In our Academy of Relationship Mastery, we have a monthly Book Club. This month we are reviewing Debbie Ford’s Dark Side of the Light Chasers. In it, she encourages us to release the mask we have created for the world to see. It’s a mask to hide our shame, our shadow so that people will only see the “face” we believe is acceptable. She explains that when we embrace our shadow side, we will find hidden treasure.
The following story is about me “embracing” or fully acknowledging and accepting, my shadow side.
When WWII ended, my Dad came home, married my Mom, and in the next seven years, they had seven children, of which I am the eldest. Dad, an Oklahoma farm boy, was the first in his family to go to college. My mother, who was raised on a struggling ranch in Arizona, had experienced severe poverty, sometimes with nothing to eat. Neither had many skills for managing money and times were tough. In addition, Mom had few domestic skills, such as cooking and housekeeping.
At age 6, I can remember going with my pregnant Mom to a grocery store. This was not a chain store; it was a local Mom & Pop store. When Mom asked for a couple of gallons of milk, the owner gently told her that our bill was up to $300, and he asked when she could make a payment. I was so embarrassed! It was the first time I became consciously aware that we were poor.
Mom tried to find ways to cut costs. In those days flour came in 50 lb sacks made of cotton. Mom got a bunch of the empty flour sacks for free. She asked a friend to help her cut and sew them into underwear for me and my sisters. I was terrified that my dress might rise and people would see the flour “brands” on my panties.
When I was 7, my 5-month-old baby sister died from complications of Down Syndrome. My family couldn’t afford a funeral, so they got legal permission to bury her on my grandfather’s ranch.
Many of my clothes were hand-me-downs or bought at Goodwill. Before 3rd grade, Mom took me to JC Penny. I was very excited because it was the first time I got to pick a new dress at the store. I got two!
To improve the family income, Mom went back to school and got a teaching degree. As the oldest child, I was responsible for helping with childcare after school. Within a few years, with all my experience, neighbors hired me to babysit. Yay, I had personal spending money!
Financially our family was still struggling. As a teacher, Mom made friends with the manager of the school cafeteria. This woman was very kind and often gave us unused food. I remember receiving a whole tray full of cinnamon rolls. What a treasure!
When I was 12, we moved from our 1-bath, 3-bedroom home (4 girls in 1 room and 2 boys in the other), into a new home with 4 bedrooms and 2 baths. I only had to share my bedroom with one sister, instead of three. What luxury!
My parents were active in the local church and well respected. I learned to sew and made many of my own clothes. I rarely felt embarrassed, although I longed for the current styles the other girls at school wore. I knew we were “good” people, but I didn’t know how to fit in socially.
When I asked my parents for “fancy” things, my mother would usually say, “don’t be so materialistic.” And my dad would quote a poem from the depression: Use it up, Wear it out, Make it do, or Do without.
I got after-school jobs working in the local theater, or in small restaurants. In the summers I worked in the cotton fields. I worked hard for money to buy the “luxuries” I wanted.
I became aware of another, even nicer neighborhood, Country Club Estates. They had a community center with a clubhouse and pool. I wanted to go there but learned you had to be invited. For the first time, I felt excluded.
Seventeen magazine was my “guide” for how to live. I studied the pages of each issue and yearned for the clothes and lifestyle I saw. The annual college issue was my favorite. It was clear there was a certain path these girls traveled. After graduating from high school, they would travel to Europe for a cultural tour, which always included Paris and Rome. Upon returning they would enter a private college, get a liberal arts degree, then work in an art gallery, while spending summers sailing around Martha’s Vineyard.
I was a good student and a nice person, so I imagined I could travel this same path. It wasn’t until I was a senior and looking at college options that it dawned on me that that path required money. A lot of money! I was devastated!
I learned to hide my shame of being poor and “uncultured” by studying how to dress, how to decorate, and how to entertain in the styles I saw in additional magazines. I became adept at “blending in at the top.” I celebrated when I bought actual designer clothes from designer discount websites. I worked in the field of interior design and helped people decorate their mansions….with my good taste! No one ever guessed my “poor” past. Instead, I got asked questions such as, “which sorority were you in?”
At age 50 I finally achieved one of my dreams, I went to Paris. I’ve been back twice. I’ve owned lovely homes and had careers in which I am respected and admired. I’ve done lots of personal growth work. But, until today, I’ve never openly looked at my “shameful” past. I’ve always just put it behind me.
With Debbie Ford’s guidance, I now see the “treasure” within. I don’t need to be ashamed of the financial struggles of my youth, instead, I can be proud of how far I’ve come and all the work I’ve done. To a great extent, I have created and lived the lifestyle I dreamed of years ago.
If you would like to benefit from our Self-Improvement Book Club, and our monthly Personal Development classes, check out The Academy of Relationship Mastery. You will find these and many more benefits for our members.