Saturday, September 25, 2010

magic abounds

Two or three years ago, I realized I had lost my magic.  I don't know how else to describe it, and that doesn't do a very good job.  I mean that inner sense of me-ness, the knowledge that at my core is a deep well of something that is different than anyone else, that makes me who I am.  The thing is, I never had very much of that sense.  It was always overlaid with a lot of other burdens, the burdens of trying to please a parent who was never pleased, the effort to fit a round peg (me) into the square hole of my religious training (which unfortunately worked just well enough that it took me decades to figure out that I really, really didn't fit). 

But even with all that layered over the top, there was-- up until about ten years ago-- always an inner part of me that I treasured.  I would feel it at certain moments with friends and family, or while writing, or reading a really good book, or sometimes when I was looking up at the stars on a night with no moon.  I've been thinking about what happened, how I let it get killed off.  And I think it comes down to a misunderstanding about what love means.  I grew up in that Christian tradition that honors self-sacrifice above all else.  Greater love hath no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends, right?  An acronym that floated around often in my childhood and in my head:  Jesus first, Others second, Yourself last = JOY.  Not kidding.  Somehow I took that too seriously.  Once I had kids and a spouse with a career that seemed more important than anything I was doing, the demands on me became endless, more than I could possibly do. Infinite sacrifice seemed required.  I think I self-sacrificed myself to death.  It was much easier to figure out what everyone else wanted from me than it was to figure out what I really needed.  So I took the course of least resistance, what seemed like the easiest way at the time, and kept doing what everyone else wanted until there was nothing left of me.

Not consciously, of course.  I'm not quite that pathetic.  You could have caught me at any number of times during the period of my deadness telling friends or family that they needed to take care of themselves, that you can't be a good mom if there's nothing there to mother with, that God didn't mean for us to be doormats.  But I was so clueless about what I needed, and then when I started to figure it out, I was so reluctant to do anything about it (because of the demands it would make on the people I love), that it was very nearly too late by the time I realized I had to change.

Ack.  this post was going to be about how happy I am that my mojo, my magic, is coming back, not an extended journey into the boring-ness of my past.  But maybe I needed to put this into words.  The thing is, when I first started figuring out how to take care of myself, it felt selfish.  It felt mean and hard-hearted to put my own needs ahead of what other people needed.  But I was dying, or at least slowly going insane.  I had to change.  I don't think I would ever have been able to get past the guilt of putting my own needs before others' if it weren't for that-- a selfish mom, I finally realized, was better than a mom who was locked up in a nuthouse somewhere.  Or dead from suicide (which I never actually planned, but there were a few moments where it entered the realm of possibility, which scared the shit out of me).  Pema Chodron says that tonglen, which is the Buddhist practice of infinitely returning good for evil, is an intermediate practice-- not for beginners-- because you have to have a sense of when it becomes self-destructive (since she's buddhist, I'm sure she didn't use the term self-destructive--the whole no-self thing, you know-- but it's been awhile since I read that, and that's what I remember about it). 

Now, three years later, the odd but welcome outcome of my learned selfishness, my determination to get my own needs taken care of, is the return of my magic. Now I get it.  Now I understand that it's not being selfish, it's just being yourself.  If you give away too much of yourself, you become something other than who you are-- for the theist part of me, I could even phrase this, "you become something other than the person God created you to be."

Ha.  Now I know why I needed to type this out:  because I was about to give in on something very important to me (before the person even asked) because it seemed like to much to ask. and I didn't even realize it.


  1. I am *so* saving this post. I'm stuck in the "doormat" phase - between an almost-ex, a just-teenage-son, a still-living-saint-of-a-mother, an i-killed-myself-after-i-disowned-myself-father, an it''ve got the picture. I was raised so Catholic that I taught myself to play the piano and organ so I could be the church organist and support my mother's dreams to be music director. Guilt's a dreadful thing.

    (shakes head) I really hate that all my responses to people lately seem to be all about me. I truly last on the list. But I'm trying to find myself. I need some magic. I'm going to print out your post and hang it in my cubicle.

    Thank you.

  2. well, you're welcome, but the main person that needed it was me. I've had this agitated sense of impending doom for several days now that slowly evaporated while i was typing that out. (phew) I'm glad it helped you, too!

  3. This is fantastic. You must be so proud. And in keeping with Stormy's tradition of making it about oneself (I'm kidding, 98% of all life is about ME), I desperately needed to hear this today.

    I have a long boring complex relationship with my mother (who doesn't? Raise your hand. Anybody?) and tonight she pulled the emotional blackmail on me and I held up against it but felt myself caving the familiar cave.

    I have to be me and think of my needs. To do what she wants of me I would have to sacrifice my needs and the needs of my husband. She still wouldn't be satisfied.

    So magic. Magic would be good right now. If you have any extra, sprinkle it my way.

  4. Wonderful post. I gave up my magic when I became a mom, thinking it was a fair trade. I was raised in that religious tradition, too, the one where you stop being a woman and become a mom, and only a mom, once your kids are born. I tried, really, really tried, to be a selfless mom. And it almost killed me. It killed my spirit for years. I am just now getting back in touch with the magic, and it feels awesome. Thanks for sharing this today - it helps me to hear about other women who have made this journey.

  5. thanks for reading it, all of you. It means a lot to me that it meant a lot to you. :-) The issue mentioned in the last paragraph is still scaring me-- I haven't stood up for myself about it yet, but I know it's coming, and it's not going to be easy. it helps knowing others are working on this, too.

  6. Thanks for posting this! I can really identify, and I'm glad you've found yourself again. It gives me hope. :)