How Do You Confront an Identity Crisis During a Pandemic?

2020 has prompted me to question everything.

Image by klimkin from Pixabay

No death, no doom, no anguish can arouse the surpassing despair which flows from a loss of identity.
― H.P. Lovecraft

To my family, friends, and acquaintances: please read the following at face value. It is not a cry for help, a play for sympathy, or a prompt to initiate bringing me back into the fold. It simply is a reflection upon the uncertainties I, along with many others, are feeling at this time.

Truth be told, I have been feeling tenuous for a while now. Many of the ideologies I have woven into my identity have become threadbare. The events of 2020 have prompted me to take stock of my mental wardrobe: Are my convictions valuable or vintage? Can they continue to spark joy or do they provoke dismay? Do they fit me any more?

The modern definition of identity was proposed by Erik Erikson as his fifth stage of psychosocial development. While our primary personality is established during adolescence, he postulated that our sense of self develops throughout our entire lifespan. Our “ego identity,” according to Erikson, is constantly being shaped by our interactions and experiences with others. A challenge to your ego identity can occur at any time, most likely when one experiences a major life stressor such as losing a loved one, loss of employment, confronting health issues, or experiencing a traumatic event such as — I don’t know — a global pandemic.

Developmental psychologist James Marcia further elaborated on Erikson’s theory. He proposed identity is based on the exploration of a variety of life domains including intimate relationships, religion, politics, and occupation. The status of your identity is either in crisis — “a time of upheaval where old values or choices are being reexamined” — or committed to a role within these domains.

Fear of commitment

Welcome to my 2020. Or should I say, 5150? Except my current detention is looking more like 72 weeks instead of hours — perhaps even longer.

Full disclosure: This is not my first identity crisis rodeo. That occurred a dozen years ago when I became a widow. I envision identity like a lasso — twisted of multiple strands and used to secure yourself to someone or some ideal. When I lost my role as a wife, I clung to the other fibers of my life for strength. I was able to keep the rope somewhat intact until recent events have caused it to further unravel.

The first thread to break loose was with my church. Don’t misunderstand me, my core faith is as strong as ever, if not stronger. It’s just the man-made constructs that have disappointed me. When I was initially widowed, there were the standard outpourings of support and they were much appreciated. But once the dust settled, things took a turn. Slowly, steadily, (and I’m sure unintentionally) I was isolated. No longer included in couples’ events, I was relegated to coffee meetups and the occasional ladies’ lunch. Dinner party invites became nonexistent. I looked into the widows’ support group, but at 44, I was significantly younger than the rest of the members. There was no place I felt I belonged — or noticed for that matter. I would sit in the pew by myself, missing my husband more than ever. Feeling lonelier each time, I eventually stopped attending.

The next thread tattered by disillusion was my political affiliation. A lifelong Republican and Californian, I will never forget the feeling of being 18, newly registered, and attending a local Ronald Reagan reelection rally. I was thrilled to see a sitting president in person and proud to cast my first presidential vote for a man I felt possessed honor and character.

I wish I could generate anywhere near the same feeling of admiration for our current candidate. When did buddying up with our adversaries become a GOP construct? Putting policies aside, I wish my president to be a person of integrity. I continued to be baffled by how many Christian leaders (and friends) can support him as a man of God. They somehow excuse or refuse to acknowledge his consistent name-calling and slander of opponents, mocking of the disabled and women, and utter lack of humility. This list can go on and on, but suffice it to say, I feel like I’m in an alternate universe where right is wrong and up is down.

So now I’m left, or rather, was left, with my occupation. I had finally settled into my dream career: travel event planning. COVID-19 not only unraveled that thread, it chopped it with an ax and seared the ends. I’m a 56-year-old woman with a convoluted resume looking to reinvent my career yet again. California has more than 2.5 million unemployed workers. How do you like those odds?

