Tuesday, January 18, 2011

license to label

"Once an alcoholic, always an alcoholic." Even when they're dry. My dad, for instance, has been sober for 23+ years. Even though he doesn't drink, he identifies himself as an alcoholic because of his addiction. If I'm being completely honest with you, I'll tell you that I'm confident that if I were a drinker I'd be addicted, too . . . so am I an alcoholic?

*****

"So how is it being a single mom?" I cringe at the question. Is my husband gone a lot? Yes, he's busy. He's at work, or at church, or at school for many, many hours in the week. But I'm not a single mom, and getting sympathy, even from some well-meaning acquaintance thinking I am, is embarrassing. Because Darin comes home - from work, from school, from church, from trips - he comes home. He's not doing his second tour somewhere, and he hasn't left.

*****

A childhood friend recently shared on her blog that her son thinks (maybe because it's been six years?) that she should no longer refer to herself as a widow. "You don't count," he said. "You can't keep calling yourself a widow."

*****

"Stop saying that you struggled with infertility," read a trillion (usually anonymous) comments, "You had a baby. You weren't infertile, so stop claiming it." So, then, what was all that time? She was simply waiting for her baby? No, because she wasn't getting pregnant. What do you even call that?

*****

With which labels do you identify yourself?
Have you had labels in the past which you no longer possess?
Which labels are self-assigned, and which are determined by others?

15 comments:

Jen said...

Aren't labels so interesting and so easily fallen back on? I find that labels others give me are never ones that I would give to myself even in my most generous moods.

Vern said...

I am bulimic.

I just forget to purge.

~j. said...

Jen - Yes, easily fallen back on...I agree.

Vern - me, too!

*** I feel I need to clarify something: regarding the single mother thing -- I don't say that it's embarrassing because being a single mother is embarrassing -- i don't think that AT ALL. What's embarrassing is that the title (label) Single Mother is thrown around too casually.

Kevin & Mari said...

Vern - Lol.

J - I love your blog :) I rarely read others' blogs, but when I do I like stopping by here. :)

It's funny I have been thinking a lot about labels lately.

My dad always told me I was lazy and or a mess. He called me a "pig" on a regular basis, to my face as well as to people we knew. It's something I've forgiven him for but inside I still fight that label.

For example: I am constantly apologizing about my house/life/purse/hair/whatever being a mess even WHEN THEY AREN'T. I honestly TRY NOT TO APOLOGIZE but it's almost like I'm trying to hide from people seeing who "I really am". I work ridiculously triple hard keeping up this unnecessary facade. I can hardly ever relax without the worry someone will think I'm lazy.

It's silly really because in my head 1) I know people DON'T think that 2) if they did, who cares? and 3) I'm not lazy. Lol.

Dumbnes :)

So I'm working on letting all that bleh go. And especailly trying not to label my kids in the meantime.

And lastly, you're right about the "Single Mom" thing. I've probably said that about myself without thinking.

CKW said...

I seriously dislike the 'Utah Mormon' label. I get that there is a difference between growing up in a predominately Mormon culture as opposed to being one of a few, but the term seems to be thrown out with the implication that if you were raised here, you have less capacity to be dedicated to your faith without peer pressure.

For the record, single mom comes with it's own label as well that changes depending on who you are talking to ranging from pity to some amount of judgement that you couldn't make your marriage work. It pretty much always includes an aura of "I'm glad it's not me." Generally harmless, but still a little frustrating.

Heather of the EO said...

dude. When I let people know about my alcoholism, I thought that's all they'd think of me as, you know? And I think some people do. So I write out how I feel about that, because as much as it's true, it's also true that I'm a hundred other things. We are all so much more than just one word.

~j. said...

Mari - Thank you for sharing that. Really. That must be so hard. Some parents just don't realize the impact - the lasting, hurtful impact - their words have on their kids, even as their kids are adults. You are wonderful.

CKW - Yes, Utah Mormon. My current answer to that one is, "What's wrong with that? My kids are from Utah." And, yes, single motherhood. I take it as being something very serious, not a phrase to be thrown around lightly.

