Early last year I drafted a personal mission statement:
“I choose to live…
As part of this process I sought feedback from my trusted mentor, MCF. You may recall that he wasn’t quite sure what to think when I shared this mission. After a long moment of hesitation, he asked about my use of the word ‘unapologetically’, saying (among other things) that it sounded as if the focus is on other people rather than myself. I expected that word choice would likely sound rather pointed to an audience; however, at the time, I felt this word the most strongly of the three elements. Having now spent more than a year carrying this mission with me day to day, I can say one thing for sure: I aimed high!!!
The new tangent of my life long search for my truest self which began with last year’s leadership class seems to have touched something new inside of me…something which was previously too deeply hidden, too carefully guarded by too many strong warriors – not just protected, but locked away, banished. It seems in my consciously choosing to deeply commit to being true to myself in that class, whatever the cost, allowed me access to a thread I hadn’t even known to look for previously. Authenticity had never before been something I considered to be of value – this signified a dramatic shift in my self-evaluation. With my recent interest in Myers-Briggs personality typing I’ve gained a new sense that, although rare, other people like me do exist; I honestly never before believed this. I’m not alone. I’m not broken, evil, wrong. I’m rare.
Each time I read my mission statement to myself, I struggled over ‘authentically’. It felt right (maybe even necessary) as a goal, but I hadn’t the tools to get there – perhaps I still don’t. Considering the endless masks I once wore instinctively but now more often consciously choose between and construct to serve specific purposes combined with my own inner personality conflicts, it’s no wonder the true self I seek became buried and eventually forgotten. Interestingly, I recently read about Internal Family Systems (IFS) therapy and the theory of Self-Leadership as described by Dr. Richard Schwartz, PH. D. This was a true, “Let there be light” moment for me; I don’t have to continue agonizing over which of these pieces of myself are truly ‘me’, pitting them against one another and judging all. Instead, I should accept them; the managers, the firefighters, the exiles. They are all me, they are all within because of where I’ve been; companions who have witnessed and experienced each day of my life, always at my side. These ‘pieces’ are actually the big picture, the whole. I’ve never felt able to find myself because I was looking for one where actually there exists a complex system.
When children are neglected and abused by their caretakers, the people meant to love and protect them, the only way a child can make sense of this situation is to conclude that there is something wrong with them, that they are not lovable, that they are dirty, bad and responsible for all the horrible things they experience – because, if only the child could be good, then caretakers would not have to neglect and abuse the child. I never understood exactly how my paradigm became a visceral belief that everything I experienced growing up was my fault; never realized why I hated myself so completely. I learned about this natural reaction in an incredible book my new therapist recommended, The Body Keeps The Score. I can’t quite put to words yet the shock of realizing my chronic migraines, my autoimmune disease and fibromyalgia, all of which seemed to appear out of nowhere are actually all commonplace for sufferers of PTSD.
After having thought at length over the past year plus as to how I could live authentically, eventually leading to a bit of an existential crisis in which I felt not only lost, but completely void of any genuine identity (and deeply upset H by expressing just how lost I was feeling) which, unfortunately, occurred amidst a deep depression I fell in to in January. I told H I felt like I’m just playing a character as his wife, that I so badly wanted to make him happy I created this persona, ‘the wife’, who is everything I think he wants and needs. For a while I thought I’d truly changed, was becoming this person I saw as the best partner I could be. Now, however, I realized this role doesn’t feel genuine, isn’t me. I thought I was changing but really I was only acting. And I don’t want to do it anymore; I want to be wanted for me – even if I don’t know who that is.
In January we attended his company’s annual holiday party with our friend from A Birthday To Remember which is when my identity crisis really started to spiral. Once again she was extremely responsive to me and when I joked about making out in the back seat of the car while H drove us to the party she was ALL IN! I had joked about leaving my lipstick on her face when we went in to the party because I was wearing a dark red color which would be very obvious. I ended up going in with no lipstick on, but we had both cleaned up after our hard and fast make out sesh. After the party we headed to a bar, then on the way back to our place had one more hot and heavy round in the back seat. However, after getting chlamydia from her last year, we were definitely cautious of the idea of an unplanned hook up. We all said goodnight and she headed home, only for me to find out that H was pissed at me! What?
