When we’re seventeen, we don’t realize that the silly things done at parties or the gossip spoken about others sticks. I still remember the nicknames and terrible decisions made by myself and others during that time…17 years later! At that point in our lives, we are the truest reflection of what our parents have raised us to be and the experiences we’ve had; we are just shy of going out into the world and becoming our own selves. A coping mechanism of mine during school was to be critical, and to carry a confident facade which didn’t bode well (read about my Hudson High School Hit Lists here).
Some time after graduation, I changed. Like really changed, as a person. I came to know Christ and wanted to do better. It became my obsession to convince everyone that I came into contact with – especially those from high school – that I was nice. I was going to have friends and make up for lost time. In our twenties, my husband and I had the shared goal of getting to know people, making an impact and doing it all. We succeeded. We attended events, hosted events, supported events. We went on trips and to happy hours, dinners, fundraisers. I made many great friendships over the years.
Somewhere in the midst of overcompensating, I lost myself. I had willfully exuded positivity when all I felt was emptiness, to the point where I’d forgotten who I was. I did it all and was vulnerable in conversations..but not too vulnerable. I bent over backwards for complete strangers, and did whatever the situation called for in order to be the chameleon. On more than one occasion I was referred to as a “pushover;” but that was such an upgrade from what I’d been labeled in high school that I was okay with it. I’d done it. They liked me. I juggled the friends, the fitness, the work, coaching, and trips with a smile on my face. Only my husband and family saw the bits of water starting to jump out of my boiling pot of perfection.
“My regrets: how many years I bruised people with my fragmented, anxious presence. How many moments of connection I missed – too busy, too tired, too frantic and strung on out on the drug of efficiency” (Present Over Perfect, 28).
The water jumped out of the pot only in spurts at first. I had become a people-pleaser, which meant having a constant drive to make everyone happy. There were genuine memories made along the way but as I described to a friend the other day, I was always only about 80% present – the other 20% was busy worrying if what I was saying was right, if what I’d said at the event the night prior was right and whether or not the people I was with were judging me. But it was more than that. I did not deal with an alcoholic growing up but I what I did deal with created in me a strong sense to control my surroundings, anxious to fix the world and everyone in it. Co-dependency is a loose and misunderstood term. It usually develops in a person who is dealing with uncontrollable factors in others – such as any form of addiction but can easily affect people-pleasers as well. Co-dependents are so preoccupied with “fixing” that they literally begin to take on all of the problems in every relationship. They do all of the right things, even though they aren’t necessarily what they would like to do and never seem to get in return what they put out. Those who know co-dependents describe them as fiercely loyal, committed, always there. It isn’t until a favor goes unreturned or a disagreement ensues months, sometimes years later, that the disease reveals its ugly face. By then, a co-dependent will have sacrificed so much of their time, mental energy and commitment to a relationship (unbeknownst to the other person) that a small or insignificant rift will send the co-dependent over the edge, reeling in pain.
Co-dependency and people pleasing stem from insecurity…the need to change something and a lack of peace with the present. A lack of peace with who we are.
The “80%” lifestyle ended when I had my son. Children force us to prioritize and minimize. I began to say “no,” read books and write a lot. I went to church no matter what and talked to God throughout my day. I got comfortable with the foreign feelings of down time and loneliness. I decided that although I was good at planning, I didn’t want to be an event planner. I saw God in the little things and made an effort to get up every morning to spend time with Him.
Life isn’t perfect these days but I choose who and what I spend my time on and that feels good. I am intentional about conversations filled with connection and honesty. I’ve had some ugly truth talks with friends – they to me, and me to them. Some relationships weathered the storm and some didn’t. I don’t always call or text when I should and my Mom friends understand that. I don’t always get it right. I can’t. I don’t have the capacity or desire to be perfect any more. I am who I am and if that doesn’t meet expectations, I remember that God tells us to cast our anxieties on Him; and that is exactly what I aim to do.
Jesus died at the age of 35, and so I’ve read (not in the Bible) that, that is the age some assume we will be when we are in Heaven. As I near that age myself, I am awakened and inspired by Jesus’s ability to love everyone, speak bold truth, and withdraw often to be alone and pray. What freedom it is to become ourselves, the exact individuals we were intended to be – without apology – and to base our worth off of what God thinks, instead of other imperfect humans. He’s given us the key to live life to the fullest and all we need to do is accept! You are loved and you are His. That is the only approval you need.
Photography: Naomi Goff
Model: Greta Guldseth