A lot of people have identity issues. They let their identity be defined by something outside themselves. I did this for a long time. As a child I found my identity in my family. The identity we shared in Austin dissolved with the adoption of Russian kids and a move to Colorado. In youth I was taught to find my identity in Christ. So I studied the Bible, attempted to learn fully who God and Jesus were, and what that made me. I thought I had it, and then I would attempt to join Christian communities, and I didn’t fit. These people weren’t searching the same way I was, weren’t implementing the lessons I learned from the Bible – living life kindly, generously, intelligently as it seemed to instruct. They weren’t any different from the secular youth who had mocked my prudish intellect in middle school. So I became disillusioned with religion, unsure of how I could find my identity in an environment that seemed so lacking.
I continued to search for my identity in various places. I’d always been taught to find it outside myself, and the importance of finding it had been utmost. I went to an HBCU straight out of high school, drawn to black culture by the confidence of the women and the strong identity they all seemed to possess. I learned how they carried themselves and why from extensive conversations, pledging a co-ed business fraternity, and a year and a half of coursework. But I couldn’t change my skin color, and on some level I still felt confused about who I was.
A year later I backpacked around Europe, drawn to the height of the culture, the intelligence and good taste that seemed to permeate every European’s being. Maybe I’d find myself there. I found beautiful architecture, live history lessons, fleeting friendships with fellow wanderers, and, in all this, pieces of myself. People guessed I was Spanish or German, but, while much of my ancestry is Irish and Ashkenazi/Sephardic Jewish, I am not European.
The most pivotal discovery I made in Europe was that I am a writer. Finding this piece of my identity, journaling in city squares and sprawling parks, gave me the means to explore myself more fully. Through journaling, I’ve made infinite personal breakthroughs, writing my way to self-actualization. I took my newfound talents to Colorado State University, where I decided that earning a college degree in English would be the most beneficial next step.
While reading novels and writing essays as academic work, for an extracurricular activity I fell in love. It was cinematic in all the ways I’d imagined, but the most important lesson I learned from the connection and subsequent dissolution was to see myself as a cohesive person. He was the first person to know absolutely everything about me, to see me completely and wholly and, with all that, to love me. In our codependent relationship, I came to see myself through his eyes. While this was damaging, and took some work to undo, it was insanely helpful to be able to see myself as a whole being, and it took using someone else’s view to accomplish this.
Coming out of the relationship, I used this idea of myself as a whole, separated from him, and have come to a new place of completeness. I’ve taken off his lenses and spent the last several months figuring out my own vision. Now that’s established – I can see myself clearly, honestly, and beautifully – I am able to be. I’ve learned to pay closer attention to how I feel than to how I look – something only I can do. And now, even in making fresh connections, I’m able to maintain my identity – with conscious effort, of course. And, I’m also noticing that since I have this new sense of self, other people are able to see me more accurately than ever before. I heard a line in a movie once – I don’t remember which – “People like people who like themselves.” I could talk about self-love all day, but this line stuck. And finding this sense of cohesion, this sense of knowing myself has made self-love more possible than ever before. And, in practice, I’m finding that line to be wonderfully true.