Pulling Weeds

5 Oct

   Early this morning, after taking my six year-old daughter, Isa, to school, I decided to trade in the awkward five-pound weights from the gym for the more comfortable fit of a trowel and spade in my hands. As I don’t particularly like going to the gym, it wasn’t a difficult decision to make. It had been at least three weeks since I spent any time working in my garden, and I suddenly had a yearning to get my hands into the dirt again.

It’s early October, and summer has gently slipped into a pattern of shorter days and long nights. It’s almost as if the bright lamp of September has been gradually dimmed, creating a homey and cozy atmosphere—when the cooler fall weather settles in like the bite of a crisp red apple. The extravagant blooms of summer are trying their best to hold on as long as they can; they bravely face their looming demise with one last splash of colorful stoicism.

After working so diligently in the garden from March through August, my task was easy: all I needed to do was clip back the dead blossoms, pull out the dead plants and till the soil. I was relieved that I didn’t have to work too hard to plant and fertilize and coax the flowers as I do in spring and summer. I could just enjoy sprucing things up a bit, and then allow myself to relax and let the garden settle down as I wait for the winter rains to come. Ahhh….the joy of hibernation!

I pulled weeds and clipped for about an hour, enjoying the discomfort in my thighs and back as I squatted and stretched to cut off the dead plant growth. There was so much bending and reaching that it was as good as taking an outdoor yoga class.

“This is so much better than the treadmill,” I thought happily. The sun warmed by body as I dug and clipped and weeded, the sweat dripping down my back, drenching my dirt-stained t-shirt. I felt like a dedicated athlete after a long workout.

Who needs the gym anyway?

When I was done, I stood to admire how neat and clean everything looked. I was pleased with my efforts and was just about to put my gardening tools away when I suddenly spotted something strange in the corner of my peripheral vision. A gangly weed had grown up right next to one of my late-blooming delphinium plants!

How could I have let it get so big without noticing it? Yet there it was—a huge dandelion weed, the exact same height and shade of lime green as the other plants that surrounded it. It must have been growing there for a long time, but had managed to camouflage itself by hiding out near the plants it resembled in shape, size and color. It was so large it had to have been there for weeks. And I never even noticed it.

Weeds will do anything to survive, including finding the perfect hiding place. Nature is sneaky that way.

People are sneaky that way, too.

Recently I began seeing a therapist for the first time in my life. I noticed that I’d been feeling melancholy and listless for quite some time. I knew I wasn’t living up to my full potential (I had no idea what that potential was—but whatever it was, I sure as heck wasn’t living up to it.) I felt like there was something inside of me that was struggling to break free. I thought perhaps I was still dealing with the emotional remnants of Isa’s struggle with cancer that began over four years ago.

I had always admired my friends who were able to open up to a therapist, but I never thought I needed to do it myself. I finally realized that after everything I’ve been through since Isa’s cancer diagnosis, it had become necessary to find someone objective and neutral to talk to about how the residual grief of her illness was still finding ways to affect me.

Curiously, what I’ve learned through just a few months of therapy is that the experience of Isa’s illness is not what’s affected me negatively—quite the contrary.  The road I’ve walked dealing with her cancer has actually been a positive experience. It’s opened me up to accepting love, gratitude and hope into my life, and I’ve learned that I’m stronger than I ever imagined I could be.

So why was I so unhappy?

What I’ve discovered in the short time I’ve been in therapy is that what’s making me unhappy and feeling unfulfilled is that I’ve never learned to value who I am.

Now please don’t gag.

You’re probably thinking: “Please—enough of the self-indulgent, narcissistic psycho-babble!” And believe me, I get it. I’m as irritated with the next person when it comes to listening to people complain about how miserable their childhood was and whose fault it is that they’re unhappy today. At some point one must take responsibility for one’s own happiness.

But there is truth in the fact that as children, we can be so wounded by our experiences that it affects our entire lives. Since I was a young child, I’ve always carried the misplaced shame that I’m not “good” enough, or “pretty” enough, or “thin” enough, or “smart” enough, or “blah, blah, blah” enough—the list goes on and on.

Because I never really learned to love myself, I never thought I deserved to receive love from others. And because I was so unlovable, there must be something deep lacking within me. Why bother trying to fulfill my dreams if I’m never going to be good enough?

Now, I’m not talking about other people’s opinion of me—I’m sure (or at least I hope) there are many out there who think I’m amazing, beautiful, talented, kind, and generous (mostly my mother, my husband,  my children, and my close friends). Intellectually, I know that they value me.

But it means absolutely nothing if I don’t value myself.

I can just hear my husband now: “Oh, cry me a river Jess! You have no idea how easy you had it when you were young.” And in some ways, he’d be right—compared to how he suffered as a child growing in extreme poverty in Mexico, I did have it good. I had a roof over my head, my own bed to sleep in, and plenty of food to eat. But pain is relative. His circumstances may have been worse than mine, but pain is pain, and it still hurts. And I truly believe there is not one adult on this earth today who doesn’t carry around some kind of hurt with them from their childhood traumas.

For whatever reason—whether it was growing up under the fearful umbrella of an alcoholic father, suffering from teasing and bullying, or exaggerating the adolescent misconception that there was something wrong with my face and my body, I managed to conjure up a negative view of who I am, and I’ve allowed that skewed image to grow and thrive since I was a young child. It took root in my soul like that pervasive weed hiding in my garden, and I’ve been cultivating it all this time without even realizing it.

Me, standing in the backyard garden at age seven

Therapy has taught me that it’s finally time to cut away the years of self-doubt and insecurity that had been formed years ago from the illogical perceptions of that young girl—a girl who, in her innocence, didn’t know that she was wrong about herself—that same little girl who never learned that she was worthy of love.

Until now.

Everything seems clearer as I walk over to that dandelion weed, bend down grab it by the base and yank it out in with one twist of my wrist. The roots come out effortlessly and intact; there is nothing left in the soil but open space.

I pitch it into the trash can. Take that you ugly weed!

There. For now, the garden is perfect.

I do understand that more weeds will eventually grow and try to invade my little plot of flowers —I can’t stop them—that’s just nature.  What I can do is weed out those seemingly benign green shoots before they grow too big. They may look innocent enough when they’re small, but they are eager to multiply and ready to take over before you even realize it.

I’ll just have to be prepared to stop them long before they have a chance to hide out among the last of the summer flowers.

My Summer Garden

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5 Responses to “Pulling Weeds”

  1. Becky Green Aaronson October 5, 2011 at 7:54 pm #

    Powerful, honest, and beautiful…just like you! Way to find liberation! I’m so glad you’re finally realizing (“for real”) what we all know and love about you. Thanks for sharing such a personal part of your life. It’s a good reminder for all of us.

  2. Nanci Alvarado October 5, 2011 at 9:22 pm #

    You are LOVED and SPECIAL and AWESOME!!!

  3. Betty Pierskalla October 6, 2011 at 5:42 am #

    Yes, bulling and loss of self confidence does place a lifetime burden on ones self worth..But consider how many students you have given ownership of pride and confidence. Jessie, you are a terrific lovely person who has been through so much and shares the learning of those moments with your students. They know more of who they are because you give them that sense of what matters. Butterflies…not weeds!!!
    Love you Betty

  4. Sofi Kyriakidis October 6, 2011 at 5:59 am #

    Your description of Fall in your second paragraph should be enough to set the lizard lady straight.

    Love your writing. Keep it up!!

  5. Nonstepmom October 11, 2011 at 5:46 pm #

    Gardening can be a great workout, and I think it’s the smell of the soil that gets your brain working – it can be very cathartic.

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