I’m at the school gates waving like a maniac at my eight-year-old son.
He is running up the path with his black bag slapping against his back.
I did manage to get a kiss, not a great one, but we made contact. He instantly wiped it off like my lips were covered in poison... But I got one.
He’s running away fast because he knows what’s coming, he’s hoping to turn the corner before the inevitable,
‘I LOVE YOUUUUU!’ I shout,
I see his shoulders raise as my words reach his little ears. Then he’s gone, around the corner of the building, immediately emersed into his mysterious daytime world of friends, snacks and times tables.
I turn around and head to the car feeling thankful that I haven’t bumped into anyone I know. I look a mess, like a zombie that has just crawled out of a grave. My wispy post-breast- feeding hair is all piled up on my head, I may as well have a small blue tit perched on the top and tiny blue speckled eggs nestled into the central clump. I’m wearing tracksuit bottoms that I wore to bed that have holes in and are folded over at the top because the elastic has gone. My top has the entire contents of the fridge displayed over it sporadically in a drip and dribble form, a sort of ‘guess what we had for dinner and breakfast’ t-shirt. Worst of all I have no bra on and my wind-sock shaped boobs are pointing south - directly at two perfectly placed spots of bolognaise sauce.
Just as I hit the button on my key to open the car door, I hear my name called,
It’s one of the lovely mums I often see at school and never have the time to catch up with. She’s walking towards me with a big smile on her face and a baby balanced on her hip.
‘You free for a coffee next week?’
‘Yes, sure, that would be lovely. Text me and we can work out a time.’
‘Perfect. I’m looking forward to it. Oh, and I love your earrings. Where did you get them?’
Now, this may sound like a perfectly normal question to someone that isn’t a people pleaser like me, this innocent mention of my dangling pineapple earrings should be a simple,
‘I got them at the market last weekend’ answer.
But because of my ridiculous need to please her, all I’m thinking is,
‘Next time I go to the market I am going to but this lady that I hardly know a pair of earrings just like mine. That will make her happy.’
I don’t say ‘Thank you’ or ‘Yes, they are lovely.’ I just give her a weird smirk as I mentally plan my surprise love bomb at our coffee date.
‘See you next week’ I say as I slip into the car.
I put the key in the ignition and start the engine. I glance in my wing mirror as I reverse and see my pineapple earrings twinkling in the sunshine and out of nowhere.... I begin to cry.
I pull the car back into my parking bay and wipe my nose on my sleeve adding a new hue to my technicolour tea-time top.
Then I turn my review mirror to face me, I wipe away a tear and ask myself a question.
‘Why do you want to buy this lady earrings Vicky?’
I have to sit there for a few minutes as I put my thoughts in order.
Making others happy at my own determent, whether that be financial or emotional, is a habit I have been enforcing for many years. I always thought it was just me wanting to be a good person, make others happy, make people laugh.... but sobriety is teaching me that me being a people pleaser extraordinaire! leaves me feeling a little empty and confused.
I look at my reflection again in the small oblong mirror.
So why do I want to buy gifts for people I don’t know? Why do I find it necessary to make other people happy when I am getting nothing from it? Is it just because I want to be a good person or is it more, what is this eternal need to please?
Putting the joy (in earring form or other) of friends and acquaintances before my own joy, I suddenly realise, is a dusty hangover from my teens.
When I was 14 my two best friends decided they didn’t like me anymore and walked away from our friendship. I was heartbroken. This event unsteadied me, and I became in fear of it ever happening again. Scared of being abandoned by people I loved.
It had tremendous fall out, it was like a noxious liquid was spilled on my life and affected everything I touched from then on. It led to me acting out, it effected how I interacted with my peers and how I viewed myself – perhaps I wasn’t worthy of friendship?
I thought I was acting out, being a party girl, to be liked?
But was I doing it because I didn’t want to be left?
In order to keep friends, I performed in a way that made them happy. I drank, I told jokes and fell over. I became the best friend anyone could ever have, I was reliable, I showed up, said the right things and never forgot a birthday.
But unfortunately, within this mental pact to keep friends, I never once stopped to consider myself within my friendships, my own needs. All I thought was,
‘I hope they like me’
‘I hope they think I’m funny’
‘I hope I didn’t offend anyone last night?’
Followed by feelings of panic. Panic over something I had absolutely no control over.
The opinion of someone else.
It didn’t really matter if I liked them back, I was just looking for confirmation that I wasn’t going to get abandoned again..........
I look in my rear-view mirror and get a sudden flashback of the 14-year-old girl kneeling on the sports field in the rain. I almost want to reach in and grab her and tell her it’s not her fault.
I guess after losing her best friends, that girl got lost. The drinking, the hedonistic behaviour, the self-awareness, it was all just her way of seeking out a reciprocated love. I was just searching for confirmation, the acceptance of others, I just wanted people to stay.
Caring so much about how others feel has been sitting heavy on my heart for many years. My inner chatter, guessing what others may, or may not think about me, has crippled me for most of my life. So I drank, I drank until I met someone that stayed.
And now, with the support of my stayer, (my husband) and because of sobriety, I’m able to comprehend that situation, understand that those girls were just young and I did nothing wrong.
I can process my feelings and let it go, free myself from this irrational and damaging inner conversation and move on from being that heartbroken 14 year-old-girl.
As I look in the mirror, I realise it’s time to let go.
Say goodbye to the people pleaser.
‘The opinions of others are immaterial’ I say in a very smug voice, out loud to no one.
‘and I’m not going to buy that lady any earrings and I might not even meet her for coffee!’
I almost beep the horn in delight, then realise a middle-aged woman sitting in a school car park on her own with make-up running down her cheeks might end up with the authorities being called.
Instead, I lick my finger and wipe it along the bags under my eyes hoping to remove any mascara and then use the same spitty forefinger to bend back my eyelashes in the hope that these two gobby actions will make me look more acceptable to any more strangers that I might bump into....
‘Ah fuck it. You’ll do’ I mutter as I pull away.
I head home a teeny-weeny bit over the speed limit - feeling lighter. Going over my past is slowly but surley, giving my future a chance.
Gosh...A life without judgement.
Just imagine that.
As I drive, the unknown opinions of others fade away like the long white lines in the centre of the road and as I push my foot down on the pedal, years of built-up unease oozes out of the souls of my feet.
Sometimes all you have to do is look back to be able to move forward.
Pic - Me at 14. The 90's summed up in one photo. I think I'd hidden the Cider and Marlboro lights!