We begin to wear a label at birth. Before birth, actually, if an ultrasound reveals our gender.
Our first label determines what colour clothing our parents buy for us, whether or not we play with dolls or trucks, whether we play football or take high tea with stuffed animals, you get the idea.
Then there’s school.
Gifted. Not gifted.
Let’s not forget all the labels leveled upon us by our well-meaning and not-so-well-meaning classmates.
Slut. Four-eyes. Dork. Dweeb. Jerk. Moron. Faggot. Fat. Ugly. Cheater. Bastard.
Gorgeous. Wonderful. Fabulous. Bright. Intelligent. Honest. Promising. Compassionate.
We, as humans, crave labels. It’s what helps our world make sense.
Girl. Sister. Woman. Girlfriend. Fiance. Wife. Ex-Wife. Aunt. Artist. Writer. Mental Health Advocate. Multiple episode PPD Survivor. Christian. Music fanatic. Bacon fanatic. Football fanatic. F1 Fanatic. MotoGP Fanatic.
The above labels have described me, somewhat, at various points in my life. Sure, there are several other labels I’ve worn over the years but I choose not to claim them anymore. Some labels just never felt completely comfortable yet they were tossed in my direction anyway, and I was forced to wear them, much like Ralphie was forced to wear that horrendous Pink Rabbit costume in A Christmas Story.
One of the biggest labels tossed my way was that of “Co-dependent.” It jumped in my lap at my first meeting with my ex-husband at our Recovery group. He’d just admitted to an narcotics addiction and we were scrambling to save our marriage. According to the Recovery group we chose, any spouse of a recovering addict is automatically a “co-dependent.”
It felt like a wool sweater, to be honest. Itchy, uncomfortable, and impossible to ignore even once the fabric was removed from my skin.
Had I really become a co-dependent? Is that what my life had been reduced to while I wasn’t watching? How could I be a co-dependent when, in all honesty, I truly had NO IDEA the extent of his use? Was I still responsible for his behaviour? Had I enabled it? Condoned it? How could I have enabled or condoned it if I was unaware? Did his lack of control truly feed a need within me to be the “strong” and “responsible” one?
Yet, there I sat. In a single group of combined women, addicts and “recovering” co-dependents, forced to introduce myself as a “grateful believer in Jesus Christ and a recovering co-dependent” if I chose to speak at a meeting.
I cringed EVERY TIME I SPOKE THOSE WORDS, “Recovering co-dependent.” Denial? Maybe.
Maybe I was co-dependent and so far gone the label was like dunking my head in cold water, thus explaining the uncomfortable nature of even discussing the possibility.
But, I think, what bothered me, was that without even knowing my story, without hearing anything about how we landed in group, I had a label affixed to my soul, a label I then felt forced to use for the remainder of my time there.
What if, what if we refused to label others without hearing their story first? What if, even then, after hearing their story, we still refused to label others and instead allowed them to choose their own labels? Eventually we grow up and are able to dress ourselves, right? Why can’t we also label ourselves if we so choose?
People with mental illness are not crazy. They’re simply people who face more daily challenges than the rest of us.
People with cancer or any other illness/physical ailment? The same.
Your skin colour is different than mine? You’re still a person, right?
Gay? Still a person.
A bigot? Still a person.
Buddhist? Still a person.
Christian? Still a person.
Muslim? Still a person.
Breastfeed? Still a person.
Formula feed? Still a person.
Parent? STILL A PERSON.
Not a parent? STILL A PERSON.
People are people.
We are not our gender, our sexual preference, our colour, our experiences, our talents, our gifts, our illnesses. WE.ARE.PEOPLE.
You are me and I am you.
End of story.
My goal is not only to live…but to do so unlabeled.
I dare you to do the same.