Image by tsaoshin

Learning how to love myself has been hard.

And although they could not hear as well as their mother, not even the infant dragon, it did not mean that the civil war was not going on all around them…The mother dragon had taken it upon herself to protect the little ones, including those of different species. Dragon or not, she understood that they were innocent in this entire petty war…

Learning to love and appreciate myself explicitly, to “be selfish” and look out for myself over others, has been hard. Since my divorce last year, really since the loss of my Chicken, I’ve struggled to regain equilibrium. The loss of her unconditional positive regard, and the intensification of emotional abuse from my ex left me completely alone. Funny thing is, until I started grief counseling, nobody ever asked me what I really want.

Contrary to popular opinion, penises do not automatically confer a right to run my life.

For example, what do I want in a man? Aside from all of the physical things, I have never made a list before I met someone. To me (sadly) this is a revolutionary idea, not taking what I can get and compromising, but waiting for the right kind of guy. Knowing who he is, and comparing men to my internal checklist of needs…and wants. I’ve always operated from a position of deference. My very lack of a list of qualifications meant I was overly-accepting, right out of the gate, to any man I met. Contrary to popular opinion, penises do not automatically confer a right to run my life.

But as the other single ladies out there know, many many many men (most? all?) are a big giant mess. Someone’s gotta take the wheel, here, and since I’ve been working so hard to figure out how to do me, this is MY car.

In my counseling sessions, my therapists have mentioned a little girl inside of me. Asked me what she’s saying. What she wants. What she needs. What her dreams are. Not to tell her to stop being so stupid and hopeful. And I really had no clue what she wanted until very recently.

One of my friends has explained to me that I should protect the “little girl” inside of me, take care of her myself, attend to her needs, reassure her. Don’t leave her out in the cold, don’t expose her to bullies. Feed her, coddle her, comfort her. Let her come out to play sometimes. But don’t let her make too many decisions, definitely none about men. Act as if I were a mother, a single mother at that, with no backup…protecting her cub.

I know this kind of sounds a little convoluted, but here’s the thing. I have always been selfless in protecting my charges. Baby sister, pets…a true dragon, I’ll jump to the rescue of anyone oppressed (whether they asked me to or not). I step in as protector whenever I see injustice, and am kinda prone to swooping in to save victims from bullies if I think it’s needed. This does get me in hot water with other “in-charge” signs when I step in unnecessarily. But…if I’m protecting my inner child, the one who still believes in the good in people and that there’s hope, the one I used to scold for still believing there is a way, I’m not protecting “myself”, which sounds way too selfish to me, but instead protecting an innocent.

When I was young and dealing with verbal, emotional and physical abuse, I used to give myself pep talks, and in the direst circumstances, I would tell myself,

Someday this will be over. Someday you will be OK, and proud and happy and this will be a distant memory. When you are strong and fierce, you will think back to this moment and send yourself love and reassurance. Because it will be better some day.

I did this because I could never believe anyone else would help me out – God had abandoned me, never answered any prayers, even when I begged him to help me stop these awful things from happening. I would tearfully pray aloud in my closet, a defenseless girl, that the things going on in that house would stop, not even that we would move out or be able to escape, but that the bad things would stop happening. They only got worse.

I set the ball rolling to get the family out of that situation. Me. By myself. Against direct orders. I trust my own judgment more than I trust anyone else’s, and taking charge of me, as a separate part of me, is as natural as breathing, once I realized that “taking care of myself” didn’t have to be an action that is “selfish”, but instead protective. Of that girl who hid in the closet. And since I’ve often valued making an effort for others over myself, this little trick works. I don’t have multiple personalities or anything, but that this perspective helps me to look at myself as a valuable person. Someone I cherish. Probably a weird little girl like Lilo, who likes bizarre things (tentacles, anyone?) but has a big soft heart, and had to grow up too fast.

My self-talk has changed, and over this weekend I convinced myself to do things I hadn’t done in ages, for mia by Mia. I’d hired a housekeeping service, and while they always did a less-than-stellar job, at least someone would clean my floors dusted with German Shedder fur, and change the sheets more than once a month. I, Mia, cleaned the whole damn house this weekend, and reclaimed my space and my responsibility for it. Threw away things that I should have tossed long ago. I got a robot vac, which is cheaper than the housekeepers’ fees for one month. I went to bed exhausted, and even got out of bed to brush my teeth after I realized I’d forgotten. That just doesn’t happen.

A different kind of growing

…there is no more “we”, but I still have me.

I’ve also felt incredibly isolated from a group I’d once been a part of – my Taiwanese family. They’re pretty much gone, functionally – while they may have affection for me, and I still have immense affection for them, I can’t stand the idea of communicating with my ex for any reason. So I’ve lost that family, that tie to the blended life I’d lived for so long where Chinese holidays were just as important as Western ones. I love the filial aspect of those holidays – the homecoming and strengthening of relationships. Asian culture and its Confucian values of respect for elders and family ties speaks to who I am at my core. Those values resonate deeply in my heart. So spending Chinese New Year alone, my mother living far away, my sister as well…it was very very hard for me, especially on contrast with past years when we would hold big dinner parties and have the house filled with friends and joy. There is no more “we”, but I still have me.

I don’t need an excuse to celebrate CNY, listen to the music I adore, take my shoes off when I come inside. If people ask me why I am “so Chinese”, I always felt the need to explain, and since my explanation is so nebulous and multilayered, an easy conversational answer was his influence. As if I’d cleaved to my husband and his family instead of bringing it all with me.

I don’t need to be qualified externally by a husband and use him as an excuse of sorts for being “more Asian” than not. And here’s the thing – I already spoke Mandarin well, before I ever met him. When people would ask “Oh, did you learn it for him?”, he would puff up with pride, and I would go along with the compliment, giving him face, saying he has helped me to learn so much.

But now I refuse to keep living that lie, particularly because during one of the ugly conversations near the end he taunted me, “Oh, you speak Chinese, you think you’re so smart”…so fuck him, no. I speak Mandarin because I do. I take my shoes off in the house because I do. I don’t need to make any excuses, to explain anything, even if someone asks. It’s just how I am. And I don’t need a Chinese husband to have the characteristics and habits I picked up from friends and family over the years. Being myself because I want to is more than enough.