Identity Crisis? – A Personal Reflection On Emily’s Prior Post, “Messy”

JeffStanding

Hmmm, yes, welcome to our new world. A world of faith. Not the typical world of comfort and fear. Somehow that world seems or seemed easier. One in which you don’t have to think as much. You don’t have to self-motivate. Clear cut rules are dealt out like a poker hand every day, and we play them in the best way we can. But we’re not the dealer, and we lack the power of the dealer to control the hand. When we agree to become the dealer, the rules change. Suddenly we have responsibilities we didn’t previously have including absolute responsibility as to how and what we do, as well as the direct effect on those within our personal space, within earshot, and within eyeshot, be it directly or indirectly. We are now causal beings, and no longer affected beings.

Wrong. We are always both. In fact, now we have become more affected by actions of others. We are more sensitive. This is because our ego is more exposed and open to scrutiny. The “discomfort” of vulnerability opens up old wounds, wounds we tucked deep down inside. Wounds from our early years to which we had long ago lost our connection to our real self. Rightly so, as when we tucked them away, we were not equipped to deal with them. But like bedsores, they continue to fester and grow regardless of how comfortably we live. Because of this, I believe our identity is our greatest foe. It keeps us from seeing our own faults, and in doing so, facing them head on. It’s easier to find fault in others and attempt to “one up” them.

Now Emily and I are living in a 175 square foot petri dish. We are attempting to face our own truths. We are different in many ways, but in those differences lie the reality of how similar we are. We may have developed different coping strategies, but the core factors are the same. We are also both so certain of our coping strategies that we unconsciously compete on the grounds of who’s is better. This identity controls us, but we are steadfast in our loyalty to it. We are powerless, but we believe IT gives us power. Wrong, but what is the alternative? The alternative is simply letting our true selves out into the world, exposed like a newborn for all scrutiny. The difference is we now have some of the tools with which to stand up for ourselves. We don’t have to rely on our parents or adaptive coping measures to be who we really are. But isn’t our ego there to “back us up”? I think so, but only so long as it doesn’t overreach by diving into fear and using our outmoded techniques to provide the support.

Through a tiny bit of work with Emily, I had found the need to be perfect was a core contributor to my identity. I am certain this need is inherent in very, very many other folks out there. It can be seen in the need to do everything for oneself, never asking for help. To us, everything must be performed at the highest level, we must be experts in all things. If we don’t know how to do something, rather than hiring it out or delegating, we learn how to do it ourselves. It’s an insatiable desire to prove our worth. It is however a thirst that can never be quenched, at least not on the same level at which it was created. A change has to take place. That change is what I remain uncertain of, though I believe it begins with facing the fear of worthlessness. And yes, for many years I have been told I am good at this or good at that, but it is easily deflected by my ego. The simple solution is to simply say thank you and to embody that praise. Instead, I find myself explaining the pitfalls of the accomplishments and how they may have been improved. Again, unquenchable thirst for perfection.

In a relationship, this action by the ego acts as a slight pushing away of the other person. But, a small nudge over and over again is a big push. To our highest and best partner, we can’t possibly be exposed. We can’t be seen as who we truly are. Maybe they will no longer love us. We will be subjugated to them for good, the relationship out of balance. They will have control! Being open and vulnerable are likely one of the greatest contributors to failed relationships. They hit a certain level of emotional intimacy, then they become stagnant, even protective of the ego to the point of undermining the relationship. Time goes by, separation occurs. One day, we wake up and say, “Who the hell is this person?”. In my case, it’s been more like, “Who the hell am I???”.

As one whose main protective measure became the “wallflower technique”, it’s easy to lose myself. I adapt to the people and situations around me, never sticking my neck out, never standing out. When someone calls me out for good or bad, I react accordingly. For good, I deflect. For bad, I have multiple techniques. One I’m not proud of is to lie or pass the buck. This doesn’t happen often, but it has. Another is to accept the blame and take it really hard for a while. The burden I take on is not commensurate with the error, penalizing myself well beyond the scale of the “mistake”.

