I don’t do well with the unknown. I don’t think I am alone in this. However, I’m living in the middle of a great unknown right now. Maybe even an unraveling. No, definitely an unraveling.
Last night, when I couldn’t sleep, I wondered why. I’d only slept 5 hours the night before. I felt restless. Couldn’t get comfortable. I tried to read, tried coloring in my paint by numbers app, nothing until about 5a. It was about the time I fell asleep that it hit me.
Nearly everything I have identified myself by is falling away or has fallen away. Shedding parts of your lifelong identity aren’t just as easy as brushing crumbs off a counter. There are layers upon layers upon layers. And when you think you’ve peeled off the final layer, you realize this is a task that is going to take a while, maybe the rest of your life.
Not to mention, there are so many emotions involved. Trauma. Shame. Guilt. Sadness. Searing anger. Disappointment.
I’ve spent most of my life in defense mode, survival mode, with a wall taller, more fortified, or bigger than anything Trump can imagine around me. Always ready to either fight or flight or completely shut down. Shutting down as a teenager felt easy, but in my 30s, I’m facing what I did not feel strong or capable or smart enough to handle back then. I’m not exactly sure I’m strong, capable, or smart enough to face them now, but it’s no longer a choice to keep avoiding them.
Childhood and teenage me numbed out or took flight, nearly 37-year-old me walks around looking for a fight. Go ahead, tell me I’m wrong, I dare you, it says. Treat me like I’m stupid or naive, say something about my weight, tell me I’m too much or too emotional. Fucking try me. Okay, maybe I’ve always been like that too, it is just more focused these days and my patience for bullshit is thinner.
I’ve spent a lot of time lately realizing my life is my own. I am my own responsibility. What I do, say, think, believe, feel, and how I live is up to me and for me. I can’t live for anyone else but me. I will never be who my mom wants me to be or the way she thought I might live out who she wanted to be or felt like I could be for her. I will never be quiet, submissive, and compliant like my dad always wanted me to be.
I am outspoken and I talk a lot. (Or really, I vacillate between talking incessantly and taking an unintended monk-like vow of silence.) I am introverted but typically outgoing (see: my vacillation between talking and monk-like silence). I love to use the word “fuck.” I have always been, and will always be, curious about sex and have a unfiltered sense of humor. (Though in all of this, I try to be respectful of others and behave appropriately for their comfort levels in these areas.)
I have never been containable, which both parents reminded me a lot like it was something to be ashamed of mostly because I’m female, but which I realize now is a superpower. I don’t like being told what to do, I’m stubborn, I also refuse to walk blindly into anything anymore (and I’m not sure I ever did unless it was on purpose), and I am done allowing people to tell me what to think about myself and my life. (Now, if I can just figure out how to be my own boss so I can work for myself, haha.) I was taught growing up that I could not trust my heart, body, gut, or mind, that I needed direction from someone or Someone else.
I have felt restless my whole life. Curious and questioning about everything even when I let other people shame me out of it by threatening that I would isolate myself if I believed differently than them. I felt so starved of love and a sense of belonging growing up that I squashed and belittled every thought I had that opposed those around me. I guess this is that part of human evolution where we adapt to survive, and adapt I did.
Last week, it hit me when I started to write about some of my identity changes that I don’t have to explain myself. That hit me like a ton of bricks. All my life, I’ve tried so hard to make people understand me and gotten so upset when I’ve felt unheard or flat out ignored. I have laid myself bare as a plea for my parents, friends, and John to please know me, understand me, and affirm/validate me. Or I’ve used it as a way to try to get them to open up to me. See? I’m telling you everything, now it’s your turn. But it wasn’t just to connect. It had more manipulative intentions. It was about control. I wanted them to open up so I knew everything I could know about them so a) when they used their knowledge of me to hurt me, I could do the same, and b) because I thought it would protect me if I could predict what they were going to do before they do or right as they were doing it.
