Estimated reading time: 10 minutes
In the discomfort of aloneness, one woman discovers her individuality that had long been buried in the shadow of the bigness of others in her life
I never wanted to be alone, ever, but that is precisely what I did. I got vastly lonely first before confronting the nervous energy coursing through me that engaged a need for relentless mobility. It is how I hid. I went from event to event, chore to chore, not even able to settle down enough to read a book—avoiding self. Watching a movie alone on the couch took an epic amount of effort. Why am I like this, I thought?
In a new relationship, the usual love-struck aches felt increasingly more desperate. Being without my boyfriend on the weekend felt like I would lose everything—as if the connection would just fade away if I didn’t cling to the identification of oneness (us-ness). I would start to get ready for our date around 11 in the morning, almost counting the hours when I could connect and not have to be alone.
Naturally this backfired, as who wants to be anyone’s everything, and he gently reminded me he had a life of his own. I thought, wait, so do I. Why am I behaving like this? I am so much more than that. Yes, I have a life. I’m an entrepreneur with a successful career and a social life and interests. There are dimensions to me beyond coupling and motherhood. On the weekends I was with my kids (I’m a single mom with shared custody), I was engulfed in their schedules and taking care of them because I told myself that is what committed moms do.
I had not seen my behavior, my perpetual busyness, my strategy for avoiding aloneness as means to evade a feeling of emptiness inside.
When I was suddenly by myself in my non-custody time, the pain kicked in and I realized I had no more hostages in my space. I became painfully aware I no longer wanted to dominate or push so hard. I could be separate from you, and I would not die. I didn’t need others to witness me and my life to live. I also didn’t need to push people away because I was afraid that I would be engulfed. Who was I trying to prove something to?
At 52 years old, in this paralyzing chasm of “in-between”, I began to understand that this had to do with the relationship with my mother. I know, so cliché, roll out some Freud, but when I saw a connection between our one-year period of not speaking, and this feeling of loneliness—a “knowing” clicked inside me. A proverbial Aha. A “get thee to therapy” blinking sign.
This new energy directed me to find a therapist. I had not been on the couch for six years since I had faced sexual abuse and gotten sober. Was there more to dig into? Really? The relationship with my mom had been severed by something I had put up with for decades—a modus operandi that her opinion was more important than mine. This particular break-up conversation pertained to my ecclesiastic practices and her distaste for them. I had reacted as one would having been hung up on… I refused to talk to her again. One year later I saw the two-pronged epiphany.
I was done with being overshadowed and undermined, and I was finally standing up within myself to become the unique me.
Her feelings that had overshadowed me in childhood would no longer be more important than mine. They could no longer overcrowd the space in which I chose to identify myself as an individual, different from her. The time had come to get to the business of becoming me and standing in it unapologetically.
While I always felt like I had a big personality, I saw the ways I would hedge and hide myself. Only on the surface would I pretend to know who I was. I presented one way, felt another…maybe you can relate? I don’t want to throw my mom, or my dad, or anyone for that matter under the bus, but what I understood was that my unique self had been subsumed by the overbearing shadow of my parents in my childhood.
Getting sober, going on Shamanic journeys, buying a house on my own in South Central Los Angeles, all of it seemed individual to me. But I would still feel like in some way I was just a mirror of my mom. She was twice divorced (like me). She was a single mom (like me). She was a homeowner (like me). She ran a business (like me). I couldn’t bear drawing comparisons between my accomplishments and associating them with her—fearing that in a way, it made me her.
I had to individuate and the cross I was to bear (literally and figuratively) was in that time-severing argument about Jesus of all things.
This is less about Jesus and going to church, which I don’t do much of—and more of her invalidation of my opinion that was the final straw. No more. It brought back all the memories of her meltdowns and hysteria in my childhood, that had no room for me (or anything that wasn’t her). Invalidating my voice, invalidated me.
More specifically, the day that she hung up on my borderline evangelical grandfather (who has been the light of my life) and pronounced, “There is no more God.” That will suck the divinity right out of a nine-year-old at rapid speed.
I found solace in how, slowly, on my own, for the last few years, with a lot of conscious effort—I was eradicating the potential to dominate and take up all the space from my own daughters. Parenting allows us to reparent those parts of ourselves that were neglected and got carried into our adulthood. I consciously practiced pulling back my own bigness in an effort allow my young girls to feel safe to become themselves. That’s massive.
It’s seductive to use our children as sounding boards, a seduction a parent must refrain from.
The success of this practice was evident and playing out in real time. When my 16-year-old met her first boyfriend, she made it abundantly clear that even though I also had a new boyfriend, she wasn’t interested in hearing about him or meeting him. Not until you are serious, mom. At first, I was ticked off and maybe a bit hurt. Seriously? How could you to say that? And then it hit me like a ton of bricks. This was her first love. She needed to be front and center in her love story…and best yet, she had healthy boundaries and a sense of self. Halleluiah!
