There is Comfort in Knowing Yourself
Updated: Mar 15, 2021
Learn who you are and how to love that person
When I was girl, I used to build nests in my closet. I would pile up pillows, blankets, and stuffed animals in the corner behind the wall, so when the closet doors were opened, you couldn't see me. I would bring my favourite book and flashlight with me, close the closet doors and tuck away. I had my own bedroom, and did not live with my brothers and sisters, so my space was my own. But even so, I wanted to hide in my own house. Only when I was tucked in the corner of my closet with my books did I ever really feel safe and comfortable. I liked the dim light, the solitude, and privacy. Even writing about it now I have a strong desire to go build a closet nest. Despite my mother teasing me about it (even into adulthood), I seemed to know instinctively that cozy, quiet spaces were my comfort zone.
I do believe that we instinctively know ourselves quite well when we are children. We act, react, and interact in instinctive ways. As children we simply do not know how to be anyone but ourselves. But then we lose it. We go to school and we are told we must conform to the rules and structure of the system. Our parents, with all good intentions encourage us to "work on" our weaknesses and insecurities. We join teams or clubs and are taught there is only one way to do something well or right. We are told not to touch, not to make messes, not to be noisy, not run, and not to "back talk." Our choice of hairstyle and clothes are judged and critiqued - mom and dad want one thing, school has a dress code, and peers have a "look" you must adhere to. We are told our dream job of dancer, musician, writer is not practical and that we should pursue a "real" career like accountant or nurse. Our individuality, our comfort, our self-knowing is systematically washed out of us from the time we are toddlers. And then we finish our schooling and are tossed out into the world, and we are utterly lost.
I believe one of life's great myths is that our twenties are fabulous. When you watch movies, or listen to people tell stories they always depict this time between adolescence and adult responsibility as one big adventure filled with friends, travel, and eating and drinking at trendy locales. But the truth is our twenties are tough. Yes, I had a ton of fun in my early twenties, but I also remember all kinds of drama, heartbreak, and confusion. I was trying to figure out who I was in the adult world after having spent the previous 18 years being told who I was supposed to be. From the time I was a child, adults started telling me that I needed to find my voice and not be so shy, I felt like my comfortable place was a problem for others. So I tried to make those others more comfortable by changing who I was. I literally came out of my closet. But I sort of crashed into the world. I was being told I needed to change for my own good, but wasn't really given any guidance on how I should do this. All I knew was that shy and quiet was wrong. So I became someone else, but she was a bit of a mess, because it was not a natural transition.
Looking back now I recognize I was desperate for approval and acceptance, and I often sought it in the wrong way, from the wrong people. By the time I hit my twenties I had already lived what felt like a lifetime of not being accepted for who I was. My mom didn't like that I was like my dad; my dad didn't like that I was like my mom; my step-father was constantly shifting his expectations; and my brother had rejected me my whole life (I have the physical scars to this day as proof). And there is a long list of boyfriends, many of whom were much older than me, who mocked me, talked down to me, and used me, because they saw I was vulnerable and desperate to be accepted. I was willing to twist myself into any shape just so someone would love and accept me for who I was. But I never recognized that was the problem. That if I was twisting myself, then that was not me. And if I didn't even like who I was twisting myself into, then how could anyone else possibly like or love me? If I wanted to be loved, then I had to figure out who I was.
Now when you spend the first 27 years of so of your life having other people tell you what is wrong with you and who you should be, it is tough to figure out who you are. It has been a journey for me, one that I am still on 27 years later. But I have made tremendous progress. One of the interesting things I have discovered along the way is that oftentimes the very thing that helps me move forward, is also something (someone) who holds me back, therefore it has not been a straight path from not knowing who I am to full discovery. There have been bumps along the road when I questioned myself. There have been many times that I thought I had outgrown something, or moved on only to have it rear its ugly head again in times of stress. And no matter what, when it comes to the ones I love, my daughters, my husband, my mother, their criticisms cut deep and tend to send me down the rabbit hole of self-loathing. But I do recognize the hole now and know how to climb out too, so like I said, a work in progress.
And now I take you full circle back to the closet. I realize now I should never have left. Not to say that I should have spent my entire life hiding in a closet, but rather to say that I should have protected and nourished that side of me. I didn't know then as a child, but I do now, how important that quiet, cozy space is to me. Now that my girls have all grown up and left home, I have my own office. During COVID isolation I finally had the time to clean it up and decorate it the way I wanted. I like to close the door when I am in it. It is a small room, with a daybed and a wall full of bookshelves that contain special books I have collected over the years, and items I have saved since childhood. I never turn on the overhead light, just my desk lamp. My desk faces a window that looks out onto a mountain if I need a feeling of space and openness, but mostly I am content with my head down in my little space. Its not a closet, but it gives me the same sense of comfort and security my closet used to.
I am not totally sure who I am yet. I know that I am not the shy timid girl that I once was, and I don't really want to be her. But I also know that I am not the loud, aggressive, opinionated person some people see. I think that my presentation is a little rough sometimes because it is not natural for me to be out front and in charge. I am someone in between. I think I have smoothed my edges considerably over the years. I know I am no longer desperate for love and acceptance from others like I once was. I also have found my creativity again; in addition to writing, I paint, knit, cook, and do home renos. I have learned, that if I am interested in something, there is nothing I can't do. With my newfound confidence I have achieved big goals like having written 11 books and launched a national magazine!
As I have slowly learned who I am, I have started to love myself. I nest when I need to and no longer feel weird for doing so. With this new self-love, I am finally finding comfort in myself.