Finding Your True Self in Adversity

By Jami Ingledue

There is something both horrible and wonderful about hard times. Adversity—exhausted, broken-down, crying-on-the-bathroom-floor adversity—strips you down, takes you apart. When you are trying to survive, to just make it through another day, anything that is not essential begins to fall away. And who you thought you were, your expectations of life, everything you knew, gets taken apart, piece by piece.

Through this process, I discovered something unessential that I had been carrying all along: expectations of what I am SUPPOSED to be. As a woman. As a wife. As a mother. As a human being.

Because the world has told us for years what we are supposed to be. This is true for everyone but particularly so for women, and even more so for mothers. Our power, our sexuality, our mothering, have all been shaped and controlled by our patriarchal societies. And so women’s roles have often been more valued than their humanity.

The truth is that we spend much of lives trying to become this idealized person.

Of course we are complicit in this to some extent. We live our lives following the blueprint that our culture has laid out for us. And that cultural blueprint is useful, it serves an important purpose, saving every individual the pain of figuring out every single thing for themselves. And even as we become aware of how the expectations of society are shaping us, we continue to follow that path because it’s easier than not. Just as we are rewarded for being a “good girl” when we are children, we get payback as adults for playing the role we are supposed to, the perfect mother and the successful woman. Social acceptance, admiration, Facebook likes.

And then if you are lucky enough you go through something really hard, or you have a mid-life crisis/awakening, or you’re just completely worn down by parenting, and all of those societal expectations are stripped away like old peeling paint. Because you just don’t have the energy to care anymore. You just don’t want to waste precious moments of your life worrying if you’re doing everything right. And so the unbecoming begins.

But first there is the grieving. Grieving the dream of what you thought your life would be, what motherhood would be. Grieving the vision you used to have of your family life: your happy, well-behaved, high-achieving kids, your always fun and warm and supportive marriage.

Because life is not so pretty when you’re in the trenches. Shit gets real. Everyone is pushed to their breaking point and beyond.

It hurts, peeling away the world’s expectations, scraping off the veneer we show to the world. Because it is also peeling away the hopes and dreams we had for our lives. We are left raw and bloody as we expose what’s underneath, and face the realities of life as it truly is. But just like pulling at old peeling paint, once you start, you can’t stop.

This is something I’ve been going through myself the past few years.

Mostly because I’m tired. I don’t have the emotional energy to worry about whether or not my kid’s birthday parties are Pinterest-worthy. Don’t need it.

And I just can’t make myself care that there are sometimes bicycles left in the yard, and french fries in the van, and weeds in the flowerbeds. Let it go.

I have no energy for moms who want to compare our kids’ achievements or behavior or sleeping habits or eating habits or who behaves vs. who throws earth-shattering fits in public places. (My kid wins that last one hands-down at least.) Peel it off. Toss it aside.

And I certainly don’t have the space for people who care about who has the most beautiful house or the nicest car or the most successful career. Not worth it. Gone. I have no time or energy for anything but authentic relationships.

The most important thing that’s been stripped away is the self-doubt. That I’m not doing it right, that I’m not good enough, that I’m too messy, that I let my kid watch too much tv, that I don’t have enough money. That I’m failing. I still think those things sometimes, don’t get me wrong. But then I think: fuck that.

Because what’s the point? Who am I trying to impress anyway? What a waste of energy! I am done with the world telling me what I should be. I am done with measuring myself by anyone else’s standards.

And when all of that is stripped away, I can look unflinchingly and see something that I was not able to see before:

Power. My own power, reclaimed.

Because what I have found is that I am now stronger than the role. Instead of it shaping me, now I can shape IT. And in so doing I can contribute to changing that blueprint, leaving it just a tiny bit better for my daughter and her daughters.

When we can see ourselves and the world with unrelenting, brutal honesty, without the layers of expectations and self-doubt, then we can see what it is that we can offer. We can see what our kids need, what the world needs, the work that needs to be done. And when we’re not worried about pleasing anyone else, we can look at our community and our world and say with confidence and steely clarity—this needs changing. What needs to be done? I can do it. I can help. I can add my voice. And we get to work.

That is how shit gets done. And you know who gets shit done? Moms, that’s who. And we cannot unleash that power unless we are our unapologetic authentic selves.

So let’s strip away the societal expectations, our own fantasies of motherhood, everything the world has told us to become. And strip away our expectations of what life should be, what we wanted it to be.  Peel it away, toss it aside. It served its purpose.  We don’t need it anymore.

Previously published in The Wild Word magazine as ‘Unbecoming’.

Jami worked as a librarian for over a decade before choosing to stay home when her son, now 4, was born. She also has a 17-year-old daughter. She makes all-natural soap and body products and sells them through her company, Dancing Bee Farms. She lives with her husband, daughter, and son on an acre of land in rural Ohio, where they keep bees, garden, and brew beer.  She is The Wild Word’s Behind Domestic Lines columnist, where she writes about the rollercoaster ride that is being a parent.

For more wonderful Wild Word essays on HuffPost see:

This post was published on the now-closed HuffPost Contributor platform. Contributors control their own work and posted freely to our site. If you need to flag this entry as abusive, send us an email.