#64 On self worth and being the person you thought you'd outrun
something about being kind to myself for no reason at all
Two months ago I was out with some friends when all of a sudden my gums started hurting in a way that made me think I was absolutely about to lose all my teeth. As a former bulimic (and also a former Person With Alcohol Addiction who could not master brushing her teeth before bed for years), I’ve had around twenty thousand dollars worth of mouth work done since I stopped drinking, and one of my biggest fears is my gums folding in on themselves; imploding.
The pain was so bad I couldn’t really eat or actually even smile and instead of going to the dentist like a normal fucking person, I Googled gums hurt signs of, started oil pulling with clove, and bought a Water Pik, and I would have continued on in this way had I not woken up a few days later with my entire face throbbing so bad I had to make an emergency dental appointment, which is something I’ve only seen happen on TV.
Relief of all reliefs it was not, as I had assumed, my gums (they’re healthy, boop). I’d *just* clenched my jaw so hard for so many years, and worn my enamel down from the aforementioned bulimia, that I bit my tooth in half—right down the middle. Without proper anesthetic or pain medicine (flex) I had the tooth removed, and then my skull drilled into, and now instead of a bicuspid on the right side of my mouth I have a little metal stub. Until January1.
I am toothless, and I’m toothless because of the things I have done to myself. I am toothless because of my history of irresponsibility, and my continuing irresponsibility2.
This would not be that big of a deal if it didn’t happen to be happening this year, at this time, right as I’m coming out of what has felt like far too many months of intertia and regression and decompensation and failing at all the things humans are supposed to be and do. I already, without teeth stuff, feel a sort of infantilization from it all, like I’m starting over when everyone else is finishing up.
The me I imagine I am supposed to be is supposed to be getting better in every way, always, but especially in the administrative ways. The me I imagine I am supposed to be no longer puts off tooth pain, opening her mail, or doing her taxes. The me I imagine I am supposed to be is organized and on top of things and therefore responsible and therefore trustworthy and therefore an adult and the missing tooth is an affront to this entire look, and a visible one at that.
(And then there’s this: There is a part of me that enjoys this conspicuous failing, because there is a part of me that is so sick of the mask I feel I must wear to convince my self that I am a together kind of person by convincing everyone else of it first.)
Another thing that’s going on is I’ve lost my auto insurance three times this year.
Last December I bought a new car, and my insurance agent made a mistake on the paperwork—I lived in California but the car was erroneously listed as a New York vehicle. This oversite led to a temporary lapse in my auto insurance that I was informed of by mail, except the mail went to New York and not California.
I was incredulous (Karen) and I am certain I reminded everyone involved as it was happening that I had a high credit score and an impeccable driving record and I am not subject to ‘things like this’ anymore and what I meant to say was I am in recovery and this does not reconcile with the kind of person I’ve made myself become, that I think myself to be, that I need other people to see me as.
The event was short-lived and yielded no consequence, except the number of times I was compelled to retell this story to friends and family and anyone who would listen about it, mostly to assert that I was not the kind of person who lost her auto insurance, can you believe it?
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The second time my auto insurance lapsed was in September of this year, back in New York, and I only found out about it when I called the same agent to fix my name on my proof of insurance so I could register my car in New York.
She told me I didn’t have proof to update since I had not had insurance on the car since July, and had been driving uninsured for months, and while I wanted to blame the agent again, and I did blame the agent again, that time I really only blamed myself.
The third time my insurance lapsed was this week, and in this case, it was entirely the fault of the carrier, and while I would be justified in completely blaming the entire string of this particular occurrence on every single person and system and event besides the ones that indict me (and especially on planetary events or even on karma, because who loses their insurance three times without it being God’s will) it didn’t undo the fact that I drove around—again—for few weeks without insurance, or that I spent Monday morning being refused by every insurer and deemed uninsurable.
I ended up calling Shaquille O'neal at the The General, and I ended up pre-paying $3,000 for 6 months of insurance, or $500 a month, or around 3x the rate I was paying before all of this happened.
