You enter the forest
at the darkest point,
where there is no path.
Where there is a way or path,
it is someone else's path.
You are not on your own path.
If you follow someone else's way,
you are not going to realize
-- Joseph Campbell
It took a long time before I found my own path!
In all truth, I had no idea that the possibility of having my very own path existed. Sure, I struggled internally for as long as I can remember. However, no one was ever aware of this -- it makes me feel good that this may have been true -- but I did live in one form of isolation or another for so many years. There were layers and layers of masks in all of my relationships. That's just the way it was, and I had no idea it could ever be anything different.
I followed the baby boomer American Dream path. Go to college; get a degree; get a good job; get married; have kids; buy a house, and ultimately a small fleet of cars; coach the kids' sports; send them off to college, and then... get divorced. Find an apartment; start new relationships, and then...
And then... come home from work each night and cry, and cry, and cry.
As the flood of tears slowed down, I asked myself: "Whose life am I living?" That question was a hard one, but not nearly as hard as trying to answer it -- followed by more crying and adding some new masks to the old ones with the unanswered question slowly melting in the puddle of tears.
There was no path to follow for some time as I was aimlessly wandering through my life. Perhaps this was my own version of 40 years in the desert wilderness surviving on the manna of a single new relationship and searching for a spiritual center, all while knowing there were still the remnants of that unanswered question hidden away deep inside me. Who am I? Whose life am I living? Every now and again, they pushed through the pile of masks and then the tears again followed quickly.
This time, it was different. As I looked back, it seemed so much of my life was behind me. There were so many wonderful events and memories.
Yet, that gnawing question started with a different tack. Did I recognize that person who was wearing all of the masks in all those wonderful scenes? Did I? Did I? The voice kept pestering me, and now would not stop.
There was not the endless flow of tears anymore, but there was now a tangible pain that ran from the back of my head down my back and tightened my diaphragm. The "yes" that automatically was verbalized slowly became a "no" as I finally began to see how long I was hiding -- hiding from myself -- hiding from my truth. Could I, would I, be willing to see this truth, search for this truth, even accept this truth? More questions being asked that I couldn't answer at that time. The tightness in my stomach grew and grew.
But this was a path I knew I must follow. It was no one else's path, but mine alone. I was afraid, very, very afraid. I am pretty sure there was a part of me that had an idea where it would lead and had worked quite hard to prevent me from going there.
Our fears are like dragons guarding our most precious treasures.
I knew I had to move forward and answer each one of these long unanswered questions.
This new path tested me in ways I never dared face before. I had to throw out mask after mask and be willing to be seen. Not only by others, but by myself as well. That tightness in my stomach continued for most of this journey without let up, and yet, I chose to keep moving forward.
I was being pushed from inside, and it also felt that something outside of me was pulling me forward. I still do not fully understand this force, but can now express gratitude that it was present. This could not have just been all me, right?
I answered the question, and found that I was not living my true life. This path was not easy to travel. There were monsters and demons that had to be faced -- many of my own making, and only I could tame, and learn to live with and love. Only then was I able to move forward to live my true life.
I thought that the path would end then, but I was so very wrong. Once I chose to live true to myself, there were so many new pathways branching off in all directions, each with welcoming new adventures and challenges of there own. The pain in my neck, diaphragm and stomach are long gone. Even when I look back at all those memories I can recognize the old versions of myself and can feel so much compassion to each of them.
If you struggle with the question, "Whose life are you living?" I suggest you first grab some tissues and see if you can find a path that is not someone else's. I do not know where it will lead nor do you. You're the only one that can take it. It may be the only way for you to answer the question.
Grace Stevens is a transgender woman who transitioned at the age of 64 and holds a Masters Degree in Counseling Psychology. She is a father of three, grandparent of two, athlete, advocate and author of No! Maybe? Yes! Living My Truth, an intimate memoir of her personal struggle to transition and live her true life authentically as a woman. For more information about Grace, her work and how Gender Variance Education and Training can help you, visit her website at: http://www.graceannestevens.com/. Follow Grace on Twitter: www.twitter.com/graceonboard .