Feelings roll in upon the shores of our minds, and like the impermanence of waves, they roll out again. I learn not to fight it, to accept what comes and just let it be. There is no point in trying to deny or negotiate with pain, it will keep going around the same old mountain with you until you draw from it, feel it, use it, learn from it. As if on cue, one of my children’s favourite books at the moment is ‘We’re Going on a Bear Hunt’ by Michael Rosen. It reads:
We’re going on a bear hunt.
We’re going to catch a big one.
What a beautiful day!
We’re not scared.
Uh-uh! A forest!
A big dark forest.
We can’t go over it.
We can’t go under it.
We’ve got to go through it!
Now I know that this is an imaginative children’s story that probably was never aiming to become anything more profound. Yet I find myself drawing meaning from anything now; everything has changed and is being reevaluated in my life, and even the mundane things seem to be acknowledging this. Like navigating the fictional forest, there are no short cuts through this process. Sometimes the pain is overwhelming, and yet I have learnt very quickly that I need to feel the pain in order to grow and move on. Though I may stumble, I will persevere because for the first time in my life, I am understanding what it means to own my life, own my story and set about creating that which is written on my heart.
With this comes the understanding that for so long I have abdicated my responsibilities to myself, placing more importance on the needs, wants and ideals of everybody around me than I did my on my own. Some of this was an attempt to avoid rocking the boat, to make life easier for others, to avoid my husband’s displeasure at my decisions, or to avoid the judgments of others. The world around me supported me in this endeavor: selling me the lie that as long as I, as a woman, looked OK on the outside, then what was on the inside wasn’t important. Suck it up, sweetheart, no one wants to be burdened with an emotional drama queen. Somewhere along the line it became the norm for me to accept that this is just how things were. To deny what it meant to look after myself properly and claim what I needed in order to grow in every aspect of life: physically, mentally and spiritually. The thing is the desire never left.
We can never completely silence the still, small voice of our true selves. I took her with me everywhere I went and in everything I was doing, but she was suffocated by fear and doubt. Buried deep down where she wouldn’t burden me or anyone else. The thing with this is the desire will still rage and manifest as something else: depression, anger, frustration, grumpiness, a constant state of being unable to give to others because I was so lacking what I needed. A bizarre world where I felt myself trapped inside myself yet I would deny it at all costs to myself and everyone else. I couldn’t ask for help because I felt undeserving of it, yet still felt a sense that others should be caring for me since I wasn’t allowed or able to care for myself.
When you deny your true self, it is a separation that is complete. There is no segmenting off the bits you don’t like but retaining the good. Oh no, with the truncating comes a cutting away of the things that make us decent, loving human beings. The things that we want for ourselves, the things that we think matter. I felt my character and my values silently slipping away but felt nothing. What difference does it make, I figured, I’m invisible. My actions don’t matter. I don’t matter.
One of the hardest things I have had to do over the past few months is forgive myself. To betray and deceive myself on the level that I did is the worst thing I have ever done. The consequences have been monumental and have cost me years of my life, and pain for those around me. It grieves me that I hurt the ones I loved, and all I can do is humbly apologise with my whole heart. Please accept this as your personal acknowledgement and apology. I used to think that self-love was a weak consolation prize for those who felt that there is something lacking in their lives. That self-care meant eating well and going to bed early every once in a while. I now realise that I was lacking so much in my life because I denied my worth. The day my husband left me, I was jolted awake. Through my tears, I began to see that this was not the end of my life; it was the beginning of my own becoming. It was the time for everything that I thought was true, and everything that anyone else believed about me, to be stripped away until all that was left were the parts of me that can never be taken away: my deep burning love and my hope.
Contrary to what some people may think, it isn’t selfish of me to want to live empowered by the fuel I am throwing on my own fire. It is, in fact, the only way that I can whole-heartedly offer anything of value to anyone else in my world. Sacrificing myself on the altar of wife and mother martyrdom did nothing but ensure the coals of my heart gave smoke signals but no actual heat. Living half-alive is no longer good enough for me anymore; and the people I love deserve better. I refuse to listen to the voices of shame and self depreciation any longer that come while I constantly strive but fail to meet the unattainable ideals of perfection that I have bought into over the years. I choose to live believing that I am deserving of love, grace and forgiveness, despite my mistakes.
Being perfect is a myth sold to women by a society who cares more about making them feel inadequate in order to market to them stuff they think will fill the void but in actual fact they have no need for. There is no such thing as perfect. There is, however, the appearance of perfect. I have discovered that people, as I did, will go to great extents to avoid having their true, raw, messy selves seen by others. There is a huge fear of appearing ‘less than’ or weak to others, and a sense that this is to be avoided at all costs. We think that this will save us from the unbearable pain of rejection, only to find that we are missing out on the forging of deep and lasting relationships where our true selves are seen and valued.
To be truly loved is to be loved, valued, accepted and respected in spite of our flaws, not because we are walking around pretending we don’t have any. To reveal our vulnerabilities to others is to take a risk, but it is a far greater risk to deny ourselves and what we have to offer the world. We must kindle our own flames to both light our own way and give freely of our light to others.
“Recovery is an unbecoming. My healing has been a peeling away of costume after costume until here I am, still and naked…. stripped down to my real identity.”
― Glennon Doyle Melton, Love Warrior: A Memoir