Updated: Feb 28, 2022
I came home from work the other day to find my youngest watching Encanto. I was drawn in. It hit me pretty hard, because I know what it is to be searching for yourself. I know what it is to be under the pressure of expectations you can never fulfill.
My family could never understand me. I wasn’t like any of them. I didn’t care about the things they cared about. They struggled to be authentic and I struggled to be accepted the way I was. I don’t know how to be anyone else. I can only be me.
One of the local zen centers has talked a lot about struggling to be authentic. It would seem that many people have a hard time being themselves. The thing is, many try so hard to live up to what they think other people want them to be when they can never know what those expectations are.
The real challenge is to be confident enough to just be you. The problem is when you don’t quite know who you are. That’s why Encanto is such a wonderful movie. It’s about finding out who you are and breaking through expectations. It’s about saying what needs to be said.
I was always compared to my siblings. My brother overcame a drug problem and became a successful graphic designer. My step-sister graduated college after getting sober from meth. She had a child and got a job, bought a townhome. She became respectable. My youngest sister, the Golden Child, was perfect in every way. She followed all the rules. She had every opportunity. They all made it.
But the thing is, they had a hard time being who they were. My brother became a monster. My step-sister still struggles with staying sober. My youngest sister married an alcoholic and I have suspicions she’s one too. The struggle to remain behind the façade was the very thing that broke them.
To face your demons is no small feat. To stand up to the expectations of others and shake them off is not easy. To embody the moment and just be yourself is challenging. But that’s what it takes to find yourself.
I remember being in my early twenties and trying to think of what I could do to be accepted by my family. It never occurred to me that I could never be enough for them, no matter how hard I tried, until I left them behind to heal. It doesn’t matter what I do, they can’t see me through their own damage and pain. The more the light inside me burns bright, the more they try to put it out.
This healing journey I have been on is profound on so many levels. It became about peeling layer after layer away until I got to the core of my being. I could never be anyone but me, but I was never confident in that me. I could never accept that the authentic me would ever be enough for anyone.
The more I healed, the more I could see that this was a sort of reverse arrogance. I started to realize that to project this fear on others was insulting to them. Just because my family couldn’t accept me didn’t mean that no one could. Not everyone wanted to hurt me, I was just afraid of getting hurt.
I had to let go of each person in my life to see if their place in my life was healthy or not. It was quite overwhelming to find how many people I had let in were not meant to be there. Breaking those bonds was painful, but it showed me who they all were. I began to see how all of the pieces moved and affected my life.
These past few months have been quite lonely. It’s been hard to not be depressed. I learned that it was a very good thing that I’d studied mindfulness in my Buddhist studies, because that is what it has taken to get through this.
If I try to look too far ahead, I start to freak out. It’s just too much to take in all at once. I’ve had to just take it one small piece at a time. Each time something came up, I put it on a list. Each week I’d look at the list and see what I could accomplish that week. Then I’d work on that.
I finally started a new job at the end of the year. It’s been about a month now and I feel pretty acclimated to it. It has helped me to get through this too. I made a new friend. I concentrated on my work, on being a mom, on keeping up with my chores at home.
I took each day at a time and sometimes, hour by hour, just to get through it all. I’m still working to break free. I still don’t know how it will all come together. I can’t think about that now. I can only take each small step as it becomes manageable and pray that it will lead me to my goal.
This is actually a really good way for me to go about this. I’m learning about taking care of myself. I’m learning that it isn’t selfish to meet my own needs. I’m learning that doing things for myself and exploring my own interests sets a good example for my children about balance.
The most wonderful thing I’ve learned is to accept that this journey is not an easy one and there will be times that I will feel overwhelmed. There are times I’m going to lose composure. I need to feel what’s going on as it happens or it will break me. To lose composure in those moments does not mean I am not strong. It just means that I am human. Humans make mistakes.
The key is to not let those mistakes turn into berating myself for faltering. Making a mistake does not make me a bad person. It is through our mistakes that we learn. I become overwhelmed less and less, because I’ve learned not to bury my feelings, but instead to let them out.
In turn, I have accomplished so many things that I thought could never be possible. I was working to solve an unsolvable equation. So many variables were unknown, I thought it could never be solved in a million years. How could I ever pull it all together? But each task I checked off the list made other tasks possible. Instead of trying to solve the equation, I just started to solve for each variable.
There will come a time when what I need to accomplish won’t be so overwhelming. I am very close to accomplishing my goals. I am gaining confidence through all of these small steps. The more I accomplish, the more I feel capable of taking on something new.
What has worked for me may not work for someone else. I’m not so arrogant to think that I’ve found the solution to everyone’s life’s problems. I did what I had to do to get through this mess. It took mindfulness and perseverance. It took tenacity. It took being able to forgive myself and move past mistakes that seemed so big but were actually so small when I put them into perspective.
When I find my freedom, once and for all, I will know that I have earned it. I will finally have found confidence. Each step of the way, I have been true to myself. Every step mattered. Every small win will lead to the big one.
All I’ve ever wanted was to have life on my own terms. I just want to be who I am and not be ashamed of my scars. Those are the lessons I’m still learning. I’m getting better at it all the time. I’m not waiting for anyone to solve my problems, I’m working on solving them myself. There was a time that I thought I needed help, someone to fix it for me. But when I was turned away, I learned that I could depend on myself. I wasn’t going to let myself down. I haven’t let myself down. I am enough.