I grew up in a family that praised the value of self deprivation. The message was that the more you sacrificed, suffered and deprived yourself of joy and pleasure, the better and stronger you would be. This philosophy never made much sense to me and so I have fought against it for most of my life. Joy and pleasure always felt like pretty great things and I have a hell of a stubborn streak that led me to a consistent outright refusal to push those pretty great things aside. The problem was that, given the self deprivation family philosophy, when I pushed against their ideal I felt like a bad and unworthy person. Not only did I not deprive myself enough, I didn’t really want to.
Although I do believe that struggles in life can make you both stronger and wiser, if you allow them to, it always seemed to me that life was hard enough without seeking out misery and wearing it like a badge of honor. I learned pretty early on that you don’t have to go looking for loss and suffering because life will hand it over willingly. I began to understand loss at the age of 4 when my parents got divorced and then my mom was away from home a lot while she attended night school and study groups and finally starting her law practice. Then, when I was 13, she was diagnosed with cancer. When I was 14, my brother barely survived a brain tumor. By the time I was 18, the cancer had taken my mom and I had broken against the crashing blows of loss that life had doled out.
I wish I could say that I saw the proverbial light then, but it took years and, oddly enough, a diagnosis of impending blindness to help me see. I started to really think about the idea of self deprivation and not just hating my family for extolling the virtues of such a practice. I thought about how I had already been deprived of a whole family and a healthy brother and an amazing mom and of course, my sight and all the things that fall from grasp when someone is afflicted with RP. I recalled a lifetime of warring in my mind about the choice between being the good girl and depriving myself of the things I enjoy, like a third glass of wine or fries with my burger, or being the unworthy woman who indulges in ice cream and lazy days on the couch watching mindless movies. I realize that all the years of self deprivation didn’t make me stronger, only sadder and angrier. What makes me strong is being able to love and allowing myself to feel joy and pleasure and hope.
I still can’t order fries with total abandon or drink the extra glass of wine without some psychological self-flagellation, but I am getting there. I am learning how to truly and freely enjoy the practice of enjoyment. I see the sheer stupidity in the active participation of depriving oneself and I know that self deprivation doesn’t make me a better person, only a deprived one.