Meet Elizabeth Johnson! Elizabeth is 28 years old and was born and raised in Missouri. She graduated with her masters in social work from the University of Missouri, and is currently a hospice social worker for Johnson County Community Health Services. Elizabeth raises her sweet daughter Blythe in Warrensburg, and she recently celebrated her one year anniversary to her wife Julie. Elizabeth has been one of my kindest, most accepting friends. Here is her story and journey to true happiness…
For me, personally, the key to creating happiness in my life is simply being me. While that sounds simple and cliché, I have found that it is actually a very long and difficult process for most people, especially women. As women, we tend to be put in “boxes”. These boxes are made out of the expectations others (our families, significant others, and our culture) put on us. From a very young age, we are taught to “shrink” ourselves in order to fit in these boxes. Existing in these boxes is what helps those around us feel comfortable. The limits of the boxes make us predictable, controllable. We also learn to silence ourselves and sacrifice our own desires in order for everyone else to remain comfortable and to continue liking us. After all, no one will like us if we don’t do everything we can to please them; and how will we survive if everyone doesn’t love us?!
A few years ago, I found myself in a very small box, unhappy and full of self-doubt. I had very low self-esteem/efficacy. I was in an emotionally, spiritually oppressive relationship, surrounded by an even more oppressive family. I was compromising so much of my own thoughts, feelings, and beliefs for the comfort of others that I had all but lost my self identity. I felt fake, like a poser, pretending to be someone everyone else wanted me to be, someone they all expected me to be. Nothing about my life was designed the way I wanted it.
Eventually, the pain of having so much disdain for myself finally became more unbearable than the pain of having my loved ones decide they didn’t like me anymore. I wasn’t the woman I wanted my small daughter to emulate. I don’t remember intentionally coming up with a plan to make my life better. I believe my instincts took over and simply propelled me through several major life changes that would allow my life to better represent who I am as a person. I got a new job, bought a new car and a new wardrobe, filed for divorce, took a leave of absence from church, and quit talking to 95% of the people in my very large life. I began dissolving the box I had been living in.
After the box was gone and I was on my own, it wasn’t long before I felt very naked and vulnerable. After all, my entire life had been a long string of oppressive relationships wherein I allowed someone else to think for me and make me who they wanted me to be. I was in a new relationship and started to feel myself slipping back into that old role; being that same permeable person. Thankfully, by the grace of God, a new friend of mine articulated everything I had been feeling and struggling with in two simple, beautiful words. He said, “Show up”. My heart almost stopped when I heard it. He had been sharing his own struggle, one very similar to my own of living in others’ boxes and he said, ‘I just need to give myself permission to show up’. This isn’t just being present and mindful in the company of others. This is allowing yourself to be seen; to unapologetically tell others what you think, feel, and believe without bending to the urge to shrink. Just Show Up.
Intentionally creating happiness in my life has been a labor of love and I feel as though I could write volumes about what that experience was like. It required me to dismantle my entire life and rebuild it from the ground up. It required me to learn how to “show up”. This was a terrifying but extremely cathartic experience. I’m not advocating a hedonistic lifestyle where we “seize the day” or “YOLO”. That type of living is selfish and lazy. I very much believe in the self-discipline/self-denial that Jesus Christ calls us to have. However, I have learned the difference between the admonitory chastening of a loving God and the shaming, guilt trips of small minded people.
I realize that not everyone will have such a dramatic story. For some of us, being our authentic self may just mean actually wearing that shade of lipstick you have always loved but were too timid to wear. Or maybe it is telling someone that you love them, or that you don’t love them. Whatever your version of ‘showing up’ is, do it. You will feel scared. You will second guess yourself. You may even regress a little at times. But after you get used to the feeling of being true to yourself and true to the person you believe God created you to be, you will never be satisfied being anyone else. I know that for myself, it was scary. It was hard and very painful. It was expensive and emotionally and physically draining. But, I am so happy that I did it. I did it for myself but even more, I did it for my daughter. Now she can grow up knowing me for who I really am. She can have a happy, healthy, and balanced mom. She can have an example of a woman who doesn’t live in boxes.