But, I attracted people whose defense mechanism was, and maybe is, to keep me at arm’s length. So I could never fully know them, so they would never become predictable to me, so I could not manipulate or control them. This is a smooth steel wall I’ve tried to climb with John for eight years, never able to grip my limbs onto anything, just sliding down over and over again. I watched a video the other night about attachment styles, and as soon as I heard/read about the insecure avoidant attachment style, I knew that was the attachment style John has. It is one that struggles with control and trust issues and dealing with emotions (or avoiding them at all cost).
I, on the other hand, have a similar one that screams, “I’m okay as long as you’re okay” and almost never feels okay because I can’t tell how okay the other person is while also trying to please them, and if they’re not okay, I’m not okay – the insecure anxious attachment style. Our attachment styles are a topic for another post though.
I have put so much trust in what others think of me for so long, and those whom I’ve trusted with this seem to recognize this mistrust I’ve had with myself and treat me how I treat me, like I’m naive, stupid, and incapable of making any good decisions on my own. I really cannot put into words the anger this has caused in me lately. Not so much with the other person, but with myself.
See, the thing is, no, I don’t have to have explain or justify myself, life choices, or anything else with anyone else, except maybe the person or people I’m making those decisions with. However, I do have to explain them to myself.
What I have realized lately is this: I’ve had these lifelong fears of abandonment, rejection, and neglect, being unloved and unwanted while doing all of these things to myself. I have been projecting all of those fears because I could not look inside of myself and see that the one hurting me the most was me.
I have spent so much time worrying about how everyone else will perceive the changes happening within me that I haven’t bothered to check in with myself. Hey, Amy, how are you feeling? How are you dealing with this? Are you okay? What do you need? I didn’t even realize how much I need to do this, how important this really is, because I was always taught that my self was not a priority, that I was supposed to put the needs of others before my own.
I think for all the times I’ve felt so hurt and angry at others for ignoring me, it has been my body and my spirit being hurt and angry at being ignored by me and put as a lower priority than others.
And you know what? No, I’m not okay. I haven’t been for a while. I am coming to terms with things I’ve believed my whole life being mostly, but I don’t think intentionally, lies and a container to scare, control, and diminish me. Keep me in line. Keep me distracted from the real shit going on around me and to keep me from fighting against the injustices going on around me that I’ve been privileged enough to not recognize.
I’m not sure I am ready to go public with what these things are, but they are the bedrock of who I have been my entire life. Me trying so hard to be good enough to be loved, only to be told I haven’t been this from the start while also realizing I have been (what a winding road of a sentence). Yeah, I know it all sounds confusing and vague right now. I hate vague posts because I too am nosy and judgmental, but right now, I am putting myself first. Figuring out where I stand, how I feel, and if I want anyone else to know anything else about this.
Suffice it to say, I am in a great unknown. Thankfully I’m not alone in this, as the more I walk along this dark path, the more lights I find in various places, communities of people who tell me, “I know exactly how you feel,” and people who don’t feel exactly as I do but who tell me they understand why I feel that way. At the same time though, I feel alone. I am also coming to terms with the fact that it is okay if others don’t understand me as long as I understand me (or try to). My validation most importantly needs to come from within, though yes, it helps when others do it too.
But this isn’t something to look at with nothing but trepidation. I am becoming the person I was always and am meant to be. Right now, because I am still dealing with lifelong shame, trauma, and a scarcity/survival mode mindset that includes people-pleasing and codependency, the authentic me is still a little bit of a stranger. Or maybe an acquaintance, like I recognize her, talk to her occasionally, but don’t really have a real connection with. I am learning how to know someone without it being as a means of controlling them, and this includes myself. A relationship without manipulation or high steel walls or trying to work out my issues through them. Boundaries are good, and I’m learning how to establish and maintain them, something I was never taught or that were never respected growing up.
