emotions

versions of me

WHAT IF MY LIFE LOOKED DIFFERENT?

It started in elementary school. My kindergarten teacher recommended I skip 1st grade, but my mom didn’t want my younger sister and I to be farther apart in school. I always wondered, if I were a year ahead, would I be more motivated? If I tried harder, would I have a better work ethic? I graduated valedictorian in high school, but it was something I expected, something to which I felt entitled.

My early 20s were haunted by the “what ifs?” surrounding my college decisions. What if I hadn’t taken two years off to go to Bible school? What if I hadn’t been afraid of failure — if I kept auditioning for women’s choir, even though I didn’t make it the first time, because I love to sing? If I took an English class, even though I was intimidated, because deep down I wanted to be a writer?

And the “what if” that was my greatest struggle, the crossroad that held the most obvious divergence in life direction, the internal conflict that started this blog: what if I had accepted my Fulbright to Bulgaria instead of getting married and moving to Florida to join a church I had never heard of?

HOW DO I DEAL WITH IT?

I don’t regret my decision in the least, but at the time, I couldn’t move on. I tried different strategies to intellectually convince myself to “get over it,” unintentionally ignoring how my heart was still crying, begging to be noticed, validated, embraced without shame. I assumed that by recognizing the reality of my present circumstances, I was fine. I wasn’t aware my heart was filled with pain, bitterness, and anger.

There were so many things from my past I thought I had taken care of that didn’t actually need handling — they needed healing. But I didn’t know how to grieve — solely because I never learned to sit with my emotions. I was taught that my heart was not to be trusted, that being emotional was weak, that logic and reason were the only way to process anything. But my feelings are part of me, and to deny how I felt was to deny my whole self.

WHICH VERSION OF MYSELF IS THE “RIGHT” ONE?

In my mind, there were numerous “potential versions” of myself that could have been and still might be. But even if those versions were legitimate possibilities, they didn’t exist. Sure, I could have been a woman who chose career over family, travel over stability, cynicism over faith. But that isn’t what I chose, so it isn’t who I am. Owning my decisions empowers me to take responsibility for my life and everything it holds.

It was only after I got connected to my heart that I discovered which “version” was the most “me.” I wanted adventure, but more than that, I wanted love. I wanted independence, but more than that, I wanted intimacy. And a decision I recently made: I want my master’s degree, but more than that, I want to spend time with my children. But it’s no longer a battle within myself; it’s a liberated choice in agreement with myself.

Years ago, it was difficult to make decisions because I was so detached from who I was. Knowing myself makes it easier and easier to determine what is best for me. It’s still sad to let go of a dream, but as I sit with my sorrow and let it take its course, after an hour, or an afternoon, it passes. By nurturing my heart — my core, the deepest part of me — I become more and more myself.

I am whole, healthy, and free. And I like this version of me.

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Inspired after reading Laura Barnett’s Versions of Us. It was disheartening to watch her characters accept lies, betrayal, and turmoil in order to make sense of their lives. I realized I didn’t think that way anymore, that I’m no longer confused about who I am. I chose this version of myself and I’ll keep choosing it.

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dear anger

I was only a child when I met you, but I fell in love immediately.

You made me powerful. Decisive. Quick-witted and sharp-tongued. I didn’t realize how hurt I was that my father wasn’t the dad I wanted — wasn’t white, wasn’t athletic, didn’t try to understand me, didn’t know me. You were always with me on visitations with him. I didn’t know how to deal with him not being the person I wanted him to be, so you showed me how to be impatient, interrupt him, talk over and above him, make fun of his English, criticize his social skills, walk faster than him and leave him behind, shut him out, manipulate him, shout at him, mock his incompetence, irrational thinking, poor memory.

You put me on a pedestal when I didn’t get the attention I wanted. You filled me with contempt and taught me to despise others.

You introduced me to Apathy so I could have you both at the same time and feel invincible and impervious to the world. You convinced me that I didn’t need my father, that I didn’t need my mother, that I didn’t need anyone. You tempted me with an addiction to food, something no one could take away from me, so I could feel filled when I was really empty, and just indulge until I hated myself. You spurred me to be argumentative and to always win, so I wouldn’t have to accept any truth that I didn’t want to bear. Even the truth that my father had failed me. I told you all my secrets because Apathy said you were safe and harmless.

You and Apathy were jealous twins of a lover. You kept me disconnected from the world with the pleasure of power.

Maybe I saw you in my first boyfriend, maybe I subconsciously wanted to be in your control as I started being drawn towards others, like Love and Friendship and Joy. You kept me close and when you took the form of depression in him, I turned to Disgust to rid me of you, but Apathy had already taken more of a hold than I had thought, and I couldn’t see past Apathy to know you were still there. I loved this boy, but after several of his suicide attempts, Apathy convinced me he’d be better off dead. Since I was better and stronger than him, to care for him by letting him go, so the ones closest to him could really live.

I liked being chained to Apathy disguised as Love because I thought I was free — free from hindrance, free from you. I didn’t realize that the whole time I was with Apathy, you were hiding in a corner of the room, watching us, watching me, eyes always open, never blinking. I didn’t realize you had never left, that you tracked all my steps, that you were in the background of every photograph, that you were the uninvited guest at every party. You never said a word, but you followed my every movement like a shadow.

At Bible school, I was convinced you were gone for good. But still you hid, behind Religion and Rules, even behind the name of God.

When I was raped, I had no idea you were there. I thought I had gone from everything familiar, from anyone that knew me. You hid behind Confusion and Cultural Justification.

The Apathy I thought was Love in having healthy nondependent relationships progressed from not relying on people to not relying on God. The Apathy I thought was Strength in moving on and putting others’ needs before my own turned from being selfless to being isolated and proud.

I continued to escape with food and travel so I could distract myself and spend more time with Apathy. I didn’t know how to navigate the world so I sought Apathy to help me procrastinate and choose to not make choices, to not accomplish anything.

Anger, you’ve never left, but you’ve been more of a stalker than a faithful lover. I know it’s not all your fault, but Apathy doesn’t care to listen to me, and I just want a response. I haven’t felt true passion for anything in a while because Apathy has moved in and kicked my dreams and deepest feelings out of my heart so they’re just hanging out on the curb, waiting until there’s room for them to come back inside.

I’m opening my heart, but it’s pouring out there, and I’m standing in the doorway, watching the rain.