4 Secrets That Can Lead to Self-Acceptance
1. I Have Terrible Cellulite, Possibly the Worst In History
I am going to leave all my money to UC Med, so they can build a wing (in my dimply name) to handle advanced cases such as mine. I've had it my whole life, even when I've been at my thinnest and most fit, which was (sob) 20 pounds ago. Yet I swim in public all summer, in front of anyone who happens to be around. Maybe this does not sound that heroic to you, and granted, George Clooney does not come over to swim very often. But I appear in a swimsuit, without a skirt, whenever I have the chance to be in warm water. I do this as a radical act, because none of us knows how long we will live; and on my last day, I want to have gone for a swim. (For the record, I also want to have had dessert.)
I would not go swimming with a man on my first date, or my second. But I would on my third. I am not my cellulite. At 59, I finally love my strong, jiggly thighs. They just happen to be a part of the package, which is so gorgeous and juicy that a swimsuit can scarcely contain it.
2. I Have Terrible Thoughts—People Would Recoil If They Could Hear Them
Thank God my mind is not hooked up to a public-address system—even the people in my family would run screaming for their cute, little lives. But guess what? This is everybody's truth, or almost everyone's. Maybe Lillian Gordy Carter did not think such vile, judgmental, self-righteous thoughts as I; but otherwise, that's about it. Trust me. So I think about revenge. At weddings, I imagine kicking over the cake. I could dance as joyfully as Zorba when certain show-offy writers get bad reviews, or ignored (even better). I imagine terrible things happening to pit bulls, faithless husbands and sometimes, to dear people who are so fantastic on every level that it just makes me sick.
Here's the thing I wish someone had told me when I as young: Everyone thinks bad thoughts. Everyone, even the most seemingly well-balanced, serene, loveliest people sometimes have icky, repulsive thoughts. To me, this is excellent news. It means that we are all in the same boat, mostly loving and helpful and creative, but every so often? Not so much. This does not mean you are not okay. To the contrary, this means you are real, and deeply human, which is who we were born to be.
Next: The one person she misses most
3. I Think My Dogs Are the Two People to Whom I Am Closest
That's not entirely true: I know they are. They make it possible for me to bear life. (I believe I first experienced anxiety and dismay an hour or so after implantation.) People have really, really hurt my feelings, betrayed me or died. One ex-boyfriend wrote a novel about what it had been like to be in bed with me. This was exhilarating. Three close friends have told me that they don't love my nonfiction. But dogs? Dogs are the closest we come to knowing the divine love of God on this side of eternity. They love me all the time, no matter what. And they love my nonfiction.
Don't get me wrong. I adore my friends and my two brothers. Their love, companionship and loyalty are why I have such deep faith in God. They are God's love in cute, chubby bodies. But dogs are like oxygen masks on airplanes. Dogs are umbilical. Dogs are first responders. Dogs never betray you or hurt your feelings, like certain people I could mention if I weren't so polite.
Okay, maybe I'll just mention one.
4. I've Been Quite Mad at My Dad Lately, Who Was the Person Closest to Me in My Life, and Who Has Been Dead for 34 Years
He was handsome as a Kennedy, brilliant, funny. He adored me. I was his ideal daughter. I got perfect grades for him. I rubbed his feet, and read way beyond my years, like a cross between a geisha, and Hannah Arendt. I overlooked his character defects, and the destruction he wrought on our family, like so many fathers in the 1960's did. I became who I am—a writer, storyteller, great conversationalist and listener and black-belt co-dependent, to please him.
When he got sick with brain cancer, at 54, when I was 23, I devoted my life to his care. I hung out with him every day—took him to chemo and radiation, bookstores, beaches, bakeries—because his girlfriend had a job, and my younger brother was in high school.
I missed him beyond words. However, a few years ago I came upon journals he kept the last two years of his life. He wrote about how unpleasant it was that I was sometimes so emotional. Along those lines he wrote, "Annie came to the hospital, full of the usual false good cheer and bad jokes." It stung me to my core.
You would think I could cut him some slack, because a) he had brain cancer, and b) it was 30 years ago.
Anger and grief are the way home to ourselves. So I stopped speaking to him. Recently, after many prayers and long conversations with friends, I have felt the first stirrings of forgiveness. I'm glad. And I'm sorry it took so long. But my work has been to become friends with my own heart, and he hurt that heart. I like starting to miss him again. It is both painful and lovely. I mean, he was my dad.
Anne Lamott is the author of Stitches, Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers, Bird By Bird and 12 other books.
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