I’ve been itching to write about authenticity lately, so here goes: I’ve mentioned before that during the last few years, I’ve had nothing to talk about – and that’s largely due to me disliking myself. Think of someone you can’t stand to be around – and imagine being with that person 24/7 – that’s what my depression felt like. Self-hate ran deep within my bloodstream and I couldn’t escape it. While I believe that depression is a chemical imbalance in our brains – a sickness – I also believe that the severity and constancy of my depression had a lot to do with my unwillingness to be authentic. Authenticity wasn’t in the realm of possibility for me because being authentic to myself made me different – a cardinal sin for someone who believed that being likable by others determines one’s self-worth.
I’m not going to go into a whole thing about how or why I didn’t fit in or couldn’t keep friends as a kid – the fact is that I didn’t and I couldn’t. We’ve all experienced some form of rejection, and I believe that in adolescence, our relationships are large factors in determining who we become as adults. I remember closing off the parts of myself that weren’t readily accepted by my friends and instead, focusing on trying to match their interests. Fitting in was my highest priority, and in doing so, I sacrificed parts of myself that were essential to my being. Eventually, the act of muting certain parts of myself shaped my relationships with others and my relationship with myself. I couldn’t see that manipulating my interests, opinions, and emotions to match others was a betrayal to myself. It’s not shocking to see that despite my efforts, I never truly felt as though I belonged in any of my social groups, in my relationships with men, or anywhere.
“Because true belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world, our belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance.” –Brene Brown
Imperfect Metaphor Alert: I’m not sure how to explain how getting sober made me realize this, so cut me a break if this doesn’t make sense: The act of getting sober is similar to taking home a puppy. You get home and drop this wild animal into a new environment that will become its home. The puppy is a wildcard – she could chew on a chair leg, pee on the floor, sleep under the couch. You realize pretty quickly that the puppy has its own personality and tastes and there’s a lot to learn in this new relationship. You’re not about to send this puppy back to the high-kill shelter, so you’ve got to adapt. You familiarize yourself with one another – you learn not to leave your socks on the floor, you teach the puppy to pee outside, etc. You build a relationship so that you can live together. Parts of this will be unbearable, others will be entertaining, some might even be fun. It will be overwhelming, eye-opening, and humbling.
When you can’t escape it or shut it down or lock it up, the part of you that knows what to do will be there. It’s inside of you already, you just have to give it a chance. And it won’t be perfect, but it will be authentic, and once you allow yourself to be, you give yourself the chance to become whole. In knowing yourself, in welcoming and loving and trusting and seeking your inner, essential, true you, you become authentic. In knowing yourself, you can know others. In belonging to yourself, you belong entirely.
After any social event, I would criticize how I interacted with others. I never left a trail I was happy of; I never felt as though I represented myself in a manner that made me proud. I thought my lies about doing well and being happy were transparent and that everyone could see I was grasping for anything to hang onto. The handful of opinions I had on a small window of topics were superficial and undeveloped because I’d become so disconnected from myself that I didn’t actually know how I felt about anything. There was no core from which to pull from, no resource to site. I could not present my true self because I had neglected and alienated her.
I’ve recently discovered a lot about myself – I am sensitive, I am vulnerable, I strive to be a better person to the people in my life who have chosen to stick around, who care, who are good. I don’t want to be around bullshit anymore and I can’t stand being bored. I am passionate, I am shy, I am honest. I’m pretty fucking rad and I am the only one who gets to make that decision.
I went to a party a couple of weeks ago to celebrate the fact that my friend ran his first marathon, and I met a handful of women. These women were strong, intimidating, and stuck together because they all knew one another. In my drinking life, I would have ignored these women in this setting because I would have felt scared, judged, and inferior. At one point during the party, I found myself alone with them. Drinking Katie would have fled, using the excuse that she needed to refill her cup. Instead, I asked questions, was engaged, and conversed with these women. When someone said something judgmental towards me, I stood up for myself without a second thought. When I was bored of sharing space with them, I left the room. I left no time for awkward silence, and I didn’t agree with them for the sake of keeping the waters calm. I shared as much of myself as I wanted to, and I left that party with no regret. A few days later, I thought about what I liked and disliked about these women. I wasn’t worried about getting them to like me because in being true to myself, it matters who I like, not the other way around.
About a month ago, an acquaintance of mine verbally attacked a mutual friend to whom I’ve grown close. In supporting my friend and wielding advice on how to handle the unjustified and abusive interaction, I made the decision to cut this person out of my life. I am absolutely not going to put myself in the cross-hairs of someone who has a history of abusing and alienating others. I do not give one fuck if me cutting this person from my life makes our mutual friends uncomfortable. I would hope that my friends would respect my choice solely because it is my right and my decision to do so. When I make the decision to do what is right for me, I owe no one an explanation. Your discomfort is a reflection on you, and I am under no obligation to betray my feelings to make you feel better. Fuck. That.
I’ve made new friends too – I’ve spent more time nurturing my relationships and am trying to become a better sister, friend, daughter, girlfriend. My point is this: I’m done wasting my time. I spent a large portion of my young life trying to figure out who everyone else wanted me to be and as a result I left my true self behind. Look at what that got me: loneliness, destruction, regret, addiction. It’s just like drinking – why would I do the thing that I know doesn’t end well? I can’t justify it anymore.