Compounding matters, I suffer from an autoimmune disorder that has flared and left me at limited capacity these past few months. I’m not sure if it’s safe for me to return to work, let alone be physically up for it. As an added bonus, my current medication has caused me to gain 20 pounds and completely altered my appearance. Not only do I not feel like myself, but I don’t even recognize the woman in the mirror.

Temporary Restraining Order or Stay of Execution?

Marcia would most likely conclude I am residing in the moratorium identity status: in the midst of a crisis but seeking alternative identities. Working through the explorations leads to a commitment or “identity achievement.” Major life events — such as the death of a spouse — can create instability which triggers a MAMA cycle: moratorium-achievement-moratorium-achievement. I went through such cycles when I lost my husband, working through the identities of the widow, single mother, and middle-aged single woman.

Healthy adults will go through many MAMA cycles in their lifetime. It’s the natural progression of aging and growth. Some may term these events as reaching a “new normal” or acceptance of whatever stressor has been thrown in their way. Here’s the thing: most will encounter one upheaval at a time. What’s one to do, as in my case (and I’m sure many others) when you doubt multiple affiliations (religion, politics) and experience more than one loss (occupation, health) simultaneously? When a global crisis has disrupted society so much you’re constantly on guard, wondering what tomorrow’s shit show will be.

Do we hide, locking the world away? Do we appeal to God or fate to give us more time to sort this all out and/or complete our penance? Is there a remedy for this dilemma? Or vaccine to prevent it from happening again?

At the end of my rope, but not alone

I may be feeling unstable, but I’m not the only one. 2020 has taken its toll on everyone. A recent government survey reported 41% of U.S. respondents felt symptoms of anxiety and depression, compared to just 11% in 2019. As the year drags on, uncertainty continues to litter our collective psyche. We try to discard it, but our dumpsters are overflowing.

In a Popular Science article discussing mental health and the pandemic, Dr. Mary Alvord, a psychologist in Rockville, Maryland, states:

Humans look to have a known universe. That is how we keep ourselves safe,” he says. “It’s frightening to feel out of control. Sadness, hopelessness, fear — those will wear you down.

I honestly don’t know if these statistics make me feel better or worse.

What I do know is a few strands of my rope have remained intact and will be no matter what my revised identity turns out to be: My two sons, who not only support but motivate me to keep it together. My parents and siblings, who continually encourage and assist in any way they can. And my posse — my closest friends — who are always available to provide a listening ear, words of wisdom, and a glass(who am I kidding — a bottle) of wine when needed. These are my lifelines.

Eventually, with some introspection, exploration, and a little luck, I’ll channel my inner Wonder Woman and reconstruct the lasso of my truth. Surprisingly, I have found a gentleman who doesn’t view me as frayed and fragile, but as a woman of substance and strength. He wants to join me on the journey to discover a more suitable church to grow our faith. From now on, I’ll let my conscience — not my political party — be my guide when voting. As for health and occupation, I will keep praying and hoping that good news is just around the corner.

It has to be, doesn’t it?

Into The Deep

I’ve waded through the shallows often. Colorful, glistening creatures tickled my toes and skimmed through my heart. Alluding to promises never to be granted. I’d nearly forsaken the expedition. Weary of the fleeting encounters, apparitions of affection and shipwrecked expectations. Prompted by tedium. Coaxed by kismet? I endeavored once more. Hope beckoning like the North … Continue reading Into The Deep

From Happy Hours to Sober Vacations

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Image by Engin Akyurt from Pixabay

 

How an average social drinker gave up alcohol for a week and found a community.

Whether it be through the disease of alcoholism or some other occurrence, we all are kindred spirits of past brokenness and despair — feeling out of control and forsaken. It is in the rising from ashes that we forge a strengthened renewal and realize our common humanity.


My friends and family were stunned.

“Let me get this straight. You are going to Mexico and not having one drink?”

“Yes,” I feebly explained, “It’s an alcohol-free vacation.”

“Oh, I get it. You’re staying at an all-inclusive. That means the alcohol is FREE, right?”

“True, but all the booze will be stored away while our group is there. We are completely buying out the resort to make that possible.”

