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How I Found My Worth in Spite of My Father’s Abandonment

How I Found My Worth in Spite of My Father’s Abandonment

“Because if I myself saw my worth, I wouldn’t base my worthiness on someone else’s seeing it.” ~Unknown

I can’t be sure which title I would have preferred. Daddy, Poppa, Pa, Dad. Aren’t these the endearing titles one earns when they live up to all that it means in the role of the first and most important man in a little girl’s life?

She can rely on this person for comfort, security, guidance and love. The person she loves. The one who is willing to teach her how to play football or baseball, because she’s a tomboy at heart. She can put on makeup or have tea parties at a table that is too small for him. The one who tells the best bedtime tales that make her feel safe from the boogeyman hiding under her mattress.

When she meets the love of your life, you will be the one to set the standard.

All I’ve heard is that they are special people and should be treasured.

My own, however, is not as good. We can call him a sperm donor. Fitting since it’s the only role he’s played in my life. When one walks out on his wife and two little girls, the older, age three and the younger, age one (that’s me), offering no support, financial, emotional, or otherwise, he’s earned that title.

Bless your little black heart

This may make me seem harsh or bitter. That’s because I was, for a really long time.

With that came the problems: abandonment and people-pleasing. There was anxiety, a lack of self-esteem, lack confidence, and a need to please others. Choosing partners who didn’t respect me because I didn’t respect myself. Drinking to get over regrets I might have had about things I said or did that hurt others. Always second-guessing myself and my choices because I didn’t trust myself to make my own decisions.

I began to hate myself, constantly and relentlessly berating myself for all kinds of things. I also filled my head up with toxic, false thoughts about my value that I believed to be true. Truths that I was unable to refute.

I was constantly seeking approval and validation, and a constant stream of feedback from others that dictated my life. I didn’t know who I was, or how to be honest with myself. I spent years trying to understand everything and the more I struggled, the more it hurt.

I hated that I didn’t have a father when I was growing up. I hated every aspect of it. For so long I let it define me.

Let’s fast-forward to my second half. After a series difficult events including a devastating split around my 50th birthday, and more recently, the unexpected death of my only parent, with whom I had shared a turbulent, rollercoaster relationship, I became sick of who I was and what I had become.

How can I expect my children to become confident, kind adults, if I don’t lead by example? “Get it together, Charlene. Do it for them, and once and for all, do it for yourself!”

It was at that pivotal moment in my personal life that I felt the light go on. It was like I had a second chance to get the clarity and confidence I needed to be exactly who I wanted as a mother and a person.

I knew there were three things that I would have to do: work, it wouldn’t happen overnight and it wouldn’t feel good. It didn’t matter. I was already set in my ways. I knew, first and foremost, I needed to find a way to forgive myself—for allowing my past to define my life, for my holding so much resentment toward my mother, and my own struggles as a mother after my divorce.

I first spent time with my three closest friends. I, myself, as well as me. Before meeting up quickly with my baggage, we got to know each before. We sat in group sessions together almost every day, and went back. Back in time. We talked about our lives. All the unflattering and unpleasant times. We sat a lot, in silence. We did it for as long as we needed to until we were able to look into the mirror and be proud and love the person that we saw. 

It was not easy. It was not pleasant. It was certainly not enjoyable. But it was well worth it.

The four amigos, including the luggage, were well worth it.

Slowly, I began to show myself more grace. I became gentler and kinder with myself.

Each day, I drove the short distance home from work on my lunch hour, hopping on my bike and looking for something, anything, to be grateful for… a bird or a butterfly in flight, the sunlight glistening on the water, a stone on the pavement in the shape of a heart, the sound of children laughing in the playground.

I bombarded my inbox with daily reminders of happiness (Tiny Buddha was one), and I devoured everything positive. I made a commitment to heal my broken heart and rewire my broken brain. Rather than focusing on my flaws and perceived imperfections, I uncovered everything wonderful and unique about myself—my courage, my passion, my honesty, my empathy, and my own role as a mother.

I took the days one minute at a time and slowed down my progress.

Baby steps.

This year I will be turning fifty-nine. Far closer to sixty than I am to fifty, back when the “you know what” started hitting the fan for me. As I reflect on my life back then, and all of the worries and concerns I had about where it was headed, I feel a sadness.

The second half of life is full of funny things. While I don’t dwell too much on regrets, my age, or how much time I have left, I would be lying if I said I have not thought about the time I wasted anguishing over my bruised ego and the hell I put myself through for so long.

I have to go.

But today, I can say that I am proud of myself, and I give myself some credit…

I am grateful for overcoming the feeling of being inadequate and not enough.

Realizing that my imperfections and flaws do not make me less than anyone else. I’m not any worse because I was raised in a trailer, grew up without a father, and don’t have a 4-year college degree.

I am grateful for having the courage to follow my own path even when it was terrifying and uncertain.

Today, I am good.

It’s good when I wake up, look in the mirror, and like what I see. I could have a few more wrinkles, but I’m learning to embrace myself. I’ve been known to throw myself a pity-party and beat myself up, but I always catch myself.

Sometimes it only takes a minute or two, other times it can take up to a week. Just depends.

Either way, I have to sit the little girl inside me down and give her a reminder… to relax her shoulders, close her eyes, take a few deep breaths, and remember who the hell she is and just how far she has come.

I am still a work in progress, and have been single for eight years. For a long period of time, I was broken. I knew I had to repair my lack of self-respect and love before I could even consider dating again. But I do not believe that there were any mistakes. The stars have aligned for me exactly the way they should.

If you relate to my story in any way, I hope that you will find the courage and strength to look deep within yourself and realize where your self-worth issues originated. Discover all of what is wonderful and valuable about yourself.

No matter how you have been treated in the past or what circumstances you may be facing, I believe you deserve your own love.

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Charlene Alofs

Charlene is a writer of memoirs My Other Left: A Wicked Pissah Memory on Finding Your Way. When she isn’t writing, you can find her on the pickleball court or traveling to the mountains every chance she gets. She hopes to one day live simply, off-grid and far away from the humidity of south Florida and her frizzy hair. You can follow her on Instagram and Facebook.

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