There is a mirror over my bathroom sink and often I see myself brushing my teeth, brushing my hair, and putting lotion on my face. Sometimes I even notice whether my eyebrows need waxing, if my hair is pulled back in a presentable manner or that my clothes actually match. I see bits and pieces of myself but I cannot remember the last time I looked in a mirror and saw my entire self.
A few weeks ago I was walking with a friend and caught a glimpse of myself reflected in a store window and I stopped abruptly, wondering if the image reflected back was really me. The bits looked right: long wavy brown hair; blue eyes covered by blue-tinted sunglasses; correct age, height, weight – although thinner than I’ve been in a very long time; and the clothes were mine. I stared for several moments looking at myself from head to toe taking in the portrait of myself, the woman I am now, so different from the woman I’d been or thought I’d been.
I remember being shocked that I actually looked pretty good considering the turmoil my life has been the last five months. Inside I felt haggard and raw but the outside of me didn’t replicate those feelings. Who exactly was the woman staring back at me?
“Is that what I really look like?” I asked my friend.
“Yes, and I wish you could see yourself the way others do. You are a beautiful, sensuous woman.”
That exchange got me thinking a lot about how I see me – my physical self, my emotional self – and how much I’ve changed since April of this year. It’s been a long time since I took a good hard look at the entirety of me. If the bits of me were disheveled, they were easily fixed but if the whole of me was disheveled, that was much tougher to fix. It is clear, however, that the whole of me has been disheveled for quite some time and so I stopped looking at me in the mirror.
Over the last ten years, I lost sight of who I really am and what matters most to me. Or maybe I never really knew. I’ve done the things I thought were expected of me: earning three college degrees, climbing the corporate ladder, working hard and amassing a shit load of material things Americans think we can’t live without. I also did a good job of keeping people at least an arm’s length away. Having lost several close friendships throughout my 30s and early 40s, keeping people from getting close staved off any further emotional pain I might experience from lost friendships.
I called myself a recluse and was happy to be such. I believed that being one of only two people at the end of my life was perfectly satisfactory. And then my life fell apart in ways I could never have previously imagined. Unable to make sense of it on my own and believing that there was no one I could turn to for help, I felt alone and lonely. I became desperate and suicidal. So much so, that I planned exactly how to end my life. I didn’t want to die; I just didn’t see how to keep living anymore.
But then an amazing thing happened. My family, old friends and friends I didn’t even know I had wrapped me in the cocoon of their loving arms and held tight. They refused to let me slip away. They held a mirror up so I could see that my life is worth living and that my life does have value…to me….and to them. Many whom I believed were friends drifted away but that says more about them than it does about me. Today, the wealth in my life is measured in the amount of love I receive from those who love me and whom I love back rather than in material things and I’m richer than I’ve ever been. There’s a lot of healing work to do but I’m confident with the love and support of friends and family, I will once again be whole.
And so to the woman in the mirror who is the whole me, I say “Welcome Back.”