The Wonder Years
Updated: Sep 21, 2020
Why do we like to cling to an identity? Why do we like to "know" what makes up who we are? Identifying with our names, with personal objects, a way of being, as an athlete, the smart guy, the pretty girl, a doctor, a lawyer, the surfer, the person who went to an Ivy League school, gives us a sense of self and solidity in this world. It's an egoic tendency to help us feel more concrete and finite, make us feel like we matter and we have some level of importance, because we are this "thing". We are different. We are someone.
The more we cling to an identity, the harder it is to let anything new into our lives, to be open to new ways of being, or seeing things. We create our whole world around the thoughts and beliefs about who we are, what we do and how we see things. While some can be "positive" and maybe feel like some sort of truth, others can be detrimental to ourselves. Like if we identify as stupid, or ugly or bad at something. Even identifying as an athlete can be extremely limiting because sometimes we can form the belief that being an athlete is the only thing we are good at. If "I am an athlete, then I am not smart." If "I am a creative, then I am not good at the business side." "If I am an accountant, I am smart but unattractive." Identities can be tricky and extremely restricting.
Also, if we lose that particular thing we identify so strongly with, we can have a major identity crisis and have no idea who we really are. Which in my case was the best thing that could have happened to me (now) but took me through a tornado of precarious behaviors, before I came out the other side. Let's just say I am happy I lived through my college years to tell this story.
Identifying with physical objects can also obstruct our vision of truth and worth. If we have to have a particular thing in order to feel abundant, safe, secure or worthy, if something happens to that thing, we can feel wiped out and have no sense of self-worth. The house, the car, the Chanel bags, the shoes... even the crystals and the palo santo. When we put our worth in something outside of ourselves, there is a chance of feeling completely erased and annihilated if we lose that thing. We have to find that worth in ourselves first.
What I have come to find is to just be here now. Stop identifying so strongly with things and ways of being, because that keeps us open. Open to new people, new career choices, new cities, new travel opportunities, new life experiences, new hobbies, new objects to love and enjoy. If I stayed the sorority girl, from USC, who played tennis and tennis only, my life would look a hell of a lot different than it does today. And boy am I grateful I lost that identity because it was not serving anyone. Not me, not my friends, not my family. Finding my truth, which was really just a connection back to myself and spirit, back to life, was the best thing that could have happened to me.
Identity crisis. What is an identity crisis?
From the age of about 8, I started identifying as a tennis player. "I am a tennis player." "Erica Sauer, the tennis girl." When I tore my elbow, my sophomore year and the doctor declared it was a "career ending injury", I had no idea who the hell I was. I had identified so completely as an athlete, that school was a foreign concept and knowing how to make friends was like learning a new language.
There was no sense of self outside of tennis. I had homeschooled pretty much since 6th grade. I practiced 4-5 hours a day and then trained an hour or so on top of that. I traveled alone and lived independently from my parents at a tennis academy, in Florida, for high school. I lived, breathed and ate tennis AND I had constant anxiety. I remember praying for rainy days because I was always dying for a day off. In California, it rained pretty much never, so when it did I associated it to a break. I was always doing something, practicing something, fixing something, training for something, and when it rained I was finally allowed to do nothing. To this day, I love the rain, because it literally reminds me of rest and getting to do what I want to do, which was nothing then and now writing. Now the rain is the catalyst to write, which of course, I have made mean that the rain signals a release in my mind and body. Stuff just wants to come out when I get to rest and am in stillness (that's my metaphor for life, get still and let things come through you) Anyway, it's raining as we speak.
I borderline hated the sport by the time college rolled around. It was like I was manifesting injuries because if it wasn't one thing, it was another. I was always rehabbing some part of my body. A stress fracture in my foot, shin splints, tendonitis in my elbow or shoulder, an ankle sprain or some weird skin ailment, that kept me from being able to walk for nearly a year. It finally ended with the elbow tear. It's so interesting looking back now, that these injuries were clearly my body and the universe saying "Enough. It's too much. You're worn out." It's so much simpler than we make it. I needed rest. Yet I kept going. I didn't have a choice. I was the tennis player. It had become not just my identity but my whole family's. My mom was the traveling mother, who gave up her life, for the talented tennis player. My father was funding the talented tennis player's lessons, travel and academy life and my brother lived in the shadow of the talented tennis player. When it ended we almost all had to mourn the loss of that person and that identification. We all had to find a new way of being.
When the declaration it was all over was announced to my coach at USC, my mom and I, I was relieved. I was exhausted. BUT that set in motion a whole new slew of college girl issues... Who was I outside of tennis? I had no idea what I wanted, what my values were, what made me happy and what did not. All I knew was tennis was over and I wanted to be accepted, to belong and be liked.
It was a dangerous combo at the University of Southern California. Asking myself the questions subconsciously, "Who am I?" "What do I want?" "How do I behave to make friends?" "How do I get people to like me?" "Am I smart?" "Do I know how to study?" "Should I join a sorority?" "How do I get guys to like me?"
