When Ben and I first met, one of the things we bonded over was the truth of masks. What I mean by ‘the truth’ is that we both wore them and we knew it. And, for once, we were able to be honest with someone about it. I don’t meant that I hadn’t talked to close friends about it before but Ben’s understanding of what I meant seemed to go to a deeper level than anyone I had spoken to of it before.
The masks I wore, I had worn for years. They were old companions. The heaviest and most painful one of all was Perfection, seconded only by Expectation. I remember the crippling fear that I felt upon the thought that people whom I had known all my life would find out that I wasn’t perfect, that I wasn’t everything they thought I was, who they expected me to be. That I was flawed. It made me cry and despair that, if it were ever known, I would lose everything and everyone. I had to be perfect. I had to be what everyone expected. Perfect daughter, perfect student, perfect Christian, perfect girl. So I tied the mask on tighter,so tightly that it cut into my soul. When I met Ben, as we talked and got to know each other, I recognized the mask he wore and we found that we could help each other take it off, with a person who was so intimately familiar with the mask that they knew how to remove it without hurting us, without flinching, and without rejecting the person beneath it. No judgement, no condemnation, just understanding, acceptance, care, and love.
Even before I met Ben, I had realized that I had come to know the masks better than my own face. I had lost myself beneath the layers and I wanted to — needed to — learn ME. I wanted to claw myself away, strip the skin, the identity of years and years, down to the tender flesh beneath and start again. Not that I regretted my life, no. I was loved and blessed. But I wanted to be ME and ME alone, not a me that I had to hide beneath a mask because I feared rejection. So I started, and I am not done. I am still in the process of learning and becoming who I am, even at 31 years of age. It is not an easy process by any means. It is painful, it is vulnerable, it is a risk. It is not easy to confront myself, to learn things about myself, to be unapologetic for being myself. But it is worth it, if I allow it to be so.
I do not approach life like anyone else does; I am unique in my particular combination of ways. I want to be understood, like anyone else, but I must accept and deal when I am not. I am learning to give grace to myself as well as to others when it is needed, when I could indeed be much harsher. I want my reactions to be conscious decisions, not emotional outbursts because that is not helpful to the betterment of the situation.
I have personas, yes – wife, mom, teacher, etc. – but I am still Mel within them and, right now, the struggle is keeping Mel here and not falling once more into the trap of defining myself by what are, really, just parts of me. I want to be me. I want to be Mel – what I love, what I believe, how I am, who I am. And I want the rest to be detail.