My Sober Life, Chapter 18

In which circumstances outside of my control directly influence who I am

We’re moving into the next phase here where chapters, instead of focusing on one or two significant events in a semi-chronological fashion, we shift into themes that span over several years, or in some cases, my whole lifetime.

Growing up the youngest can have all kinds of impacts on people. The stereotypes are generally in the “spoiled brat” vein: Things were so much harder on the older siblings. You get away with everything. You’re the “baby”. You don’t have to work for anything. Silver platter for this one.

Add an extra layer on top of this: I was born 10 years after my closest sibling, which also put me in the “accident” category. So not only was I a spoiled brat who gets everything she wants without working for it, I also was a mistake.

At the time I was living it, I did not think this information affected me much. I laughed off most “oops baby” jokes. I laughed off my siblings’ insistence I was adopted because I didn’t like pinto beans which meant I was not Mexican like the rest of them. [I still don’t like pinto beans…I’m a disgrace to mi familia… ;)] Also, I am white. Like, SO white. My skin is translucent in places, so it just bolstered the idea I couldn’t possibly be one of them. But, in hindsight, a few decades of being told you are a mistake make a significant mark.

The message it sends is that you don’t belong here. You were never meant to be here. You weren’t wanted; you were tolerated. So you spend a large portion of time in your own head trying to find where you might belong.

My insatiable desire to be liked at the sacrifice of my own wants, I think, largely stems from these truths I made up for myself. I wanted so desperately to belong, to be like everyone else. I didn’t have the innate confidence to believe I was anything other than an aberration.

Once in eighth grade, my formidable English teacher announced a pop quiz. Before doing so, she made a small speech about the school’s stance on cheating and how her own stance was that times 100. We were instructed to pull out a sheet of loose-leaf paper and write our names in the upper right-hand corner. I was sitting next to a girl whose approval I was always seeking. I wondered how she had written her name. Printed? In cursive? Without a conscious thought, I glanced at her paper. 

Immediately, my name rang out with a piercing yell as the teacher called me into the hallway.

I was awash with shame as I stood in front of her wondering what on Earth I could have done. We were the same height, but it was as though she was two feet taller than me. She glared at me and asked me why I had looked at my neighbor’s paper. I was so overcome with fear, I couldn’t even speak. What was she talking about? I didn’t look at her paper…or did I? I stammered an explanation about how I was looking at how she wrote her name, to see if it was better than mine. To see if I needed to change how I wrote my name.

She looked at me then, holding my gaze. Not with anger or disappointment. It wasn’t pity either, but it was a heartbreaking sort of look. And she said something that would change me. Not then, in that moment, but it nuzzled deep into my soulIt would occasionally, gently, paw to the surface, poking its nose out, sniffing the air as if to say, “Are you ready for me yet?” I would brush it away because of its inconvenient truth.

But one day in my mid-thirties, as its whiskers once again made their way over the edge, I coaxed it out. I’m ready. I’m ready for you.

“You are not what others think of you. You are not measured by that stick. Your self-worth is exactly that – it comes from yourself. Being cool is an illusion. If you continue to live by someone else’s standards, for fear of disappointing them, you will never enjoy life. You will never believe you are enough. But you are. You are everything you are supposed to be right now.”

I am not defined by the circumstances that led to my unexpected existence on this planet. I am not defined by other’s assumptions about me, their approval (or disapproval), their expectations. And I certainly don’t fit in a simply labeled box. If I do fit in a box, it is bizarrely shaped and covered in stickers. Like a well-traveled suitcase with pictures and words from all over the spectrum of this life, both concrete and intangible. None are true simultaneously, yet all of them are.

People will always think what they think. We can’t stop that from happening. However, shedding the layers of expectation and releasing myself from caring about other’s opinions of me has been one of the most freeing gifts I have cultivated.

Cheers (with honey vanilla chamomile tea with a splash of almond milk).

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