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August 1, 2019

Generation of lost and regained identity.

Essay

More and more I talk to my friends who, just like myself in their mid-30s, feel that the instructions to life given to us by our parents no longer can be applied to our own scenarios. The original article was published on Medium on July 31, 2019.
Dasha Dare by Anna Sukhovei

Hello, my name is Dasha Dare. I was born in the country that is no longer existent, in the city that has since changed its name. I no longer use the name written in my passport, nor do I think or dream on my native Russian language. I was an “A” student all my life, however it didn’t seem to help me acquire a house or any property. I have 2 bachelor’s degrees in business, none of which I use in my photography career. Most of my peer friends have kids and I have never been married (nor do I plan to right now). Who am I? Over the last 2 years I’ve been asking myself this question on a daily basis until I drove myself to the very edge of identity loss crisis.

More and more I talk to my friends who, just like myself in their mid-30s, feel that the instructions to life given to us by our parents no longer can be applied to our own scenarios. As a result, what we have is this inner conflict between what we were told is right and what we feel is right for us.

The explanation to this phenomenon is rather simple. In pre-internet world your family becomes #1 information channel for you. And it stays the same way until you leave the nest, become part of the society, read books and watch movies written by people raised in families with their own stories. Whatever you do is influenced by your surroundings. Generation after generation the life knowledge is passed until it comes to you in the format of “this is how you have to live, because this is how my parents taught me and I am teaching you now”. This statement comes in different shapes and forms — starting from “this is how you cook this”,” this is what you eat for breakfast”, “this is how you behave at the table”, to “we are all doctors therefore you’ll study medicine”, “this is what kind of husband or wife you need”, “this is when you should have kids”, “this is how much money you need to make in order to be happy” and the list goes on and on. Basically, what happens is that at your birth you are pre-assigned a linear life path, which you accept of course, as that’s the only choice you have. And then throughout your life while trying to meet your family’s or somebody else’s expectations you may or may not experience a slight feeling of discomfort here and there (as you were not the one making the choices in life and have you had an option of deviating from a norm, you would’ve certainly done so. But that’s not the option). You learn to suppress and block your discomfort or any pain. Some people develop self-numbing habits — such as 24 hr long work day, “disease to please”, unhealthy diet, drinking, gaming, shopping, TV watching etc. You occupy your entire being up until the point you stop feeling the feelings.

Dasha Dare, self portrait

The scenario above was true for our grandparents and parents and even for some of us in our 30s. However, thanks to the internet, modern person’s horizons have broadened to extend beyond the boundaries of a family or city, or country. Gradually over the last 10–15 years we’ve seen people travelling, reading, speaking foreign languages, trying new things and generally learning more about themselves. Thank God for the millennials and generations after who keep on showing us what the world would look like if we had the inner freedom to accept ourselves and follow our hearts. From the pages of modern day blogs and social media you see the stories of people pursuing their happiness and changing their lives, breaking family patterns and setting themselves free.

And it’s all just another story you read on the internet, until the day comes and the reality hits you. One morning you get to the office and realize that the job you worked so hard all your life to become successful at is no longer interesting and is not what you want to do, generally speaking. One night while lying in bed next to the person whom you have a family with you realize that this is not the person you want to be with till the rest of your life. One afternoon you come home to your city apartment and realize all that you want is to pack up and go to the country side. Again, the list and examples are endless.

But prior to you making the decision to either stay or leave there comes a transitional period when you acknowledge the inner discomfort, but you don’t know yet how happiness and fulfillment look like. You stand there in the middle of it all — observing all of the patterns you inherited from your family, your feelings and memories of all sorts, and your inner voice telling you to go in a completely separate direction. If you are experiencing this now, please feel my big hug right now. It’ll be over soon, I promise.

Self-portrait, Dasha Dare

To give an example from my own life, there was a point last year when I reached the weakest state as it seemed no one could help me define my identity. I would look at my reflection in the bathroom mirror every single morning trying to see the truth, trying to recognize my own self, but there was nothing in response but confusion. I remember so vividly how bursting in tears I’d ask this woman in the mirror — Who are you? Do I know you? What do you want? Can you feel anything?

With much help from my therapist, like the layers of onion skin, I started to gradually peel off the memories of myself tracing back to the time when I was the happiest. Over couple of months I was able to pin point certain memories of my dance classes when I was 5 years old, high school performances, public speaking engagements at the university, and some others. All of those memories belong to the time when I could tap into myself without thinking or judging, basically just be and feel.

This year I went to Russia with one purpose to come back to those memories and re-live them again. I stayed at the apartment where I was born. I walked the streets of the home city being very conscious of aligning my childhood memories with my present tense. I met with my childhood friends who still remember my old version of self. And in one of my meditations I was able to meet that girl who still resides somewhere deep inside of me. In my mind I was able to heal and befriend her again. That was the very start of my identity pursuit journey.

Unlike the very intuitive and wise Diane Von Furstenberg, I never knew the woman I always wanted to be. But I am now on the path to discover her.

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