“But…
Tequila.”

I just shrugged and told them I would provide a detailed account of my coping skills once I survived the ordeal.

Just your average middle-aged inebriated woman

Eight months earlier, I had taken a position with a company that created week-long travel events for those in the twelve-step community. Each winter, they would do a complete buyout of a tropical resort. Speakers, workshops, shared activities were brought in and the spirits were moved out. The cocktails that usually greeted guests would be replaced by exotic juices and smoothies. Sober alcoholics could relax in their vacations, instead of always having to be wary about what may be lurking in their food and beverages. I was about to embark on my first such event.

Although a regular local Happy Hour patron — mostly for the social aspect — I wouldn’t say I am a heavy drinker. Still, I’ll have an occasional glass of wine with dinner, and once a month, an evening could include a handful of cocktails. Like the average traveler, my alcohol consumption increases exponentially while on vacation. After all, it’s all part of the fun, isn’t it? How would I fare where such inebriation was prohibited?

El Grande

I had been helping to prepare for the “Sober Village” since I started at this position. The annual big trip of 400+ clients traditionally was held in February. Not only was it our star vacation, but it also provided the majority of our funding for the entire year. With an over 80% repeat customer rate, some clients had been traveling with us for almost three decades. It was a combination of retreat, family reunion, and tropical vacation. This year we were going to Club Med in Ixtapa, Mexico.

Truth be told, I had been fretting over how I was going to perform during this all-important week. Statements such as “You’re going to have so much fun!” were often contradicted by “You’ll never work so hard.” “Our clients are the best!” was in direct contrast to the numerous lessons on how to handle a cantankerous guest. Many of the logistical details of the week were quite vague and I knew I would be flying by the seat of my pants.

Plus, there were personal doubts: I’m not an alcoholic. I’m not sober. Would I know how to interact with clients? Would I be accepted or ostracized from the tribe?

Taking great pains

I had arranged to sleep the night before at my sister’s house as I had an 8:00 am flight and she lived fifteen minutes from LAX. My brother-in-law had graciously offered to drop me off at 6:00. I was exhilarated with anticipation and barely slept, checking and rechecking if I had my brand-new passport and other essentials, As we were making our way to the car, I slipped and whacked the back of my ankle against the step leading down to the garage.

F******€K!!!!

There was no doubt what had happened as I had just recovered from the same injury six months prior. I had re-ruptured my Achilles tendon. My right foot dangled like a broken marionette. Seeing the profound horror on my face, my brother-in-law rushed to get me an ice pack, ACE bandage, and Advil. He asked if I wanted to call and cancel my trip. Convinced I would lose my job if I did, I sucked in the excruciating pain and asked if we would still make it to the airport on time.

My head spinning like a tilt-a-whirl, I somehow made it to our meeting place. The cacophony of a major international terminal agitated my interior turmoil. Fueled by pure determination and heady with pain, I was resolute not to disclose my impairment until the last possible minute. When they finally noticed I was a bit unstable, I downplayed it, “Just twisted it again,” I lied. “Clumsy me.”

We always arrived a few days before the Sober Village start date to allow time to get things ready for the buyout of the resort. The good part was this gave me time to adjust before clients appeared; the bad was it prolonged the trip to twelve days instead of seven. My first order of business was to find the Infirmary and see what assistance could be rendered. As it turns out, I would have had better luck at a Civil War field hospital. Crutches? Non-existent. Ankle wraps? No comprendo. Pain meds? Not available nor an option. The last thing I wanted to be was loopy in front of our clients.

Each night, I crafted a makeshift ice pack from the liner of my room’s ice bucket and cubes from the bar. In the morning, I would inch my way back to the Infirmary. Shuffle and drag. Shuffle and drag. I limped along like an upright Quasimodo.

Mexican resorts don’t have ADA standards. The entire place was a labyrinth of concrete steps and patios flanked by sand. Doing his best, the nurse would wrap my ankle in gauze as thin as single-ply toilet paper, give me a handful of travel ibuprofen packs and send me on my way. They ran out of supplies on day eight, so we had to rinse and reuse the flimsy bandages from that point on.

