Historical Post: The Looking in the Mirror Effect - July 11, 2015

The Looking in the Mirror Effect

July 11, 2015 by julieannhowe

I have spent a lifetime (well my 41 years), going through and learning how to cope with many hardships.  Maybe more than some, maybe nothing in comparison to others.  I don’t claim to have a rough life.  It has however been rough at times.  I have succumb to the truth that my life is what I make it.  My choices take me to places I am destined to be, but of course destined only because of those choices.

There has never once been a time where I looked at a situation and questioned why I was there, but rather, how did I get to this point? Sometimes we get caught up in a flow of events and before you know it, we are somewhere that we have never dreamed of being, and have to be honest with ourselves and replay the events that led us to that moment, often times struggling to take responsibility for the steps and choices we made along the way.  This is what I call the “looking in the mirror effect.”

There is nothing more challenging in life that looking in the mirror.  Am I happy with the choices I made?  Do I like myself even in the moment?  Do I like myself at all?  Did I do the right thing?  Was my heart in the right place?  Did I make a selfish choice? Am I a good person?  If I were my boss, would I fire me for my actions?  Am I any better than anyone else?

These are just some of the many questions I ask myself often, sometimes daily.  In this life I have tried to learn from my mistakes and in learning, have learned to face that mirror.  It took time, trust me, but overall, I’ve gotten to a point where I am starting to enjoy the view.  By forcing myself to face me and my choices, I have learned more each day to love who I am.  My looking in the mirror has truly given me the ability to keep myself in check, be constructive with my own personal feedback and not so much judgmental and harsh towards my choices and my being.  After all, I am only human, and while sometimes it seems like mistakes are terrible, they are all one thing and one thing primarily…. Lessons.

In my life I have went through stages of growth and maturity.  In my first marriage, I experienced what I like to call, a pretty princess stage.  I had a husband who gave me everything I wanted, I was the head of the household even if he thought he was, because all it took was my insane ability to make the illogical seem logical and he would bend to my desires.  Truth be told, while that seems manipulative, I wasn’t trying to be manipulative, but I was being selfish.  I wanted life a certain way, and I knew if I metaphorically stomped my foot a little, he would give in and I would get my way.  Looking back on it now, hind sight being so blasted clear (screw you 20/20 vision), I see myself as being a spoiled brat, taking for granted the things I had been given, and the life I was leading.

To be honest, it goes back farther than that.  My parents are amazing. They truly did everything they could to be sure that we girls didn’t go without.  We didn’t have a lavish lifestyle, and we didn’t get expensive designer clothes like a lot of the kids, but we had a nice life.  It was middle class, we always had nice things, we didn’t go without anything.  There was always clothes on our back, food in our bellies, and on top of the necessities we were granted sports and other outside activities that cost a fair bit of money then (a lot more now).  We never had to consider if mom and dad had the money to get us to the next event or to the next swim meet, or if they had the funds to get us off on some choir adventure, because they just did.  I’m sure in the background there were struggles, but what we saw was at least from my perspective even sailing.  My parents made good financial decisions and worked hard for what we all had, and didn’t really complain about it, actually, they seemed happy to do it.

In that sense, I was happy to receive it.  Not truly understanding what went along with the activities we attended, the prom dresses that were bought, the Sunday morning breakfasts out we always had.  It was just part of our standard normal life.  Big Christmas mornings, or large birthdays were included.  It was comfortable if not on the verge of extravagant in comparison to what I can grant my own child. That last statement ties back into my view in the mirror, but we will get back to that.

After my marriage fell apart, I got a taste of a much harsher reality. Mind you, I admit fully that with my pretty princess phase, there was a fair bit of fault on my shoulders, but the demise of my marriage was two sided .  I won’t go into faults of others here because honestly that isn’t what this post is about.  I did however think when we split that there was a happy life out there for me and that things would be oh so much better than I had them in my marriage.  I was right, well only 50% right, but I was ohhhhh so 50% wrong!

Towards the end of my marriage, I was miserable.  The last two years were a battle for me, trying to get over my pretty princess thing and stay together for the sake of my daughter.  Most parts of my battle with this were internal.  I couldn’t sit down with my husband and best friend of 17 years and be like, “so yeah, hey, um, I don’t really want to be with you anymore but I’m trying to get over that.”  Um yeah, no, that was not in the conversation.  I had also painted this great picture to the world, family, everyone, that we were a happy couple, Not that we were horribly unhappy, but nonetheless, discussing my internal thought process with anyone was like letting this massive scary cat out of the bag that my marriage was a fraud.  Of course that came with the big D word when we announced it to the family, but my point being, I internalized how I felt, I didn’t talk to even my best friend much about wanting to escape.

