I have never believed I mattered, simply because I existed.
As a child I believed I mattered if I got good grades, if I was obedient and did not cause problems. As a young adolescent I believed I mattered if I got into the right high school and then college and if did not make any waves. As a young adult I believed I mattered if I saved by siblings from the terrible conundrums they got themselves into, if I was forever available to my family to save the day, if I always worried about them and showed that. I believed I mattered in the eyes of God if I showed up every Sunday to service, if I fasted, if I read the prayers the Orthodox religion deemed important. I believed I mattered to my then husband if I was tame, had sex whenever he wanted (even if I didn’t), cooked, cleaned, had a baby and raised him, did not want to talk too much or ask too many questions.
It was only natural that in my professional life I would repeat these patterns. From day one working, at fifteen, I believed payment was a favor, not an agreed upon contractual obligation, in exchange for my work. I believed that the more I carried, the more I mattered and since that well was so dry, I was parched and really needed to matter somewhere. So I carried more and more and more. And sometimes I broke. And one day I remained broken, I couldn’t mend myself anymore.
I am not discounting the part I played in shaping these beliefs of mine. I guess at some point in early childhood my subconscious decided it would be much, much harder to hear someone tell me I don’t matter and therefore I should do everything I could to cover all my basis. And when nothing worked, I would be the one to tell myself I didn’t matter before anyone else could – still easier to hear it from myself than from others. So the prophecy got fulfilled over and over again: the harder I worked and the more I denied myself in order to matter, the more I felt like I actually didn’t. The heartbreaking thing was that people around me had never gotten the memo. I had never sent it to anyone … . I had never spoken to any of them to say, hey, I matter, see me the way I am or pay attention to me and my needs. How would they know, right? And also, how would I be able to say anything like that? The fear … .
The love of my life was the first person who actually made me believe I mattered … just because. She saw me. She got to know me in a way nobody had taken the time to before and, when she finally said I love you, you matter the most to me, I knew that she was speaking to my entire self, warts and all. From moment zero she behaved like I mattered and she has never stopped. I could not understand it at first, it was a foreign language – the irony, something I had been looking for my entire life, was actually a foreign language I needed to learn… . I suspected ulterior motives – what was she after? It took years of friendship and years of partnership for me to understand that I could simply matter for another person, regardless of how much money I brought or did not bring into the house, whether I cooked for her or agreed with her or slept with her, in my good times and in the bad. Her persistence helped me open my eyes to the idea that … I matter. Simply because I exist. And this is how a new journey started in me around eleven years ago. One step forward, three steps back … .
The hardest thing leaving my job of twenty one years will not be finding another. The hardest thing will be deciding on my next steps from a point where I am convinced that I matter. As I am getting ready to close the door on a job that helped support our family, I can feel the gremlins gain momentum and start drumming the old chorus: Do you matter that much that it is ok to upset everyone’s life? Does your experience really matter if you are going somewhere where nobody knows your name? Don’t you forget, it is hard work that makes you matter! There is so much to dismantle! Sometimes it feels overwhelming. Sometimes I have no idea what to replace it with.
When people around me ask what is next, I smile and I speak of a future that is exciting and free. But deep down I am very scared. Of nobody else but myself.