For years I didn’t like looking at myself in mirror. Even though that’s mostly in the past, I still tend to go the same spot during yoga class, where I can’t see my image reflected back at me. When I was a teen, it was the zits I didn’t like seeing. Now, it’s more likely my bloated belly and lopsided stance that keep me from admiring myself.
I’ve had life-long phobias and a low sense of self-esteem that originated when I was a young child living in an extremely dysfunctional home. I had abandonment issues and believed I couldn’t exist without having other people around me constantly. I felt unimportant, needing the strokes that others could give me in order to believe in myself.
If a friend suddenly decided she didn’t like me, I was crushed. If my parents went on a trip and left me at my grandparents house, or at home with a sitter, I worried they’d never come back. After Bill and I were married I was afraid he’d figure out that I wasn’t worth much, and leave me standing in the dust. There was a lot of shame involved. I believed I was damaged in some way.
When my kids started school I learned how to be alone every day of the week by filling my time with art projects. I raised sheep and angora goats for their fleece, tended a small flock of chickens, and a huge vegetable garden. I had no problem being alone during the day. I was busy spinning and weaving.
But thoughts of being alone overnight in my own home with only me for company scared me to death. The first time it happened, my kids had gone off to summer camp, while my husband went away on a business trip. I was not happy. On the day they all left, I cried and cringed through an intense thunderstorm. That night, I woke hearing unusual creaking sounds I’d never heard before. I stayed awake for the rest of the night, imagining a burglar had entered through a window I’d accidentally left unlocked.
During day two, I yawned constantly, tired from not sleeping the night before. I postponed a get-together with a friend so that I could rest and work on a weaving project I wanted to finish. I missed Bill and the kids badly. I slept better that night, but kept waking and listening for anything unusual that would tell me I was in danger, until, duh, I realized that my two dogs would sound the alarm if anyone tried to break in.
On my third morning alone, the warm sun and a delightfully cool breeze drew me outside. I went for a hike and watched a doe with her spotted fawns feeding along the creek. There was no reason to rush through the day. I read a silly novel, while Yo-Yo Ma played his cello in the background … all things I rarely get to do when the family is around. I began to appreciate the gift of time I’d been given.
Day four found me in my element. Being happily alone and responsible only for myself was something I’d never imagined. I had unlimited time to myself to do whatever I chose to do. I cooked and ate food the rest of the family would never eat. I napped, watched movies on TV, all without interruption. And I wondered if I could arrange to have another week or two like this one, sometime in the near future.
As I was washing the night’s sleep away on my last morning by myself, I took a long, hard look in the mirror. I spoke with my reflection about fear, what I had learned that week, and how I had been putting limits on my life. I exclaimed about how much better I felt both physically and emotionally. The exhaustion I experienced most days was gone. I was truly happy. Though fear still hid in the shadows ready to pounce, I’d learned to cut her off by simply smiling at her. That week I traded in what I thought I had to have, for what I truly needed.
I still have talks with myself in front of the mirror. My eyes never lie when something is bothering me. Seeing myself for who I am is not about my encroaching wrinkles, how my hair looks or “being the fairest of them all.” It’s about seeing me, eye to eye.
Joan Rough is an artist, poet, and writer of nonfiction. Her poems have been published in a variety of journals, and are included in the anthology, Some Say Tomato, by Mariflo Stephens. Her first book, AUSTRALIAN LOCKER HOOKING: A New Approach to a Traditional Craft, was published in 1980. She is currently at work on her upcoming memoir, ME, MYSELF AND MOM, A Journey Through Love, Hate, and Healing.
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