Friday, May 08, 2009

Finding yourSelf

In the 70's, I "got saved" during the "I Found It" campaign. My very Jewish community put bumper stickers on their cars that said, "We never lost it."

Sometimes when I think about "finding myself" (that birthright of all Californians), I waver between these two feelings: "Aha! There I am! I found it!" At other times, I cynically look at the ways other people try to define me, tell me how to feel, what I ought to know, who I ought to be... and I feel like saying, "Buddy, I never lost it. I know who I am."

I don't know why it is that I'm compelled to work on mySelf. (Is it DNA? culture? growing up near the ocean? my astrological sign: Scorpio? my myers briggs temperament: ENFP? being parented by a mom who read I'm Okay; You're Okay at a critical juncture in my teen years - "You're in your child!" "But Mom... I AM a child!"?) So many people are completely able to disregard themSelves. They make big mistakes, they have affairs, they rage, they get addicted, they overeat, they lose jobs, they obsess over porn, they shame and abuse, they cavalierly break promises... and still don't go to private therapy, aren't compelled to drink cafe latte at Barnes and Noble poring over books in the "help thyself" section, seeking an answer for how they allowed themselves to wander into the black hole of dysfunction, abuse, and secrecy.

Sometimes these perpetrators of relationship dysfunction pop into the local counselor's office for a tune up (guilt combined with "relationship pressure" leads to a couple of sessions for many of these types). But that sustained curiosity for how their souls function, for why brokenness attends their most intimate relationships, for how they cause pain to the people they say they love is absent. In some cases, the partner who had an affair and returns to his wife is so relieved to escape detection, he lies in therapy! Not much self-understanding getting through there!

And weirdly, even with dramatic measures, some of these people continue on their self-creating, medicating, papering over, reframing, bubbling optimism ways about their newfound selves rather than the necessary deconstruction of their cavalier mistreatment and secrecy that would bring genuine healing to the people they've hurt.

Meanwhile, I know women who didn't have the affair, but who have read every book on affairs to try to understand the husband who wants to be forgiven and to come back (he doesn't read the books - she does!). I know men who were berated and beaten down by controlling wives and the ex husband lands in therapy for ten years, while the ex-wife carries on secure in their old friendships with seemingly few consequences. I know verbally abused wives who spend money, time and energy on becoming strong enough to withstand the nutbrain who will dog her life with complications for as long as they share children, giving away valuable hours and brain cells to the blackhole of brokenness, instead of her artistic talents or her generous nature.

I'm the therapy and self-help section gal. I've spent countless (really!) hours working on mySelf, wanting to understand how to be good, decent, fair, healthy, assertive, self-protecting, kind, generous, forgiving, line-drawing, boundary-making, communicative... hours I will never get back for writing books, painting paintings, horse-back riding, and surfing. The quest to know mySelf, of course, has yielded good things too. I have a firmer sense of what I will and won't tolerate, of what it means to hold out for healthy relationships, of what it means to be self-reliant in that "I know I can count on me" way.

But today... I'm sick of finding mySelf. I've put in a lot of time on this endeavor and so much of that work has been to shore up relating to broken people not similarly invested. I surveyed the landscape of my relationships. My yoga instructor gave us the following meditation on Wednesday:
I will protect myself from people who take more than they give.

I will surround myself with loving, giving people.
If you aren't invested enough in giving more than you take, you're on notice. I won't waste more of my life working on mySelf to adapt to you. Finding oneSelf is about becoming a peaceful, whole, authentic, ethical person of substance who can see across the chasm to another person's pain (particularly if you caused it)... and then doing something about it.

My mother, five years after her divorce, gave me the greatest gift of all. She told me that she knew the divorce caused me pain. She also knew the pain would come in waves for the rest of my life. She said, "Julie, while I'm living, you may come to me at any time with your pain related to the divorce and I will hear you. I will hold it for you and let you express it. There will never be a day when I am done listening to you or what you've suffered."

That's a woman who knows herSelf.


M.D. Pitman said...

