My Jenny (she ain’t Jenny to you: she’s Jennifer) has been trying to convince me that the story of me isn’t about my family or my parents or what happened to me. She wants me to think of my story as being about what I have done with agency.
I see what you’re doing there.
What have I done with agency? How far back in my life does this go?
I’m going to try and talk positively about myself. So this is going to sound like bragging and I need to not give a fuck.
I am generous. I have spent my life trying to help people as much as I can. From when I was quite young I was always the person who jumped up to help if I noticed someone struggling with something, no matter what it is. I remember when I was 7 or 8 I noticed some women in a grocery store struggling to open the stupid plastic vegetable bags. (Now that I’m all old and I wash dishes and I have dry skin I get it.) I talked my mom into staying in the grocery store for extra time so I could stand there and open plastic bags for people. I mean, it’s kind of a stupid example and it isn’t one of my biggest helping people moments in my life but that’s the point. I don’t just help people in big ways.
I have helped a lot of people in big ways. I have given away a fairly extreme amount of money at this point and I’m going to give a lot more. I give of my physical service. I show up and help people who are struggling. I’ve had friends who needed to move house, but they were disabled and they literally could not do the work for themselves. So I showed up and did it all. Because I was not going to let them suffer. When my friend was in her absolute lowest place of dealing with her alcoholism I went to her house and cleaned up years of nasty filth because I knew that if she was in a nice clean house it would help her stop feeling like a disgusting loser who deserved every bad thing. (It worked. She’s in a fantastic place in her life now. It isn’t because of me but I’m absolutely part of what helped her.)
I provide emotional support to a lot of people. I have personally been the recipient of many incest stories that were never previously spoken aloud and that number is only going to increase with time. This matters. I help people who are highly traumatized feel normalized and acceptable in their struggles. That’s a god damn big deal.
I was a really good teacher. Even though I tend to not feel safe or comfortable almost ever I am extremely good at creating environments where other people feel safe and comfortable. I can’t count how many children I’ve helped cope with huge life problems and this number will only go up.
I am patient. Not universally. Not in every situation with every person. But I am very patient. This has been a big deal in a variety of job settings and personal relationships. I can sit and listen through things that bore the crap out of other people or traumatize other people and I can be patient and present with where someone needs me to be.
I am capable of imagining how things “should be” despite never experiencing it myself and I can hand a good experience to other people. I’m not perfect. Sometimes I absolutely fail at this because other people have a very different picture in their head of how things “should be” and I hurt them. I am so very sorry.
I am a loyal friend. I keep people. I reach out over and over and over again to people. I come back despite problems and fights and disagreements. I don’t let feelings of discomfort be the reason I abandon people once I feel bonded. I don’t end relationships until there is a Very Good Reason. Instead I write letters, emails, Christmas cards, and I drive all the fuck over the place to maintain contact with people.
I spend a lot of time explaining to people why they need to understand the points of view of people who are different than them. I’m very good at this. I’m good at helping people see the connections that exist between different groups. I can find compassion for almost anyone and I’m good at helping other people understand that they need to find more compassion than they might be otherwise inclined to feel.
I am a good mother. Not because of anything in particular that I do, mothering isn’t like that, but for very similar reasons to why I was a good teacher. I excel at really looking at people and adapting to why their needs are unique. I don’t really treat my kids the same because they have different personalities and needs. I try to give them what they need individually.
I am better and better at not blaming other people for my emotions and problems. I see how my ups and downs are because of things inside me and not because of exterior stimuli. I can explain this in detail at speed in most cases. It’s been an incredibly hard skill to learn and I’m not done improving it.
When I screw up I apologize without deflecting responsibility. Yup, I did that. I hurt you. Yup. I’m sorry. That was wrong. Is there anything I can do to help repair the damage that I caused?
I do not hit my children as a matter of course. Which is apparently shocking to a large segment of the population because people comment regularly on how they expect me to do so. I slapped my daughter once. It was a grievous error. I have put tremendous effort into making sure I don’t let myself get that angry since and I will put more effort in that direction with every passing year. I do not justify my lack of control by saying it is her fault and I do not justify my lack of control by saying that I was trying to teach her a lesson. I think that acknowledging that I completely fucked up and lost control is a big deal. I cannot count how many parents have justified hitting their children in front of me. No, it’s not ok.
I am a hard worker. Every boss I have ever had has commented on how they have never had an employee who works as diligently as me. Didn’t matter whether I was working in a library, theatre, fast food restaurant, retail store, cleaning houses, or teaching school. I work and work and work. I’m really proud of this.
