I’ll admit this, here, right out loud:
I can be obsessive.
When I decide I like a particular food, I find myself having that food every day. I prepare it in precisely the same manner. I tell myself that experts suggest that a colorful meal contains a balance of nutrients but I ignore this admonishment. Boiled potatoes make their way to my bowl seven or ten days running. I make a gluten-free English Muffin with scrambled eggs for weeks on end. Every meal precisely resembles the next.
The same pattern asserts itself in reading. I find a new mystery series that I consider well written and don’t get a decent night’s sleep (such as mine are) until I have read every title. I recently discovered that I had overlooked the new season of a favorite cooking competition. Following my realization, I binge-watched weeks of episodes to prepare myself for the finale.
I get hooked on ideas. For years, I’ve been haunted by the notion that if my stomach isn’t flat, I look pathetic. A little round tummy graces most American women over 40 including me. Eight years ago, I weighed 103 pounds and still had that pooch. But my brain tells me that it inhibits me from looking acceptable and I can’t let that go. I stretch and bend and twist, striving to tighten weak muscles which will never behave as I desire.
I understand that I’m not obsessive-compulsive. I thank all that is divine and the Universe at large that I do not suffer from OCD. I’ve known people plagued by that disorder. The torturous rituals which the disease drives them to pursue cannot be under-stated. My heart aches for families who experience this crippling condition.
What I’m talking about is manageable. Habit, a thirst for order, a longing for the quiet my brain needs and which I can gain by daily consistency.
I’ve cogitated about this for months and have reached some conclusions. I realize that habit keeps me focused on moving forward but also creates tunnel vision. It’s hard to see the debris around me while repeating act after identical act. By always stepping in the same spot on the sidewalk, I don’t have to repair the rest of the cracked cement.
Part of my journey to joy requires that I learn to accept hard and basic truths about myself. I realize that drive and determination take many people very far in life. But each of us starts with some basic limitations that we cannot overcome. Other restrictions arise because of circumstances that we do not control. We keep lists of these deficiencies on little pieces of paper folded over many times, tucked in our pockets. We take them out whenever we find ourselves lamenting occurrences in our daily lives, big and small.
We scrutinize the grimy pieces of paper. We chide ourselves for our remissions. Not pretty enough, not smart enough, not rich enough, not tall enough. Whatever it is that we think we should be to entitle us to a different turn of events. That would never have happened if I had. . . I could have gotten that if I had not. . .
I have my list. I avoid looking at that list by constructing a life which doesn’t require me to acknowledge my limitations. I buy the same food. I read the same books. I let piles of laundry and junk mail and discarded jackets accumulate in the dining room. I don’t want to know what would happen if I unfold that list and spread it out. I fear the tap on my weak armor. If I confront my failures, will I survive?
My journey to joy no longer depends on my ability to tear that list into pieces and flush it down a cosmic toilet. Instead, I need to have those qualities tattooed on my forehead. THIS IS ME, I will broadcast to the world. I’ll write a list of WHO I AM on my hands in indelible ink. I’ll raise my palms to my eyes and recite that litany every morning. I’ll embrace myself. I’ll nourish the world around me with the water of my tears and the sunlight of my smile.
I have spent sixty-one years locked in the cold belief of my unworthiness. I’ve created a life where every complaint arises from my desperate longing to be considered good enough. I’ve studied the faces of happy people and I know this about them: They value themselves. They do not need to rail against the world because their belief in themselves allows them to tolerate life’s vagaries. That’s what they have that I lack: Self-love.
But I’m not surrendering my quest just yet. Where there is life, there is room for improvement. It’s persistence, not discretion, that’s the better part of valor.
It’s the thirty-first day of the thirty-ninth month of My Year Without Complaining. Life continues.