Rare human beings ask, "Who am I?".
Until my life began to spin wildly out of control, I thought I knew the answer to that question.
Not long after the birth of my third child, I asked my husband for a divorce. He did not take me seriously, and like many times before suggested I was crazy for ever considering such a thing. He told me he was happy, and that if I wasn't there must be something wrong with me.
Thinking perhaps maybe my husband was right, as well as wanting to still seek his approval, I entered therapy expecting to be told I was in fact crazy. Sadly a part of me wished this was so, for deep within me laid an intense desire to finally feel validated by my husband. Somewhere on some chaotic plane of my existence breathed the sick sense that whispered, "Maybe if I am told I am crazy, this will make my husband happy". This dysfunctional thought actually brought me some relief on some twisted emotional level.
During my first session my therapist Ed asked me, "So, who are you? Who is Lisa?".
I quickly responded, "I am a wife. I am a mother. I own and help operate a business with my husband. I am the head of security at my children's school, and I am a member of the PTA."
Thinking I had answered fully and intelligently, I felt satisfied with my response, until Ed came back with, "I didn't ask you what you did. I asked you 'who' you were. What makes Lisa Lisa?."
I remember feeling as if my brain short circuited for a moment or two as my mind scurried its corners for some clue as to how to answer this authority figure. But there was nothing.
In those moments that followed, I began to become slightly aware that for whatever reason I was truly messed up. Something within me began to become very much aware of how far off course my life was. I could feel a rush of wanting to know what that was that was wrong within me, for I knew not being able to answer such a simple question meant I had a lot of work to do.
"My husband thinks I am crazy for wanting a divorce, so that is why I called you", I said to Ed.
"Do you think you are crazy?", replied Ed.
"I am not sure anymore. I don't know what I feel anymore. I just know I don't have any more strength in me to deal with him. I feel like I am just done. I am dead to him. I am numb."
"Well you're not crazy, but you are codependent, and you need to learn how to stop enmeshing your self with his wanting, and his needs. You probably anticipate the needs of others quite well, and yet cannot hear the calling of your own voice. You probably care more what others think about you than what you think about you. You probably judge your self quite harshly, and yet allow others to take full advantage of you. You probably seek validation from the outside, rather than the inside. And if I had to guess, you probably have alcoholism in your family", Ed said to me, as I sat still hinging on every word that fell from his pale pink lips.
Ed would be right on all counts.
From that day on, I not only listened to every word Ed spoke, but I heard them as well. At his urging I purchased and engulfed the book "Codependent No More" by Melody Beattie. In this book, I found a home. I found a friend. I found my self, the old and the new improved self that is me.
The journey I began that day has not been an easy one. But it has been the greatest adventure of my life.
Up until those moments, if you had asked me who I thought I was, and if I believed that I had self esteem, I would have answered in confidence, believing that I knew who I was, and that yes indeed I had self esteem. Based on the level of self awareness that I had at the time, I would not have been lying. Many years later however, through the jagged peephole that is memory, I now know that at the time I knew very little of what it was that was this thing called 'my self'.
It could not have been any other way for me, for I had been taught throughout my life to deny, ignore, disown and distrust this thing called 'my self'. Born to two adult children of alcoholics, who had been taught to deny, ignore, disown and distrust their own 'selves', it could not have been possible, unless through the miracle of awakening, that my parents could have taught me to honor that which they did not know to honor within themselves.
One cannot teach a child to love that which the one has no knowing of. Alcoholism had robbed my parents of the joy of discovering and loving their true selves. Their lives were lives that were built on survival. My mother was a child who worried where she and her siblings next meal was going to come from, and how it was they were to be able to get their drunken mother off a bar stool and up to her bed. My father was one who was verbally, physically and emotionally abused by his alcoholic father and who in addition was abandoned by his mother when he was four as the result of her suicide.
My mother was only nineteen, and my father twenty when I was born. Children themselves, without an understanding of their own uniqueness, could never have known how it was they were to nourish in me an appreciation of the unique being that I was. Instead, I was taught to smile when I felt like crying, and to be quiet when I felt like screaming. In essence, I was taught that not rocking the boat was far more acceptable than telling the truth. I was taught to fear what the neighbors thought and to conform to what it was, that was impressed upon me as to what was acceptable. Although every cell in my body begged me to break out in individualism, every being in my environment did what they could to shame me into obedience and conformity.
A love for my self could not have been, for without its reflection in the eyes of those who raised me, its soul could not have been born. Self, must be mirrored back to the innocent as they grow, for if the self is denied, life for the innocent child becomes a maze of misguided internal communication, which results in a life that is very much lived in search of love and acceptance from the outside, when in reality, love must always first come from within ones own being.