So eventually I got up the courage and to be honest, reached the end of my rope of frustration and said the hardest words I’ve ever had to say. I want a divorce.  Enter tears, heartache and for me especially guilt.  As I mentioned a moment ago, he was my best friend of 17 years, not just my husband.  I felt like by finally standing up for myself, I was ripping his heart out of his chest and stomping it into a pile of goo on the ground.  It undoubtedly sucked.  To make matters worse however, was the fact that I had been a stay at home mom for two years and was literally jumping from the frying pan into the fire.


I was forced to get the first job I could find, and went to work bar-tending. Okay, this was a major life transition.  I had worked hard at the jobs I had for a long time, and in 2005 decided to stay home, but up until that point was working in an administrative position.  I hadn’t worked the service industry since I was a kid and it was a wake up call to get back into it, but I loved it.  I busted my butt for a year and a half, scraping to make ends meet and pay my bills, and then remarried someone who didn’t care to work much, and left responsibility to me.  Truth be told, I was in a new mode in my life, it was hard and stressful, but I was a workhorse and was proud of what I was doing to take care of myself and my daughter.

I was looking in that mirror.  The mirror said, you know, pretty princess didn’t suit you.  Yes this is harder and yes you are doing it on your own, but now you have something to be proud of.  Step forward, good.  With my second marriage, however, and new found career, came a habit that didn’t jive well with steps forward.  I started drinking, initially socially and for enjoyment, but eventually to deal with the lack of support emotionally that I had in my second marriage.  I should mention my second husband is an alcoholic.  I didn’t have any support in my second marriage, but the emotional part was the one that put me over the top.  My first husband would probably smile to hear it, but I missed the stability of a man who wanted to be at my side and who wanted to help pay bills, again, hello self in the mirror.

Over the next 6 years, try as I may, things got worse.  I hid from my emotions which I was told I couldn’t have (they annoyed him that I had feelings and my feelings were wrong), in a bottle.  Now I wasn’t a hardcore drunk.  I was a maintenance drinker.  Hard day at work, nothing better than a few drinks to relax at the end of the day. I earned it.  Sure, that works.  I rarely (it did happen, I won’t deny that) got drunk.  As a matter of fact when I quit drinking and admitted to friends I was done with drinking, many were shocked that I had a “problem”.

Once my second marriage collapsed with him whisking off with yet another woman (that was the fourth, you would think I would have taken my cue and exited stage left with the first) I found myself not only facing the person in the mirror, but hating what I saw there.  I had learned some good things along the way, but now here I was, facing this sad heap of a human being who doesn’t believe in herself and didn’t think she could be loved.  I felt a if I was always wrong, I was unattractive, unwanted, and somehow a horrible human being.  I mean the man who I loved with all of my heart didn’t want me, didn’t love me anymore.  I worked so hard to keep a roof over our heads, food on the table, our family together, spoiled him sexually (sorry for the TMI but it’s true), and it wasn’t enough.

What kind of human being was I, that doing all of those things wasn’t enough for a man to love me, to be faithful, to want to take care of me as much as I pined to take care of him?  I hated what I saw in that mirror.  She disgusted me.  It was so hard to face who stared back.  Funny thing though, I hated the mirror for all of the wrong reasons.  This is where the mirror became my ally and not my foe.

Over the next three years matters went from bad to worse.  The transition with the mirror was starting, but it was going to take a few more blatant lessons for me to figure it out.  I ended up dating someone for 10 months who was worse than my drunken husband.  In my marriage I got shoved around a lot, but this relationship introduced my first ever being hit by a man.  I don’t want to talk a lot about that part, but it was a major turning point because it was then that part of that person in the mirror that I saw stepped out and took charge to protect me.

Suddenly the person in the mirror stood up.  She flexed and showed signs of strength.  There was no shame in who she was.  Actually, I started realizing, it wasn’t my reflection I was seeing all this time that I hated, it was a painting over the glass.  I had been looking into the artistry of others opinions of myself.  I hadn’t been looking at me.  I had been looking at finely brushed strokes of demeaning, belittling comments.  I had been seeing true colors of others and their own insecurities painted onto me.  I was shadowed by the human being they were molding me into with their abuse and mishandling of my heart and emotions.   Now the part I had to accept was, I let them do this. I was weak enough that I allowed them to talk down to me.  I believed what they said.  I felt that something I had done was deserving of the abuse and neglect.