Opening Day

There is nothing like the crush of 400 travel-weary individuals registering for an event in 12 hours. Most are exhausted, hot and hungry — wanting nothing more than their name badge, room assignment, and where to eat. But they are also jubilant — grateful to escape an East Coast winter to the warmth of a tropical location. The onslaught was almost continual save for the brief breaks between shuttle buses. My coworker, Q*, and I manned the registration table along with an independent event contractor from Mexico. Nicknamed Mama, she also served as a translator and an extra liaison with resort staff. M.A.* handled customer concerns. S.A.*, our founder, greeted the arriving guests with a smile as broad as Ricardo Montalban in Fantasy Island.

Time and time again you’d hear the gleeful cries of old friends reuniting; their joy reverberating throughout the lobby like church bells announcing a celebration. Some of the earlier arrivals would linger in the reception area, eagerly awaiting the appearance of their yearly comrades. Often, Q would burst out from her post to join in the hugs and the festivities. It seemed like everyone knew everyone else — except me. As they graciously introduced the “new gal,” I wondered if I would be able to enjoy the familiarity they shared.

Trudging along

My nonfunctional ankle prevented me from walking on the sand, let alone join in excursions, so my outings were confined to the main area of the resort. Not that there would be any time, anyway. Mornings were spent at the information desk, answering questions and putting out any fires that may arise. Afternoons were spent getting ready for the evening’s events. Guests had their choice of daily 12-step workshops, morning meetings, and the nightly big meeting — the main event of the day — along with all the amenities Club Med had to offer. This was not a 9–5 assignment, as I was representing the company from the moment I left my room until I was in for the night.

I would hobble by the pool on the way to breakfast around 7:00 am and routinely be greeted by the early rising clients. After the initial “What happened to you?” questions, I’d be peppered with queries on how was I feeling or comments about the day’s activities. These chorus of good mornings were a lovely start to a long workday, albeit not quite yet the fellowship I had hoped to find.

We had received feedback over the years that our group could be “cliquey,” causing some newcomers to feel excluded. One of my roles was to engage as many clients as possible and make them feel welcome — especially at mealtimes. Normally, this was a no-brainer for me, but I was in pain, in unfamiliar surroundings and uncertain if they would accept a “normie” (nonalcoholic). Throttling back my fear of failure, I inserted myself into tables with an extra chair. Secretly, I longed for an invitation to join. Or, even better, a saved seat.

I can’t remember the circumstances, but day three was particularly difficult. Whimpering, I crawled into bed, resigned that I was to feel lost and alone for the entire trip. As I entered the dining hall the next morning, I received not one, but two requests to join and an invitation to dinner. The week progressed from there, culminating in an impromptu escapade into town that involved a trio of women, myself included, squeezed in a dilapidated Mexican bus wearing nothing but our bathing suits and cover-ups.

Last Call

The staff always stayed an extra day to ensure most of our guests got on their way back home safely. The last morning, as I shuffled and dragged across the pool area, I had to dodge numerous children and preoccupied adults. My greeting choir had flown home. No one recognized me. Then, it dawned on me — I hadn’t missed the alcohol, but I missed my people.

Discovering common bonds in adversity

I didn’t attend any meetings the first year, as I erroneously thought it wouldn’t be my place to intrude. By the second, I understood how off-base that assumption was and began attending the nightly meetings. I would hear commentaries about the speakers throughout the week and wanted to share in my clients’ — and new friends’ — enthusiasm.

One night, midway through my third trip, we had a spitfire of an Al-Alon speaker. She spoke faster than a machine gun and I took a liking to her immediately. Interwoven with hilarity and sorrows, she told her story of how she desperately tried to manage her husband’s disease of alcoholism. If she could just prevent this situation from arising… If she could swiftly diffuse an oncoming predicament… She could make her spouse well. An absurd premise, the more control she sought, the more powerful the disease became.

