On our drive to school one morning, my daughter pointed to the toys dangling from her backpack: a plush pink pony and a devilish red Lego cat. "These are the two sides of me," she observed matter-of-factly. "This one is my good self, and this one is my dark side."
I looked up from following the road to stare at the mini-me in the passenger seat. Two sides, yes! What a profound thought!
Of course I always knew that I had a "dark side", but from an early age I was taught to "crucify" that part of myself. There was black and there was white. Sin and righteousness, good and evil. And we sorted them out the same way we sorted the characters in the Proverbs into categories of foolish or wise.
Numerous homeschool assignments rated our "virtue" according to Bill Gothard's preferred character traits. A perfect score meant an absence of those characteristics Gothard found unsavory: tardiness, slothfulness, fairness, extravagance, restlessness, loneliness, anger, and resistance, to name a few! (Looking back over the list today makes me shudder! It was a steaming load of bullshit, but for ten years, we took it very, very seriously.)
And so, as a teenager, I obediently discarded those "illegitimate" parts of my personality, or stuffed them down deep. A poster mounted outside my bedroom charted--in pink and blue print according to gender--acceptable aspirations. The sorts of things I might choose to become? A faithful scholar, an excellent home manager, an obedient daughter, a teacher of good things, a wise mother, a virtuous wife.
Subconsciously, I think those ideals were still defining me until last year.
But this year... I am intentionally exploring the rest of myself...
My less-than-wholesome side!So far I have liberated:
The facets of my personality that have no place in the Proverbs 31 model.
The parts that had to be squelched to be a "godly" woman.
...a bold risk-taking heroine,And I'm sure there are other aspects of me still hiding. I rather hope there is an actress in there somewhere!
...a flirtatious and sensual "harlot",
...an inner bitch who swears and speaks her mind,
...a scared little orphan who misses her mom and longs to belong,
...a provocative artist yearning to create...
Frankly, some facets of my personality intimidate or embarrass me and I feel like I ought to apologize for them. But at the same time, they are helping me grow as an individual. They are coming to my defense when I would otherwise cower in fear. They are broadening my horizons, offering new adventures and experiences. They are helping me discover my passions and showing me how to have fun. They are leading the way as I learn how to live from my heart instead of merely from my head.
And oh, the conversations I have with myself these days!
My sexy self has gotten me into so much "trouble", in the best sense. My heart got cracked open. More on that later.
The familiar "mom" voice: "It's not like you weren't warned! You knew the odds going in and you accepted the risk."
Drama queen: "I feel like I'm going to die!"
Passionate poet: "But you're not dying, are you? That feeling you feel? That's being alive. Sometimes it hurts like hell, sometimes it feels like heaven. Sometimes it's both at the same time, or all over in between. Isn't it amazing to feel alive?!" [begins humming song from Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood]
Feminine feminist, interrupting: "I guess so. Remember how excited you were to have your own birth story? Not that pregnancy was so fun, but afterward... I finally felt like part of the sisterhood of adult women. And I'm proud to have finally gotten to share this human experience, too. Most people have a breakup story, after all. This is my experience and I'm grateful to be having it. It shows that I'm living my own life!"
(I have journal pages devoted to the things she says, in hopes that they won't actually come out of my mouth without warning--ahem!)
Journalist: "Don't forget that someday your kids are going to have their hearts broken. You need to lean into this experience and etch it into your memory so you can pull it out and relate to them when they need you to understand. Just like you used to imagine having a teenage daughter when you wrote in your journals as a fifteen-year-old. You never wanted to forget what that age felt like, and how misunderstood you felt."
And speaking of teenagers, I've felt like one this year, in so many ways! This delights me, because the ATI cult robbed me of a normal adolescence. I had believed that phase of emotional development gone forever, but this year I was given the greatest of gifts—the chance to experience some traditional rites of passage as if I were a teenager for the first time. One of those was exploring my own sexual and emotional autonomy. I went on my first "date"!
Of course, like a teenager, I was unprepared and didn't know what to do with all the wild new sensations, but the adventure was a gift all the same. It felt as if I'd unlocked a new level in the game of life, with access to powers and even weapons I'd never tried before. I tapped into my feelings in a new way and found them a regular cataract of contradictory emotions that threatened to overwhelm me, just as I used to feel torn apart by emotion when I was much, much younger. And yet, somehow listening to my feelings feels far healthier than attempting to dam up the "bad" ones or use reason to shut them off.
Living from my heart rather than my head has had a cost. I've been forced to confront my deepest insecurities, evaluate my values, scrutinize my motives. It was messy and I saw some ugly things. My "dark" side was sometimes clumsy and graceless.
In the parlance of the courtship cult, I "gave away" a bit of my heart--and it got predictably hurt. It has scrapes and bruises it didn't have before, but it also has stretch marks, because it grew. I learned a lot about the nature of love. About my own resilience. That friends keep on caring. That there can never be too many hugs. That many humans are kinder than I imagined, the world a safer place.
2015 will go in the annals as a year of intense feeling and exquisitely painful growth--and every bit has been worth it. It's been a year of active transition as I discover how I want to live and who I want to be.
This is a season to rest quietly, to look inward and ponder. To absorb the many lessons learned from an independent relationship with an incredibly brave and generous individual. To process the changes and ask what they mean, even as the ripples continue to slowly spread.
Most days, I like this newer, updated version of my self! She feels less "right" but more real. More open, less rigid, and therefore less fragile. My anxieties have receded this year, in both number and potency. I spent so many years fearing the shadowy places of my own heart, having been warned that following my heart would ruin my life. Now that I've embraced my less decorous traits, I realize they are part of my strength, not a threat to it.