April 22, 2016

When Our Masks Become too Heavy to Bear.


Her life was perfect. She was the quintessential picture of the American dream.

A small town girl, rescued by her prince and whisked away to for a better life. A life in a suburban cul-de-sac—complete with manicured lawn, picket fence, children, little dogs, and every material thing she ever wanted.

A housewife by choice, she entertained herself with volunteer work, lunches out with friends, and the constant shuttling of kids from the soccer field to the scout meeting, from piano lessons to gymnastics, and home again.

Yes. She had it all. At least, she appeared to.

She was me. Just a few short years ago, I was the woman who had it all. Anyone could have looked at my life and imagined that I was the happiest woman alive. And, truly, I had a good life—in the way that financial security and material comforts can make a person happy.

I also had a supremely convincing game face. The social mask I wore was damn near impenetrable.

Sometimes, it even fooled me.

Yes, it was easy to look at my life and assume that everything was wonderful. That is what I projected into the world. It was what people expected of me. It was easier than admitting that I was completely lost. It was more pleasant than digging into the abyss of my past to examine my old wounds.

There was safety there in the picket-fenced perfection the world saw.  

What they didn’t see, was that I had spent my whole life trying to pretend that I was okay when I wasn’t.

Behind the false smile and the picture of the American dream that people saw was a scared, broken, lonely little girl who didn’t know how to love herself.

It wasn’t just a lack of self-love I struggled with—it was a deep self-loathing. My perception of who I am was skewed by the abuse I endured in childhood. I grew up believing that I was worthless, damaged, unlovable, and undeserving of anything good.

These negative beliefs about myself made it impossible for me to know who I really was, or what I really wanted in relationships, professionally, and pretty much every area of my life. I relied on people around me to give me an identity and a purpose- and spent every moment trying to live up to their expectations.

This made for some damn unhealthy relationships. They were superficial and required a lot of energy. I felt a duty to be everything to everyone. I did everything I could to earn the approval, acceptance, and affection from friends and lovers alike. I believed those things had to be earned, because I was not inherently worthy of them.

It also created a lot of anxiety for me. I felt I could never just be myself. I had to preform every single minute, as not to show my true self to anyone. I covered all my pain, my unpopular opinions, and my true desires with the persona that was expected of me. I strapped on that flawless mask each time I ventured out into the world, and gave the people what I thought they wanted from me.

I ignored my own intuition and replaced my inner voice with the voice of anyone who could tell me who I was and what was good for me. When that little voice inside disagreed with someone I had surrendered my power to, I told her to pipe down. Surely, she was mistaken each time she told me to stand up for myself, or share my truth with someone, or leave my marriage, or write a book.

Eventually, that mask became too heavy for me to bear. I began suffocating under the weight of it. I looked around at my perfect life one day and realized that it wasn’t even my life. I couldn’t see any evidence of my influence in the walls of my perfect suburban existence.

I had built myself a perfect little picket fenced prison. A cell in which I had no identity. A cage in which I had no freedom to dream. It was the first time I realized that I held the keys to that prison, and just as easily as I had put myself in there, I could also set myself free.

Removing the mask I had worn for a lifetime was not without pain. It was like tearing the bandage from a deep cut. The air stung the sensitive places that were exposed for the first time.

As I began to embrace the fullness of the woman I was created to be, I experienced rejection, judgement, and loss.  All the things I once feared were coming to fruition. People were so accustomed to the watered down, people-pleasing, weak woman behind the mask that they didn’t even recognize the real me. When I could no longer live according to their expectations, many of them walked away—and I let them go, trusting that it was the most loving thing I could do for myself.

Those who have remained by my side through the shedding of my skin know my heart and soul. They see me in my entirety- and love me flaws and all. They have taught me what unconditional love is. It’s not something we earn on merit. It’s given freely- no performance necessary.

Admittedly, the most authentic version of me is kind of a handful. She is brave and outspoken. She is real and honest—sometimes brutally so. She is headstrong, and sometimes her intuition is the only voice in the whole world she can hear. She knows herself deeply, she’s embraced her scars and now sees them as the source of her strength. She loves herself so much now, that love seeps out from every pore in her skin and radiates to fill the space all around her.

Her eyes shine with the knowing that she is enough, what she has to offer this world is enough, the person she brings to her relationships is enough, even in her darkest days—she has always been enough.

When we give ourselves permission to be who we are, and let go of the expectations and demands of others, we can set ourselves free. We can learn to love ourselves so fiercely that no one would dare to try to tell us who we are.

It just takes a little courage to stoke that fire inside—to find our passion, to use our voice, to love ourselves so completely that mask melts away, and leaves only what is perfect and true.

Walking through life without that mask is the only way we can ever be free. When we reach this place of freedom and authenticity life just flows, and it’s hard to remember why we ever went into hiding in the first place.

When we choose love over fear, we move one step closer to being who we were born to be. If we’re hiding behind a mask, living only for the expectations of others, we’re not really living at all.

What’s behind the mask? Perfection. Beauty.

The strength that comes from knowing that we are whole, and worthy, and absolutely enough.




Author: Renée Dubeau

Editor: Renée Picard

Image: Ethan/Flickr

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