Mo and I talked the other day about how there's a difference in confidence and self-worth. Just because you can get up in front of a crowd and be naked, she pointed out, that doesn't mean you feel like you deserve that attention.
I was almost always an outwardly confident girl. I could be flirty and bawdy and loud in the midst of almost anything, which can be a kind of naked in its own right. It's more like wearing the emperor's new clothes, though. It's a matter of showing off what you think are your best attributes while desperately trying to hide your most glaring flaws. You think you're covered, but anyone looking a little too closely will see that you're more exposed than ever.
In some ways, there's strength to be found in that. There's something edifying about curtly acknowledging your shortcomings and telling them to fuck off, that you're going to be who you want to be, no matter what. But when the pretty colored lights stop flashing, detracting from the real you, it's obvious there's still just a performer trying to make everyone believe in a certain persona.
That has often left me feeling worth not much of nothin'.
There's a personal dishonesty that comes with crafting your personage, in molding yourself into that image you want to project to the world. Certainly, there are times when that's a beneficial skill; not all of life requires unmitigated honesty and truth.
But once the make-up and the glitter come off, you're still left with the cracks and crags. The insecurities are still there, now just not so well-concealed. And when you stand in front of the glaring mirror and have to look at the fractured facade of yourself, the reflection can be glooming . It can seem like there are so many faults and weaknesses that you'd be better off to give up, to quit even trying to spackle those gaps and to just walk away.
This is where the component of self-worth comes into play.
I've written about this before, about what gives a person value—what gives me value, in particular. I'm not so special that I think my value is inherently more than anyone else's, but I can only readily empathize with my own worth. I know that each person has inherent value, just because they are a unique soul, but I can only feel what it's like to experience the impact that soul's value has on the soul itself by being me. I know what my husband and children and friends are worth to me; I will never know what they feel worth to themselves.
It took me a very long time to get in touch with that sense of inherent worth in myself. It didn't matter if people told me they loved me. It didn't matter if people told me I was great and amazing and wonderful, even if they went on to expound on all the hows and whys in which I made their lives better. And I could appreciate their affection and support, even when I couldn't share their views on Stephanie.
I could never see any of that in myself, feel any of it for myself, and that made me feel pretty damn worthless.
But something shifted. I don't know all of the impetuses for the change, but there was a confluence of shit that forced me to alter my own angle of reflection, to look at myself from a minutely different stance, and to reexamine my face in the mirror.
What I finally saw looking back at me was Stephanie.
It wasn't just the Amazon or the blonde or the mom. It wasn't just the green eyes or the big, dimpled smile or the spattering of freckles. And it wasn't just the history or love or heartache or laughter. It was all of those things and so much more.
The ghosts of angry, broken little girls were still there, trying to claw their ways out through any crack in the facade. But there was also a light, golden and soothing and peaking from deep within. The little girl Stephanies all stopped, startled for just a moment, to look back toward the glow. As they were cast into shadowy silhouette, their furious faces calmed for an instant, I could see them as broken but beautiful. They'd never deserved the shit that had been done to them, and they didn't deserve to still be battling for recognition and attention.
I called out to them—all at once and one by one—until I had each of their attentions.
"I'm here, and I hear you, little girls," I told them. "I'm sorry I didn't take care of you before, but I couldn't. I didn't know how, and you didn't know how to explain to me to do it. We were all just little girls. But me, I am the grown-up now, and I got this covered."
I took each of them by their sweaty, grubby little hands. I used their tears to wash their pretty faces. I brushed their hair and kissed them each on the sniffling nose.
"Go play," I told them finally. "I'm here to take care of everything. Go be sweet and laugh and know that I can handle whatever comes up for us. You deserve that, and I deserve that. We're worth it."
That is how I found my self-worth. It wasn't from listening to what other people told me about myself. It wasn't through retribution or anything external at all. It was from shifting my position so I could see the glimmers of light that were always within me, always shining and glowing no matter what or who else tried to dim that glow.
The cracks are still there. Some will scab and scar. Some will always be open to the audience. But those are the ones that let the light shine, that let me step out of the external spotlight and beam from within, brilliant and blinding if you're close enough to see.