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I like your sweater. No, I mean it. I really like your sweater.

I know it's going to be very hard for you to believe, but I wasn't always this tall glass of sunshine you see before you today. (It's sarcasm, Mom. Don't feel compelled to point out the obvious.)

I wasn't a cute kid, or a beautiful child. I wasn't ever pageant worthy and I certainly wasn't being asked out on dates.

Like most kids, I thrived on compliments. If someone couldn't muster up the you are just about the most precious little girl I have ever seen nicety, what could they possibly say about me?

I found humor.

I figured out pretty quick how to get a group laughing so hard their ribs hurt, wiping away tears while falling off their chairs. I also learned that it's an act: disengage and go for broke. Before you know it, you'll be known as the funniest person I ever met! And to me, that was just about the best compliment anyone could ever give me.

The problem with being funny is that everyone assumes you're always happy.

Look, I was pregnant at a young age. The father was uninvolved to say the least. I felt very alone and I was very broke. Then I married someone I had only known for a handful of months and that ended disastrously at best. And then I found out I was pregnant. Again.

I had boyfriends who promised to be over with pizza but get sidetracked at the gas station meeting the love of their life. I met a wonderful guy who I thought was madly in love with me, only to tell me the formal event we were scheduled to attend two days later - he would be taking another girl. One he met at the flower shop where he stopped to get me flowers. It is important to note that both Pizza Guy and Flower Guy had the same name. And, yes, I immaturely judge all men as douchecanoes who share this name.

Needless to say, while my ill choices in men provided excellent comedic fodder for others, it left me feeling like shit the majority of my adult life.

Couple that with crappy jobs, lack of income, crappy so-called friends, and one particular holiday season which left me praying to God that I had been switched at birth and soon my rich biological family who lived in a mansion along the East Coast would save me. This was long before I learned earthquakes along the East Coast were possible. My daydream has since morphed into a wealthy long-lost great aunt who just happens leaves me a ton of money.

Needless to say, there was a time I didn't feel happy. I didn't feel like my life was fun. I didn't feel like I was enjoying anything. I didn't feel like I had anything to be proud of.

I was depressed. I was lost and sad but mostly angry. I was pissed off that my life sucked. And it sucked bad.

So, I sought out an innocent counselor and unleashed my burdens on her: I don't want to feel this way!  I screamed. I had visions of her ripping a crisp, white square of paper off her prescription pad and a cool drink of water while swallowing the pills. Help was on the way!

Except she didn't prescribe anything.

Instead she gave me a task:

Each day I want you to write down all the compliments you were given. No one ever compliments me. I work two crappy jobs then come home and take care of two kids who have no idea who I am.

And each day I want you to give three genuine compliments to people and write those down. Who  the hell am I going to compliment? The chick that walks into the liquor store when I'm working? Super cute ID pic, lush.

And then I want you to write down three things you are grateful for. Well, I can breathe on my own, does that count?

This woman was off her freaking rocker. I couldn't pay my heat bill. The only guys interested in me were jokes. I could have/should have gone to that audition at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in Manhattan; instead I was employed as a Data Entry Clerk at some podunk factory and working at a discount liquor store on the side. How would telling someone I liked their sweater make a change in my life?

The first night with my journal I sat and stared at it with nothing to write. Here I was, the self proclaimed writer, with not one word to put to paper.

I started with the easiest:

Three compliments I gave today:
  • I told my daughter she was smart.
  • I told Joyce I was glad I worked with her.
  • I told the guy who works in the IT Department he did a good job handling all my computer problems because my crappy computer was acting up again. Like always.

It was a start (albeit a half-hearted one).

Now I needed to remember if anyone complimented me today. I was pretty sure they hadn't. I didn't do much right in my life - that was kind of obvious by the divroced with two kids from two different fathers thing. And the fact that my water was about to be shut off. Again.

This manager from another department came by to watch me type. He said I was the fastest person he's ever seen... and heard. Because I guess I hit the keys super loud or something.

Hey, that was something wasn't it? I could enter that data in my sleep. I didn't even need to think about what I had to type. My eyes saw it on the paper and my fingers just went where they needed to... completely skipping the brain processing part. I was pretty dang good at that.

