It is easy for me to let “stuff” define me. Even good stuff. Years ago when GE was a teen, we participated in a teen spiritual retreat called Youth Encounter Spirit (YES). One of the hardest things for the participants to do-adult and teens alike- was to describe themselves without using labels. Who am I?
“I am…” What? A student. A parent. A wife. A Sunday School teacher. An estimator. None of those were the right kind of answers. Often WHAT we were was how we described WHO we were.
I am very much a work driven woman. I have let my job give me substance. That has defined me more often than being “John’s wife” or “Georgie and Jack’s mom.”
When my friend Anita posted the saying from Woman to Woman on her FB page, I did a double take. Bad things can define, destroy or strengthen me. Things. Stuff. It’s a choice I’ve made in my life.
W. H. Auden said that it’s a “Choice of attention – to pay attention to this and ignore that – is to the inner life what choice of action is to the outer. In both cases, a man is responsible for his choice and must accept the consequences.” I added the italics because knowing that I have a choice in this and that I have the responsibility for the consequences of that choice is important to me.
I’ve let Them and Their Choices define me. There have been plenty of times when a painful event has defined me as a Poor Suffering Woman. I became frozen as the PSW. She’s a miserable victim, a martyr. All conversations with friends lead back to the reason why I am a martyr and what They did. Being defined as the Poor Suffering Woman is exhausting, but it was the way I let life define me at one time.
After I got sober, I dropped the PSW from my repertoire of roles most of the time and defined myself as the Woman of Strength. That woman doesn’t ask for help even if her hair is on fire. People say things to the WOS like “You are amazing” and “I don’t know how you do it.” I let them reinforce that definition and that definition left me scared at night and paralyzed with doubts. I couldn’t have asked for help even if I wanted to because I AM THE WOMAN OF STRENGTH (and I just can’t admit that I needed help).
If the PSW kept me drunk and full of self pity, the WOS kept me full of self-will and nearly got me drunk.
And that’s how letting bad things define me can ultimately let them destroy me. I never lost a husband or a home or a child or a job when I drank. In the end, I was a terrible wife, a slipshod homemaker, an undependable parent, and an irresponsible worker, but I still had all the “stuff.” I thought that it wasn’t that bad, that I wasn’t that bad.
The truth is that whatever well that people can reach into for strength when the going gets tough was dry. Open the cupboard of my soul to pull out a cup of moral courage and the canister didn’t even have dust. I didn’t have anything left. I have no strength or courage of my own.
I know that but it took a crash and burn to remind me that my Higher Power whom I choose to call my VBFF is what gives me any illusion of strength and moral courage. I count myself lucky that I got that crash and burn when my hair was only a little singed. You see, I was sure that if I quit drinking, things would get better. And they did. But life has a way of slapping you into the reality that life is LIFE. No guarantees of roses, pussy cats, and rainbows.
When my son died, I didn’t have the choice between being destroyed or not being destroyed. My friend, MK, says a choice is a decision between 2 viable options. God didn’t leave destruction on the table as an option. If I couldn’t see the face of God for awhile, I got to see the faces of family and friends whose love and support mirrored God’s face.
Over the past 1,009 days, I have learned that I can let that tragedy destroy me by letting it define me. Trust me, it is easy to sit in sadness, alone in my home. I feel a low thrum of pain all the time and I can choose to focus on it to the exclusion of all that is around me. In time, I will have the exclusive title of “The Woman Whose Son Died.” Being defined that way, shaping my life around that definition WILL destroy me.
Will Jack’s death eventually strengthen me? Jury is still out on that. There are days when I feel that it has done all three: defined, destroyed, and strengthened. For today, I will be alive. Not the strongest woman. Not the most pitiful woman. No definitions. Just me.