I wish I could tell you that the end of yesterday’s story was the end of my aversion to mirrors, that a miraculous transformation took place, and I suddenly knew my worth. I can’t. That’s how things happen in the movies, but in real life, these things are shed in layers, and we cocoon over and over again before we get through it. At least, that’s how it worked for me.
There have been many mirrors in my life since. There was the mirror I looked into after my first line of coke, that absolute certainty that there be dragons and the promise I made to myself that yes, this was awesome, but no, I could not do this again for another ten years – a promise I kept, because, whoa. Coke is really nice, and I’d be dead by now if I hadn’t made that promise. I’ve done coke three times in my life, and every time I’ve done it, I have that same reaction. Yeah, woo! But no more for another decade. I have coke *dreams*, that’s how potent the stuff is with me. I haven’t done any at all since my 35th birthday, so that’s something I face in the mirror with pride.
There were the mirrors I faced when I was a sex worker, preparing for a date, telling myself that what I was doing was empowering, was a way to reclaim my body. No, it wasn’t. It was a way to put myself in the hands of predatory people willingly, for money, on a regular basis. I quit in a mirror. Spoke the words out loud. “I’m done with this.”.
There were the mirrors I faced when a therapist recommended I take a modelling class in order to tackle some issues around body/image dysmorphia. I guess she thought that I’d have no choice but to confront my illusions about my appearance (I always thought of myself as ugly, clownish, not attractive) if I was forced to see myself through other’s eyes. This did help, but only in the shallowest of ways. “Sure, I’m pretty enough, but that doesn’t really have anything to do with me.”
There were the mirrors I faced as I unraveled my inability to mother adequately, those early morning, wild eyed ‘how the fuck do I do this’ moments in the bathroom mirror before I finally called social services on myself and asked for help.
There were the mirrors I faced with eyes turned to slits from crying after having been beaten, a face drawn and wan after having been terrorized by someone who was supposed to love me. There were the mirrors I faced when I knew that the situation I was in was one of my own making and only I could get myself out of it. There were the mirrors I faced when I began to ask myself the all important question “Why don’t you eat breakfast? Why are you starving yourself until four o’clock every afternoon?” There were the mirrors I faced when I could see my step-daughter going down a road I was all too familiar with, and every fibre of my being knew that confronting it would destroy my marriage, but not confronting it would destroy my integrity. I confronted it. My marriage ended. There was the mirror that reflected myself back to me as used up, too old, finished. Grieving.
There was the mirror I faced when I knew that I was in denial about the business I was building. It was not just a little thing. It was becoming a big thing – a big enough thing that I was going to have tax problems if I didn’t get my shit sorted. There was the mirror I faced when I realized that I was a really good teacher. There was a mirror I faced when I knew with certainty that I would never let any man ever do that to me again, ever. There was the mirror I faced when I watched myself navigate my son’s illness, become his advocate, fight for his proper care – an experience that redeemed all things ‘bad mother’ in me once and for all. I am a good mother, the mirror tells me. A very good mother.
Then there are my favourite kinds of mirrors.
My therapist’s face as I’m talking. The empathy there that washes over me in cleansing rivers. The mirror that is Tam – her love for me, her belief in me, and in what I do. If I hadn’t seen in her eyes what she saw in mine, I wouldn’t be here today. The mirror that is Sarah‘s face as she listens to me spill my guts about a particularly stuck thing in my life – the discernment there that comes without judgement, but only love and love and love. The mirror that is my Stacey, on my couch once a week, reaffirming my right to fun and lightness and easy company. The mirror that is my friend, Sal, who sees me as an artist, as an interesting person, as someone worth lunching with on a regular basis. The mirror that is my ex, those soft eyes seeing me, that whole being opposed to ever hurting me again, and so he creates distance and boundaries in an effort to keep me safe. The way that, as frustrating as it is sometimes, says “I love you too much to get my shit all over you, so I’m going to go deal with my shit on my own, and meanwhile, we can have this, and maybe that’s all we can ever have, but I will never hurt you like that again if I can help it.” The mirror that is my lover’s eyes. The way he exudes gratitude for the space I make for him in my space, my way of devoting myself to his pleasure and comfort (one of my super powers), the way he looks at me like I am a banquet and he is starving to death. The way I am at peace with letting him come and go. The way I never give chase. Then there is the mirror that is a whole tribe of people who gobble up the content I create for them, are changed by it, and tell me so. And my children. The mirror that they have become. The way they call me bad ass, beautiful, brave, strong, but also call me on my shit.
So many mirrors. Not one of them reflecting shame back at me. Not one.
I still have a weirdness about mirrors. Anyone who knows me intimately knows that I do not attend to my appearance very often. I spend my days in boy shorts and bed head. I make an effort when I am heading out to an event – mascara, gloss, a bit of powder – but I keep my toothbrush and floss by the kitchen sink now so that I will brush more often than I used to – a self-care trick that might just save my bottom teeth. I have three mirrors. One in my bathroom, which triggers the fuck out of me on a regular basis for obvious reasons. One in my bedroom tucked away in a corner where I won’t catch sight of myself accidentally. It is my make up mirror, often dusty, more often than not ignored. And then there is a full length one that I am trying to work up the guts to use more often so I can figure out what I like to wear – something that is nigh on impossible if one doesn’t actually *LOOK AT ONESELF* in a mirror.
I work with that one in a spiritual practice I wrote for my students in Moonshine, but not as frequently as I should. I prop it up against a wall and sit before it, practicing the loving gaze as of a mother for her child. It is hard to face the mirror still. It is hard to gaze into my own eyes, because that same tsunami of grief that arose that first time I really faced a mirror is still there, just waiting for any portal through which it may come. But I release it now and again in fits and starts, drop by drop, and I know that in time, with work, it will ebb away to rain.
They say that you can’t really love anybody until you love yourself, and I think that’s true.
But paradoxically, I don’t think you can love yourself until you see yourself reflected back in the eyes of someone who loves you. I think that is the entire purpose of the parent – those eyes, full of love for the being that they brought into this world, and when that fails to happen for whatever reason, when that original birthright is denied a child the way I was denied, I think we must go looking for mirrors. We must seek out those eyes that say without words “This is who you are. I know you don’t believe me, but if you’d only let me believe on your behalf for a while, you will come to know. This is who I see. This is what is true.”
I’m lucky enough to have found them, and while I know that a lot of why I’ve come so far despite a horrific early life is because of my *own work* to find these mirrors, and to attend to them, a lot of why I’ve come so far has to do with the quality of the mirrors I’ve chosen.
And you’re one of them.
So thank you.
About The Blog Along
Every year, twice a year, once in April, and again in September, I blog every day for a month, and invite others to do the same. We have a Facebook group, and in that group the only rule is that for every link you post to your own blog, you go off and read three other blogs and leave a comment. This is simply a way to ensure that a community happens rather than just a ‘promo’ group. You’re welcome to join in as long as you are willing to read and comment on three blogs for every blog you post. Click here to join us! If you’re too busy for that, you’re welcome to just blog on your own for a month. Easy peasy. No one is keeping score. There are no prizes except that you get to build your own readership by regularly populating your blog with good content.
To read all my entries for the Blogalong, please click here to access the Blogalong With Effy Category on my blog.
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