Apparently he felt I’d disrespected him in the car; ignoring him to make out and not listening when he made it clear that it wasn’t okay for his coworkers to know she and I were making out before the party. I felt this was ridiculous; I know that’s not okay and would never put him in that position. I was JOKING about her going in with my lipstick on her face…I honestly didn’t realize she wanted to make out with me so much! This girl is always surprising me with how attracted to me she is and how aggressive she is. She just goes for what she wants and I’m not used to a partner who is so assertive. I enjoy it, but fearing H will be angry is a significant buzz kill. I felt like I was just being myself, having fun behind closed doors with no intention of advertising our private decisions at H’s party. Later he even told me he wouldn’t be mad about the joking before the party if it hadn’t been for the rest of the night and him feeling disrespected and ignored. Huh? So it would’ve been okay? Now I’m honestly confused.
I explained to H that the second make out sesh was completely instigated by her; one minute he’s telling a story and the next her tongue is in my mouth and her hand rubbing my pussy through my jeans. I’m the one who put a stop to this, although admittedly several minutes later, and tried to bring attention back to the story he’d been telling. Unfortunately my word choice was poor and made H feel further insulted. My bad! Still, I told him I feel like I can’t be myself in public because of his confusing and restrictive expectations. I didn’t even do anything in public or joke around or ANYTHING and yet he’s pissed about my behavior. The timing was poor all around because also in January I visited my grandparents in another state and found them doing significantly worse than anyone realized. My stress level went through the roof and the reality of my grandfather’s impending loss hit me full force. I’ve always had a very close relationship with my grandparents despite the physical distance, and being forced to confront the reality of how poorly he’s doing dropped me hard and fast into a deep depression that lasted for several months.
So, now I’m feeling depressed, as though I can’t be myself with H on top of feeling like I can’t be myself around anyone else, always have to be wearing the appropriate mask, and I just felt lost. Do I even actually want to live authentically? Because I’m where I am in my life, a pretty good place overall, thanks to the careful choices I’ve made and hard work I’ve put in. I’ve painstakingly build up my career thanks to a series of elegant masks; I’ve moved toward a healthier relationship with my emotions thanks to H’s influence and support; I’ve vastly improved my relationships with my immediate family and feel sincere connections with my Mom and sister for the first time in my life. I set these goals and I’ve attained them – but would I have any of this if I lived freely? I doubt it.
Although government workers are generally more of a liberal than conservative bent, I seriously doubt my career would flourish as it has were I an open polyamorous, married woman who loves men, women and the occasional couple; an open submissive who carries BDSM in her heart and mind everywhere she goes; a survivor of domestic violence and childhood emotional abuse who so badly wants to feel alive that I thrill-seek recklessly; smarter than most of the people around me, a better leader than most who lead, a more innovative thinker, willing to take more risks than those around me. Nobody lives like this for good reasons – firstly, so few exist as such, and secondly, this person would be an outcast, shunned, judged. Where is there room for the real me? I once thought that space existed in my marriage; now, all of a sudden, I think that was an illusion of which I convinced myself to believe.
Perhaps more importantly than my career (perhaps not), what family would I have living as this free, authentic spirit? As a teenager my mother once interrogated me out of nowhere about my relationship with my best friend, fearing I was a lesbian. Could she accept this wildly different person than she believes me to be? She considers me pragmatic, grounded and authentic above all else. She has no idea. My sister already thinks I’m crazy and has little contact with me, occupied as she keeps herself with her own quiet life. My husband, well, he got so angry about my sliver of authenticity with a trusted friend, in private, that he kicked off my identity crisis. He doesn’t want that wild creature, at least not openly. That’s always been clear, but I didn’t consciously realize that until years after we’d been together as I gained a better understanding of who I am and started having words to describe these things, like polyamorous, submissive, etc. His family, whom I have great relationships with, are very religious and although they’ve always welcomed me with love, I find it unlikely they could accept the real me, nor that they would even try.
