50 Roads #6 – THE ROAD WHERE I CHANGED MY NAME
When my dad was dying about 7 years ago, I was sitting in his hospital room alone with him and he asked me over and held my hand while he quietly and breathlessly said . . .
“Melly, you’ve always been my free spirit, and it has always brought me so much joy to see how free you are. Please don’t ever let anyone change who you are. Keep being free, do all the things you want to do.”
I have held onto those words so fiercely. I even made a piece of art that’s hanging in our RV so I would never forget.
And then I changed my name to Freebird. That’s the name I call myself, anyway.
Names are an interesting thing. They are so meaningful but they can also be so sticky that all sorts of other meanings adhere to them and it’s hard to pull them off. I’m not so much talking about our given names. I actually love my given name. I am Melody Gae. Happy Song. I love the name my parents gave me and it is so much of who I am. I sing constantly, usually dorky songs that I make up to make menial tasks entertaining. I’m not a great singer. My voice is really soft and lots of people can’t even hear it very well. But I love to sing and I’m almost always singing when I’m alone. So . . . let it be documented that I love the name I was given at birth.
It’s the names that came after I was born that needed to be shed.
Remember that show called “Weekend at Bernies” where the uncle dies and they just keep dressing him up and rigging up gadgets to make his arms move and make him seem alive? It’s kind of gross and ridiculous, but I think we do that to ourselves sometimes. We are so hellbent on keeping things right where they are sometimes that we rig up all sorts of things to keep things alive that are past their expiration date.
There are labels that we put on ourselves and allow others to put on us. When things crumble and unravel, lots of times those old labels are revealed…along with the old packaging that suddenly feels way too small, and awkward and cut for someone else’s body.
Everything just feels ill-fitting and uncomfortable.
I remember this being part of the anger of my undoing. Waking up to myself and seeing that I was plastered with all sorts of labels. Nothing felt more important than doing whatever it would take to peel them off, scrape them off, chip them off. And then start working on the adhesive that was underneath them.
I just wanted to be unlabeled. I even wanted to be empty for a while. Like a clear glass bottle or an empty piece of paper.
The things that used to feel true didn’t feel true anymore. Things I’d always held on so tightly to shifted and disintegrated right out from under me. I would read my own labels and think….that is bull*&$^ *
Both the “good” labels and the “bad” labels. I was ready to be done with all of it. If I could have walked down the road naked, I would have. If I could have peeled my own skin off, I would have.
But in a way . . . that all started happening anyway.
I started to disintegrate.
I wrote this poem during that time . . .
By melody Ross
I am disintegrating
I’m just so tired of waiting
Can’t keep in one piece anymore
Bring on the past cremating
Bring on the detonating
Bring on the tigers let them roar
Please let the pieces fly
There’s just no time for goodbye
Let’s let this sick thing die with grace
When you disintegrate
Think what you can create
From all the dust that’s left of you
Do you know where I am
Because I don’t know
I can’t make out the landscape
Don’t know where to go
I don’t know if I exist
But this thing can’t persist
So let’s just let this whole thing go
I will rise from these flames
Even if all that remains
Is the inside of the inside of the inside of my soul
We can begin again
We can be whole again
But first…yes first….we have to let the sick parts end
I am disintegrating
I’m just so tired of waiting
Can’t keep in one piece anymore
Bring on the past cremating
Bring on the detonating
I am a Phoenix I will soar.
I have always loved birds, but I thought of myself more like a little barn swallow. I still do, actually. The barn swallow has always been my favorite bird.
But when I started to disintegrate and burn away, a different kind of bird showed up in my soul. A fierce bird. A Phoenix.
My name has been on thousand of products and books. My name was a brand for a really long time. I think sometimes our names get hijacked and suddenly we get defined by things outside of us. We could get defined by what makes us successful, by what makes us unique, by where we were born or how we grew up. We could also get defined by our mistakes, our flaws and our weaknesses.
The important thing, really, is that we decide how we will be defined on our own — because the world will define us based on the tiny fragments of us that can actually be seen at any given time.
When we don’t define ourselves, other people will gladly define us.
And sometimes those definitions feel really good and so we decide to try it on and step into them. Sometimes we are just wanting to step into it like a pair of pants to try on, but then we realize that we actually stepped on a train and the door closed and it starts moving really fast and we realize that there’s no way to get off without jumping off. Jumping off of a moving train can kill a person.
Sometimes the definition of “what it means to be a good person” is already a boiler-plate checklist that someone hands us, or that we go in search of. And then we spend, give and sacrifice deal of our life-force doing ANYTHING and EVERYTHING it takes to be able to check those boxes.
Most of us desperately want to be accepted. We want to belong, we want to fit in. We want there to be a seat for us at the table. And then we have partners and children and we want them to also belong and be accepted and to fit it. So it gets really complicated. We might think the easiest thing to do is to find that magic list of things that we have to do to be acceptable, to be invited, to be invited back, to be important and valuable.
And then we lose ourselves. And sometimes we die inside. And then sometimes we become Uncle Bernie.
It’s hard to let go of really good labels that we earned by checking those boxes, it’s hard to get rid of ANY really good labels. It’s more more PROOF that we did something amazing once.
It’s even harder to get rid of labels that come from crummy old beliefs about ourselves.
But think of yourself as an empty page or an empty bottle. What if every label you have ever had — whether you gave it to yourself or someone else gave it to you. If the next page of the story of your life was covered in a thick layer of labels, how could write the next chapter of your life? If the beautiful container that holds your soul was covered in a thick layer of labels, how could you see what’s inside of you?
