There is a story about my grandma’s oldest sister that I love. It goes like this. She was expecting the young man she was seeing to show up any minute for their date. Her sisters spotted him coming up the road and ran to warn her “Hurry up Viola!” They yelled. “Go straighten up, comb your hair! Roscoe is almost here!” To which my great aunt replied calmly, “If he doesn’t like me the way I am, he doesn’t like me at all.” Apparently he did like her exactly the way she was, because they later got married and had several children together.
The thing that has always fascinated me about this story, is that she knew who she was, and she was not afraid to be that person. In contrast, I have always hated who I was. I thought of my personality traits as sin, and I hated myself for them. My creative daydreaming side? Laziness and a waste of time. The bangle bracelets I wanted to wear? Immodest. The combat boots I liked? Stupid and unladylike. My thirst for knowledge and autonomous thought? Rebellion and arrogance.
I spent so much time hating myself and trying as hard as I could to change myself into the godly, quiet and meek woman I believed I was supposed to be. And I was so very bad at it. It was a lose-lose situation. If I wasn’t being the woman I was “supposed” to be, I felt worried and sad that I was displeasing God and following my own inclinations. If I was doing my utmost to fit the box I was “supposed” to fit in, then I felt depressed and emotionally dead.
The last few years have been an ongoing discovery of myself. Figuring out who I am and learning to be OK with me even if I don’t fit the model I idolized for so long. I’ve mentioned before that I feel that this song “Bring me to Life” accurately describes how incredible that has been. I truly feel as if I have been coming to life, from a half-existence I had before.
So who am I? On the surface, I still largely look the very same as I always have. I’m pretty sure that some of what annoys me about people, is when they assume things about me based on who I was and to them nothing has visibly changed. I am still a wife and stay at home mom, unless you are around me a lot, or get into a deep discussion with me, you may not realize the internal journey I’ve been on. But I feel the difference. And when I doubt myself, all I have to do is look at pictures or videos of myself from a few years ago in comparison to more recent ones. The quiet awkward serious girl who tried to avoid the camera and refused to say much on video has slowly been replaced by a more vibrant noisy woman who smiles and even laughs on video.
Shedding that shame, and learning to replace that self-hatred with love, has made me more capable of showing love to my children, even when they show evidence of their mother’s personality traits I once believed were sinful. I am not evil and wrong, and neither are my children. I’m not sure I can even describe how healing that realization has been.
When I first started this process, I felt like I had no idea who I really was. I was a very negative person, and my first tendency was to explain away any ideas or desires I had until I had convinced myself that wasn’t what I truly wanted. This was pretty effective at keeping me from doing much of anything that I wanted to do. I kept my head down, and followed someone else’s lead.
To counter that instinct, I’ve developed a set of questions to ask myself when I am being negative, defeatist and shutting down.
1. Am I shutting down this idea because I was told it was wrong? Do I still believe all these bad things will happen as a result of me thinking this thought or trying this action?
2. Am I shutting down this idea because I believe that I will fail at it? Is this my low self-confidence telling me that I will do so badly that it would be worthless to try? Is that really true?
3. Am I shutting down this idea because deep down I actually don’t want to do it, but I am doubting myself and feeling guilty because I think I am supposed to do this or think this way?
These questions have helped me learn to trust my ideas and instincts again. And slowly I’ve begun to have interests again. I remember the deep urges to create things, make things beautiful. As I’ve let go of the perfectionist ideal, I’ve been more able to embrace my messy creative side, letting the laundry wait a little longer as I let go as I learn to write something without ridiculing every word I place on paper. I’m still trying to get to the point of being able to knit something to completion without unravelling every row after I deem it unworthy. I am starting to have the confidence to know that it is OK for me to have thoughts and ideas of my own. I no longer have to bite my tongue and look at the floor.
What’s more, I have people in my life who actually want to hear what I have to say. And the people who don’t want to see or hear me, don’t have too. I do not have to live my life to please them, be who they want me to be. Because guess who has to look in the mirror everyday and face Melissa? Me. I’m the one who has to live with myself and the life I am living. And after years of avoiding the camera or even looking in the mirror, now for the first time, I can.
Now, for the first time, I feel beautiful. I feel free. I feel real.
In shedding the plastic shell of who I was molded to be and learning to be present and engaged. I can let myself get messy. I can let go and dance or roll on the floor with my kids. I can drop my insecurities and get passionate with my lover. I can let my hair blow crazily in the wind, instead of rolling up the window. I am free to make mistakes and make amends for those mistakes. I can face life with arms open, and embrace change as it comes.
It is when I am present, when I am most honest with myself and others, that I feel ALIVE and beautiful.
And that is when I can remember that whether I speak of acquaintances or friends, or even of a God.
If I am not liked the way I am,
I am not truly liked at all.