Yes, it’s true. You can chart my life from a very young age and find the evidence. The seeds were likely planted as the fourth child of an eventual litter of seven. Ma and Pa did their best to spread it around. But it was never enough for me.
I learned quickly what sorts of things brought additional attention. Sure, getting good grades and being a good person got you some… but let’s face it, not nearly as much as you got for being naughty and dishonest and scandalous. Just look at Mother Theresa. I barely heard about her growing up. Sure, I knew she was saving the poor in Calcutta, yada-yada. But it was Madonna that made the cover of all the Magazines. The more she exposed, the more press she got. Brad Pitt got ‘Father of the Year’ this year for a couple of well publicized outings with Maddox and three weeks of cooing in photos with a new baby. Meanwhile, my father has been slogging through it for thirty something years and no one has ever showed up on his doorstep with something as simple as brass plaque for watching twelve years of band recitals.
Yeah, showing up on a day to day basis and just being the best person I could be, wasn’t going to make me a stand out. And what are you in America if you aren’t number one.
"There are no points for second place."– Top Gun (Memorized by every man over 23 and under 35.)
So I started young reaching for the kind of attention that only drama, scandal, dishonesty and sleaze could bring you. Alcohol, older boys, making out, more alcohol, talking loud in cafes, making up stories that would make others like me best, spending five years as a Budweiser girl, I would take whatever kind of look you wanted to give me. But there just never seemed enough attention to fill me up.
I was like that obnoxious cat that rubs up on everyone’s leg just begging to be touched.
‘Look at me! Look at me! Because if you can’t see me, I will just disappear’.
So various side effects of my attention seeking behavior began to manifest around me wherever I looked. All of these were built on myths.
MYTH: You gotta look good to get looked at.
RESULT: Body issues ravaged my body – binging, tanning, manicuring, pedicuring, massaging, preening, posing, spending money on clothes that would make me look thinner, hairstylist that would make me look blonder, gym memberships that promised results, spending years in debt.
MYTH: If you can’t look good, you better sound good.
RESULT: Lies and more lies, gathering weight on my shoulders until I could no longer stand.
MYTH: If you have a boyfriend it means you are lovable.
RESULT: Bad relationships litter the street outside my window like cigarette butts dropped in the night. Enjoyed for a moment and then squashed out by the sole of a dirty shoe. I was attracted to the obsessive thrill of something exciting and unhealthy. Anything balanced felt boring. And boring meant you were going to be abused, made into a villain and cast out. Leaving me a victim.
OVERALL GRAND POOBAH MYTH: Attention=Love
So, what happened? And, what am I like now?
Somewhere around 30, I was trying all the usual things and they stopped working. Attention from men just wasn’t thrilling me anymore. In fact, their superficial attraction left me feeling empty.
Girlfriends were embarrassed by my loud antics. My family had filed me into a corner of instigator, liar, and possible stripper. I got a job where my work was overshadowed by my attention seeking ways. I could only succeed in the workplace by not standing out.
Things were changing.
A few altering talks with friends. A reality check. A feeling one morning that I couldn’t keep doing what I was doing. Surrender. A lot of prayer and meditation. A few al-anon meetings. And then it happened.
Acceptance about my body. My bod was getting old and no longer could stop traffic. I finally accepted that I was never going to look like Cindy Crawford. And although I’m still mourning this loss, I’m comforted by the idea that I could be valued for something more than what New York City billboards and bouncers tell me is worthy.
Acceptance of my station in life. Not everyone is meant to be famous and adored. Some people were meant to be consultants, and waitresses and teachers. And once I accepted that, I started to feel happy.
Acceptance that love doesn’t always come packaged the way I expected. There is an incredible feeling of warmth when I show up for a friend, make a sacrifice for my sister, let my date be the center of attention. It isn't an instant rush. It's slower. More stable. It feels earned. In fact, it feels something like full.
Once I stopped caring about what I didn't have, I became more focused on the moment. And in the moment I can enjoy things achieved. I can be present for friends, family and strangers. I can be useful, if I'm present.
So what am I like now?
Fragile. I am in a new world. I don’t have a map. I haven’t figured out my favorite place to have brunch. I don’t know the name of the coffee guy.
But, people in this new world do not care about what I am wearing, how much I weigh, where I live, how much money I make or where I went to college. All of the old values have simply slipped away.
I have true friends. Some new, and some surprising sources of old. I have a relationship with my family. They love me for who I have proven myself to be. I have a job that appreciates my work over my style. I have a rich relationship with a higher power, that isn't me.
And I’m full. For now.