Lately I have been thinking about identity.
"Who am I?"
Eventually we all ask ourselves this question, whether we know it or not. Striving to figure out who we are and how we fit in this crazy world. Some of the struggles are with things that many consider clear-cut: gender, sexuality- complicated by societal pressures, cultural beliefs- most of all, fear.
Today, my thoughts are on the smaller pieces that we use to build a picture of ourselves. Some of the pieces are pushed or placed on us: perceptions of "the funny one" or "the athletic one", the cliques that pair off in schools and communities, joining in some activity. I think of the ways that we do define ourselves, as mothers, fathers, musicians, athletes, smart, beautiful, patriotic, left handed, blue eyed...the list is endless of the things we incorporate into our sense of identity. The things we choose are often sources of pride, that thing that is just a little bit better than most of the others around us. Those things are reinforced when others give us positive praise:
"Your hair is so nice! I could never have it that short and look good but you have the perfect face for it."
"You sing like an angel"
"I could never draw like that"
"You are soooo funny. You always make me laugh"
There is nothing wrong with this either! It feels good to be noticed for the things we do well and the things we love doing. The struggle comes when our identity is fused to that "thing". Nothing in life is certain. And yes, I know that we all know that. And I know that we still invest in these "things".
By now, either you are saying, "Totally, I feel this..." or "I am DONE reading this, this makes no sense."
We have to put on this role and make our children a priority. I would not argue that but I would and do often say that the parent needs to have their own interests. "I don't have time for that." Yes- that may be true. Between school and homework and making lunch and bathtime and dance classes and karate, grocery shopping, housekeeping, and work.....and and and....there isn't a lot of time left. AND- you have to make time. Children grow up. "I know that. That is why I want to spend as much time with them now while they still want to spend time with me." Okay, then make sure you have a plan for when they need you less. What are you going to do? Coaching Little League is awesome. What else? Do you like coaching? Do you like baseball? Can you play in an adult league or keep coaching after your child has moved up in the ranks or moved on?
The transition from parent to "empty nester" is tough, no matter how many things you do for yourself. "I don't know what to do with myself." and "I don't know who I am anymore" are two of the questions I hear most often.
Parenthood is a sacred thing. We are teaching and witnessing a person figuring out life and doing so knowing they are safe and loved by you. This is the way they can be the healthiest they can be! And it is a cliche and true that they will honor their own sense of identity if they see you honoring yours. Or they will assume that everyone is here to address their needs. That second one doesn't feel to good to me.
Imagine though that you do honor yourself and enjoy something such as art (art, art therapist, come on, you knew this was going to be an example). Imagine that you have spent most of your life creating. 40, 50, 60 years or more. That is a long time. That becomes a part of your identity almost by default because the majority of your life has been spent creating. Now imagine that arthritis is crippling your hands, your eyesight is nearly gone. You can't hold any tools to create. You can't see what you create. Aging is hard enough but if the spirit is crushed by "losing" this part of yourself....frankly, people die from this, sometimes literally, sometimes metaphorically.
Imagine a life spent hearing how good you look (FINE I'll say it- think reality TV / celebrity image level), how young, how clear your skin, how beautiful your hair color, how nice your figure. No amount of hair dye will keep your hair looking natural- eventually, you are THAT person who is CLEARLY dying your hair ("shes 90. there is NO WAY that is her natural haircolor). Your skin will take on folds and wrinkles and spots. You won't be young and the pursuit to stay young will eventually make you seem a foolish figure to others. Now imagine embracing that your face and body and hair will change over time. Imagine looking at smile lines and smiling more- knowing these smile lines are the medals won of a good life.
Don't get me wrong, I have stared into the mirror searching for grey hair, pulling back the skin around my eyes to "unwrinkle" them. I have relished hearing how artistic I am and enjoyed my identity as the "cool auntie". This is human, just as all of the other scenarios above are human. There is no perfect treatment. The best we can do is prepare. See how beautifully multi-layered we are and see how the hallmark of being human is our ability to adapt. We adapt as the sun rises and sets. We adapt to the seasons. We adapt to holidays and post holiday malaise. We adapt. How we do that is up to each of us- what we do to adapt- or choosing to give up and mourn the loss of our identity forever. Do you know that person? The one who is so busy lamenting life gone by or the unfairness of something that they forget each day and each day to come. The one that you don't really want to be around because they are SUCH a downer. They almost enjoy their identity as someone to be pitied. Someone who is victim to outside circumstances.
I think I would rather add "survivor" to my identity, not victim.
If you are still reading, now you may be saying, "Okay how do I do this?"
The answers aren't here. They are in exploring. Self exploration and social exploration. Trying things, seeing people, digging into the other layers that make you who you are or finding something brand new to do! I recently heard someone on the radio saying it is never too late to learn a new language. It may take longer but its not too late. So maybe you learn a language. Who knows? Don't do it because someone says you should- do it because it sparks your interest and seems fun, seems like it will add to the beautiful pattern of you.
We all age and all things must end. Jobs, day to day parenting, perfect hair, the ability to stay up all night and still function the next day (I'm not sure I ever had that to be honest but definately not after about 28!). You choose what is next.
Ah ha! Good for you! You are the person who stays for the post credits scene aren't you?
One way to help figure out some of those layers is an identity exercise sort of like the picture above. Grab a piece of paper. Any kind of paper- it can be a Post-it pad. Now, represent yourself.
You can use a photograph, print out or draw an outline of a person or profile like the one above, or pick some kind of symbol that has meaning for you. One person used their address labels! Whatever you use, make it meaningful and purposeful. Dipping into the deeper parts of ourselves is UN-COM-FORT-ABLE. No way around it though it may be enjoyable too.
