Stepping Into the Unknown

Lately, my life has been a series of new leaves being turned over.  I have started doing what I want instead of talking about what I would like to have.  I wrote previously about how I was going back to school this semester, and how volunteering for Phoenix Youth at Risk has provided a constant stream of opportunities for change.  These changes are taking hold and growing in ways that I did not expect to see realized already.

There is not a magic bullet for getting a good life, or a life that works.  It could be GAPS, or Phoenix Youth at Risk, or therapy, or that my youngest is not a baby anymore, or any combination of influences in my life that have brought me to the amazing place that I am in my life right now.  Those choices are what I knew, deep down, I needed to make if I wanted more in my life.  It was scary, but I chose them.  I stepped into the unknown and decided it would be okay.  Those things give me a foundation, but they are not the reason that I have happiness.

The one thing I do know is this: something is different in me.  Somehow I know that I am worth something now.  I value what I want in a way that I never have.  I know myself.  I respect myself.  I don’t apologize for what I want or who I am.  My life isn’t really about volunteering, having perfect children, or realizing goals. It’s about the fact that I matter without any of that.  I matter because I matter.

I used to think that I didn’t matter.  I knew from church that I needed to be submissive to the Lord, to do what I was told, to believe what my teachers told me to believe.  I had to get the checklist filled with church attendance, scripture study, and at some future date temple worthiness, marriage and children.  At home I was surviving through abuse.  I knew that at best I was an appendage to my parent’s lives, an object that things happened to.  From my peers I learned that I was smart but socially awkward.  I didn’t get asked out or to high school dances.  I didn’t conform to traditional beauty or body type.  I didn’t matter.

That isn’t to say that everything was negative.  I enjoyed church in many ways.  Plus it provided a stability in my life that I didn’t have at home.  At home we had good times of silliness and shared movies and music.  Home was where I formed unbreakable relationships with my siblings, and where I learned to play the piano.  At school I found friends that I loved and that were hilariously funny!  I was lucky that they were also the types who went to college, stayed away from partying, and were generally responsible.  I relied heavily on my friends’ influence, so looking back I am glad that they were a positive one.

But in spite of the positive side, it wasn’t enough to combat the messages I got about being second best due to my gender.  I glommed on to the messages of passivity, acquiescence, being pleasing and accomodating, being only able to aspire to motherhood and being a wife.  I had my own dreams for what I wanted to be, but they always seemed to take a backseat to what I needed for approval: to do what I was told with regard to what was righteous.  I was caught up with all the periphery.  I kept desperately collecting all the righteous things I needed to do to make myself appear good enough.  But I wasn’t good enough, and no amount of perfection would change my mind.

So I suppose that the answer to the question of why my life is so different now is that I stopped equating me with what I had.  I learned to stand where I was, without needing anything.  I learned that I am enough.  I realized that I do, in fact, matter.  I learned that life happens for me and not to me.  I let the compulsion to prove I was good give way to the realization that I am perfect the way I am.

I am enough without constantly smiling and making the best of things.  I am enough with or without perfect children, a husband, a house, money, advanced degrees, and the ability to be everything to everyone.  I am enough even when I am broken down and depressed.  I am enough even if I am fat.  I am enough even if I am filled with anxiety for the future.  I am enough, because I am.

What about you?  Do you see yourself this way?  Do you feel compelled to prove your worth with outward performance?  Do you get caught up in the need to always say yes, do more, accomodate those around you?  Did you used to do this?  Have you recovered from it?


kendahl is a queer fat left-handed INFJ synesthete mother warrior activist social worker abuse survivor unapologetically brilliant powerful witch

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22 Responses

  1. Jennifer B. says:

    I used to think I needed to prove things with outward appearances, especially after I got married. Then one day it hit me. I was waiting to pick up my kid from school in my clunky old ’92 civic. It’s paint job has faded, and just doesn’t look great. It was hot and I had the windows rolled down and a child walked by with her grandfather and said “why does that car look funny?” He responded, “because that’s what poor people drive.” I instantly got offended. I’m not poor, this is the first car I bought, it runs great, is cheap to fix, I have no car payment…then I realized something. No matter what I do I’m going to be judged. I had better just get on and be happy with my decisions and my life. No one else is going to do that for me. I’m no longer embarrassed about my raggedy car, I don’t want for what I don’t have. I’m finally happy. The only person I need to keep up with is me.