I am good at organizing things. I see patterns very quickly and I can manage space unusually well. It’s a visual perceptive ability that I am grateful for every day.
I have dealt with a pretty wide array of physical and mental health problems. I haven’t been able to “cure” myself but I put tremendous effort into improving.
I prosecuted my father, putting an end to his ability to rape children. I feel proud of this.
I have protected my children from my violent, rapist family.
I create beauty in the world. My house and yard were frankly ugly as shit when I moved in. Now my house is pretty magical. My yard is so beautiful that people who were driving by stopped and asked to buy my house. I said no.
I managed to travel extensively even when I was living on $14,400/year. I save money fantastically well and as a result I manage to make every penny count. I have managed to significantly increase Noah’s wealth during our marriage. Sure, this year I exploded our debt profile but I’ll have it paid off in five years (including my entire mortgage). Watch and see.
When a person told me to my face that they were going to threaten me whenever they felt like (and they offered to physically attack Noah) I managed to still deescalate the situation such that no violence occurred. Sure, I got called an evil racist because I described their behavior as inappropriate and said they should apologize, but you can’t win every fight. I feel good that despite the fact that I wanted to fly off the handle and beat the ever loving shit out of this person they confirmed that they never felt threatened by me. They felt traumatized, but maybe I can’t save you from feeling traumatized by situations you create.
I feel good about telling a child that when you feel scared and upset it is ok to cry. That is healthy. It is appropriate. When someone hits you and tells you not to cry that is abuse. I feel very good about being a voice expressing that sentiment to a child.
I’m proud of the road trip. I learned a lot. My children learned a lot. I did a fantastic amount of work to make that happen.
I feel weirdly proud of the library I’ve managed to acquire. Which is a shitty thing to feel proud of because it means I’m proud of spending money and that’s weird. But my library is incredibly diverse. My library normalizes a lot of human experiences. My library encourages thinking about a lot of different parts of life. I have created the home schooling environment of my dreams. I really have arrived at where I wanted to get. I picked this goal at 17 and I have diligently worked towards it ever since. I feel proud of how many skills I managed to pick up and consciously work towards so that I can be good at this.
I feel proud of the progress I have made in harming myself less over time. It isn’t that I have high self esteem and it isn’t that I am psychologically healthy but I do less damage to myself over time. That has taken enormous effort on my part.
I feel proud of myself for reaching out to someone who sexually harmed me and asking them to make it right. I couldn’t do it in every case with every person who hurt me, but I feel very proud of doing it once.
I believe that even if I do not think of myself as “a good person who sometimes does bad things” there is benefit to thinking of myself as an asshole who often does the right thing. I believe this has value because I am not justifying my fuck ups and sweeping them under the rug in the name of “but I’m good”. Instead I take full responsibility for all the harm I cause and I continue to fight like hell to do positive things. To me that is a healthier balance than believing I’m good and kind of ignoring the harm I cause. I like that balance.
I like how strong I am. I like that despite horrible pain I work fiercely and intensely and with dedication on whatever task is put in front of me. I’m not saying that I think all people with chronic pain should act like this… I think there is still some self harm going on in my behavior. But never the less I have to find ways to like myself and I like that I am capable of putting “But this is important” over “I hurt and I don’t want to”.
I am proud that I didn’t let a horrifying childhood break me entirely.
Since I’m trying to list shit: I feel like I have had a rather good track record on picking people to date. It isn’t that every person I’ve ever dated has been perfect, but I have been good at picking people who are loving, supportive, and usually good with boundaries. Given the relationships I saw modeled as a child… I’ve really picked fantastic people to date. Go me. (And my marriage was even smarter. Damn I picked a good spouse.)
I have not allowed my overwhelming longing for my mother trap me in abusive cycles. That’s a big deal.
That’s enough for now. I’m supposed to write some affirmations. I have the pushiest damn friends ever. (I love you. Thank you for caring about me and giving me homework.)
I am patient and generous.
I am a good mother for my children. (Which is to say, I don’t think I’d be as good for every kid… these things are complicated. Ok, you aren’t supposed to justify affirmations or minimize them but I’m still me.)
I am loved.
I create beauty and connection.
I am strong emotionally and physically.
I am good at loving people.
I am an outstanding teacher.
I fight the good fight.
I have a lot to give.
I’m going to sit down with the birthday book my friends gave me and remind myself of why other people love me. Thank you for loving me so much that you will go through so much effort to help me stay alive. I am grateful beyond the scope of expression.