The Real Deal
At a time when I was really struggling to unearth an authentic identity, I remember one of my favorite therapists sharing with me a saying that was shared with him. What he told me was "you be you".
Having been a perfectionist and people pleaser most of my life, I found the idea of "you be you" to be daunting, but some part of me was also intrigued. Thus the process of becoming a genuine me, one that I was at home and happy with, took repeated lessons regarding self-compassion and self-love. It took a conscious and daily practice of surrender and allowing myself to be okay with whatever was unfolding.
At first I was scared - I mean petrified. How was I going to survive facing all my mistakes, poor choices, failed relationships, character defects, and countless flaws? Truth is it took a great deal of radical acceptance.
I first learned about radical acceptance as a participant in Dialectical Behavioral Therapy in 2009. What I took away from the group discussion on this topic is that radical acceptance is the knowing that if things could be different, they would be different and being at peace with the fact that "it is what it is". Boy, oh boy, when I first thought about this I didn't like it one bit! I wanted pretty much everything and everyone to be completely different than it was. What I had was a bad case of extreme willfulness topped with foreboding hopelessness.
I spent enormous amounts of energy pretending, wishing, denying reality, and perpetuating the false belief that things just had to be different. I went through great lengths to avoid any unpleasantness by means of an array of unhealthy coping skills, by refusing to acknowledge that I needed help, and by forcing things into places they were never meant to be and which they never fit. What futile foolishness that was! That approach, living life based on an illusion is not a life at all, it is something for certain, but it is not living life on life's terms or having a life worth living. It ultimately cost me nearly everything that meant anything including my very existence. I was so full of resistance, blame, and anger, which reflects the absence of the willingness I desperately needed and the serenity I yearned for. As I cultivated an attitude of willingness I found I was allowing more things to simply be and came to embrace recovery.
I used to think that the giving up of who I am to please others was heroic; truth is, it is selfish and self-sabotaging and only leads to misery. People never get to know who you really are and you keep the world from receiving the gifts that only you can bring to the party. The truth is that God didn't create me (or you) to be somebody else and if God in His infinite knowledge saw it fit to bring me into being, with all my good parts and not so good parts, then who am I to argue with that! I already tried playing God and didn't do such a hot job.
I used to believe that I was non-judgmental, but eventually and quite painfully I realized that couldn't possibly be true, because I negatively judged myself and my life mercilessly all the time. That negativity, victim mentality, and unhelpful self-depreciation needed to go. In my heart of hearts I knew these traits were keeping me from realizing my potential and would keep me stuck if I didn't find a way to transform them in a way that allowed me to be me. My art has played a huge role in helping me to discover what lay underneath all the garbage I had buried my true identity under. One of my own sayings that came out of this process of excavation is "Just Undo It". The realness of who I am has always existed, it just became more and more unrecognizable and unreachable over the years.
Could it be possible that learning and growing from the things we need to work on prepares us for what we are put here to do? I now believe this to be absolutely true! Now, that doesn't mean this gives us permission to purposefully make bad choices. What it does mean though is that we can accept that we are all doing the best we can, from where we are, with what we know. We each have a unique journey and are at different points on the path. The good news is that we can change the trajectory of our life and our perspective anytime we choose. It will take some effort, but with the effort is comes inner wisdom and also immense relief and joy. In fact, the more we learn about who we are and what gives our life meaning, the more likely it is that we will make sound, life-affirming choices on sunny days and in the midst of a storm.
Through radical acceptance I can learn from the past and not be chained to it. I might not necessarily like a situation but I don't need to let paralyzing fear, hurt, or stress take root. I can set myself free from suffering. I can learn from all experiences, I can choose to become better not bitter, and I can heal from shame.
Sure, there are a number of things I would still like to change, but the difference now is that I am not trying to morph into being someone else, nor am I fixated on wanting to change the unchangeable. I can choose to see all people, places, and situations with an awakened heart and be the best me I can be. I can be content with being real and with all that entails.
If you struggle with knowing who you are or have trouble with self-acceptance, I am here to offer hope and encouragement and to let you know, without question, that you are worthy of being loved and happy. Be willing to do what is necessary to get back to what is honest and most sincere within you. You don't need to do it alone but sometimes it helps to be your own advocate. If you already have a strong sense of self, celebrate that everyday and nurture that quality in others.
As I continue on the journey of being me, I hope my path crosses with what is authentically you.
"Share your weaknesses. Share you hard moments. Share your real side. It'll either scare away every fake person in your life or it will inspire them to finally let go of that mirage called "perfection", which will open the doors to the most important relationships you'll ever be part of."
- Dan Pearce, Single Dad Laughing
"I will praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well."
(Psalm 139:14, NIV)