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Who Am I?

May 22, 2012

Identity is a tricky thing. We think we know who we are and then something changes and we don’t know anymore.

I spent my young adult years distancing myself from my family and my upbringing, thinking that it was somehow shameful to have been poor. No, that’s not right. I thought it was somehow shameful to have been me. One of the by-products of an abusive family situation is that often the child grows into an adult with no sense of self, other than shame.

My identity was based not on actual identity but on facts about me: I was smart, I was reasonably pretty, I learned to be a good cook, I was a good dancer, etc. My identity was totally external: what I did, what I was good at as valued by other people. I knew these things because other people told them to me.

When I was 27, I got tired of being crazy and went to a therapist. She literally saved my life. I was Seriously Crazy. For a good while, crazy became my identity. But then, as I continued therapy, I got healthy. I started to figure out what I believed, who I was and who I wanted to be. I chose a profession and was very proud of being good at it and of recognition that come from being good at it. Things like that.

My 30s were good. In my late 30s, when I was 37, I became a mother.

When my boys came into my life, Barbara as I knew her ceased to exist and I became A Mother. My boys had a difficult life and they needed a lot from me, so I quit working and was a full-time mom. Being P’s wife and the boys’ mother was all that I was. It sounds like that was horrible, but it wasn’t. That was the happiest time of my life. The best time of my life, the best I’ve ever been. I was a good mom and the boys thrived in my care.

I won’t go into details here about the undoing of my family. I’ll say only that the laws prohibiting marriage equality in Michigan meant that I didn’t have any voice in what happened but I found myself childless.

I didn’t get out of bed for nearly 10 months. Okay, I got out of bed to go to the sofa and watch hours and hours of TV on DVD, then back to bed. I didn’t do anything I was supposed to do. If I’d have had a job, I’d have gotten fired. As it is, I defaulted on my student loans, didn’t pay my credit cards or anything else. The only reason my cell phone bill got paid was it was on an automatic payment. We very nearly got foreclosed on the house because I didn’t pay that. The Ex found out in time and she took over all the household stuff from there on. After 10 months of this, I realized that The Ex and I were irrevocably broken and we split.

I moved in with my sister. It took me only 3 months to get a job but it took me four years to give a damn about the mess I’d made of my life otherwise. It will take *years* before I undo the financial damage. But the real problem, my friends, was the emotional damage.

Once again, I had no identity. I had no idea who I was. Or who I wanted to be. I’ve floundered over the last few years. I’ve made bad decisions, I’ve done stupid things, I’ve been messy. I’ve been *publicly* messy on my old blog, on twitter, back on MySpace when I used to do that.

Recently, I realized that the reason I was still struggling and having so many problems is that I was trying to be the person I was pre-boys and I couldn’t. I kept wondering why I wasn’t “getting better.” Well, I was trying to fix the unfixable. I am going to have to form a new identity that incorporates who I was into who I will be but I can’t *erase* those years. I have to figure out how to make that part of me fit with who I need to be from here on out.

I’ve also stopped looking for external validation of who I am. Of course, I want to do well at work and have friends, etc. For someone who really does have a good sense of self in many areas, I *still* think that for my family to respect me, I have to be “perfect.” Do you know what? No one is perfect and if they don’t respect my choices, then …. I will love them anyway and know they love me. (Easy to say that, right? I am going to work on that being *true* for me.)

I’ve realized that you can accept your limitations without making excuses for them or for yourself. You work around them. You find ways to make your life good and happy and healthy, even if you can’t do things that other people think that you should be able to do. Somehow, you have to learn how to be okay with that. (Full disclosure: I ain’t. I want to be and I will be, but I’m not there yet. I’m still MAD about things that I know I will never be able to do. The first step towards making a difference is knowing there is a problem, right?)

How has your identity changed over the years? Has it been good? Did it always seem like the change was good or did you only discover later that it was good?

From → Barbara Bits

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