Melody the wife, melody the mom, melody the artist, melody the writer, melody the entrepreneur, melody from chatterbox, melody from brave girls club, melody the brave girl, melody the failure, melody the mess, tarnished melody, ruined melody, crazy melody, selfish melody, bad melody, thrown-away, forgotten, erased . . .
Some of the labels are 100% accurate, until they aren’t. Some of them were never accurate but I stepped right into them and behaved as if they were. Some of them were so heavy with expectation that I never felt like I could ever quite measure up. Some of them were crutches and comfort and a perfect addition to the life-sized cardboard cutout of my perfect self that I often hid behind.
I went crazy a lot of days writing down all of the things I’d need to do to live in to those labels and then I did performed the most lifesaving surgical soul procedure I’ve probably ever performed on myself. I cut off all of the labels. And I burned them.
I just wanted to be free.
We work hard to get letters behind our name. We work hard for titles and names to put behind our name. But those are all just EXPERIENCES that we get to have. They are not what make us who we are.
When our old beliefs and habits are the sticky adhesive that won’t let those labels go, we have to take responsibility for how we’ve been believing ourselves right into old patterns…over and over and over. When we pull off the labels but the adhesive of old beliefs and patterns is still there, other stuff will just stick to the top of the old adhesive. There are a lot of broken people and organizations recruiting people with sticky habits and sticky beliefs, drooling at the thought of how easy it’s going to be to stick their label right where that old label was that you thought you’d gotten rid of.
And that’s the tricky part . . . that’s why we run back to things after we think we’ve overcome destructive patterns. Because the adhesive is still there.
When the adhesive is especially sticky, you have to use some pretty strong stuff to dissolve it off.
And sometimes to get rid of the label entirely, everything under it has to disintegrate and dissolve too.
It doesn’t feel good. It’s not comfortable. It’s both terrifying and humiliating to walk around naked without your labels. No one knows where to put you and you don’t even know where to tell people to put you. You don’t know what box or container you belong in.
And then suddenly . . . you get the AHA MOMENT.
“I don’t belong in a box or container.”
“I am free.
Labels get in the way of needed transformations. They keep our eyes and energy focused on what we were in the past. They trick us into thinking that what happened yesterday and last year is what needs to happen tomorrow and next year.
When I teach my courses, I often remind my students about something that I had to continuously remind myself about during this time. I still do have to remind myself of this as I’m learning to live without labels…and that lesson is this:
Our brains don’t love change, and so our bodies resist it. Our mind resists it. And it’s hard enough to change ourselves but as humans, we also don’t love when other people change. I don’t know what that is. I think it’s just fear, mostly. We fear losing them, or being left behind. We worry that they’ll change into something that will end up hurting them, or end up hurting us. It’s uncomfortable to watch someone change when you’ve been wanting to change yourself but haven’t found the strength to get started yet.
So we hold each other’s ankles down. We hold our own ankles down.
And when you make huge changes, or LIFE forces huge changes and you get stripped down to nothing more than exactly who you are…..you’ll hear things like… “Wow, you’ve changed…”
Some people say it in a supportive tone, some people say it in a criticizing tone. I always tell my students that the best thing you could say, whether it seems like someone is trying to guilt-trip you into going back to how you were or whether someone is genuinely happy for you is….
“….well thank you for noticing, it’s been a ton of work.”
Rather than defending explaining or recoiling. Rather than trying to hide your new skin or your continuing LACK of skin. Just own it. It’s actually the most natural and wonderful thing that could happen.
In a culture that often teaches us to collect collect collect, attain attain attain, gather gather gather, more more more . . . it’s a beautiful rebellious act to peel it all away and then dissolve what was holding it on underneath.
“To attain knowledge add things everyday. To attain wisdom, remove things everyday”.
So, beautiful soul,
What labels do you have layered on so thick that you don’t even know what’s underneath them anymore?
What is the adhesive of your beliefs about yourself that has gotten so sticky that other labels keep sticking onto you too?
I hope you know that today you can decide to stop being whatever you’re tired of being. You can start being something else as soon as you’re ready….or you can just be an empty vessel or a blank page for a while. When you’re ready, YOU get to decide how you’re defined and what you hold.
You are a beautiful soul no matter what. You don’t ever have to BE anything or PRODUCE anything or HOLD anything again if you don’t want to. You just being YOU is enough.
I am melody freebird. For today.
I love you no matter what your name is.
A beautiful friend once told me I had all my labels before my name, not after. I was nurse, mother, writer, archaeologist, painter, sister, friend, creator, wife, doer, BEFORE I was Kaitlin because I thought all those labels defined and validated me. At 75, I too am burning the labels, the titles, the nouns that I believed made me who I am. Now, I am just Kait. Happy, peaceful, accomplished, thoughtful, funny, kind, Kait. And that is quite enough, thank you!
Wow! You are writing my story. It’s helping me to heal little by little. So many titles to peal away from and just relax and try to enjoy one day at a time. Thanks for sharing and being transparent and helping others to heal.
Tara from Texas
11 years ago I had a life altering experience that resulted in a brain injury. Since that time I have identified as the woman with the broken brain.
Not only was that my name and identity, but also my excuse.
Thank you for giving me permission to change that name. I need to process everything some more to pick a new one.
But, in the meantime, I’ll just be Rhonda.