The Freedom of Permission

It was on a girls trip to the lake that I realized just how tattered my pajama pants had become. Being just a little too long, I had managed to walk on the hems so long that the fabric was tattered beyond repair. The problem was these pajama pants were comfy, soft and old well-loved well past their expiration date. The pajama pants served me well for sleep, for lounge, for… ahem… work from home in a pandemic. They were like an old friend, familiar and without expectation.

It isn’t that I haven’t noticed that my pajama pants were tattered. It was hard not to notice, I just couldn’t bring myself to throw them away. They were still “perfectly good”, just not pristine. Just like my bamboo sateen sheets with a hole in them. Just like my favorite pair of jeans with a hole in them. Just like the too-small, memory-laden wardrobe that I’ll never get around to wearing again. Tell me I’m not the only one.

I noticed other things on this girls trip as well, such as how my friend had a small arsenal of travel-sized self-care/beauty products that she brought with for our 2-day excursion. It seemed excessive, especially in stark contrast to what I brought: the clothes I needed, my hairbrush and toothbrush. Who could possibly need that much stuff for 2 days?

I have always prided myself on being “low maintenance”, but I began to wonder when I had crossed the line from low-maintenance to no-maintenance. I found myself curious and wondered if being low maintenance was actually my choice or my conditioning. When you have high maintenance siblings, you learn to be low maintenance. When you have a high maintenance spouse, boss, or friend, you learn to be low maintenance. Being low maintenance, you aim to be flying under the radar and never a bother. You don’t aim to take up space, or energy, or time because others need that space, energy or time.

We are all born with innate needs. When they aren’t adequately met or get shut down, the needs don’t just disappear. In The Drama of the Gifted Child: The Search for True Self, Swiss psychologist Alice Miller argues that the gifted child – “the child who is more intelligent, more sensitive, and more emotionally aware than other children—can be so attuned to her parents’ expectations that she does whatever it takes to fulfill these expectations”. In essence, the gifted child creates a shadow self, meeting the needs and feelings of others while ignoring their own. Being low maintenance is a learned behavior, and can be toxic but we aren’t relegated to that fate when we recognize the impact it is having on our experience.

I came back from the lake not only curious about the different areas of my life impacted by my “low/no maintenance” approach, but committed to investing a little more in myself going forward. I am again getting curious about my story, wondering how much of what I believe about myself is true and how much of what I believe is the story I have been telling myself about my experience. I find myself curious about how to start dismantling the narrative and rewriting a brave new ending, with brave new questions.

I acknowledge that I have privilege to choose to throw my tattered clothing and purchase replacements, but today I gave myself permission to do just that – throw it away and purchase replacements. There was a sweet release in doing what I had been avoiding doing for months on end. And perhaps a lesson – to not wait until clothing or a relationship or a job or a [fill-in-the-blank] is falling apart to decide I deserve something better for myself. It’s the “run the dishwasher twice” theory; if it is going to make me feel better, or make my life easier, then I need to just “run the dishwasher twice” on occasion, even if it isn’t something I would normally do.

As I continue to edit things out that are no longer serving me, I am committed to grafting important things back in – like candlelit bubble baths. A cup of tea. Reading for enjoyment, not just furthering my craft. Play, not work. Pleasure, not purpose.

Giving ourselves permission to do what we know needs to be done gives us freedom. Freedom to put ourselves in the equation – TO PUT OURSELVES FIRST – to take up space, to have needs and desires and wants and dreams and ambitions. It is the freedom to throw away tattered pajama pants. Unapologetically.

Tell me: What is your version of the tattered pajama pants? What do you need to let go of that you are having a hard time releasing? What are you afraid of? Where do you need to “run the dishwasher twice”?

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