Three things I'm grateful for:
  • my health
  • my children's health
  • at least I have a car even if it does look like something an old lady would drive.
 Okay, I would obviously have to work at this a bit.

The point was, I did keep track. Every day. Before I knew it I'd hear someone say something and think that's a compliment! I get to write that down! I was shocked at the number of times people were nice to me in any given day.

And I found I liked giving compliments, too. I figured you never knew who was putting on a strong, happy exterior while inside they felt their world crumbling. Maybe they also had an assignment where they needed to write down compliments they received throughout the day. I wanted to make sure they heard mine.

Soon I was looking for people to compliment: the cashier at the grocery store, my daughter's teacher, a co-worker, the lady walking out to her car - I really did like her sweater!

And with this simple exercise came the most dramatic change of all: my perception of my life.

The thing is, nothing changed. I was still the girl with two kids from two different fathers, working two dead end jobs and not making enough money to keep my heat on. Or my water. Or my electric. But I could now see all the other things in my life; the things that made my life worth living.

I found there was so much to be grateful for. The beauty that surrounded me... a flower growing up in the crack of an old crumbling foundation. Bright suns and soft moonlight. The full, rich sound of a cello. Choco-tacos. Live music played in a coffee shop. Baseball. Special Olympics. Movie theaters and their popcorn.

But mostly, I found that I'm incredibly grateful for the power of words; they way they inspire, and lift and make others laugh. Without a doubt, I am most grateful for words.


Becca said…
You are SO talented. And I mean that. I hope you get to write a book someday because I know I'll enjoy it. You do both funny and serious so well and I always look forward to your posts! And I mean that!
Phoenix Rising said…
Thank you, Becca! See... I like these words from you a LOT! And when I write I'll write from that lighthouse from your post.... because that would seem just about perfect.
Johi said…
I needed this post. It is like I got free counseling! I LOVE free stuff.

Oh, you and I really need to meet in person and talk over drinks sometime. I think we would have a lot to discuss. Like the fact that
I actually really seriously think that we should co-write a book.... Are your wheels spinning yet?
Allie said…
Beautiful. Where do I pre-order the book?
Rebecca said…
LOVE this!

As I was cleaning out my ancient emails today, I noticed that some of the things that I sent people were so, "Woe is me" and I felt the need to go back and apologize for being so dang negative. Our lives haven't changed much since those were written, but I look at things differently now.

Well, except for the work stuff.

But at least I have one main place where I can vent and try to look at it with humor. Blogs help too. :)
Tina, said…
The couch in your office could be more comfortable, oh wait, this is my office chair!

My Doucecanoe boyfriends always ended up sleeping with my Whore girlfriends. it happened I four times different guys and different friends.

No wonder I like my blog friends better than my in person friends. Thanks for the free counseling.

wv: shotdous
Ellen said…
Ah ha....did you know that you gave me free therapy? So now if I can apply your words to my life and realize how amazing it is instead of beating it up from time to time and just be at peace...

I love reading your glad I found it and you!!
HeatherB said…
I stopped commenting because I didn't want to seem like I was stalking you (because I totally am) but also because I didn't want to freak you out by gushing over how completely talented and awesome that you are.

Now you say that you need me. Ah, to be needed by someone who is not 3 and that I don't have to wipe. It feels good.

Seriously, I am buying a journal today to do exactly this. I need to focus on the good words, the bad ones are starting to beat me down.
Ready for some compliments?
1) You are the reason that all the old classmates have re-connected. And we're all pretty energized about it.
2) You looked GREAT at the reunion. Busy-working-mother-of-three? No WAY!
3)You are super hilarious, thoughtful, observant and are generous enough to share all of that with us, your humble readers.
4) You made it. You made it through horrible relationships with two kids and no money. But you not only thrived. You are raising great kids (there are 3 now...and the last one is pretty darn cute, too). They will learn the value of hard work, perserverance and humor from you. Their hot mom.
5) You are pretty darn creative with the food you find in your pantry/fridge. Or so it seems from your recipes/pictures.
6) You can talk about sex and body stuff on your blog...for all to read...including your parents. I'm am in awe.

Those are just a few. Believe them.
missdaniway said…
I can not tell you how amazing it was to read this. Thanks so much for sharing. You are seriously funny, super talented and inspiring.

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