Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Death of the Good Girl: How I Gained a Community and Taught my Son it's Okay to be Yourself

At Breathe Now, I talked about community.  One of the biggest things that stand out to me when someone talks about community is that I know exactly how it feels to lose yours, which is what happened to me when I was 21.  For years, I searched for community and my own self acceptance, often in the wrong places.  Finally I learned that I needed to love myself first-and only then, would I find my community too. 


I stared down the logging truck as it bumped towards me, logs bouncing this way and that.

If I just turn the wheel to the left, I'd be flattened.   My hands gripped the steering wheel a little tighter.

"Maybe this would stop you from hurting so much", my pain argued.  "You are nothing.  A rotten mother. A disappointment to your family. Nobody loves you, anyway.  Why not?"

My brain interjected before my foot hit the gas pedal.

"Don't you dare do that to your husband and son," it gently chided. "They love you, and if you were gone, it would ruin them for life."

For once, my good girl tendencies probably saved my life that day.

I always was the good girl.  Being the daughter of a family with generations of selfless, spiritual, giving people in it's wake came with unwritten expectations.  You never argue, never express displeasure, turn the other cheek, even if it's the last thing you want to do.  Arguing with my siblings was forbidden, and fighting with my parents swiftly disciplined.  The message loud and clear;

To be here, and be part of this family, you have to be a good girl.  We have expectations, and you are going to follow them.

 I don't blame them, entirely.  Both my parents must have been raised in much the same environments-my Dad's family goes back generations as Russian Mennonites working in India, and culturally, this kind of attitude makes a lot of sense.  What I didn't know then-but do know now, I'm only second generation Canadian.  Those ingrained cultural beliefs are long lasting, even if you aren't sure where they are coming from.

The point was driven home when I met and fell in love with someone who was as far from my parent's expectations of who I'd marry than anyone could get.  He was old enough to be my father, had a daughter only 4 years younger than me, ran a therapeutic group home for young teens, rode a motorcycle, and smoked.  Horrified, my family issued an ultimatum which they thought was tough love; marry that guy, and you're not part of the family.

The good girl wanted to please everyone. There was so much pressure to do what was expected, not just from my family, but friends and people  had known for years.  Hurtful words were thrown my way that rang in my ears many years later;  Slut. Whore. Disappointment.  Unloveable. Not able to make decisions. Unworthy.

It's ironic that 20 years later, I hear about gay teens coming out and being rejected by their families because of who they love and honestly, I can completely relate. The message that you aren't good enough, unacceptable, not worthy of love just because you fell in love with the wrong person is as damaging now for gay teens as it was for me then.  It's like having the rug ripped out from under you, as everything you've ever known-every bit of security and support is suddenly, inexplicably, gone.

This does more damage than you know. For years, I didn't trust anyone, especially women.  You don't trust yourself.  You play it safe with people, never letting them very close because deep down, you're always afraid they will leave.  It erodes your self confidence, so you never put yourself out there.

The good girl stuck around when Kevin enrolled in Kindergarten. School, it's safe to say, was a disaster. I've blogged extensively about our struggles with the public school system and how if people weren't trying to diagnose Kev as ADHD and push Ritalin, they were trying to classify him as a behaviour problem.  Undiagnosed dyspraxia/Developmental Co-ordination disorder wreaks havoc with kids, and is largely unknown in BC.   Dealing with principals and teachers brought back all the stress and anxiety of being the good girl-at first, I didn't dare rock the boat because it might come back on Kevin or offend the staff.  I was horrified by his behaviour, and felt like it was obviously all my fault.  If I was a good enough parent, this wouldn't be happening.

"You suck," my brain would say. "Obviously you aren't fit to be a parent. It's all you.  YOUR fault."

Bit by bit, the light from Kevin's eyes faded until I had an angry, anxious, 8 year old who was contemplating how to take his life to end his pain.

The good girl had to go-by now, Kevin needed her to.  I can't say it was easy-in fact, I would be physically sick before and after IEP meetings.  I didn't eat or sleep well, and the first year after we moved to a different community, it was like I was suffering from Post Traumatic Stress.  Fighting my way through the self doubt, the fear, and forcing myself to confront people for Kevin's sake was like jumping from a plane without a parachute every single time.

Finally, it was a broken friendship that pushed me over the edge for the last time. I twisted myself in knots for a person who claimed to be my friend, but in the end turned out to have some self doubt issues of their own.  Once I started blogging, which was her thing, the issues began. I twisted myself in knots trying to keep her happy, but in the end, it all was in vain.  Expressing my opinion of something she loved,  and having my blog syndicated by a national site, proved to be the final straw.

As bloggers, we often wonder when we meet people in real life if they will like us once they know the real  us, and I can safely say years later that I don't think she liked me when she really knew who I was.  Which, at the time was heartbreaking.  Today, I can say that her dumping me was the best thing to ever happen because it was at that point that the good girl in me died.

I'm done with being the good girl. Done with twisting myself in knots for people.  If you like me, great. If you don't, there's the door and don't let it hit you in the ass on your way out. Don't read my blog, don't follow me on Twitter, don't talk to me in real life.  I'm done with toxic relationships and negative people. Done with drama.  Life is hard enough, I don't need to carry your crap too.  I have enough crap of my own.  I am going to be me, plain and simple-and the only people who I care about being proud of me are my husband and son.

There's something incredibly freeing about killing off the good girl-and slowly, I discovered there was a whole community of awesomeness out there, just waiting for me.  The struggles didn't make me bitter, but instead were lessons who made me who I am now. After all these years, I've found my community and Kevin I learned together that it's okay to be who you are.

Life may still throw curve balls but now, we're ready for them.

All I had to do was find myself, first.
















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