Comparison is the Thief of Joy

I sat talking to a colleague and I mentioned one of my quotes that I use to keep myself in right mind- a state of grace instead of chaos or a state of grace even in the midst of chaos. “Comparison is the Thief of Joy.” He is a PE teacher and I am the librarian at our elementary school. He liked the message so much he typed it into his phone to go back to later when we weren’t counting fruit cups and milk cartons for the class lunch crates.

The easiest example of the message is something like- I am always fatter than you. I am possibly fatter than myself yesterday. If I compare myself to you or to even my most recently past self, I am robbed of happiness- well assuming that skinniness is equal to happiness. Anytime my thoughts move into comparisons, stop. Halt. All happiness is stolen.

While I had a captive listener, I told the PE Coach about my ten year plan. I got divorced about 5 years ago and – without systems or organization or faith- I made a plan.

It lacks detail but I gave myself ten years to come up with particulars.

  1. Live with a bulldog.
  2. Figure out where I want to live.
  3. Figure out what Mim needs to be an adult with an enviable life.
  4. Create a retirement from teaching plan that involves creativity.
  5. Blog as a way to move toward writing a book.
  6. Write my memoir. Publish my memoir.
  7. Become a photographer with a big girl camera.
  8. Remain entangled in my children’s lives as they grow to be adults so that we always have each other.
  9. Heal my broken heart.
  10. Find a way to not hate Walt so I do not waste energy and good health.
  11. Raise kind children to be kind adults.
  12. My home should reflect my heart and love of visual feasts.
  13. Go to karaoke a couple of times.
  14. Become a better friend.

I have a bulldog. Easy to acquire but oh so difficult to love with. She is a constant toddler. My children are amazing people. I haven’t been to karaoke. I’m doing it- in fits and starts. I see women who divorce and find a new love. I compare myself. Nah. That isn’t on my list. That doesn’t match up with my values. It is foundationally essential that my life and my days reflect my values because that is the worst feeling ever. If my actions and the minutes of my day do not reflect my heart and my mind, misery and shame appears. I know a grandmother in her early 80s and she sees her grandchildren rarely- she hasn’t been to Atlanta in the last five years. Yet, her car license plate says her grandma name. In big bold letters for all the other drivers to notice. Imagine that. The tragedy. The sadness. She wants to be known as a loving grandmother with an adorable granny name and yet her life and her actions do not reflect the desires of her heart. To near the end of one’s life, when others seek wisdom, and to not live your heart’s truth. Her life doesn’t match her values. This is true pain. She uses her glamour plate to cover up her fear. She isn’t the person she wants to be but she is so scared that the people will figure out her flaws. She lies to the world to hide her failings. Living a lie at her age, breaks my heart.

I fight violently against any secrets or false ideas. I don’t want to have any secrets. One thing I have learned is that my reality has to match my principles. The outside has to match the inside. What if I claimed to be a parenting expert and then you found out my oldest almost died from anorexia and my youngest yells that she hates me most days. I want to tell you, I know hard stuff about parenting because my oldest has an eating disorder and my youngest has a developmental disability that effects her ability to regulate her emotions. I have four fairly healthy children who have gone through screwy stuff, really difficult times. I know embarrassment. I know shame. I know fear. I know desperation. And I know great joy. Heart swelling pride. Faith in humankind. Unconditional love. This is the beauty of life. I know you have already heard from Glennon Melton Doyle about “brutiful” but I will say it again anyway. The secret is tell yourself no lies. To thine own self be true. We have heard this since Sunday School but it made no sense to my young self. Only after living lies did I figure out the value of truth.

I believed myself to be a wife, a mother of an intact family, a partner, a soulmate. I was caught in his lies and unattainable expectations. My whole life collapsed. He wasn’t true. My family was full of secrets and lies. What is the opposite of intact? A 5000 piece puzzle scattered on a table. No lamp light. No picture on the box. Can’t even find the corner pieces.

Narcissists do that, you know? The make the whole world cockeyed so that you don’t know the truth from lies. They turn everything around and accuse you of their crimes. It is senseless. Years before I had any idea what was happening to me, I sat in an almost empty 12 passenger van and listened to Walt berate me. We had eaten at Taqueria for a short night out without kids. In these dates, he would let me know that I was not enough. It was so confusing- I wanted to go out with my husband and have time alone with my favorite person. And when we would finally have a date, he would pick fights and claim I had picked a fight. This particular night the creaminess of the guacamole couldn’t counter his soured brain. The margaritas turned his words into acid. He claimed that I hated Decatur. That I hated our children’s adorable elementary school with the horn rimmed glasses principal and the 1930s architecture. He said he worked so hard to provide a good life for the children and all I could do was complain.

