I suspect most people learn who they are as they grow from childhood to adulthood. They learn from their parents (especially when they’re younger), their teachers, their peers, their church, their generation’s music and icons, TV, movies, books they read…and then they take all the inputs, filter through them, assimilate what feels or seems right as they find their own reality and let go of what doesn’t feel genuine to them. They learn values by going through small tests of character as they grow. They fail. They succeed. The tests get bigger; have bigger consequences. They make decisions. Again, they fail or succeed. They develop individual interests. Their talents come to light. They receive encouragement and positive reinforcement that bolsters their ego and drive. They are loved and nurtured. They receive gentle correction when they make a wrong decision or choice. Parents model ethics, values, morals, how to handle conflict and challenges and disappointments. What commitment and determination look like. Step by step by step, they become the unique individual they were meant to be. Or they become a close proximity. By the end of the process, they are, to a very large degree, a whole, well-rounded, multifaceted person with their own set of likes, dislikes, pet peeves, motivators, character traits and beliefs. If the process works like it should, they step forward as fairly responsible adults who possess both strengths and weaknesses, who have a pretty well-grounded understanding of who they are, at least in a general way. And they live their life accordingly. When abuse and trauma interrupt this natural growth and development cycle, the frequent result is that one never develops a sense of wholeness or being (personhood). They never become who they were meant to be. Instead, they always feel as if their heart is missing. They have a feeling that something significant is wrong. They always have a feeling of all-consuming emptiness and worthlessness and shame. Of feeling an overriding need to hide the true self. And a frequent question in the mind of such an individual is, “Who (or what) am I?” Am I a person? Do I have value? Do I have worth? Am I disgusting and to be cast aside because of what was done to me? Am I so flawed that I can’t be loved or wanted or cherished? Who am I really? When you don’t have a sense of yourself, you mimic others. You do this because you are trying to appear “normal” even though you know you are not a normal person. You are trying to blend in, to make it look as if you are not so different and certainly not so damaged. It’s a tragic game that is played because to not play means not functioning. And not functioning is a fate worse than death. If you can’t function, the gig is up. Everyone will know what a loser you truly are. Everyone will know you are not acceptable. Without your mask, you are a monster. As I was recently contemplating this dance of life, how the dance is supposed to go and how it often goes wrong (as it did in my life), I was hit again with the dreaded question, “Who am I?” on a very personal level. I didn’t come up with any definitive answer, but I did make a few observations… I am a woman. A rather older woman now, though I still often feel like a 16 year old rebellious child inside. I am a woman with many regrets. I regret letting so many years slip between my fingers as I stayed married to a man who frequently told me (with words) that he didn’t love me and constantly told me (with non-verbal communication and expressions) that he didn’t want to be with me. I believed marriage was for life, so I stayed. I believed good would triumph in the end, so I hung in there. I regret staying. I lost my life…the best parts of it…as a result. So I am a woman who sometimes feels young in my heart, but not in my body or mind and who is weighted down with many deep regrets. I am filled with fear. Time is running out for me. If I’m going to lead any kind of meaningful life, I’d better get on with it because I don’t have that many more years ahead of me. I’m afraid of the next bad thing that will happen. I’m afraid of not being able to make it. I’m terrified of not being able to function. I’m fearful of losing my job in this horrible economy. I’m afraid my health isn’t going to hold out. It’s a long list. I’ll spare you. I am broken. I didn’t set out to be broken. In fact, I set out to overcome and to be healed and whole and to conquer the world! I haven’t conquered my own brokenness, much less the world. This is possibly due to the fact that most of my life has been spent swimming in a massive ocean of depression. I’ve been swimming these waters for so long and I’m so tired, I truly worry that I’m soon going to drown. I mean, really. How much longer can I go on this way? Swimming in depression is hard enough, but when you are broken, it takes every ounce of your being to stay afloat. I’ve been mostly afloat, barely, though not making any progress, for more years than I can count. Time is against me on this one. Sooner or later, I’m going to be rescued or I’ll drown because