Just Say Thank You.
I’ve always had a hard time with compliments, accolades, really any positive words directed toward me. It has been my experience that this is a fairly common trait among alcoholics. We have this constant inner monologue that tells us we’re just not good enough, so it seems false to hear anything which contradicts that negative self-image.
I can’t speak for anyone else, but as for me, I didn’t grow up around a lot of positive or encouraging words. I hear my husband on the phone with his parents, friends talking to their families, and so easily the words, “I love you” are spoken. I honestly can not remember the last time I shared those words with anyone in my FOO family (family of origin). Within my immediate family, we easily express love toward each other, but my parents? my siblings? the extended family? Well, it’s just not something we say.
Criticism, derision and accusations were the norm in my house. Even my blessed extended family & saintly grandmother always had a way of poking fun in order to show affection. My father was a violently angry man and nothing was ever good enough for him. I was always second in my class and he wanted to know why I wasn’t first. He had this business, as well as a couple of farms and I was often dragged along as slave labor. Now, I have no problem with chores or being expected to contribute to the household. What was damaging, though, was that he would tell me to do some task or other without giving me instructions on how to do it properly and then berate me and call me an idiot because I didn’t instinctively know things like “if you don’t put rocks into the quail’s food, then they will die.” I suppose that I could have extrapolated this conclusion from my knowledge of biology… but at 10, I was still a few years away from my first bio class.
I grew up exposed to hot tempers, screaming, fighting and hypocrisy. We would go to church every Sunday where we would pretend that we lived by Christ-like principles, but when the preacher came to visit, we couldn’t even find where we kept the Bible. Forgiveness was a completely foreign concept in my household. I was told over and over that I needed to EARN trust, but no matter what I did no tally marks were ever placed in my “good girl” column and those “bad girl” marks were etched in stone. I felt like I was shrouded in my fuck-ups so that every time you looked at me, that was all you could see. Just like the fist-shaped holes in the walls that never got fixed, our family’s sins were constantly on display.
I don’t mean to say that our life was so horrible or that we didn’t love each other in our own way. We all did the best we could… and we still do. I was just socialized in such a way that I had to receive my feelings of self-worth by other means because positive words were just not a thing that I could ever associate with me. As I grew older and became involved in destructive relationships with guys who didn’t respect me or girls who weren’t really my friends, I learned that seemingly kind words were mere flattery. They were only used to butter you up so that people could get what they wanted out of you.
Gratitude was never spoken and respect was generally voiced sarcastically. I never associated kind words with kindness. Back when the Gary Chapman book about the five Love Languages was all the rage, I took the test to discover that my “words of affirmation” score was nearly non-existent. No surprise there. Never wanting to appear disingenuous, I didn’t incorporate spoken kindness into my relationships with others. For someone who can write her emotions fairly well, I became a “just the facts” kind of girl in conversation. People often mistook me for rude because I would avoid any sort of pleasantries. I simply couldn’t accept that there might be any sincerity behind the words.
Recently, an old school chum made an inquiry of her Facebook friends regarding the use of the word “ma’am.” We do hale from north of the Mason-Dixon, so ma’am isn’t as widely used as it is in the South. I didn’t want to respond, but I read through the comments of others. The general consensus seemed to be that it was a sign of respect and that whether or not one was accustomed to using it oneself, it should be acknowledged as such if one were spoken to in this manner. The whole thing just makes me laugh because it reminds me of when I first moved to Texas. I was 18 years old, sitting in a Denny’s when I was first “ma’am”ed. I whipped my head around and nearly slapped the shit out of the extremely well-meaning, kind-hearted soul who uttered the word to me. He and I wound up dating for nearly 3 years… but he never again called me ma’am! To my ears, ma’am was a vile and disrespectful word. I’ve been here 17 years now and I think I’ve finally gotten used to getting the occasional “ma’am”… but I still won’t allow my kids to say it to me.
I think I’ve gotten off topic here. Or perhaps I’ve just provided a bit too much back-story. Navel-gazing leads to analysis paralysis, chica. Whatever the case may be, suffice it to say that I have a hard time accepting compliments (or really any good thing that comes my way, as I’m always waiting for the other shoe to drop… but that’s another matter, entirely).
