(This piece appeared on Medium, first: http://bit.ly/2KNAzBp)
Before I was able to step confidently into my Cardi years with both feet, I spent a number of years playing myself like 2018 Onika.
Instagram made this easy. As long as I could gloss it up with the right lighting and caption, the world didn’t have to experience me as a willing participant in my own suffering.
In 2015, I was twenty-five with a degree, a car I paid for myself, and a career. I had successfully navigated myself out of poverty. I finally had a comfortable seat in the middle class. I had become all of the self-made things the #BossBabe hashtags told me I should be.
Simultaneously I was devastatingly lonely and more unhappy than I had ever been.
By the middle of summer ’15 I had ended a five-and-half year relationship, and quickly jumped into another one to mask my fear of loneliness. My credit score was trash and my emotions were a dumpster fire.
I’m convinced Solange wrote “Cranes in the Sky” for this part of my life.
I tried to drink it away
I tried to put one in the air
I tried to dance it away
I tried to change it with my hair
I ran my credit card up
Thought a new dress make it better
I tried to work it away
But that just made me even sadder
I tried to keep myself busy
I ran around circles
Think I made myself dizzy
I slept it away, I sexed it away
I read it away
I knew this, intellectually speaking. It still took me two years to step into the truth of what was happening: I had been playing myself all along.
Here’s how I did it:
I blamed myself for my childhood:
And blamed myself for blaming myself, for my childhood.
When I used to lead introductions with “my mother was 17 when she had me,” it was part informative and part apologetic. I knew that I didn’t enunciate words perfectly and that my diction was tragic.
I knew that my New York accent was as much Black girl as folks were going to allow me to be. I knew my name was Duanecia and folks would spend the first five minutes of meeting me either asking how to say it or trying twist their tongues to pronounce it right.
I felt the need to apologize for my complexities.
I felt the need to apologize for my life and the way I came into the world. The world had not yet affirmed just how multi-layered #BlackGirlMagic was and I was ashamed of myself.
I used my mother being 17 when she had me as a way to explain how insecure I was existing as myself.
Mistake number one was not accepting my reality. I had so much to offer the world and I wish I had known that sooner. To start, I had successfully navigated the world in ways that many adults would never have to face. I knew Food Stamps and Whole Foods. I was respected on the block and in the boardroom. I spoke Caucasian and Cardi B. None of these realities were better than the other. I didn’t have to choose.
I still come into these insecurities. Often. When they meet me in the mirror, I pause and ask: How many of my “flaws” are actually silenced superpowers?
I blamed my ex for my co-dependency:
The truth is: my ex was (mostly) a good man. We grew together and experienced some of life’s greatest trials, side by side. His presence in my life made ending things easily the hardest thing I’ve ever done.
Enter: codependency. If you aren’t familiar with the term, consider this perspective from WebMD:
"Codependent relationships signify a degree of unhealthy clinginess, where one person doesn't have self-sufficiency or autonomy," says Scott Wetzler, PhD, psychology division chief at Albert Einstein College of Medicine. "One or both parties depend on their loved ones for fulfillment."
We relied on each other for things we never should have and blamed each other for issues that should have been our own. Growing up meant seeing my stuff for MY. STUFF. It also meant learning that even as a couple, we were still individuals - and loving each other meant showing up for ourselves, first.
Despite shattering the financial doings of poverty, I still had much to unlearn, mentally and emotionally.
When you’re in survival mode, co-dependency feels natural. “We all we got”, right? No. Survival mode was meant to exist as a temporary space. It was very obviously time for me to grow out of what no longer served me. After many years and much healing, the lessons that I learned in that relationship positioned me to show up stronger for myself.
Unfortunately, it took breaking down both myself and someone I once imagined spending forever with. I’m better for the lessons. I pray he is, too.
The things I learned through his time on my journey allowed me to show up stronger for myself.
Ultimately, this process caused me to question:
Who am I, absent of being coupled with someone else? Am I enough without a +1?
I lived life for likes and comments:
Likes and comments validated my existence. I’m no longer ashamed to admit that I stayed in two relationships longer than I should have because the internet knew about them. I kept toxic friends around because people who followed me became comfortable with my story.
I didn’t want to seem like the girl who couldn’t keep friends. Drake said “no new friends” and I took that oath seriously.
My brand and public perception meant more to me than what I was actually living out. I made excuses. I waited around. We see articles talk a lot about how strangers depend on social media for validation: issa me.
Much of this is also tied into my battle with codependency. Therapy is still helping me work through and regularly caused me to question: When did I first learn that validation was to be sought?
For the past year or so, I’ve committed to keeping most of my precious moments off of the internet. Not because they aren’t stories worth telling, but to put myself through a basic training of sorts. I’m teaching myself that it’s okay to keep my cards close to my chest.
Privacy and secrecy are different, and secrecy always felt like a dirty word to me. I had my share of unfaithful relationships. The scar tissue still burned when I considered being “hidden.” Today, I can trust the relationships in my life enough to value our private moments as sacred and not secret.
I was afraid to look myself in the mirror:
Concealing what should have been revealed. That is how I played myself.
Recovery meant looking at myself in the mirror and making peace with the narratives about myself that no longer served me. It was time to bring clarity to my truth and speak it to power.
It was time to be all the way real with my therapist about pains from childhood and college, and start connecting the dots. It was time to forgive. It was time to accept that the adults in my life only did what they knew best, and that putting them on pedestals was and had always been dangerous.
It was time to free them of expectations. It was time to liberate myself.
In order to fully live into the version of me that I deserved, I had to understand what I wanted “Duanecia” to mean. Not for anyone else. For me, by me. Affirmatively, I am a spirit-being having a human experience. Led by God.
I had to be willing to face that, even if it wasn't filter-ready and caption perfect. I have to practice this regularly.
In this life, living in full means being completely comfortable with learning and unlearning, doing and undoing and mostly being still enough to know the difference.