A couple Saturdays ago, I went to an antique mall, the Vintage Rabbit, here in Spokane. I visit it from time to time, to look for treasures and to trip down memory lane. On this day, I was on the hunt for little goodies to add to my art. I pawed through baskets of buttons, hankies, rickrack, sequins, fabric -- whatever caught my eye.
I picked up a gallon-sized plastic baggie of miscellaneous craft stuff, looked it over, set it down, picked it back up, set it down again, and walked away. I could see glitter in there, and a little plastic creche set, lots of felt letters, some buttons. I was intrigued, but not hooked, and I was determined not to spend money on things that I was not in love with.
But. I ended up going back to that shelf, and taking the baggie to the checkout. Rationalizing -- well, it's 20% off, I do like that creche and the letters, and maybe there are other things that I'll use, too. (That's the way my rationalizing always sounds in my head.)
When I got home, I looked through my treasures, saving the baggie for last. Among the old Christmas stickers and tiny, frayed American flags, I found a box of "gummed stars." The kind my teachers used to put on the top of my papers when I'd done well. The person who owned them must have been a grade-school teacher.
Looking at the stars, I was jolted back to my childhood. Oh, how I had coveted those stars! Especially the gold ones, when I'd gotten nothing wrong on the page. I was always proud to have perfect spelling tests or math quizzes or whatever. It was my goal in life, in those days. Perfect. 100%. Even one missed question was a bit disturbing.
I'm not sure where perfectionism entered my life, but those stars certainly reinforced my tendencies. It was as if I had to be perfect. Straight "A"s were my holy grail. It became part of my identity, and my obsession. By high school, making honor roll was not enough. It had to be highest honors (all "A"s). My extended family used to tease me that I was slipping if they'd seen in the newspaper honor roll that I hadn't earned highest honors. College knocked me back a bit, but I still managed to get a 3.72 as an undergrad. Never earned a "C," had one "D."
I look back at it, somewhat astonished at my craziness.
Now I understand what drove me. It was a way of proving that I was a good person, smart, worthy of taking up space on the planet, worthy of love. I do not know why that unworthiness is so deep in my psyche -- it's not as if I didn't have loving parents, grandparents, friends -- but it has always been the part of the darkness in me.
Ever so slowly, I have been learning that I am worthy. Of everything.
I'm glad I listened to the impulse to buy that baggie. (The universe is always presenting us with whatever we need, if we pay attention.) I also listened to an impulse to take a photo of myself with a gold star on my forehead, as a sign of where I've been.
As I look at the photo again, I realize that the gold star also symbolizes my wholeness. I am worthy, just as I am.
(And so are you. I promise.)