I caught a conversation on Keeping Up With The Kardashians in which Caitlin and Khloe talk about the distance in their relationship since Cait’s transition. Cait asserts that she is the same person she’s always been while Khloe tries to explain to her that Cait is different than Bruce and Khloe has to get to know Cait as her own person and heal from the loss of Bruce. This situation resonated with me; what Cait doesn’t realize is that while she’s the same person to herself, prior to her transition she didn’t show that authentic person. So of course she’s the same person in her own view, but now the world is getting to know who Bruce was on the inside and kept hidden, which is not the same person to everyone else, who only knew what she chose to show when she was Bruce. That’s how I see myself too now; I’m the same person on the inside and now that I no longer believe that’s a bad person, that person wants out. However, the world has never seen that authentic person and I’m not sure anyone will be willing to try to get to know without judgment if I let that person out, let alone be able to accept and love that person. I feel as though I want to transition to living as that inner person, but how can I? I’d lose everything.
The final and most perhaps even more imposing component of my mission statement is just as deeply wrapped up in all of this: unapologetically. What do I seek to be unapologetic about? Myself of course; so, what am I? I am strong, fragile, a leader, submissive, child-like, intelligent, independent, clingy, a sensation-seeker, introverted, loving, fearful, open minded, stubborn, bratty, curious, brave, selfless, humble, collaborative, combative, growing, passionate, rare, creative, conscientious, reliable, analytical, moral, insightful, secretive, driven, flexible, committed, responsible, an achiever. I’ve always shied away from listing adjectives in such a way, because I knew I couldn’t handle reading such a LONG list of ways in which I was a horrible, terrible, BAD person. Tonight I leave this fear behind, knowing objectively that I am not in fact the despicable being I so long believed; and, having also accepted emotionally that this is not true. I admit these traits still have internal value attached to each, a specifically assessed point along an internal *great-good-okay-neutral-not so good-bad-very bad* spectrum, but even so, this list feels not only truly representative, but also more good than bad!
However, there are good reasons I’ve been conditioned not to show these many facets of myself freely and unapologetically. I feel as though I’ve spent this past year plus trying to understand who I would be were I to live authentically, and now that I’ve begun to get a handle on that, I’ve realized that were I to choose to live that life, unapologetically, I’d have nothing except that freedom; I’d be utterly alone. Perhaps I once believed that only bad people were alone, without family and love in their lives. Now I see just how easily I could fall into this same category living openly in spite of feeling that I am a good person. No wonder I couldn’t find the words to explain the meaning of my mission statement to MCF – it seems rather than highlighting my priorities which have been reflected through my choices I instead sought an impossible marriage between all that I’ve worked so hard to achieve and that which I’d never before considered, a new desire for just being me to be good enough for the rest of the world.
So here I stand, at an impasse. Unwilling to make the drastic changes some part of me clearly desires, yet also unhappy and unwilling to continue living as I have. How can I move on with my life, dare to feel authentic, without burning all I have to the ground? I sure hope my new therapist can give me some guidance…I certainly won’t go to the one person I desperately wish to, MCF. What price is authenticity worth? I fear, even as a woman in her 20s, the price has already grown too great and it is too late for living authentically to be a realistic option. What would MCF think? He has always seemed to value me, even knowing that I show at most 8% of who I am at work. When I need to fall apart, he is where I seek refuge. When I have sincerely crashed and burned, I’ve turned to him and found I truly wasn’t alone.
I ran in to him unexpectedly a few days ago after not having seen one another in weeks; I had a meeting in IT (a particularly insular floor in my building) and had resigned myself to not seeing MCF that day as his entire afternoon was blocked out with what appeared to be a meeting. Nearly ten minutes prior to my meeting I was wandering the unfamiliar floor attempting to determine exactly where my meeting would be located when, to my shock, I see MCF 20 feet in front of me. He is clearly walking somewhere with purpose, but I couldn’t let this chance slip away. I hurriedly followed and, beginning to close the gap between us, raised my voice, “Of all the places to run in to Mr. Casual Friday!” Unfortunately, he had come to a stop by the time I spoke and, based on the fact that he neither turned nor responded, was likely engaged in conversation with someone in one of the cubicles next to which he was standing. Embarrassed at being so desperate for his attention as to raise my voice whilst surrounded by busy IT workers I don’t know, I quickly resumed my search for my meeting location.
