Sometimes, I cannot recognise myself. The unabashed approval seeker of a few decades ago. The life of the party. The person who wanted everyone to know, like and approve of her. The one who outwardly wanted all the attention and yet cringed and felt uncomfortable when the spotlight was on her.
I grew up wanting like every other teenager to be popular. I went out of my way to hide my insecurities. With a less than ideal family situation, I was eager to show people I was normal and likable and fun to be with. That made me more friendly than I actually felt and certainly less assertive. All my secrets were hidden away in the noise I produced.
When I entered my mid twenties, I had a small and secure group of friends. Some of them still remain in my life... Some I outgrew but have fond memories of.
When I got married, unlike every newly wed ( and I am making a very generalised sweeping statement), I did not get cocooned and fall out of touch with friends. Infact on the contrary, K and I went all out to be that young married couple who's door is always open. We had friends, friends of friends and then some. I enjoyed that phase too.... of his friends becoming mine, and mine becoming his and the lines blurring. We moved homes, went through a phase where we had to practice extreme financial discipline to get by and as a result, our friends list whittled down to those who would not mind the downgrade from noisy night club to quiet balcony.
I think around the time that I was entering my 30's having quit my job and in looking for meaningful things to do, I found that despite the fact that my general countenance is loud and aggressive, I am quite the social introvert. My friend N made this discovery and it must speak for the relationship we have, that she recognised and acknowledged this trait about me. I love having people over, as much as I need my quiet time. After every couple of days of intense socializing and activities involving others, I need my down time. I need my silence and my space. I am territorial and get cranky when it is usurped and encroached upon. I have OCD and it shows even in how vessels need to be arranged inside the kitchen cabinets and it gets to my gut when even my Mom does it another way.
Slowly but surely, the long hours and silence of being alone at home forced me to calm the fuck down, think and figure out a few things. I don't believe I have "arrived" at suitable answers to all my questions. But I have surely learnt that there are questions, and I will find answers...sometimes sooner than I think, sometimes later. I found that it is also ok to have unanswered questions, to be in doubt and yet go with instinct. Rarely have I been wrong when I have followed my gut. When I have forced myself to work / think / live according to someone else's logic, that's when I have fallen flat.
So the truth is, I continue to protect myself fiercely. My thoughts, wants, needs, dreams. The difference is that I do not feel the need to make excuses for it anymore. I think this more than anything, has made me bolder and stronger. We all have imaginary conversations, of what we will say when asked this and that. I had most of mine this way. The difference is that now I say it out loud. Politely, but firmly. The truth is that the realisation that I need to nurture myself first, my family and those I love next has been very liberating.
I love more freely now. Because my love is spent on the people I hold precious and not in the quest of being popular. I speak my mind more now and yet get into less arguments and fights. I am more confident in my decisions because I weigh the pros and cons I realise more than anything else, what I want for myself is as important as anything else that I do. That I cannot be a good person or fulfill any relationships unless I am at peace with myself.
And this has been the most rewarding realisation for me.