“You have to evolve from Selflessness to Selfishness. It’s ok to put you first.”
I heard this for the first time two years ago while attending a retreat hosted by one of my GGGF’s (good, good, girlfriend). We had recently returned from an amazing vacation in NOLA. I hadn’t been on vacation in 15 years, so this was major for me. Our road trip started in NC and continued to New Orleans. We didn’t do the typical beaded-neck drunk trekking through Bourbon Street while double-fisting hand grenades and hurricanes. We experienced New Orleans.
The food, the people, the energy, the intoxicating pulse of it all. My love for photography reemerged right in those gritty streets. I felt something that I had never experienced before. I felt contentment.
I came home empowered, energized, and to the same bullshit and stress. I sat in that retreat looking for something, just one little string to hold onto to keep me pushing. Some type of confirmation that contentment would return and stay awhile. It showed up in my friend’s declaration of selfishness. And in another jewel that she shared. She said,
“I had to tell my husband, if that’s the type of woman you need, please do what you need to find her, but that can’t be me anymore.”
I played that last line on repeat. That can’t be me anymore. There it was. It didn’t apply for me in the realm of man/woman relationships. But it applied. I needed to shout it from a damn bullhorn: THAT CAN’T BE ME ANYMORE!
The center of us. Maya Angelou referred to it as the place where no one is allowed. Under any condition. She said that when people and things are beating the door down to come in, we have to tell them no. Tell them that this place is just for me and that they are not allowed to enter. My center was opposite. It was filled to capacity with stuff that did not belong to me. I had left the door open.
I sat in therapy one evening and shared that I was so tired of being the go-to person. She said, “Tired people don’t run food pantries out of their homes. They don’t stay in jobs that have them crying in their car on lunch breaks. They don’t stand in front of sons who make bad decisions. And they do not get their grandchildren every other weekend.”
I looked down with nothing to say. She asked what I was afraid of. I said the word no. She asked why. I said because I’ve been hearing it all my life. She said, “You may have heard it, but seems to me as if you didn’t listen. You kept going and that’s exactly what others will do when you say it to them. They won’t give up, they’ll keep going.”
We can’t save the world and sacrifice ourselves in the process. People will bleed you dry. Every ounce that you give, they’ll want a gallon more.
I became so resentful. I knew my therapist was right but I was so angry. I chose to Mother Teresa the world because of my own failures and not wanting anyone else to feel the loneliness that I felt during my hardest moments. I had gone through some heavy stuff alone and declared that I’d never let that happen to another soul. I felt inclined to join people where they were, and stay there. After they were all better, I was worse.
I beat myself up about lessons. I didn’t take into account that I had survived some shit. I stayed stuck in my story and everyone else’s.
I wasn’t doing that shit anymore.
My therapist said, “Janell. If your no is a no, say it. If you’re maybe’s are no’s, say no. If your yes is really a no, say no. But you have to give at least one yes a month. On your terms.” Ok, easy enough.
Bullshit. I avoided everything and everyone. No, I can’t babysit. No, I’m not coming out for drinks. Nope, I’m not coming in today. No, I’m not showing up for you. Yup, let me deactivate my social media and mute these group texts.
I was out of control trying to reel myself back in. I had to slow it down and breathe, and dig into that center. The people and stuff that I had gathered up in there, were covering up a secret. I had been poorly managing my diagnosis of severe anxiety disorder by attempting to take care of everyone but me. Makes me cry a little thinking about it now. I had so much residual damage going on and instead of healing myself, I helped people.
My panic attacks returned with a vengeance. I didn’t want to be around anyone and spending lonely evenings on the bedroom floor, surrrounded by piles of clothing and chaos, hiding from the world and begging God to just help me breathe wasn’t the move. It could not continue.
It begin with small steps. Breathe – take a shower. Oh, you feeling real good? Do laundry. Wait a minute, you’re on a roll girl – pop up on a friend. Awwww shit now – apply for a new job. Go girl – Move to where you can afford and stop drowning. Breathe – say no, without explanation. Breathe – thank you, but I don’t want to come. Breathe – you can’t put that on me. Breathe- I’m sorry. I’m not available to help. Little, small steps toward sanity.
My center still has little lingering fragments but I let my angels in too, my beautiful, beautiful friends and they make sure that I remember who I am in all ways. They love me fiercely and I always say that I don’t know what I did right to be blessed with them but I hope to do it again next lifetime.
Friends. Who unlock backdoors and cover you with their favorite blankets and let you cry in their arms. Friends who call your phone and say, “Get up. Now. Get out of that floor.”, before you mumble a tearful hello. Friends who sit you at kitchen tables and pile your plate high and your spirit too. They love on me so good. And I do too now.
If I can’t move in love, if it doesn’t move me in love and if it doesn’t walk or talk like love, don’t want anything to do with it. I choose me first.
One of the best birthday gifts I’ve ever received was a camera from the same girlfriend I visited New Orleans with. Said I needed to put that phone down and reveal my true eye with that camera. I sat at that table and sobbed. That camera represented so much for me. It was confirmation of change and healing. She included a handwritten letter (I still have it.) about all of the amazing things she saw in me. It took my breath away.
She saw me. Who I was becoming. Who I needed so badly to be. I saw it too, with my brand new eyes and new spirit. I see me. I’m in my number one spot. Me first.
You first, in everything. I always say that no one tells us that part. Because they didn’t know either.
Knowledge is Power.
*the photos shared in this posting are from the New Orleans trip.