feel like I have a right to be so.
Part of what made the flooded kitchen so painful was that my apartment – my incredible, barely conceivable First Apartment – does not have much visibly going for it. I’ve lived here for six months, through the length of one lease, but it still looks, in many ways, like I’m squatting. The living room, in particular, looks unlived in. There’s one small picture on one wall, one mirror given to me by a great-aunt. My radio sits on a windowsill, in lieu of a shelf. There’s very little furniture, very little decoration. When my apartment flooded Sunday, I thought, “So even this is more than I’m meant to have?”
Unpacking that response – (through my go-to jjournalling method) I realized I’m giving the situation a symbolism it has no right to have. My flooded kitchen means simply that my kitchen flooded. It means I need to rent a shop-vac and that my super-absorbent paper towels lived up to their name. It does not mean anything – does not reflect anything – about who I am or what I deserve.
Having my own place for the first time has been wonderful, but it’s also been a challenge. It’s been difficult for me to move in, to put things away, to decorate, to not live like – at any moment – this will no longer be mine. My relationship to money bears striking resemblance to my eating disorder: I constantly spend as little as possible, on “non-necessities” in particular, yet always feel I am spending too much. I spend as little as I can for as long as I can, and then -- feeling deprived -- spend on a spree. Afterward, the shame kicks in, and I restrict (spending) again.
I know this pattern. I know how little use it is. I know, here too, I have to learn to give to myself consistently, to show – through my action – how much Iknow I deserve.
I have to act as if I know I’m worth it, until I understand I am.
What would it take for me to believe that I’m allowed to surround myself with beauty? What would it take for me to allow that I am beautiful? What would I have to do to understand that I’m royal, classy, a person with some worth?
For starters, I know, I need to treat myself as if that’s true. Treating myself as if I deserved food eventually taught me I did. I hold out hope that the same is true for beauty. That each picture hung on the wall is a stake rooted, not only in this place as my home, but in my right to have a home that’s mine. I hold out hope that each throw pillow, each piece of furniture, is an investment in my knowledge that I deserve a world with color and beauty and things soft to the touch. A year ago, I quit buying clothes that didn’t make my jaw drop; I quit buying clothes that didn’t straighten my back and let me prance a bit with pride. Each outfit since has been a declaration of my right to be cute; as I learn to decorate my home, each beautiful object becomes a declaration of my right to beauty.
I invest in the notion that I deserve good things as a way of re-decorating more than my apartment. It’s my method for redesigning that corner in my brain that responds to accidents with tired lines about what I deserve. I’m not the coffee grounds on the floor or the trash that needs taking out. I’m not the empty living room or the mismatched furniture or the stains on my hand-me-down TV trays. I’m not used. I have a right to be and to be alive.
I invest in beauty to prove to myself I can have it. I’m consistent in how I treat myself as a way of training my brain to think differently. Props to Clueless: there is a lot of power in as if. I do as if I deserve and eventually, I understand that I do.
How would your world look if you invested in your right to be a part of it? What could you do, these next few days, toward convincing yourself of your right to be surrounded by beauty? What would you do differently if you believed, somehow, some way, that you deserved all that you want?
Give it a shot. To borrow from Miranda July—
--and here can be a very beautiful place.