Remember how your grandmother had an everyday set of dishes and a “Good” or Special-Occasion-Only set of dishes? Yep, me too. Grandma’s everyday dishes were the Corelle Crazy Daisy design, avocado green flowers on white glass. Her good china with the wheat design was only brought out on special occasions – when the out-of-town relatives visited, Thanksgiving, Christmas.
Most of the time her good dishes sat revered from afar and untouched in the china cabinet, gathering dust. (Or perhaps not even seeing that much action! Grandma wages a lifelong battle-to-the-death on her arch nemesis, dust.)
Then what happens? Well, if you live in a rural community the pattern goes something like this. The owner of the untouchable good dishes goes from the nursing home to the grave. A few weeks later, their cherished dishes end up on a splintery sawhorse table, are roughly fondled by strangers and are sold under the auctioneer’s gavel for about $5. Their new owner throws ’em in the dishwasher, scrubs ’em with a Brillo® pad and uses them for, you guessed it, their everyday dishes. The soup bowls are used for the dog’s water and kibble (aka “nasty dry crap”).
Shhh, can you hear it? That’s the previous owner turning in their grave!
So why am I blethering on and on about dishes? Because the same goes for life.
We save life for someday. For the “elf” version of ourselves. The “us” that deserves to use our metaphorical “Good Dishes.” We put off and put off our dream of fishing for salmon in Alaska or strolling down the Avenue des Champs-Élysées in Paris. We don’t feel beautiful enough to take that ballroom dancing class. Or talented enough to take that harp lesson or learn plein air painting or take up throwing pottery on a wheel.
To survive narcissistic abuse is possible. To live-live-live and thrive during narcissistic abuse…not so much. It’s hard to break out of that sterile, lifeless pattern and pursue life with levenskunst (Dutch: “the art of living”), dolce far niente (Italian: “the sweetness of doing nothing) and joie de vivre (French: “joy of life”), even after shaking our narcissists’ shackles. That’s why Narcissism Meets Normalcy has slowly shifted its focus over the past two plus years.
The first two years were a bouillabaisse of anger, pain, confusion and trying to reverse engineer and untangle The Truth from the tangled skein of The Narcissists’ Official Story, which I just couldn’t buy anymore.
Now I’m focused on learning how to live, really live, and you are welcome to ride along with me. (But I warn you, I will be playing Convoy at full blast! “Was the dark of the moon on the sixth of June / In a Kenworth pullin’ logs…”)
In my healing journey, I noticed one weird thing: Even after identifying what I enjoy and want to do, I caught myself putting it off for someday. For the “perfect Lenora” who lives up to my demanding expectations and deserves to enjoy this hobby or that activity. I call her the “elf” version of myself.
It was my mother who first stumbled across that phrase in one of her beloved decluttering, dejunking books. The “elf” version of yourself is the person you always dreamed of being. The one who’s confident, calm and has all their ducks in a row. The one who deserves to use your good dishes.
But at some point we all discover the sad truth: we will never fulfill our dreams of who we want to be. Maybe you, like me, wanted to be a, tall, thin, blonde, popular, scintillating extrovert. Well, narcissistic abuse changed all that. We may never become the “elf” version of ourselves. Maybe abuse stole it from us. Perhaps it was never on our genetic cards.
Just because we may never become our ideal, doesn’t mean we can’t “use our good dishes,” in every sense of the term.
So what is it you’ve always wanted to do? What’s your dream? Maybe the abuse is so fresh, you don’t even know what your dreams are…yet. So what were they in your childhood? What did you enjoy as a kid?
I’ve noticed that people tend to enjoy the same things in adulthood as they enjoyed in childhood. Like the scene in The King’s Speech where King George VI sits down and begins gluing together a model aeroplane, a hobby he enjoyed (and was forbidden from pursuing) in childhood. He might’ve been a king but he still enjoyed model planes just as much as he did in his childhood.
In my own quest after joy and peace, I find myself remembering hopes, dreams, beloved books and interests from my girlhood. There were three, entwined themes: nature, beauty and serenity. The first two are pretty normal for a little girl; the last one betrays trauma.
Like C. S. Lewis, I loved anthropomorphized animals and fairytale creatures like elves and gnomes. How fervently I pretended to believe that elves and fairies lived in the weeping willow tree. Sixth grade I spent pretending to live in Narnia amongst the good robins, beavers, Fauns and other talking animals. And Aslan. It’s easy to pretend you live in Narnia in Minnesota. For six months each year, it’s “always Winter but never Christmas.”
Like Sarah Crewe in The Little Princess, I wanted a hideaway in the attic. Like Rat and Mole in The Wind in the Willows, I wanted to take tea with Badger in his cozy, firelit underground lair. Like Bilbo Baggins, I wanted to snooze before the fire behind a round green front door, confident that my larder was well-stocked. I wanted to disappear into the beautiful illustrations of elves, fairies, gnomes, talking animals and country life by Tasha Tudor and Cecily Mary Barker (see illustration above.)
Five years after moving to The Country, I suddenly realize that those dreams have come true. Dreams do, you know, they do come true…if you work at it. Like Vera-Ellen said in White Christmas, “Fate needs a little push.” You have to work at live-live-living. Then step back and say, “By George! This is lovely. I’ve got to practice some mindfulness here or I won’t enjoy this dream life I’ve made for myself.”
Nature and beauty are all around our little white cottage. My resin garden gnomes, Sleepy, Dopey and Lochinvar, hide and snooze under the tomato plants. Ruby-throated hummingbirds fight and do sentry duty over their red-and-yellow feeder the ants love so much. Squirrels sit in the birdfeeder bowl stuffing themselves with seeds to the gills and chipmunks do the splits in the bowery tree to reach the orioles’ orange and grapefruit slices. Yes, it’s all backwards and higgledy-piggledy! But like the inscription on the Saint Francis of Assisi birdfeeder in Rabbit Hill that Michael bought me for my last birthday: “There is enough for all.”
It took almost five years of concentrated focus and work on recovering, but I’m finally starting to live after three decades of narcissistic abuse. I’m not saving my Good Dishes for the “elf” version of myself anymore. The same goes for you! Not to be morbid, but “someday never comes.” Our number may be up at any moment and like Thoreau wrote, “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”
We “had not lived” under narcissistic abuse. It’s time to live-live-live!
Me — I don’t have a good set of dishes. Don’t believe in it, on principle.
Well, a few years ago I found a lovely set of floral dishes at a secondhand store. “Oh, those are pretty!” I exclaimed.
Knowing my dishes (and glasses and silverware) are a ragtag band of mismatched floral designs, my husband very kindly said, “Yes, you can have the set.”
As he tells the story, I turned to him with a facial expression of absolute horror.
“I don’t want the set!!” I exclaimed. “I want one plate!” We laugh about it to this day. And our dishes are still eclectic. I buy deceased people’s treasured, rarely used “good dishes” one bone china plate at a time from thrift stores for 50¢ a pop and probably enjoy them much more than the original owners ever did.
So stop saving life for the “elf” version of yourself. Stop saving life for tomorrow.
Tomorrow, like elves, never comes.
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