Hello, everyone. As promised in a recent entry, I’m here today to talk about my life-long struggle to claim my own identity.
This entry isn’t out to villainize anyone, or to counsel anyone (but if you find it inspires or helps you, then I’m glad!). It addresses the issues my adopted mom, who we call Ma, gave me from a young age. But I’m not here to attack her–only to state facts. She adopted me, raised me, loved me. I miss her every day and I’ve forgiven her for her actions, for the internal damage and issues she had that she never got help for. I wish I’d known more back when I could have led her to get that help she so desperately needed.
And so, I hope you will follow me on this journey.
Content Warning: Mentions of abuse and self-harm.
Me in 2010.
Growing up, I had no identity of my own. I was homeschooled, but it wasn’t conducted properly and I was subject to long bouts of isolation. I was expected to have the same thoughts, ideals, opinions, emotions, and beliefs as Ma. Having my own mind was strongly discouraged. I was kept physically close to her at all times and didn’t really get to have friends. I was an empty vessel that was filled by my parent’s own overflow.
I was so deeply ingrained into her own being that it was astoundingly difficult for me to function without her. And I feared functioning without her–partly because I felt as though I were a conjoined twin. I was sometimes called her clone. I knew nothing else.
Having free reign on the internet as of 2001 was surprising, now that I look back on it. I suppose it wasn’t expected that I would delve right in and become fixated on the outside world. But I was immediately glued to my computer, glassy eyes looking at all hours of the day and night into the world that I so rarely got to see. My connection was just a click away, and it was exciting and hypnotizing.
I made friends: some of whom I still know to this day, and others who outgrew me, and still others who greatly used and abused me in various ways. I started learning new things and new skills and started discovering what I liked and didn’t like. I made some terrible mistakes and learned from them. I gained interests, hobbies, and independent thoughts, but the latter of these I kept secreted away. At one point in early 2003, I realized that I was actually developing a personality. And as time went on, and the more people I spoke with and learned from, the more my personality developed. My psyche was still diaphanous and as fragile as an exposed seedling, and so porous that I absorbed everything, including damaging hate and harsh criticism.
Eventually, I came to the unpleasant realization that if I ever wanted to see who I actually was, I would have to leave home. It was daunting–terrifying, even. But when my longtime online boyfriend asked me to move to Canada to be with him, and I didn’t just jump at the chance–I tackled it to the ground and didn’t let it go.
So when I went to Canada in 2008, I roughly yanked at the strings of my former life until they snapped completely. I wanted nothing to do with those strings, so I threw them away and pretended I hadn’t even begun to exist until then. And, in a sense, I hadn’t. The freedom to live and to become a person of my own choosing was mouth-wateringly juicy and hanging before me, and it was a fruit that would give of itself freely as long as I was willing to keep grasping it. I firmly and eagerly dug into Canada and implanted myself there, both physically and psychologically. I sewed it into my life’s tapestry as a very proud, very loud centerpiece. It wasn’t just a country to me, or a province, or a region, or a city to me. It was who I was. I thought I’d found who I was and that I didn’t need to search anymore.
But it was all still there. I still had the problem of moulding myself to fit my relationships, to fit whatever environmental situation I was in, to fit society. I called myself adaptable, but in reality I was very codependent and lacked a stable sense of self. I latched onto people, places, and things to give myself that cohesive, grounded feeling. It took me so long to leave my first husband–who was that online boyfriend who lived in Canada–partly because I thought not being his wife anymore would make me a nobody. The idea of being someone’s wife had always been paramount to me; I thought that it would give me some identity, making me someone instead of no one.
When my adopted mom passed away in 2012, I was suddenly faced with many horrible feelings. Grief, emptiness, and like things would never be the same. Normal feelings after losing someone.
But there was also the horrible, dark and sticky realization that since the crafter of my psyche was gone, I REALLY had no idea who I was.
For a very long time, I felt like I was transparent and floating along through life. I felt mind-numbingly lost. Sure, I had my interests and hobbies, but who was I, really?
I didn’t know who I was as an artist.
I didn’t know who I was as a writer.
I didn’t know who I was as a family member, a daughter, a sister, an aunt.
I didn’t know who I was as a friend.
I didn’t know who I was as a wife.
I didn’t know who I was as a woman.
I didn’t know who I was as a human being.
I felt as though I were just a hollow shell, devoid of anything I could call my own. I felt so detached. I didn’t even feel like my name was my own. I looked in the mirror every day and saw my parent staring back at me. As I had done over the years, I engaged in self-harm to punish the person who only ever seemed to belong to everything and everyone but to herself.
I have to be somebody, I thought dully, on one of those days where I didn’t have the mental or physical energy to get out of bed. I can’t be someone just because of other people.
And so I began the journey to find out who I was. I made a lot of mistakes, some far worse than others. I experimented with new things, I took up new hobbies. I did superficial things like change my wardrobe and my hair colour to see what I liked without other people’s influences. I realized I’d liked a lot of things just to suit other people’s needs. I ended my dead marriage. I read a lot of self-help books, and I wrote a lot.
I didn’t seek therapy, however, which I regret because it would have been the best thing I would have ever done for myself (I do plan on getting a therapist as soon as I can, however). It was very slow progress with plenty of setbacks, but I pushed along, inch by dragging inch.
I got married again–to the right person this time–and this time I felt my status as wife didn’t define me. It almost surprised me in its simple realness. No, I defined being a wife. I began to ask myself more questions, and now they were getting clearer and clearer.
Am I Mary because of my past and my mistakes? Am I Mary because of any status I hold? Am I Mary because I do what other people like me to do? Am I Mary because of what other people have dictated I am?
Am I Mary because rainy nights and hot cups of tea made my toes curl in pleasure? Am I Mary because the DNA of countless ancestors fills me, because my hands and mind can coordinate to create lovely things, because I laugh too much? Am I Mary because I have speckled green and brown eyes, because I love the feel of wind, because I have compassion but sometimes let anger get the better of me, and because the heart that beats inside my chest is my own?
My most recent epiphany with identity came with this blog entry. I was desperate to gain citizenship to Canada so I wouldn’t lose my connection to that country, and as I explored my reasoning, I realized it was because I was using it as my identity and I was terrified of being nothing again. I took that opportunity to let go and move on, and it has helped me tremendously to see who I am. I realized I would always be me, no matter what country I lived in. I couldn’t leave parts of my identity behind because they were all inside me. There’s nothing at all wrong with regarding your country of birth or adopted country as a significant part of who you are, but I was I felt there would be nothing left of me at all if I left Canada.
I am already wholly and wonderfully Mary. Not necessarily unique to anybody else, not famous, not perfect. Not everyone’s cup of tea, not by a long shot, and I’m learning that that’s okay. I’m also learning to like myself and the traits that are still emerging at thirty three years old.
I am me, and that’s pretty fabulous.