I had an epiphany in yoga last week. It was the simplest thing, a thing I've thought a million times over. But somehow, it did the trick.
The teacher asked us to set an intention for the class and I was thinking about how I need to judge myself less harshly and how I demand so much. I've been drowning in narcissistic self pity and I know it and I know it's not good for me, for my career, for my kids - let alone any kind of love life I might want to have. But knowing it and feeling it are two different things. But somehow, I came to the idea that what I needed was not to pretend that all of my fuck-ups never happened or that somehow I won't fuck up again (cause I will!), but that I can acknowledge them and repent them, and still forgive myself. Don't I always forgive others? Aren't I known as being too forgiving? And yet, as my sister has pointed out, the world has not been very forgiving of me. Maybe I need to be the first.
I was also thinking about how I forgive my parents for all their various missteps. As a parent, I now appreciate how hard they had it with all three of us, and especially me, the pain in the ass. I didn't mean to be a pain in the ass, of course, I think I am naturally contradictory. I swear it's genetic - the devil's advocate gene. I blame it on coming from an argumentative people. And also, I always see the other side. So, I was seeing my parents' other side, and Mr. Nation's other side (he was the theater teacher in high school - can you believe I was lucky enough to have a theater teacher at my high school? - and I drove him nuts, too). And it is good to look back on my past and see where others may have had quarrel with me, but I went too far. I began to see everything from everyone else's point of view, and completely lost my own. Like every argument in my entire 40 years was all my fault and never was there any shared blame. Or just good old difference of opinion.
I had been angry with my parents for so long and this all came to a head at Passover, both for the things they did when I was a child, and also the things they continue to do. It was the night of the chopped liver. My mother didn't trust me with it. But mostly, she didn't trust anyone to do anything right enough to please my father. It was always about pleasing my father and since no one could ever do that except here (and often not her, either), I could never be given the chance to try. I felt that as a little kid - you know when you want to be given grown up tasks and not just little kid busy work. And I felt it that night. I feel it when they don't want to come to my house for dinner or I bring some cookies over and they are okay, they're fine or even good, but they are given this raaaaave review like oh my god, no one has eeeeever made chocolate chip cookies before! Like I'm being pandered to. So I insist my mother let me handle the chopped liver and I'll get it done for her before she even wakes up, because I have to go out when she will be up and cooking the rest of the meal (the main meal, the meal that counts, because god forbid I should ever be given the chance to make the turkey. Have I mentioned that I'm a 40 year old woman with plenty of turkey behind her?) I want so badly to take the burden off of her, to please her by having done a job well, well enough that it might even please my father, which would in turn please her. And all of this is so embarrassing as I write it down - why am I still trying to please my father? I cook all the time, good meals, bad meals, sort of okay meals. I am perfectly competent in the kitchen and perfectly confident in my cooking abilities - usually.
So she leaves me the recipe and I get everything right - the onions are perfectly browned, they consistency is yellow and creamy. The only thing is that I hate chopped liver, so I have no idea how it's supposed to taste. My mother comes down just as I've finished all the dishes I agreed to make and I'm about to leave for my appointment. She tastes it and I am just so proud - finally, I have proven my worth as a daughter and a woman. And then she goes, Ummmm... how many livers did you use? And I say - the ones that were in the package. And she's like - All of them?!?!?! And I'm like yeah -- it was a frozen package - I just assumed I was supposed to use them all. And she's like - you were supposed to use 5. I wrote it down for you. And I say - So how many were in the package? And she goes - 20!
So we fix it. It came out okay. There was a LOT of extra. And we used a ton more eggs. But the toll was taken on my ego and I just couldn't get out of it. She'll never trust me with anything again, I worry. She doesn't even see me as an adult. I'm not capable of anything. And it spirals out. I think of all the times I was proven incompetent. It must be true. I must not be able to pull off anything worthwhile. Certainly, I didn't ever believe I could get a real job, have a real husband, be a real mother. That these things have happened seem accidents of the fates - like the authorities haven't noticed yet that they should actually confiscate my children, that it's only a matter of time until my boss fires me, and that maybe my divorce isn't really about my ex-husband's drug use, but really about the inability of anyone in the world to love me - because I can't make chopped liver! And therefore can clearly accomplish nothing else worthwhile in the world.
Yes, I know this is all ridiculous. But it's the rabbit hole I went down. I picture myself as Alice, but not stopping off to taste things or notice the underground foliage, just scraping hopelessly at the wet dirt on the side of the very long hole, my fingernails breaking off and my voice going hoarse as I scream indignantly. It is no one's fault but mine that I am falling and I look very ungraceful with my arms milling about like that. I hear my father telling me I sound like an elephant as I stomp up the stairs, that I don't know my own strength as I hug a grown-up tightly, or sarcastically calling me a liiiiiiberal and a feeeeeeminist as I grow into a rebellious teen phase. I am angry and lost and feel like my little four year old with his sad pout when I make him sit in time out for hitting his brother. I hate myself, he cries pitifully and I hug him. I still make him sit in time out, but first I hug him, because a little child should not have to feel like that.
So can I hug myself? It is hard to hug yourself. It is hard to forgive yourself. It is easier to forgive others. I have never felt the victim of the world. I have often felt so different from the world, and tried to turn my monsterishness into uniqueness, to embrace weirdness. It worked for a time and I convinced myself that I was whole and happy. But apparently, it took a job change, a divorce, and ultimately a messed up recipe to get to the place where I could not stop pretending that the monster in the mirror was me. It is me, and I have to learn to love the monster or I will never reach the bottom of the well, nor be able to climb back out.