Several years ago, I had an ongoing discussion with someone about “12 O’Clock Authenticity”. The discussion arose out of my fumbling my way through a loss of identity after my Dad and Mom died. Mom’s death was especially catalytic, because so many buried, squelched, repressed emotions came raging to the surface with such force that I simply could not cope with the onslaught. It took several months of therapy to help me through that minefield…that was at the same time that I had collapsed from exhaustion and grief, and had spiraled into fairly deep depression. We had to do a lot of “rewiring of the attic” to find new stable ground and horizons that I could want to live for.
As well as re-establishing new ground and horizons, we also had to work on identity. After a lifetime of changing, or “chameleonizing” myself in order to survive, we realized that I really didn’t even have any sense at all of who I was anymore. I didn’t know what I liked, what I wanted, what my hopes and dreams were…nothing about my old self made any sense to me anymore. Everything had been inextricably linked and dependent on my family, my job, my religion, my friends…with the loss of my job, the deaths of both parents, the inability to go to church at that time, and the loss of the many friends who had been work-related and who quickly moved on to other work-related friendships, I had nothing left to mark my niche in the world.
It was a long fumbling crawl out of the rubble of “what was and never could be again”. But I made it – and felt good about having survived. But that nagging feeling of lostness continued. And so we had to really dig deep inside and start pulling out facets of my deepest self in order to find out who I was in that new here-and-now. We discovered that one of my greatest talents was being an amazingly successful chameleon, so good that we no longer even knew who the original Sharon was.
This person with whom I had the discussion helped me to envision it this way…that we all start out at twelve o’clock, brand new, with a clean slate on which we’re meant to write who we are, day by day, experience by experience, discovering what our natural talents are, and evolving all that we experience and discover into the best possible self we can be in order to live the kind of life we wish to create for ourselves. Lives built on passion, talent and the meanings we attach to our activities and events around us. But we are shaped from our earliest years by the responses to our explorations and discoveries, and if those responses (especially from parents, siblings and teachers) are negative and punitive, we begin to change (chameleonize) ourselves to better fit in and meet their approval.
In some childhood environments, this disapproval is constant…eventually so constantly inconsistent as to be baffling and detrimental. But we continuously keep trying to “fix” ourselves in a desperate attempt to be acceptable….and every time we alter ourselves, even just a little change at a time, we move farther away from 12 o’clock. Eventually we chameleonize ourselves so far beyond our original starting point that we lose all sight of where we started from – and who we were. We bury, repress and deny our own likes, dislikes, opinions, beliefs and perhaps even our natural talents and passions.
So our continuing discussion came full circle, with the theory that in order to get back to our original truest self, we had to return to 12 o’clock authenticity…but then it started to get complex as we wondered if that was even possible, because after a life-time of chameleonizing ourselves, how could we ever trust that we actually reached 12 o’clock authenticity or just chameleonized ourselves yet again into BELIEVING that we had finally reached that pinnacle.
Sigh. We never did resolve it. And I had to do more of that wrestling and fumbing and rebuilding new horizons after Gary died and the rest of our family shattered. I still fumble. In large part because deep inside, I still feel like my future and horizons – the future and horizons of our entire family – were stolen when Gary died and I don’t know what to replace those horizons with.
But after all of that hard work, I do have a much clearer picture of what I like and dislike, and am no longer willing to auto-suppress or hide my emotions and pretend I don’t feel what I feel just for the sake of someone else’s comfort.
But lifelong habits die hard. I know I still chameleonize myself in order to keep the peace in the house. I don’t know how I feel about that…it changes from one situation to another. I seem to like being able to do so if my heart can honestly be contented with “just being kind”. And being able to pick and choose my battles feels like a new level of empowerment, and that feels good. So maybe it’s okay to pick and choose when to chameleonize myself, as long as I always know and stay true to the root truths about who I am and want to be, even if that includes being kind and chameleonic when I decide it’s okay to be.
We’re still a work-in-progress…to be continued…