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I Don't Know Who I Am – Starting Over, 02-24-05

by LauraBelle

What brings many of the women to the Starting Over house is questioning who they really are. Vanessa, Bethany and Renee are all young girls that know who they were as children, but aren’t real sure now that they have a choice, who they want to be as adults.

Vanessa and Candy are lying in their beds talking, and Vanessa says she has realized she really didn’t want to do the Olympic trials, and that’s why it became so stressful to her. Candy asks why she feels so bad if she really didn’t want to do it. She made a conscious decision not to continue it, and now that she’s not, it should be okay. Candy also counsels that she couldn’t have stopped doing it any other way. No one ever taught Vanessa how to handle all that pressure when she was so young.

Vanessa realizes it could have been worse; she witnessed a Chinese gymnast land on her neck, making her paralyzed for the rest of her life. Candy tells her with great fame comes great future, and asks if Vanessa has ever considered writing a book to help other young gymnasts deal with those unspoken pressures. Candy was told not to take care of her young roommate, and well … you can’t take the mother out of the mom.

Renee meets with Dr. Stan and the neuropsychologist to get her learning disability test results. The neuropsychologist reveals that with visual tasks Renee does quite well. Renee admits to always seeing herself as visually creative. On goal-oriented tasks things get difficult for her. This came into play as she got older as it affected her working memory. Dr. Stan and Renee agree to ask Renee’s mom for more information during her visit later this day.

Dr. Stan meets with Bethany back in his office for another hypnosis session. I still can’t help but think of junior high slumber parties as Dr. Stan slips into all the colloquial hypnosis terms such as Bethany’s eyelids are getting heavier and her body is becoming relaxed. Dr. Stan tries to get her to recall a number of things such as softball and recess, but it isn’t coming as easily as it did the other day. Trying to recall second grade, she only remembers playing in the woods at night with her brother, Caleb.

Where is Jessica, Dr. Stan wants to know. Bethany remembers that her sister is playing dress up, and remembers Jessica was a ballerina, Bethany was a bride and laughs hysterically remembering that they forced Caleb to be a bridesmaid. She remembers her mom taking pictures of it. Bethany’s mind begins to shut down again, and Dr. Stan brings her out of her hypnotic state, convinced even more her amnesia was caused by a traumatic experience. Me too, Dr. Stan.

Back at the house, Renee and Iyanla meet and discuss Renee’s mom visiting this day. Renee admits to feeling nauseous and holding a lot of anxiety. Renee plans to talk to her mom about when she had been molested by her neighbor. It makes her feel dirty and icky. She also plans to ask about her newfound learning disability and apologize for being disrespectful and selfish. Iyanla tells Renee that “to take the teeth out of something you have to lay it all out on the table.” I just love Iyanla’s sayings. I even find myself repeating them.

Dr. Stan is all over the place today, now showing up at the house to lead Group. Seeing Vanessa sitting in Denise’s place, Dr. Stan says, “Denise, you’ve changed!” Making us miss Denise even more, of course, as she would have had a great response for that. Dr. Stan is actually here to talk about rejection. He asks the women to recall the one rejection they have had in their life that they just couldn’t get over.

Cassie remembers a relationship she had when she was fourteen that has taken her twenty-five years to undo to make her feel okay about it. Rachael isn’t thinking of romantic relationships, but instead the one she has with her Aunt Cece, who she feels a deep rejection from, not being allowed to spend time with her on birthdays, Christmases and many years spent totally apart. Candy thinks instead of a rejection by just one person, of a rejection by all people and what she perceives them to be thinking of her. The real issues here is obviously how she sees herself, she is told, and she agrees.

Bethany isn’t open enough to anyone to be rejected. Asked if she was aware of that, she says not until now. Dr. Stan believes that is why she has cocooned herself up with people that adore her. She doesn’t have to worry about being rejected. Even after the kissing booth the day before, she still thinks there won’t be anyone else that will want to kiss her again. It brings out every empathetic bone in my body when she says things like this. When bringing up the three hot soap stars that kiss her the day before doesn’t help, Cassie suggests she’ll need to kiss one-hundred guys before she finds the right one, but at the end she’ll find success with it.

Vanessa knows her rejections come from how people perceive her. She believes she is chameleon-like, becoming the many different people she is expected to be by others. The reason why she does this is she doesn’t know who the real Vanessa is. Dr. Stan tells her when you are clear about who you are, it’s your best defense against being rejected.

After Group, Renee’s mom, Suzanne, arrives to spend the day. She admits to feeling a little uncomfortable at first, and Iyanla tries to reassure her by telling Suzanne she is glad she came. Yet, she also warns she’ll experience Renee differently today than when she was at home.

