How often do you find yourself in a quandary, of self-loathing, wondering when the proverbial “other shoe” is going to fall and everything you believed in, all of your hopes and dreams, that firm foundation you so carefully built and nurtured, will fall away and leave you fearing the worst?
Hopefully, most of you won’t identify with this state of being.
However, for those who may, at times, wonder if you are enough, who may question if what you have to offer to the world and those around you is less than acceptable, and whose imperfections will inevitably lead you back to that place where you feel, without a doubt, unworthy of happiness–this blog is for you.
There was a time when this was a perpetual state for me. There were no safe places, nor any reliable people on whom I could truly depend upon and completely trust. I saw the world through the eyes of one who has fought her entire life to survive, to feel that she mattered, and who longed to have something of substance to contribute–who ached to be loved and respected. It was not an easy place to live, but it was a place I had to become intimately familiar with and learn to negotiate on a daily basis. There was no security. All I had to protect myself were the walls of defenses I had so carefully bricked-and-mortared around my heart.
Yet, the problem with this state of mind was…my state of mind.
I could not possibly see a solution or gain any freedom from the bondage of my fears when I lived in that fearful place, wallowed in it, and so carefully fed it and nurtured it, tending to it as if it were a fragile flower that must thrive despite its deadly and toxic effects on my heart, mind, body and soul.
Fleeting as they may have been, there have been some brief moments of reprieve from this state of mind.
One of them began the day I first walked into Mr. Frank William’s band room office at Boca Ciega High School in September of 1983. It was one of those providential moments, wherein I had unwittingly wandered into the situation with another girl, who was also new at our high school and who wanted me to go with her for moral support as she attempted to try out for color guard. Mr. Williams, much to my surprise and dismay, put a flag in my hands and told me to twirl it this way and that way. I protested, but he refused to hear it. I tried to explain to him I was not there to try out for color guard, but he waved me away and told me to be at practice the next day.
As it turned out, I spent several months feeling that I belonged to something amazing, that my contribution was appreciated and worthwhile. For once in my life, I believed in something—in the power of team effort, individual effort, and…dare I say it…magic?
Of course, it did not last very long. My dad and I parted ways at the end of the semester and I had to go back to live with my mom, back to the familiar feeling of worthlessness, where what I did made no difference, and where I felt no one believed in me, especially myself.
Over the years there were a few more moments of surety. When I gave birth to my son, Wesley—and take note, he is my second child—I felt that for the first time since I marched with the Boca Ciega Pirates at the tender age of seventeen that I had done something wonderful—something right—for a change.
Robin came along, and I stayed at home with my children. My life was solely centered on them and their development, happiness and safety. There were no walls of defense between me and my little ones. They received every bit of what I had to offer, and nothing less. All of my love, devotion, belief in my mothering skills and in them as beautiful and amazing human beings went into that moment. What is more, I had the utmost confidence that what I offered was good and worthy and respectable.
They say “This Too Shall Pass.” And so, it did.
Another moment of self-worth came along when I finished college and earned a bachelor’s degree, and was able to secure a job where I made a modest but acceptable living and could take care of my family. However, this moment was overshadowed by all of those old demons, those ghosts from my past where I had made the wrong choices, and my decisions had broken the lives of my children apart.
It is ironic, to say the least, that the heavy load of guilt and shame I so carefully carried in that bag across my shoulder, and to which I would add more guilt and shame from time to time, is what would eventually bring me completely down and make me humble. The irony comes not in the inevitable collapse of my life and my ego, but in the fact that I was unaware of what I was doing to myself. No, instead I chose to believe I deserved what I received in exchange for my reckless ways, and this shame stemmed from fear, upon which I carefully fashioned my life of isolation from anything that would hurt me.
More recently, I had some reprieve from that burden of fear and worthlessness when I first moved back to the Chattanooga area two years ago, on December 5, 2012, and I embarked on a mission to seek out my true self, happiness, and self-worth. In the beginning, I floundered as I had difficulty believing in what I was doing, or that I could actually change the course of my life, which had become a slow but downward spiral of regret.
I was writing more, and taking care of myself. I walked or jogged every day, stretched with a simple form of yoga, wrote songs and kept trying to improve and learn to play my recently acquired guitar. I ate healthy foods, lost some weight, and generally felt comfortable in my own skin. I had not had television in my home for quite some time, so the chaos of media and advertisements geared towards making women feel badly about themselves was not on my radar. My tolerance of ads that either use women as sexual objects, or those that force women who don’t look like those women in the ads to feel less than beautiful, has been reduced to zero since it has such a detrimental effect on women’s self-image and self-esteem. Furthermore, having had an eating disorder, I found it wise to avoid being exposed to societal pressure to “look” a certain way.
