With a green thumb and teary eyes: on cultivating self-worth
November 26, 2017
I cried in my car yesterday because gardening is hard. Well, sort of. I wasn’t actually crying about gardening – at least, not real gardening. It's too cold in late November to do yard work. It's not, however, too cold to do that soul work.
As a kid, I looked forward to spring yard work more that your average eight-year-old. If you asked me, mulch delivery day was a holiday of its own rivaled only by Christmas morning and my birthday (because carrot cake). My mom, like any sane parent would, took full advantage of this quirk whenever she could. I remember the first time she had me help her transfer bulbs from their indoor winter pots to the garden. I remember watching her insert the trowel near the edge of the pot, breaking the soil apart gently with care not to splice the plant’s thin roots. It felt like watching an open-heart surgery as she delicately removed the plant from the dirt as if she was lifting a still-beating heart from it’s cavity. She showed me how to loosen the root ball, removing unnecessary clumps of dirt and freeing the tangled, smashed tubers so they could start to grow outward once again.
Transplanting flowers is a delicate task. If you dig up the roots too aggressively, you could separate them from the plant and ruin your chances at regrowth. This is a fancy way of saying you could kill the plant. There are thousands of gardening articles offering tips on how to properly move a plant with details on how to ready the plant in the days prior being moved and what are the best conditions for successful regrowth.
This process is so delicate and detailed because of roots. You probably don’t need to me explain how important roots are to anything that has them. Roots, as you likely know, grow stronger as they grow deeper, thus gardening can be hard ...and so can re-rooting our beliefs as people.
Many of us mistakenly root our worthiness in the things that we do. We root our beliefs on who we are, what we value, and our ultimate worthiness of existing in action and in earning. We let our skills, work, contributions, and achievements define what we deserve. We can get by with this system of feigned-worthiness for a while. Some folks might be able operate like this longer than others. It’s like the bulbs in their pots: it’s fine for winter. The pot is fine for the months when the bulbs are still young and small but, eventually, their roots reach the bottom of the pot and, if they’re not moved, being to tangle and smash.
When your action of earning worthiness changes or starts to break down, the entire system collapses. When you fail at something, when you can no longer do the thing that once made you feel worthy, or when you are met with competition that challenges your once unparalleled talent, your sense of self starts to tangle and smash. When we become disconnected or barred from the thing that we felt won us approval, acknowledgment, and love, we become disconnected from the belief that we deserve those things.
My roots of worthiness had grown deep and strong in a pot that did not fit me. Through the process of embracing my mental health and recovering from 11+ years of living with an eating disorder, it’s become clear that my self-worth was wrongly rooted in action. I thought I could earn respect by doing. I tried to feel whole by feeling accomplished and needed. This is a popular mindset for folks who struggle with ED; that somehow we can earn our worthiness through our disorder. We're tricked into feeling like starving, controlling, bingeing, working out, etc., is an action that makes us more deserving and worthy. It, at the time and for fleeting moments, makes us feel "strong-willed" and resolute. It gives us a sense of accomplishment and self-satisfaction. As I started to become aware of where I had been looking for worthiness, I saw that same pattern emerge beyond my eating disorder as well. I saw it in old relationships, friendships, schoolwork, hobbies and more. I had built my life around my quest for worthiness. Spoiler alert: I still hadn't found it.
So I had to re-root. Just like with the bulbs, it took time and delicate action to loosen the soil of my previous beliefs, pull away from them, and then re-grow my sense of belonging within myself. It's a process. My worthiness is no longer rooted in those external pots but it’s still new to its home. It's still working on growing those roots intrinsically.
I had a week full of circumstances that shook those growing roots. The holidays are always hard because, as someone who is so action and accomplishment oriented, rest is not a familiar feeling. For years I equated rest with lazinessand whileI frequently challeng myself to enjoy rest these days, it can still take work. This week was especially challenging as I also had to face some personal limitations; an old injury flared up and forced me to drop out of our family-tradition of running the "Turkey Trot" 10K on Thanksgiving. Additionally there were a number of work instances that had me on edge and the usual food stress brought on by holidays and social gatherings.
One small challenge + another small challenge + another small challenge + another small challenge = a whole lot of small challenges that required a whole lot of energy by the time they had all been dealt with.
As I sat in my car thinking about the ways my worthiness had been questioned throughout the week, I was overwhelmed by the urge to take a run or cancel my evening plans and bury myself in "busyness" – because that’s how I used to affirm myself. And then I said no, because I don't to work to feel worthy.
Re-rooting your sense of worth takes time and effort. After years of believing that you can do or accomplish your way to worth, sometimes it’s easier to feel unworthy than to just sit still. Enter: crying in the car. My energy felt spent, I was annoyed with all these circumstances shaking my new roots, and I felt sadness that I ever had to re-root my worth to start with.
…so I let myself cry and then I took a walk and I repeated the following mantra:
“You are worthy. You are intelligent. You are kind. You are creative. You'll be okay. “
Because that’s the thing about transplanting a plant: it’s a delicate task …and so is transplanting your sense of worthiness. Even after you’ve placed the roots in the ground, you’ve got water the plant, protect it from the elements, and keep those bold suburban deer from eating it. It’s tiring work – and you might cry in your car from time to time – but at the end of the day, when your mantra has finally taken hold and grown deeper, stronger roots, you get to sit on your back porch and admire your hard worthiness work with a beer in hand.