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Peeling Back the Onion

I'm sure, like me, you've heard this phrase. I've been trying to figure out what best describes this journey I've been on the past year or so, and I think this phrase accurately captures all the elements. The process feels raw. Some of it has made me cry, some of it stinks, and yet, the whole process has revealed the best inner parts of me that were long tucked away under all those layers that have accumulated as I've lived these 49+ years, and I happen to believe that like an onion, while I'm not for everyone, for those who like me and "see" me, I bring a lot of flavor to the table.


I'm not where I thought I'd be in life, by any means, at least personally. The peeling of the onion has taken place consistently, steadily, and painfully over the past 10 years. The catalyst - my mom passing away. Now, here I am, 10 years later, and I am a totally different person. Or maybe just a person who is beginning to understand myself and see myself in a new way. Not as just a mom, a daughter, a professional, a wife, a friend - but as the person I was before all those layers started getting added to my persona. The Steph that liked to go to big cities, who almost moved to DC at 20 even though I'd hardly ever left Kentucky, the artist, the goofball, the lifelong learner, the staunch advocate for all those who need our support and love the most - that is who Steph is - along with all those other titles or labels.


This past year has been a particularly tough one. I never planned on getting divorced once - who the hell does - and I certainly never planned on getting divorced twice. I feel marginally better given I fall into the approximately 65% or more of second marriages that ultimately fail. I was in the 50% the first time around, so I guess it stands to reason that we're not all destined to beat the odds. I'm trying to get over the fact that it isn't exactly something you want to share with people, as I'm particularly skilled at guessing all the things they might think about me as a result. "Wow, she must be a really bad picker," or, "OMG, something must be wrong with her, or she must be a LOT to live with." I can't control what other people think and it's none of my business. What I will say, is unlike many, thanks to my commitment to therapy, I can look back and see exactly how I got here, and THAT is one of the many gifts that therapy brings.


I'm also incredibly fortunate in that both of my marriages have brought wonderful people, moments, and memories into my life, and I refuse to consider any relationship a "failure." I've been blessed to have two amazing men in my life for a combined 25 years. I don't consider that a failure, but rather a journey resulting in growth and enlightenment. I'm grateful that I can still consider both of them friends. So no, I'm not a "bad picker." Like everyone, I have blind spots as a result of my upbringing, my own specific wiring, and a multitude of other contributing factors.


I don't even know that I think marriage is a reasonable concept in 2023. Maybe that will shock some, offend others, make others scratch me off their "maybe I should ask her out" list (not that I think there is anyone with me on a list, but let's just pretend for a moment) - but I truly think those who are lucky enough to find long-lasting love, that is mostly happy with its normal ups and downs, are simply that - lucky. And, they must both be truly willing to work at it, grow together, and be invested in their own and each other's development, self-growth and mental well-being.


Now here I am, 10 years after Mom died, and my life is nothing like what I thought it would be at this point. Specifically, I've focused intensely on my personal core values as of late. Those values are the guiding light, the road map, the elements that truly make me who I am - and what I've found is, I've been compromising those values for a long time, and I'm no longer willing to do so. Whether it's work, marriage, friendship, romantic interests - my values are the roots that bind me to others, or separate me when they don't align. It doesn't mean those with different values are wrong or bad, and they shouldn't be compromising their values, either. In any relationship, where values are being compromised, the relationship is destined to fall apart.


The other thing that has become apparent to me is the many ways in which I've been robbed of understanding myself as a woman, as an executive, and as a neurodivergent individual. Those layers of the onion I'm peeling back have shown me that so many of the things with which I've struggled throughout my life have had one very clear common denominator - and that is ADHD. The number of doctor visits, self-shaming, thinking I'm clearly just not able to "keep it together" like everyone else - now that I have stopped long enough to understand that just like my kids, who I've advocated for almost their entire lives due to their diagnoses, I have the challenge of possessing a brain that is dysregulated. It doesn't process or manage information the same, my brain is almost never, ever quiet. Whether it is the endless flurry of ideas for projects, aspirations, ideas, or the words like, "You're so stupid. How could have you forgotten that, AGAIN," or "Why can't you just FOCUS," or "You're just too much for everyone....." the brain never sits idle. Learning to navigate those voices, turning them off as necessary, is almost a full-time job, on top of a full-time job. The other side of that coin is - I'm freaking FUN, I am creative, I have great solutions to problems, and when I'm not in what my BFF and I refer to as "our cocoon," blocking out the world due to exhaustion, I'm taking names and getting shit done!


I've also learned that I'm reactive in a big way to things that compromise my core values or behavioral standards in part because of my ADHD, and in part because I inherited some fairly, shall we say, "assertive" genes. A psychologist explained to me that ADHD is not just about "not paying attention, or being hyper," but also results in everything about your brain existing on a spectrum - including emotions. When she explained this, I actually felt a deep sense of grief. When you've been victim of gaslighting by multiple individuals throughout your life, only to be told that you aren't "too much," but rather your brain simply feels things in a big way, it's equally validating and devastating.


So, while I hate that it has taken this long for me to figure these things out on my own, versus anyone in the medical profession identifying this long ago, I feel grateful to understand myself in a more compassionate way by peeling back these layers. Those who don't want to be along for that ride, or who have no interest in supporting me, can go on their way, including family. Relation via blood doesn't equate to my willingness to be hurt repeatedly. It doesn't mean I'm willing to be repeatedly exposed to gaslighting and narcissistic behavior as my "reward" for trying to have a relationship.


I guess much of this can be summed up by sharing that when I think about my life today, I do so with the perspective that my mom died when she was 60. I will be 50 in December. I feel a sense of urgency when I think, "If Mom had known she only had 10 years left, and only eight of them healthy, what would she have done differently?" While clearly I don't know my fate or how much time I have left, it certainly gives me a different perspective on how I spend whatever time I have left on this earth. My goal is to spend it continuing to learn about every layer of myself, letting my core values lead me on my journey, and doing it all with those who "get me," and support me, and I'm incredibly lucky to have several of those folks in my life today. Here's to the journey!


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