I have teased my mother for years about how susceptible she was to self-improvement trends back in the ’80s.
While I was trying to survive middle and high school, she was tearing through what seemed like an endless string of books and cassette tapes on codependency, relationships, parenting, exercise, health and wellness … you name it.
A few paperbacks are still prominent on her bathroom bookshelf all these years later, and I can’t help but roll my eyes when I see them.
I remember how Mom would devote her heart and soul to the latest fad -- and drag my brother and me along with her. I’ll never forget a certain extreme nutrition kick that no doubt came from explicit instruction in one of these books’ strategies for healthy living. Its premise -- whole foods, nothing processed -- was decent, but its execution was downright frightening. Ever had a “burger” made from wheat germ? Or eaten a piece of “chocolate” only to find out it’s really carob? Don’t. Both are just nasty. Thank God she didn’t stick with that craze very long.
Anyway, it dawned on me recently that I finally get it. I understand why my mom got sucked into all that self-help hoodoo. I can now appreciate her thirst for answers, because I’ve recently become a veritable sponge for anything that could supplement or advance my own mental and physical well-being. My interest has been ramped up a notch since last spring, when the second round of my marriage broke up. I’ve been picking up the pieces, literally and metaphorically, ever since. Oh, and I turned 40 in July. (Helllll-oooo, Mid-Life Crisis. Nice to meecha.)
I did the math, and it turns out my mom was both in her 40s and in the process of (or recovering from) her divorce from my dad when she was frequenting the self-help aisle at the bookstore. Turns out I am my mother’s daughter.
She told me at the time that divorce feels like a death in many ways. Having done it twice now myself, I gotta agree. It’s pretty devastating on a lot of fronts – financial, emotional, mental, spiritual. This is not to say that I wasn’t screwed up all on my own long before I entered that particular relationship (both times). In fact, it’s precisely because I’ve got my own set of fun little issues that it didn’t work. I take responsibility for all my bad decisions therein.
I started a journey of self-discovery almost four years ago when I joined 12-step recovery, for reasons I’ve discussed in this space before. (Click here and here.) I know I’ve made a lot of progress with those tools, and for that I am grateful -- every damn day. For realz.
I also know that it’s not the only resource for self-improvement available. So I’ve started to shop around. And where do I end up? The self-help “aisle” of Amazon.com.
I recently picked up a book at the recommendation of a good friend (damn thing was written in the ’80s, which is not at all ironic) that speaks to me on every page, called “Women Who Love Too Much.” Yeah, that title sounds totally stupid, I know. The content is not, I can assure you. In fact, it’s not what I expected. Loving “too much” is not a good thing… it refers to controlling, suffocating devotion, not the good kind of love, which includes true intimacy.
So far, this book is helping me explore possible reasons why I don’t know how to love in a healthy way, and tools for how to change that. I’ve also picked up a book on fear, and I’ve got yet another on my wish list about grief.
I want to do better, feel better and be better. In life, in work and in relationships. I want to be the best possible version of myself I can be. And by God, if I don’t figure out what I’ve been doing wrong (and why) I’ll just keep doing it.
What’s the definition of insanity? Doing the same thing over and over, expecting different results? Yeah, I’m done with the crazy. Time to get sane! (Doesn't that remind you of the platinum-haired 1980s self-help icon, Susan Powter, of “Stop the Insanity?” I always thought she was a bit of a loon. But I digress.)
Bottom line: I have decided to actively seek out every avenue that could potentially help my “self” get to a happier, healthier place. Books, support groups, meditation…I’m open to anything.
Oh, and Momma, I apologize for making jokes and teasing you when all you were trying to do was heal. Turns out you knew something I didn’t, and I wish it hadn’t taken me 20+ years to realize it.
I’ll be over later to raid your bookshelf, if that’s OK with you.
About Amy Higgs
A former newspaper columnist, Amy takes her random, slice-of-life stories to the web. After nine years, she's still just saying.