I chose instead to meditate on positive thinking, to see beauty in this world, and yes, even in my reflection. It was not an easy task, mind you, but I did feel better and more confident.
Then, I met John.
Now, that was magic.
His presence in my life only strengthened what I had already begun on my own. He showed me unconditional love. He believed in me—in my heart, mind, and spirit. He accepted me for who I was—all of the mistakes I had made in the past and all of my imperfections, quirks and limitations. He gave me a safe place to land. For the first time, I felt I was in secure, loving hands. I did not need that brick wall around my heart anymore. You know, the one reinforced with rebar, and lined with barbwire, and armed with guards in the tower ready to shoot down any trespassers lest they try to break through my defenses.
Yeah, that wall.
After working at a stressful and draining job for nearly a year, my Knight-In-Shining-Armor and I, his Damsel-In-Distress, discussed it and decided that I should quit that soul-sucking job and work part-time at the bookstore and focus on writing. This worked for a while. Though I was still reeling from the chaotic world of mental health case management, and the effects it had on my own health, I worked a couple of days a week at the bookstore and I began to write my first novel on September 8, 2014.
Although I have been writing, in some form, off and on most of my life—this has been a huge undertaking and quite frankly, it has scared me to death. I alternate between moments of sheer exhilaration and confidence in my ability to write this book, and moments of deep uncertainty and utter hopelessness that what I’m doing is ever going to be good enough and is, in fact, a complete and utter waste of time.
Ah, the echoes from the past.
In addition to my own self-doubt, sprinkle on some family drama and chaos—kids who don’t talk to their parents and ex-spouses who actually have the nerve to believe they still have a say in our lives and whose sole purpose is to create strife between us as a couple, as well as between us and our children, and grandkids. Add a heaping pile of our own health issues, a sick dad with advancing Alzheimer’s and step-dad with deteriorating coronary artery disease, along with our extremely fatigued and stressed-out mothers. Pour in a grandchild with brain cancer, who does not seem to be doing very well and who we don’t get to see. Stir in my confrontation of the man of who molested me when I was a girl. Add a dash of pissing off my friends when I lost my cool over a cat of all things after mostly carrying the load of stress on my own while dealing with that difficult situation (or at the very least, feeling alone in it as my husband stood by and watched, mouth agape, as my head spun around), and along with the stress of not having as much income and feeling that it is all my fault, and finally, throw in a weight gain of more than twenty pounds—and you have a recipe for utter collapse of the system.
Are you exhausted yet? Me, too.
Remember that adage, “This Too Shall Pass”?
Yes, my feelings of safety and security have been challenged of late. I have felt guilt and shame, made mistakes, disappointed my children, and hurt my husband and friends. I have felt disappointed and hurt by them as well, and thus, have felt resentment. I have also hurt myself.
Lately, I have been rebuilding that wall.
Yeah, that one.
I have withdrawn, back behind that quasi-safe place where I won’t get hurt or disappointed, where I can stave off the feelings of worthlessness out there because those feelings are much more manageable in my little self-made fortress of solitude. Some days I wish to cut as many connections with the outside world as possible, including my network, one I have been carefully building to market my writing and eventually, dare I say it, my books.
What I have failed to realize, though, is happiness and those feelings of self-worth and security are all an inside job. Instead of shutting out those things that I believe have hurt me by re-erecting the walls, I have carefully nestled them right here beside me, inside my heart and my head. I have fed and nurtured my self-loathing and lack of trust, just as I used to when the bottom seemed to fall out of my world.
My self-confidence is all but gone, and from where I stand, I cannot see that shore of happiness and safety whereupon I once stood, so easily breathing the air of self-assurance and security I once took for granted, as I ran along the sand and splashed my feet in the receding waves, unfettered by that leviathan of fear lurking beneath the surface.
The true enemy is fear. It is fear of being human and making mistakes, or of letting go and forgiveness. It is fear of loss, pain and disappointment. Fear keeps us bound, locked behind those self-imposed prison walls of so-called safety and security. Fear makes us retreat when we fall short, and run screaming headlong into the arms of, “I told you so.”
Today, I wish to tell fear to take a hike. I’m tired of his intrusion upon my life, and allowing him access to my happiness, creativity, and self-worth. He is not welcome here.
I have a choice.
Today I choose to be fearless.
December 5, 2014