Heather - EXACTLY. These labels...how much stock do we put into them? Do we, as Jen said, fall back on them when that's the easy thing to do? When others assign them, does that make them more or less valid? We're all so, SO much more than these labels, even though some of them really do apply. And thank you for sharing your story. And thank you for the card in the mail -- absolutely brightened my day.

Holly said...

I think I'm a lot less likely to label myself now than when I was younger, but I still catch myself sometimes:

Lazy
Clumsy
Forgetful
Fat

I find myself labeling others, too. It's easier to slap a label on someone than look closely at the intricacies of their lives & personalities. However, I'm more satisfied with my relationships if I recognize that oversimplification of people often makes for shallow and unpleasant interactions.

Great post--thank you!

Holly

dalene said...

You know how I feel about labels. But I'm totally OK if someone wants to lay claim to something with which they identify. If you experience and/or endure something--whatever it is--you should be able to claim it if you want to:

my infertility

my depression

my fibromyalgia

etc.

That said, my mother has been a widow for almost 30 years. I don't think there is an expiration date on that one.

Karen Tapahe said...

I don't like the idea of being labeled, but I have learned to cope with it by wearing certain things like a badge. I'm not shy about letting people know that I can't cook and that I'm clumsy and I have connected to a lot of people that way. Sometimes if we're willing to share our own labels or traits with each other, it doesn't hurt so bad to talk about it. By being open about my bipolar disorder, I have had some great conversations and have helped people....so, bring on the labels, baby!

Emily said...

Seems it's pretty hard to escape labels--if someone isn't labeling us, we're labeling ourselves. Me? I say I'm Type A all the time. Not sure if that's a good thing or bad thing. In high school in California, "Mormon" was a label. It pretty much meant "strange, goody-two-shoes, never invited to parties." I am pretty sure I also label my kids: my oldest is the mellow one, my second oldest is the one who always pushes my buttons. Maybe the button-pusher is simply filling the role I've created for her...I'm so far from the perfect mom it's depressing!

Naomi Miles said...

I've had a label since birth: twin. I don't mind being described as a twin, or referring to my sister as my twin. Growing up however, I did hate the two of us being called 'The Twins'. I felt that people were too lazy to use our actual names and treat us as individuals. Now that we live on seperate continents that is not an issue! (But I would put up with that if we could be closer!)

Growing up I was also called 'The one with the rounder face' or 'The chubbier one' when people tried to find differences between us. Ouch. I still struggle with that one.

I also found that so much of what we did was compared. I remember one art class at school, we all had to draw the same bowl of fruit and at the end our teacher literally held our pictures up to see if we had the same drawing style, which one was best.... don't even get me started on the comparison of test results!

I'm not a fan of labels!

LKP said...

the infertility label comment you mentioned above really irks me. i am faced with garbage remarks like that all the time, since i have my daughter. i was 17 at the time she was born. she's the only one i have. she's apparently the only one i will ever have. i don't love her less. but i do ache for more of my own biological children. i ache for the opportunity to give my husband the 9 mos of prep AND the joys of seeing his own child grow and come into this world. i struggle (and yes i say struggle, because each day is exactly that: a challenge to remember to breathe and to not cry for the loss of the chance to have a baby grow beneath your heart) with what's known as secondary infertility. since my husband and i married almost 9 years ago, we've done NOTHING to stop me from becoming pregnant. not. a. thing. and still no baby. no baby = infertility. that's the deal. whether there's no children or only one child or even a couple kids followed by none....and still all organs/plumbing is still intact with nothing being done to prevent it. that. IS. infertility.
that label scalds my heart to hear, but it is my reality just like many many others.

Steph said...

mmmmm... obviously busty and bodacious.

Aubrey said...

I love when a blog can bring about an intelligent discussion. I love these comments and your post. I agree...it is easier to label someone than to get to know them.

I grew up being told I caused every problem in our family. I am lucky because I was born knowing that I had worth and they were wrong. I am at a good place now where I let the negative stuff go and try to build relationships whenever I am able. It is wonderful to not carry around the hurt.