One of the hardest things I’ve had to learn in sobriety is how to just say thank you. I don’t have to question the motives of the person who is being nice to me. I don’t have to offer up explanations as to why I do not deserve these kind words. Possibly even more excruciating is learning to say “You’re welcome.” Oh, how I want to list all the myriad reasons why you should never, ever thank me for anything!
Well, over the past few of weeks, I’ve been hit by this shitstorm of awesomeness. Yes, a veritable shitstorm. I’ve put myself out there in a couple of big ways and I’ve gotten noticed for it. Which is great. And not. Crazy alcoholics with their insane backwards thinking, jumping up and down screaming “Look at me! Look at me!” then running off crying, “Why are you staring at me!?!?!” So yeah, that’s been fun.
But what I really want to talk to you about is my hair.
(1124 words into this post and I’m finally getting to the topic? I feel like Arlo Guthrie.)
My hair is super thick and summer here is super hot. Thick hair in summer sucks! The only way I can tolerate the heat is by pulling my hair up into a ponytail (all summer long) or potentially cutting it off super short like boy hair. Well, it had gotten so long that it was really getting annoying to take care of… like my arms would get tired from how long it took to shampoo the crap, so I had to get it cut. When my niece (she’s not really my niece, but that’s how I think of her) was young, she used to donate her hair to “Locks of Love,” this cool organization which makes wigs for kids with cancer and whatnot. So for years, I’ve wanted to do likewise, but I could never tolerate my hair long enough to let it get to the point where I could chop off the required 10 inches and still have a little length. I would feel guilty every time I cut my hair. For years! So finally, I said “Fuck it! I don’t care if it looks like crap. I am sick of all this damned hair and I am getting rid of it!” I walked into a salon & had the girl hack off a 12-inch long ponytail. I took in pictures of what I wanted the end result to look like, but she made me look like a mushroom instead. OMG, woman! Keep cutting! Keep cutting! Finally, I got sick of her messing with it & it still didn’t look anything like it was supposed to, so I put on the fake smile and said, “Yes, that’s great.” The whole time I’m thinking “Fine. I just gotta deal with it for a couple of weeks until it’s long enough for me to go to someone else and have them do it right.”
So, yeah, my hair is awesome! Seriously. It’s totally not what I wanted; it’s not what I asked for, but it’s really great. It’s short enough that my head won’t suffocate under its thickness; I really don’t have to do anything to it in the morning (not that that was going to happen, anyway); and it is really, really cute. Everyone I know keeps telling me how much they love my hair, that it makes me look younger (which isn’t really a positive thing when you look 16 to begin with)… and oh, yeah, somehow I have lost 15 lbs. lately, so I’ve got everyone telling me I look great in that respect as well!
But that’s not the worst of it! I could handle the hair compliments because I didn’t actually cut the hair, so it’s the hairdresser who actually gets the kudos. What killed me was when people acted like I was a saint for donating my hair. Even then, I could live with it… but then Perfect Mom lavished praise on me donating because her mom is a cancer survivor and lost all her hair during the chemo treatments and she could afford a wig, but there are so many people who can’t, and on and on and on. Oh yeah, Perfect Mom is my really, really big outstanding resentment – my kids’ stepmom. She’s absolutely perfect and I’m a horrible monster and my kids love her more and… I don’t even know if she actually says any of these things anymore, but oh God, do I feel them from her. She’s sickeningly sweet and always tells me “I really am this nice!” and then blames me for things that she and the ex are doing and tells me that I am the one causing all the problems and I’ve got issues and badly need therapy.
So, yeah, I had a really, really, really hard time hearing her go on and on about my generosity. I am trying my best to make amends with this woman, or at least not make matters worse, so I wish I could say that I did exactly what I should have done and just said, “Thank you.”
But I couldn’t.
I minimized the issue and blew off her kind words. And no, especially from her, kindness isn’t always genuine. But this time it really was sincere. And I should have graciously accepted it.
Well, at least I didn’t tell her to blow it out her ass.
Progress, not perfection, right?