I Believed Her
I’m a million tiny pieces of shattered glass scattered on the floor, all sharp edged and impossible. Here, but not really here; blank eyes that nod when you speak, although all I see is your lips moving. Life has become a blur of groundhog days; always the same, stretching out into a never ending stream one after another. I will myself through them on autopilot, all the while forcing a smile to show the world that see, I’m not really broken. I’m a fighter, after all. I’ve shown up. I’m strong! Look at me be strong!
The reality is that when the darkness comes at night I sit alone, head in my hands, sobbing. I’m not okay. I’m broken. So broken I’m not sure I can put the pieces back together. Did I lose some? Are they even all here? When my best friend died, ravaged by ovarian cancer, did she take some with her? Pieces of my heart feel as though they are missing. My husband, working in another town far away, has some pieces with him. Nothing here is familiar. This house, this town, this life. I don’t want to be here, I want to be back in my kitchen by the sea, baking cookies and having tea with Anne. Instead 10 days after she left with the sunrise, we packed up and moved to a completely different community. They tell you not to make any huge decisions after a loss such as this, but we had no choice.
In one fell swoop, life imploded and everything I once knew is gone. I search for comfort in the familiar, but it’s not anywhere really, except my bed and on my computer screen.
The only familiar spaces are online, in twitter’s scrolling 140 characters and Facebook streams full of recipes and photos of cats. The writing community I have been a part of for years soothes my hurt edges, smoothing them bit by bit. They talk me down from the ledges when I feel that I can’t go on and rub salve on my wounded heart. They dry my tears, and remind me that while I am physically alone, in spirit they are always there when I need them.
Until one day, a cloud arrives. Menacing and black, its tentacles burrow into my heart and mercilessly sweep the broken pieces to the far corners. Too far. So far I’m not sure I can get them back. The pieces that I had managed to glue back together are smashed to oblivion. Unleashed by another hurting soul through my trusted online spaces, its whispers follow me everywhere.
“you aren’t a writer. Just an idiot with an Internet connection.”
“that food looks disgusting”
“you’re a terrible friend”
As the tentacles burrow and the whispers drum in my ears, Self Doubt dances with glee around the shards, skipping and smashing, kicking them as far as it can. Pieces of me, lost. Buried. Will I ever find them again? I don’t understand this cruelty-why would someone who once claimed to be my friend unleash something so cruel? Didn’t she know I was already shattered? Didn’t she care? Self Doubt greedily swallows pieces whole. Slowly at first, then faster and faster.
Creativity goes first.
I sit at my computer, paralyzed. The words that used to flow to my fingers with such ease don’t come anymore. The one solace I had, the one thing that made my soul sing, is gone. I can’t unsee the mocking words, the 140 characters in subtweets dissecting all the things I say. I write, delete, rewrite, delete again, because now I’m afraid. What will she choose to mock next? Am I a fraud? Maybe I can’t cook. What if all the time I spent food blogging, speaking at conferences, and writing for publications was a joke? The desire to play in my kitchen, creating wonderful things that I’d share with family and friends goes next. Playfulness, joy, and peace are soon swallowed and all that’s left is anger, fear, bitterness, and larger than ever..Self Doubt. Fueled by so much loathing and fear, Self Doubt stomps around in my heart, shouting at me day and night. She screams terrible things that at one time would’ve bounced off and never stuck but now with pieces swallowed, the words creep in like an inky blackness and won’t let go. I believe her.
I believe that I’m a fraud. That I can’t cook, write, and have no talent of any kind. Obviously all my accomplishments were pure luck.
I believe that I don’t deserve friends at all. After all, one died and the other turned on me, so something has to be wrong with me.
I believe that I must not be very smart.
I believe that I’m unloveable.
I believe that I’m not a good person.
I believe that I don’t deserve to be happy.
I believe that everybody hates me.
Worst of all, I believe I’ll never be whole again.
The thing is, Self Doubt is always wrong. So very wrong-but I believe her because when you are that broken, you can’t see the best parts of yourself anymore. Joy, Hope, and Light are shrouded in inky blackness. Maybe they are there, but you can’t reach them. The things that only a short time before made my soul sing have disappeared. It’s so very quiet. Instead, Suspicion and Anger lurk in the shadows, barking at people and arguing. I withdraw from everything I ever loved or pick fights with those whose company I once enjoyed.
What Self Doubt doesn’t count on is tucked away in those darkest corners, far out of her reach, is Resiliency and Fire. I may be broken, but deep down there is a stubbornness that she can’t even begin to break. Quietly, bit by bit, the tiniest pieces reach out and grab those swallowed by Self Doubt to pull them back to the light.
I don’t even realize they are back until one day, I catch myself smiling. Playfulness returns first, and then humor. Joy follows so quickly I’m surprised when I find myself laughing. I find myself singing in the car instead of crying, or smiling at the sunrise on my way to work. No longer sharp edged and dangerous, the shards forge together stronger than ever before, sparkling with life as they pull more and more pieces away from Self Doubt’s grasp. Some days she kicks and screams, shouting her poisonous words hoping it will weaken the pull. Some days she wins and at first, she does. As time passes, her hold begins and weaken until most days she doesn’t.
Eventually she is left with one piece-one of the most important, and her biggest prize. Creativity was the first piece she snatched, and she won’t give it up easily. The pieces lie in wait until one cold day in January, they stage a coup. There is no way they will go on without Creativity, for it is one of the most important pieces of all. It’s what makes my soul sing, and the rest don’t work quite as well without it. They descend on Self Doubt and snatch it back so forcefully that she can’t help but release her hold.
For the first time in more than three years, my soul sings. The words come flowing out my fingers and the keyboard clicks again, just like it did years before. Self Doubt has no power here anymore. I find myself back in my kitchen, creating food that I love and talking again in 140 characters without caring who dissects what or mocks. Mock away because now, it bounces off.
No longer sharp edged and dangerous, no longer scattered, I’m mostly whole again. There are a few pieces gone forever-Anne took a few when she left, but those were freely given. Some are bent in places where Self Doubt stomped on them. I still don’t understand why anyone would unleash something so damaging on someone already so shattered. I found out later that she was shattered too and I wasn’t enough. How could I be? I was broken already-is it fair to expect that one can glue you back together when they can’t even glue themselves? Was her Self Doubt so large that it has consumed all her pieces and she was only trying to save herself? I don’t think I’ll ever know. I’ve stopped wondering.
I no longer believe the things Self Doubt shouted at me not that long ago. Now I see the best parts of me again, and I’m re-learning that I need to be kinder and gentler with myself. When Creativity wants to play, I heed the call even though I feel out of practice and clumsy. Suspicion, Fear, and Anger were kicked to the curb a long time ago.
The biggest change is, Self Doubt is no longer in charge. Oh sure, she’s still here-and once in awhile, she emerges from the shadows and skitters by like a cockroach startled by the light but now she can’t even even get close enough to steal a piece, however small. I refuse feed her anymore. A kinder, wiser, more gentle being shines in her place instead.
Her name is Self Worth.