Tears flooded my face as I recognized that same mania within myself when my husband was diagnosed with cancer. I micromanaged and helicopter spoused nearly every waking minute in my quest to bridle his disease. To feel safe. In the end, the only illnesses we can govern are our obsessions.

With seven sober vacations under my belt, my list of client acquaintances has bloomed into a large circle of dear friends. Q is one of my most cherished confidants. Mama is a fellow normie. We all chat via Facebook and text throughout the year.


It took three years and seven surgeries to regain the function of my ankle. My fellow brokens prayed, cried, and cheered me on throughout the entire process. They admire the battle scar that runs the length of my calf. Proof that I, like them, have persevered.

On a trip, I am now the one frequently checking the shuttle schedule, ready to burst out and delight in their embrace. To share, once again, in the joy.


*Initials used instead of names in keeping with twelve-step protocol.

This post previously appeared on
Change Becomes You | The Good Men Project | @Medium

Answering a Craigslist Ad Led Me to the Job of My Lifetime

How a random ad and a bit of kismet transformed my career

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Photo by engin akyurt on Unsplash

I had spent months perfecting my corporate interview attire: Navy sheath dress. Mid-heel black patent pumps. Black leather tote just the right size to stow spare copies of my resume and sturdy enough to stand upright beside my discreetly crossed feet. My online research had indicated that a slouchy handbag puddled on the floor would project unprofessionalism.

It never occurred to me that sheer desperation would soon prompt me to answer a small ad on Craigslist. I certainly didn’t envision that hitting send would embark me on the path to self-discovery and career fulfillment.

Not your typical job applicant

I was at the end of my rope and at the precipice of drowning in debt. Widowed eight years earlier, working full-time at this stage in my life was not part of my initial life’s plan. But, my sons were now both away at college. I had depleted what reserves I had. I needed a steady income — and a reason to get up each day.

Out of work for quite some time, I was the most unlikely candidate for every position coming across my Indeed feed. I was just recovering from a six-month stint on disability and over 50. My resume was all over the place: Public Relations straight out of college, stay-at-home-mom, part-time elementary school librarian, full- and part-time volunteer positions, and a recent stretch as a content creator. (Turns out, their particular office environment was not a good fit and partially led to my illness.) Instead of presenting a steady rise to success, my CV read like an Emergency Room EKG: Glitchy ups and downs and currently flat-lining.

A kind relative had treated me to a session with a job counselor. Since the traditional format would only highlight gaps in my experience, she suggested I create a skills resume. This style did not have to be linear but focused on my areas of expertise. She also advised treating my volunteer work skills with the same importance as those garnered from paid employment. When all was said and done, I thought my innovative document conveyed I could tackle anything presented to me.

When people would ask what type of job I was looking for, I could never give them more than a vague answer. I could only describe the feeling. “I want to work at a small company where I can make I difference,” I would attempt to explain. “It could be public relations, event planning, insurance, I don’t care. Just somewhere that appreciates my work more than just hours on a timesheet.”

And so, I applied for nearly every position that struck my fancy: Public Relations Manager — I’d carnival pitched with the best of them. Administrative Assistant — Gatekeeping? Making copies? Correspondence? I’m quite adept at multitasking. Non-Profit Volunteer Coordinator — I had just spent four years rallying troupes and raising funds for a large high school football program — I could do that one in my sleep.

I visualized myself being a star employee in any of these positions. The problem was no one was taking a liking to my sparkle.

Take a chance on me

When I realized my unconventional resume wasn’t making it past corporate filtering algorithms, I decided to take a chance on Craigslist. Nestled among the posts for telemarketers and dubious work-from-home opportunities was an ad for a Customer Service/Office Assistant position with a small, family-run company. There was a little subtle wit in the ad that told me these could be my people. The ad ended with a “Must Love Dogs” tagline, so I included a postscript in my cover letter. Written in the voice of my pup, Jenny, I assured them of my dog-friendliness and snuck it a bit of my creative writing in the process.

