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My Life In Labels

I’ve been doing a lot of intense mindset work lately. I mean I’m going deeeeeeeeep into my personal shit and wading about in the muck. It’s not the prettiest scenario, but I am definitely learning a ton about why I am where I am.

One thing that has been coming up for me with this work is the idea of labels. I am discovering that I am holding myself - subconsciously, of course - to a crapload of labels, some of which aren’t even my own. Now, I should state for the record that I am not wholly opposed to labels. Being very Virgo-esque, I find labels to be an awesome way to process and organize information. My problem with labels is when I find myself trying to contort myself to fit inside other people’s labels (or others’ versions of my labels), rather than my own.

For instance, when I was a kid I was given several labels. Chief among them was tomboy, pouty, exceptional/gifted, and shy. Quite an assortment, right? Imagine having to live under the mantle of all those labels while you’re still trying to process how to properly use silverware, or how to dress your Barbie for the big dance with Ken.

Being labeled a tomboy taught me that I was one of the boys (often even better at ‘boy’ things than they were). I was never going to be the one they made out with under the bleachers, or asked to the movies, or ogled as I walked down the hall. I just believed that to be my truth. I assumed the role without understanding that there were other options available to me. To this day, I am still affected by that label. I am more often the friend, the confidant; rarely the girlfriend/lover/partner. And it’s not that men never find me attractive, but, rather, I’ve become so practiced in my attachment to this label of tomboy that somewhere along the way I stopped believing that it was possible for me to play any other role with men. And it shows in my interactions with them ... especially men I find attractive. It's as if I de-sexualize myself. I become very aware of my body and my movements and I can feel myself shrinking and even becoming more masculine. If a man dares to show me some sexual interest, I get confused and usually run and hide until he's moved on to some other woman who probably never got called a tomboy when she was little. If this is not a recipe for spinsterhood, I don't know what is.

I was often called pouty as a child, too. This one, in particular, stings when I reflect on it. I have always been the kind of person who needs to fully understand what is being asked of me in order to piece together whether or not I am willing to/capable of complying. When I was little this would show up in ways that exasperated my mother, who is of the opposite temperament. When she would scold me for some inappropriate behavior, I would cry, because I didn’t understand what I’d done that was so offensive. Then I would be scolded for crying. And I didn’t understand why, but it seemed really important that I stop it immediately. So, I would concentrate all my energy on being quiet and not crying and trying to figure out how to be ‘good’ so I would be loved rather than punished. And then came the label: I would hear my mother telling others that I was going to pout now because I wasn’t getting my way. It was all so confusing and frustrating and embarrassing for me, and I was too young to know anything other than what my authority figures were telling me. I found myself in this impossible situation of being censured for every form at self-expression I was attempting, so I was left with the only other option: keep quiet and never again have the audacity to think I am worthy of fully expressing myself, my needs, and my desires. Guess how easy it is for me to ask for help now? Not so much. I actually managed to train myself not to cry, and for decades, even when I was feeling intense grief, I could barely muster a tear of expression. (Thankfully, I’ve made some good progress on re-teaching myself how to cry, but I’ve still not fully recovered.) These experiences also left me with not a little confusion around to behave in relationships. Something I am still navigating with hyper-awareness and deliberation.

NOTE: This is not intended to vilify my mother. I now recognize that she was doing the best she could. We have a very loving relationship, and I wouldn’t trade her.

My dad taught me to read a year or so before I started kindergarten. As a result, I’ve had a life long love affair with words and with learning. (Thanks, Dad!) In fact, I have a history of being pretty good at most things I give any effort to doing. Part of that, I think, was due to a natural curiosity about the world around me and the aforementioned need to understand the why of everything. Thanks to my curious nature and the unparalleled energy of my pre-teenaged self, I found myself excelling at most everything. I was bumped up to a second grade reading group when I was in first grade. I was able to do the most spectacular dives off our neighborhood pool’s sad little diving board with no formal training - just sheer desire and fearlessness. I took the solos in nearly every musical performance of which I was a part. And I remained in the accelerated learning classes all throughout my school career, without even really applying myself. Being so good at things earned me the label of exceptional, or gifted. And every time I heard it, I lit up. This label was uttered with great praise and affection. It felt good. I liked it. What I didn’t realize was how much I would come to rely on this label as a personal identifier, only to eventually find it forking me in the arse. What happened when I wasn’t naturally good at something? Did that mean I wasn’t special anymore? And since things had always come so easily for me, I associated that ease with the celebratory praise and the shiny label. So, to work hard to do something well must surely mean that I was a failure. That didn’t feel good. So, I would just quit things that didn’t come so easily, regardless of how much I might want to do them, or how important they might be for my wellbeing.

A lifelong introvert, I was the classic picture of shyness as a kid. Anyone new coming into my worldly sphere would be met with me hiding behind my mama’s leg, clutching her skirt for holy safety, and pretending/praying no one could see me. Now, you may think that being labeled as shy would not be a big deal for a natural introvert. But, the problem I’ve found with this label - as pertains to me - is that I use it as a crutch. I will cower behind that label as staunchly as I cowered behind mama’s leg. And I’ve missed some great opportunities just by allowing this label to justify my fears.

Freakin’ labels, man.

