I have long held the personal mantra that “if it won’t be on my headstone, it does not define me.” It has been 40 years in the making and I’ve forgotten it many times along the way, but I do my best to live that truth. Granted I plan to be cremated, but the sentiment is the same nonetheless. The idea of letting ANYONE or any ONE mistake, accomplishment, role etc. define me, is simply unacceptable. I am the sum of my parts - inside and out.
A friend announced her graduation from cancer treatments today and I was so incredibly inspired for the obvious reasons and a few that are less so. From the day she openly shared her diagnosis, she has never let the disease define her. She is a mother, a wife, a friend, an advocate and a “grateful patient,” but she has never been “breast cancer.” She has often shared that even when its “over,” it’s never done. I suspect that she will continue to define her experience, her story and her life, herself. She defines what that looks like.
Until you are divorced, you don’t realize just how many documents require you to define yourself as such. It takes a toll at times. Adds insult to injury. If it were up to Facebook, I could chose that definition of myself there too. Yet very few of the divorced men and women I know would ever consider that a part of their being. A definition of self.
I was married. Now I am not. I am a mother, a daughter, a colleague and a friend. I strive to be a good neighbor, a lover, a contributor, a communicator, a teacher and human. My therapist insists that I spend far too much time on two unproductive topics; self-blame and affirmation seeking from the wrong people. It’s true. I can forgive others with ease, but rarely myself. I want to live my mantra, but I fall down when I can’t move past my own failures. I have often said that when I love, it is at 100%. The issue with this is when the object of my 100% can’t do the same. I have in the past, been left (in friendship and in love) feeling “less than.”
Amongst my divorced peers, there is a pervasive difficulty among women who were “left” not to define themselves that way. It’s the hardest part of being a support system. I see these women as strong even when they feel weak. I see women who, despite the hardest of circumstances, get through every day for themselves and their families. I see women who in their marriages might have played different roles, now begin to stand up for themselves, to fight for what they think, what they feel and what them and their children need. Today divorce might define them, but eventually they will define themselves.
A dear friend asked me recently what else he might refer to his ex as. “Ex-wife sounds so harsh, but the mother of my child erases all of the history.” He is right. This idea is not exclusive to women either. Why are dads often referred to as “babysitting” for their own kids? Would you ever refer to a mom that way? Why are divorced men automatically given praise when they show up, co-parent and do their share in all aspects? Would we ever award the same to a women? As a divorced women, I can’t imagine dating anyone who was not also divorced with kids. Who else could possibly understand? Who else would be able to handle the crazy scheduling and time sharing me with my kids and theirs? “Divorced dad” often comes with its own set of unfair societal definitions, when it seems each man should be able to define themselves.
I am, even from first blush, a lot of things. I am loud and extroverted. My accent is a dead giveaway about where I grew up. I am opinionated and open and honest and real. I am also incredibly sensitive and not nearly as self-confident as you might assume. I am scared, often. I am a worrier and I obsess over the things I cannot change. I’m a lover and a fighter all at once. I am organized and meticulous but also open-minded and adventurous. I define me. I am me and I am okay.