Who am I really? We all ask ourselves that question at some point along life’s journey. Some people continue to ask it every day until they die. Who am I? What is my essential, authentic self? Are you your thick, shiny mane of hair and sparkling smile? Are you the size zero jeans you fit into? Are you your flawless skin or terrible acne? Are you the illness that plagues you? Who are you? Do you dare answer that question?
I had a friend who was a cancer survivor and survivor of incest. I could not help but feel empathy for her as I am also the survivor of childhood abuse, and we were friends for a very long time. She was also smart and funny and a beautiful woman inside and out. But after a while, I realized that our phone calls were all about pain and suffering. We never discussed anything else. She had, in effect, become the horrible parts of her life, and that’s all she believed she was. They defined her. She made the choice to see herself as a victim of circumstance, and nothing I said or did to help her see things differently changed that. In fact, she accused me of being unsympathetic—and she may have been right, though I meant well. Ultimately, my frustration drove a wedge between us. We no longer speak, which is very sad to me, but I realized that for my own well-being I had to choose the nature of the energies with which I surrounded myself. It was a painful choice but one I needed to make.
In making this choice I found myself in a state of grief and loss. We had been friends for a very long time and seen each other through many changes. But our relationship began when both of us were in a lot of pain and emotional turmoil and clearly it was not able to survive my moving out of victim mode and into one of taking responsibility for my life and behaviors. That which connected us at the start no longer served me. I suppose in some sense, I outgrew the friendship and the perpetual darkness of our conversations, listening to her litany of complaints daily, and it began to bring me down too. I realized that, like my friend, I was allowing my past to dictate my present and that was not okay anymore. I was finally in a place mentally where I sought to make more positive choices for myself, but it required that I let go of something that had been very dear to me for many years. Choice is not always easy or fun.
Choice is a gift the Universe gives us and often we squander it, choosing to give up responsibility for our lives and ourselves. We identify with the circumstances that have helped shape us and consequently, we treat ourselves very superficially. We can all too often forget that who we are is who we choose to be. How we feel and what we think are also choices, and the choices we make in how we treat ourselves determine how we are treated by others.
But choice is also an obligation, a responsibility and a promise you make to yourself each day. Exercising choice takes courage, especially when you have chosen to be your best, truest self. Your healthy evolution depends on making healthy choices for yourself and those you love. It can seem like a burden sometimes, but the bottom line is that you are not defined by how much money you make or if your father beat you. Those things are part of your history and makeup and certainly get figured in when adding up the sum total of your parts. But what you choose to be, do, think, say or feel says more about who you are than anything else.
In the second film in the series of HARRY POTTER films, Albus Dumbledore says to Harry, “It is not our abilities that show what we truly are. It is our choices!” For me that is the best, but often most difficult lesson.
Related: The Importance of Forgiving Yourself
Photo: Send me adrift via Flickr