A few days ago, while listening to an episode of my (currently) favourite podcast ‘The Bestseller Experiment’ in which the hosts interviewed Lucy Vine, the author of Hot Mess, a book about ‘someone who is attractive, but often in a state of disarray, repeatedly finding themselves in uncomfortable predicaments’, I felt sick to my stomach.
This was me a few years ago. Why do I have this reaction? Because this is still me.
Last week I had a monumental argument with my husband about money. We mostly argue about money when we argue. He spends his on us, I spend mine on myself. He saves, I spend everything. He works hard, I am moving through life in a slug-like manner, trying not to make waves, making myself invisible, accepting but not giving back, hoping / knowing / not realising it might all go away and I’ll wake up one day having only myself to worry about and nobody to account to or for. Just like before. Just like before and during The Love Project when, even though I wanted what I have now, I keep referencing as the golden age, as a period in my life I would like to (at least temporarily) go back to. It’s not just because of the fact that we idealise the past, but because back then everything was easier. I didn’t have to face my money issue. For a long time I didn’t face my love issues either. Back then I thought it would all solve itself out once I’d find a man, little knowing that, having a man who loves you in your life, usually brings the mess up to the surface, so it can’t be ignored anymore. I keep going back to the past because I had nobody to be accountable to. I was free to mess up. I was free to waste my time. I was free to get drunk and have sex with the wrong men. I was free to waste my life away.
Normally when we fight, I respond back. I find excuses. I spent such and such amount on the wedding. I saved such and such amount for taxes. I spent such and such amount on whatnot trip to France. I spent the same and more, he said, and yet I have also saved money we now need to spend on our dream to move to France, he said. Your dream, I thought, but didn’t say it. I need to know I can count on you, he said, for the future, you know. I can’t move into the future with someone who spends all their money. I cried, not knowing what to say. Grow up, he said.
I wanted to say something to defend myself but the crude reality was there, staring me in the face. Anything I would say to defend myself would be just another excuse. Excuses I’d been giving out all my life. To myself and to whoever cared to listen (friends usually did). Excuses that justified my refusal to grow up, my constant spending, my voracious attitude towards comfort consumption of any kind, consuming myself in the process.
I had seen this hell before. This is how it felt just before The Love Project when I realised I was the one with the problem. Not the men I was dating. I was the one sleeping with them too soon, being clingy, unrealistic, wanting attention but rejecting it when I got it, acting like a lunatic and pretending everybody else was crazy. This is how it felt then and, even though, I had absolutely no idea what to do about it, I figured my way out somehow. I started The Love Project. I journaled and discovered I was re-enacting patterns of my parents’ relationship. I discovered I sabotaged myself because I believed I was not (in fact) worthy of the love of a man. Somehow I put myself back together in an almost sane way. Somehow I met Alistair and somehow he stuck with me (despite the fact that, even though I thought I was at the peak of my eligibility, he saw all the other things that were still wrong with me). Somehow he fell in love with this ‘hot mess’.
The problem with hot mess is that’s it’s more mess than hot. Realising it was like receiving a bucket full of ice on the head. I felt awful (awful for what I had done to myself and to the one who loves me most) but liberated at the same time. Knowing what’s wrong with you is an almost joyous feeling. You can approach it methodically, strategically without emotion. When an engine piece is broken you fix it. And I like fixing things.
I called my friend L. She suggested I started a programme designed to change my attitude towards money. I did. I found the answer yet again in my parents’ relationship with money. My mother, always reliable, always resilient, had saved money all her life. My father had spent it like it was his last day on Earth. Once in a while he would take me a shopping spree. He’d buy me EVERYTHING I wanted, whether I needed it or not. He’d take me out for dinner at the most expensive restaurant in town. He’d tell me to order Chauteaubriand and cheese croquettes. He would have martini in a tall glass. It was just me and him. For a very short space of time I felt loved by my father. Maybe he bought his love with money, but I wanted his elusive approval more than I wanted my mother’s (who was always there, to be counted on). Before I knew it, I was spending money in search for approval. Covering up bits of soul that were still missing, taunted, inflamed. Sabotaging the relationship of my dreams (recounting the times I subconsciously did things that pissed the hell out of my husband, wanting him to reject me, get rid of me, accept that I wasn’t right for him, over and over again). I did some staring at emotionally-charged memories in the face. I did some forgiving. I did some tapping. I made some decisions.
I’m not sure about hot. But I’m certainly not a mess. Not anymore.