I think I have a simplistic view of finding one's self, my own self. It's doing things I love - and I may be a little selfish that way, though.

julieunplugged said...

LOL - I think guys (generally speaking) may feel more entitled to think of finding themselves as doing what they love to do. Women tend to see finding themselves in the context of relationships. Much to our consternation!

Dalissa said...

Tears. I understand what you are saying. We're on the road together, dear friend.

Amy said...

Wow! A kindred spirit. Ever taken any CPE? Most people take Clinical Pastoral Education because they have to to get ordained- I love it though.It forces one to examine his/her theology, self awareness and personal baggage so that he/she can become a pastor who can actually help others instead of simply projecting their own stuff all the time. Most valuable part of my pastoral education. I love what I learned and how I am a better person and pastor for it.

julieunplugged said...

Amy, I've never done that but it sounds great. How terrific that it's required! Mostly I come from the 1970s, southern California, self-help, New Age, pop psychology worldview... which was then chastened by Christianity for a time, yet never really gone, ifykwim.

julieunplugged said...

Thanks Dalissa. I appreciate the love.

musingwoman said...


jo(e) said...

We are so much alike. The amount of time I've spent reading self-help or psychology books, going to therapy, attending 12-step meetings, going on retreats, meditating, talking to friends about my "self" .....

I think so often we women are socialized to be caretakers, to give way more than we get back. But as I get older, more and more I see that if I am in a relationship that isn't reciprocal -- well, that's not fair to me or the other person. Caretaking can just enable the other person, prevent that person from facing his/her own issues.

WordyKaren said...

Thanks, Julie, for the 'plug' and kind words. I admire your willingness and ability to be selfless, at just the right times, and to be self-focused at just the right times. You have a Self worth nurturing. And those of us who know and love you are enriched by both. You inspire me--and I love you. Mom

Lucy said...

How neat that your mom reads your blog. Love that! I have been thinking a lot about your yoga teacher's words. The idea of protecting yourself from people who take more than they give is a hard one for me to grasp. It seems to go against what I have been taught as a "Christian" and as a female growing up in this society. I am a mother to three young children and have little support from my in-laws and my own immediate family. There is a lot of dysfunction and illness and it is hard to get support when I am the "healthiest" of them all. KWIM? I loved the way you wrote about your mom rebuilding her life after her divorce. I think I need to be more intentional about my own life and focus more on my own health (emotional and otherwise). It is so much easier said than done tho. I was never taught to focus on my needs and my happiness.... KWIM?

Mike said...

naval gazing can make us myopic can't it?

Tamia said...

I feel you, Julie. I'd probably be deeeeep into self-help were it not for a combination of extreme vanity and a line I heard while watching My So-Called Life in my impressionable teen years:
"Why is everyone always telling you to be yourself? Like it's something static, like...a toaster or something."

It's awfully angst-y, I know, but I realized that I'm not easily defined nor do I want to be. Myself is whoever/however I am at any given moment.


something akin to drowning said...

"I must be myself. I cannot break myself any longer for you, or you. If you can love me for what I am, we shall be the happier. I will not hide my tastes or aversions. I will so trust that what is deep is holy, that I will do strongly before the sun and moon whatever inly rejoices me, and the heart appoints. If you are noble, I will love you; if you are not, I will not hurt you and myself by hypocritical attentions. If you are true, but not in the same truth with me, cleave to your companions; I will seek my own. I do this not selfishly, but humbly and truly. It is alike your interest, and mine, and all men's, however long we have dwelt in lies, to live in truth. Does this sound harsh to-day? You will soon love what is dictated by your nature as well as mine, and, if we follow the truth, it will bring us out safe at last.

I do not wish to expiate, but to live."

life motto

julieunplugged said...

Wow Melissa. You and I need to do lunch (and exchange our mixes). This passage so moved me and I'm totally touched that you are reading my blog and interacting with me. I hope you'll listen to my Bonhoeffer talk. I think you and I could have some productive conversations around it. I welcome your insights as you have definitely chosen truth in your life in hard places.