003: “I Am A Beacon” by Angela DiMarco
It has taken a long time to figure out who I truly am. In my early childhood, maybe before 8 years old, I remember feeling content, happy, special. My imagination made it so I was never really lonely, even though I was usually alone, as I was the only child in the extended family for some time. I loved taking care of my baby doll Marie, wandering around the block (never crossing the street of course) with the doll carriage or my Red Flyer wagon collecting treasures. I had a box of dress-up clothes in my grandparents’ basement, and I loved to color and draw. I believed I was loved and felt special for being the only child around. I was the most innocent, most content version of myself back then.
What I understand in hindsight is that my being alone all the time wasn’t exactly meeting my basic needs of feeling safe in a structured environment. I don’t recall ever having a concrete bedtime nor getting in trouble unless I made a mess. By the time I was 8, my mom was on her third marriage, and I was simply carted around, getting used to one new home after another. My dad told me that he slapped me only one time when I yelled that I didn’t love him. I think I was three and learned that it was not whatever behavior I did that warranted the slap, it was my expressing feelings the best way I knew how, so I learned to keep my feelings to myself for fear of repercussions.
As I entered early adolescence, my feelings about myself shifted. I became self-conscious and insecure. In 6th grade, there was an end-of-the-year pool party, and I remember wearing a polo shirt because I didn’t feel comfortable in just my bathing suit, jealous of all the girls who dared wear tankinis and swim so seemingly carefree. I was made fun of by a bunch of girls throughout elementary school for having a big nose, which only exacerbated my insecurities. I stopped all imaginary play and started mimicking those who I thought were ‘cool’ thus initiating my illustrious career as a chameleon.
There was one experience I can recall during that time where I felt most like me, and that was with my 5th grade class and our Tony Award-winning (not really) rendition of Fiddler on the Roof. My beloved teacher Mr. DeFina thought that I could sing and gave me one of the secondary lead roles as Hodel, who had an entire song to herself. Picture me, this shy, insecure girl with a big roman nose sitting on a tiny bench with the cutest boy in school practicing this role for months and loving every second of it! The fear of actually singing in front of people wasn’t strong enough to deter me from not doing it, unlike my not swimming at a pool party as previously mentioned. Yes, I was nervous, but I still loved it! I was in my element, being creative, using my imagination and singing, which made my heart do flip flops! The night of the performance, my whole family was there. My aunt later told me that before I started singing, they all started to sink in their seats worried that I would be terrible (thanks for the support, guys), but as I belted out my song, they rose in their seats and proudly announced that I was their kid. Despite their inability to believe in me, THIS experience launched my truly fulfilling career as a creative.
I do have to tell a little side story about Mr. DeFina. He was my most memorable teacher, one who was larger than life. He was very theatrical, too. If any of us went up to his desk and said something to the effect of, “But Mr. DeFina, that’s not fair!” he would dramatically reply, “Do you see that invisible sign on the wall over there? It says, ‘LIFE is NOT FAIR!’” Tough love that many of us, myself especially, needed to hear.
Once I hit my teenage years and well into my twenties, I became (what I believed to be) the life of the party. I drank a lot, proud that I could win chugging contests against the football team. I liked what my friends liked (even if I really didn’t), and I didn’t like what they didn’t like (even if I really did.) Their comfort was more important than my own. Their opinions were the right ones. Their lives were better than mine. I can’t recall how many of their parents I called Mom or Dad. I had no supervision and no real consequences if I broke a loose curfew. I was a child living without a safety net, but I didn’t know any better, so I continued to assume the roles of my friends, thinking if I acted like them, they would let me continue to spend time in their (seemingly) ideal lives. I lost sight of who I was completely — so far from that little girl who loved her baby doll Marie and who collected wildflowers and left little bouquets on the neighbor’s doorstep.
The coping mechanisms that I developed during those formative years carried well into my 30’s, progressively pushing me deeper down the rabbit hole. Don’t get me wrong, along the way through cracks in the armor, I discovered things about myself that truly brought me joy, such as a great career as a Creative Director in advertising, writing and playing music with my brother, becoming a mom (that was the biggest crack that split the armor right in half!) However, everything was laced with insecurities, doubts, fears — ”I’m not good enough. I am not talented enough. I’m a shit friend. I don’t do enough for everyone. I am not worthy of any compliments — people are wrong about me when they give them. My marriage sucks, but I am not worthy of a better man. I have to work hard for people to like me. Why can’t I have just one real friend?”
I got sober when I was 35 years old. In the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous, we tend to meet newcomers once they’ve hit ‘rock bottom’. My bottom started at 32 years old and lasted almost 4 years, but since that was the bottom, the only way to go from there was up, right? Overcoming the shame and guilt of living a less than desirable lifestyle for nearly 20 years was the start of my journey to my next act, which evolved into my being a beacon of hope for all those who are heading down their own rabbit holes or are maybe on the climb out.
In almost all AA meetings around the world, speakers tell their story of how they got sober to provide hope for the newcomer. I loved being asked to speak! It wasn’t like an honor thing, it was more like a “Oh shit, our speaker didn’t show up, can you step up to the plate tonight?” (Heck yeah!) I loved telling MY story in front of 10, 30 even 100 people. I had found my voice and at that time, my people. It was the first time since my early childhood that I felt like I wasn’t playing a role anymore. Every time I shared my experiences (with all the details), there was always one or two people who were inspired by my stories, and that my friends was the spark that brought me to where I am today as the Founder of FindUniquelyU.com. If I could help one person just for authentically sharing my experiences and provide support and hope, then imagine what the world would be like if we all did that for one another!
Over the past 13 years since I first got sober, my life has been a constant whirlwind of amazing experiences all because I’ve stepped into who I truly am, who I was when I was a young child. I have learned which things light me up from the inside (my husband and kids, my beautiful home, running this business and meeting inspiring, amazing people on the daily, my friendships, my garden, Pearl Jam!!), and I know how sweet it is to be around such positivity (that good, good love energy!) Joy is contagious, isn’t it!
So, while I still have regressive behavioral patterns pop up on the regular, they are more like gnats than cobras ready to strike, or like rain when I had planned to go to the beach versus a tsunami — annoying enough to cause me to look at them and work on them so they don’t become drastically soul-damaging. And I know (because Dana reminds me on the daily) that the cobra or tsunami are inevitable if I don’t pay attention to the gnats and rain.
I will continue to authentically tell my story to anyone who wants to hear it because it feels good to help others by sharing my experiences. I know I am a beacon because I first provide hope and direction to all those who may be lost at sea. I am here to guide those of you who are ready to find your sturdy shoreline, where you can finally cut off the anchors that have held you back through the support of a friend who only has your best interest and happiness at heart. And once your sea legs are no longer wobbly, you can build your lighthouse right next to mine and become the beacon you were meant to be too, and our lights combined will reach farther and bring more people to shore who will build their own lighthouses and on and on we will go until our shoreline is so bright it’ll be as if the sun resides on the earth’s surface.
Are you ready? Let’s light it up like a MF!! 🙂