26 October 2011

Losing, and then finding, yourself

**In Lost Edens, author Jamie Patterson struggles to save her marriage which may or may not be already over. Keeping her attempts a secret from her family, she attempts to mold herself into the wife her husband wants her to be. As a member of From Left to Write book club, I received a copy of this book for review. You can read other members posts inspired by Lost Edens by Jamie Patterson on book club day, October 27 at From Left to Write. This post is inspired by the book.**

Lost Edens by Jamie Patterson

I struggle for words when I think about this book.  That's a little unusual for me, to struggle for words, but I read this book nearly in one sitting and when asked what I thought of it, I came up nearly empty of words.  Not because I didn't like it, or it was a boring story, badly told; far from it.  I found it riveting; real and raw and emotional.  I felt as though I were living the experience with Jamie, and I was spent by the last page.  It's not a real happy, feel-good story but it is, in many ways, hopeful. 

Most of us have been through a terrible break-up, whether it was getting your heart well and truly broken by your first love, or a mid-30's divorce that left you shattered and alone with young children.  I remember when my first love, my high school boyfriend (I'll just call him T) broke up with me.  I sobbed and cried and begged him not to leave me; I promised I'd be anything he wanted me to be, if he would just not leave me.  My baby heart was broken; I was 17 and I believed with all my heart that he was The One.  He had even given me a tiny diamond chip that I wore proudly; it may as well have been a flawless, colorless 5-carat ice cube for all the weight it carried for me.   By the time I graduated from high school, the shine was off the diamond, literally and figuratively.  It was never going to last; we were children and we had no idea what we were talking about as we pledged to love each other forever and ever. We broke up on senior prom night and although we got back together and tried to make it last, we were never the same and no matter how I tried, I could never change myself enough to be the girl he wanted to be with.  

Now, over twenty years later, I am glad that, as painful as it was and as much as I didn't think I could live one.more.day without him, T set me free.  He's gone on with his life and I've gone on with mine.  My life is a pretty good place to be these days and I'd never have grown up to be who I am today, with my experiences and my perspectives, with all the good and the bad that entails.  

The next Serious Relationship I had, with R,  also ended with me sobbing and crying and swearing to be whoever he wanted me to be, if he would just please not leave me.  He did, in fact, leave and again, I'm grateful.  Although at the time, I thought I might die from heartbreak. 

I'm beginning to see a pattern here.  

The thing that T and R knew, that I didn't, was that you can't change who you are, to please someone else.  Not even if you really, really, really want the relationship to work.  When you dance to someone else's tune, you are always just a little bit out of step.  You are always looking to them to see what your next move is, to see how you're going to feel about everything, from the day's headlines to how much cream and sugar you take in your coffee.  Little by little, you get swallowed up by the person you're trying to please.  You look to them to see if those pants really do make you look fat, if you're cheering a little too loudly for your favorite team (wait, is that your favorite team? you can't remember), or if it's ok for you to go ahead and have that second slice of pizza or glass of wine.  What they want becomes what you want, and your desires and needs merge with theirs until you almost can't see yourself as separate from them. Your thoughts, and by extension you, cease to matter, even to yourself.

And in the end, by compromising so much of yourself and what you want, you disappear.  One of the most poignant moments in this book, to me, was pretty early on, when Jamie was at Target buying a new set of sheets.  She really wanted the pink ones but she knew he wouldn't like them and would rather have another color.  She tried to take a stand, even to herself, and get what she really wanted.  But even as she bought her new pink sheets, she knew she couldn't do it; she knew she'd be bringing them back the next day to exchange them for sheets that would make him happy.  Even in something so simple as a set of sheets, Jamie allowed her desire to fix her troubled marriage to trump everything that might have been important to her, everything that made her who she was.  

T didn't necessarily want me to change for him; he told me so, and so did R.  They both said essentially the same thing: you can't change for me.  You wouldn't be you anymore. During each of those break-ups, I wanted so badly for them to love the me that I was, and I didn't know that trying to make myself into someone that they could love would have negated me.  It wasn't T or R telling me I wasn't good enough as I was; I was saying that to myself. 

Losing yourself is far harder than losing someone else.  If you don't know who you are, if you have lost yourself, how do you know where to start?  How do you go about figuring out who you might be, what you might want? If you're not good enough for yourself, how can you be enough for someone else?  Finding out the answers to those questions is a tough thing.  But after you have allowed someone (and yourself!) to beat you down to where you don't recognize the girl in the mirror, the you that you will find at the end of the questions is pretty awesome.  Don't ever let anyone tell you differently.