Tag Archives: anxiety

Eff you, I won’t do what you tell me!

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judgeandjury

When I was 9, my favorite cousin got a small part in the movie “Annie” and I was beyond thrilled.  We grew up together, had lived together when I was younger, and I worshiped her.  On top of that, she was coming out to visit from California around the same time the movie would be released in theaters.  So I got the soundtrack on cassette tape and for the next few months could not be seen without my handy Walk-man glued to my head.  I sang those songs everywhere I went and knew every word by heart (still do!).  My 9 year old heart was filled with love, joy, and “The sun’ll come out tomorrow!”  No, I did not know at 9 that maybe my singing out loud sounded awesome with my background music, but that no one else could hear it.  All they heard was a 9 year old singing at the top of her lungs.  Sadly, the reviews were quick and harsh.  “Your sister is weird.  She is always singing to herself.”  “You need to stop singing all the time, people think you’re strange.” It didn’t take long before I would barely sing above a whisper in the car with my own family.  For the record, I was not tone deaf and I didn’t totally suck at singing.  I once got a standing ovation from one of the cutest older guys in high school when I sang at an assembly.  He was forever one of my favorite people after that (from afar), but that is not my point.

Children do not judge themselves harshly until they are taught to do so.  Living in a small town, with a family full of boys and small town thoughts taught me those lessons early on.  My uncles never missed a chance to pick at me, whether it was for poking out my lip and pouting or having the audacity to be knock-kneed and a tad chubby as a child.  My grandfather meant the world to me, but he was a man who related to others by teasing and joking.  Apparently I was just too sensitive, because I frequently took the teasing to heart.  Perhaps they did not know that with every joke, with every teasing word, I was taking mental notes about myself.  There was no “love yourself, be yourself” movement in small town South Carolina in the late 1970’s.  Just “fit in or stick out”, knowing that sticking out was the last thing you wanted to do.

I remember playing with the girl across the street one day.  We decided the ditches on either side of our street were amazing places to hide and pretend to shoot the cars that came down the road with our sticks we imagined to be guns.  We had a blast!  The next day my brother came home from school and told me that a classmate told him they saw me “writhing around on the ground when they rode by, as if something was wrong with me.”  What does a child learn when it feels that every person around her is judging her?  She learns to judge herself.  Harshly.  Bitterly.  She learns that who she is, and what she does, will never be good enough.  People don’t seem to realize that the one comment they make may just be the latest piece of criticism, tossed on the top of the pile of all the other criticism a person receives.

In my teens, I adopted the bravado of “I don’t care if you like me or not”…all the while constantly judging myself while daring others to do so.  My best friend thought I kicked ass and was fearless.  Some found me unapproachable.  Inside, I was still that little girl feeling like no one would ever truly know me or love me for exactly who I really was.  In stereotypical fashion, I looked for that approval and love in all the wrong places, and eventually exited my high school years and that small town completely broken and lost.  What does one do when you believe that who you are is not good enough and just wrong?  Well, you decide that you don’t want to be yourself anymore.

So began the long process of losing myself.  Things I enjoyed and loved about myself before the age of 18: I wrote poetry, I loved theater, I enjoyed singing.  Ok, scratch that mess. My goal when I left home and started over was to be “normal”.  Yes, I know how messed up that sounds now.  I know that “normal” is not some yardstick to be measured by.  But this is how I learned to hide who I really was from other people, try to fit in, do the things that everyone else did even if I found them inane and just plain ridiculous.  I met a boy.  The first night we went out, we stayed out all night long in his car talking.  He was fascinated with me, and he was “normal”.  I was thrilled!  We started dating, and we did normal things.  His family was wonderfully normal and warm. Of course, I sized them up quickly and presented them with a version of myself that they would find acceptable.  Over the years, I didn’t seem to notice that every time I inched out of that box I put myself in, he showed his displeasure with me.  By the time it ended suddenly and unexpectedly, I had wrapped myself up in his version of life and given myself a whole new set of rules to judge myself by.  The end result was a 21 year old me who barely breathed without him approving it, moved to a new college due to him, and was again left feeling that no matter how hard I tried I was never going to be enough.

I could go on for another 15 years, but I think I’ve laid it out enough. If anyone had any question, this is a blueprint for an eventual breakdown, addiction, and hitting a spiritual bottom before realizing that the problem really was never me.  Even realizing this doesn’t fix it.  It is a daily struggle against those inner voices.  You can’t re-train almost 40 years of learning to judge yourself overnight by just realizing that it was wrong.  It is a constant effort to transition from where I am to where I’d like to be. I can’t go back and fix that little girl.  The only thing I can do now is move forward, and discover who it is I really am.  And those inner voices?  Well, sometimes you just have to tell them to suck it!!