I don’t know if Walt hated me. But in this moment. During this front row seat of the van argument. He hated me. I heard it in his voice. In his accusations. Hit her where it counts the narcissist inside him said. I imagine his brain saying she values being an optimistic person. Glass overflowing. Flip reality on its head. “You complain so much, the kids are seeing what a negative person you are and it is affecting them. You dislike everything about our life. The neighborhood. The school. Their teachers. Our friends. You don’t appreciate how much I work so that you can be happy and live a life of endless choices and you don’t even take advantage of the freedoms you have.”

Is this who I am? I took deep breaths through the tears and tried to piece together the truth. Do I not know myself? I didn’t want to argue. I sought to be a good listener. Be a good love, a good partner. Seek to understand and not be understood. I insisted on fighting fair if at all.

The insidiousness of the gradual infiltration of lies into my psyche made me sit crying in a dark van and wondering if I was ruining my children’s lives with my own negativity. I can imagine how ill I must be to believe myself to be a light to my family when actually I am a dark scary cloud. Maybe I am the reason, Addy is so sick. I am driving my true love a way with my complaining. I could convince myself he was right. Wait is that right? Do I complain? He hates Decatur. He hates the whole South. He hates being land locked. He hates Chick fila. He hates that he works so hard and he still can’t afford what our neighbors have. His comparisons stole his joy. I guess at some point he compared me to Hayley and decided she was the answer. His comparisons stole my joy. I knew the truth. And I believed the lies. My reality was not matching my values or my truth. I couldn’t even find the truth m ost days.

This fight in the van was Walt reflecting on the years when Addy was in and out of hospitalizations, Mim was in every therapy for a baby with severe disabilities. I was already torn down. He reminded me of all my faults. My old friends disappeared when my life looked too hard and scary. Addy’s eating disorder and the disorder it caused our family looked contagious to my old pals. He worked a lot in New York. I guess I did not appreciate him being away from us. Was I the lonely nag he described?

When Walt started cheating he had to make me the bad one, because who can admit they are ruining the family that they love. I didn’t know why I developed the feelings of being less than. I tried harder and harder to measure up. To be who I imagined he wanted me to be. I wanted to be enough for him and he wanted me to fail to relieve his guilt. The trying to be good enough was a killer. He cheated— I’m not enough—–We divorce—He tells our grown children he never should have married me.

That scene in the car was- Gosh- years ago. Dolly was in kindergarten or first grade and now she is a senior. A dozen years… And it took me a long time gone to get to the divorce. And now I sit growing up, passing menopause, writing while George plays guitar and Mim scooters past the picture window as Frida and Linus watch her wishing. The daughter with anorexia is a thriving new mom. I am a grandmother “LaLu.” I have a pretty good camera. Occasionally, I photograph people for money and joy. I’m keeping my condo. It. needs lots of renovating.

This foot could heal a broken heart. Beauty and love in my daily life can heal my broken heart. But in all honesty, healing is slow for a heart so broken. Since my marriage derailed, Tuck has graduated high school and college. In the past five or six years, many glorious events have occurred. And many times, I have forgotten the hurts. Even forgiven some. I have created my own intact family. Nothing about us is a puzzle missing pieces. Grief is tricky. There are moments when I hate Walt and expend energy irrationally. Hurts are ripped open again. I am a slow healer. I can be dumbfounded and distrustful. Disappointed by my adopted cynicism. And mad at myself for sinking back down into grief.

I have become a better friend. I have such wonderful friends and they love me so much. One friend made Mim a Guess Who game and she personalized the game by turning over thirty characters into the cast of Grey’s Anatomy. Mim is on Season 18, Episode 2. Her love for Meredith knows no bounds. When Mim opened the gift, friends asked her who her favorite characters are. She said Meredith and … I said Izzy? Mim quickly answered “No. Izzy is a backstabber.” She knows her show. We all laughed with Mim and she felt our love.

Mim’s life and what will be best for her moving forward is both complicated and simple. She will need a million specialized things and we will always have each other. At age 14, her adulthood is looking increasingly complex compared to what I had imagined. But there I go making a comparison. Measuring her possible future against the future I had imagined. How convoluted is that? It steals my joy to go down that road.

George and I were sitting on my vintage couch, in between guitar songs. He listened to the gravity of my feelings and he said there is only one thing for sure.” The closest one can be to any source of god is thankfulness.” When he stays close to thankfulness, he feels whole and good. When he strays, he feels wanting, missing, less than. At the age of 20, he knows. So I will reroute myself over and over when I get lost. I will hear the voice of Siri who we call Grace the knowitall. “Rerouting. Rerouting.” And I head back to thankfulness. I will make a thousand u turns, until thankfulness is my destination.


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