Labels. Where do I start with this? Those words we attach to ourselves, to others, to things created and purchased, to items consumed, to items discarded, to feelings, to thoughts, to actions, to everything. Labels are often how we can organize and compartmentalize the world. For better and for worse, these words are what helps us get through the messiness of it all. How we can divide and unite, lift up and bring down, use and abuse, how we suffer and delight. These are tricky little things.
When I was a teenager, what I used to label was music, books and people. I went to a high school that ranked among the top 200 in the country, and, I will admit to this now, it was a damn good school. Did I care at the time? Hell no. All I cared about what how I saw the people I went to school with. How our dynamics had changed so drastically since what seemed to be those carefree days of elementary school, where money and status of our family didn’t matter quite as much. We just wanted to run around outside, sit in the mud and genuinely not give a shit about anything. You look back and notice how cliques started to take hold, and how people started to get compartmentalized and labeled. Pretty enough, smart enough, rich enough, and the flip side of not pretty enough, not smart enough, not rich enough. There were those who were at the very middle, the people who were average, those who slipped through the cracks of it. I had spent most of my middle school years swimming through those awkward teenage waters, (I’ll be honest, I’m still bobbing in the waves of those seas.) and it’s hard to realize that you’re not like everyone else. We try so hard to shove ourselves into this idea of what we should be. That often we ignore who we are. I don’t think this is an area that is isolated completely to middle school and those awkward years of puberty, I think we often spend our lives navigating those waters, trying to find a way to land. Most of us will end up kind of settling for the fact that we can’t afford to what we want, so we get a job we hate, and have a family to support. We bite the bullet and live a life that we don’t necessarily hate, but we don’t necessarily enjoy like we ought to. That isn’t applied to just working a job we hate, but to our we view ourselves.
We live in this grey area between hate and love, between black and white. Sometimes we believe that it is only black and white, or even grey. We don’t come to realize that there are so many other colors in this world, and that can be a very demoralizing thing to realize. If you manage to hit the point where you can accept the hard truth that we will have many aspects of both in our lives, we will have the hard and the easy, the black and the white, I think it can be easier to begin to see the other colors there. Those colors of anger, and of pure joy, of frustration and of ease, of annoyance and of toleration. Those little things that we do feel, but often enough don’t really allow ourselves to feel completely. I think there is still a bit of that “We don’t talk about these things” in our society. That maybe if this stuff was brought out into the open, we wouldn’t be able to continue repressing them. Mental Health, LGBTQ issues, Equality for EVERYONE, Religion, Politics, Education, Differences between the Social Classes, Stereotypes, Misrepresentation of Human Bodies, (I’m looking at you photoshop!) you can probably think of many other topics, but we don’t accept these as readily as we should. These are issues that make most people squirm in their seats, or they don’t know they exist. I’m not going to launch into a long rant about them, because me screaming my issues on the internet isn’t the way to change things, maybe it will get someone to open their mind to see that there are so many other ways of life, and to be, and to recognize that each is valid. There are things that make me want to rip my hair out and punch people in the face, but that doesn’t accomplish anything. Screaming doesn’t do anything. Anger just poisons things. Hatred is bullshit. These are all things that affect the person doing or feeling them, even then it just starts to poison them.
I grew up with an idea that I was supposed to be one way. I was supposed to fit into this cookie cutter idea of what a girl should be. And I did it for most of my life. I was the little blonde haired girl that loved barbies and playing dress up. I played that part beautifully. I don’t look back at it and want to trade out the barbies for G.I Joe actions figures or wish I had spent more time playing Army instead of House. I enjoyed my childhood, because my Mom was willing to let me play with what I wanted. It was probably what I was supposed to play with, but it is what it is. I was a happy kid who didn’t think about stereotypes and what I was supposed to be. I was ignorant and happy. It wasn’t until I was a teenager, and I was in residential treatment for my depression (among other things) that someone pointed out the flaws in my childhood. I was left home alone a lot, my dad and brother were home as well doing their own things, and I would be up in my room playing with my toys. I had my imagination, I didn’t consider myself to be alone. My mom had a scary temper when I was growing up, she was frustrated with my dad and with how we were living. I remember the tension in the house, and it was always so thick you could probably have cut it with a knife. I remember her yelling a lot, and being scared of that. Even to this day, I can’t be around people who yell, it’s a trigger for me. She unleashed it on my dad, the screaming, the one sided fighting, the broken dishes. She used to spank us when we did something bad. That’s what it was like when she grew up in the 50s and 60s. They spanked. I’m not justifying it, I’m personally not okay with it, but it’s what she thought was an appropriate punishment for us doing something bad, because her parents had done it. I was not a well behaved kid, hyperactive and wild child. I’m not going to use the bullshit term for it and say I was spirited. I was a wild child, and I liked to push buttons. I can only imagine how frustrated she would get with me.
