When we visited Russia several years ago, we bought an amazing set of matryoshka dolls. You know the ones, right? They’re the nesting dolls that are as representative of Russia as St. Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow, Red Square, and alleged election interference. You can buy them in any souvenir shop in Russia, not to mention from street vendors, nice Babushkas sitting on overturned bushel baskets, and at the airport. But the set we brought home was hand painted, each stroke of the artist’s brush bringing more life into each of the five dolls as they rest side by side on our entry table.
I look at this set of matryoshka dolls as the five layers sit side by side. I put the set back together—layer by layer—and I stare at the largest of the dolls, into which the other four so precisely fit. As I take off the head of this top layer, this leader of the pack, this mother to the others, this protective wooden shield, I suddenly realize I am a matryoshka. I am one person who has built many protective layers around herself. I have worked for decades creating these personas, these covers for who I really am.
So now I shall begin to remove these layers. As I do, I will shed the personality traits that have not served me well. I will remove the layer of people-pleasing to the point of an almost total loss of self. Then I will work on removing the indecisiveness that drives my loved ones crazy. I will continue to scrape away at self-medicating with food until that layer is gone. Most difficult of all will be the last layer, the deeply ingrained part of me that treats myself exactly and with as much forceful negativity and self-deprecation as those who did not love me well taught me to.
In the middle is the tiniest in my matryoshka set. This one is solid, the core of my being, the part that cannot be cut any smaller because it is the essence of who I am. This is the me I must accept fully, embrace with all of my heart, and love. Just love. She’s been through quite a bit, this core matryoshka, but she’s solid through and through and she’s going to be okay. She is as strong as the wood from which she was carved and the strong German stock of which she was born.
I’ve got to love her: the me that is truly me without the protective layers of carefully crafted wood and paint. It’s all up to me now, and I know that with time, patience, and an abundance of self-reflection, I can do it. After all, me, myself, and matryoshka are counting on it.