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  • Writer's pictureJae Ritchie

Absolutely Authentic

How does one become authentic? What does it even mean to be authentic? Am I already living authentically? All questions I threw at my therapist in a session that left me with more questions than answers, but also better questions to ponder.

Chances are - if you ask yourself if you are living authentically, you aren't. If dropping the façade you created for those you encounter in the outside world is the very first thing you do upon entering your home; you are likely living someone else's idea of whom you should be. Facade - interesting word - simply stated it means an outward expression that hides a less pleasant or creditable reality.

My less pleasant reality consisted of work that I really enjoyed, family life that wasn't horrible, children and grandchildren that I adored, and friends that kept me on my toes and entertained. All things considered, the appearance of a great life. I am convinced most people would never consider looking beyond the outer presentation and continue with life, status quo. Overall, I was happy. Or so I told myself. Inwardly I was becoming more and more restless. Things just didn't seem right. My exterior, built over years of resilience to trauma, no longer fit. Instead of comfort and protection it offered only unease, longing, and a sense of failure.

What does authenticity mean for me? Acceptance. Of what?

Who I wanted to be and who I was were two different people. Who I was and what I presented were not closely aligned in most areas of my life.

  • I wanted to be a good parent - I failed my children in just about every possible way.

  • I wanted to be a good partner - I was too busy trying to figure out how to be happy - alone.

  • I wanted to be a good friend - I hid who I was so people would see what I wanted them to see - and never get too close.

Oddly enough - none of these things made up who I was. I thought they did. I thought the sum of who I was as a person was the roles I played, the work I did, the people I impressed. It's easier to see ourselves through the lens of the parts that others want us to play. At the end of the day our roles can be manipulated. We can tell one person one thing to make them happy while showing up differently for another. We can twist and contort ourselves into people and scenarios that create happiness for everyone around us. Until one day when keeping up with appearances, wearing a mask, saying one thing and doing another all in the hopes of making everyone around us happy - fails. Then and only then are we left with our true self. The good, the bad, the ugly in the flesh. We come to the end of the what we are, the who we play, and we are forced to face the WHO we really are. For better or for worse, we are compelled to change and face the reality of what we have been hiding, or we up our game and become a better master of illusion.

The destruction of my facade came in stages. Coming face to face with my mask of straightness became a profound first step. Denying what I have known since I was young enough to understand what it meant to love another human being was no longer achievable. Uttering the words, I am gay for the first time to people other than the me that lived inside of my mind was both freeing and terrifying. Not one time was I met with the horrific judgment I felt would come with addressing how my heart yearned to love. Finding it so much easier to be honest with friends and strangers than with my own family would open the door for the rest of my made-up life to come crashing down around me. In the end this fear added onto the list of offenses that would drive a wedge between some of the most important people in my life and myself. There was no judgment regarding who I am, just hurt over how I chose to tell them. Hurt over so many things I simply didn't get right and, in some cases, chose to get wrong because it was easier than fighting a battle I didn't trust I could win or I was too afraid to lose.

Choosing to find happiness and contentment in other things and other people kept me from finding wholeness within myself. This choice led to other wrong choices, more masks, more lies, more hurt for those that I love.

Today, I choose authenticity. Today, I choose to find happiness by looking inward and realizing the true me is actually pretty okay. Today, I choose to be who I need to be for me and for me alone. I cannot be a partner, a mother, a grandmother, a friend, a co-worker, an anything, until I can stand in front of the mirror and be who I need to be for the one person that has been with me for almost 57 years. She needs me to be real more than anyone else. Only when she can truly count on me to show up, stand by my word, and honor the promises I make to her will I ever be able to be the person I want to be and promise to be for others.

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