“Only a few find the way, some don’t recognize it when they do — some…don’t ever want to.” ~Cheshire Cat
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll’s famous novel, reminds me of my experience in life. No. I’ve never met a grinning Cheshire Cat, although I would like to. I do, however, know how it feels to be disoriented, awkward, and entirely uncomfortable in my skin like Alice was. It’s how I’ve lived most of my life. Alice, as you may recall, drank some potion and shrunk her way into Wonderland and then ate some cake and grew so big she didn’t fit there anymore. In my case, someone I cared about would criticize my physical appearance, personal tastes or beliefs, or general demeanor, and I drank it in and got small. I began tiptoeing through my life, lest I be stepped on by larger creatures who appeared to have their lives together. What if I said or did something that proved how intolerable and unlovable I was? Other times, someone would acknowledge the good in me and I would greedily ingest it. Feeling bigger than usual, I would dare to be my true self with others, only to leave the interaction feeling I had occupied too much space. What if I’d bored them by talking too much while saying nothing interesting? Defeated, I would shrink again, caught in the same relentless pattern. One step forward, two steps back, slogging my way through my life, feeling forever out of place like Alice.
Somewhere deep inside, though, I knew the premise that I was the only scratch-and-dent model around was ridiculous. Maybe others were just better at displaying themselves in a way that minimized their flaws? Maybe they’d already worked on their parts so they were left with just a few scratches? I wanted to believe I was and I am fine as is. No adjustments necessary. Sure. Some people might wish I would speak out and stand up for myself more or just stop whining about feeling invisible. Other people might wish I would sit down and shut up so someone else could get a word in. But none of that was ever a me problem. Other’s opinions of me are none of my business, and shrinking myself to avoid judgment is not what I am here to do. I’m here to live my life and to be true to myself, no matter how many dings I’ve got. To achieve this, I going to have to leave my Alice analogy and walk myself into a different story, one I haven’t even considered occupying before.
After all, I’ve been Alice. I ate the cake and drank the potion. I became bigger and smaller to fit other’s narratives. What if, instead of being Alice, I take a shot at being Goldilocks? I can decide what to eat and in what type of chair to eat it. Maybe I will conclude I like my porridge cold because it’s basically overnight oats? Being Goldilocks and boldly choosing what I want in my life might move me quite a few steps toward Zero Fucks Given Road. It’s exhausting not being authentic, though, and I am tired of making slow progress toward self-acceptance. It’s time to practice wild and radical self-love. I can’t be Alice or Goldilocks. I can only be me. Yes. I am talkative. I can be defensive. I overthink everything. (Ask me how many times I pack and unpack and repack a suitcase before a trip only to end up with more than I need but nothing I want.) But, I am also curious, adventurous, determined, clever, and a little feisty, in the fun way. It’s what I am, the good and the bad, different and yet the same as every other human on the planet. So I will stop spending time with those who treat me as a tedious chore to be endured or a spouting fire hydrant to be capped. I will quit editing myself to fit into other people’s narratives. If I’m not Alice and I’m not Goldilocks, it’s about time I become my own protagonist.
“Damn. Somebody ate my porridge all up.” ~Baby Bear (probably)