She could never go back and make some of the details pretty. All she could do was move forward and make the whole beautiful.
Terri St. Cloud
My life the last few years has seen what I will call A Great Unraveling. (I borrowed that phrase from Brene Brown, but I hope she won’t mind. If she does, maybe I’ll change it to The Great Breakdown That Changed Everything About My Life And Basically Ruined All Relationships. Not quite as catchy, but it could work.)
Being from the South and living in a heavily religion-saturated culture, my life has evolved into incorporating a lot of qualities/values/characteristics/preferences that were birthed more out of what I felt was expected of me, rather than who I truly was as a person. I remember sorority rush at UGA and seeing all of these beautiful women, classy, sophisticated, honest. They were full of dreams and excitement, with freshly ironed clothes (I didn’t own an iron), straightened hair, and bright lipstick. They had new purses and high heels and kept bottles of water for the long, Georgia summer days spent visiting house after house.They owned themselves and were proud of who they presented to the world.
But then there was me. I was scared and insecure in my own skin, intimidated by the confidence around me. I was excited to be there, but who did I want to be? I could be anyone in that moment, and I chose to be
That was the easiest choice.
I borrowed movie preferences and accumulated new beliefs and wore other girls’ clothes and asked how they did their hair. I wouldn’t leave my room without mascara. I changed my nail polish to look like the girl down the hall. I highlighted my hair differently and got the books everyone was reading. I shopped compulsively, never feeling like I quite had “a look” that was right.
Not having a sense of self made me cobble one together that looked good to the outside world, but was fragile and virtually non-existent on the inside. I built relationships and got jobs based on that pre-fabricated sense of self. I identified beliefs and developed habits around that persona. When people praised one of those traits it only strengthened my tenacity to keep it. And for the most part, I liked who I was and those that I surrounded myself with, so none of this felt like a big deal.
But the shitty thing is that you can only keep up appearances for so long. Those appearances, as I’ve gotten older, have gotten gradually more and more out of sync with who I actually am deep down and who I want to be. And it wasn’t until I started at my job about 4 1/2 years ago, where I started to tease out those details that I couldn’t manage any longer.
I got a counselor and began the very slow work of Getting Healthy. I’m now 4 1/2 years in, and it seems like the real soul-work is just beginning. In some ways it has gotten easier. I’ve identified things that are important to me and been able to be more consistent in reflecting those values in the things I do every day. I am more comfortable speaking up for myself, and knowing that I can choose who to surround myself with and how I let people talk to me.
But rebuilding a life that you’ve constructed for 10+ years is grueling. The work has to happen, but it is ugly and hard and bumps up against every relationship in some way. And each day I am more and more appreciative of the consistency of my job, the quality of the relationships that I have there, where I can truly be me and be valued for the things that I alone bring to the table. Those relationships have been the soil in which I’ve found my way back to my true self, and gotten to live it every day.
So don’t try to be someone you’re not. It only makes things harder later on. Figure out who you are and be that. I promise, you can do it. It just takes a little bit of courage.