DISCLAIMER: Names changed or omitted.
“The Starfish poem brought you to me. And I think there’s something really important to that. This week, I want you to remember: If nothing matters, it’s just as likely that everything matters.”
The blinds were drawn over the huge corner windows, but even in winter, the high desert sun made the room feel bright and warm. Several starfish paintings dotted the light blue walls.
I nodded, tears pooling in my eyes. I looked at the ceiling to try to keep them from spilling over. The inside of my mask was already wet with an hour’s worth of feelings.
My therapist, Denise, got up from her chair and walked over to her computer, which sat atop a large wooden desk in the far right corner. Our meeting that day had been unlike previous ones. Instead of regaling her with my ridiculous dating stories, as I’d done during the previous two sessions, I had finally caved.
“Sometimes I just don’t see the point of any of it,” I had confessed. “Sometimes I just don’t want to be here anymore.”
Denise promised she would push me harder in future sessions so I wouldn’t avoid the most painful feelings and confessions. I carried her parting words with me as I faced another long week of uncertainty and self-doubt.
Over the past few months, I’d thrown myself back into the dating ring with a fervor usually reserved for boy bands and baked goods. The experiences ranged from barely noteworthy to fascinating to gut wrenching, and my self-esteem wavered at every turn.
Will I ever find my person? I wondered day in and day out. I couldn’t possibly put forth more effort. Between scouting out potential matches on dating apps to getting gussied up every other night to actually going on dates, it was as though I’d taken on another full-time job. Surely it was bound to pay off.
As the weeks passed and nothing quite took off, I found myself returning to a well worn narrative: I’m not good enough. I’m too old. Too fat. Too broken. No one wants me. This is impossible. After my divorce and two soul destroying break-ups in 2014, this belief had taken a new, more powerful hold on my heart, and even years later, I struggled to break free of it.
Following my latest therapy session, I suddenly stopped in my tracks. I considered Denise’s parting words, which I’d begun to apply to everything abstract: If you think [x extreme belief] is true, then you have to give equal weight to the possibility that [y exact opposite belief] is true.
If no one wants me, then it’s equally possible that everyone wants me.
I chuckled, and from this new objective standpoint, I reviewed the past three months. There was the adorable Canadian. The 20-something “Darren Criss.” The rock climber. 6-foot-4-four “Brody Jenner.” The engineer. The guitarist. The professor. One of them even gave me a [much-needed] vacuum.
In my mind, they had all been out of my league. And they liked me! They wanted me! By and large, I had turned them down because we just weren’t a good match. As much as I hated the need for external validation, I couldn’t help but marvel at this new, shiny evidence.
For the first time, I saw just how much credence I’d given to untruths. For so many years, I’d taken myself out of the Love Game because I was absolutely and utterly convinced that anyone worth dating would never want to date me.
“How does, ‘I am worthy of love’ sound?” Denise had asked back in October, during one of our initial therapy sessions. She had been helping me uncover my core issue, which appeared to be rooted in worthiness.
I nodded and she handed me a contraption that I jokingly referred to as The Ovaries. One of Denise’s methods was EDMR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing), something I’d never heard of or tried before until coming to see her. Supposedly by holding these small, vibrating disks while thinking of a triggering memory and repeating my new mantra, “I am worthy of love,” I could begin to rewire my brain.
“I’m open to trying anything,” I had assured Denise when we’d first met. Aside from traditional talk therapy, over the years I’d experimented with everything from hypnosis to reiki healing to past life regressions.
As I felt the plastic disks gently vibrate in my palms, tears rolled down my cheeks. I thought of chubby, smart, stubborn grade school Jules, bullied by the girls who used to be her best friends. I am worthy of love. The family and friends who shunned me after my divorce. I am worthy of love. The grown women who bullied me as an adult. I am worthy of love.
“Okay,” Denise said after a few minutes. “Take a deep breath in through your nose, and out through your mouth.”
I obeyed, feeling like I’d just run an emotional marathon. We repeated the exercise a few more times.
“Now how would you rate the emotional charge when you think of [your most recent triggering experience], on a scale of 1 to 7. We started at a 6,” Denise reminded me.
“Um,” I thought for a long moment. “A 2?”
“That’s a big change,” she replied softly, nodding.
“I’m just looking for that feeling again,” I wept later in our session. I had been describing a person I’d met several months earlier who’d completely taken me by surprise. While it ultimately didn’t get off the ground, it had shaken me to the core and opened my eyes to romantic possibility in a way I hadn’t seen since my divorce. “It was effortless and I didn’t question any of it.”
“You know that had everything to do with you and nothing to do with him,” Denise said, a notebook resting on her left knee.
I furrowed my brows and started to protest before going silent. That can’t be right. It was him. He was amazing. He made me feel that way.
The longer I sat with this new, opposite, y-type idea, the more it made sense. As the weeks passed, I thought about the poem that had brought me into that office in the first place. A poem I’d memorized in first grade and that I’d lived by ever since. Two months earlier, I’d spotted that same poem on Denise’s website home page and knew I’d found the right therapist.
I found a tiny starfish
In a tide pool by the sea
I hope whoever finds him next
Will leave him there, like me!
And the gift I’ve saved for you?
The best that I can give:
I found a tiny starfish,
And for you, I let him live.”–Dayle Ann Dodds (excerpt)
Our thoughts, feelings, and actions are always about us. We choose to love or hate, regret or move forward, consider others or turn a blind eye. We can save every starfish or none at all. Each of us has such power and such inherent worthiness.
Why not choose to believe it?