The Trouble With Labels

finding yourself

Have you ever gotten so wrapped up in a book, you find yourself completely transported into the mind of the main character, where all of their thoughts become your thoughts and their feelings your feelings?

That’s the mark of good writing and the ultimate in story telling in my opinion. That I can suspend my reality for that moment in time and just become someone else in another time and place is a magical experience.

It was in the middle of one of these excursions into the mind of Lieutenant Eve Dallas in New York 2059 that I felt myself thrown back into my time and in my bed with the Kindle clutched in my fingers.

The main character had just gone through a literal and metaphorical stripping of her identity when her badge was taken by her commander as part of an internal investigation into the murder of a fellow police officer. To her, being a cop meant everything. It’s who she was through and through. Without the badge she was utterly lost.

I was overcome with her grief until suddenly I felt myself put the story on pause while I examined my own life and what it would mean to be without an identity.

For as long as I can remember I’ve found my identity in other things. You’d ask me to describe myself and it was usually in relation to something or someone else:

The daughter. The big sister. The little sister. First-generation American. New Yorker. The best friend. The girlfriend. The overachiever. The smarty pants. The ivy-league student. The employee. The blogger.

Then there were the attributes that I perceived to be part of my identity as projected by my own insecure mind:

Dominican girl trying to act “white”. Weak and unassertive. Dependable. Passive aggressive. Complacent. Chubby and not your “type.” Just a friend. The nice girl. The third wheel. Underachiever. Obsessive. Fearful. Bend over backwards for you but never for me. Nothing special.

Over time I allowed those labels and these attributes to mesh in such a way that I couldn’t tell you where I began and where the projections ended. It’s still hard for me to shake off some of those labels and the expectations they carry. I allow myself to be overshadowed by the implication that I’m one thing or the other, but never more than that.

I’ve had my fair share of shitty relationships of the friend and romantic variety which played a big part in how I shaped my identity in my late teens and early twenties. To say that my self-confidence and trust in what I thought were the right people was viciously kicked around, puts it pretty mildly.

The thing that keeps me from wallowing in a pit of self-pity or repeating the same horrible mistakes is remember that it all boils down to choice. I choose not to regret that past because each part of that trauma put me right here, which is a pretty good place considering. I take each of those experiences as a lesson learned and as another chapter that I could keep buried because it was in the past, with or without closure. Besides, we all have baggage don’t we?

It took a long time to realize that a lot of that crap that I’d stowed away was still there. In fact, it’ll always be there. For years I’d say that it had no role in my present life and that I was like two people; me then and me now. Me then never touched me now. And I went about life thinking that was true.

I checked back in with Eve Dallas to see how she handled her past. She crumbles under the loss of her cop identity only to realize that who she was at her core could never be taken because she created herself out of the traumas of her youth. She didn’t allow that to stop her from becoming her true self.

It occurred to me then how foolish I’d been to think that I could cut my life in half between past and present and ignore what brought me here. Of course the past matters. I can’t erase those first couple of chapters because the rest of my story just wouldn’t make any sense. It’s as much a part of me as the rest because of who I became afterwards.

And when that point clicked, the flood gates opened. I started to see patterns and habits emerge out of my relationships with friends and family. Out of my choices and the thought process behind my decisions. Out of my perception of myself.

I’ve done everything I could to remain hidden behind a label because somewhere along the line I chose to believe those attributes that rose out of a shaky past. I think I’m a pretty great friend, daughter, and sister. And I feel that I’m an all-around good person. But I chose to believe that I wasn’t anything special too. I drew myself out of the picture and got lost.

So this is the where we reach the climax of this particular story. Ready for it? Okay, here it is: I’m done.

I’m done with expectations. I’m done with being whatever it is other people think I should be, look like, say, do, study, work, write, listen to, dress as, behave or believe in. I’m done with putting myself aside because I’m scared of what people will think if I do or say what I really want, whatever that is. I’m making the choice to believe that I’m more.

The upside here is that I have a circle around me that keeps me both grounded and inspired to take more risks. They believe in me and encourage me to believe in myself. It’s a two-way street which is key.

And even with that support, I’m beginning to understand that I need that reservoir of strength in me at all times. My relationships are important but none is more important than my relationship with myself. I found so much self-worth in giving to others all the time. It’s time to be my own heroine and start giving to myself.

Feeling lighter on my feet and clearer in mind, I turned back to my story and found satisfaction in seeing the unbreakable Lieutenant Eve Dallas jump out of her grief with fury as she fought back using her wits and tenacity, proving once again that she was and always will be a badass. ❤

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4 thoughts on “The Trouble With Labels

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  1. I love this post! And I think that sometimes, losing that external identity can be a gift – because that’s when we *really* have the opportunity to find out *true self.* Yoga says that all of that external stuff – ie, mom, worker, girlfriend, student, etc is simply that. External. Strip that away and we will find out who we really are. You are such a wise young woman.

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    1. Gosh, thank you Ilene! I’ve never been accused of being wise so the compliment is well received. I’ve felt such a release recently and I’m realizing that it’s been a process of slowly chipping away all of these barriers I’ve built over the years. The best part is that I feel a bit of anger behind it, which is better than being numb as I was for so many years. The anger pushes me to take more risks and be more myself, whoever that person is. I’m excited to see what happens next, and for the first time I’m not worried as much. That’s huge! Thanks again Ilene! 🙂

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