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I Tore Down My Perfect Life

A Personal Perspective: I am a proud queer.

I study mental health across the lifespan. My interest in this area became personal when I allowed myself to apply the themes of belonging, being, and becoming to my own life. These three terms, while defined differently by various researchers and authors, dictate who we’ve been, where we are, and where we’re going.

During the pandemic, I finally had the time and space to put those concepts into action and reevaluate my marriage to a man, my comfortable life, perfect for so many people, but not for me. Over the months of quarantine, I forged a new path and walked out as a whole person embracing the fullness of my identity. I found my superpower, my voice.
All my life, I have craved true belonging. I was fortunate, I belonged to an incredible family, had several groups of wonderful friends, and was a member of other communities like church organizations and professional agencies. Even so, have you ever stood among people you believe you belong to and felt alone and unseen? That was me. I felt this often because I wasn’t being truthful. I grew to accept my internal isolation as a part of life.

I was a teenager when I learned to abandon myself in exchange for love, acceptance, and belonging, in whatever form it arrived. I gave away my preferences, ideals, and thoughts as a way of life by doing what was asked and falling in line. One memory haunts me still. A girl from my high school tried to buy prom tickets. According to the rules, if you wanted to bring someone from an outside school as your date you had to list their name and school on a sign-up sheet. She wrote down the name of a girl, her girlfriend, and was denied tickets and was told it was forbidden to bring another girl as a date. This student fought back. She took her story to the local media station where it gained significant attention, but most of it was negative. Teenagers can be so brutal. They ridiculed, mocked, and ostracized her. I wish I had spoken up in her defense or stood beside her in the hallway and told her she wasn’t alone. I abandoned what I knew to be true to fit in.

I also knew I was attracted to women, but after witnessing her treatment, I tamped down those thoughts and completely abandoned that part of myself. When I abandoned myself, I learned to get my sense of security outside myself. That false sense of validation felt incredibly gratifying at first, but it never lasted. If it had, I wouldn’t have found myself chronically anxious and frequently crying in my metaphorical and literal closet.

I created a life I thought was right. Then, when I was in my late twenties the world shifted. I couldn’t rely on my overscheduled life to keep me distracted. During quarantine, I was separated from the groups of people I aimed to please. The moment in history demanded an answer to the question: Is this how I want to live, as poet Mary Oliver famously said, my ‘One wild and precious life?’ Before the pandemic halted our world, the fear and threat of not belonging muffled those kinds of questions in my mind. I silenced them. I buried them so deeply that I made life-altering decisions with one goal: to ensure my entire being appeared exactly as needed to belong.

I became a young adult who, by mainstream standards, had all the right boxes checked. But by internal gauges, I was missing a crucial connection: The one with myself. During that stillness of 2020, my once quieted voice, and the version of myself I bent to belong for years begged to be given permission to speak, like a thunderstorm demands to be heard. The voice of my Self came bursting out and cracked across the sky like lightning. I had never needed permission to be me, I realized. What I needed was to sit undistracted with the little girl who lives inside of me and remind her that it is her right in this life to be seen and heard exactly as she is. Children have a way of reintroducing you to those parts of yourself.

It became much easier to understand what the little girl inside of me needed while I sat cradling my precious daughter in my arms. I gave birth four months before the pandemic hit us. I knew now, she would forever be watching, and I would forever be setting the example.

No more shapeshifting and no more fitting into molds. I would no longer surrender parts of myself, but rather introduce her to who I was. Those that welcomed her would stay and those who didn’t could decide to go. I couldn’t keep spending my energy trying to control the outcome. When I relinquished control, I experienced true belonging, at last. I belonged to myself for the first time.

For a while, the truth I had been suppressing became a storm that created a path of destruction when I tore apart the life I was living. I caused ripples of hurt when I used my voice to communicate my truth: I am a proud queer daughter, sister, cousin, aunt, ex-wife, friend, and partner. Today, I am not accepted by everyone. I’m not involved with as many groups. But when I stand among people now, I feel seen and not alone. I am divorced, dating, and co-parenting. My story is still being written and, in this chapter, I have a peace that permeates within me and a beautiful sense of ease in life. I’m living a reality I once only dreamed about. Each time I lean over to kiss my girlfriend I’m amazed that this is the life I get to live.

There has been pain. There has been sorrow. There has also been a reclamation. Each time I harness my superpower, my voice, the little girl who lives inside says, thank you for setting her free and the little girl who now holds my fingertips as she gazes towards my eyes will grow to know her truth is always safe with me.