My identity as a performer, dancer, and showgirl is something I have grieved repeatedly since I became sick. Unable to walk up a flight of stairs, I remembered walking up and down thousands of stairs a night, with 4 inch heels and a headdress on in Jubilee. I cried and cried in my bed, night after night, feeling like I didn’t even know who I was without performing. It’s all I ever wanted to do. It was my identity. And now what? Goodbye rhinestones.
I slowly began to realize that there were other things that I could do, such as become a Dance/Movement Therapist, which incorporated many of my interests. I began graduate school, but still felt a hole… the nagging feeling that it wasn’t the same as performing. There is always that comparison. 25 years in my performer identity, and only a couple years in grad school not yet fully owning a therapist identity didn’t outweigh each other yet.
And then an odd thing happened. I began to feel better, and stronger, and, wait … maybe I could perform again? I think that time was maybe even worse, in that it was so confusing. Like a carrot being dangled in front of my nose, while I was already moving down another path. So I thought, maybe I could go back to Vegas one day, and be a showgirl again, because now I was feeling better. The previous identity was rearing it’s head again.
And then I got sick again. Damnit! There is no way that I could rely on my body to dance through 12 shows a week again consistently for years. So, I began to grieve again. Goodbye rhinestones, and feathers, and lashes.
Was I at the mercy of my identities? Where did I get to take the responsibility to choose… but what do I choose? It seemed like there were only two options:
1. Don’t give up- be the person that goes back to their prior identity, doesn’t let things get them down, fights for it, and becomes greater at it than ever before. Plus has a physical illness… impressive! Or:
2. Brave new world- become the person who grieves, lets go, and chooses the new scarier unknown path, and shines brighter than she could have ever in her prior identity. And, PS, she did this all after an illness… also impressive!
Either or, either or, either or.
Then I got quiet enough to get out of my own way, and see what was already happening. The truth is, performing/old identity is known, this new career is not. Do I want to spend my life doing what I already do, or growing to what is unexplored and create that? And most of all, how can these maybe, actually, work together. News flash: de-compartmentalize! These are both threads (and contain many other threads) to who I am… how do I integrate them? Is there space for the past to become present again, in a whole new way? Can rhinestones live in therapy?
Seeing Jubilee I felt nothing but proud, and excited, and grateful to be part of an amazing lineage. I was reminded by someone I love dearly that no matter what I am doing in life I will always be a performer, a dancer, and showgirl. So for the first time this was not an experience filled with grief. It was an experience filled with deep reverence for the part of myself that is still me. And brought up a lot of questions around how this part of me still gets to shine, sparkle, and be in the spotlight today.
We all have parts of ourselves and our identities that seemingly die with illness or other set-backs, and we have to try to make sense of who we are now. Now that we’re not who we once were, but we aren’t someone new yet either. Instead we’re in the very uncomfortable and messy in-between. We may not get to choose what happened to us that made us sick, but we do get to choose how the threads of our past identities get to live in the present. It may be a rough road of realization, but with support, creativity, and (for me) glitter, we can “figure it out.”
So, does this feel true for you?