Your identity is gone. The paper trail legitimizing you as a human traveler on planet earth and a citizen of the United States— from the number stamped on your newborn rear, to the ink that bound you in marriage and then separated you in divorce, to your yearly tax filings during the last decade — have vanished. Your assets are frozen. Your social number tagged as fraudulent, and there’s no way to prove who you once were. Overnight, you have become no one.
People who lose their homes to natural disasters have suffered this grave loss. My story isn’t nearly as tragic although my stomach still rolls when my mind’s eye sees the overturned boxes: shoes mixed with journals; blankets scattered with broken lamp parts; yellowing childhood photos, torn in half under coffee-stained mugs.
The nebulous space of no name, no background, no proof of who you are except the ID you’re carrying is disconcerting. At first you try to deny it. Then you freak out. Then you eventually just accept it and rebuild from scratch. I sought legal help, ordered documents and pled for mercy when locked out of accounts.
It reminded me of a different kind of identity loss I felt years ago in my career; that same sort of fuzzy space of being lost between identities when I quit my job as a television news reporter. My reason was legit. A close family member was sick, and I wanted to move back to help. Much later I realized while that was true, what was equally true is that I needed help. I had burnt out and simply couldn’t hack the TV news violence, the negativity or the incongruence I felt when pressured to shove a microphone in someone’s face who had just been victimized. But if I wasn’t that ‘TV News Girl’ anymore, who was I?
It took years of inner excavation, mindfulness practices and spiritual exploration to figure it out. What did I value most? What needed to be healed? How did I really want to show up in the world?
Only post-crash and burn could I see the messy truth: the career I’d prepared for and longed for since I was 14-years-old was, in part, built on a foundation of needing to be validated — to be told I was someone, to be special, so I could matter. So I could rise above my circumstances, be the one in control and expose the abusers and liars like those of my childhood.
I was the wrong woman for the job. The stories could never be impersonal. I couldn’t push people to talk or to cry with leading questions. I hugged victims at crime scenes. Like a wound that cannot heal when improperly cleaned or ignored, every woman abused, every child tortured, little by little, wore me down. Eventually, any rewards I received such as getting the lead story or having people “recognize” me meant absolutely nothing. I wanted to hide from the very attention I had sought my entire life. The person on the inside did not match the stranger in the mirror.
Those memories rushed back to me as I found myself, once again, caught between being someone and no one, but this time with legal repercussions. With no paperwork to prove my name, my validity, my history, who did that make me in the future?
Distraught, I shared the situation with a few trusted allies. Concerned about what would happen to me, one friend lovingly said:
“There must be something I can do. How about I write a statement testifying to your character and get it notarized? Or if you need me to, I’ll go to court and stand up for who are. I will tell them the person of integrity I know you to be! I will share how much you are loved!”
During a time when my country, my state and even my bank refused to recognize me, I had a heart-opening glimpse of who I really was… to those who mattered most.
I cried. For the first time in my life someone had stood up for me. Throughout my early years, I had been unprotected and unspoken for. Yet now, in a moment when my voice couldn’t vouch for my own identity, someone was stepping up to say — I see you. You matter. I know who you are. I’ve got your back.
During the years I’d transitioned from being a TV news personality to becoming a coach, something happened. All the energy once spent on seeking validation for a fragile self-image was reallocated to cultivating inner resources and investing in quality relationships. No mask required.
And the payoff happened unexpectedly. This person was standing up for me — not when I was someone but when I was no one! The irony was not lost on me. The true validation I had always craved only happened when I stepped into the ‘me’ I always wanted to be. The one whose external actions match her internal values. The soul forged in fire who clear cut a path for reconciliation, vulnerability, self-responsiblity, compassion and true intimacy. I wish she hadn’t taken so long to emerge but I’m grateful all the same.
Losing my identity (twice) has been one of the biggest gifts of my life. Because becoming no one… created the space to discover and to become my Self. It was worth all the hassle, the failures, the confusion and the discomfort. It has allowed for a clean slate and a different story. The one that’s been waiting all along.
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