 

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The Slow Thaw…

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     One day about 2 years ago, I sat down to try to figure out how on earth I was going to lead a group of middle school girls when I felt like I had been such a failure at that age myself. This was not an active choice that I made, wanting to make a difference in the life of girls. This group had suddenly found themselves without a leader and seeing that they were at the age that girls tend to drop out of activities like this, I volunteered. So I sat down one day and in between checking Facebook and google, I began to find words like girl-empowerment, self-esteem, body image, and media literacy. I started to fall down the rabbit hole of the issues that girls today face and realize that my own daughter was only a few years away from the age of these girls. My eyes started to open on the subject. But more importantly, a slow thaw had started that I had no idea would change my life.

     The thaw started the day that I read this post, by Melissa Atkins Wardy, on her blog PigTail Pals: Waking Up Full of Awesome. When I read this post, something changed in me. This was no longer just about how to deal with these girls one day a week, but about seeing how deeply affected my life was still by things that happened to me as a child.

Do you still have it? The awesome.

Did someone take it from you?

Did you let them?

Did you hand it over, because someone told you weren’t beautiful enough, thin enough, smart enough, good enough?

Why the hell would you listen to them?

Did you consider they might be full of shit?” 

These words struck me as a description of so many encounters in my childhood that had held power over me for far too long. They dug deep inside of me and gave me the insight that perhaps what I’d been dealing with all along was a case of missing awesome. I KNOW I had it once, but somewhere along the years it had disappeared. At 38 years old, I still felt like a fraud in my own body. I felt like that pretender who didn’t fit in anywhere, that no one truly knew me as an entire person, flaws and all. I’d done a great job of compartmentalizing my life so that people only knew what I wanted them to know, and no two people knew the same exact parts of me. All I knew was that reading this, and following Melissa’s blog, made me WANT my awesome back for the first time in a very long time. 

     So I joined this community of people who wanted better in life for the girls in their life. It eventually also included issues dealing with boys. A funny thing happened along the way. In seeking to empower girls, I was learning to empower myself. I found feminism. I found my voice, and began to be more comfortable using it. My love for other people started to flow out of me, and I eventually even started paying attention to political issues for the first time in my life. I was truly in a state of awakening for the first time in my life. And yet… there were still times that I felt like an incredible fraud. I met this amazing community of women, became friends with some very talented bloggers. It made me feel good to have people to discuss and learn things with, but deep inside there was still a voice that told me that some secrets keep me apart from these women. As nice and supportive as they were, they still didn’t know ME. Because I still kept some secrets inside. 

     Except…slowly during this slow thaw, bits of me started sneaking out along the way. I told one truth to one person, and she still wanted to know me. So I continued in this manner, leaking out tiny bits of my truth along the way. Learning that maybe other people weren’t as likely to judge me as I judge myself. Seeing these brave women laying themselves out there in their blogs and even withstanding some of the nasty comments that inevitably occur on blogs. They told their truths and they were still standing. People still liked them and wanted to know them. They gave me hope that I could do the same. Not the blogging part, just the honesty thing. Oh, and I made friends. These weren’t just amazing women, but they seemed to like me as a person. That has been hard for me in my adult life. 

     Then yesterday, after having a rough emotional night before, one of these women posted a link that sent me to the Momastery Facebook page. When I got there, I saw that the writer on that site had a TED talk, so I decided to watch it. The thaw that had been happening over the past 2 years suddenly turned into a swollen dam that burst and left me crying for hours and exhausted. When I was done, there was just clarity.  

“Now what they don’t tell you about getting sober, about peeling off your capes, is that it gets a hell of a lot worse before it gets better. Getting sober is like recovering from frostbite. It’s all of those feelings that you’ve numbed for so long, now they’re THERE and they’re present. And at first it just feels kind of tingly and uncomfortable, but then those feeling start to feel like daggers….” -Glennon Doyle Melton

     So I am now on a new journey, a delayed one if you must. See, I have been a recovering drug addict for 8 years. But being clean does not equal recovering. So I will say I have been clean for 8 years. I am also a survivor of childhood sexual abuse. I was a pregnant teenager who gave birth at 17 and placed my child for adoption in hopes of a better life for him. I battled depression throughout college and self-medicated with binge drinking and sex. I somehow made it through college and became a nurse and a mother, and eventually ended up taking drugs of almost any kind, still trying to numb the deep hole in my heart. I only got clean because I got caught, and sat for 6 years paralyzed by all of these things. Until the thaw began…

     Now, 2 years later, the dam has burst and I can’t hold it back any longer. I have reached the point that it is more painful to remain still than it is to move forward. So, I am moving forward knowing that I am surrounded by some of the most amazing women who support me and like me, flaws and all. More importantly, I am moving forward knowing that these things may be my past, but they do not have to be my future.