If given the chance to redefine yourself, who would you choose to become?
In the sixth grade I had the assignment of writing my autobiography. We were told to begin with a thorough family history, write our present, and then venture into the unknown fiction of our future. I loved working on the assignment, but while my classmates wrote lovely futures for themselves filled with riches and happiness, my husband met his unfortunate end in a plane crash. I ended my days single and finding joy in my time spent with my grandchildren. I had a flair for the dramatic.
I’m now a single woman with two kids. Fate, it seems, is not without a sense of irony.
Even then, I found it easy to imagine myself in other worlds or different versions of myself. It is a skill that would come in handy over the years as, depending on what man I was in a relationship with, I did my best to become a version of him. I don’t feel that I did this on purpose; it was just a natural by-product of trying to please, trying to make myself lovable, and generally feeling the need to apologize for my flaws on a constant basis. Never feeling good enough in who I was on my own, I became something else and allowed those around me to define who I was.
At 23 I was traveling constantly for my job, living out of a suitcase and I decided that I was never going to meet someone the “old fashioned” way, so I went online and met a man who I would, a year later, agree to marry. And move with him to Canada. And give up my name. And walk away from everything I’d ever known to live in a new country with a man who I saw on the weekends when I wasn’t on a business trip.
It was to be the biggest test of my transformational abilities to date.
Marriage was a struggle, but I worked to become more like him to ease the way. I changed my diet, my taste in music, even the clothes I wore. He loved me in workout wear and plain lingerie, so wouldn’t you know that all the lace disappeared from my drawers? The more I worked to transform the better I thought our marriage was, and the more lost I began to feel. I could actually feel myself disappearing. But I thought that’s what marriage was. I didn’t even realize how unhappy I was. There I found myself, living in a country that didn’t feel like home, travelling for business 75% of the time and in a marriage that left me feeling completely alone. But I was married. Marriage is for the long haul.
Then I got pregnant.
You see, I was married and I was 28 and I decided it was time. Seemingly overnight my desire to be a mother had sprung to life and there was no quieting the ticking of the clock.
I had my first son in June of that year and something amazing happened. I began to transform again, but this time it wasn’t a disappearing act, it was a new identity that began to form. When I gave birth to my beautiful son I felt a strength and capability that I had never known. I felt like I could do anything.
I was in love with being a mother. In love with my son and the process of caring for him and watching him grow.
After the birth of our first son and then even more so after our second, my marriage began to deteriorate. A magical thing was happening. I was becoming me. The strength I found in motherhood began to blossom into other aspects of my life. I had a confidence that I’d never allowed myself to see. That’s a tough thing to introduce into a relationship already strained to begin with.
I began to hope for a different career doing something I loved. When my youngest son was about six months old I decided to try turning the one hobby that I enjoyed — making cakes — into a business. I put an ad on Craigslist and in weeks I was booked solid and my first business, “Cake or Death”, was born.
So much birth and so many changes in just a very few short years! I was now a mother, an entrepreneur, and an artist. It felt like a whole new world.
What didn’t feel any different, however, was my marriage. With so many aspects of my life lighting up, it was more and more difficult to ignore the very dark thing my marriage had become. In December, a month after my sons’ 1st birthday, I told my husband I couldn’t be married to him anymore. I just couldn’t be someone I wasn’t anymore.
I began yet another transition.
In the two-year legal battle that followed my request to end my marriage, I lived in such a hell I didn’t have the time or energy to try and be anything. I just survived. I struggled to survive for my children and for myself, reminding myself why I left and that the unhappiest day of the divorce was still better than the marriage I had been in. I focused on the new job I had and tried to forget how happy starting my own business had made me feel. I focused on being strong for my boys. I focused on not giving up.
Every day I told myself little stories of what life might be like on the other side. “If we can just make it through this”, I promised myself, “I will be the mom I want to be, the woman I want to be.” I began to write a list of what that meant. I wrote the things I wanted to do with my life and for my children. I thought about how I had ended up in that situation to begin with, how I had lost myself so easily along the way, and how I wanted to make very sure that wouldn’t happen again.
Even in those very dark days, I was beginning the important process of not only discovering the woman I was, but creating her.
Instead of allowing the situation to mold me into a victim, I would choose what I was to become. Instead of letting this horrific divorce become one more instance of me giving over to circumstance and what someone else had done to me, I would take control of the narrative.
Too often in life we accept someone else’s summation of us. We carry around our wounds and scars as if we have an obligation to keep their memory alive. So many people never find their way out of the armour of survival to experience the bright light of peace.
I’m happy with the path I’ve walked because it helped me to learn that, even in despair, choice is ever-present. I chose to shape who I became — a strong single mother, a marketer, an entrepreneur, a friend, an artist, a teacher. I chose to turn an awful experience into a way to help others see the choices they have within and on the other side of their own trials and transitions.
I no longer have to become versions of me to try to make myself fit. I no longer have to give myself up to someone else’s definition of who I am. In the lovely words of Dorothy Parker:
“In youth, it was a way I had,
To do my best to please.
And change, with every passing lad
To suit his theories.
But now I know the things I know
And do the things I do,
And if you do not like me so,
To hell, my love, with you.”
I do the things I do. I am who I am. I choose. And so can you.