And there I was, toothless, putting a cut-rate insurance policy on my credit card because I don’t have the cash to pay the amount in full, and there I was thinking how far I had fallen.
If you’ve read my work for a while now, or my book, you’ll know how much I conflate cleaning up my life—or adulting, or being ‘responsible’—with my recovery. It wasn’t until I stopped drinking that I started to look at my debt, or pay the back taxes, or open the mail, or go to the dentist. Milestones of mine have included buying a car without a cosigner, buying a home, having a good credit score, or never sweating when my debit card runs through a scanner.
And how totally delightful it was to experience these things, to go on dates and not have to deal with the part where you tell them you’ve got $100,000 in credit card debt, to be able to walk into a car dealership and buy any car you want without bringing your seventy-five-year-old mom to guarantee you.
But I do wonder what happens when, like me, you aren’t moving up and to the right, but dropping down into the red?
I can imagine people in certain recovery circles tsk-tsking me, saying something like “This is how it starts!” or “CAUTION This is old behavior!” and actually I don’t mean other people in recovery saying that because I don’t give a fuck about them. What I mean to say is I am thinking these things about myself. I am thinking I failed and that it means very many terrible things about me, and who I really am.
On Monday I wrote a list of every single thing I had to do—every task, every errand. Then I did them.
I dropped the too-small running shoes off at Staples, I cleaned my filthy mud-splashed car, I picked up the prescription at CVS and dropped off the borrowed dress at the cleaner and I called the state of California, again, to try and get my car’s title. I bought the plane ticket and added the cat to it and I made the appointment and I mailed the check.
I also phoned a friend and sat idle in the Dollar General parking lot as I sobbed into the phone and told them not just about my shame but also about what I swore it all meant about me, which was that I am a fraud, a failure, a mess; that I have officially gone back to the person I’ve been outrunning since 2012, that I didn’t even know I was trying to outrun until recently.
And all I can tell you about this whole entire day—this day where I couldn’t pretend that I was who I thought I was, this day where I couldn’t ignore the evidence that I had failed to uphold the idea I have about who I am after years of failing to uphold the idea I have about who I am—was that it was so tender.
Or rather, I was so tender. With myself. In a way I don’t ever remember being.
There’s something in here about how much I needed in those early years of recovery when I was such a bleeding mess to be that person who esteemed herself through her responsibility, through her improving credit score, dwindling cavities, reasonable bedtime, sensible diet, balanced neurochemicals, impeccable word, and lack of debt. These were helpful things for me to aspire to, and they were joyous accomplishments I relished and celebrated and needed. They were freedoms I had never had and they were important.
And while these are still things I value, things I aspire to, or even things that motivate me (all my teeth, being able to pay for things or take out a loan, having a retirement, etc.), I am wondering about the tool becoming the weapon. Because when you let yourself become identified with the virtuous things and let them become the measure of your worth or success or progress, it also means you have to be identified with their opposites.
What I wonder is, can I hold these things more loosely? Can I make it less about my value, and more about what I happen to be experiencing? Can I throw the gold stars away at this point and actually engage with the human that’s trying to rack them up?
And then there’s something about regression, or backsliding, or a return to the person you swore you’d never be again, which we’re enculturated to take as a sign of something amiss, which is what I’ve taken it as these past few years. When the truth of it is that I would let so many of my gold stars go if I knew that it would take me to where I’ve arrived, which is here, which is toothless, in debt again, with terrible insurance, but also finally kind to myself, gentle with myself, esteemed in myself without any qualifications.
I was perfect for a minute, and I what I mean is I had it all, or rather I had all the external things I thought I needed to feel worthy, and I couldn’t have felt more worthless.
Here, where it looks nothing like what I thought it had to look like for me to be okay, where the outside indicators do not match the ideas I have had about who I need to be to feel good about myself, I have never felt more worthy.
I don’t think that’s a coincidence.
A fun fact is I cried during this appointment, but not about the pain or the tooth loss but only about how I wouldn’t be able to date anyone for the winter
I don’t actually think I’m irresponsible I just think I had addiction and an eating disorder and I have ADHD—but it sure feels like irresponsibility, and people treat it as such