When I was in treatment, we had a family therapy session, with both parents. I’m still very surprised my dad showed for any of it. Therapy was not his cup of tea. Somehow my mom’s anger came up, and I remember my dad very vividly, saying my mom physically abused me. Because she had left a hand print a few times when she spanked me. That’s a whole grey area of discussion that I don’t really want to get into, but I remember feeling some mixture of disgust and surprise that he would think that. It was a few times, and I never had an inkling of it being abuse. I suppose it’s all point of view, and it’s a very touchy subject, but I personally haven’t viewed that as abuse. I remember retorting a few sessions later that he had emotionally abused us. Neglect is another grey area. Isn’t everything just one big grey area? I think his lack of interest felt more damaging that the hand print on my ass. Neither one is good, they are both things I don’t like. I think that was the session that I asked him point blank why he packed up and left like a thief in the night. His answer was “he had to take care of himself.” That’s still a very sore spot for me. I hated that answer, it only served to make me more angry and more hateful. I’ve spent a long time feeling like I wasn’t good enough to be cared for by him. I wasn’t good enough to be loved. This only poured more fuel on my self hatred fire. I didn’t realize until later on that it’s part of being a child of alcoholic. We will work twice as hard for half the recognition. We strive for our whole lifetimes to be loved by our alcoholic parent. We want what we will probably never get, since they usually aren’t in a position to give it. We contort ourselves to fit what they want us to be. And often enough we find that we do that for everyone else we come across. We sacrifice who we are, for who we are supposed to be.
I feel like I sacrificed those years where I could begin to explore who I am, for ensuring my survival. My shit went on the back-burner, because I made the decision to caretake my mom during her stuff. My stuff bubbled up from time to time, and it was always just under the surface, but it wasn’t who I was. It was who I felt I was supposed to be. That tricky little fucker that deludes you into thinking that is who you really are. That this role you play at times of crisis is all you will ever amount to be. That came about during that transition in middle school, during that internal struggle to be what everyone else is. To be what society wants you to be. Sometime during seventh grade is when depression came out to play, and it’s been trailing behind me like that tricky little ghost ever since. It’s been a strong presence in my life, and I have come to accept that I will have to fight it until I die. I don’t want to say I suffer from it. I’ve never liked saying I suffer from depression and anxiety. For me, it felt like I was giving them that power to control me. To be the defining aspect of who I am. “I’m Rachel, and I’m depressed.” I’m not my depression, nor is my depression me. It is an aspect of myself, and it has, for better or worse, been a defining aspect of my life. It has both abused me and pushed me down, and allowed me to survive through some of the worst. I was able to retreat into it when I couldn’t handle the rest of what was going on. Maybe the blessing of it was that it stripped away that need for me to be who I was supposed to be. That once I was able to fight it off enough to be able to breathe, then I could try to figure out who I am. Maybe not, it could all be a big chunk of bullshit I’m feeding myself, but I’d rather try to see the silver lining of it.
Those ideas I grew up with how I should be are gone. I’m not going to be this tall thin blonde with an Ivy League degree who can do everything like Wonder Woman, and is perfect all the time. I was never going to be that woman. Because she doesn’t exist. No one in the world is perfect. NO ONE. That’s the main thing I thought I was supposed to be growing up. That I had to be perfect. Thank god, I’m not. What I got instead, I’m happy with, sometimes. There are still parts I utterly despise. Those messy dirty parts that I get so embarrassed over, they will always be there. I have to accept them. I have to accept the dark, because I will never be pure light. No one is. We are human beings, with both light and dark. We are so different, and for a good reason, because if we were all the same, how fucking boring would that be? Those labels we use, for good and bad, help show the differences between us all. They show the light and the dark and the grey in-between. They show the blues, purples, yellows, oranges, reds, greens and every other color on the planet. They show us who we are supposed to be and who we are. It’s up the person to decide which one to be.
As my short (thanks grandma!) brunette, tattooed, yoga pant loving, burping, sometimes socially awkward, loving books too much, UK obsessed, too sarcastic for my own good, weird sense of humor, feisty, chatterbox (around people I know), wishing I was a better writer, self hating, depressed, anxious, need some self loving, learning how to crack my own walls, harry potter loving self, I’m saying that I will what I can to be who I am. To accept all the parts, to learn to love them, and to rework my labels. I’m sure I will have many people not like me, but with them out of the way it only makes more room for those who will like me. It doesn’t come overnight, it will be a life long process. But the most important thing of all of it, is that I can learn to live with myself. Labels and all.
The most important relationship I will ever have is with myself. That’s the one I’m going to start working on.
“Love yourself. You are the only one like you that will ever exist.”