solid ground is not in the picture. Additionally, there are no ships on the horizon. Rescue seems unlikely. Drowning seems a very real possibility. Yet another reason to be afraid. I’m not desirable. No one has ever told me I was pretty, or wonderful, or special. No one has ever embraced the whole of me, flaws and hurt places and all. I’ve always been a smorgasbord, where people could pick and choose what they took and limited the quantity to a palatable amount. They pick sparingly. Perhaps I just don’t have that much to offer. I try, but it’s hard to comfort when you haven’t yourself been comforted. It’s hard to give when you are empty. It’s hard to act happy when you aren’t. I’ve been picked over and found wanting, maybe with good reason. I am a survivor of a very destructively abusive childhood. That’s how I wound up broken. And unloved. And unwanted. I hate what the abuse has done to me. I truly tried to ignore and outrun it and to deny the impact for so many years, but my efforts didn’t change the facts. Now, late in the game, I’m trying to face some of the damage. I’m trying to get the help I need to heal. It’s not working as well as I wished it would when I started out on the healing journey. I’m very discouraged and still very alone. It would have been much easier to do this much earlier in life. This is an error that I will pay for, probably for years to come, should I live that long. I’m afraid. Terrified, really. Functioning is getting harder, not easier. At this very moment, I fear whether or not I will have the strength to get out of bed tomorrow morning, get dressed, drive to work, accomplish anything. I am fighting an invisible enemy. My punches do not connect because there is nothing of substance to connect with. Depression is a vapor. Brokenness is smoke. The first drowns; the second chokes. Both destroy you, slowly but surely. They eat away at your energy and will until finally you are completely drained and unable to perform even the simplest of tasks. Until you are finally unable to go on. I am in trouble. Financial trouble. Inside my spirit, soul and heart trouble. In my mind trouble. In my body trouble. I fear I am near the end…nearer than I should be…because there isn’t any fire in my bones. No hope blows in my sails. No dreams stoke my furnace. No drive pushes me onward. I am left with nothing to believe in. Just more pain and suffering and struggles. Which seems to be my lot in life. Without a vision, the people perish. I’m close to perishing. On a happier note, I am a lover of words. It may not demonstrate it well with what I write on my blog, but words have always been my friend and they have been my one outlet in an otherwise suppressed and dismal existence. Writing has long created a tiny candle flame of happiness in my otherwise dark world. I’ve written poems and songs…even started a book about my life. And then, there’s this blog. My way of saying “Kilroy was here!” I am terribly isolated. I don’t know how to get out of this all-encompassing emptiness either. I’m not good at reaching out. When people reach in, I’m so afraid, I pull back. I don’t know how to connect because I don’t know how to be real (who am I?) or how to trust. So I sit alone in my house with my dog and ache with loneliness, trying to figure out how to make a change that will make a difference. But in the end, I am swallowed by the silence, bound by my intense fear and buried alive under hot shame. Nothing changes. Who am I? No major conclusions. Just bits and pieces. Another broken soul, floundering, doing the best I can…which is never good enough. I fight huge battles every day that others can’t see or comprehend. I struggle to take tiny steps down paths where others run and jump and race. I try to keep my balance, to remain upright. But I frequently wind up on my rump, hoping not to many people saw my awkward fall. I crawl at times too, but still I slide backwards. My mind is my own worst enemy. I am the product of childhood sexual abuse, physical abuse, emotional abuse, rejection, neglect, shame, guilt, self-hatred and devaluation. This is what happens when you are unwanted and unloved. When you get just enough care to survive, but not enough to grow and thrive and become. I am the poster child for the effects of childhood sexual abuse. This is what happens when those little kids grow up and don’t get the help they need. They become me. And, like I said, no one has ever told me I was pretty. Or wonderful. Or special. Abuse takes all that away from you. And so much more. All I ever wanted was to be truly, deeply loved and accepted. But that is one thing I am not. And that makes so much of what I am all that much more painful. And it makes me turn away from my original question as I pretend that the question really doesn’t matter anyway. Bottom line: Who am I? I don’t think it is actually a relevant question. Unfortunately, that’s what being isolated does to you. You don’t register as even the tiniest blip on the Richter scale. You are a non-event. Just another lonely face in the crowd. Who walks alone.