    • Kmillecam says:

      The only person I need to keep up with is me. I love it. I need to remember that one.

      What a great realization to see that it really doesn’t matter what you do because you’ll always be judged. If I will always be judged, then why do I care if I am? If I will always be judged, then why do I kill myself to fit in or conform? And now there is the provocative next question: now what? If I will always be judged, what do I do with that? I think the answer is, like you said, to move on. Accept it, and decide to do things for yourself and not anyone else’s approval. Thanks for sharing. That was a great example 🙂

  2. Jacque says:

    I think in a lot of ways I always saw that in you. That’s part of what I love about you! I think many things push us outside (or inside) of ourselves and it is wonderful and so comforting when we can reconnect with our true identities. It’s like “Hello me!” =) I feel like it takes me 2 years after having a baby and being pregnant to feel like “me” again which is an awful long time to feel crummy. It’s nice to feel valuable, of worth, strong, motivated and powerful, but other things can detract from that as well. Making good decisions that bring you to your authentic self is what it’s all about. We need to live consciously and put ourselves first more often! That’s living! Great message!

    • Kmillecam says:

      Thank you, and shucks! And I know what you mean about needing two years to feel like “me” again after a child. I am going on 2.5 years with my last one, but he really did a number on me! But I know I will get there. I’m glad I have my boys, and I’m grateful that I even have workable solutions to how crummy I have felt in the last 3 years (like GAPS and real food). I totally agree about the crux of it falling on making decisions that bring me to my authentic self. YES!

  3. Emeline says:

    The greatest gift my parents gave to me was their belief that I was wonderful, and interesting and trustworthy no matter what mistakes I made or how I looked or whether or not I made the team/grade/audition or was socially active. They enjoyed me and told me specific things they appreciated about me that had nothing to do with outward appearances or performance or absence of mistakes. They were quick to forgive and encourage. And they believed and taught me that God saw me that way too. If there were intimations of the idea that my worth was tied to a checklist in my yw classes, I tended to just figure the teacher didn’t have the whole picture. I didn’t fully appreciate my parents’ gift to me until I was an adult, but looking back it saved me immeasurable anguish and self-doubt and self-deprecation.

    Their gift was not enough to put out all the raging insecurities of middle school and high school, (I was, I’ll admit, socially inadept and uncool) or the feeling years later of being in way over my head as I started raising children, but it was enough to make me believe that I was worth listening too and that my ideas were good and and that I could create an interesting life that reflected who I was and it saved me much of the anguish that many of my friends went through in their twenties.

    I hope my children will receive the same from me. And I hope that the children I teach will too.

    • Kmillecam says:

      What a great comment. And it’s always inspiring to hear about parents who gave good support and love to their children. I strive to be the same kind of parent to my children, where I’m not really concerned so much about them being “good” or “bad” or “right” or “wrong” but just to always love them no matter what they choose.

  4. Annie B. says:

    I would say my journey is similar to yours. I remember feeling guilty all the time as a kid. I think it stemmed from my strong desire to be obedient. I had body image issues, but because my parents often scoffed at appearances as frivolous, I thought that being comfortable with my body or liking the way I looked was also vain. Stories of my ancestors’ practice of polygamy scared me and influenced my self worth from the time I was a kid. I felt as though my body was not really my own, that it was for my dad to control and my husband to enjoy once I was married. I felt I was a second class citizen. It was after I was married that I reached my lowest point. I barely left my house for months and had self-destructive tendencies and suicidal thoughts.

    I didn’t make a conscious decision to stop going to church. I think I stopped going mostly because of social anxiety. But it was after I stopped going that I realized I was capable of making good decisions for myself. And it was after I no longer felt obligated to wear garments that I finally felt comfortable in my own skin and felt my body was my own.

