I was walking through the sculpture classroom, which was bright with fluorescent lights and plaster dust, when I heard the voice. It was so demanding, I stopped and looked around even though I knew it came from inside me.
Remember me? it said, I used to live here.
That was almost 20 years ago, but I’ve never forgotten it. Since then, I’ve wondered about its meaning. The voice and words were so clear and vivid. It was like getting a message in a dream that you know is important but can’t quite grasp.
Then, last week, I was reading an essay by Joan Didion called “On Self Respect“. She writes:
“It is the phenomenon sometimes called “alienation from self”. In its advanced stages, we no longer answer the telephone, because someone might want something; that we could say no without drowning in self-reproach is and idea alien to this game. Every encounter demands too much, tears the nerves, drains the will….to free us from the expectations of others, to give us back to ourselves-there lies the great singular power of self-respect. Without it….one runs away to find oneself, and finds no one at home.”
For most of my life, I’ve felt and aching loneliness. I’ve tried throughout my life to fill that emptiness with many different things. Food, family, alcohol, friends, a husband, keeping busy, exhausting physical work.
As far back as I can recall, I can’t remember feeling any other way. The loneliness was always there, even when I was a kid. And the more people I was around, the more lonely and disconnected I felt.
I craved a human connection that I was somehow aware of, but didn’t remember ever experiencing. If what Joan Didion wrote is true, the loneliness I was feeling wasn’t for something outside of me, but for myself.
I was the person, afraid to answer the phone, unable to say “no”. I didn’t know I was giving myself away, piece by piece, just so people would like me, so maybe I wouldn’t feel as alone and disconnected.
I never even considered the idea of self-respect. I wouldn’t have known what it meant. I was taught to have respect for other people, not for myself.
I think that day in the sculpture classroom, because I was doing my work, making my art, I was beginning to gain some self-respect. I think the voice was reminding me to come home to myself.
It didn’t happen right away. It took more than fifteen years, after hearing that voice, to change my life and is an ongoing process.
I got divorced and found a loving and supportive partner, I dedicated myself to my art, ended relationships that were unhealthy and found new ones that are. I’m continuing to come to terms with my past, learning to let go and move on.
I now live the way I choose without worrying about what other people think, make my own decisions everyday and I’m able to say “no” without being stifled by guilt and fear.
Before I read Joan Didion’s essay I didn’t know what self-respect was, she made me think about it. But now I know what it is and that I do respect myself.
I no longer feel the chronic loneliness that haunted me my whole life.
I have finally come home. I found myself there.
2 thoughts on “Remember Me? I Used To Live Here”
Sheer beauty in this comment…I could inhale it.
At a late age, I’m still working on it…but progress continues, especially after I read a post
Perhaps oddly, I find encouragement and support and nurturing in my garden. From seeds to food…growth.
I can understand the support you get from your garden Virginia. That’s very beautiful. I often go to my garden when I need grounding.