Blade to skin, I peel the potatoes in the sink. I look at the exposed starches. I feel like them right now. All of 2017 and 2018 was the peeling: a quiet, brutal process of removing everything that protected me, the the barriers and affect and things I held onto to create space between me and the world. I’m naked and pasty like these potatoes now.
Maturing is a process I’ll never complete. I’m always learning and screwing up. The difference between now and any other point in my life is that I’m no longer interested in screwing myself over. I don’t seek brief, instant gratification when I know I’m just going to want more because anything that gives us that kind of high can rarely satiate us. High and whole are not the same thing. Often, they are opposites.
Highs come in all forms. I never sought substances because I was so hooked on chasing other people– strung out a sporadic text, a morsel of acknowledgment that I existed in their mind for a moment. It didn’t even have to be romantic. Friends, love interests, even family at times, I unfolded until I was so universally available that there was nothing left of me for myself. My ears became unpaid therapists for everyone else’s problems. My eyes, the soft place they always longed to fall. I forgave and forgave and forgave every apology I was never given. I now know that this is enabling. This is people pleasing. This is codependence, and part of how I wound up in intensive therapy.
Part innate extroversion and part survival tactic, people pleasing began as a way to stay afloat. I had to placate people for various aspects of safety for a long time. The issue is that no signs say when you’ve steered through the murkiness to some autonomy. I reached a point where I no longer depended upon the approval and good graces of others. Still, I continued out of habit. I only recognized infatuation if I were staring up at someone– ever their doormat. Love was a winnable prize. Acceptance is a challenge, and I love a challenge. Throughout those years, I attracted people who affirmed my perception of relationships (platonic, romantic). I dutifully drained myself as caretaker. Exhaustion doused everything I did. There is no rest when I’m constantly hustling for my worth.
Slowly, even if my mind did not recognize my worth, my behaviors did. My actions started demanding worth. I asserted my values in college, even when it was unpopular. I stood up for myself professionally. Never did I revel in my mistreatment, but I also couldn’t accept it anymore. My choices attracted good people, solid people, people who lacked any ulterior motive in their kindness. Gradually, a community bloomed. I found people willing to hold space for me and call me on my BS. I found mentors to guide me, friends who made me feel comfortable as I am. It became harder to engage in previous patterns as friends observed me chasing people. “Marisa, he sucks”. “Marisa, she’s using you”. “Why are you at a job that you hate so much”. They’d say these things aloud. Their voices became my church bells, my welcome home music, the air horn through the white noise. I knew they were true, but I didn’t listen. I felt like that’s what I deserved.
I always contextualized and intellectualized my harmful choices to rationalize them. This gave me a response to all their concerns. But ultimately, I am an adult woman now. I’m no longer a helpless child or vulnerable teen. It is both possible and imperative to learn new responses. My failure to advocate for myself is now my fault. The only thing repeating patterns can yield is more of the same buffoonery. So, even when I sink into such deeply established thought patterns as “it is normal to feel constantly unsure about if someone cares for me”, it is my job to claw myself out of there. I’m proud of all the claw marks on my brain now. I’ve had to lose some people to find myself. Sometimes, everything I need is in the opposite direction of the person I want. Headspace is the final frontier in awakenings. The whole universe knows before my mind does. My body knows what’s good for me far before my head gets there.
Twenty five is a far cry from eighteen. When I avoid fruits and veggies in favor of refined sugars, a migraine is sure to follow. I drank last night, and a massive headache awaited me this morning. Biology is great at slapping us in the face and humbling us. I’d rather get a good nights sleep now. I want to nourish the body that does so much for me. For my days to be full, I need to be fueled. And if my body can recognize what I deserve, why can’t I? If everyone around me is saying “you’re screwing yourself over”because they want me to win, why am I so wed to losing?
I stopped screwing myself over when I chose my worth over my wants. I want to be liked. Sometimes, that liking is coming from the wrong person. Desires are born from programming, from beliefs we’ve coddled and cradled and carried. I’m changing my taste preferences. I stopped playing not to lose and started playing to win. That means that it’s not about operating from a deferential position but believing that I am enough as I am. That means why not me? What about me doesn’t deserve this? I believe that mistakes are a part of growth and not reflective of a personal defect in me. I’m worth more than the number of unanswered texts in my phone, more than post-dated words and half-hearted friendships. I do not only exist when you want me. I am not only alive when you need me. Even if your reasons are good and your heart is pure, I’m done ghostwriting every excuse for your behavior. There are better uses of my time than to be a rehab center for the emotionally unavailable. I release all the space I saved for people who never showed up anyway. Now, I welcome good things into all the acres awaiting.
I’m not growing a new skin. I’m keeping myself bare. The first half of my twenties was the peeling– slicing away every should. The second half is the building– professionally, personally, romantically, experientially. It took me until I was twenty four to embrace that my life is mine to live for me and not as a fulcrum for everyone else to leverage. There is no going back. The highs taste sour now. The hangovers are real, and once you’ve tasted the real thing, you can’t substitute it with placeholders to avoid emptiness. I’m done shortchanging my future self. She deserves my full buy in. I’m not done with mistakes. I’m not done with growing. But I’m no longer the villain in my own story. I’m not my own victim. I’ve gotta be my number one fan to get to where I want to be, and good fans don’t screw themselves over.