I was not born with a deceitful heart or worthless or unlovable until someone else loved and sacrificed for me. None of us were. I refuse to believe this anymore. I refuse to believe I should be ashamed of myself for who I am at my core. I was born loved and will always be loved, no matter what. I was created from the same materials as the earth, sky, and universe. I am small in the grand scheme of things, but I play a role like everything else created. I am just as needed, just as important even in my insignificance in this vast, infinite creation.
I have always loved Marianne Williamson’s words, “Who are you to play small? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you.” I’ve said for years that I’m done playing small, but playing small is safe and comfortable. Not easy, but safe and comfortable.
I will be 37 years old in 11 days, and as I get into my late thirties, I realize, life is finite, I can’t keep waiting for everything to align to live my life fully as I am. That’s not even a real thing that happens. I am living now and have been since the minute I was born. I can and will continue figuring things out along the way and make room for the person I am becoming and will become as I keep moving along.
There is no one “real” me. I, like everything else in this universe, am constantly evolving. And often, evolution requires deconstruction or even destruction. We see it every day in nature itself. Hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, floods, erosion, eruptions, the earth is constantly making room for new, reminding us we are always all in flux, and shifting to maintain balance. Now, instead of clinging to the parts of me I need to let go or expectations of others or perceived expectations of others as a means to feel adequate and worthy of love, I’m thanking them for how they got me here and letting them go.
A couple of weeks ago, I cried in bed next to John, “I feel like I am living my life in one giant circle, forever coming back to the same place, people, and experiences!” I was so upset because John didn’t get the job he interviewed for in Savannah, and it meant we weren’t moving out of the Atlanta area. I thought, though I knew better, that maybe if we moved to a new area, my life might get better, easier. (Just like I’ve thought with losing weight, getting married, getting out of debt, and making more money.) I could find a job without worrying that the people I interview for know me already from past jobs and past bosses who probably don’t have kind things to say about me. Maybe there’d be some new area I could find a job in, something more creative, even if it paid less.
But we are staying here. Thankfully, we are moving this month back to Smyrna and it’s not the apartment complex we lived in before we moved to Chicago. That is different. I am different. John is different. Our marriage is different. This is not going in circles on flat land, this is spiraling up the staircase which means coming back around to the same things sometimes. Until I face the deepest, most broken, most painful and shameful parts of me, I will continue to run into them.
(And as soon as I find a job, I will be going back into therapy.)
I have identified with my trauma, shame, sadness, resentment, and guilt for far too long. Identified with being a child of divorced parents, raised in an abusive, traumatic, and dysfunctional environment. Identified with the size of my body and always being too big, too loud, too outspoken, too brash, too stubborn, too much. Identified with a religion with a book and leaders all too okay with using shame and the fear of condemnation and eternal separation from love to incite pain, violence, and suffering in anyone who doesn’t conform to it, especially women, instead of the love, grace, mercy, and forgiveness that is talked about in the beginning of the second half of that book. I have felt and known a lot of it was bullshit most of my life, but did not know anything else but that and did not want to feel even more ostracized than I already did, so I followed along (like I mentioned early, intentionally blinding myself once I knew better for self-preservation).
I don’t know what to do with quiet, calm, and peace. It stirs up turmoil inside of me and makes me want to create drama and stress for myself, and, oops, John. Old habits die hard. I’ve been in survival mode my whole life, not realizing until recently I don’t need to anymore. No, it’s not going to be smooth sailing from here on out, but trust isn’t black or white.
Trust isn’t about perfection. Trust is an action taken that tells me I will be okay no matter what, a fulfilling life is about risks, and oh my god, it is okay to make mistakes. That’s something I was taught against growing up, being taught that mistakes were bad, why couldn’t I “just behave,” failure deemed me worthless, I had to be perfect to be loved. What a fucking lie.
So here I am in the unknown. I mean, life has always been this way, but now I am embracing the lifelong unchartered territory I am moving in. Life is finite. This is it. My purpose is to acknowledge my connection to the universe around me in all of its moving parts, embrace whatever is coming as just a part of life, enjoy as much as possible, and release what needs to go.