What I learned through Emily’s therapy technique is that when I was younger I wasn’t part of “the club”. In particular, my brother and my father had a closeness with which I wasn’t a part. Specifically, they shared a love for all things mechanical. Cars, woodworking, construction projects, etc. At the time, from what I can actually remember, I loved learning (books and school) and I loved art. I took art classes all through high school, and I remember having great friends in those classes and feeling “at home”. So, even as I was toiling through school to learn what I could about what I actually enjoyed, I also took drafting classes, worked at a hardware store, learned how to work on my own car, and took wood shop. I was in fact good at all these things, but spreading myself so thin never allowed me to focus on any one thing, and I remain that way (for the most part) to this day.

Much of this I’m sure was complicated early on when I was around 11 years old. Dad was evidently unhappy in his and mom’s marriage, and he left the marriage for another woman. They had met on a business trip, and she lived in Florida. So, hurray, a way out of Ohio, too! As a youngster, I naturally took this departure on as partially my fault, further encouraging my efforts to learn anything that my dad liked and to be as “perfect” as possible. As many, many years passed, I grew older, became an adult, but in some ways I have remained as a child. Even as my father passed away nearly nine years ago, and as I spent the last three months of his life living with him and helping take care of him and the house, I never felt any validation. I looked to him to change who he was and to accept me as another person. I instead should have worked harder to accept him for all his faults and realize none of it reflected on who I am as a person.

For about fifteen years prior to his death, both my brother and I had given up on our relationships with him. We’d maintained minimal contact, typically letting him reach out to us by phone. He had long since gotten divorced from his second wife, went through a five or so year period of time in which he was dating different women but was mostly single. Then after that married a third wife who absorbed him like a sponge. The brief time between his second and third wives was the closest I would ever be with my father, but again, it just disappeared as he lost himself in another relationship. Well, he did what I am so capable of. He adapted. He changed to a person to fit the new mold. He became a father to a new step-son, Nathan, and based on all accounts by Nathan, a fantastic one! I’m certain I initially had resentment toward Nathan. I was at that time 21 years old, still quite immature and living quite intently as a drinker/partyer. Nathan was quiet and somewhat of an introvert, book-smart and talented in music and art. Over time, I’ve gotten to know Nathan well. He’s now part of the family, but even more he is a kindred spirit to me. For that, in all of this, I am thankful.

All of these years later after dad has passed, I still find I am trying to prove myself. This is because the other member of the club is still in my life, my blood brother, Brian. When we were kids, he and his buddies had fun picking on me and my friends. I was also young for my class, effectively starting early, so being smaller and less mature than the others added to the difficulty. Since I was more of a lover than a fighter and since (per my mom’s later accounts) she spent a great deal of time in the very early years of my life with me and therefore my brother with my dad, unintentional complications arose out of these factors. I am guessing Brian feels a similar jealousy of my possibly closer relationship with our mother. As kids, we acted as such, but mostly he picked on me, and I took it. It was only later as adults that we saw each other differently and came to be close. Maybe it was through our father leaving us and in dealing with the emotional mayhem of mom’s side of the family that we became close. Even still to this day, I find myself trying to no end to prove myself to my brother.

All that aside, here I stand an imperfect person making every effort to be perfect. That’s hard enough to do in a controlled environment. Throw yourself into “the deep end” and live solely on faith. Now, try to be perfect. Add to that another fine gem of an impediment born out of lack of worthiness, fear of money troubles. When you have an underlying sense of worthlessness, of course you don’t feel you deserve the good things in life. Also, from growing up under the roof of a single mother’s home funded mostly by a teaching salary, combined with that little bit of money dad was agreeable enough to add, we learned that life is hard and money is scarce. At thirteen, I took my first summer job working at a farm down the street. Mom beat it into our heads that when they called us to come to work at 6am, “you’d better say yes or they won’t ask you again!”, adding to my already diminishing sense of worth. Sure, it improved my work ethic, but now I was on track to live a life unsustainable.  I don’t in any way blame my mother for this, or my father, brother, or anyone really. I’m just stating how I believe I got here.

