I used to be selfish.
I used to be broken to the point that everything I did or everyone I interacted with had to circle back to me. I’m a psychologist now, but I don’t need my fancy credentials to tell me that this need existed because of how I grew up, how I was raised, how I was loved. I was not loved in the way I now know children should be loved–unconditionally, fully.
So I had to make everything about me so I could get love, attention, affection, help.
Then Andy got sick. Stage IV hit us like a slap across the face. And suddenly, I had a reason for my selfishness. I could lean into the victimhood of cancer and show off my caregiving. Which makes it sound like I used caregiving as a means to an end, but really, caregiving was what I would have done anyway. Because Andy was worth it. Andy was worthy. Andy was the only person on the planet–besides my son–who was worth my tireless focus and energy. Not tireless. Entire. Because I was tired. And I talked about that because that was part of the victimhood.
As we got deeper into cancer, I could lean even more into that selfishness, the need to be at the center, to be praised in excess, to be loved without limits, to be shown unconditional support. It evolved. It went from a need to fill in the broken bits like those Japanese pots that get molten gold poured into the cracks, to actually becoming…healthy.
I could see that no matter how hard it got, how much I was me that people weren’t going to leave. That, if anything, I held the power in this relationship. I could choose to stay or go.
I used to be desperately afraid of being seen as selfish. My dad was selfish. Everything that was good was turned into a way to abuse you. So if I showed even the slightest hint of need, of want, of–again–what I now know is totally normal kid things, it could be weaponized. So the only way to get attention that couldn’t be used against you was to get it by being a victim. Who was the most in pain? Could it be bigger than Dad’s? Can you make your pain bigger than that of an alcoholic narcissist’s?
Turns out you can’t, but you sure can try.
So, after getting all my cracks filled with molten gold, I slowly became mostly whole. I started to see the support not as pity for me and my family, but genuine love and concern. People would donate money and time and food and bandwidth to keep us company because we were worthy of love and attention. We were loved. I was loved.
When Andy died, I got an onslaught of love and attention. And, for the first time, it was too much. I didn’t have the chronic need to fill up anymore, so I could safely say that people could keep their distance. I was no longer filling a pit that had no bottom.
Andy was the first person to help me find the bottom of that pit. His cancer helped to fill it. His death showed me that it is pretty much always full now. The pit became a lot that became a park for play and respite. (That’s a small nod to Parks and Rec.)
I used to be selfish. Turns out I still am. But I’m not selfish because I need love. I’m selfish because I’m human. I already have an abundance of love.