Lee Lee McKnight
There comes a moment in every woman’s life when she yearns to be loved for who she really is. On that day, at that moment, she will no longer be able to take part in false friendships or unhappy, unfulfilling relationships. She will only want truth.
To get to that truth, and the true love she knows she deserves, she must accept herself as-is and start living with genuine intentions and honest interactions. In essence, she must love herself so much, she can no longer hide. She must be her true self.
That time in my life came in November of 2013. After almost twenty years of struggling with depression, anxiety, negative self-worth, low self-esteem, fear of intimacy, and distrust of those around me, I was given an unexpected gift: a therapist who, at my initial consult, saw right through all of these feelings to the scared little girl behind them.
When she asked if I was willing to check into a hospital, I knew that what she was really asking was if I was ready to truly let go of all my defenses and accept myself–whoever that might be. “Yes, I’m willing,” I said. Though I didn’t fully understand it at that time, by saying Yes, I was making the choice to meet and get to know my true self.
I had decided prior to that meeting that I could no longer pull off the charade of not being myself, which was exhausting and depressing. Just prior to this consult, my husband and I had been meeting with a couple’s therapist because I wanted to leave our marriage. I’d recently had an affair and, in my state of mind at that time, felt the best thing for all involved would be for me to leave and let Mark parent our children.
You see, I’d been intellectually fed a diet of women who either negated their own needs—and by extension their true selves—OR lost their children in some way, either by not having any in the first place, by getting them taken away, or by leaving them behind. I think of Virginia Woolf, Anne Sexton, and Sylvia Plath, along with the fictional women Edna Pelletier and Emma Bovary.
In my mind, because I’d made such an egregious error in my marriage and also because I felt marriage was stifling my creativity, it made sense for me to leave. In one way or another, I was unfit to be a wife, not to mention a mother. The kids were better off without me.
Mark, on the other hand, didn’t see the logic in my reasoning. He saw a woman who was hurting, depressed, angry, and confused—a woman he loved, despite all I had done or said to him. Had he let me leave without a fight, I would not have made that appointment, would not have met that therapist, and would not have said YES to that question.
While Mark’s persistent, unconditional love was the fulcrum for change, I still had to make the choice to take some time away, focus on my wellness, and face my demons. I went into the hospital unsure of everything I knew to be true. I let all my inner defenses down, sat in a room with myself, and determined I couldn’t keep living without intimacy.
I was in a “happy” marriage and was a passionate woman but Love (with a capital L) had been missing from my life thus far. I’d had loving relationships, on the surface anyway, and a family who cared about me and supported me in the ways they knew how. I’d had a massive amount of false bravado. I’d had obsessions, cravings, longings, and passion.
Still, I had never allowed myself to know, accept, or receive true love–because I didn’t fully know myself, and therefore couldn’t love myself. Without a doubt, I was suffering from what Adrienne Rich calls “that female fatigue of suppressed anger and loss of contact with my own being.”
Going into the hospital, then, was an opportunity—not just to heal mentally, but to become intimate with my true self. I needed to get to know myself so that I could experience intimacy on a deeper, broader level—so that I could be intimate with myself and others in an authentic, intentional way.
Of course, I was wholly unaware of all of this during that time period. I was exhausted and full of shame and I was pulling a Hail Mary. I don’t even recall whether hope factored in. I remember being so tired of falsity that I couldn’t bear to be anything other than honest.
So I told them how much I was drinking. I told them I wanted to leave my children even though the thought of that made me extremely depressed. And I told them I was anxious, about everything, constantly.
Until that time, I had never connected these things: my depression, my drinking, my disinterest in parenting, and my worries about the future. I hadn’t identified as someone who self-medicated with alcohol and I hadn’t ever seen myself as an “anxious” person.
Getting to know myself meant accepting these various parts of myself and acknowledging how they were interrelated. I wasn’t a failure at motherhood and marriage; I was a depressed, anxious person who masked her true feelings in the only way she knew how: drinking and hiding.
I decided a lot of things during the time I spent in the hospital, the most important being that, while these diseases were a part of my core self, I was no longer willing to let them overshadow the other parts of my identity. I was also creative, persistent, and strong. Rather than give in to my mental weaknesses, I chose to accept them and work alongside them.
When you leave avoidance behind, a strategy becomes critical. I had been living in fight or flight mode for so long and was smart enough to know I was going to need help. Some things I added to my toolkit at that time were medication, outpatient therapy, 10-minute check-ins with my husband, and moderation.
After about a week of being monitored constantly, I was ready to leave the cocoon of inpatient care. Outwardly, I probably looked as crazy coming out as I had going in. I was a bundle of nerves when my family picked me up. What, really, was different? Can a person even change that much in just one week?
There was a long road ahead. I knew it and, blessedly, my family knew it too. The change that I had gone through was one of trusting myself to figure things out. I had met with my core self in a one-on-one setting. I had dared her to reveal her true colors. And I had matched her feeling for feeling.
Knowledge led to bravery. Bravery led to hope. Hope led to the pursuit of truth. Truth led to intimacy. And intimacy—or the desire for intimacy—led me to begin again. With pure self-love and the newfound desire to know and love others, I found my way back to where I belonged: home.
Lee Lee McKnight
Lee Lee McKnight is the publisher of The Perpetual You magazine and co-host of the podcast Mama Now Conversations. She lives in Hamden, CT with her saintly hubs, two uber-creative kids, and two cozy cats. If ever you’re in the area, she invites you stop by for a cup of coffee and a chat.