|Art by Don Michael Jr.|
So maybe in order to integrate and conform, we learned to wear our "good girl" mask or our "nice young man" mask from our earliest purposeful actions. This seems like it would be true of all humans to some degree, right?
For some of us, though, I think some things happened very early in our lives that took our mask-wearing to a different level. For me, I was molested between the ages of 8 and 10 (give or take). The masks became my protection. I wore a mask pretending that I was okay. I wore a mask at school of "over achiever." To compensate, and to feel "okay" I think I worked hard to get school accolades. I wore a mask at home (I didn't want to worry my parents or cause problems, so I kept quiet about it.) I went to church every week and felt like a fraud when I was told what a good girl I was. I knew the real truth about what was going on, so I wore a "good girl" mask.
In high school, I was often the funny one. The jokester that kept people smiling and laughing. Sometimes, though, that was a mask. Sometimes I was goofing around and making people laugh and simultaneously crying on the inside, hiding (masking) my hurt. Better to make the joke and laugh first than to be laughed at? I don't know, it was a good defensive mask at the time.
In dating, I felt who I was deep down was damaged goods. I couldn't just be "me" because "me" was getting buried further and further down as I started living externally (being who I thought someone else wanted me to be to help hide the real me.) So I wore a girlfriend mask, and later, a wife mask.
I think my weight piled on as another form of mask. It was a protective layer where you could not see "me" through it, but I could see you, just like a mask. It kept me at arm's length from people. It let me hide inside my seclusion where it was safe. Or so I thought.
I'm not saying I had a horrible life, that I never lived authentically, or that my entire world revolved around external validation. But I had so many freaking masks, my authentic, scared self was buried most of the time and I didn't even know it at the time. Not fully.
I have worked very hard over the past 7 years since becoming single to figure out who is underneath all those layers of defenses. I have worked hard to reveal who I am (even to myself), one mask at a time as I have shed them. The closer I get to living without ANY masks, the more I am able and excited to shed the weight, also.
Part of this might be age, as well. I am finally in a place where I do not apologize for being who I am. I like who I am. I embrace my imperfections in a way I never did before. And one of my greatest goals is to live out loud, completely true to who I am, inside and out.
My emotions are ahead of the physical at the moment. My heart has been set free to just be who I am. And I am excited for the day when my body no longer wears a mask, either. Then I will be completely whole again.
If I could pass anything along to folks today, it would be to strive to get rid of your masks. You were made perfectly imperfect, made to be exactly who you are, without apology. You are good, good enough, and those masks, though they once may have protected you, are probably not serving you well anymore. Try to find out any place where you are not being true to yourself, to your heart, and fix it. The freedom is amazing.