When I first spot it, I’m stretched out across the multicolored tiles of the playroom floor assembling a puzzle with my older son. From this vantage point, it’s very clear what I’m seeing: a huge filmy patch on the otherwise clean floor directly underneath the nearest dining room chair. I have self-diagnosed Cleaning A.D.D.—I often neglect huge swaths of floor when mopping or vacuuming—and it’s not surprising that I missed it with the mop. But my kids and I spend most of the day in the adjacent playroom, so what is surprising is how I managed not to see it before now.
I stand up to investigate. At this angle, it’s virtually unnoticeable, inconspicuously blended into the hardwood. I feel better. My eyesight isn’t going; it’s just impossible to see from this particular viewpoint. When I rejoin my son in the playroom, I realize there are literally dozens of crumbs littering the floor that I didn’t notice until now. The surface that I considered nearly spotless moments before now seems filthy.
Apparently, the vantage point makes all the difference.
For most of my life, I was terrified of people looking at me too closely. I had so many secrets, so many flaws to cover up, and I lived in constant fear of being found out. From my unhappiness to my paralyzing self-doubt to my uneven skin tone, I desperately needed to ensure that everything about me was adequately concealed—au naturale was not the look for someone as flawed and broken as me.
As it turns out, keeping up appearances is difficult, exhausting work. Juggling lies, saving face, repeating the “I’m fine” mantra when I was everything but—it was a full time job. In my attempts to fly under the radar, my relationships suffered, my motivation withered; even my health took a turn for the worst. The act of assuring everyone around me that I was fine used up every iota of my energy until I had literally nothing left to give.
Simply writing about it now is draining; it’s astounding to me how I lived that way for so many years. But I suppose if you do anything for long enough it becomes your new normal, even when it’s the furthest thing from it.
After years of studiously maintaining my poker face, I finally had no choice but to crack. Things started to fall apart in a way I could no longer conceal and, rather than ante up, I decided to simply fold. I was mentally, physically, and emotionally wrung out and it was time to put my energy toward fixing the problems rather than masking the symptoms.
This revelation kicked off several years’ worth of proverbial spring cleaning. With nothing overlooked, I dragged it all out into the harsh light where I was forced to stare every dust mote and unsightly spot right in the face and acknowledge each for what they were. This time, I didn’t half-ass it; I dove into couch cushions, beat the hell out of the throw rugs, stood on my tiptoes and dusted every windowsill. Self-hatred, addictive behaviors, body hang-ups, marriage, friendships, faith—I left no stone unturned. One by one, I moved through the laundry list of issues that were keeping me from being truly happy and confronted them head-on. There was no fail-safe in place and I didn’t leave myself the option of saving it for another day; it was now or, as I truly feared, never.
When I compare it to a tough bout of spring cleaning, it sounds so simple. There’s something therapeutic in systemically ticking the items off a list:
Scrub toilets Dust radiators Vacuum carpets Mop floors
But what about when the chores on the list are huge and unwieldy? Rebuild trust. Develop confidence. Repair friendships. Forgive old hurts.
Dragging those things out into the light was just as painful and uncomfortable as it sounds. So many times I wanted to give up and take the path of least resistance. Wouldn’t it be more pleasant to pretend like a relationship was running smoothly rather than tackle the real problems at the root of it? Wouldn’t it be easier to just fake self confidence rather than force myself to really feel it?
The answer to both of those questions is an unequivocal yes; there’s no disputing that. But, for once, easier and more pleasant wasn’t my end goal. I wanted happiness. Complete, utter happiness that looked exactly as good up close as it did from far away. It wasn’t enough to settle for an illusion–I had to have the real thing.
After years of cleaning out cobwebs and scouring the darkest parts of my life, I have finally found the happiness I was working towards. It is every bit as worthwhile as I hoped it would be. Now when I see someone who appears genuinely at peace with themselves, I don’t automatically assume it came easily. Rather, I discreetly tip my hat to them, knowing that they’ve probably put in just as much work as I have.
So go ahead, come in close. Throw open the curtains, look under the rugs, swipe your finger over the floorboards. I’m not perfect—you’ll still find a patch of dirt here, some stray crumbs there—but it’s all out in the open now. This is me and I’m not hiding anymore.