As they used to say in OA (Overeaters Anonymous) when I was recovering from an eating disorder in my early 20’s, “you’re only as sick as your secrets.” It’s just one of the horrible mottos that I believe make 12 step programs unsufferable but it is one that stuck with me and makes me try my best to stay honest with myself. Not honest as in “that purple shirt couldn’t be a more hideous color on you.” No, I mean honest about myself. Open about what goes on with me, in my head, in my heart and in my life. I try to stop short if it might hurt other people in my life whether they deserve it or not. But, if it’s something about me, I’ll try to be an open book. It’s therapeutic for me and if you relate in someway – great. If not, hey, we all have our craziness.
I love my daughter fiercly but I’m finding that as she reaches an age where she is more prone to tantrums and not just a new baby who hangs out and is open to anything (which was hard and a big adjustment too), things are coming up. Feelings that are not so pleasant. I’m starting to connect it to the fact that toddlers are difficult. But that’s not the point. We mothers all know that. But as long as I can remember I was told I was “difficult” apparently a special brand of difficult in my mother’s opinion. “You were always a difficult child, lots of attitude.” This has been told to me in a “jokey” way and a harsh way but it’s been said at least a billion times. In every story about me as a child a comment invariably comes up about what a handful I was. My husband’s heard a million of them.
So here’s the anxiety that’s coming up now. I’m actually realizing I wasn’t difficult. I’ve lived with the label so long that’s it’s become imprinted in my self image – as much a part of me as having brown hair, being a dog person and not looking great in hats. I treated the knowlege of my difficultness as a handicap. Knowing I was a handful and hard to tolerate made me extra careful in dealing with bosses, teachers, friends and especially men. “I’m difficult” I’d tell myself which translated to not worthy.
So now I have a toddler and guess what – huge fucking surprise – like every toddler, she’s difficult at times. THEY ALL ARE. And, I’m losing my identity because if she’s just a toddler and has tantrums and opinions and is sometimes so frustrating I want to strangle her or have a glass of wine (99% of the time I choose the latter) then maybe I wasn’t a special case after all. Maybe, probably, I had a very young mother in a bad marriage who was unfulfilled and frustrated and had very very little patience for a small child who rightfully felt the world revolved around her.
So, maybe every comment about me being “selfish” “thinking I’m the queen of the house.” “thinking of no one but myself”, maybe it was true. True but not special. True when I was a teenager and a toddler. Two times it’s to be expected. And, usually we grow out of it. Because that certainly isn’t me now. I’m a mother who is loving and patient with her child, husband, friends etc. I do my very best. I’m also better equipt because I’m much older and more secure in my life at this point. But I’m finding out how hard it is to outgrow a label.
These realizations don’t free you right away, first they depress you, then they anger you, then they send you back into therapy to make tripily sure you don’t pass on any shit to your beautiful and yes, difficult in a typical way child. And that’s why I have to go buy myself a new orange shirt today. It’s therapy.