Isn’t learning who you are supposed to be a long tedious process inflicted upon teenagers and young adults? A period in life in which you spend most of your time floating around from one place to another without a real goal in mind? Yep, that’s what I thought for a really long time. I thought this whole “finding myself” thing was a phase completed a long time ago. At 29, I thought I had myself and my life all figured out. A confident thought, yes, I know.
I’m a southern girl, and I did the traditional “southern belle thing.” I completed college, and because I didn’t want to be deemed an old maid in the south. I got married right out of college. That statement makes it seem as if I didn’t actually want to get married or that I was somehow socially forced into doing so. Neither are the truth. I promise I got married on my own free will (the South isn’t that socially backwards). I got married because I wanted to, but also because my culture taught me that was the next step in my life. Plus, I had found the one whom captured my breath, but also the one who spent his entire spring break together sick with me. We had the flu, and because we were quarantined to his parent’s house (in order to not infect everyone else) we spent a LOT of time together watching movies. The man saw me at my absolute worst, yet, he still wanted to marry me. And ladies and gentlemen, believe me, if you would have saw or heard me, that says a tremendous bit about my husband!
Because I followed the southern tradition and married at 22, J and I grew up together. Yes, I know it’s shocking, we weren’t grown at 22 and 23 :). Our marriage, his strengths weaknesses, likes, dislikes, habits, and ideas helped shape the woman I am today. We found ourselves through each other and our relationships with God. Because of his calling, I found mine as well. I teach, and that’s always been my calling, but God blessed me with two callings in life. To teach and to be an officer’s wife.
Both of these callings require an independent and strong person. I had that foundation entering our marriage due in large part to my amazing mother; however, teaching and being an officer’s wife furthered that internal strength and independence. At the age of 29, I felt that I firmly had a grasp on the person I was and who I wanted to continue to become. I could measure success, and I felt that we were on the right path. Then, a choice of another person’s altered that foundation of strength, independence, and confidence I had in myself.
Given the nature of J’s job, he always made me promise I would never lose myself through his death. I promised him I wouldn’t, but it’s amazing how well he knew me. Because, up until, oh well about when I just typed that sentence, I didn’t realize I’ve done exactly what he predicted I might do. I didn’t think I would because I’m “strong and independent” and I have what a close friend calls a “Wonder Woman” mentality. Well, that “Wonder Woman mentality” is exactly what has caused me to lose myself.
Before his death, I could be Wonder Woman. I could fly around and save his world daily. I was needed, constantly. An officer’s wife has a tremendous amount of duties that unless you are in the “blue world,” you don’t see. I had pretty much mastered, okay maybe not mastered, but maintained the ability to be a mom, wife, officer’s wife (that’s a completely different task than being just a wife) and teacher. I even found time to treat myself. Wonder Woman didn’t place her burdens upon others; she didn’t admit any faults or deficiencies. She shouldered them all and carried on. Of course, the true Wonder Woman looked a lot better doing it than I did; she didn’t have post baby weight to contend with!
Wonder Woman was my security blanket. This identity was where I felt safe. And to be honest, I always had that mentality even before marriage. I always shouldered other’s responsibilities and helped fix them. I had built a wall up, and I intended to keep it that way.
Then, with an split second choice on the part of another, and a knock on my door, that wall came tumbling down on the inside. However, on the outside, it appeared as strong as ever. I purposely kept it that way. It was a shock because honestly I thought I had constructed it better than that. For awhile, I made cosmetic repairs to my crumbled wall. I made it appear as if all was well. That my foundation could handle the stress, and that I could continue to be Wonder Woman. I continued to help other’s with the problems, and often times people would say “Stephanie, I’m the one that’s supposed to making you feel better, and here you are making me feel better.” Well, people that’s what Wonder Woman does.
Few people have ever really witnessed the unraveling of my superhero identity. I liked it that way. It was my safety net. Up until last Thursday, I think I cosmetically repaired enough cracks in my wall to appear sane, healthy, and put together. Then, I visited the location where J was killed. I’m not a builder, but I now understand just how unstable cosmetic fixes cause a foundation to be. I crumbled, again. Except this time, it was on the outside as well.
For a long time, I saw showing my weakness as negative. That I had to be strong. I even remember myself saying “I’m a PR person for the department. I have to be strong.” Yep, officer’s wife mentality. When I came home from the park that day, I was a different person, and those closest to me recognized it immediately. Then, after that my son entered therapy for the first time. No amount of words could describe to you my hurt that day. That was the day, I realized without a shadow of doubt, that I had to redefine my Wonder Woman image.
I came home that day and tried to pretend it was all okay. Nothing makes you realize you aren’t okay, until a good friend pulls up in your driveway with her husband and young child in tow. She looks at her husband and says “take the boys, and leave.” And then she sits with you, and waits until you cry out all of those fears. She watches as your identity crumbles. She holds your hand, and she just listens. She has no words of help; she just accepts you as you are. Even if that means I’m not longer “Wonder Woman.”
I fought showing my “non-Wonder Woman” tendencies for the LONGEST time because I felt that it placed burdens upon others and it showed my weakness. It’s not that I really thought I was superhuman; it’s just that I felt that other’s shouldn’t have to bear my burdens. That I’m the one who lost a husband, and they should move on with their lives. I think I hurt a lot of my friends by pushing them away. Telling them I’m okay and that I need nothing. My own superhuman tendencies, the ones that were supposed to protect me and guard me, allowed me to become a tragic hero. My own greatest strength was also my greatest weakness. The characteristics that allowed me to help so many others, were eating away at me.
After I stopped crying, and could have somewhat coherent thoughts, I discussed with this friend the many layers involved in my grief. How, I just keep pealing back more layers and how each one makes me more vulnerable than the next. I despise that word vulnerable, yet I seem to use it to describe my life so frequently. We have this idea in our society that superheroes aren’t vulnerable. Yes, even though they all have their own form of “kryptonite.” My kryptonite was letting people help me.
It just wasn’t an option in my mind. I wasn’t sure how I was going to manage it on my own, but I didn’t want people bearing any burden on the part of me. When I could just bear it all inside. Yes, I prayed. I told them all to God, but I never let anyone else in. Thankfully, God heard me, and has placed a lot of tremendous people in my life recently. He also had them saying exactly what my Wonder Woman soul needed to hear.
When J died, mine and a select group of really amazing people had their destines locked together forever. They are my “unconditional friends.” They are the ones who I can take off my Wonder Woman costume around, and I can just wear yoga pants and a tank top with no make up and my hair thrown up in a bun. They too all have this superhero mentality about them. They are fixers, just like me. The beauty in it all, is that we can each rely upon one another. We are like some kind of Justice League (maybe that’s the correct term. I’m not a comic fan. But hopefully you get the idea.)
While I have no idea who I am anymore, I’m starting to be okay with that. I’m learning that when I can’t fight the battles, they will. And, I will in turn do the same for them. I’ve said since this happened, I’m determined for positive to come out of his death, and let me just tell you, I have some amazing people in my life. I like being able to tell them the advice I need to follow myself. It allows me to know that I am indeed human. That other people have faults too. That I’m not alone, and that they love my husband as much as I do. They help this Wonder Woman fly, when she can’t. And in turn, I get to remove the kryptonite from their lives as well.
Even though I don’t know who I am, I know I’m pretty excellent at removing kryptonite. And, I’m getting even better at flying on the wings of others. Or even better, I’m getting much better at learning to “just be still” and let God and my Justice League fight my battles. They have an excellent track record.