“When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be.” Lao Tzu
When I was a little girl, adults would ask me what I wanted to be when I grew up, like they do with all little kids. It’s a way of acknowledging a child, letting them know that they are seen, if not heard, and giving them a way to interact with adults. I do it myself now that I’m a grown up. Mostly because I too wish to acknowledge the little ones and, frankly, I enjoy talking to kids. Most of the time, they’re more fun than grown-ups. I never got to answer those questions when they were asked of me, not because I was shy, but because my mother would step in front of me and answer the question before I had a chance to even think about it.
“First woman president.” She would proudly announce, as though I had somehow thought it up myself. I’m not even sure I had ever said it, but it was just another one of those things that was thrust upon me in my very enmeshed and dysfunctional home life. Of course, the stranger would smile, and then not bother to ask another question, knowing they wouldn’t get an answer out of me anyway.
For most of my life, I’ve been told what I am, what I should do, or who I was supposed to be by the same people who did not have my best interests at heart. Of course, I was expected to be First Woman President, because of all the prestige I would bring to my mother, not to mention the money and privilege that would inevitably come along with such things. I was also expected to be the sole communicator at home, taking messages from one person to another, so they could avoid actually having to speak to one another. I was the fixer of problems, the steadfast confidante, the ready warrior keeping always in a poised, cat-like state, eager to pounce at the first sign of trouble.
This role, while necessary for a dysfunctional home like mine to function, was exhausting, thankless, and most of all very lonely. For years, I struggled with that emptiness, knowing somehow that it must be something wrong with me rather than in the very messed up way I was raised by two supposed adults. Countless hours of therapy and dozens of anti-depressants later, I found myself hopelessly at a wall in terms of emotional growth. I couldn’t figure out why I was so incapable of happiness or at least to stop the clamoring negativity in my brain for a few minutes and just let go.
What opened my eyes, was the discovery and realization that maybe it wasn’t just me. Maybe it was the enmeshed codependent family pattern I was raised in, the one that I was still living in, even though I had been married and living away from them for nearly a decade. The patterns weren’t changing, they just happened on a much more stretched out scale. Being several states away had no impact on the level of anxiety I would feel when the phone would ring. Seeing it was my mother, I would check the clock to see how drunk she might be at this part of the day and then decide whether to deal with the nonsense now or put it off until another day, which would only make things worse when I would eventually face the music.
After a particularly insulting bout, I decided that a line needed to be drawn. I could no longer endure the mess that my life with my family had become. It wasn’t easy, but in the end, I severed contact. And, in that silence, there is freedom. But now I’m left with the conundrum of figuring out the answers to many of the questions I never got a chance to answer, like the ones asked to me as a little girl. And, while I’m certain that becoming the “First Woman President” is definitely out of the question, the little girl inside me has no idea what the real answer is or should be. Whatever mechanism existed in the unmolded brain that could formulate the ultimate dream job or life is long gone. It’s like planting a microwaved seed. Any potential that was contained within has been extinguished, and although I’m a big girl now with more resources and ideas than that little kid could ever have imagined, I’m still left without an answer.