    I don’t know if I would call it recovered, but right now I identify with your feeling that your worth is not performance based. Interestingly, it wasn’t until I felt that way that I was able to function normally with any kind of productivity. I feel that my weaknesses and imperfections are truly ok and actually prepare me and give me unique perspectives in a way. Becoming a fitness instructor or starting my own business is not something I ever would have believed I could do before.

    @Emeline, I hope I can give the gift to my children that your parents gave to you.

    • Kmillecam says:

      Yes, it’s interesting how I had to let go of equating my worth with my performance, and then once I did that my performance improved! And even though it’s improved and I feel occasionally tempted to equate the “goodness” of my sucesses with how “good” I am, I remind myself that what I have can always change. Will I love myself to where I don’t ultimately care if I have successes or failures? That is the question.

  5. Maureen says:

    Good for you Kmillecam! You are such a role model. So much of what you say syncs with my own experience, though I feel like I am seven steps behind you.

    I still feel like if I don’t prove my worth it won’t be seen, and I need it to be seen. I still feel like I won’t be accepted unless I put forth the “me” others want me to be. I feel woefully inadequate in putting my own wants and needs into words, such that I’m not even sure of them myself.

    But I’ve seen the place where you are and where you’ve been to get there are the place to be (not just through you, though it helps to see the theory/therapy advice manifested in a real person willing to claim it and the past that necessitated it). I seem to know the way to be/beliefs to hold/things to do and get frustrated when I still fall into old bad habits. Ironically I think my own impatience with my progress slows down my own improvement in these areas.

    It’s good to know that the way through is achievable though. So thanks for being you!

    • Kmillecam says:

      Maureen, thank you so much for this comment. I sometimes wonder if I talk about myself too much, but that’s the only thing I really know a lot about right?: my life! I’m glad that the sharing helps you, and I want you to know that this comment helps ME. I have no doubt that you will find what you are looking for either. It’s ultimately most important to be self-aware and look for opportunities for change, and that’s what you are doing. I’m inspired by that 🙂

  6. Jana says:

    Last night I tried to explain to a religiously-inclined but never-LDS friend what it was like growing up believing that I was a depraved, even evil, human because of what I was taught at church. He simply couldn’t seem to understand why I would grow up thinking such ugly things about myself.

    I can’t say how pleasant it is not to feel that way anymore, and to know that I’m good just as I am–flaws and all. And to believe that if there is a god, that s/he likes me just how I am, too. 🙂

    • Kmillecam says:

      Your entire comment resonates with me, Jana. I also grew up believing those things about myself. I have found it difficult to explain that to others sometimes, especially to those who didn’t grow up Mormon or in another orthodox family or faith.

      And I agree that it’s hard to explain how nice it is to be free of that thinking. I spent years beating myself up, not forgiving myself, striving for perfection but always knowing in the pit of my stomach that I wasn’t ever going to be good enough. But now I laugh and say “of course, I’m good enough! I’m alive aren’t I?!” I love that new feeling.

  7. DefyGravity says:

    I realized a few days ago that I’m no longer worried about my eternal salvation. I used to have extremely high anxiety about not doind enough or being enough to get to heaven. It was an unpleasent way to live, because many of the things that were going to save me I didn’t want to do or was bad at. I remember seminary and Young Women lessons about nurturing, motherhood, missionary work, domesticity ans submissivemess where i walked away thinking, “Well, I’m screwed.” I’ve been able to let go of the belief that God is imposing random expectations on my and will punish me if I don’t meet them. But I still struggle with expectations I put on myself that I picked up who knows where. If I don’t feel I’m contributing to the world in some way, outside of my family and friends, I don’t feel like I matter. It’s a bit hard to describe, but most of the things I do don’t feel valid or worthy of anything, even my job or the things I do for and with my family and friends. They matter to me, but they don’t give me value. It’s something I’m trying to work through, to get to a place where I feel I have value no matter what I’m doing, or not doing in my case.

    • Emeline says:

      First, I do think that we all live in a society that puts pressure on both men and women to see their worth as best manifest in their performance.

      When we are in school, our value, our grade, is based on academic performance related to the classroom. The more one does and the more exceptionally one performs, the greater the grade and the accolades.

      When we are in the work force, our value, our salary and our awards, are based upon performance and hours put in. Generally the more we do, the more likely we are to be praised and promoted.

