The Journey Towards Courage. Picking Shadows.
-I don’t know about you, but I don’t like pain. Unless of course, I do. When it serves me and I can use it to prove to the world that I am tough, that I can overcome, and that I am worthy of their admiration and respect. And awe. Awe would be nice.
You see, I grew up in a pretty toxic culture, in a toxic household, in a toxic religion and all that toxicity left me with a lot of…well, toxic self-hatred. Feeling deeply lonely, irrelevant, and broken, I went through a period of my life where death was the sweetest fantasy. Brought up without boundaries, robbed of a sense of ownership of my own mind and my own body, I let people tell me who I should be, how I should feel, behave, make love, and what could be done with my body. My sense of self was like an ever-changing landscape, at the mercy of the weather and seasons and people, either in the mood to nurture or trample.
I sat on the sidelines watching others enjoy their lives, while I was gawking, hating everything about my past, myself, and them.
But underneath all that turmoil, there was something at play that I am just now beginning to understand. A drive to survive, a knowing that something else is available, understanding the difference between freedom and survival. You can’t be free until you survive first.
So I did. Listened to the Siren-like, irresistible voice of my hungry soul telling me to seek something worth…if not loving, then at least acceptance. So it started. The relentless pursuit of personal development, self-help, and self-improvement. If I could only become X. or overcome Z, I would surely finally be happy like everyone else. I would surely become lovable, relevant, and whole.
As I tackled my past, my trauma, my daddy issues, my mommy issues, my boyfriend issues, I was able to learn from the past and become gradually less triggered, less reactive, more in control. And people around me were impressed. With my work. With my courage. With my progress. I was getting noticed. My pain was earning me brownie points, so I continued digging, finding the biggest, juiciest pieces of my traumatized past to conquer and walk the hero’s journey.
But despite this stellar progress, overcoming, and cathartic breakthroughs, I felt as disconnected from myself and others, as ever.
In the murky shadows of my subconscious, in the deep recesses of my nervous system lived the pain I was not willing to touch. Like a thorn in my body, which with every attempt to come close to, would send waves of pain, so I constructed my whole life around keeping it undisturbed. Hoping, that if I fix everything around it, this little buried thing will be no big deal. I didn’t even know what it was, but the fear was such that I was willing to dive into the most horrendous events of the past just so I don’t have to deal with it. Picking my shadows and avoiding the thorn, because you know, I don’t like pain…
But there was something I didn’t count on. I didn’t expect that I will run out of convenient shadows.
That my work will actually be effective and that at some point I will face a choice. Go deeper or create new pain to continue the spectacle of overcoming adversity. If you think I made a rational choice, think again.
I looked for ways to create drama in my life, I got into arguments, overcommitted to stuff, tried to be nice all the time only to feel resentful. Then one day after a particularly intense argument with my son, I collapsed on the bed and sobbed. “All I really need is kindness”.
At that moment I realized that all the self-help was really a subtle form of self-rejection.
A perpetuation of the myth that I was broken. That I needed fixing, improvement, upgrade. That I was simply not OK as I am. Human, wounded, fragile, raw, scared, and in sore need of kindness.
I saw that thorn in my heart. It was plugging a hole that would make me see and feel the depth of sadness for not being loved as I needed to be loved, and for not belonging, and for not feeling safe.
And I saw something else. An ocean of love, capable of holding space for all of that, the pain and the beauty, in infinite compassion.
I didn’t need self-improvement. I needed self-kindness. The makings of courage to face the darkest shadows. The light that makes the shadows dance in their alive beauty, giving the nuance to who I am. Imperfectly perfectly human.
So this is my invitation to you. Dress up in the robe of kindness and meet yourself. You are not scary. You are not broken. You are perfect as you are. You are gorgeous. You are loved. You are infinite. You are powerful. You are the one you’ve been waiting for…
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