As I faced a period of personal upheaval starting in 2012, I was accompanied by a very special woman. Her name is Sonia. Sonia is the person I curse when I am irritated with my children, because without her, they would never have been possible. She is also the person I think of every year during the week between Christmas and New Year, because it was during that time of year that she helped change my life.
I will tell that story another time, but for now, suffice it to say that sometimes rescue comes in unexpected ways and through unexpected people. Sonia was a work colleague who, in her spare time, was studying to become a counselor. Sonia was how I started sparkling again.
Through Sonia, I met the people who helped me deal with the darkness and the secrets in my soul. These were secrets that seemed so shameful to me that I had built a whole system of protective barriers and walls in order for them to pass unnoticed.
At the very core of all my secrets was the fact that I didn’t feel like I had the right to exist. I had a deeply rooted feeling of illegitimacy as a human being. I hated myself so very much that I sabotaged every good thing that I ever had.
On the divan…or not
I thought I knew what counseling would look like. I thought it would be me, lying on a divan complaining about my childhood.
That is not what I got.
The very first exercise I was asked to complete was to, for each of the first eighteen years of my life, write down a good memory and a bad memory.
This exercise was the one that gave me the first inkling that I had been burying something. Before that, even in the depths of my self-loathing, I knew there were a few things I was modestly good at professionally. I’ve said it before: I’m a numbers geek. I have an intensely critical thought process.
But honestly, sitting there in front of a paper with the numbers 1 through 18 listed on each line, with one column for “good memory” and another for “bad memory,” I wracked my brain. For someone who was once told I have a “head-exploding quantity of fairly decent ideas”, and am “relentless in my perfectionism”, the fact that I couldn’t even get started on the exercise was disappointing.
It’s hard! Trying to remember something that happened when you were six is tough!
The power of remembering
What this exercise did was hand me back the power of the pen over my own life. It allowed me to reframe periods of my life which I experienced in passive voice, whether because I was too little, too ignorant, too blinded by my own wants, or misled by the wants of others.
I really want you to try this, because there is so much power in remembering.
Here is the most beautiful conclusion to which you can come from this exercise: you used to sparkle. You used to shimmer. There were things that made you happy. There may not be ten million, but there are at least 18 things which, after looooong reflection, you can consider good moments.
There were long afternoons doing puzzles or weekends playing Monopoly with your best friend. There were sweet moments of warmth of which you can only remember a sliver, but that still feel as safe and tender and as real as the day they happened. There were successes which can only be remembered with a glittery shimmer to them, even though they were objectively tiny successes. At the time, they felt like the only thing in the world that mattered.
I want you to picture the face of that child you once were, the one who sparkled, and I want you to whisper to that child, “You aren’t done sparkling yet.”
It may take counseling, it might take a lot of soul-searching. It will take years. But that child deserves to know that even if no one else takes her seriously, maybe never did take her seriously, you do.
There are dozens of reputable counseling services available now to help you tease out the meaning of your good memories and your bad memories and I encourage you to explore them. I listen to a boatload of podcasts, and there are always ads for online counseling services. This investment in yourself is one that will pay dividends in sparkle.
At the very least, I encourage you to read this article by relationship therapist Esther Perel. She discusses the importance of play and offers a series of provocative thought experiments.
This article is going to be a short one, because I want you to start doing that exercise. I have whipped up, from my endless cavern of ideas, a little document to help you get started, which you can click to download. There are absolutely no strings attached. I just want you to start sparkling again.
Okay, maybe there is one string: I want to celebrate your sparkle, too. You know how I love to celebrate things.
You are not done sparkling yet.
This article is part of a series called Bags of Gold. If you want to get caught up:
Part One: The Shame of Plenty
Part Two: My Bags of Gold
Part Three: What’s in a Name?
Part Four: On Heaven and Dinosaur Poop
Part Five; Just Blame Me, Okay?
Part Six: You used to Sparkle (You are here.)
Part Seven: She Sparkles: an interview with Izabela Rabehanta