As anyone who has sexual abuse in their childhood will tell you, self-image is a hard pill to swallow, and you can spend decades trying to sell yourself on yourself. About a year ago, after I’d read all the books, articles, magazines, and, of course, the all-knowing WebMd in search of sifting out what is the real me and what are just symptoms of PTSD, I felt I was ready to begin my self-exploration. I set about to become the real me, not the weird broken me. Armed with my trusty journal and my favorite kind of blue ink pen, I holed myself in my room, and began my quest to discover and nourish my real self-identity. I was excited and determined.
Hours later, journal empty, and pen lost in the nether-land of sheets and quilts on my bed, I had only confused my self to no end. The problem was, as I saw it, that all this crap happened before I became the real me, so I had no idea who the real me would have been. There hadn’t been enough time for me to develop the real me, so I had very few clues to work with….If you understand that previous few sentences, kudos to you, because I get lost in it. Lost describes what I usually have felt in my life. I’m well acquainted with Lost.
I wrote nothing in the journal that day, or for many weeks later. My broken brain would literally send the question across my mind several times a day, and my spirit would grieve a little, assuming that the real Catherine was gone forever.
In my faith, the Bible teaches me that I’m a new creation in Christ, and thus armed, I knew that the question wasn’t all that important, but I wasn’t able to purge it from my mind. And, as is usual in my relationship with the Lord, I finally had to admit defeat. I was spinning my wheels, but going nowhere.
Then, the answers started coming through memories, and conversations I have had over the years…This is the first one that I remembered, and I had to laugh when I thought of it…It seems like a million years ago.
I have a cousin, (we’ll call her Jane), who was about two years older than I am. She was, and is, the only Christian woman I know that I simply can’t point out a sin she’s committed. Seriously. Take a minute, and think of one person you know pretty well and then think of a sin that person has committed. Saying a bad word, gossip, lying, cheating in school, something…. It is pretty easy, isn’t it? Well, Jane doesn’t sin like anyone I know of. She didn’t even french-kiss until she was married…scary. How would you like to be a Christian compared to that? And of course, every time I sinned big time, guess who I’d end up living with? Yep.
Ahhh, but that is fodder for another day…
Anyways, I was at her house playing as a kid, and Jane coaxed me up a really tall tree. That part was no big deal. But then she did this dangerous tightwalking thing across a thin branch 20 feet in the air to another tree’s limb, and then climbed back down. And then dared me to do it.
Now, I love a good dare, but back then, I had my whole life ahead of me, and I didn’t want to spend it in a wheelchair. So, as any kid would do, I made up excuses. Tons of them. Every single time my mom brought me around, Jane would try to get me to do this dangerous tree switching crap. I had nightmares about it. It got to where I would actually scan my mind for hours trying to figure out a way to not risk breaking my neck, while not being branded a big chicken. I’m a “I-want-my-cake-and-eat-it-too” kind of girl.
Finally, it all became too much work, and I decided that I would have to bite the bullet…I mean, Jane was now Mocking me, even at school. Soon, all of Los Fresnos would know that I was a coward, and this was just unacceptable to me. So, I made the decision.
Putting my mind on neutral, blocking out visions of eating through a straw for the rest of my life, I lunged right into walking across the twig, across the slightly thicker twig-branch on the other tree, and successfully making my way back down to safer heights. Triumphantly jumping the last few feet to the ground, I looked at Jane, expecting my apology, and ready to be magnanimous about it when it came.
Shockingly, Jane was unimpressed, instead choosing to remind me of how long it took me to finally try it, and then dared me to do the next most dangerous thing she could come up with. It had taken me weeks to work up the courage to do this stupidity, and her reaction hadn’t been worth it at all. As the adrenaline wore off, I became pretty emotional about the whole thing. The emotion was anger…with a smidgen of relief that I’d made it without dying. And, surprisingly, I felt powerful. Invincible. Bigger, in a way…
Pissed off and high on adrenaline, I told Jane what she could do with her next dare in the most explicit language I could muster.. 🙂 Yes, she told her mother on me, and I got a spanking; but, I’d do it all over again just to see her shocked face…It was worth it..really.
Once I had mastered that fear up in the tree, though, I did relish the power. Even though Jane’s response was lacking, I was exhilarated with new found mastery of fear, That power is what made me scoff at her next dare, knowing that I no longer had to prove anything to her. Besides, if she kept this up, she’d be the one in a wheelchair, and I’d be the one mocking her…I know, rude, but hey, I was 10…
Over the years though, I have come to really enjoy a good dare.
Dare me to use the man’s bathroom during a Spur’s basketball game? Done.
Dare me to make a random announcement on an unattended microphone in K-Mart? Done.
Dare me to drink ten tequila shots under one hour? Done x 10. ( Actually, this one I’ve done a couple of times.)
Dare me to ride a motorcycle again after I almost died in a motorcycle wreck? Done.
Dare me to lie to my boss all day, change out soft drinks on a desk, and move my co-worker’s work around periodically, to cover for a his absence? Done.
Turns out, I’m no coward.
What this memory showed me about the real me is that I am stubborn in my pursuit of something if I set my mind to it. and the consequences be damned. Jane has no idea what a Dare Devil she’d released up there in the insanely high trees all those years ago.
I don’t give up, even when giving up would be the wiser, safer thing to do. That same streak has kept my marriage together for decades, through problems that would have ripped apart any lesser marriage. It has kept me from resigning myself to being a drug addict. It has served to protect my own opinions and beliefs, though an entire church should proclaim me wrong, repeatedly and publically. It has bolstered me into accepting jobs that I had to study for the night before, because I’d sold an interviewer a crock of lies, just to get a better job with better pay. It is the part of me that pushes myself to do things I wouldn’t think I normally could, just to prove to my own self that I actually can.
And you know what? I wouldn’t trade that characteristic for the world. It is a part of me I like.
I feel that Jesus has used this time of self-discovery to show me that the real me is just the one I am now…the one I had hoped to uncover has never existed, and thus can’t be real because she is just a character in a fictional book about my life called “What If”.
I think that there tends to be plenty of voices all around us, that point out all the flaws that they would like us to change about ourselves, with our own voice the loudest of them all. Sometimes, there is nothing wrong with sitting down, and taking a mental inventory of those unique characteristics about yourself that you like..You know, to kind of balance yourself out mentally, from time to time…
So, tell me what is the favorite thing you like about yourself?