I thought long and hard about whether or not I wanted to post this on the blog. Then I thought to myself how silly that was considering I had sent it in for consideration in an actual book. The book is about a woman’s worth, basically the author is compiling stories about how women’s worth was either built up or depleted by people in their lives. So this is my story…or at least as much as 1600 words can tell. So settle in…it is kind of long.
This question and theory of “worth” has plagued me probably my entire life. Well ok, maybe not entirely because who understands this stuff when we are little? Although, starting at age 6 when my parents were divorced I think I started to question. The person who made me question? My father. I think I can equate my relationship with my Dad to a balloon, when you are a baby and very young you don’t know any different, the balloon is nice and happy and full but after time the balloon gets deflated.
My earliest memory of a deflation came when I was about 8 or 9 and I was doing a science project for school. I decided that I wanted to learn about the brain, so of course with this you had to have some kind of “demonstration” or likeness of what you were researching. My Mom thought it would be a good idea to ask my Dad if he would help me, so that we could have something to do together. We really hadn’t had a great relationship since the divorce and so I think she was hoping this would help. So moving ahead with building my brain, I had I guess what you would call a pretty creative idea. I have always been the creative sort and I wanted to really shine and show that side to my Dad. From the moment I told him what I wanted to do he started making changes. He felt that it was too hard, wasn’t “practical” and so on. I immediately felt shamed and like what I had thought up was stupid. So we went ahead with his plan. Of course, we didn’t live together so this was a several visit process. Well, on the next visit I hadn’t done what he asked me to do. Mainly because I hadn’t really understood his instructions. Well that was not good enough for him and he got angry and left, saying he wasn’t going to help me anymore. He stood true to his word, I was left to creating my own brain. The feelings went deep and words too many to describe but this showed the first of many times where my worthiness was put into question.
Through the next few years of our relationship, Dad & I struggled. Well it was probably more on my end than his but I guess I will never know that for sure. I got tired of always having to make the first move, being questioned for what I was doing in my life and overall feeling that I was being compared to someone who was better than me. In my senior year of high school I suffered severe anxiety and panic attacks and I feel a lot of it was due to the fact that I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do for a profession. I was questioned by him every time I saw him and of course I heard plenty of suggestions of what to do because “He thought it would be good for me”. It was overwhelming and this directly played into the anxiety and questioning myself. When I graduated it was for me a relief, I had such a rough year with absences and shaky grades that it was a miracle I made it through. The big day came and of course there was no Dad in the audience. I felt horrible, what had I done that he wouldn’t come celebrate this success with me? Obviously he didn’t think this success was good enough, therefore neither was I or so I started to think.
Because of my high school experience I decided to go to a local community college to strengthen my grades. My first year there was ok but I was feeling restless and still had no clue what I wanted to do. I was pretty much a mess inside but still tried to be “the good daughter”, even after the disappointment of the no-show at graduation, I still tried to keep our relationship on track.
My second year of college was pretty much a bust, I technically only finished fall semester. My friends were even starting to question what was wrong with me. I just couldn’t focus and I was still fighting anxiety.
Then I met “him”, the man who would eventually become my husband. I met Dan when I was 19 and questioning everything I was…as a woman, a daughter and a friend. We started as friends, since we were both kind of dating people. I knew right away though that given the chance I would date him in a second. We would spend hours on the phone and email. He was different and actually listened to me. He didn’t question the choices I was making and he made me smile. He was a very driven person so it made me want to make some good decisions. I actually decided to drop out of college and go to work full time where I had been working part time. Six months into our friendship we both knew there was more to it, and on what some would call a fairytale vacation to Florida, we decided to make it more and officially started “dating”. The fairytale didn’t last long. I learned very quickly that although Dan didn’t really question my worth (at first), it was all about him. Everything we did as a couple was on his terms. Things that mattered to me didn’t matter to him and therefore weren’t a part of his world. I continued to see him…I was young and in love. This was the first time really in my whole life that a man really paid attention to me and showed me some affection. Granted, Dan’s affection was skewed it was still more than I had ever received. The first time he said “I Love You” though I was done…hook, line, sinker. I was his for the taking. I knew early on that Dan had his own demons that he was fighting, which later would become so large they would overtake him. It didn’t matter though, in my young naiveté I thought our love could conquer the world. There were several times before we even got married that I knew I should probably end things but I was so scared that I wouldn’t find anyone better. In my mind at the time, Dan was so much better than my Dad that I figured there would be no one else out there for me. What I came to learn many years later is that really Dan was very much like my father. I had married someone in hopes that I could still prove my worth. These realizations didn’t come until it was too late. We were married with many issues glaring us in the face. Dan was all about “status” which to him meant the amount of money that was in our checking account and the type of car we drove. I on the other hand was far from that. I enjoyed nice things but I was still trying to decide what I wanted to do professionally and even though the choices weren’t money makers, they were things that were laid in my heart. I was shamed into thinking that I wasn’t helping to support our family by wanting to do those jobs, so I settled into something that I hated but still allowed me to bring home a paycheck that was worthy of my husbands approval. Our issues started to snowball and the fairytale was quickly coming to an end. The demons that were running after Dan finally caught up to him in the form of alcoholism and infidelity. Much to the dismay of many of my friends and family, I stuck it out with him for about 6 months of constant trips to rehab, joint therapy sessions that were spent by myself and promises that were broken. In the end, I was the one to make the decision to leave. The week our divorce was final we had a meeting together to hash out a few more things. I will never ever forget the statement that came out of his mouth that day, “I never thought you would leave” At the time, it pissed me off because I felt like he was kind of laughing at me for sticking with his bullshit all those years. Later though, that statement would fuel my heart for knowing I did the right thing.
In the months and even years following I still have been struggling with this theory of self-worth. Getting back in the dating “game” has even further confused this. It is sad really that women in the dating world are judged against so many criteria. It is almost comical what a guy decides as worthy in his eyes. Even some things that really aren’t your fault that are just part of your history. When I first got back into dating I went down a horrible path of gauging my worth on if they wanted to sleep with me. My thought process was that if they were sleeping with me then they must really care for me, even love me. The problem with that is that there is a very large percentage of guys out there that are just users. They couldn’t care less about the person, they just want the act. It took me almost two years and some really low points to figure out that this wasn’t how it should be and that I wasn’t that person. Again, I had misjudged where the feeling of my worth really should have been coming from. Little by little I got back on track and knew this wasn’t the type of life I wanted to live. I didn’t like who I was becoming. I slowed down the dating and got very involved in my church. I still seek very much the approval to inflate my balloon. It can be work, church or within my family circle. Sometimes I am still transported back to that time when I was left alone to finish my project but instead of shame I have started to feel sadness. Sadness for that little girl that grew up not always knowing her worth and who still struggles to this day. Sadness that there can be people in our lives that deflate our balloons so much that we choose not to have a relationship with them. There are times where I slip into this thinking and I have to remember that others do not define our worth. Only we do….only God does.