He was my Sunday night surprise, the friend who I didn’t expect to see but someone who made my eyes brighten in his presence. He ran to hug me and didn’t stop until I mentioned it was getting too difficult to walk and hug at the same time. I then linked my arm in his as I always do and we began running down Wilshire Boulevard, laughing like happy children who had the run of this Los Angeles playground.
As the conversation flowed as generously as the warm sake at the sushi place, I studied his sweet smile and boyish face as our hearts seemed to open to one another. It had been forever since I had felt so good around someone, where I could goof off, say anything, laugh. Just be.
Maybe there’s something here beyond friendship, I thought to my self, the slight buzz giving me a shot of courage. Perhaps he’s feeling the same way. Maybe we should discuss this.
“I actually wanted to talk to you about something,” I said.
“What is it?” he asked. The anxious tone made me sense that he knew what I wanted to say. But then my stomach lurched and my eyes began darting around the room nervously. What if he called me crazy? What if it was a no? We had a lot of mutual friends, and I didn’t want it to be awkward if it was the usual rejection that I get from guys. Above all, I couldn’t lose another guy like this. Not again.
“You know what? Never mind,” I said airily, picking up the empty bottle of sake and looking into it as if it was a telescope.
“No, what is it?” he asked insistently.
“Don’t worry about it.”
He tried to push again, but then I excused myself to go to the bathroom, I looked at myself in the mirror, wondering what he could possibly even begin to see in me. He was smart, funny, warm, loving, affectionate and good looking, not to mention had his life together. I definitely wasn’t all those things, and some I could never be.
I headed back to the table as he asked again what I was going to say, but I continued to brush it off. He seemed disappointed, but allowed me to move on in the conversation.
In the weeks that passed since that night, I thought a lot about my insecurities. They came up in little bubbles of memory. They went back as far as 16 years old, when there was a boy in Hebrew High named Daniel that was tall with large pillowy lips. At a retreat, I tried to kiss him, and his body wasn’t having it. He never looked at me the same way again. It was the last time I ever put myself on the line romantically and made the first move; I couldn’t deal with the rejection of putting myself so far out there since.
Later, I was talking to my friend Elana and reminiscing about a photo she took of me about four years ago and posted on Facebook with the caption, “My peach cobbler will make your heart melt.” The picture was beautiful, but I thought I looked ugly so I took it down, hurting her feelings. She said to me later on the phone, “You’re beautiful. When are you going to see yourself the way we see you?” (Although I will agree with the statement that your heart will melt upon consumption of my peach cobbler.)
A third memory also came up: Sitting in a dimly lit room with my most recent therapist. In that golden light, there was one phrase she seemed to repeat regularly, whether the situation was romantic, family or career: “Why do you keep beating yourself up?”
In almost every element of my life, I experience a huge sense of insecurity and self-doubt. It can be as superficial as being a woman and tall (when a girl at a party told me, “If you were a guy, you’d be the perfect height!” I gritted my teeth as every awkwardness about my height and femininity came into play) to potential romantic situations like the one above. They even permeated working environments and job interviews, with thoughts wandering in the back of my head about when someone would finally pull me into a closed room and tell me how they never actually liked me and I wasn’t good enough. And in each of these different insecurities, I’d end up shooting myself in the foot more often than not.
In being an editor for so many different writers, I have become an editor for myself, marking in red all the different little faults that my mind has picked out as inadequate that the world wouldn’t even bother to look at. When we know ourselves so well, we’re willing to fall into the potholes of anxiety deeper than anyone else will see on the surface. But it gnaws on me, right down to my bones, and there are moments where it cripples me to the point where my body visibly reacts.
If you asked anyone who knew me if I was insecure, they would say, “No way! She’s so confident and fun, so social!” But the truth is that these insecurities have planted seeds long ago, and with time they have grown into tall trees that make up a forest that you’re not always in, but once you’re there you don’t always have a way out. You get lost, and you have to wander the forest, staring at the trees and trying to remember which way to go. Occasionally you get frantic in trying to get past them. Or you cross your legs and sit on the ground, meditating on the state of these things as the foliage shades you, allowing you a little rest to get out of your head and back into the real world.
In my case, when I choose to sit in that place, I rehash the decisions of my life that would have been different had it not been for those haunting insecurities inside myself. Quite of few of them have changed my life had I not kowtowed to the demons. They were the ones would tell me that I wasn’t good enough to wait for the right guy at 22 instead of being with the in-my-face guy who would echo every single one of them for the next seven years of my life, and even long after he disappeared. They’re also the ones who told me at 29 that there was no way my very handsome, brilliant then-guy friend had anything more for me than friendly affection, and they not only ate me alive, but I can’t imagine the pain I caused him. Over the years these demons told me that I didn’t deserve to have anything good, because even if I got it that it would be snatched away just as quickly, that every fault and misstep was of my own making. It didn’t even have to be a voice in my head; just a side eye and a nudge was enough.
Yet somehow, I’m still walking around amongst people, smiling and putting my best foot forward. There are so many people in the world riddled with such insecurities that they can’t get out of bed. They make every excuse to not move forward in their lives, saying that they’ll put it off until tomorrow when in truth they’re afraid. With others, it permeates to the point where everything around them is tainted. When I fall, I tend to get back up and moving, smiling all the way even if my heart isn’t 100 percent there yet. In those moments, I am able to turn the demons off. But when it gets quiet, I feel the fight inside of me against them. It’s not an easy one, and I will battle every day. But at the same time, I’m not going to stop trying. At least in that respect, I see myself for who I am.
One day, I will conquer most of the demons. They won’t all go away; there will always be some little voice telling me that I’m not good enough. It is a struggle, but I am determined to keep moving until I get there. Meanwhile, if I’m going to make any potential personal confessions, I think I may need to opt for a different alcoholic drink.