As a person with a disability, as one has repeatedly redefined my identity in response to trauma and learned experience… as someone who is Native American but also multiracial… I have spent much of my life defining myself through statements about what I am not. I have written about this struggle. It is easier to describe the negative space around me than it is to willingly take up the space in the foreground of my own story.
I recently participated in the Identity Project, which is a community identity project designed and facilitated by teaching artist Amanda Roche. One of the most impactful aspects of the program was the “I Am” statements she led us through. We described aspects of who we are and our community reflected those statements back to us. I stated that I am a visionary, I am compassionate, and I am strong. And my community reflected that back to me: you are a visionary, you are compassionate, and you are strong. I did not expect this to affect me so deeply. But the simplicity of the exercise is what made it so meaningful—I immediately received affirmation of my statements of identity.
Waiting for Permission to Begin
Though I have changed what I state I believe many times in my life, I have yet to give myself permission to live the full truth of who I am. I am not entirely certain why I have spent so much of my life waiting for sanction or approval to own my identity from others, though it likely has something to do with growing up in a highly authoritarian religious environment. But whether I receive affirmation about claiming my identity or not, this is the only life I have to live. This work must become a part of my daily practice until it’s a natural expression.
So I’m continuing this work today. I am not defined by what I am not. While it is factual that I am not able-bodied, that I am not entirely one ethnic or racial identity, that my faith is not easily described in one tradition or doctrine… these statements on their own do not convey the truth of who I am. I am is a simple and powerful statement to claim daily even as I struggle to understand who I am. Like all things, I get to begin as a beginner, and I don’t need to wait to do this until I can do so perfectly.
I cannot, I will not continue to live in the shadows of my own story.
Here are my I am statements for today:
I am a valuable member of my community.
I am pursuing wisdom.
I am a thinker.
I am willing to learn.
I am strong.
I am creative.
I am a leader.
I am a mother.
I am spiritual.
I am curious.
I am a writer.
I am a writer.