You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories.
If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should’ve behaved better.
- Anne Lamott (on Twitter)
There are hundreds upon hundreds of times I have written words in my head, words that flowed so beautifully and wrapped around the image of what I wanted to convey with such perfection it made my chest feel tight. Instead of reaching for the paper, or the keyboard, I push them aside. I tell myself I can’t, or shouldn’t. I tell myself people will be hurt. People will think things about me that I don’t want them to. I’ll stop being seen as the ‘nice girl’.
That tweet from the formidable and amazing Anne Lamott skipped across my screen this morning and fell right in line with work I’ve been doing in therapy and books I’ve been reading. In particular, Brené Brown’s work has found me and resonates deeply. I’ve watched her TED talks on vulnerability and shame more than once and am part way through “The Gifts of Imperfection”. I don’t believe for a second any of this is accidental. I feel like I’m on the precipice of something big, something sort of terrifying, something life altering. Something (finally) healing.
When I was a small child, not long after my parents separated, I became entangled in a heavy shroud of shame. It changed the way I felt in my body, it changed the way I carried myself, and it changed the person I saw in the mirror. My shame became part of who I was and managed to poison many aspects of my life. Even though I am years away from the sources of pain and the many events that caused me to believe I was not worthy of love, there are thick shadows of shame that cloud my ability to accept myself as I truly am.
I’ve sat in therapy the last couple weeks, angry and in awe that things that happened so long ago could still impact me today, even after years of work around them. And not necessarily the profound, understandably traumatic things either. Offhanded remarks by my father about my weight and my abilities. The constant knowing that he was disappointed I was born a daughter instead of son. (Let us never mind that I wanted to learn all of the things he would have to teach me had I been born the opposite gender – hunting, fishing, carpentry, etc). There has always been an air of disapproval, nothing has ever been good enough. If he has ever been proud of me, I have never felt it.
My inability to ever be good enough for him translated into the belief that I was not good enough at all. Period. The tape in my head has looped my whole life: “you are not good enough, you are not good enough, why bother trying, you are not good enough, even when you’re great you’re still not good enough, you can’t, you can’t, you can’t.” This tape taints everything with paralyzing vulnerability. It keeps me from taking risks (and makes all.the.things feel risky), it keeps me from writing, it keeps me from fully living in my body, keeps me from being grateful for the healthy body I have been given, keeps me from sharing my gifts with the world, and keeps me from being successful. It keeps me anxious and in my ‘not good enough’ place. It keeps me from loving my self and believing that I am lovable.
Yet, over the last few weeks of exploring this in its depths, of becoming completely fed up with this way of feeling/being/thinking, there are sweet green shots poking through the hard dirt. I’m starting unfold, to feel different about myself. Different about my worthiness. Different about my story. And I’m finding truth in that story.
I was thinking about my relationship with my father and step-mother recently. When my sister told me that my dad stopped at her work to bring her to lunch, I felt that pang that he rarely does the same with me, even though he often comes to my town for work. I thought “they never reach out to have a relationship with me because I’m not approachable.” I stopped in my tracks. Back the truck up. Re-record that tape. “I am approachable. They choose not to see me as approachable.” Now, whose issue is that? It is not mine at all. I will not own their insecurities, I will not own their guilt or anxieties, I will not own their perceptions of me. I will not let them define who I am.
I felt taller. I felt more solid. I felt more REAL. A new, unfamiliar feeling of detached observance washed over me. They are who they are, I am who I am. I can’t expect them to truly know me when they don’t even bother to try. And I certainly can’t allow their narrow interpretation of me become how I see myself.
In my desperation for my father to approve of me, to love me, to know me, I’ve pushed aside my true gifts. I downplay my writing and art, I make excuses, I try to impress him with things that are not ‘me’. Those days are over. His ideal me is all the things he could never be himself. His pride and love are hinged on an unattainable goal for the both of us. I can’t stay on this road to nowhere with him anymore. It’s time to be on my own road, to set my own pace, to live my own dreams and not let the things that have bogged him down his whole life become the things that bog me down, too.
I continue to slowly, carefully peel back these layers, dropping the shrouds of shame. Although my exposed skin feels tender and new, the lightness and freedom is the sweetest nectar my heart as ever tasted.