      When we are at-home full time, we receive praise for our performance as housekeepers or for the performance of our children.

      The world operates on two great lies: that more is better and that competence is king. Therefore we tend to think that our worth is based on how many things we can do and how well we can do them. And it is easy to assume, immersed as we are in our society and its values, that the same applies to our discipleship.

      In contrast, the gospel as taught by Christ, teaches that the number of things you do has no bearing upon your worth. Lovingly doing what you are called to do is the plan, whether you do it with finesse or bumbling along feeling clueless. God is not interested in quantity, but he is interested in how much you love. Whether you do many things with love or just have one call to endure one thing with patience, love and kindness, the response is the same “well done, thou good and faithful servant”. That flies in the face of what the world thinks.

      Living in a world that places the highest value on and gives the most praise to the most productive and competent among us causes many of us (both high profile and low profile) to superimpose that thinking on our reading of the gospel and therefore upon ourselves as we relate to it. (Nothing new here, the Corinthians had a similar challenge nearly two thousand years ago.)

      The time when we see that such is what we have done in our own lives and change our perception to cast off those two lies that our society believes and realize that what is eternally important is how much we love, is immensely satisfying.

      And my experience is that then the work we do, whether in or out of the church, becomes much simpler in form and immensely more enjoyable.

      • DefyGravity says:

        Awesome thought! I totally agree, but getting to the point where someone can embrace the idea and see ourselves in it takes time. Thanks for the great reminder!

    • Kmillecam says:

      I’m glad that you’re still working through this. It’s amazing what will linger as the residue of anxiety gets cleaned out. Do you feel like you’re on a path where you will get what you want eventually? When I know I’m headed in the right direction now I don’t worry so much about how I’ll get there. I know that because I want it, I will find a way. Good for you 🙂

  8. Chris says:

    Thanks for the post,. After years of trying to live all the commandments and keep up with the expectations of the Church–demanding callings, VT, temple work, family history work, supporting my husband in his callings, etc., my life came to a screeching halt because of a physical injury which makes it difficult for me to walk for more than a hundred yards or so without experiencing a lot of pain.

    The forced inactivity has given me the opportunity to reevaluate my life. I realize that I am not what I DO but what I AM. I wish this concept were taught by Church leaders, the concept of self-compassion and self-acceptance. For years I have never felt I was good enough or doing enough. Although my parents did not teach me that, Church leaders certainly have.

    I have studied Buddhism extensively during my forced hiatus from heavy Church involvement and like the concept of self-compassion that is a basis tenet of Buddhism. I hope that LDS Church leaders will begin to teach that God asks us to love others AS we love ourselves, not instead of ourselves. I have observed so much depression and anxiety among wonderful sisters in the Church and feel that much of that could be resolved if women were given permission to take care of themselves before they do so much for so many. I not talking about becoming self-absorbed or narcissitic but believe that God wants us to love ourselves unconditionally just as we are–the way that I believe He loves us.

  9. Heidi says:

    This is just what I needed to read this afternoon and I was nodding my head the whole way through. It has been very freeing to embrace the paradox of opposites that makes up life. The other side of perfection is imperfection, the other side of fearlessness is fear — we can’t have one without the other. Embracing the big gorgeous messiness of life instead of resisting it and putting all of my energy into walking so carefully that I didn’t make any messes has given me greater peace and a greater capacity to see the joy that is all around me.

    Beautiful post.

  10. Amy says:

    I like this post and all these comments, because it is true that we are enough because we ARE and because we are doing what we can. And what I am having trouble with is how do I know what is enough or the best I can do for me? And/or why does it bother me if my best doesn’t measure up to someone else’s best? Because in my head I know we shouldn’t compare, but I guess I still do… It sounds like it is a long process, but it’s nice to know one can come out in the end.
    I have a question about a few of the comments. It seems that some of you attribute some self-image problems from the church directly. I feel my insecurities come from being human. What is it about the church that makes you feel that it came from the church? I have sometimes felt that I don’t measure up to other people’s ideas of perfection and sometimes those are other members of the church, but not always. Just curious.

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