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Who Are You Without Your Roles?

My split has left me feeling much like this flower in the midst of a vast green field – totally sticking out, totally out of place, totally alone.

Approximately four months ago, my longtime love of 15 years and I finally parted ways. It was a good decision – one I still feel is the most loving for all concerned.

(And by “all,” I mean me and him of course, but also the handful of intensely long-suffering and devoted family, mentors and friends who have kept the bucket brigade going during the many long and difficult years of our connection….and even now into its dissolution.)

By some bona fide miracle, shortly after we split I happened across a series of memoirs by author and teacher Sonia Choquette. She has written three to date – the first chronicles her growing up years, the start of her career and how she met her husband. The second and third describe their difficult breakup after a 30+ year marriage and how Sonia survived it.

I seriously could not have asked for a better mentor, guide and encourager at this particular moment in my life. It has been like having someone to talk to – listen to, really – who is several steps ahead of me and is yet is still working hard to relocate her footing after such a significant life change.

What a blessing (big grateful sigh).

But why am I sharing this? I am early into Sonia’s third memoir as I write this, and she has just shared about discovering how strong her identity as “married” still is even though she has been divorced for several months now. She talks about how much trouble she is having figuring out who she is – the image I get is of her poking around inside herself, examining each bit and asking, “Are you me? Are you me? Are you me?”

Or perhaps that is the image I get of me doing the same. 

Because that is certainly what it feels like to be me these days! I have had a very strong identity as “together” for several years now – an identity I had craved for decades prior and finally got so it felt particularly hard-won.

It was a protective-feeling identity for me, whether at a local pub or at parties with my parents’ friends who were always keen to hear whether I had “someone special” in my life. I felt like I fit in, like I belonged.

For the first time in my life my mom and I could commiserate about “men” in that friendly sisterhood type way – and I could also appreciate her at a new and deeper level in the challenges we face trying to relate to the opposite gender with their own sometimes very opposite wiring.

I enjoyed being able to smile openly at men, whether behind the checkout counter, on the street or at a gathering, without having to worry I was somehow sending “the wrong message” – a skill I am apparently especially good at, whether I mean to be or not. If they did wander over, all it would take would be a casual mention of the words “my partner” and we could both easily drop all caution and just enjoy chatting.


But now all that is gone. Now I’m back to being me, to being single-me, to being not-together, to being on the outside looking in. I was never comfortable there to begin with – it was a relief to escape it for a time even though being partnered had many even harder challenges – and I can’t quite seem to figure out how to find my footing again.

What was so great about reading Sonia’s memoir and hearing how she has struggled with this shift in roles is that I didn’t feel so alone or like somehow I was doing this whole breakup thing wrong. Some people – many people, actually – like to immediately follow up a breakup of an old relationship with the start of a new relationship. I’ve done it myself and it has never worked out well.

But still, it is a good way to at least put off having to confront the transition from “together” to “not together.”

This time, I decided there was no way I was going to even think about looking for a new partner. Not until I have at least located myself again inside my own skin. I have been reading Sonia’s memoirs voraciously because she also took this approach after her divorce and I feel supported in knowing I am not the only one who really wants to dig down underneath these temporary identities and roles to figure out who the heck I actually am.

Sonia talks about learning how to love herself and take good care of herself for the first time ever in her life, and how she realizes she has never really done this well, even since childhood. I can relate, although for different reasons than hers. I am not really very good at loving myself, taking good care of myself, or letting others love me and take care of me.

And it all makes perfect sense now that I have time to stop and think about it – after all, if I am not good at loving myself and taking care of myself, I am certainly not going to be good at letting others love me and take care of me.

It makes especially good sense in context with the type of partners I have tended to select over the decades – people who aren’t very good at loving a partner or taking care of a partner, and often people who are not very good at loving themselves or taking good care of themselves.

So in the ongoing post-breakup effort to locate myself – the real me – the one that is free of role-based identities, talents or skills, career choices, connection with an “other,” etc – I have been devoting a lot of time to meditation and contemplation.

This morning, I decided to see what would happen if I imagined stripping away each role in turn…what would be left? Anything? Would anyone be there at all? I really wasn’t sure.

In her books, Sonia Choquette talks about how our spirit uses our own imagination to talk to us, send messages, transmit ideas and help us. She encourages using imagination in visualization work, contemplation and meditation, and cautions against worrying about whether what we are seeing or experiencing is “real” or not – this doesn’t matter nearly so much as getting un-stuck in the moment. If it takes a little creative visualizing to do it, so be it.

This works for me, since nothing much feels particularly solid in my life at the moment anyway.

So back to the meditation. I started with “partner,” of course, stripping that identity/role away from me and experiencing what it felt like. It felt scary at first, but then also lighter, better.

I moved on to “single,” stripping that identity/role away. I continued on through “daughter,” “sister,” “female,” “adult,” “human being” ….. what was left?


It sounds cheesy, I know. But all that was left underneath all those identity/roles, each one holding me in place separate and apart from all the other life surrounding me, was simple shining light. Connection. Simplicity. Peace.

I have a new goal now as I continue forward in what I am not calling recovery per se but rather evolution. And I am thinking that, as long as I am setting my sights sky-high, it would be grand to live from that place of connection, of light, of simplicity, of peace.

I also have a feeling I know what is going to get me there: practice. Lots and lots and LOTS of practice.

Today’s Takeaway: Have you been through a significant parting in your life that left you feeling like a stranger to yourself? What helped you move through that time and reconnect? I’d love to hear any tips you want to share!



Who Are You Without Your Roles?

Shannon Cutts

Parrot, tortoise & box turtle mama. Writer. Author. Mentor. Champion of all people (and things) recovered and recovering.

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APA Reference
Cutts, S. (2019). Who Are You Without Your Roles?. Psych Central. Retrieved on June 2, 2020, from


Last updated: 20 Mar 2019
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