Now, we go into a stream of consciousness or instinct mode. Don't think to much about it but choose words or pictures that somehow jump out at you. You can write, draw, cut out from magazines, type and print from a computer. IT DOESN'T MATTER HOW YOU DO IT as long as you do it.
Once you have a good pile of words, images, phrases or all of the above, take another moment to go through the pile. Again not thinking too much but giving yourself the opportunity to take out anything that doesn't feel right. Not something that doesn't "fit" because you might have unearthed that long ago desire to be a weight lifter or something! But something that feels wrong for you. If that doesn't resonate with you, keep 'em all!
Now grab a glue stick and glue away on your image or symbol. Some people put them inside the image (like above), some around. Notice if you end up covering the representation of yourself. You don't have to do anything with that, just notice. When you are done, simply look at what you created. Put it away for awhile if you would like and periodically look at it again. Try not to force anything. Self-discovery is a long journey.
Beware though that anything where you are focusing on yourself can be difficult and bring up strong emotions. If you are currently in therapy, you may want to bring in your identity piece to talk over with them. You may just want to clear out some time so if you need to be angry, you can be angry. If you need to cry, cry. If you need to be super happy joyous, you are super happy joyous.
"Identity cannot be found or fabricated but emerges from
within when one has the courage to let go."
- Doug Cooper
I have somewhat recently discovered the website upliftconnect.com. The organization has been around since December 2012. From their website:
"UPLIFT is actually an acronym…. for Unity, Peace and Love In a Field of Transcendence."
They have a wonderful description of their mission, a small part of which I have put below with a link to their website.
"Anchored in the fundamental belief that together we are far greater than the sum of our parts, UPLIFT is an opportunity to dream huge… and together to ignite a powerful, positive wave of unified action in the world."
Originally, this website came to my attention when I was working in an intensive program for dual diagnosis clients (mental health & addiction). The article was published in 2015 by author Jonathan Davis and is titled, "The opposite of addiction is connection". The article referenced the "rat park study", which has been long used as a foundation of a more modern understanding of addiction. The rat park study essentially claimed that the pull of addiction was based on environmental factors. Years later, Johann Hari performed research that he states demonstrates that the "rat park study" was flawed in that when rats in his revamped experience had social connections, the pull of addiction was lessened.
Now, this is a VERY simplified explanation. I think there is a desire to find "the cause" of addiction, or any issues really, but life isn't that simple is it? How many times have you thought, if there was only a magic pill for this, that, or the other thing? But, usually its a combination of things that both cause issues and cure issues. It would be nice if we could point to something and say, "That- work on that one thing and everything else will fall in place." Alas, when talking about addiction, often people do say that to the person struggling, "Just stop using/drinking/doing that, and everything will fall into place".
This well-meaning and hopelessly optimistic statement simplifies the disease of addiction and in simplifying it, lessens our ability to battle the disease. Think of a purely medical diagnosis, cancer, diabetes, heart disease, the doctor will say to change diet, exercise, sleep patterns, manage stress better, and take 2 of these a day. That's 5 things! FIVE treatments essentially. Five things to change. I swear that doctors have "lose weight and exercise" on auto script. And we nod and say yes yes yes- because yes, we know we have to exercise and eat better...but life....right?
So getting back to the addiction connection, how can we say, STOP DRINKING, as if it is that easy.
Really, we need to look at a lot of things, from the thing that drew the person to using a substance or addictive action, to the things that have been impacted by the addiction, to creating or re-creating identity and self-esteem.
One element is connection. I disagree with those who say that is the "root cause" of addiction. I don't know that I will know the root cause of addiction in my life time but I believe that would be down to our DNA, genetics. If there is an "addiction gene" then turning that off might be the root cause. I do know that when we look at the multi-layered things that our lives are built on and around, connection is one of those things.
Connection can be social, friends, families, romance, but we also have spiritual connections, connections to our inner selves, connection to nature, connection to art, and so forth. So connection, as an aspect impacting addiction, means finding a connection to something.
I worked with two other tremendously talented clinicians in the intensive dual diagnosis program and we agreed that you don't have to do AA or NA but you do have to do something. AA and NA are great programs, built in sober networks, something to do, someplace to go other than a bar or your dealer or the casino, people who understand but I can't claim it is right for everyone. What I do see is that the need for a connection, a relationship, to something other than the addictive substance or behavior. The need to fill the space left by taking away the addiction.
A lot of people with addiction issues that I work with describe their interactions with the substance or behavior as a relationship. I agree. It is a relationship. It is a connection. Is it a healthy one? No, but at one point it did work, otherwise we wouldn't do it.
Is connection the magic pill? No, but we as humans need connections. A pet, a person, a place....something. Addiction is a relationship that is strong and will try to "win you back". Addiction will sense weakness or stressful times and poke you, whispering, "C'mon, I'll help you deal with this". Its an insidious and evil relationship. Other relationships and other connections are a good way to combat the evil.
To those out there struggling with alcohol, drugs, gambling, gaming, food, sex, adrenaline....and so on, hang on, you can do this and you can find connections. You can find a new relationship that will make you turn away from the addiction relationship because someone or something will be there for you, just as your addiction was always there for you, this connection will be there for you.
Be well and remember to live, breathe, love, create your life and yourself!
© Robin L. Shahverdian and livebreathelovecreate.org, 2018- ; Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Robin L. Shahverdian and livebreathelovecreate.org with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.