Life, Past Participle
I realized this morning that my entire life’s direction was decided by the fear of an 18-year-old me. That is a grim thought. I feel disturbed, and this causes me some amount of distress because I remember being that person. I know that all of my decisions were based on what everyone else wanted, or what I felt would be most beneficial to everyone else. I feel, in effect, that the course of my life was chosen by other people.
I felt nauseated when this realization came to me. I don’t understand how this is possible. Could all of my current problems really exist because I let other people choose my destiny? Yes. Everything I am going through now is a direct product of people-pleasing in my youth.
That’s so… unfair.
I can see that this isn’t an unique situation by any means, but I can only think of very negative comparisons. (Ex: Committing a felony as an 18-year-old and having it follow you and prevent financial success for the rest of your life.) The thing that “ruined my life” was getting married. I think I could have recovered and been able to re-shape my life if that had been the only big event, but I also “had kids”.
I am definitely not saying I don’t want or love my children. I am simply saying that having children to care for now & forever is a huge thing, decided by an immature and frightened version of myself. Oddly, it wasn’t decided by me. I agreed to it, indeed, but I didn’t make the decision itself.
I knew I wasn’t ready for children and I knew I was too young, but I did not believe my wishes or needs were worth consideration. I didn’t decide it, but I also didn’t prevent it. I truly believed I only existed to make other people happy. And so, I became a mother because I knew that children would make my then-husband happy. I knew it was what he wanted more than anything in the world, and I knew I could give that happiness to him.
I thought my purpose was to serve others. When I hear about people having a sense of purpose, I understand they believe they are special because they’re the only ones who can do XYZ in the world. That is how I felt, except I didn’t think I was special, per se, I just thought I was the right tool for the job.
I really did believe I was just a tool, too. I truly did believe that it was God who had constructed my life up to that point so that everything would be just right for my new husband. I really did believe that the marriage was a new start, and I thought that it would be the beginning of happiness. I had the idea that the first 18 years were “putting in my time”, and that I’d finally earned a reward for being a good little girl and suffering well.
I guess, in many way, I was “just right”.
That sentence is loaded with painful memories. The silent tears now tracing my cheeks are telling. I am also reminded that I had many misgivings: I was very unhappy, I didn’t trust the man, my gut was telling me not to go through with it, and my thoughts were full of internal objections. I overrode all of it because I believed it was for the best. I thought I could make someone else happy. I had hope that in making him happy, I would become happy.
I can see now what a deficit of self-knowledge I had at that time. I operated solely on what I’d been told was right, and I believed all of my internal thoughts and feelings were unquestionably wrong. I knew those aberrant thoughts should be ignored and dismissed immediately. I lived in auto-suppression until age 25, when I finally realized I couldn’t maintain it anymore. How did I survive in those circumstances for so long?
I remember most of my thoughts were related to intentional maintenance of a false persona (the person I believed I should appear to be), belief I needed to be someone different, belief my innate self was wrong and didn’t matter, belief I had no control, and fear that someone would discover my true unhappiness.
So, what changed?
I realized I could be independent. I realized I had needs that were not being met. I think, most importantly, I realized I had a right to take steps to find personal happiness. As unbelievable as it seems in retrospect, I had never actually believed that God had given me “certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” – I just thought that God (or the universe) had given me a set of rules to stick to and people to pander to… and that was it. There was no “I” or “me” in my world.
I look at my life now and cannot even understand how I got out of that. I can see that it’s been a very slow process. It’s so slow, in fact, that I often feel as if I’m stuck. I keep thinking I’m stagnating, even though new things happen often. Part of this is the reality that I perceive time passing very slowly, but some of it is that I’m just plain old impatient to get to the good part.
I think I really do believe there will be a “good part” for me. I don’t think it’s anything that will just happen to me, and I definitely don’t think it’s a gift from some omnipotent creator. I believe the good things of my future will be things I worked hard to find. The crucial part is that I will work hard for my benefit.
It’s not as simple as that, because I have three other people who must have their needs met. I think that’s a big part of my impatience – I know I have to keep a steady job, keep a household, and participate in specific activities so that they have a stable life – but I don’t feel content. I really just want to cut loose – sell everything and live out of a van, traveling at will and exploring the world. But, I can’t do that in real life.
I’ve tried to get around that need by coming up with the idea of being self-sustained (no full-time job necessary). Essentially, I know I love to work hard, I know I love to work outside, and I know I love to see tangible proof of my work. Ideally, I’d work so hard that I wouldn’t have time to feel like I need to escape… but I don’t even know if I’ll ever make it to that point. I don’t think I’ll ever feel content while churning through life as a worker bee, period. I think I see, though, that it’s a temporary situation… even if “temporary” may mean the next ten years of my life.
In the meantime, I’m learning how to balance my need for freedom with the steadiness everyone else needs from me. That’s all I can do. Slow and steady wins the race, they say. I don’t feel like I’m winning, but I can see I’ll get there someday – somehow, some way.