MY DAUGHTER IS beautiful. She doesn’t know that, though. And it’s high time she did. Her dark hair, her deep dark eyes, her beguiling smile, she knows how to stand out. While some might wonder if this means I value inside over outside beauty, let me assure you I have long tried to convince her of her abundance of inner gifts.
Last week, I felt positively giddy when she included intelligence in the things she likes about herself. Apparently she and her therapist had been working on a list. Since I don’t get much more than the “hand” about therapy recaps, we were in bonus round. To avoid lightheadedness, I took a few deep breaths, “Would you mind filing me in?” Intelligence came first. This ranks high on my list, partly because I’m an educator, partly because I’ve watched her struggle–despite her test scores in the gifted range– confused and uncaring teachers failing to comprehend learning disabilities have left her with a nearly indelible dumb stamp on her forehead. Intelligence was a good sign.
Creativity was next on her list. She’s studied and created art since she could pick up a brush, and her large, colorful, dynamic expressionistic images fill our walls. I nodded, hoping to show encouragement. When she said generosity and empathy was on her list, I swallowed. I wonder if my concern showed. Did I cringe? Sometimes caring for others has reeled her over her own boundaries, tempting her away from good judgment and leading her to those who may never give a fig for anything or anyone beyond themselves. I looked down and told my mom self to simply listen. “Mom I like that I can see how others feel. It makes me a more compassionate person.” “I agree that compassion make you a good listener. What else do you like about yourself?” I asked hoping that I hadn’t derailed her.
Continuing, she went onto her eye for style. That one made me smile. She loves vintage fashion and just about everything that enables her to fulfill her what she believes to be mission in life: bring beauty to the world. The good flip side to living with an OCD sufferer: flowers in lovely vases fill our home. (The not so good stuff? For a later post.) As she winds up her list, her grin indicates that she might actually be learning to accept herself. Loving oneself is a healing step. Which is why I felt crummy for the twinge of sadness that came when I realized she didn’t include how beautiful she was. Do I want too much? Am I trying to define her in a way that makes me feel better?
After months (and years with others) of watching her head off to this therapist, I confess impatience. Healing takes time. I know. Really, I was excited with what she said. Shame, a typical trait of those with BPD, has taken up residence far too long. It’s high time for joy and self love to move in. But how long with they stay? As her mom, it’s hard not to want just a bit of certainty.
Knowing we are beautiful is a sort of triumph of independence. We do not have to rely on someone else for our identity; we avoid being hooked by someone who can take our power with three little words–“you are beautiful.” But no, I am not talking about the kind of thing you hear from another. When a young woman knows how beautiful she really is, life might be just a little easier. I want my daughter to look in the mirror and know deep down this is true. I want her to know she is beautiful in a way that means she does not need to look in mirrors.
Quite frankly, it isn’t at all surprising that she’s struggled to find herself. Finding balance is tricky when the rug has been pulled more than once. Most of the list are things could be classified as that which “happened to her. ” Serious hospitalizations and the usual relationship break ups top that list. Then there are the things that “happened.” Family deaths that exacted painful times of grief are at the top of that list. We won’t go into the trials that she “chose.” It’s been a crazy ass life, enough to entitle one to self doubt.
But make no mistake about it, my daughter is a survivor.
The year following her coma, hospitalization and three family funerals, my daughter created a painting. In it, she’s lying in her hospital gown, in a coma, tubes snaking out from her limp body. I have always assumed she painted it so she could exorcise demons of that painful time, but when she painted the words “I should have died” across the top, her father and I decided it was time for the right therapist to help her find the road of recovery. Can you say PTSD? When looking at this painting, I have shuddered, remembering my own harrowing helpless moments, long sleepless nights, and prayers for her life. It may surprise you that as painful as those memories are, I don’t want this memory hidden in the pile of paintings in my garage, as if in shame. I want the image in plain view.
The painting reminds me why she struggles through anxiety and why I am working on managing my own version. More importantly, it reminds me that she survived, that this too (whatever the trouble is today) shall pass.
Recently, it occurred to me I had been reading the painting all wrong. The full thought should read, “I should have died, . . but I didn’t.” The odds were not in her favor. Around her were those wary that she’d survive at all, that she’d come out without brain damage, that she’d live without oxygen. We don’t always get that second chance so clearly, but she did. We really are in a bonus round.
This painting, like many of the others on my walls that are not at all timid, shout forth color and its striking message –all of which reminds the viewer that surviving often takes something bold. Life takes courage and the strength required is beautiful and worth noticing.
And make no mistake about it, my daughter is definitely beautiful. Even if she doesn’t know it yet.