All my life, I’ve struggled with what we might call “Good Girl Syndrome.” Which is ironic because I have a mind constantly preaching to me about my badness (mistakes real or imagined, things I could have done better, words I should have said).
For a long time I thought I was the only one who had these self-defeating, occasionally soul-crushing thoughts.
Then I started going to twelve step meetings. And talking with other people with eating disorders and addictions and depression. And I realized that all of us are trying to learn this very important trick: How can I give less attention and power to the thoughts that are trying to kill me? How can I be present in the world, rather than lost in my head?
It has helped me to explore spirituality and meditation. To write and do yoga. But more than anything else, animals have been my saving grace. I began working in animal welfare nine years ago, and quickly discovered that within just a few minutes of petting or snuggling or walking a dog, my thoughts loosened their grip on me, my heart cracked open, my body became aware of itself.
This is great news. But still, there is more work to do.
Here’s the way I’ve lived for as long as I can remember: Someone does me wrong, and I keep quiet. I avoid confrontation. I don’t speak up, usually because I’m afraid I will be challenged or outsmarted or I will displease somebody.
Or even worse…sometimes I smile and say that things are fine when my heart is roaring with resentment and sadness and anger. These ugly feelings are okay to write about, to put on paper, to discuss in a cozy room with a therapist. But rarely do I let them out in the moment. It could go imperfectly. I could look bad. It wouldn’t be “good.”
To my surprise, pregnancy has changed this.
I first noticed the change when, at five months pregnant—on a rare afternoon in which I decided to take a walk rather than a three hour nap—a man road-raged at me. I was trying to pull into a parking spot close to the beach, apparently a spot he had his eyes set on, too. He rolled down the window of his Chevy truck and flipped me off as I began to pull in. “What the f***!?” he screamed.
And then I watched myself roll down my window and say, “What the f***?! I’m f******* pregnant! Go find another spot!” I watched him drive away.
As my belly grows and my body changes, preparing for the awesome task of motherhood, I’ve found that I don’t have the time or energy to be so “good” anymore. In every single area of my life.
I’m posting pieces of writing without editing them. I’m skipping showers and make-up because who cares. I’m calling out bullshit pregnancy rules and magazines and models (that’s another essay, coming soon). I’m speaking my mind about our idiot president-elect. I’m saying “No” and I’m sleeping in and wasting time. I’m cussing enough to make up for a lifetime of politeness. I’m blocking Trump twitter bullies because they aren’t worth my breath. I’m not communicating with my alcoholic father, or anyone who is emotionally abusive. I’m protecting my energy like I never have before.
What I’ve found in pregnancy is that I’m not so ravenous for love and approval from others anymore. I need sleep and Tums and sweatpants, not nodding heads and smiles.
I’ve known for a while, on an intellectual level, that the quest to be “a good girl” derived from a lack of self-respect. I couldn’t find enough love and respect within myself, so I gave other people the responsibility of defining my worth.
Of course, I still do this to some extent, but I can feel it lessening. I can feel an authenticity and a boldness rising up in me.
It might be long overdue. But friends, it’s here.