I found myself weighed down with some new labels in my twenties: Flirt, Witchy/Woo Woo, Weird. There were others, of course, but these are the ones that stand out for me. Admittedly, I really love each of these labels under my own definition, but I haven’t always been able to separate my experience of these labels from what I perceive to be others’ associations with them.

I have always felt expressive with affection. I crave displays of affection and human touch, and therefore am prone to expressing and touching in affectionate ways. And I love flirting! Flirting is fun! I would flirt with boys, girls, animals, old people, babies, plants, ceramic figurines, you name it! I have been an indiscriminate flirter. I never thought much about it. In fact, a lot of my peers were pretty flirty, too. But, somewhere along the line, I started to receive messages that I was bad for being flirty. I was told that I was leading people on, or using sex as some kind of tool for [unwanted] torture. I had friendships diminish because my friends made false assumptions about the intentions behind my flirting. I began to feel like I needed to censure myself to make those around me more comfortable. And every time I received this negative feedback, I closed myself up a little more until I was afraid to open myself to anyone. I am only now - over a decade later - just beginning to tentatively stretch my expression beyond my own personal bubble. It’s heartbreaking how much I internalized the negative feedback of this label, and how debilitating that [subconscious] choice has been for me.

It was in my early twenties when I began my initiation into my chosen spiritual path. I was always fascinated by the occult. Ghost stories and tales of people who had encountered what could only be described as ‘spirits’ always held me in curious awe. I even had a few experiences with the unseen, myself. I even believed in fairies. I was always open to the world of metaphysics. As a young adult, all things occult were making a favorable re-entry into pop culture, and I was all over it. I started hanging out with witches. I was reading magick books, self-help books, and every other new age-y book I could get my greedy hands on. I was regularly making potions, and charm bags, and talismans. I read tarot cards, runes, and tea leaves. I decorated with crystals and feathers and used incense and essential oils. I delved into yoga, and spell-casting, and energy work. I was in it to win it. And so I was given the label of witchy/woo woo. I wore this label proudly when I was wrapping myself in it. But there were other instances where it seemed this label was being hurled at me with aggression, disdain, and/or fear. At these times, I found myself feeling shameful for being who I was. I began to shrink further into myself for fear of persecution. (It’s not always pitchforks and stones. Sometimes it’s emotional. And it can be just as scarring.) One more nail in the coffin of my personal expression.

In my late twenties/early thirties it became apparent that I was not going to be living a conventional life. It wasn’t about making a statement, or anything so noble as that. I just started to realize that I have tastes and interests that are not always aligned with the popular paradigm. I continued down my spiritual path like a kid running toward a cart filled with free candy and kittens. I kept flitting from job to job to job trying to figure out how to find personal fulfillment and financial stability, determining that it is just not in me to work a traditional 9-5 corporate situation. I spent a lot of time alone pursuing my interests when others were working their more normal jobs, or playing in their bands, or picking up potential life partners at the local pub. I was so intensely focused on my own personal growth that I didn’t really have any energy left over for things like dating or marriage or baby-making. Spending so much time alone found me doing things like talking to myself, randomly bursting into dance just to feel my body move, and even dabbling in hoarding. Then there were the times I sold all my stuff, including my house, and moved into an airstream trailer just to see what it was like to live a minimalist life. Or when I dropped everything I was doing to go travel the world for a while with very little money in my bank account, and no clear plan what I was doing or how I would do it. (I actually did that last one twice.) It was behaviors like this that earned me the weird label. At first I seized this label with great honor and pride. But, as tends to happen with labels, there was also a darker side to being the weirdo. At first it was fun … or at least funny … for others to experience my weirdness. It gave some folks permission to be a little weird, too. And others enjoyed living vicariously through my bold choices. But as I began to feel safer expressing myself more fully, I started to really give voice to my weirdness and let her howl a little louder until it seemed that I was no longer entertaining people, but kinda making them uncomfortable. Some folks just didn’t know what to do with me when I was behaving in ways that were outside of their comfort zones. So, when I let my weirdness go unchecked, I would often find myself feeling alone and ashamed. (Shame sure is a sneaky bastard. His name was clearly not on the list, but he managed to weasel his way into the party nonetheless.) So, once again, I recoiled. I made myself smaller and tried to be more predictable and more pleasing and more … normal.

As I’ve continued to mellow into myself over the past few years, I’ve become a little braver about flying my freak flag. A little braver. I’m still working through the effects of all that emotional bullying (as it felt to me), but every day I’m a little more myself. It is soul-crushing and exhausting to be anything other than who I am. And every day I get a little closer to rising up in all my unedited glory. The labels we are given - by ourselves, our friends and family, Society - they have consequences. Some are beneficial. Some are terrorizing. And they can stay with us forever if we aren’t careful. I’m no longer willing to let that happen for myself. I am no longer willing to be a slave to my labels. I choose to embrace the awesomeness of Me! I choose to celebrate my weirdness in flirty, witchy, woo woo ways! I choose to realize that when others try to censure me, it isn’t about me. It’s about their discomfort with who they are and how they are (or aren’t) expressing it. I am no longer willing to take their shit on as my own.

This is my manifesto! I choose to be the best, most potent, undiluted version of myself that I can be in any given moment! I choose to celebrate who I am, because I am magickal, and beautiful, and made of Universal Intelligence! I choose to share my magick with the world, because the world can always use more flavor!

What will you choose?

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