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Eenie, Meenie, Miney...Me

Life is full of choices. Some of them are of small consequence in the big picture. Decaf? Half-calf? Extra caff? Take the express lane, or the scenic route? Do I want fries with that? Yet many hide, at their core, the most consequential choice of all. There's a choice that colors every nuance of the big picture tucked beneath many of life's choices, even some that seem mundane. It is the greatest choice you will ever make: them, or me?

Women are heartily conditioned to have an automatic answer to that choice: them. Girls are taught from a young age to alter their behavior, appearance, talents, and opinions to protect the comfort of others. This conditioning follows us into adulthood, where similar behaviors in men and women are seen very differently. In the workplace, men are most often offered feedback about their performance, women, their personality. Men are assertive, take-charge, confident. Women are bossy, abrasive, aggressive. Should we opt for motherhood (or should it be foist upon us), we'll be inundated by messages about how we are to do and be everything...for everyone else.

Some of the programming that guides us to this end is blatant. Much of it is subtle. All of it is effective. Nearly every woman I work with struggles to choose herself, to prioritize her own care, to set boundaries, to identify and meet her own needs, to know and honor her desires. The struggle to choose herself in any situation is nearly a defining characteristic of modern American womanhood. To this we can add generational trauma, the possibility of abuse, the essential fact of living in a social system that uses terms referring to girls, women, and female bodies as insults. And let's not forget basic human struggles with worthiness, confidence, abandonment, belonging.

My personal upbringing was devoid of many common cultural messages. I was raised to think for myself, to speak my opinion freely, to wear and do what I want (thanks, Mom & Dad!). I had so much less to overcome than the average Gen X woman. Yet the deepest healing of my 40s has been in my ability to choose myself: to have boundaries, to speak up, to clearly identify and appropriately collect the price of admission to the wonderland that is me.

My next decade is just around the corner. In the final year of my 40s, I do believe I'm finally getting it. In December of 2021 I published Dear Diary here. In this excerpt from my actual diary, I acknowledge one of the most hurtful times that I failed to choose myself, accepting responsibility for the deep wounding I allowed to enter my life. I made a vow to myself that I would always choose me, that I would love myself first, best, and always. In December 2023 I made a list of my wants to guide me forward. On that list I noted a desire to continue deepening into this vow, to continue choosing my own wants, needs, and dreams. To love and choose myself, always.

I am, admittedly, not there yet. But I'm getting damned close. It's getting increasingly easy to see where the most vital choice is hiding: them, or me? It's in places you'd never expect. You'll find it lurking behind social invitations and opportunities to give of your knowledge or time. It's hiding beneath slipped boundaries, apologies, vows and promises. It's woven into habits and menu plans, hiding at the bottom of wine bottles and in birthday cards. You won't find it everywhere, but you could find it anywhere. Them? Or me?

I am ever more committed to choosing me, whatever that requires. No matter the cost, regardless of how uncomfortable it may be. When I notice the real choice hidden beneath the everyday decisions, when I see the chance to choose me, I do so with increasing regularity. I don't catch it every time. Sometimes I don't realize I've chosen against myself until the act is complete. And there are still places where I don't have all of the skills to choose myself with conviction. But I'm getting closer. And I visualize the days when this has become as automatic as choosing 'them' is for most women. I spend time in the mental space where my future self is living. In this place, I don't even think about it. There are no apologies or explanations, just a simple stance. Me, alongside myself, for better or worse, in sickness and in health, for richer and for poorer.

Choosing me doesn't mean I won't care for, or take care of, others. It doesn't mean I will be cruel, selfish, or lack compassion. It simply means that any choice which would require me to abandon myself will become no choice at all. If the price of admission to someone, somewhere, something is self-denial, I will not pay. If turning towards something or someone means turning away from myself, I will keep my gaze and heart trained inward. I won't stand at the door, debating whether or not to enter these places. If entering means I must leave myself, any part of myself, at the door, I will walk away knowing this space is not for me. Anywhere that I am not welcome in my fullness, I will refuse to enter fragmented.

Fragmented. Divided into pieces and parts, these parts loved and accepted and those parts rejected and left behind. That is how I have lived. It took most of the fourth decade in my current incarnation to realize this. In the last several years I've begun searching for those left behind aspects, inviting them back in, offering them my love and apologies. Just this month I've begun spending some of my meditative time inviting forward any part of myself that feels unseen, unheard, disrespected, or folded into a smaller shape. I ask them who they are, what they would like. I reflect on when and why I left them. What door was I seeking to enter, in what space were they unwelcome? I want to understand the choices I made that divided me, to better protect my wholeness moving forward.

I've spoken with my Shield Maiden, the part of me who longs to fight for me, to defend my honor and my worth when others would dismiss me. I have sat with my Sexuality, listening to her talk about how society sees a woman's sexual energy and how it feels to be seen that way. I have listened to my Voice and acknowledged how I have welcomed certain aspects of her, but chastised others. I have held my six year old Self in my lap as she told me about feeling so different from other children and wishing she could be the same. I have kissed her hair while I explained that she's not here for that, and showed her scenes from her future, where being different fuels her purpose. I don't know who will step forward next, but I know how I will receive Her, and I know she is vital in the next chapter of my life.

I send sincere apologies back in time, to the past selves I couldn't choose. I surround my current self with grace and compassion. I honor a clear understanding that each woman I have been has done her best. I have evidence that this is true, because as I come to know better, I am doing better. I offer gratitude here, to my current self, and send it forward, to my future self. I thank them for all that they have learned, all the work that's gone into their healing, all the times they have chosen and will choose me.

We're in this together, all of these me's. The past and future versions of the woman who is writing this, the parts of me that are coming forward and those that are still in the shadows, waiting for their turn. I bow to the massive impact of this healing work, the release of wounds and lessons that I carry for past generations, other lifetimes. I can so clearly see the other side now, the future is not far off. Soon I will have no need to catch a tiger by the toe. I will effortlessly default to choosing me, becoming the constant recipient of my own selection, a whole and wholly honored self in deepest love with all that I am. When I finish becoming this version of me, life will have fewer choices and I will have the peace of choosing wisely and the love I have always longed for.

Photo credits, in order of appearance: Joshua Coleman, Los Muertos Crew, Roman Odintsov.

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