October will be a busy month. John and I both turn 37 next week, him on the 10th and me on the 12th. We start moving to our apartment in Smyrna on the 13th, and my dad and brother Caleb are coming on the 20th to help us move the big furniture (or what is left after I sold almost everything). John is off from October 19-28, his first real time off in the two years we’ve been back in Georgia, so after we move out of our apartment in Marietta, Caleb is going to stay in our new apartment with our dogs while we go on vacation somewhere. I’m voting for the beach while it’s still warm, but we’ll see.
These are, at least, our plans. I’m also going to be more seriously applying for jobs during this time. I was fortunate to make enough money from the sale of our unwanted furniture to keep me afloat in paying off my credit card and car through October, but I will need a job by early to mid November.
I’ve learned a lot about myself in the past four months of being unemployed, and I’ve been facing a lot of what I’ve tried so hard to ignore most of my life. I am in another cycle of deconstruction and evolution and know this will be ongoing throughout the rest of my life. I am still learning it is okay not to do anything and that sometimes I will have to push myself (but with more love and grace and less harsh criticism like I was given growing up). I don’t profess to have anything figured out, and I’m learning that, really, no one totally has their shit together. It just seems that way on social media because we curate it that way.
Right now, I am getting to know myself as I am now. Being as authentic to who this person is as possible. Checking in with myself first. Trusting myself. Understanding that how others people think of me first of all doesn’t define me, secondly isn’t any of my business, and lastly isn’t nearly as important as how I think of me. Learning myself under all of my disguises used to try to be enough for everyone else. Becoming less passive, less passive aggressive, and telling others whom I know mean well, “I appreciate your input, but I am doing what is best for me in my way and even if you think I am wrong or naive because it isn’t how you’d do things, this is my journey to live and learn and I will and have to live with whatever happens along the way.”
Like I said earlier, I will not explain, justify, defend, or rationalize myself to other people unless it is in a discussion or decision that involves them. This will be incredibly hard for me because this has been forged into me, into that survival mode, all of my life. I’ve always been incredibly reactive, which those who have abused me feed off of and use to victimize themselves. But no, I’m practicing slowing down, taking deep breaths, remembering how others treat me is a reflection of them, not me, and the same applies in my thoughts, feelings, behavior, and reactions to them. I am asking myself, Why did that bother you so much? What part of you is this speaking to? What is triggering this behavior in you?
And as far as boundaries go, here are a few things I will be drawing the line on, meaning I will no longer be an open book and will decide how much I want to share:
- My religious beliefs (or for now, lack thereof)
- My body: its weight, size, and look
- My marriage
- My career choices
- Where we live/whether we buy a house or not
- Whether we have kids or not
- Political beliefs
- Other sensitive topics
I don’t know how much I will tell of what’s been going on with me lately, but I can tell you that facing this identity breakdown/evolution/deconstruction/whatever you want to call it and saying it out-loud to myself and those I trust most has felt so healing. And I’m just starting. I am still afraid of what may become known in the weeks, months, years to come, but as soon as I said the words to myself and those trusted people, my head cleared unlike any other way ever (without the use of Xanax). I felt free. The feeling waxes and wanes now as I begin to deal with all of the trauma I’ve experienced in those identities, but a truth has been spoken, and I know I’m on the right path.
In late August, I asked God/the Universe/myself/anyone listening with any sort of power or influence over all of this to break me of my need to know and control everything. And in the past few weeks, I’ve felt my iron grip on these needs tighten around my body to the point of suffocating and crushing me, then slowly relaxing and releasing. No, I’m not okay, I may not be okay for a while, but I am moving in the right direction.
I am becoming okay with “I don’t know” and finally, coming home to myself and healing my most important relationship of all, the one with myself. I am scared. I still want to run, fight, and distract myself with every possible thing, and that’s okay too. There’s no right or wrong here, just information. I will forever believe everything is working out as it is meant to, and I need to get out of my own way.