Finding myself after 35-plus years of hiding behind a mask was frightening.
I hid because I feared if anyone saw me, they would see how unlovable I actually was. I feared if I removed the mask, I wouldn't find anything underneath.
I have been scared to share my story, but God led me to this moment. He gave me lessons, experiences and growth I never expected. He told me it was time to share, so here I stand: raw, imperfect and scared - JUST ME. No more hiding. No more secrets.
An introduction to masks
Masks have been around for centuries and have served many purposes. Historically, both Native American and African cultures used masks to lose their human identity and protect their tribes.
Party or masquerade masks serve a slightly different purpose. These masks I am most intrigued with. They are used as a barrier between the person wearing the mask and the audience, worn for the purpose of staying hidden and remaining anonymous, for creating a mysterious entrance and silent exit.
My masks, like masquerade masks, are for disguise. I have masks for just about every circumstance, and I have been collecting them for as long as I can remember.
A story about my masquerade
The first time I removed one of my masks to a stranger the air thickened, my heart raced and my chest compressed. I peeked around the side of the mask carefully. I didn't want anyone to see the real me. I was sure they wouldn't like what they saw.
What would I do if my predicitions came true and I was viewed as worthless?
My masquerading reached a pinnacle when my husband of 18 years walked out the door. I soon discovered his infidelity, drug use and addictions. I kept his secrets to myself because somewhere deep down I thought I was partially accountable: "If only I was skinnier, prettier, smarter or nicer, then he wouldn't have done this."
I layered myself under more and more masks, trying to hide from exposure.
Then, one day my masks were ripped off, torn away from me and I was forced to stand exactly as I was and face my worst fears.
Surprisingly, people tried to mask me with ugly masks that spoke untrue stories about me of both emotional and physical affairs. I tried to take them off, but these masks stuck. However, with help from a therapist, I eventually removed them. My face was as raw as my heart; neither had seen the sun for years. Most days I hurt everywhere and longed for the safety of my masks.
But I started to really see myself. I began to see all the masks were lies - whether they were the masks I created so others would see me as a good cook, homemaker or mother, or the masks others made for me painting me as a cheater, liar and horrible wife. None of the masks were real.
I began to put my masks away. I learned what others thought of me didn't define me. I had the power, without any masks at all, to be whatever I chose to be. God showed me my gifts, and he made me beautiful.
Now I define myself without masks. I am a good mom who loves my children with my whole heart. I am a good wife who tries her best to make a safe, comfortable home for my family to return to. I am a woman who has learned love, forgiveness and hope through many dark nights.
The old masks are right at my fingertips and often beckon me to use them again. There are days when it takes all of my strength to not pick up a mask and put it on. But I am strong and don't rely on my masks anymore like I used to. And I know the day will come when I am able to dispose of all of my masks completely.
A guide to help you remove your masks
If you are ready to remove your masks and find the real you, there are five tools I have found beneficial.
1. Own your story
Accept you are imperfect and remind yourself that mistakes are opportunities for learning. Part of this acceptance is also recognizing and accepting your gifts.
2. Quit listening to "should bes"
Those words imply you are not enough as you are.
3. Seek truth in all things
Learn that just because someone says something, doesn't mean it is true. Others don't get to define you; you get to define you.
4. Recognize that being authentic is uncomfortable
Practice leaning into that discomfort. Some people shy away from authenticity; regardless of how others respond, keep leaning.
5. Discover the importance of being in check with your emotions
Keep your emotions in check, but don't ignore them. When you're upset, lean into the sadness to determine what is hurting you. When you're happy, breathe in the joy and let it enter your soul.
Remember when we hide behind masks, we never really know our real selves. Do away with the hiding, and start to love yourself just the way you are.
Norma Zaugg has an MA Degree in Education from Boise State University. She is the author of rootstoholdme.com, a faith-based blog about her healing from infidelity, codependence, and divorce. website: www.rootstoholdme.com Email: rootstoholdme