Sunday, August 31, 2008

Looking Like Myself

"Who in your family do you look like?"

It's after the wedding and we're standing around visiting. Some of dearest one's family is meeting my parents and sisters for the first time. I look at my sister-in-law and say, "You tell me." Before she can answer my older sister pipes up that I look like one of our great aunts. I feel a momentary zing within me at her comment and then it disappears. My sister-in-law muses out loud about my lack of resemblance to my parents or sisters. I say nothing.

"It's too bad she doesn't look like anyone in the family." I'm 5 years old and visiting my granny. She's talking to my mom as if I'm not playing at her feet. Then she says, "If anyone, she looks like Magdalene." My 5 year old self shudders inside. My great aunt Magdalene has the ugliness face I've ever seen.

I let my granny's comment define me for the next 40 years. I used to get teased and sometimes bullied because of my looks in school. I was the butt of jokes, given a nickname based on my hooked nose. Several years in a row I told my mom that all I wanted for Christmas was a nose job. She would laugh at my request; she had no idea how serious I was.

Over time, as I found refuge in my addictions, the ugliness I felt on the outside was matched by the ugliness I felt inside. Shame and guilt can do that to a person. Twenty years ago, on a bike ride with the first woman I met in AA, I told her that I looked in the mirror as little as possible. I especially avoided looking myself in the eye.

I was mulling over all this yesterday on my way home from town. One of the relapse prevention strategies on my post treatment plan is to look in the mirror twice a day and say, "Thank you for being you." I still smile when I say it or think about it.
God, that's a miracle.
I realized that all over again yesterday as I was driving and it made my heart swell with gratitude. Big tears then rolled down my face and soon I was sobbing in one of those all out ugly contorted crying jags. I almost short circuited the tears but instead I took a deep breath and cried for several miles. I tried to talk, to give voice to the gratitude I was feeling.
To whisper to God a simple thank you.
I let the tears do it for me.
Just typing that makes me tear up all over again.

I don't know when I stopped wishing for a nose job for Christmas. I hardly ever remember that I have a hooked nose. (I can see all you who know me on facebook going to scrutinize my photo right about now!) Once in a while I see a child staring at me and then I remember. It no longer makes me shudder, though. When I worked in a school I once had a student impulsively reach across the desk and touch my nose, like she was checking to see if it was real. She asked me why it was like that. "It's just the way I am." It's simply part of who I am, not the whole of who I am.

Sometimes in meetings people introduce themselves as a grateful alcoholic.
In the beginning I didn't get it.
I was still feeling too much shame.
These days though, I do get it.
Without the addiction there would be no recovery.
And look at who I get to be in recovery....
I get to be me, hooked nose and all.
At last that's all I want to be.


beth said...


sometimes your words hit my heart and take me by surprise in a powerful way.

this was one.

'it's a good thing bethie is so talented...God love her, she is homely'.

my beloved grandmother's words, about me, when i was a child.

still, to this day, my children see beauty... i see faults. i don't look in the mirror much. i detest having my picture taken.

i am full of joy inside. one day i'll be as content with what everybody else has to look at.

i love your words here about 'without addiction, there would be no recovery'. i feel that way about my sin and shame.

and i am grateful, and blessed.

thank you...

Hope said...

You are so welcome,Beth.
At Christmastime when only daughter took a few pictures of me without me protesting she stopped and said, "Woa Mom, you don't like getting your picture taken." She's 24 years old. That's how long it's taken me to change. If there's hope for me, there's hope for you.
God bless you as you journey.
Hugs from me to you this afternoon.