29 September 2010

Vanitas Vanitatum... Oh Vanity of Vanities...

I don't quite recall the context I first heard this phrase... I'm pretty sure it wasn't referring to the context it conjures up for me but I did manage to obliterate quite a few good brain cells whilst misusing myself, so can't quite recall. I do firmly believe that addiction is a misuse of self (we often describe it as a misuse of a substance/thing but surely our authentic selves weren't meant to be so badly treated?). My own precious cargo - my self - was mishandled. When they broke the proverbial mold, I reckon someone forgot to add the sticker... "Fragile... This Way Up... Handle With Care".. Certainly, I didn't realise it was there. Instead, I got a bit broken in places and arrived downside-up, I guess.... It's taken me years to try to 'right' myself (after capsize) to upside-down, my natural and authentic state of being.

And so to...Vanity is a rather strange thing which occurs in recovery. I'm using this word not in the sense of 'excessive pride in one's appearance' but merely as pride in one's appearance... and I'm using appearance to include external behaviours exhibited to others. I sometimes have a wry smile to myself when I revisit those paranoid thoughts about my hair not looking good, carrying too much weight, my clothes not being right... the 'What will they think of me?' thoughts... and then I remember... those less than halcien days (and nights) where staggering, unruly behaviour, and a general dishevellment prevailed... a distinct lack of pride in one's own appearance... a distinct lack of care... anger at the world... In fact, more a 'Who cares...!!' (how I look/what they think etc etc) with an appropriate gesture to match, no doubt. But.. what happened? Something switched in my head. Of course, this 'Who cares!' attitude revisits from time-to-time, even in sobriety, and some might argue it's healthy... but I know it's defensive. And when I'm defensive and judging others, I'm scared... simple as that...and I need to do some work. The answer eventually comes... 'I care!'

So... what price vanity? The feminist in me argues that I'm buying into the beauty propaganda (the Beauty Myth, as Naomi Wolf describes it). But the other part of me chooses to live in this society and adhere to some of its cultural norms and I buy into vanity. They reach a compromise - eyebrows plucked, hair dyed and, as I once inadvertently told a pathologist... "I'll be dyeing until I'm dead!" - and body modification is a work in progress, getting tangled up (as I frequently do) on the need to 'lose weight and shape up' treadmill... I tango on. But no FM shoes here, thanks.

Vanity... it damns me if I do... it damns me if I don't. I prefer to regard it as a benchmark... a sliding scale towards that downside-up way of being... If I don't tend to the basics of self-care... bathing, teeth, eyebrows, hair and checking-in with my mood, affirmations, gratitude etc... I know that I could so easily be transported forward to a time when it wouldn't matter to me how I looked on the outside, as private becomes public and the consequences of those crazy thoughts are on full view to all who care to glance pitifully or disdainfully in my general direction. And so, for me, vanity takes on a new meaning in recovery - but when it becomes obsessive, we're moving into narcissistic territory. I've never been 'in love' with my reflection, although it has become a rather good friend... at last.

A wry smile appears again with the self-knowledge that my version of vanity is based on 'as good as it gets'. I recall a hairdresser once taking pity on me when I told him I was inept at using hair technology... I received a phone call some time after the appointment, inviting me to a training session on 'straiteners for beginners'. It's a shame I was unable to attend. My life could have turned out so differently... but I seem to recall I was pretty busy that day... washing my hair. Ho-hum.

1 comment:

Dee said...

Jane, i think i know what you mean. To me this means valueing ONESELF enough to do what is necessary (and this varies from person to person) to affirm this view. Really like the metaphors you have used..and i hope to fully believe soon, that i am my own precious cargo and should treat myself as such. Our 'physicality' exists and we should honour it, as it is all part of the whole.x.