Innate

“Out of all these memories, what do you think is the message from them that you want to undo?”

“That I’m not worthy of love,” I tell my therapist. We have moved from emotional mapping to figuring out the baseline for my EMDR.

“And what would you want to replace that message with?” she asks.

“Well, the opposite,” I reply. “That I’m worthy of love.” I pause, then add: “Actually, to be precise: That I am innately worthy of love. That it’s not about the dog and pony act I can do, or what I can bring to the table. That who I am, is enough.”

Every demon, every misguided thought pattern, every instance where I got myself into bad situations, every time I asked my husband for the millionth time, “are you mad at me?” over something as small as a mistimed sigh, can be traced back to that message: I am not innately worthy of love.

I can gussy myself up and lay out everything I bring to the table and know it’s enough to get people’s attention. (I mean, look at me: obviously I can.) But attention isn’t love, and I risk losing their interest the second I stop that dog and pony show.

It was about this time last year when I laid out for the public my fear that most are just fascinated with me — they are happy to view me as pretty, or smart, or entertaining, or generous, but when rubber met the road, there is no emotional investment. No devotion. Family bodes no security. Friends will betray you if the winds shift just right. Loved ones are fair-weathered, at best.

This time last year. I still remember where I was, the situations I found myself in, right as the pandemic made landfall in America. Right as the world started locking down. I still remember one person close to me, during what would be our last in-person meeting, asking if I was scared about COVID19. I remember knee-jerking a, “yes,” and promptly crying.

Now here I am. A year later. Within a month of the lockdown, that person wouldn’t be in my life anymore. I would yell at them for 45 minutes straight about every unaired grievance — and how this one pushed me past the edge. I wasn’t going to be mistreated anymore. Goodbyes sometimes have to be sharp enough to draw blood, I remember thinking.

I should’ve gone back to therapy then. But it would apparently take the Kafkaesque events of the remainder of 2020 for me to enter 2021 with one foot entering my new therapist’s office.

Sometimes it’s not just about rock bottom, but how bruised you get on your way there, before you finally do something about it.

“Do you feel this situation was worth the pain that it brought?” my husband would ask. Ever the one to tell his Icarus that she’s flying too close to the sun. And unfortunately his Icarus is selectively deaf.

“I mean… no. But yes,” I would reply. “I wouldn’t have realized the things I need to work on, otherwise. I wouldn’t have grown, otherwise. I wouldn’t have written what I did, otherwise.”

But by the same token, I’m tired of making lemonade out of lemons, of trading in pain for growth. I don’t want to anymore be the one adding sugar to situations that rendered me bitter in the first place. Perhaps it’s too much to ask for consistent sweetness that doesn’t have me wondering when the other shoe is gonna drop.

Yes, I had to get myself into those situations in order to realize I am someone who can get into those bad situations. But it feels too excruciatingly much like a tautology. It would be nicer, still, if I just weren’t someone who got themselves into those messes in the first place. If I already were someone who knew when to hold them, when to fold them, when to walk away, and when to run.

But then I wouldn’t be writing blog posts like this, now would I?

I used to measure my progress with how much disgust I felt for the previous incarnations of me. It was not unlike how I once viewed my writing: I could mark how much I had grown as a writer based on how viscerally ashamed I was of my old writing. I had perverted the Mohammad Ali quote about a man having the same views on the world at 50 that he did at 20, wasting 30 years of his life.

But, looking back (and the irony is not lost on me with that action), I realize it was all a thinly veiled way to justify hating the kind of person I was. The timid doormat. The somnambulist sleepwalking through life. The girl who said, “No worries!” while being very, very worried. The Icarus who kept getting herself into bad situations and then staying there — simultaneously falling to the Earth and hanging in suspension.

Why does there have to be this war between the past me and present me? Past me creating problems that future me will have to solve, and present me viewing past me with unadulterated contempt. Would it be that radical to view those younger versions with the same grace a therapist gives their clients? That gentle understanding that she did her best with what she had — that, without her, I wouldn’t be able to look back like this in the first place?

If my goal is to learn — genuinely grok — that I am innately lovable, perhaps I need to start with recognizing past me was just as deserving of it, too.

This time last year. A year in a pandemic world where time has lost much of its meaning. When someone arrogantly pointed out that the clock hands on my newest tattoo are in impossible places, I replied, “It fits the theme. I got this pocket watch is to symbolize our obsession with time, of keeping track of it, of micromanaging it.”

Which is true — part of my draw to the design for my tattoo was on the concept of time, and the delirious relationship we have with it. And once the pandemic hit, the idea of time losing meaning was tacked on. None of this was a lie. But it was a justification after the fact.

Perhaps not unlike many of the “lessons” I believed I needed to learn.

I am innately worthy of love. What a radical concept. I struggle believing those who have proven that to me, and latch on to those whose actions disprove it. I am resorting to a practice that is essentially hypnosis with clinical backing in order to rewire my current schema.

But, whatever it takes. I want to create someone that the version of me in 2022 can look back on and be happy. Maybe not proud — it might be too much to ask for that — but someone she can be fond of, like an old childhood pet or imaginary friend.

Who I was, it was enough.

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