• Kathie Scalf

Filling Glasses from an Empty Pitcher


I’ve made it no secret in this column that I’m a big proponent for therapy and mental health. For years I saw the same therapist, but since my move and losing my HSA benefits I’ve only met with him via telephone twice. I was discussing this matter with a close friend who just started therapy here in the Nashville area, to see if she liked her new doctor, as a potential person I could consider switching to. During our discussion she told me about an exercise this doctor instructed her to perform, where she was asked to pull cards out of a deck that represented things that were most important to her. Then she was asked to re-select cards that reflect where she devotes most of her time and attention and the stacks did not match up in the least. The point of the exercise was to highlight the reason we sometimes feel unfulfilled is because we are dedicating so much of our lives to things that ultimately aren’t what matter to us, and that sentiment really struck a nerve for me. I’m attempting to fill my happiness glass with a bone dry, and extremely superficial, pitcher.

As someone who grew up without a lot of material riches and now resides in one of the most affluent zip codes in the US, I think my desire for expensive things is pretty understandable. Beyond the pressure of “keeping up with the Jones’s” here in Franklin, it also makes me feel accomplished to dine in nice restaurants, carry expensive handbags and treat myself to pricey beauty treatments like injections, hair, nails and the such. That is all well and good, but ultimately these are base-level, meaningless, self-serving endeavors that will never fulfill me, as there is always going to be someone with “better.” That mentality is doing the opposite of what it should, and instead of feeling better about myself, I’m just constantly feeling like I’m not enough in comparison.

Sometimes really terrible traumatic things occur that bring things into focus, which is exactly what spurred this re-examining of my values this week. A couple days ago I received an unexpected blow that brought me to tears for the first time in well over a year, and while I was sobbing and at my lowest point, I was verbally crying out for my Momma and Daddy. Not a Gucci handbag, not a Maserati, not a syringe of Botox. It took something absolutely devastating to make me realize what was truly important in my life and just how neglectful I am of these things in favor of shallow empty material items.

If I had to pull my “important” cards from the deck, I would pull ones that reflect the things that make me FEEL something. My family. My dogs. My writing. My long-term career goals. Contributing something to people less fortunate than myself. Physical health and wellness. But if I pulled the cards that reflected where I actually invest the majority of my time, it is embarrassing. Social media. Mindless dating for self-validation. Throwing my money away in bars and restaurants. Not one of these stupid things contribute to bettering my life; in fact, it’s making my life worse. Aside from being completely asinine habits (not even worthy of the title ‘hobbies’) these activities set off a chain reaction that leads to self-loathing, racking up credit card debt, hangovers, which in turn leads to overeating and skipping workouts, anxiety, and worse. So why do I do it?

I think like most people who find themselves in this position, I am distracting myself from deeper issues. Honestly I’m scared to let myself feel anything due to past trauma; if you don’t let anything affect you, you can’t get hurt. But that just makes you dead inside, and all puns aside, that’s no way to live. I can get on here and preach about living a good, fulfilling life, but I’m clearly not walking the walk. In the end, money, cars, houses, Instagram likes…it just really doesn’t matter. When truly important things happen like family illness or even happy milestones, that material crap is going to be the furthest thing from your mind.

This column doesn’t really have a recurring theme, as I’m sure you all have realized by now. But the one thing I strive for week after week is to be authentic and speak from the heart about what is happening in my life. Some weeks it’s light and fluffy food and wine pairings or dating advice. Other weeks it’s emotional and a bit dark. It’s not my intention to be all over the place, but as a regular human being I’m growing and learning every single day. I try to share lessons that impact me in some way, in the hopes that maybe it can impact someone else’s life who might need it. Whether it’s a healthy recipe or a gift idea or working through heartbreak, career changes and overcoming demons, I hope above all else these little articles can make a small change in someone’s day.

With that in mind, I urge you all to stack your own personal decks. Make a list of the things that truly bring fulfillment to your life, that tangibly fill your heart so full of emotion it either brings you to smiles or tears. Then make an honest list of where you’re devoting your time. How do they stack up, and what can you do to fix it? Are you going nowhere trying to fill your internal cup from empty pitchers? I’ve always said we humans are so stupid we ignore the simplest solutions when they’re right in front of our face, simply because we don’t want to admit the truth to ourselves. For me personally, it’s going to require filling my pitcher with items of substance, and a lot of self-examination. It’s not going to be pretty, but it’s time.