Spring is the time when I usually make my resolutions, and this year is no different.
There's a post-it note on the inside of my current journal. It reads: "Don't forget: the crux of my problems is that I believe (and fear) that I am an inherently bad person and that by extension my needs don't count. These are NOT TRUE."
I know that those beliefs are not true. But there are times, when I am under a lot of stress or very unhappy, when my actions become based around that one thought: that I am a bad person, that if the people around me aren't happy it's my fault, that if things in my life aren't going well it's because of something that I am doing. And when that cycle begins, it is nearly impossible for me to escape from and everything tends to go to hell shortly afterwards. It's a self-fulfilling prophecy, a self-defeating mindset that comes from someplace inside of me.
Seven months ago to the day I had a personal epiphany that radically changed my life. I was in a hotel room in Colorado; I'd lost yet another audition that day, I'd been running the gauntlet of a weekend with my rather dysfunctional and stressful extended family, and I'd just survived one of the worst weeks I'd known in a while. But in the midst of a long ranty journal entry, I realized that essentially I'd been subsuming my own personality for the sake of the people around me. Here's what I wrote:
"Wouldn't it be better to act like I really am?... I don't have to be wonderfully nice and make people feel good all the time, if it's not the real me. I can have contradictory opinions. I don't have to break my back to save someone else a slight inconvenience. I can be smart and sharp and accomplished and really good at things.
"I'm starting to realize all I may have abandoned... I need to be the best me I can, not just a me that makes other people feel good. That doesn't have to be the reason behind everything I do."
There's more, of course, about the various ways in which I had been hiding my true self. Acting dumb (it hurts to realize you've been doing those "girl" things that statistics are always talking about), not believing in myself enough to hold forth actual opinions about things, and perhaps most importantly (to me) not getting excited about ideas as much as I used to. I've always valued my brain, and the realization that the ways I was hiding were not only hurting my interpersonal relationships but also my intellect, my joy in knowledge, was particularly painful. I realized that night that I wasn't helping myself, and I wasn't helping the people around me. My friends and lovers were not being helped by my vanishing act, they were being dragged down by it and so was I.
Some epiphanies seem hollow after they happen. You re-visit the thought, and it seems so obvious that really it's just embarrassing that you didn't think of it before. This one was different, maybe because it was so fundamental to my very being. As I read that entry again it still hurts and amazes me, and for a while, it actually stuck. I flew back to Chicago, and as soon as I started believing in myself and acting for myself my life changed pretty dramatically. I made a lot of new friends who seemed to think I was pretty awesome, and my relationships with my old friends became revitalized and took on whole new levels that had been missing before. There was a richness in my interactions with other people that had been missing, and I felt like I had truly found my niche in Chicago. I was so unbearably happy that it was like I was living a whole different life. I even started to shine in a whole different way at work. There were setbacks, but on the whole I found myself sticking by my resolution and it was so much easier than I would have imagined.
This is what I regret the most about my last relationship: I lost that feeling. I could tell it was happening and it terrified me, but I couldn't seem to fix it or even talk about it. (I couldn't even articulate it to myself clearly until tonight.) It started slowly, and I thought for a while that I could regain my footing, but instead I declined and became the old me again, the one who couldn't articulate her own desires no matter what the cost. There were a lot of other factors, reasons why things happened the way they did and why I lost my grip on myself, but that's the main thing that lingers for me: regardless of why, I lost myself again and I hurt somebody else because of it. I wish I could have found myself in time, but I couldn't. Now I'm beginning the long slow climb back to the person that I can be when I'm at my best, the person that I truly want to be.
So this is my resolution: to be the best me I can be, and to believe that that person is worth what I am worth. To pay attention to my own needs, and to not subsume my own self to bring others a hollow sort of comfort. To be happy with who I am, to use my brain and my hands and my joy to benefit myself along with the other people in my life.