As it turned out, I was merely steps from finding the currently empty office at which I was not yet expected for more than five minutes. I value being prompt, but dislike being early. So, I wandered off to stand near the elevators and look through my email on my work phone. It honestly did not occur to me that MCF might be leaving prior to the beginning of my meeting in only a few minutes; however, perhaps my sub-conscious did consider this possibility. Either way, not two minutes had passed as I hung out near the elevators perusing my email before I heard MCF addressing me, “I thought I heard your voice!”. My attention snapped up from my phone so fast I’m surprised I didn’t drop it! Smiling, I joked, “Of all the gin joints in all the world…” He responded good naturedly, “Well, I don’t do gin, so it would have to be somewhere else.” “Same!” I agreed wholeheartedly. We chatted for a few minutes, including him asking what brought me up to IT and then talking about a whole bunch of things relating to my meeting with which he concluded, “…but you probably already know that.” Huh? I didn’t, actually…not even sure I followed what you described. Scratch that – pretty sure I didn’t catch any of that. But I did relish the sound of your voice!!!
Hmm…okay, not doing a great job of playing it cool here! I responded rather unintelligibly, feeling totally overwhelmed by his presence and energy. I was so delighted to see him and yet simultaneously unable to push from my mind the discussion I’ve lately been envisioning broaching with him – my recent discovery of the root of my health issues. This chance encounter had me feeling as though I was spinning out of control, confused yet excited, rejoicing in spite of the dark cloud which has been my companion of late. We wished one another well and parted, it being exactly one minute before my meeting was scheduled. Turning away and setting off, I was shocked to discover that I was shaking badly! My heart was hammering as though I’d just run for my life rather than the usual mellow blush I experience in MCF’s presence. With my destination just around a corner, I quickly checked over my shoulder to ensure MCF was out of sight and then had to stop and take a moment to compose myself! Since when am I totally shaken by a three minute chance encounter with a coworker whom I know has an office in the same building!?
I don’t know if my obsession with MCF has escalated (is that even possible?), if I overreacted to his presence due to how vulnerable the future conversation I’ve been enacting in my head between us makes me feel, or if I simply can’t handle the shock of an unplanned conversation with the object of my fixation (it is extremely rare for us to run in to one another by chance – our conversations happen almost exclusively when I seek him out in his office). I’m still finding it difficult to process how shaken I felt during and after that brief chat. One thing’s for sure – this absolutely cannot be good news for my sanity! I remember when I changed gyms at the beginning of this year I had a fantasy of running in to MCF at my new gym. When I joined the guy told me most of their members are in MCF’s age range and as I live outside of city limits, my new gym is actually in the neighboring town MCF lives in rather than the town we work in (it’s one of the closest gyms to where I live, honestly!). This fantasy, like nearly all of them, never materialized, which is probably for the best. And realistically, he’s a morning person. Were he to actually go to the same gym, the chances of us running in to one another are remote at best. So, just another fantasy to add to the mountains I’ve lost myself in (although it has helped get me to the gym before noon more than once :P).
Yesterday afternoon as I was working from home I realized I forgot to change my password when I was in the office and had to do it that day or physically go in to the office first thing Monday morning. Quite annoyed with myself, I jumped in the shower and got ready to run in. As is my habit, I checked MCF’s calendar and saw that his afternoon was free according to his calendar! Now far less annoyed about needing to go in, I made sure to wear something I feel good in and did my hair and makeup (this is my habit any time I go in to the office with hope that I might be able to see MCF – how pathetic!?). Eager as always, I dropped my stuff off at my desk and went straight to MCF’s office, only to find it dark with the door closed. MCF had definitely left the building 😦 Disappointed, I chatted with a coworker for a few minutes hoping to disguise my real reason for being there, then went back to my floor.
It’s probably for the best; I’m not sure talking about my PTSD with MCF is wise. In fact, I think it’s selfish. I’ve alluded to my dark past and mentioned volunteering as a domestic violence advocate, so its perfectly likely he has drawn correct conclusions. Still, confirming the violence I’ve experienced is not something I do lightly. In this case, I’m hoping for emotional support; I’m having difficulty processing this new realization, and can’t seem to conclude how I feel about this new knowledge. I want MCF’s insight and feedback, want his questions. I want to soak in his caring and absorb his serenity. As usual, when it comes to him, I just WANT! Also as seems to be usual, I don’t know what I should do. What I do know, is that I will continue to seek out MCF at every opportunity, coveting him even whilst his attention is focused on me, always wanting more…