A boisterous Samoyed greeted me upon arrival. While attempting to avoid him, my heels scraped into the cracks of the shale path that led to the office — a converted detached garage next to the owner’s home. My straight dress was a bit snug causing me to do a little shimmy and then “plop!” into the rolling chair offered to me. Careening across the floor, I quickly regained my bearings and faced the staff of three: Founder (S.A.*), Son (M.A.*), and Assistant #1(Q*). M.A., the main interviewer, was clad in a faded millennial style t-shirt — appeared threadbare, but most likely brand new and purchased on Melrose — and shorts. The others were dressed just as casual. “No need for an office attire budget,” I noted to myself as the white beast of a dog rummaged a Luna bar out of my tote.

The meeting started with brief company history: Just over 30 years earlier, S.A. was a newly sober travel agent. He realized that most vacation spots are rife with alcohol and loads of temptation. Counting on strength in numbers, he reached out to his friends in the twelve-step community to see if they would like to join him. He had over 200 people on that first trip. By the next year, they were buying out entire resorts for a week and the company was born.

Fellowship, self-care, and fun were the hallmarks of the trips — nicknamed “Sober Villages.” The entire premise was you could have just as much joy — if not more — on a vacation without the assistance of alcohol. Their signature trips had grown so popular, they were adding additional events to their roster. Hence, the need for another assistant.

I hesitantly noted that I wasn’t “in the program,” certain it would be an immediate disqualification. They assured me it wasn’t an issue. While S.A. and Q were sober, M.A. was not. I would just be balancing the foursome.

The trio then took turns commenting upon and complimenting nearly my entire resume. It was the first time my volunteer experience was given equal weight. I was flabbergasted. There was no need to pitch how my atypical skillset could best serve their company as I had at countless other interviews. “If someone is bright and willing to learn,” Q explained, “you can teach them anything. What you can’t force is chemistry.” I knew all my random talents and bag o’ tricks could be utilized and appreciated.

Call it providence, serendipity, the universe’s plan — whatever you’d like — but there are times when things inexplicitly progress like a prewritten tale. You feel a little unsettled. You can’t quite control the narrative, but it’s oddly comforting. This was one of these times. I knew within ten minutes I wanted the position. By twenty, I knew I had pretty much nailed it. Before I even arrived home, I received the call asking when I could start.

Alchemy is the art that separates what is useful from what is not by transforming it into its ultimate matter and essence — Philippus Aureolus Paracelsus

To date, I’ve worked on four Sober Villages and several side tours. My job has allowed me to visit Mexico, Turk and Caicos, Jamaica, Italy, Greece, Croatia, France, Spain, Monte Carlo, and Hawaii. An extremely limited traveler before the position, I am now the envy of my at-home friends. “If you should ever need an assistant…” is a common request when I regale tales of my adventures.

I’ve made my mark on the company by creating a Day of Service on each of our big trips. Giving back is a pillar of the twelve-step program. The projects entail identifying a local school in need of assistance, then soliciting our guests and our host resort for donations. We have collected and distributed thousands of dollars in school supplies, water systems, and playground equipment. It all culminates in a single workday where hundreds of man-hours are devoted to repairing and beautifying the school. These days are my proudest career moments.

This position has provided the opportunity to create my personal job title: Director of Client Relations. I have been able to craft something uniquely precious — and entirely my own. I’ve been granted the gift of knowing my talents are valuable. With each trip, I have become more secure in my role and confident that this amalgam of tour operator, travel logistics, party planner, and client care was my true calling. I have discovered my artistry.

COVID Epilogue

Travel bans have placed my career in limbo and I am uncertain whether it can be resurrected. Will I be able to forge a new path? Transform yet again? With a stroke of luck and, perhaps, a bit of help from Craigslist, anything is possible.


*Initials used instead of names in keeping with twelve-step protocol.

This post previously appeared on
Change Becomes You | The Good Men Project | @Medium