Now I sit here at 43 years of age living life in a way that inspires so many folks, and yet I am afraid. I am afraid of 1) not having enough money, 2) losing my indentity (even if the one(s) I’ve had before didn’t feel right!) by letting go of work opportunities/turning down work and not renewing my certifications, 3) for enjoying life only for myself, for not providing somehow for the greater good of my fellow man, 4) for “losing my edge” (aka-work ethic, respect from peers), 5) for “pissing away” all the money we’ve saved, 6) etc, etc, etc. So, it all comes down to one thing: identity.

This is what Emily finally had a sense of after realizing what it would feel like to let go of the work she’s been doing for so long. Who are we? What are we? What do we stand for? Even though I know why we chose to do this, I still struggle with letting go of who I was. In fact, I struggle with letting go in general. Typically, Emily does not. She decides, she does. I consider, I calculate, I plan, I consider some more, I make a little effort, I drag my feet, I consider some more, and eventually through the pulling of teeth, I do. Then, I ponder why I did it, consider what it would have been like if I hadn’t, try to cling to what I was, bla, bla, bla. In the Catholic world, if I’m not mistaken, I believe this is something sort of “purgatory”. The grayness. Non-committal. In between. Call it what you will, but it really is about suffering.

Unfortunately, suffering doesn’t just affect us, it affects anyone we are in contact with in any way. I also truly believe we even affect those we are not in direct contact with by adding positive or negative energy to our space. This effect on energy is something both Emily and I are extremely sensitive to. When one of us is “off”, the other feels it instantly. So, for example, recently when Emily was in the process of absorbing her identity crisis, my world instantly felt shaky. My wallflower or chameleon mode kicked in, but remember we are in a small space, we are going through many, many changes causing similar effects, we are facing great emotional and spiritual shifts almost daily, and I fell off the deep end. I’m talking downward spiral. If only for a short time, I felt an overwhelming sense of despair. I said some dark things. We were in a pit.

The next day, I got up, light as a feather. Emily, light as a feather. Like it never happened. Weird, but typical. It makes me think of a time almost exactly five years ago, and literally only about fifteen miles from here. Just before moving to Colorado, I tackled a 10-day Vipassana Meditation clinic. In my mind, it would be relaxing. It would help me cope with a similar experience as now, leaving a place in which I am familiar and a career in which I am very familiar to go somewhere I know very little about and start a new unknown career. As it turned out, these ten days of meditation was not relaxing so much as painful. There was emotional and spiritual pain that when they didn’t show up as what they really were, came as physical pain. As much as 10 hours a day were spent coping with this in meditation. It wasn’t what I signed up for! The day I left the center, however, I could have floated away. I was changed. Life felt different. I believe my true self was more exposed through the risk of moving somewhere new and more importantly challenging the belief of who I was.

As I do this again, now with my soul mate, she faces this too. Yes, it is a clear and obvious benefit to have a partner with which to tackle massive personal growth and life experience. But with that comes the days where one of us is in turmoil, or both of us are. It appears to me the days of the big struggles are less and less, and the good days are more and more. Since our episode more than a week ago now, we’ve had a spectacular time. Life isn’t good…it’s great! As we continue to challenge our identities on this adventure, growing pains will almost certainly be a regular part. But we can be thankful in knowing the pain indicates change and what comes after is bliss.

Now you know a bit more about me, good or bad. As always, much love.

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7 thoughts on “Identity Crisis? – A Personal Reflection On Emily’s Prior Post, “Messy”

  1. Woooooowwww. I feel many things as I read this; most prominent is pride. I’m so struck by the magnitude of your writing as you really show yourself. I think somehow its the best you’ve ever written. I could read it for hours. I’m so proud. I love you. (heart)

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