Thursday, July 5, 2007

Identity


How do you define yourself? I hated that question in school. We had Sociology in high school and the teacher had us make a list of ten things that say who we are. “Not adjectives,” he warned, “Titles – who are you?”

All I wrote down was my name ten times. I didn’t define myself as a daughter or sister, I had no set ethnicity to define myself- I had a name, and I was unsure of that too.

Is that enough?

Other people had put down their family roles, their ethnicities, their gender, functions they held in school (Class President, etc.) and I had –

A name. And one that, now when I look back, I haven’t used since high school.

When I tell my therapist I can’t define myself in those terms she tells me not to worry. I explain that I have no ethnicity as my mother changed it on her whims. For example, if I liked an African-American boy at school she’d tell me they were bad for me and can never support a family, yet she later claimed she has distant relatives who were slaves. One day she’d be Native American, the next Irish. It didn’t help that she herself was an ‘abandoned’ child and thus, didn’t have much of a clue. She claimed to know her parents but by that point I couldn’t believe her. I say abandoned because she was apparently given away to a neighbor when she was younger, and didn’t find out until later in life that her real mother had, in fact, lived next door for many years.

I was active in school – Junior Classical League, Key Club, Honor Society, but couldn’t define myself by those roles. And, in my household, I couldn’t even identify with my gender. The house was quite sexualized and I remember crying the first time I noticed my breasts – I felt I was growing into- I really don’t know. There was a lot of emotion. Maybe then I thought I really would become my mother. I remember outwardly voicing that now I couldn’t play sports with the boys but there was more to that – my brother constantly commented on my ‘growing tits and ass’ and with his history of paying me to see his penis (maybe 10-12 years old) talking about sex in front of me (since whenever) and then my mom liking him to spank me, it wasn’t comfortable. As I think I mentioned earlier, I never wore make-up, my mother didn’t. I wore my brother’s hand me downs and the only claim to femininity was my usually long hair and burgeoning breasts.

So who am I?

This is a question that, as I cleaned out my files recently and poured through college essays, has been a big question for me. In most of my papers (at least the ones I scored an A on) I dealt with issues of identity. I was a Film and English major so my papers were on films such as Secrets and Lies and Viridiana, then on books such as the Remains of the Day and Oranges are Not the Only Fruit. All are characters trying to define themselves to some degree. All the professors thought I handled the topic with, “great insight and sensitivity.”

My mother’s stories of her past changed often, as did those of our early years, “our” being my brother and I. Like the greatest of historians she had that eraser out and was fervently changing the past the more we tried to grab on to it. Pictures didn’t help, as they were around when she wanted to look at them, but there were holes in the photo albums when my brother and I searched without her.

Dissociation is a wonderful thing and in my childhood years I created fantasy after fantasy to retreat into and explain my creation, my being. Ethnicity was never defined (and isn’t now, I really don’t care and claim I’m everything because, why not? I like experiencing new cultural things and thankfully can pass for most of those that are prevalent in NY – that is, black, white, Hispanic, someone thought Turkish, I get Irish at times, Polish, but usually people think mix) in any of these fantasies, and parentage never was either. The idea of parents was nebulous and, in my fantasies, they had died when I was an infant and had loved me very, very much. In the most gruesome they had been set on fire and their skin flayed but I had inhaled their ashes and thus, this piece of a parent that loved me was with me always.

The idea, as my therapist puts forth, is to recognize the past happened, including the torture, but to define myself in the now not in the then. Certainly part of my make-up is ‘survivor’ but now I am also ‘college graduate,’ ‘teacher,’ ‘financial planner,’ ‘woman,’ ‘writer,’ ‘blogger,’ ‘artist,’ etc. So live with that and realize that I have created my own foundation. Sure, it’s nice and easy when you are born on a concrete foundation not undulating waves as I was, but not everyone has that luxury. Basically, I had to create my identity from scratch and then, as I evolved, reinvent myself outside of the necessary fantasies that kept me from identifying myself as, ‘victim,’ ‘abused,’ ‘hated,’ ‘bitch,’ ‘trash,’ ‘worthless,’ and all the other things my family thought of me.

I do think even with the best of parents it must be hard to sit-down and define yourself. I go over this with my closest friend who had the whole two loving parents many caring siblings no fighting type of family where everyone helps each other, and right now she’s feeling really lost and thinks I have it easier in terms of identity because I knew from an early age I had no idea what was going on, and she’s just realizing she doesn’t know what’s happening with her life. (That’s one helluva long sentence isn’t it? )

It’s a hard call for me though, I feel fractured still.

“Well, what is your goal?” My therapist asked this week.