Even my overbearing tendencies and sway couldn’t dominate her own becoming. As much as it initially stung, I realized I had given to her what my mom never could do for me. I was the first to know when my mom thought my dad cheated on her. “Where is your father?” she asked mid-swing of a family wedding. I knew he was outside with another woman and I felt searingly complicit and entangled in my mere nine year old innocence. Post-divorce,she had this guy visiting from Canada, or another guy from Norway, and I knew it all…too much—and it took up all the oxygen in the room.
I lived in tandem with her pain, and as a young teen, there was no space for the coming of my innocence, let alone claiming my voice. When she tried to get involved with the men in my life as a mother-in-law later down the road, it was awkward and almost too late. She and I didn’t fit in the same room, no matter how many times she either tried to charm by baking eggplant parmigiana or helping me on a short film I directed. I couldn’t control my surges of vitriol. I didn’t understand them.
Now I do. I was strangled by the umbilical cord way out of the womb.
When we are not allowed to identify with our uniqueness, overshadowed by more domineering people, we push away or hide or shrink. For me, it was never getting fully engaged in a relationship because that felt like death; death of self. It terrified me. So, I stayed on the periphery despite marrying. What I realized in this current state of aloneness was that my wanting to be with my current boyfriend all the time was actually a step in the right direction.
My seeming neediness was actually readiness to interrupt this pattern and heal.
As I dove into therapy, peeling back the layers of this pain, I saw that my unique identity had floundered and shriveled in the shadow of my mother. It had never been safe to emerge. I had been battling with this relationship with her my whole life, which was a long time to have buried me. Now that I was coming to terms with how I could extricate and lean more into the becoming of my own self, I could feel a tiny bit of my power coming back and with it, even a little compassion. How could she know how she behaved if that was all that was taught to her?
Yet that didn’t change my reality or heal my unhealed wounds or make me any less lonely. It did make me desirous to be free of it and to never do the same to my girls. Suddenly I saw my loneliness in a different light. I understood this sense of not being safe when alone. It didn’t feel safe or comfortable to be alone with my truest self, with the truth—because I’d never done it.
Of course, I was a nervous wreck! The thought of therapy and meeting someone (me) intimately for the first time can be challenging enough. I had been running from this pain for a lifetime; shoving it places, acting out, self-medicating—anything to avoid its pierce. But I was ready. Therapy provided the mirror to see who I was apart from the controlling factors of how my mother had decided to see me, or not see me at all.
I felt engulfed with sadness and enraged that I was having to go to therapy to figure this out, as a lifetime of emotions bubbled to the surface. Yet, I also understood I was making these efforts so I didn’t sever the relationship with my mother forever, brushing it off like it didn’t matter.
How could I stand by my staunch belief that women can heal women, if I cut off a section of my own maternal legacy?
I could feel the watchful gaze of the many women before me, and my mother—women I had never met who beckoned to me. You, the strong one, go forth and change our patterns. Ugh, can’t I just overeat, watch some fake sex on Bridgerton and check out instead, please?Instead, I was resigned that I could find my unique self, and possibly even reunite with her on my own terms, not expecting her to change, but holding onto my position…my self.
Who would I be in this new space…would she see me? Her freak-outs and drama could no longer dominate who I was or shut me out. I was clear who I had become, was becoming, and I could proceed forward with or without her influence. I held to the notion this was possible. I let go of the details of how, why and when for our reunion, and focused on the bigger scope. My God has a larger view, more than my drive-in screen on a double ticket.
So, my journey for individuation from my childhood began.
As a sexual abuse survivor, silence was pain. So, I roared out as loudly as I could. I fought him and her and the oppression of myself. I leaned on sobriety, tapping (EFT), Shamanic vision quests, had curses removed from me, mapped my astrological chart, had my enneagram read, and even hired a manifestation coach. But none of those specific scenarios set me up for the big bang epiphany. In fairness, they guided me and moved the awareness needle, but it was ME who had to allow each of those experiences and modalities to point me in the right direction.
When I got quiet in the trust that I could finally handle what my inner self had to say to me, I was waxing wise. In the silence we sit with the pain, but we can also hear our answers. I could see the most pressing pattern, avoiding getting busy knowing the unique me. I was able to reframe my uncomfortable state.
When the silence gets too much, now I listen because it’s got something to say that I’m ready to hear…and heal…and claim.
You may also enjoy reading A Limited Edition of One: Owning & Unleashing Your Uniqueness, by Amanda Blair.