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Did I Really Lose Myself...?

I see a lot of articles, memes, posts, etc about “losing self” especially post-breakup. I’ve been sitting with this question for almost a year now - this notion of losing myself. I think it’s common for people to feel like they enter relationships, and somewhere along the way, they realize they aren’t who they were in the beginning. If that relationship should end, then people can be left feeling like somewhere along the way, they lost themselves and now they’re struggling to find themselves again.

As I said, I’ve been thinking about this for a year. It’s been a topic of conversation with my therapist, and yet nothing has really felt true for me as I process my own emotions around this. And then today, it hit me. As I was making my morning coffee, feeling down for the 330th day since saying: I don’t want this life anymore, I came to realize that I’m a product of a failed codependent relationship.

Yeah, me - Ms Independent. I’ve been agonizing over this concept for several reasons, namely that everything he and I did together, I also did alone before him. That’s what made the post-breakup version of me so achingly hard to live with, because I have struggled to do anything at all, feeling like I can’t do it on my own.

Who am I? I asked myself this question almost daily. The self-talk bordering on shame or some jilted version of “tough love” - why the fuck can’t I do anything anymore? Do you know why I adapted so well to three-month isolation during a global pandemic? Because being home is all I wanted anyway. The outside world was big and scary before the airborne illness came in and threatened livelihood. But that was never my normal before this relationship. If anything, doing things on my own, travel, exploration, dining, whatever - was an act of empowerment and a stamp in my Independent Woman Passport. It almost gave me bragging rights, or maybe more accurate, it almost became a type of superiority complex.

Then I had a partner, and all those things I did on my own became things we did together, and for the most part, it was wonderful. I enjoyed sharing those moments with someone, except that the things I enjoyed doing on my own were no longer considered ideal or fun or a priority to him. So eventually, we did mostly what he wanted OR I would have to deal with his dissension in doing the things that brought me joy. At the end of our relationship, I had to wonder if he was brought to me for the purpose of his narcissistic tendencies to confront my narcissistic tendencies so that I could calm the eff down. Was he there to show me that I am not perfect, that it doesn’t have to be my way or the wrong way, that I had a lot of my own growth to endure so I should probably just take a seat and be quiet for a while.

No, I don’t think the Universe works that way - being met with pettiness is not how I think our souls charge us to grow. Instead, I realized that by meeting his ego with mine, I got entangled in what came to be codependency, and because of it, doing things on my own again has been so painful. Putting myself back out into the world hasn’t been easy. Though I am still doing things on my own, it doesn’t look or feel the same as it did before him, back when being independent was all I knew. It does feel, in a sense, like I lost something along the way. It feels like the memory, the knowledge, the trust was wiped from my mind - like I truly have no recollection of how to be on my own. That’s the hardest part; the most difficult reflection to face. In no way do I want to admit it, but I have to or else there’s no option for growing from it or getting back to feeling good on my own again.

This leads me to the piece about “finding yourself”. I know I’ve done my fair share of falling into the cliched messages of “finding yourself” but to be honest, I don’t think I’ve ever fully believed them. I don’t think it’s about finding myself as much as it’s about learning how healing has changed me, which can feel like finding something hidden or seeing something in a new way. Like a cut that heals and leaves a scar, that part of the skin doesn’t look the same anymore, but it’s still skin and it doesn’t have to change the way I see myself. It doesn’t have to change how I carry out my daily tasks. It doesn’t have to change who I am; it just becomes a part of me. It reminds me of a time when I dealt with something hard or painful and that I made it through and that next time I’m in a similar position, I’ll be able to handle it differently. I’ll have new knowledge to help me not get cut again.

So, did I really lose myself? Yes and no. I believe I lost or let go of things that ultimately weren’t working for me anyway. I lost pieces of myself that needed to go, they had served their purpose and it was time to shift. Do I think I’m finding myself? No. I think I’m seeing myself in the wake of healing. I think I’m noticing the scar and have certainly felt like it was ugly for a while, but finally recognizing that it is part of me, and makes me more aware - which is ultimately a good thing.

I guess if you stumbled upon this and have read it this far, it’s because you feel or have felt like you also lost yourself, or are in the midst of finding yourself. Maybe you’re feeling pretty bleak about things right now. I encourage you to consider what you’ve learned about yourself to this point. I bet you’re more compassionate now. I bet you have more space in your metaphorical heart for others now because that’s how this healing thing works. There’s no shortcut, there are no words I can give you to make it easier - you just have to go through it. But sometimes, losing something is necessary to gain something greater, and I think if you have to think about it as “losing yourself” then I urge you to remember that it can end with “finding yourself” in a better place. The healing process is a certain kind of death, and it is required, and it is painful, and when the grief has passed, you can look in the mirror and say, “you did it.”

Just when the caterpillar thought the world was over, it became a butterfly. (unknown)

Love and Light,

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