"Put a smile on your face."
I turned as I heard a father say those words this past weekend to his young son, a boy about 8 years old. The son obediently put on one of those plastic smiles and they carried on their way. I stood there a bit dumbfounded. A simply exchange between father and son. Both the request and the response happened mid stride. The father not even stopping as he threw the request back at his son and the son complied. How weird is that?
No weirder than my own history of thinking my kids were not only an extension of myself but a reflection, too. If you looked at them at any given moment I was sure you would see me reflected there and because I defined myself in negative terms, well, I needed all the help I could get. If that meant they stuff whatever their reality was in exchange for a plastic smile, so be it. It adds a whole new sick dimension to the phrase, "If momma ain't happy, then nobody's happy." It was more like, "If momma ain't happy, pretend you are anyway, her reputation is at stake."
One of the gifts of recovery is that I no longer see my kids as an extension of me. They are free to be themselves. As adults especially, they were free to do that before I entered the treatment centre but I didn't quite accept it then. I no longer beat myself up for what my reality was then, either. Staying in today demands that I let it go, that I forgive myself and focus on the here and now. Today I free them from my expectations. I free myself from expectations, too, especially the expectation to be perfect. Accepting life on life's terms is what I try to do.
Another gift of recovery is that I no longer let myself be defined in negative terms. When I catch myself calling myself down in my head I remember that I am so much more than the sum of my failings. I still get a bit giddy when I remember that I get to define me. No one else. Not even my behaviour has the power to define me. I get to choose how I see myself. And though the struggle has seemed mountainous lately, it's a gift of recovery that I can still look in the mirror at the end of the day and say, "Thank you for being you." It never fails that as those words come out of my mouth a huge smile erupts and my eyes twinkle. I stop for a moment and check within myself to see if my words and my inner attitude are in sync. Denial has so long been a coping mechanism that it's taking me a while to trust myself. An addict can lie to anyone, especially themselves, effortlessly. So it's felt like a miracle that every time I've checked, my inner and outer realities match.
No plastics required.