Saturday, February 26, 2011

When I Grow Up

Nance posted recently on the Psychic Tarot Facebook page!/pages/Psychic-Tarot-Using-Your-Natural-Psychic-Abilities-to-Read-the-Cards/131318960264895 "Does your life have any of the essence of what you dreamed of when you were 7?"

I can quite honestly say, with the exception of being out on my own and in an apartment (matter of time, and a short time at that), my life looks nearly exactly the way I dreamed it when I was 7. Well, okay, besides the apartment and the private island I lived on all alone. And the making my entire living being an author (actually, that one showed up when I was 8 or 9 and stuck to this day - but I was always just a little behind my peers in some ways), but the big dreams I had as a 7-year-old have been accomplished. I've traveled to see some of the places you hear about in fairytales. I've seen a real enchanted forest. I got to go on some of those super secret Canadian fishing trips that you had to be "old enough" to go on, but they talked about for the rest of the year. I learned to ride horses. Disney finally made a "Rapunzel" movie. I'm single. And I am entirely free of my parents' toxic marriage (and so are they, thank God). My battle cry has been "freedom" from the moment I could grasp the concept. Free of other people's schedules. Free of other people's ideas. Free of other people's rules. Free of other people's responsibilities. Free of other people's dysfunction. Free. Which is basically where the "my own island" concept came in. I would have been a Utopian, if I had enough faith in people even at 7 to believe it could work. But I knew I could control my own actions, and make my own peace, as long as there wasn't anyone else around.

Those who know me well might smile a little when I say my big dream when I was 7 was to just be left alone. I wanted that all the time. I wanted to read my books, write my stories, piece together my paper dolls, play with my My Little Ponies, and be left utterly and blissfully alone until dinner. I think my mother would say there's a lot of that left in me. I imagine there always will be.

I used to attack my life with absolute focus. Yes, even at 7, there was a Life Plan. I was absolutely, positively certain as long as I stuck to this plan, I would be happy and successful and, above all things, free.

It was a very simple plan, but I glommed onto it with the kind of focus one applies to a game of chess. As a chess player, I have a 3-game limit to my attention span, play my best when I have only 3 pieces left on the board, and, weakest of my weaknesses, I have difficulty shifting my plan when circumstances change. If I cannot execute my plan, my game completely falls apart. It works much the same in the macrocosm of my life.

My plan was:

1. Survive elementary, middle, and high school.
2. Attend college.
3. Move out of the house.
4. Become the happy person I know must be inside me somewhere.

Phase 1, of course, went fine. With the idea that college was going to somehow make everything magically better, including me, I managed to get through eleven more miserable years of school without making an attempt on my life. I was the Little Engine that Could. I was getting to that summit, and it was going to be all downhill from there.

Yeah... I think we can all see where this is going...

Like my chess plans, Phase 1 of my Life Plan was the only one I was able to execute the way I'd planned it. Oh, I went to college. I even went away to college, which accomplished Phase 3. I even enjoyed some of it, especially my last semester in Spain. But it was not the "magic wand" that turned the taciturn, depressed, awkwardly intense girl into a strong, sassy, social butterfly. Yes folks, something to tell your kids when they leave home: No matter where you go, you take yourself with you.

Not that they'll understand it. It's something you have to live to believe. You don't get to leave yourself behind when you enter a new phase of your life.

It took me all of six months at college to realize, to continue the journey, I was going to need real help. The professional kind. I also had to ditch my shopping list life plan, because no matter how many clubs I considered joining (I made 5 of what I'd have called "attempts" at the time, but what would be termed today as simply "showing up"), how many awkward attempts I made at making friends, or how many bags of Skittles and Jelly Bellys I washed down with about a thousand cans of 100% all calories included Coke, I did not magically become a happy, healthy, socially well-adjusted person.

Ten years of therapy, two long periods living outside the country, one particularly memorable four-month breakdown on my aunt's floor, five billion calories, and my parents' divorce later, I have managed to chisel a new me out of the old one. That is to say, as my grandfather (God rest his soul) used to say of all people, I did not change - I became more who I am. At 7, and 17, and even well into my 20s, I had no idea who that was. I knew all the parts of myself I didn't like: I was an overweight, mercurial, antisocial, stubborn procrastinator with the self-esteem of a limp dish rag and fewer actionable goals than a pet rock.

How was this sort of person supposed to be the kind of "free" I'd dreamed about?

The answer was as simple and complex as this: Freedom comes from within me. I wanted so badly to be free of my situation that I failed to notice that what really had me trapped were the ideas, expectations, and judgments I made of myself.

I spent several years looking at this "me" that I was and this "me" that I wanted to be, measuring them both against what I really thought, how I really felt, and what I really wanted. It's a never ending process - I'm finally old enough now that I actually understand what it means when people say you don't always want the same things you wanted years ago. When you're a teenager, you think that means some old fuddy-duddy grown up just gave up on their dreams. Didn't want it badly enough. Didn't work hard enough. You can't imagine a situation where what you want and need would change. These would be the same years when dating a whole month constitutes a long-term relationship.

It took a long time, but I finally figured out that, were I to meet the "me" I wanted to be on the street, I wouldn't like her. I also learned the "me" that I was wasn't so bad after all.

So, I am still a mercurial, antisocial, stubborn procrastinator who is much less overweight, vastly less depressed, with many actionable goals and a healthy self-esteem. Because I actually respect and honor that I am not a bubbly, carefree, social butterfly. I kind of like this darker, edgier me. She's a girl I could stand to have coffee with. I'd probably want to drown Miss Mary Sunshine within 5 minutes of meeting her. And to think, I wanted to be her!

The scope of my 7-year-old dreaming was not quite wide enough, and I'm grateful that my life hasn't gone to plan because it's allowed me to get a broader perspective on a lot of things. I've done much of what I wanted to do, and become much of what I wanted to be in my 7-year-old's dreams. But the fact that it wasn't a straight path has allowed me to not only pursue those dreams, but also develop new ones my 7-year-old imagination could not conceive.

I hope your journeys lead you in many new and surprising directions, that you love your beautiful selves just the way you are, and that the 7-year-old you who wanted a pony learns that she can have the whole ranch. And ride them, too.

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