What we Owe Ourselves

What do we owe each other? More than we usually give; see the chasms everywhere, the violent individualism.

Individualism demands we rely on ourselves, each an island. Be special, be strong, be capable. Need is a failure of individualism. Failures of individualism are gifted contempt.

Since we are called to be self-reliant, are we given tools to meet our own needs? Deeper than lavender candles, bubble baths, yoga and massages? Do we know how to see ourselves? Or only the gap between ourselves and how the world wants us? Are we taught to tend a circle around ourselves, define and assert where we and others may not overrun? Everyone loves a border, until they want to cross. Are we allowed? We are, but, are we?

I’m the child of an alcoholic, the eldest of three. Independence is safety, self-sacrifice is love. Untangling that is a full life’s work.

As I untangle, threads of imperfect questions: Want, or need? Selfish, or necessary? Reasonable, or dramatic? Mine, or others’? Over and over, How? Ultimately, What do I owe myself?

Sometimes, there is no avoiding hurt, and we can only try to mitigate. I owe myself consideration. But oh, it is so much easier to hurt myself to mitigate the hurt of others.

This is not clean: sometimes, we should—must—hurt to mitigate the hurt of others. Privilege, the discomfort of its end. But I know what I owe others, inside a lifetime of that relentless education. What do I owe myself?

I am drawing circles so I can give myself without losing myself. I owe myself protection. I am bad at making them round, at keeping lines unbroken, at speaking in italics. Untangling is a practice. Self is an untangling. I am trying to black my ledger, so long and so bright red. It is messy. I owe myself grace. It is tangled. I owe myself patience. It catches others in its threads. I owe myself forgiveness. Kindness. Tenderness. Love.

I owe us both the truth of my circles. I am teaching you how to love me. I owe myself those lessons.

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