It’s been one week since I received the assignment from my therapist to go home and start disappointing people. She suggested disappointing people once a week for the next six weeks.
I stopped on the way home for a latte and with sweaty palms, I posted it to Facebook.
Then time stood still.
I waited through the afternoon wondering at what moment my world would come crashing down.
Nothing happened. The world kept right on going.
Words of encouragement poured in, and I went to bed thinking, “That wasn’t as bad as I imagined.”
BUT...my parents hadn’t seen the post yet. My kids hadn’t seen the post yet. I didn’t actually KNOW who had seen the post yet.
I woke up early the next morning with a brilliant idea. Six weeks was WAY too long to drag this on. That’s not my style. I’m a mover and a shaker. When I know what to do, I get it done.
So, I made a plan. Six disappointments in six days. Let’s just get it done. I made a video to post about how I was going to speed up this process and get all the disappointment out into the open.
I sent it to a friend to get her feedback and see if she thought it was doable.
She said, “Deb, it’s a great video, and I can see how just disappointing people is one method to relieve yourself of the need to be a good example, BUT, what if you just picked up the phone and called the people you are worried about disappointing? What if you just talked to them about you being paralyzed by the fear of disappointing them instead of going out of your way to try and disappoint them?”
Well, I am embarrassed to say that I hadn’t actually thought of just talking to them about it.
I decided to take her advice.
That night I took my nineteen year old son out to dinner, and I told him that my whole life I’ve tried to do what’s right. I’ve tried to be good. Then I became a parent and I wanted to be the best parent possible for them. I WANTED to be perfect for them, but the truth was that the weight of perfection was paralyzing me. I didn’t want to be a disappointment to my kids, but in being afraid to disappoint everyone else, I was disappointing myself. I was stagnant and scared to do ANYTHING. I was scared to start a business. Scared to make big decisions. Scared of failure for the first time in my life.
I told him that I was seeing a therapist and she recommended that I start disappointing people and just see if I could sit with that discomfort.
I told him I had a latte. I asked him if he was disappointed.
He looked at me kindly and said matter of factly, “Mom, I don’t care if you drink lattes. Most of my friends drink coffee. It would be a lot of disappointment if I carried disappointment for everyone that drinks coffee.”
“But, I’m not everyone Nate. I taught you for fifteen years that it was wrong.”
“Mom...I am NOT disappointed that you drank a latte. I don’t even care about that.”
So I pushed it.
“Well, what if I sat down with a friend at dinner and had a glass of wine with them? Would that disappoint you?”
He asked, “Would you be drinking AND driving? Because if you are going to drink and drive I WOULD probably be disappointed. You know better. But if you just want to drink some wine. That wouldn’t disappoint me.”
So, I pushed a little more.
“What if I said a swear word in front of you? I don’t imagine I’ll just pick up the habit, but what if I did? Would THAT disappoint you?”
“Okay mom, I’m not gonna lie. That would be weird to hear you swear. BUT if drinking a latte or having some wine or saying a swear word makes you happy, I will not be disappointed. I just want you to be happy Mom. I love you.”
I was all tears at that point. What followed was an open conversation about disappointment, love and expectations. It moved me.
The next morning, I called my parents.
I spoke with them on speaker phone and told them I went to see a therapist about grief but had found all these other things that I needed to work through.
I told them that somewhere along the line, I picked up the need to be perfect. I didn’t need to have my house perfect or wash my dishes every night. My perfection was a little sneakier. I told them how I wanted to be morally perfect and how I felt paralyzed under the weight of stepping away from the the principles they taught me. I told them the awful limbo I’ve been stuck in...not really Mormon and not really non-Mormon. I told them how I didn’t want them to find out from my Facebook page that I was having a latte, and that it felt much better to just talk to them about it.
We spoke for about an hour. They listened. And then as an unexpected gift, my dad said,
“Deb, we love you. We’ve always loved you. Now listen up. You have your parent’s permission to drink lattes or enjoy wine with your friends. You can wear tank tops or shop on Sunday or find yourself a boyfriend. We will not be disappointed. You need to go live life on your own terms. You need to decide what makes you happy and do that. You are free to be you Deb.”
It was as if he were reading out of a handbook of all the right things to say.
I felt the weight of the world lift off of my shoulders, but I didn’t stop there.
I had a few other people I needed to talk with about this.
Leaving the Mormon church has a stigma about it. It’s real. And when I left, I didn’t want to be part of that stigma.
So, three years ago when I left, I made appointments with 30 people in my congregation. People who I had worked with or loved or shared experiences with them. I wanted them to hear it from me.
I wanted them to know that even though I needed space from the church, I didn’t need space from them.
That opened the door to 30 beautiful conversations. I didn’t want it to be weird and have people ducking to a different aisle when they saw me at the shops.
That method worked beautifully, and it has proven to be a good choice on my part.
At that time, I decided to call my old missionary companions or college roommates, but I soon found that my news just made them sad. I didn’t want to make people sad, so I decided not to tell anyone else.
That also worked. For a time.
I found this week though that there were a few lingering people that I NEEDED to have a conversation with about this. I didn’t want them reading it on Facebook. I’m a transparent person feeling like I’ve had to keep a secret.
I needed to call a few people and update them on my current status and let them know that I love them, and I care what they think. I let them know that it would feel so much better to me if we could have an open conversation about things instead of me feeling like I needed to keep this very big change in my life a secret. That handful of people assured me that they weren’t going anywhere, and that they were here for the long haul and that they had plenty of room in their heart to love Latte Drinking Deb.
I called my other son who is off at college. I gave him the update of my situation and explained how I had taught him so many good things, but that I hadn’t taught him that he didn’t have to be perfect to be lovable. I wanted to clarify that with him. I told him I couldn’t teach what I didn’t know, and now that I knew better, I would do better.
He listened and then responded with a heart full of kindness, “Mom, I love you so much. You’re my mom. You’ve stayed through all the hard stuff and you have always supported me. I suppose there are things you could do that would disappoint me...but all these little things you’re talking about...lattes, coffee, wine, beer, swearing...they don’t matter mom. They’re just little things. And they will NEVER disappoint me. I love you, and I want you to be happy. Go figure out what that looks like for you!”
There were some big tears, and an open and honest conversation followed.
Next I called my straight laced and faithful brother and let him know that I was feeling crushed by the weight of needing to be perfect. That even though I had left the church 3 years ago, I was feeling stuck by the black and white thinking of feeling like there were only two options in life: good or bad, righteous or wicked, light or darkness, Nephi or Laman and Lemuel. I told him that I’d found out that the world is all sorts of grey and that just because I wasn’t Nephi it didn’t mean I was Laman. I just wanted to be Deb.
What followed was an eye-opening conversation about perfection and the weight of being seen as the straight laced faithful brother. He assured me that he loved me...just as I am.
And there it is.
After six days of talking about disappointment, I am delighted to report that I have been floating on clouds all week. This week, I set down the backpack of perfection that I have so faithfully carried all of these years. It’s been so heavy.
My mind feels free to dream my biggest dreams and step forward unabashedly toward them knowing that my village has plenty of room in it for someone like me, someone who thinks a little bit differently than I used to and drinks lattes on occasion.