When I was a teen in the 70’s, my family would periodically visit friends of my parents. I so wished our family could be like them. They were happy and all got along. In 1995, early in recovery, I remember going to a meeting because I was very upset about something. I needed to be around others so I wouldn’t get high. A beautiful woman walked into the meeting, smiling, and sat down. She was wearing a short tennis dress and dripping in diamonds. I remember thinking that she would never be able to relate to what I was going through, much less know how it felt walking around in my size 22 body. In January of 2019, I noticed a very striking looking woman as I walked into a hotel. She stood elegantly with an air of confidence… a result of her obvious success in life. I so wished to have that level of confidence and her sense of style.
These three scenarios, decades apart from each other, have one thing in common. In each case I was comparing how I felt on the inside to how they looked on the outside. As many times as I have had this lesson, I recently realized a pattern. When I am not feeling good about myself, I focus on my perception of how great others’ lives are. Perhaps bringing this to light now will allow me to respond differently the next time.
So let me tell you “the rest of the story” for each of the situations I described. After my parents died, I went to the family I described for a holiday meal. The mom opened up and told me how her demanding husband almost caused their only son to leave the family business. She went on to tell me about all the dysfunctional family dynamics and the pressure of keeping up their image. She also told me how difficult her life was because her husband was very challenging to communicate with and she had to be careful when she said certain things. I went from envying them to feeling compassion for each family member.
The lady with the tennis dress dripping in diamonds raised her hand to share in the meeting. She said her husband relapsed and she came to the meeting each week so she wouldn’t be there when he woke up for fear of the mood he would be in. She also said they were living in a rented house. The owner wanted to sell, so they had to move. She didn’t know where they would live. Because their credit was so poor, she didn’t know who would rent to them. I went from envy to sadness for her circumstances before she even finished sharing.
The stunning and confident lady at the hotel has become a friend. Circumstances allowed our paths to cross later that night. We spent a couple hours talking. As soon as she become vulnerable about what was going on in her life, the negative comparisons faded. I didn’t even realize when I began focusing on the similarities rather than the differences. Our insides were relating, and I was drawn to her spirit.
I am grateful for seeing this pattern so I can change it. I have wanted my insides and outsides to match for as long as I can remember. When I am centered, they do. My realization now gives me to the choice to look and focus on the similarities rather than the differences in any given situation. Once again, to find the reasons rather than the excuses.