These were all subconscious thoughts and projections. I had no idea what was happening or that I was having an identity crisis at the time. I just remember being very uncomfortable in my own skin. So uncomfortable I looked to what other people were doing to model them. The pretty girls joined sororities, the cool girls did blow (at the time, I literally remember asking someone if that was as bad as coacine, lol), the sexy girls wore jean skirts from Abercrombie and Uggs with the occasional Von Dutch hat. So yes, inevitably I attempted all those things.
I remember one of my girlfriends drinking a bottle of Asti (sparkling wine) before she went out. So that's what I did. We would each have our own bottle before even leaving to go out. Then I'd black out. I don't remember most nights my freshman year of college. I'd wind up home, wondering where my phone was, how I got there and not even think about my safety the next day. Just hoping I didn't embarrass myself the night before.
I partied. I did drugs. I stayed out until wee hours of the night. I hitchhiked home from sunset blvd at time or two to downtown LA. I woke up in the back of taxis, with the taxi driver screaming at me, asking where I lived. I peed my pants in public. I slept with guys I didn't like and didn't like me. I got a DUI (and then another one). I did it all.
The void filling started early, the eating disorder because as you may remember, "my arms were fat", the alcohol consumption because that's what the cool girls did and it gave me the liquid courage I needed to feel alive and secure (which was all false because the next day, I would be left feeling less confident than the day before), then that moved to the cocaine usage, and it ended with sleeping around.
I didn't know what I wanted, but I knew attention felt good. Validation felt good. Belonging felt good. And getting high on drugs and alcohol was a good substitution for feeling my aliveness. It was a great way to push down all the other stuff wanting to bubble up, to numb and keep moving forward.
Looking back, it's clear some of those learned patterns were being put into play. The "not enough" complex was accompanied with an unworthiness, which made me think I needed to settle for connection. I wanted to be loved so badly, but didn't think I deserved it. I wasn't enough, so I settled. I would sleep with guys, no boundaries, just wanting to be seen and desired. I'd have to get so drunk in order to do it though, which is, looking back, what I feel the most amount of compassion for myself about. I wouldn't let myself do it sober, but wasted - no problem. I never realized I needed to see myself, validate myself, give myself the love I was seeking. Although the sleeping around stopped when I met my first real "love of my life" sophomore year, and first train wreck of a relationship, the love of the self wouldn't come for many years later. It took 3 toxic relationships, a divorce, two DUI's, my own financial problems, dizziness for years, to realize I needed to give myself what I was looking for. No drug, no guy, no clothes, no label of "sorority girl, no doctor, could give me what I needed to give myself.
I had so much shame revolved around that time in college. Now I understand the why. Now I understand women and men don't just sleep around, don't just excessively do drugs and drink alcohol, don't just flagrantly spend money, don't just look for things to identify with to feel better about themselves. We are beings in search of meaning. In search of love. When we do not have a strong sense of meaning or self worth, we will drown ourselves in pleasure and when we have massive voids to be filled, that pleasure can be quite toxic and sabotaging at times.
When we do not love ourselves we will look for that love to be filled by someone else, by something else, but as I have said before, everything outside of ourselves is a reflection of what is going on inside. If we do not love ourselves, the people we attract typically do not love themselves either. The situations we put ourselves in usually won't be fulfilling ones and we will continue to identify with things that do not serve our higher selves. It's impossible to love another when we need something from them. Real love desires nothing from anyone. Real love happens when we love ourselves.
So remember, identities are futile, it's self love, it's seeing yourself, it's knowing your truth, it's your self-worth that really matter. Shed the layers of identity that keep you from you. Shed the built up bull shit we have been programmed to believe about ourselves and society, so that we can connect back to our true nature.
This is an extreme example of identity loss but I am sure on some level you can relate. We all have things we identify with to varying degrees. The key is non attachment to an identity. The key is to let yourself resurrect each day, not to cling to anything, or any way of being, because that keeps us open. Open to new experiences, new ways of being and seeing, new people, new careers, new life circumstances and knowing of our truth.
If we cling to the workout at 8AM, when we really want a muffin from Carissa's The Bakery, we might miss the opportunity to meet someone new. If we cling to tennis, we might miss out on surfing. If we cling to Montauk, we might miss out on Malibu. If we cling to blonde, we might miss out on being a bombshell red head. If we cling to accounting, we might miss out on clothing design.
Check in each day. Be open. Do not cling. Non-attachment is everything.
Get still and ask yourself:
-What do I need today?
-Do I want to play tennis again?
-Is this healthy for my body, my soul and my mind?
-Is this career serving me and my family?
-Does this thing make me feel alive?
-Do I like what I am doing?
-Do I like the people I am around?
-Do I like where I live?
-Am I attached to this thing to feel seen and worthy?
-Am I attached to this way of being to have a sense of control?
- Where can I let go?
-Where can I open up?
- What can I do today to get me out of my comfort zone?
Start to inquire. You might discover that old identity is time to be shed and there is a whole new you.