“To not feel like Gollum,” I said. She laughed, but it’s true. I end up having these long dialogues with myself because when something happens the past mode of thinking kicks in, and the ‘now’ me has to talk it down. For example, even something as simple as leaving a note on another person’s blog can lead to the following:

“You’re going to offend them”

“How, I just said I liked what they wrote.”

“Yes, but you wrote it curtly,”

“No I didn’t, I was being sincere.”

“But that’s not how they are going to read it, you offended them.”

“But, what the hell, I just said, “Nice post, it made me smile!”

“Yeah, but you didn’t explain why, they’re going to think you’re just trolling for readers.”

“But why would I do that when I’m still unsure of my blog to begin with?”

Etc. etc. etc. It can go on for an hour or more arguing over three or four words I left lying around somewhere, in case they were the wrong words left in the wrong place or the right words in the wrong place.

The idea of everything is to unify my two selves – to come to terms with my young abused self that created this whole other identity outside of the pain and the person outside of the pain I became. Internal dialogue is of course, never going to completely disappear, but the Identity and sense of self should, no, needs to unify.

I swear, it’s absolutely amazing I didn’t end up with DID (Dissociative Identity Disorder- AKA Sybill) considering the things I went through, it’s just the whole past vs. present that bugs me.

In fact, I did start the process of unity about 5 years ago when I legally had my name changed (not my first, just my last and eliminated my middle name) as a way to begin building who I am. I didn’t have any connection to the name I held anyway, and it took me a good year or so to find a last name I liked.

And you know what? Knowing my name, my real name, is a great start. If everyone had the strength to stand up and say their name with complete conviction and no fear life would be good.

6 comments:

Amel's Realm said...

VERY INTERESTING!!! I didn't have such experiences as you did back in your childhood. However, when you wrote "Gollum", I smiled. Why? Because I just did a test on "Inner Hero" the other day and in one question I picked "Gollum" as one character I could most relate to.

And when it comes to paranoia, I understand that PERFECTLY as I have that, too. It doesn't appear too often, but sometimes it does rear its ugly head. I keep on wondering whether I've said the right thing, whether I've offended someone or not, whether I've accidentally hurt someone's feeling with my diction or the way I said something. Apparently Shan also feels the same (read my latest post if you wanna know more). And I know one friend of mine sometimes feels the same way, too. :-)))

I don't know how tough life must've been for you back in your childhood, but I understand what you said when you told me that you could fantasize SO MANY things.

I don't know how tough life's been for you, but I SALUTE YOU, Girl! TRULY. You're an INSPIRATION for me. Keep on blogging!!!

Paper Fan Club said...

Fantastic post. I just read Suze Orman's new book and she says many/most women have a difficult time just saying their names (and therefore, communicating their identities) aloud in a confident manner, i.e. "This is who I am." Interesting.

Amel's Realm said...

Oh, in case you wonder how you inspire me...well, IMO your blog is about HOPE and I like it. VERY MUCH!!! :-)))

Shrink Wrapped Scream said...

I doubt I will ever know the depth of hurt inflicted on you as a child, but I can imagine. You are amazing. I also had to reinvent who I was, I like this new carnation now, but it's taken years to perfect, and it's shell is thin, it doesn't take too much for the cracks to show.

That internal dialogue is a constant chatter in my brain, always arguing with me, chiding. I can sit on it though, and I'm doing that more often these days. Look at how far you have come - be proud of that little girl, she's led you a long way towards a safer path. ((hugs))

Victorya said...

Wow, it seems that identity is a huge issue in many people's lives, but it is the basic question - who am I?

Thanks for the kind words Amel, and yeah, paranoia is something I'm well acquainted with! It really annoys me when I feel that way though.

Paper fan - thanks for dropping by! I have to look into the Suze Orman book. I never heard that before, I just know how hard it was for me to finally be able to say my name and recitfy it with a sense of identity. Huhmmm. A common phenomenom it seems. How sad.

Shrink- thanks so much for the hope! omgosh it is overwelming so many days I wonder if it'll ever slow down. I don't want it to stop, just to give me time to breathe! I hope to rebuild that shell one day, but right now I'm working on smashing down all those walls that build. *sigh*

Maybe I can create a meme - write down who you are - 5 words. Like my teacher had me do way back when. How do we identify ourselves?

Amel's Realm said...

Hey, Vic!!!

Keep breaking the wallsssss!!!! Wish I could help, though, but I can only offer you a towel to wipe away your sweat whenever you get tired of doing it...or a massage, perhaps? ;-D

Who I am in 5 words? Gee...that's tough.

Let me try it, though...I am:

Nothing
Yin
Yang
Stained
Loved

Boy, that took a while to think about. :-)))