The other night at an AA meeting, a guy mentioned how he felt like he was acting in his newfound sobriety; he was really uncomfortable. He said while he enjoyed being sober, he didn’t like how foreign he felt in his own skin.
His comment struck me but not in the way he felt or even in his interpretation. I thought back to being a young girl and wanting so badly to be an actress. I thought being able to assume a role and make others really believe who you were portraying was really something. So, I dreamed of this, practiced in private in my room and auditioned for plays- I even made one once, but quit because my mom found the schedule inconvenient. So for years, I secretly longed to be an actress.
The joke is on me.
For years, I HAVE been an actress and a damn good one, too. I fooled all kinds of people around me: I was happy, in love, brilliant, interested in the conversation, willing to help. The list goes on and on. For decades, I was a chameleon for wherever life took me. Need a friend? I was happy to oblige, but inside I would be terribly bored with the pretense forcing myself not to yawn. Need me to be a volunteer? A tutor? Sure, no problem. All the while on the inside, I was resentful, angry, tired, irritable. Even when I spoke with one of my sisters the other night and told her I am an alcoholic, she said, “Really? Are you sure. I would have never guessed.” Of course not. I was taught to put my best face forward; I took that quite literally.
And so I carried on and with each new role I assumed, I lost a piece of me. Or rather, a piece of me was never formed. I thought for so long I was doing a pretty good job in my various roles, too. But, when someone would get too close and be on to me, I would create more drama and with uncertain resolve, push the individual away. I especially “liked” when others would push me away or mistreat me for then I was given opportunities to work harder and to perfect that given role. I would also reaffirm that I wasn’t worth a genuine relationship.
Finally, this past November, the mask became unbearable and it began to crack. My husband knew and gently reminded me to be true to myself. The conundrum is that I didn’t know who I was, who I thought I might be or who I thought I COULD be. I had pretended for so long; I even recall thinking, “One day, my boss is going to walk into my class and tell me she has know how fake I am and that I really shouldn’t be here.” Before I decided to admit the gig was up, I went to a series of doctors to have tests run. I didn’t feel well and was sure I was dying. I probably could have saved a ton of time and money if I had been honest about the amount of alcohol I had been consuming. But, THAT would be so weird…to be honest.
So, I am retired from acting. I never walked the Red Carpet nor did I win an Emmy or an Oscar. But the truth is, the world of acting was exhausting: the hours, the makeup, the various roles, the rewritten scripts.
Today, I check my gut. And I stop and think. I talk to myself more and I ask what it is that I want, need, or feel. The beauty is that my memory is better. When I don’t lie, i only have one story to recall. I am learning more about myself each day. Some of it I like and embrace; others pieces I have to table for a bit and reevaluate later; still others I discard and freely.
My costume is so much lighter, too. The layers and layers that had built up over the years were truly that of a Shakespearean damsel (and always in distress, I might add).
And while I can’t see myself heading out the door to a nudist camp any time soon, I sure feel liberated in the lack of layers.