Redefining Identity

A few really disorienting things happened to me when my relationship ended. Besides the usual things we would expect like change in routine, missing the person and the awkward business of splitting up your belongings / peripheral relationships, was the realization that over the 8 years of our relationship I had lost my sense of self.

And yes, I realize how dramatic and emo that sounds.  But truthfully, amid the disorientation it slowly dawned on me that I didn’t know who I was, what I liked, nor did I have the foggiest idea what to do next. I’m not talking the normal “oh wow, I’m no longer Y’s girlfriend” type existential crisis, it was much more disturbing questions like “what are my hobbies?” and “do I actually dislike country music?” Basic stuff you would expect a person in their 30s to know.

Slowly, insidiously, over the course of our relationship he became my whole world. Living with an addict (at least my addict) was being in a constant state of flux and drama.  There was always some kind of crisis happening in his life and that overshadowed anything that might be happening with me. In fact, even some of my challenges were twisted to become more about the impact on him. There simply was no space for anything but his feelings. In hindsight, this was likely so he always had a reason and justification to act on his impulses and indulge his compulsions, but at the time I was so consumed with trying to help him and make him happy that I didn’t realize how stupid, petty, and ridiculous some of those crises really were… and how they weren’t my responsibility nor were they more important than my own needs and interests. There is a difference between supporting someone you love (helping) and trying to fix all their problems for them (enabling). I didn’t understand this distinction or how demeaning and counterproductive enabling was for both of us.

Over time, and truthfully by choice, I no longer had any time or energy to pursue any of my own interests or needs.  I allowed myself to be manipulated into caring for him, carrying him, and slowly isolated myself (probably so no one would point out what I knew deep down: the relationship was FUBAR). Looking back, I remember that I wasn’t happy most of the time.  On some level I must have known that the relationship was lop-sided and I was allowing myself to be used… but there’s a funny thing I’ve since realized about denial: it’s not a sign of stupidity, it’s a coping mechanism used to put off dealing with things until we are ready. It took me a hella long time to be ready. If I had to speculate on what I was getting out of it, I think it gave me some kind of sick purpose.  Like he needed me and that was some kind of salve for my ego.

About 4 months after we parted ways I remember something mildly amusing happened with a coworker.  I laughed and laughed until I cried with joy as everyone stared at me with puzzled interest.  I was euphoric, it was epic… one of those laughs that has you beet red and gasping for air. Later that night it dawned on me that I couldn’t remember the last time I had been relaxed enough to lean into a moment like that and feel real pleasure. It was also the first time I felt sincere gratitude for a chance to move on without him and redefine myself as something other than his girlfriend, the well-intentioned wet blanket and Debbie Downer.

Over the time that’s followed I’ve rediscovered many passions that I had forgotten: music (including my unending love and girl crush on Brodie Dalle), getting lost driving in my car, the quiet and beautiful stillness of hiking through the woods, writing and humour. I’m also slowly discovering some new passions; including yoga, fitness and nutrition. I am patiently learning and re-learning the things that make me unique, interesting,  worthwhile and loveable. With this comes other great gifts like enjoying being alone and hope that this will lead to healthier relationships in the future without the urgency to force that into being.

I guess the point of this entry is, if you can relate to this lost feeling… it will get better.  Slowly (and not without setbacks), but I promise that if you take the time to rediscover and fall in love with yourself things will improve. You will remember and find the things that make you enjoy being you and they won’t depend on anyone else’s validation or interest. Whether your current situation works out, you decide you are passionate about moving to a monastery in Tibet, or you take a hiatus from dating and you unexpectedly meet your soulmate at the grocery store: you are going to do amazing things that will make you glad you kept grinding. Take your time, enjoy the moment that is here (not the ones that are coming or have already been), do the work and you will get there. I promise.