How I Found My Worth in Spite of My Father’s Abandonment

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“Because if I myself saw my worth, I wouldn’t base my worthiness on someone else’s seeing it.” ~Unknown

I can’t be sure which title I would have preferred. Daddy, Poppa, Pa, Dad. Aren’t these the endearing titles one earns when they live up to all that it means in the role of the first and most important man in a little girl’s life?

The one who she can count on for love, guidance, comfort, and safety. The one who she adores. The one who teaches her how to play soccer or baseball because she is a tomboy through and through. The one who allows her to put makeup on his face or to have tea parties with him at a table entirely too small for his stature. The one who tells her the best bedtime stories that leave her feeling safe from the boogeyman living under her bed.

The one who sets the standard when she finds the love of her life.

From all that I have heard, they are the ones who are something special and to be treasured.

Mine, on the other hand, not so much. Let us then call him the sperm donor. Fitting since it’s the only role he’s played in my life. When one walks out on his wife and two little girls, the older, age three and the younger, age one (that’s me), offering no support, financial, emotional, or otherwise, he’s earned that title.

Bless your black little heart.

Maybe this all makes me sound harsh or bitter. That’s because I was, for a really long time.

And with that came all the issues: abandonment, people-pleasing, anxiety, lack of confidence and self-esteem. Choosing partners who didn’t respect me because I didn’t respect myself. Drinking and feeling regret over things I may have said or done that could have hurt other people. Always second-guessing myself and my choices because I didn’t trust myself to make my own decisions.

I became my own worst enemy, consistently and constantly beating myself up for anything and everything, and I filled my head with toxic thoughts about my worth that I believed were truths. Truths I lacked any ability to refute.

I needed constant validation and approval, and a steady stream of input from others dictating my life. I did not know who the heck I was or how to be true to myself. I spent many years trying to make sense of it all, and the more I tried, the more I suffered.

I hated the fact that I grew up without a father. I hated everything about it. And for so long, I let it define who I was.

Fast-forward to the second half of my life. After a series of difficult events, including a devastating breakup around my fiftieth birthday and the more recent unexpected death of my mother, the only parent I had ever known (with whom I shared a tumultuous, roller coaster relationship), I became sick of myself and who I had allowed myself to become.

How could I expect my own kids to grow into confident, kind, respectful adults if I was not setting the example? “Get it together, Charlene. Do it for them, and once and for all, do it for yourself!”

That was the pivotal time in my life that triggered the light switch for me. It was as if I was given a second chance and an opportunity to gain the clarity I needed to become exactly who I wanted to be as a person and as a mom.

I knew three things: it would take work, it would not happen overnight, and it would not feel good. It didn’t matter. I had made up my mind. I knew, first and foremost, I needed to find a way to forgive myself—for allowing my past to define my life, for my holding so much resentment toward my mother, and my own struggles as a mother after my divorce.

I spent time initially with my three amigos. Me, myself, and I. We got to know each other very well before shortly meeting up with my baggage. We all sat together most days in our group therapy sessions, and we went back. Way back. We rehashed our lives and all the unpleasant and unflattering times. We sat often, in silence and in our stench. We did this for as long as it took until we could look in the mirror and see the person we could love and be proud of. 

It was not pleasant. It was not easy. And it was most definitely not fun. But it was worth it.

We, the four amigos (baggage included), were worth it.

I slowly allowed myself some grace and became kinder and gentler to myself.

Each day, I drove the short distance home from work on my lunch hour, hopping on my bike and looking for something, anything, to be grateful for… a bird or a butterfly in flight, the sunlight glistening on the water, a stone on the pavement in the shape of a heart, the sound of children laughing in the playground.

I flooded my email inbox and social media feeds with daily happiness reminders (Tiny Buddha being one of them), and I devoured anything resembling positivity. I committed myself to healing my broken heart and rewiring my broken brain. Rather than focusing on my flaws and perceived imperfections, I uncovered everything wonderful and unique about myself—my courage, my passion, my honesty, my empathy, and my own role as a mother.

I took my days minute by minute and inched my way forward.

Baby steps.

I will turn fifty-nine this year. Far closer to sixty than I am to fifty, back when the “you know what” started hitting the fan for me. When I think back to what my life looked like back then and all the worries and fears I had about what direction I was heading, I feel a sense of sadness.

Time is this funny thing when you are in the second half of the game (of life). While I don’t dwell too much on regrets, my age, or how much time I have left, I would be lying if I said I have not thought about the time I wasted anguishing over my bruised ego and the hell I put myself through for so long.

It is time I cannot get back.

But today, I can say that I am proud of myself, and I give myself some credit…

For overcoming my feelings of inadequacy and not being enough.

For realizing that I am not lesser because of my flaws and imperfections, or because I grew up fatherless, in a trailer park, and do not have a four-year college degree.

For having the courage and strength to walk my own path, even when the steps were terrifying and uncertain.

Today, I am good.

Good as in I can wake up and look in the mirror and like who I see. I could use a few less lines on my face, but I continue to learn how to embrace the whole package that is me. I can beat myself up and throw a good pity party once in a while, but I usually catch myself in the process.

Sometimes it takes a few minutes, sometimes a day or two. Just depends.

Either way, I have to sit the little girl inside me down and give her a reminder… to relax her shoulders, close her eyes, take a few deep breaths, and remember who the hell she is and just how far she has come.

Today, I am still under construction, and I have been single and on my own for eight years. I was broken for a very long time, and I knew I needed to work on my inability to love and respect myself and rebuild the shattered parts of myself before I could entertain a relationship again. But I believe there are no mistakes. I think the stars aligned exactly as they needed to for me.

If you can relate to any part of my story, I hope you find the strength and courage to dig deep and recognize where your lack of self-worth originated and discover all that is so wonderful and valuable about you.

Regardless of your circumstances or how anyone might have treated you in the past, you are worthy of your own love, just as I am.

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