One of the most important things I have learned in recovery is that everything is temporary. And in recovery, this is not a bad thing. Most of the painful emotions can only be tolerated with the understanding that they are temporary. Of course, it has also brought the understanding that the joyful moments are fleeting as well. Sometimes that knowledge helps me to savor them. Sometimes that knowledge causes me to hold back.
The idea that things of this world are temporary has been around a long time. It is not new. If we wait long enough, everything, from our physical bodies to planet Earth, will be gone. And yet, most of us live our lives under the notion that we can change that. We spend a lot of time trying to prove that it’s not true. We hold on to things. We hold on to our kids. We hold on to relationships. We hold on to emotions. We try to tell ourselves that it will always be like that. And when it isn’t, we pine for what used to be.
But I don’t believe we do this because we are foolish. I think we are trying to reconcile our outside world with an inner knowing that something isn’t temporary. Deep down inside, we know there is something that transcends this world. But there’s a problem. We can’t touch it. We can’t see it. So we try to find it in the things we can touch and see.
As a child abuse survivor, I am grateful that my childhood was temporary. I am grateful to have cheated physical death and irreparable mental illness. I am grateful that painful emotions subside. I am grateful that those horrific relationships are over. I am grateful that buildings crumble and that abusive people die, not because I am vindictive, but I find them to be much more pleasant in spirit form. I am even grateful that eventually, my poor body will be laid to rest, because honestly, the Earthly experience is exhausting.
With all that being said, the idea that everything is temporary is terrifying for one reason. I might lose what defines me as a person. I might lose my labels. I might lose myself. And this has nothing to do with physical death. It has everything to do with who I think I am. In spiritual circles, it is referred to as the “ego self”. Most of the time, that part of us runs the show. It creates the definitions of reality. And it wants that reality to stay the same. It hates that something might be temporary if that something is critical to the world it has created. Some labels are less important, like good cook. Some labels are critically important, like parent. But the ego fights to maintain them all.
Don’t get me wrong, the ego is essential to our well-being. We must have one. My ego literally saved my life by deploying defense mechanisms that kept the pain of abuse away from a child who could not bear it. But the ego expected those to stick around. The ego doesn’t like that those were temporary. And I hear about it every time I recover a memory. “This was for your own good.” “Why are we going down this road?” “We’ve got a pretty good thing going here. Why mess it up?” “We have always done it this way.” You’ve heard these sayings. Maybe you’ve even heard them daily. Sometimes they come from other people. Sometimes they are an inside job.
So now I am in a phase where the old labels are dropping away. My clearly defined corporate job title is no longer a label available to me. This would be less of a problem if the new labels were defined, but they are not. My future labels are unclear at the moment. I could certainly call myself a writer. I could call myself a founder, but with a nonprofit in its infancy stages, it hardly seems quite right. I’m not an author yet. I can use words like advocate. I can use words like speaker. But right now, they are not defined. There is no clear job description or name tag to adhere to my lapel.
Needless to say, my ego self is NOT happy. Who am I? I don’t know. What am I doing? I am unsure. Where am I going? That is not clear. There is a void. There is a nothing. There is an ending without a beginning. And when people ask what I am doing with my life these days, there is no easy answer.
For an abuse survivor, with an over-developed ego self, this is a crisis of significant proportions. The labels that I create are a survival tactic. My mask of overachievement and success is so important that it’s removal would mean the death of my ego. And while physical death is scary, the ego death is much more terrifying.
Maybe I equate my ego self to that part of myself which I know to be permanent.
Maybe I think the end of my labels means the end of me, the real me, the me that cannot end.
Or maybe I am scared to see myself as more than the labels.
Maybe I don’t want to think of myself as permanent, as powerful, as transcending my Earthly experience.
Maybe I don’t want to consider the possibility that some aspect of me will live forever because that means the abuse lives forever.
Or is it the healing that lives forever?
Or is it both?
Maybe temporary is more comfortable because eventually, it ends.