When I hit Lent at the beginning of March, I was ready to shake things up. But by the Saturday after Ash Wednesday I still didn’t know how. In the interest of self care, I went to get a pedicure. But I ended up at the Saturday evening service at Crossroads instead. I have long and interesting relationship with Crossroads. It’s no longer my church home, but in some way it will always be my spiritual home. Every once in a while, I get a nudge to go, and I’ve learned to listen to that nudge. I learn things there. As I parked my car, I felt a grumbling resignation. “Okay, Crossroads. Do the thing.” When I walked in, they handed me a couple of “Hello, My Name Is” stickers, and a Sharpie.
Shit. One thing I know about Crossroads is that when they give you a Sharpie, you’re going to do an experience. And when you do an experience, you’re probably going to cry. I felt more begrudging, and now defensive. I was still in melodrama heartbreak mode, and I knew I was prone to go from zero to ugly cry with a Taylor Swift song. I planted myself in the dark corner of the auditorium, hoping no one would recognize me.
This particular service was “Don’t Make a Name for Yourself.” It was about the labels we put on ourselves, and the untruths we believe about who we are. It’s not a new theme at Crossroads . . . it’s a message they rebrand and repackage periodically. I’ve probably heard it 5 times over the years, so I let my guard down a little. I could coast through this. I was doing fine. Keeping it together. Then we got to the the exercise. They asked us to write down a name we call ourselves, an identity we carry that we need to let go of. Well, my identity is so deeply embedded that I didn’t need to think about it. I filled in the name tag.
HELLO MY NAME IS:
The Girl Whose Brother Shot People
Later in the service, they asked us to choose a new name. I stared at the name tag. I couldn’t think of one.
And suddenly this made me very, very angry. Why in the world is this my thing? I’ll be damned if my identity isn’t even about me. It’s about my brother. For MORE THAN HALF OF MY LIFE, I’ve been playing supporting actress in someone else’s story. And, by the way, it’s someone else’s SHITTY story! My brother wrote a very, very, very, shitty story. I don’t want to be part of that. Why in the world have I allowed that to happen?
Screw that. I want my own story. But who the hell am I?
I spent the past year reclaiming my life, and I can describe me in adjectives. I am proactive, assertive. I am smart. Energetic. I am a good friend. I am an instigator of fun and I love mischief. My friends say I am confident, brave, and intense. I am determined, strong, passionate (very often to a fault). I go out in the world, I get shit done, and I can be quite powerful about that. There are a lot of action words that describe me. But there I was, feeling stuck and passive in my personal life. And why is that?
Well, it’s because a tiny little package of contradiction. I am all those active words. But when I am anxious, afraid, or hurt, I go right back to being an 18 year girl who is frozen with terror. Helpless. Desperate. I lose my sense of agency, and I look to other people to save me, and I just desperately want someone to protect me. I want someone else to write the story for me because I am just too overwhelmed to respond. But I don’t know how to ask for what I need, and so I just wait for someone to magically know and fix it. When I’m in it, I do not fight or flight. I freeze.
This, I know, is not really, me. It’s my PTSD brain. But it’s in there.
Okay . . . so who am I now?
That question that opened the floodgates. I held the blank nametag and cried. When people on the stage asked me to rip up my old identity, I cranked up the volume to ugly cry. I can’t just throw my old self away. Can I? I can’t really just get rid of all those PTSD symptoms. Can I? And how do I say goodbye to The Girl Whose Brother Shot People when I don’t know what else to be? I knew I didn’t want to be her anymore. I knew I didn’t want to be stuck anymore. But is it even an option to change?
I crumpled the old name up, and stuck the blank name tag in my back pocket. This question of identity was not going to be resolved in an evening. But it could be resolved in 6 weeks.
And that was how I found my Lenten experiment.
PS: If you want to watch the message from Crossroads, it’s online here. I take zero responsibility for your smeared mascara