Dr. Stan has his first one-on-one with Vanessa. My, he’s busy today. He asks her why she is at the Starting Over house, and she says to find a new identity other than Vanessa the gymnast. All she knew from the time she was five to eighteen was one goal, to make it to the Olympics. She liked it because it was something to reach for, she liked working hard, she felt special and she liked the feedback.

Vanessa is asked by Dr. Stan if that was her dream or someone else’s. She admits that this is why she is confused, and why she believes she sabotaged herself at the Olympic trials. She felt stuck. She sabotaged it by eating unhealthy, as she needed comfort and the food brought that to her. Her pressure started a few years before with offers for books and commercials.

Vanessa wants to leave the Starting Over house feeling okay with her past and having a better relationship with her family. She would like to not care what others think so much. Dr. Stan wonders how depressed her family is for themselves or if they’re really just depressed for Vanessa. He tells her she is not responsible for their disappointment. If she shattered their dreams, that’s their problem. Asked what she would like to do instead, she would love to perform some way still, such as dancing. She wants to be a choreographer like Paula Abdul.

Renee thinks her mom looks like a deer in headlights, but proceeds to jump right into it and brings up being molested by the neighbor when she was seven or eight. She remembers vaguely telling Suzanne about it, and Suzanne not believing her. Renee says she felt very abandoned.

Suzanne says she doesn’t remember that at all. Renee brings up how she was left to be babysat by him, and Suzanne just can’t recall any of it. She does mention, though, that this man was a prominent member in his church, and urges Renee to remember how he died. He committed suicide. They all realize perhaps his desires to be with young girls led him to that.

Suzanne does feel bad she wasn’t able to help Renee back then, but insists she doesn’t remember, and it’s hard for her to believe she didn’t believe Renee when she was told. It suggests that it was a communication problem, and Iyanla says it really doesn’t matter now. As an adult child that feels not all the things my parents did were the right thing, I understand this. As a parent of two children, and knowing I don’t always do the right thing as a parent, I understand this even more. Renee admits to feeling shame and ickiness now because of her experience, and Suzanne chastises her some, saying Renee must know that Suzanne wouldn’t have put up with that for even five minutes.

Next, Renee brings up her brother, Reggie’s abuse of her, both physical and emotional. Renee says her mom allowed that to happen hurt her. She tells Suzanne today it wasn’t all puppy dogs and ice cream. Suzanne defends herself, saying she was raising two kids by herself after the divorce and worked forty hours a week. She always grounded Reggie, but it just didn’t stop the behavior. She had to choose her battles and couldn’t do it all alone. Still, all Renee hears is Suzanne defending Reggie.

Iyanla senses Suzanne withdrawing and tells her how it happened doesn’t matter, all that matters now is that Renee grew up feeling abandoned. Suzanne brings up the divorce and says she knows it was a concept Renee and Reggie wouldn’t understand, and she didn’t want to badmouth their dad. Renee’s learning disability is discussed at this point, as this is more than likely the reason she couldn’t understand. Suzanne says the teachers never mentioned a disability, and she assumed they were correct in their other assessments of Renee.

Upon Iyanla’s urging, Suzanne tells how she feels. She tells Renee she is so much like her dad, yet she completely shut him down, and would get mad at Suzanne when she would try to make her understand. Renee admits to blaming him for spending her college money as the reason she didn’t go to college, instead of the fact that she felt she wasn’t smart enough.

Next, Iyanla urges Renee and her mother to make requests of each other on how they would like the relationship to improve. Suzanne asks to be treated as a mom, not a checkbook. She tells Renee she gets upset, calls and expects a solution right away. Renee says she appreciates Suzanne coming and sharing. She just wants her mom to hear and listen, and says she loves her. Suzanne cries for the first time and says Renee was always her baby.

Iyanla asks if all the cooties are out, and is halfheartedly assured they are. She asks them to list some things they appreciate about each other. Renee appreciates her mother’s beauty, intelligence, love, independence, that she takes care of Renee’s dog, and that she is there for her. Suzanne appreciates Renee’s humor, independence, thinks coming to the Starting Over house was brave, and appreciates her love. Renee and Suzanne hug to end their fierce conversation.

All these women are just searching for who they are, post-amnesia, post-failure, post-confusion. Even looking at the other women the formula still doesn’t stray much. Candy is looking for a feminine identity away from parenting and working, Rachael is looking for who her dad is, so in essence herself, and Cassie is searching for who she is with or without her son, and as a reformed alcoholic. That’s what Starting Over is; it’s discovering who you really are and having the courage to take those necessary steps.

I welcome all questions and comments at Laurabelle@realityshack.com

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