Something people talk about in recovery (as something not to do) is comparing one’s “insides” (feelings, insecurities, etc.) to other people’s “outsides” (physical appearance, wealth, etc.). I’m usually fairly successful with this; I’ve long since realized that everyone is fighting their own battles, 99% of which are invisible (or at least incomprehensible without full context). Some of the most beautiful and wealthy people I’ve ever met have been absolutely miserable (or just plain asshats), and some of the happiest people in the world are, by society’s standards, anything but beautiful. But this isn’t anything new; at some point everyone either realizes all of this or spends the rest of life being miserable.
No, the latest thing I’m grappling with is my reaction to other people’s interpretations of my “outsides” as compared to what I believe to be “true” based on what’s going on in my “insides.” And even though I know — as a woman wrote on a napkin and passed to me in a meeting five years ago (a note I still keep in my god box) — that I need to trust my heart because my head has a tendency to lie to me, I also have a very short-term memory when it comes to taking advice (no matter how great it is). So as much as I want to believe many of the the (positive) things people tell me about myself, because of course I do want my insides to feel just as amazing as certain people think my outsides are, I remain my own biggest critic and skeptic. Even worse (and more embarrassing), I begin to resent the positive opinions people have of me. “If they only knew how I felt on the inside…” is my default mode when faced with positive feedback, and I’m especially sensitive to this when people comment on how “well” I handle the challenges I (often) face, (sometimes) overcome, and always (so far) make it through.
So when I get a text that says this from a good friend:
My first reaction is that he must have meant the text message for someone else. My response, instead of saying “thank you” or something equal but more flirty, was a confused, “Where did that come from?” (“I was just thinking about you,” he replied.) This same person, with whom I spend a good deal of time, often compliments me in ways I find uncomfortable, including saying that I’m succeeding in NYC (when I feel like a complete failure on the verge of homelessness every five minutes), I was kick-ass for moving to NYC on a leap of faith (which I perceive as possibly the most foolish thing I’ve ever done), and that I continue to impress him with my fortitude (while I’m simply amazed that I haven’t yet jumped off of a bridge most of the time).
And then there are the Facebook friends, the ones who say that the way I go after what I want is impressive, I’ll age more easily than most because I’ll have fewer regrets, I’ve come so far from my high school persona, and it’s admirable how I deal with adversity with grace and dignity. (Meanwhile, I’m guessing they have no clue how frequently I stay up watching Netflix until 3am just to numb my mind, how often I don’t get out of bed all day because I can’t bear to face the world, how sad I am at being away from my kids without any money to visit them for the last two months, how scared I am about the future, and how absolutely close to complete ruin I am at any given point of time.)
But here’s the thing, and it’s a thing I didn’t realize until I sat down to write this: in addition to not comparing my internal feelings with other people’s outer appearance, I also need to stop letting my outside appearance — which is actually closer to reality than my brain wants me to believe — get overwhelmed and poisoned by the lies I tell myself (about myself). Because the truth is that I have done some amazing things, many of which were equally brave and leaps of faith. My Netflix marathons come after working 12+-hour days and needing to unwind. And since April the only days I’ve spent in bed are Sundays…my only day off. Plus, it’s normal to feel sad and get stressed and miss my kids and worry that things will never get better and feel poor when you’re broke.
In short: doubt doesn’t negate the truth. My head lies to me. My heart doesn’t. And in my heart, I do know the truth. Which is that my outsides are much better than I give myself credit for, and I need to start kicking myself in the ass every single time I say “what was that for?” instead of “why, thank you.”