Dylan and her mom at the ballgame.

The mascot was a dead rat, and the colors were black and dark black. And it’s where my daughter wanted to go to high school.

But it was in Seattle, which was a three-hour drive from where we had moved a few years previously, to care for my mother in her final years.

So as I helped load her things into her dad’s big, blue, diesel F350 to take her to Seattle to live with him, I realized I was an empty-nester. Four years early.

My mother had passed away the year before, and for the first time in my life, I wasn’t a daughter, a girlfriend, a wife, or actively a mother.

A shocking thought.

Who was I, without any of those roles that had defined me for so long?

Nearly three years earlier I got the call that my mom had broken her femur, and would need someone to help care for her while it healed. It had to be me. My sister had just lost her 12-year-old son to a burst brain aneurysm two weeks prior. She and her family were rocked to their core in grief.  In addition, I was in the process of leaving an emotionally and verbally abusive relationship, trying to figure out where to go.

I had no idea that moving to care for my mother while her leg healed, would be the catalyst for my own deepest, most painfully held truths about my relationship with her, my beliefs about love and relationship with myself and to men, and would set me on the path to freeing myself.

I didn’t intend to stay here. Just until her leg healed, then my daughter and I were moving back to the beautiful island in Canada we called home. But the break was due to her diagnosis of cancer moving into stage 3, and she had 3-5 years if she responded well to treatment. She made it two and a half years.

The year following her death my daughter and I limped along, settling the estate, making the house ours. We moved many of Mom’s things out to the garage. We repainted and moved our things upstairs. We got a cat, now that we no longer had to worry about Mom’s allergies.

I became involved in a series of successive relationships with men who were unavailable emotionally and not right for me. My daughter resented my involvements and their presence, but I was having – and needed to have – fun. There was a part of me that felt so free after my mother’s death that I had no worries at all. I felt free from the burdens, but it was a false freedom. Eventually, of course, the shackles of unconscious fear would bind the relationships, and I’d be single again.

And now my daughter had moved to Seattle.

I realized I had no idea who I was without my role of mother, daughter, girlfriend or wife.

I went back to therapy. And was reminded that my job of caring for my mother had been assigned to me since birth. And that I never truly laid that job down. Realizing I could now quit, I did. But I also could see how in that dynamic with my mother I had decided some things about love and relationship that she never meant to teach me.

That in order to be loved, I had to be essential to the other person. I had to make myself essential so I couldn’t get lost.

That my job was to give and give and give, and not get back.
That if I was not needed, I did not feel loved.

I saw the patterns so clearly. How it all fit together, how I learned a false truth, and how I could choose a different one.

So I did. In that moment I stopped choosing men based on being needed, being essential. I redefined my beliefs about who I am in relationship. But I still didn’t quite know who I was, by myself.

Without the familiar defining roles of my life, I asked myself: What does DYLAN want to do? What does DYLAN like to do? In order to know who I am, I decided to explore things I hadn’t been able to do for enjoyment because of responsibilities. So there I was, in 2011, when I auditioned for my first play in the Wenatchee Valley. First play since high school.

I was cast as the lead role. I met a community of friends, a place where I can be anyone, and myself, fully.

I was able to learn that I am never really set free. It is always a journey to freedom, to unlock the doors deeper and deeper into my own heart. Freedom is not a single destination. But there is – at least there was for me – a single point of beginning. And for me, that was the tragic, devastating, relief, of my mother’s death.

Dylan Spradlin ended up meeting and marrying the love of her life from that first play she was cast in, who was cast as her character’s husband. Since then, she has continued to be active in the theater community in the small city where she lives while managing an online business helping families who are experiencing tension and stresand want a joyful, playful connection together. You can stay in touch by signing up for her newsletter at www.dylanannspradlin.com, and also check out her facebook page at www.facebook.com/transformchildhood.