Friday, June 14, 2013

How I am Finally Becoming the Person I Betrayed at 19

1987
Yes. That is me on the left with enough mousse in my hair that I should have just purchased stock in Vidal Sassoon because it took about a can just to get it THAT big. My hair is very, very straight by nature, and so I was force-permed for most of my childhood. With a pick and all that moose, my 1980s self was somewhat satisfied.  Daphne's hair just did that. On its own. Mystifying.

I am also wearing make-up because Daphne and I -- in our disturbingly coordinated outfits about which we were super excited (and for which we can thank my very large stock of blazers) -- were headed to a theatre department party.

And yes, you can tell this is my room not because of the Dirty Dancing poster on top of the door that almost every room had but because of the Duran Duran poster below it. And there were more. Everywhere.

This picture makes me sad.

I went to Penn State as a theatre major. At our first year-end review, I was told I should leave college and get myself to L.A. and start looking for work. That's how much my teachers believed in me. The professors were encouraged to encourage theatre students to find new majors (Daphne went into speech therapy, I think), but my teacher told me to get my ass to the west coast.

I did not, and in that moment, I made a big choice: I chose my depression and my anxiety and my ties to a dysfunctional family system over my greatest loves -- theatre and dance and song.

I would lie in bed from the time I was very little aching with the longing for that life. Telling myself stories of my inevitable successes.

But when push came to shove, I picked illness over happiness.

It's all I knew to do.

I was just 19 at the end of my freshman year and I had no idea how to take care of myself. I had never even been allowed to try.  (There is more to this decision -- a violent, threatening more -- that I won't get into here but I was also scared and paralyzed by fear.)

I dropped my theatre major and floated through the next two years until I found that I could channel some of my core love of story into a literature major. I found teachers who loved my brain as much as my theatre professors loved my talent and I thought I had found a sort of sane safety.

But "a sort of sane safety," of course, is the same as "quiet desperation" and it's quite the opposite of sane.

I dropped my theatre major and found a boyfriend who preferred that I look like all the other girls so I donned jeans and t-shirts and no makeup and ponytails.

I put my True Self into a very deep and dark closet -- a dark closet with stairs in the back that led to a dungeon.

You know the end of this story -- or the Big Turning Point.  I turned 40; I started dancing again; I now have a new life -- or I have my old life back is perhaps more accurate.

I finally let that True Self out of her dungeon.

But I am used to having her in there. I am used to closing off parts of myself and so now I continue to hide just a bit but in different ways: I teach because it is that form of safe that I became acclimated to as the "best I could hope for."

I love teaching, don't get me wrong, but there is more I long for and sometimes it is so much a part of my shadow self that I can barely feel that "more"anymore. That is a little scary to me. When I gave up everything I wanted, I could still feel the desire and that was important to my survival. I don't want to ever lose that.

When I stopped living at 19, I betrayed myself and it can take a long time to undo that damage.

I am still working on it.