1 July 2001
In High School I had a very clear self image. I was nice, naive, prudish. I liked this image and went to great lengths to avoid anything that would threaten that image.
I had some very firm ideas about what I did not want to do and thought in my muddled teen-angst way that if I defined myself in opposition to those things then I would be safe from them. I was deathly scared of drinking and pregnancy.
I know why I was afraid of alcohol. I'd been told at a very young age that alcohol and the medication I was on for epilepsy should not be combined. I equated drinking with dying.
I don't know why I was so afraid of pregnancy and the sexual activity it implied. Partly I took in all the messages society was trying to send about teen-childbearing and why it's a bad idea. Partly it's because I knew from a young age that I would go to college. Mainly it was because I grew up in a small town and saw what happened to young women who had children. They became "mothers" in a very exclusive way. Now that I am a mother I understand that their lives were much more complex than I ever guessed, but at the time it seemed like they got a giant "mother" label pasted on their foreheads and that was all they were ever going to be.
First and foremost I wanted to be me. Not a label.
Ironically, I wanted it to be so clear who I was and what I stood for (and would not stand for) that I pasted labels firmly and proudly on myself. Prude, Naive, Nice. Three labels I carried with me into my adult life. Labels others tried to stick on me I peeled off and left behind-congratulating myself on my self-awareness and maturity.
I was in my early twenties when I realized that by giving myself the prude label I'd defined myself in a very narrow way. Prude brought with it many underlying assumptions not the least of which was that I was heterosexual. After some personal exploration I determined that no label I could devise would be complex enough to describe my feelings about love and sex. I love my husband, my son, my housemate, my parents, my friends, and my pets. I show and share that love in different ways. My feelings about sex are too complex to fit on a bumper sticker but the fact that my first true love was bi-sexual should have been a clue much earlier.
In my mid-twenties I realized that death and alcohol were not as interchangeable as I had believed. My underlying assumption was that if you used alcohol or tobacco you were either a bad person or you would die very soon. That either/or thinking did not allow for people who could drink in moderation, and safely. My first few encounters with sloppily drunk people in college were a mixed bag that gave me my first inkling that things might be more complicated than I thought. Later I met people who I felt were nice people and then I found out that they had the occasional nip of alcohol or that they smoked. Gee, you could be nice and drink or nice and smoke and not die immediately. What a revelation! I still don't drink (I'm still on the medication) and I do still get anxious if too many people around me are drinking but I've come a long way.
Now, in my thirties, I'm learning the cost of being nice as I had defined it. Nice to me meant never disagreeing in public, giving in at the first sign of conflict, and not competing for anything. Nice also had a lot of positive virtues that I plan to keep. It is the dark side of nice that I am working expunging from my life and habits. Instead of nice but... I want to be nice and... competitive, firm, principled. I want to fight for my right answers and if some else's right answer works better, then be gracious in defeat. In the past I have aggressively surrendered and been gracious in defeat before the other person even knew I had a different idea of how things should be done.
In the 15 years since I left high school I have learned a lot about myself and the world I live in. The most important lesson being that AND is more powerful than OR.
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