A year and several months ago I got a 10 page form to fill out that included every possible personal, intimate and uncomfortable question a person could possibly be asked (several made me blush so hard my toes turned red). And I answered all of them openly, and honestly, and with total trust in the complete stranger I was sending it back to. Every question that is, except one.
The one question on the paperwork that wasn’t personal was the one that caught me. I didn’t know how to answer it and I stared blankly at the blinking cursor on my screen before hesitantly typing the only answer I could think of. And for the past year not a day has gone by that I haven’t asked myself that question just to see if I know the answer yet.
My answer a year ago was “I didn’t know I was supposed to be celebrating myself?” I think that answer by itself, without all of the other answers I gave about my life, could have told the person reading it what she needed to know about me at that moment more than any other.
Fast forward about six months and you’ll find me living halfway across the country from where I was living. And I was focusing on me. I was writing, and painting, and finding out who I was and why I was on this Earth. Every day I looked in the mirror and said to my reflection, “what do you celebrate about yourself?” And every day I didn't have an answer.
I told the friend I was crashing with that I wanted to write a blog post about who I was, and I was going to title it, “I Am Who I Am”. Every time I tried to write it I would wind up staring at a blank page for hours. At one point I even lamented that someone else needed to write it, that maybe I wasn’t supposed to.
I had said that very phrase once before in my life, to a mentor who never let me give up on the book I was writing. Every time she saw me she asked about it and every time I would answer that I hadn’t done much with it. Then one day I said to her that I didn’t think I was meant to write it, that the story was too big for me, that I couldn’t do it justice. And I almost shelved my manuscript right then and there.
Ultimately I didn’t, and when I finished writing it a year later, the sense of accomplishment that surged through me was unlike anything I had ever known. Did I celebrate myself in that moment? Maybe a little bit. Should I have celebrated myself in that moment? Hell yes! Finishing a novel is no small feat. I absolutely should have celebrated myself for not giving up when I thought I wasn’t good enough to write a story of such magnitude.
After a while I added, “April, what do you need?” to my daily practice of asking what I celebrate about myself. It had become apparent to me that maybe I didn’t know who I was or what I should be celebrating about myself because I had never recognized my own needs.
A lot of people are afraid of being “needy”. It’s often associated with a sense of being overly clingy or even desperate. And that was exactly what I didn’t want to project out to those around me. So I stuffed my feelings and ignored my needs. I turned into the person who never asked anything of anyone, never had an opinion, never rocked the boat, just existed. And all that really got me was repeatedly being used as people’s doormats.
I was asked last fall, “What do you need in order to heal?” I told myself I didn’t have the answer. In fact I told the person who asked that I didn’t know. I did know, but didn’t want to say because I was afraid of sounding needy.
There’s that pesky little word again. In fact I said it all the time, “I don’t want to be needy.”
In response she said to me, “you know you could stand to be a little more needy.” And somehow that response stuck with me and each time after that I started to reason with myself about why I didn’t need something, I would hear her comment in my head and actively try to accommodate the need I had identified.
The truth is that everyone has needs. It’s unhealthy not to have needs. You need love, you need positive human contact and healthy relationships. You need to be seen and heard without judgment and you need whatever is unique to you to be who you are as a whole person. When you ignore those needs you deny who you are and if you deny who you are how can you ever expect to know how to celebrate yourself?
I moved to the home of my heart not long ago. I’m surrounded by people who not only want me to be happy and thriving but even verbally ask me, “are all of your needs met?” And they fully expect that if I need something that I’m going to vocalize it, and if I don’t they’re going to trust that all is well. No attempts at mind reading are going to happen in this house. And that’s as it should be, don’t you think?
How much better would life be if we could just ask for what we needed and know that no judgment would come of it, and that the answer may not always be yes, but that when it’s not, it’s not because you aren’t still loved and cherished and wanted.
Somewhere in life we become afraid of being told no when we ask for what we need because somehow that triggers in us something that says we aren’t still valued and important and loved in that person’s eyes. When in actuality that no may just mean that that person can’t do exactly what you’ve asked for, but may be able to offer an alternative that’s realistic for where they are in their life. And isn’t that what we should really want? As opposed to someone promising us something they can’t deliver? But in order to have that kind of openness you first have to say what it is that you need.
Several weeks ago I had an emotional day. Which in itself is unlike me, because I’m usually quite in control of my emotions (or lack thereof). On this night though, my heart was aching the loss of things that never were and I was told to ask for what I needed. In that moment, I just wanted to not be alone, but was terrified to say that out loud, because fear was working against me (another pesky word).
It took me quite a while that night but I finally did ask for what I needed. And then I went and sat in safe arms and cried and felt what I needed to feel and acknowledged my need for support in that moment.
Alternatively I could have cried myself to sleep alone for no reason.
Last November I got an email newsletter that said, “If your life was perfect, you would never have to need anyone... and if you don't need anyone then you would never have to feel vulnerable and expose yourself in any way. That is fear, my friend. It is your fear of intimacy, fear of being vulnerable, fear of being rejected, and hurt and lonely, that convinces you that you DON'T NEED anyone. But that is a lie. It is your very neediness that will give you the opening, the courage really, to admit you need more FROM yourself, FROM the ones you love, FROM LIFE itself.”
I still have that email sitting in my inbox almost 7 months later.
Little by little I’m testing the waters of asking for what I need. It scares me every single time. But I know I have a safe haven here. I know my feelings are safe here. I know I’m loved and valued and wanted. I know there’s no better place for me to be.
Recognizing my needs has allowed me to see and understand who I am as a person, what I’m passionate about, what makes me tick, what dreams I have for this life and yes, slowly but surely, what I celebrate about myself.
When I sat down to write this post I wrote the title, “who gets the worst of you?” Because in asking for the things that I needed recently I also had to battle my own inner demons and gremlins and critics that kept saying, “why do you give these people that love you the worst of you? Why do they get all your emotional garbage and uncertainties? You’re going to push them away!”
It’s been a very vicious back and forth the last few weeks. I ask for what I need, receive it, celebrate myself for asking, and then fight my own negativity and criticism that says I’m screwing everything up by being so vulnerable and needy.
This is a process. You have to respect it and know that despite how hard it is, that you are worthy of having needs so that you can discover who you are, embrace that person and celebrate all the things that make you, uniquely you.
Today I’m celebrating that instead of writing and asking you who gets the worst of you, I’m writing asking you what you celebrate about yourself. So tell me, what is it that you celebrate about yourself, and if you aren't, what do you need in order to start?
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