I.  Me.  I was at fault for allowing others to hurt me.  I had the choice to walk away with that first girl he cheated with, but I didn’t.  I had the choice to push the drink back and say no, this life isn’t for me.  I had the choice to walk away the first time I was shoved across my bedroom, or that time I was literally stood on I could have called the cops.  I allowed all of this to happen.  I allowed them the power.  Now that is a sobering thought in itself.  I had opened the door to this.  Door, ding dong, me: open’s door to allow the ax murderer in.  In the words of my lovely Brit friends…. I was daft! That’s a hell of a thing to face. Okay, so person in the mirror… this day, I didn’t like you one bit, but thanks for finally showing up and standing up for me.  I guess we have stuff to work on!

So it was time for a sit down.  Time to face myself in the mirror and have a chat and decide how I really felt about me and what I needed to work on.  These are the things I figured out.

1. I am overall, a pretty good person. I care about people, sometimes to a fault, I put others before me, and that’s only okay to a limit.  I need to be the most important person in my life when it comes to caring, or I can’t care for others.

2.  I’m smart.  I have plenty to learn but I’m not stupid like they said.  I’m actually coming to terms that my brilliance was a threat, and therefore a point to belittle me with.  It is also a point of self consciousness for me, and people prey on your weaknesses, so I plan to work more on believing in my intelligence.

3. My feelings matter.  I can’t drive this one home enough to my readers.  Your feelings matter.  Don’t ever think that your feelings are stupid.  They are there for a reason.  Something going on in your life is against what you believe to be right or fair.  If you doubt your feelings, don’t, but take time to analyze how you are feeling and what led you to those feelings.  Are you being fair about the situation?  Are there other circumstances you don’t know? Is there a chance that perception is the problem? Really look at things as best as you can from an outsiders prospective and often from the other person’s side, see if anything helps you make more sense of your own feelings.  I am the queen of analyzing my feelings to figure out why I feel a certain way, but what I have to work on is when I figure out my feelings on a matter are correct that I shouldn’t degrade myself for having them, but accepting and owning them.

4. My body isn’t what I would like it to be, but I’m okay with it.  I will work on it and own when I am being lazy about it.  I’m also getting older and while it used to be about my looks and what others thought, I am now more worried with my health and experiencing as much of this life as I can.

5. I will make mistakes, lots of them. It’s what I do with them that counts.  So here’s to a better tomorrow enlightenment, and wisdom.

6. I do not like how disconnected I am from others and from my family.  I will be making attempts to really work on that.  It is one of my least favorite traits at this point in my life.  Me in the mirror is shaking her finger.

7.  I don’t know me well.  I mean this in the sense that, while playing wife for 24 years, and mother for the past 18, I’ve lost touch with things I love.  I am finding, with this blog, that I love writing.  So here I am, exploring this part of me.  There are many wonderful things in life that I’ve never tried, been afraid to do, or just didn’t have time or money to do them.  It’s time for me to adventure and experience.  No more mom/wife in a box.  There is a big world out there and I want to find things I love.  Huge room for improvement in self discovery.

8. In relation to #7.  I define me.  Not marriage, not motherhood, not a man or a stereotype, or a drink in my hand.  Not a job, not my family, not my lifestyle, but me.  All those things are a part of me, but they aren’t what defines me. I’m not the abuse, I’m not the neglect, I’m not the childhood abuse, but let me tell you they sure as heck have developed me into the human being that I am and I’m proud of that.

9.  I’m a good mom, bordering on great.  I have lot’s to be proud of in this realm.  I love that part of me and am thankful despite the decisions I made that I still pulled that off and that being a good mom was ALWAYS my priority.  Maybe I wasn’t perfect, but I feel I have a right to be proud.

10. I love me even with all my flaws, and I intend to work daily to make me the best person I can be (steps forward, shakes proverbial hands with mirror image and smiles).

Looking in the mirror is essential in life.  It’s required in order to grown and learn. Of course you could be one of those people who just doesn’t care to improve and think that you are perfect, but I imagine you end up lonely that way.

Don’t be afraid to face you.  Be easy on yourself and don’t let what others say about you define your image of yourself.  You are what defines you and your self image.  If someone in your life is painting over your self image, roust that strength, wash away their images and stand strong for who you are.  Love yourself and who you are, accept all parts of your past, good and bad as building blocks of your character and who you will become.  Even horrible things in life teach you things, to be strong, to be cautious, to be smart, or maybe to be forgiving. They are all important lessons.

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