I am a rule follower who became a rebel.
Here’s what happened.
The Rule Book:
Women like you are mothers with medium to long hair. You are at an age where you are grasping for youth, turning to needles and knives and expensive face treatments… You look tired. Do something about it now! Designer labels… SUVs… Look pretty, well-groomed, healthy and fresh. Even in your yoga pants, you must look “put together”… You have social gatherings with other moms, where you drink wine and talk about how busy you all are…”Busy” means important, worthy, and needed… You display your beautiful children and shiny facade for all of the world and social media to see… Hashtag Blessed. One more rule: if you (or any of your family members) are depressed, or sad, or sick, or feel like your world is falling apart—for goodness sake, don’t let anyone know. Don’t give yourself away.
Sounds fun, right? To me it did. I wanted and needed those rules. Bring it on, baby!
See, I’m a middle-class girl from an oilfield town. I am half-Latina and never knew which box to check when filling out questionnaires. I worked full time and borrowed money to pay for college. And, I spent most of my teenage years hanging out with skaters and musicians. I was never beautiful or popular or athletic. I never knew where I fit in. So, when I grew up, these self-enforced rules made me feel safe—like I was doing what was expected. It felt far more secure and orderly than my misspent youth. If I just followed the rules, I could protect myself from hurt and isolation and sorrow, right? (I am shaking my head as I type this paragraph.)
Then, one day, my world fell apart. Just three short months after giving birth to my second baby, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. It felt like the sky was falling. Like an earthquake was shaking everything I held onto. And, just like that, my beloved rules started slipping through my hands and came crashing down like wedding crystal after too many cocktails.
– Long, highlighted hair? Nope. The chemo will make that go away.
– A strong, fit body? Try again, babe. Soon, you will be puffy from the steroids and exhausted from the pain. Besides that, you will be cut up and scarred soon. So say “sayonara” to your breasts and body as you know it.
– Glossy Instagram pics of dinners with friends and outings with your beautiful children? No way. You will spend the next several months locked up in your home.
– Girls night?! Ha! You will experience tension headaches, depression, loneliness, and fatigue. You will feel painfully and unequivocally alone.
All of those old rules… MY beloved rules… The ones that kept me in line… The ones that made me feel like I was worthy and ok… They were thrown out the window. I felt like little Forest Gump on the school bus. And, the world was telling me, “this seat’s taken.”
For a while, I still tried to play by the rules. Like an ex-lover begging to be taken back—even if she was no longer wanted. Please let me play, I begged. So I bought a long, beautiful wig and false eyelashes. I looked pitiful. Not only did I look sick and tired. But, I looked sick and tired with double-stick tape on my sweaty forehead and uneven eyeliner tracing my tired, bloodshot eyes.
I was like a recently-freed prisoner who didn’t know how to function in the outside world. So, she continues to commit the crime, hoping that she can go return to the confines of a dark, yet sheltered cell. For me, long hair and makeup and blending in felt safe. It felt like the old me. It felt normal.
I was forced to see myself in a different light. I couldn’t hide behind the hair and the expensive jeans and the push-up bra and all the other masks. I realized that my rules revolved around appearances. Stuff that eventually fades and can disappear in an instant. Those rules had nothing to do with what is deep and true and real. I had to learn to be ok with this scared-up body and bruised-up soul. I had to find healing. So I did. Or, rather, I’m starting to. It’s a long road.
The new me: she’s exposed. She’s uncomfortable. She’s venerable. It is terrifying, but it’s also kind of nice. It feels like a well-deserved exhale after years of holding my breath. And, I’m learning to rise from the ashes.
Now, I realize that these rules were meant to be broken. I understand that the only way for me to be free of the chains that were my “rules,” was to be forced into liberation… Or dragged, kicking and screaming, into a new awakening. A new freedom.
The only way for my daughters to have a fighting chance to be free from these rules was to see their mother thrive–no matter how she looks or how jacked up her life gets. I don’t need my daughters to think I’m that I am pretty. But they must know that I am resilient.
I want my daughters to see me the way I see them, or (more importantly) how God sees all of us. Beautiful, yet broken. Messy, but miraculous. As free as we choose to be.
Cancer is terrible. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. And, I’ll be honest, I’m WAY over it. I want to stop the train. I want to yell to the conductor (also known as God), “Excuse me, Sir—that was intense. I learned some great lessons. So, can I have my old life back now?” But, I know it doesn’t work that way. I can’t just press the emergency eject button. My Creator isn’t a fairy godmother. I have to hold on tight and see what’s next.
What other nuggets of knowledge does the ole’ C have in store for me? Let’s keep praying and ride the waves together.