Someone from another life sent me this picture several years ago, and in case you need help understanding why, I’ve drawn you a big red blob.
It’s very possible I’m the one who needs help.
I mean, I was the one who took the very flattering label of “Most Athletic” female — in a senior class of about 500 total kids — and internalized it to the point where it completely defined my identity. This process started long before the (Niles, IL) West Word staff assigned their 1996 Senior Superlatives; I was probably 8 years old (and going by Jenny Wielgus) when I smacked my first home run in coach-pitch softball, and, based on the reaction of the parents in the crowd, instantly decided that sports were MY THING. From that point on, I was convinced my purpose in life was to be a top athlete, and that my worth as a person was inextricably tied to my performance on the field/court.
To be “good” at all, I had to be better than everyone else. Not that those were my explicit thoughts…but sadly, looking back after a lifetime trapped in a “fixed mindset,” that’s really what my belief system came down to.
And then, I walked on to a Big Ten softball team, and WHAMMO!
After nearly a full school year as an overwhelmed walk-on at Northwestern, I got hit in the face by an overthrown ball and suffered a broken jaw, which took me out of commission for the final month of the conference season, bumped me even further down the program’s pecking order…and ultimately hastened my decision to leave the team.
All right, so I quit! At 42 years old, I think it’s OK to admit: I QUIT SOFTBALL AT THE AGE OF 19.
Whew! While I’m taking a deep breath, check out this ancient pic of my great aunt, Mickey, and me after an NU game, pre-broken jaw:
You might wonder why I’m telling this story, which long-time readers have heard me tell several times before. Well, as the newer readers might suspect, it has to do with Jess Weiner’s “WTF is Success?!” course.
She gave us a painfully thought-provoking writing prompt last week:
If you were never paid another compliment in your life, how would you know you were worthy?
I still don’t really have an answer. I’m hoping one will just kind of burst out of me while I sit here typing this blog post. But the question made me think back to the end of my “Most Athletic” days, because that’s when something broke inside me, and my entire sense of identity and self-worth blew up — again, literally — in my face.
Twenty years of wandering around lost in a world of eating disorders, compulsive shopping, overexercising, alcohol addiction, and worse 🤦🏼♀️, and I’m finally trying to dig in and heal those long-festering wounds, instead of slapping on a bunch of bad band-aids.
I’m 21 months sober (AS OF TODAY! 🥳) and about a week away from my 43rd birthday. Right now, I’m confronting my self-worth issues head-on with a clear head — and no crutch.
Holy shit! It’s fucking hard!
Lately, the big questions I’m grappling with are:
- If I never find/land a stable job that I love, how will I be OK?
- How will I feel “good enough” if employers reject me?
- How will I make it through the pain of rejection without taking a drink?
Basically, all offshoots of the soul-stirring inquiry that Jess makes in her course.
And again, a definitive answer eludes me. Deep down, that curly-haired, vintage-Cubs-jersey-wearing high school athlete who relied on others’ approval for permission to love herself still lives. There’s that part of me that fears falling all to pieces when I get that WHAMMO of being told, “You’re not the best/most.” 😱
I need another deep breath. Peep this fun throwback to my “glory days” (Central Suburban League Co-Champs after beating New Trier! 💪🏻). I’ll let you find me on your own this time…
The difference between Jen in 2021 and Jenni in 1996 is that, through experience, followed by sobriety, therapy and service in the 12-step fellowship, I actually have done some work on my issues and re-thought some of my old thinking patterns and acquired some effective coping tools.
I use them every day I show up to my current job and don’t let the chaos drive me off a cliff.
I use them every time I resist reacting emotionally to frustrating people and situations, and instead remain polite and professional. (Hard to believe, I know, but it HAS happened!)
And of course, I use them every time I mark my whiteboard to record another 24 hours, alcohol-free.
My emotional muscles are still not, like, hefty, by any stretch, and it’s tough when I have to give them a workout. Running through all the “one-day-at-time”s and “next right thing”s and “God will provide”s, as anxiety and fear hammer away at my insides…it really does get exhausting.
Searching for the answers to life’s big questions will really tucker you out! 😴
And it’s a big weight to carry when you realize, YOU ALONE are responsible for your own worthiness. Nothing and no one can help you get to the summit of self-love.
So, if I had to wrap up this rambling rant and offer Jess Weiner an answer, here’s what has materialized in my mind.
Call it a “Sober Superlative.” 😉
If I never again receive a compliment (or get hired for another job), I’ll know I am worthy if I can look in the mirror and say, honestly, from the heart:
“You are better right now than you used to be, and doing the most you can TODAY.”