I remember times growing up when I felt like I belonged to the wrong family. Even as a child, I felt confined by my family’s control. The more I resisted my true feelings, the more I succumbed to being a people-pleaser. I neglected myself to the point where I had no idea what I wanted to do. When people would ask what I wanted to do as far a career, I couldn’t pinpoint a single thing. Not even an idea. (I know despise this question as a graduate student – it feels like people want to put me in a career box and I’m not here for it.)
As time went on, I forgot myself. I forgot what I wanted or needed. I didn’t know how to ask for fear that my feelings and thoughts would be invalidated. I thought there would be no point in trying to get someone to understand how I felt. I went through life damaged and living under a cloud of despair. The problem – I didn’t know I was damaged. I didn’t know I needed healing. I knew I was unhappy and that I lowered my standards to be accepted by others. I was in and out of depression for most of my twenties and thirties.
Giving up was an option, but I made the choice to fight. I don’t see myself as a fighter or tough – life situations contributed to the tough exterior people assume is shyness. It is more than shyness – it is a protective force field.
Having a tough exterior is exhausting and lonely. My spirit wanted more but my inner critic was a beast! A strong, vicious beast. It was ugly and loud – demeaning and persistent. I heard things from people growing up that became my inner critic. No, I’m not blaming others for my own self-worth. However, after reading The Body Is Not an Apology: The Power of Radical Self-Love by Sonya Renee Taylor, I became more aware of how negative thoughts and words of others contributed to how I felt about myself. There was no positive reinforcement or no one who spoke life into me to contradict those negative statements, so they festered over time. In my mind, there was something wrong with me. My life was a mistake. I never really held on to friends long – they often moved away. I didn’t want to form relationships because I felt people would leave.
I made my life sound less traumatic than it actually was. I’m an advocate for personal responsibility which is why I am exploring healing now. It’s not been pleasant. The past lurks in the darkness and haunts me everyday. I think about how my life would be different if I made just one small change in the past. If I would’ve stepped out on faith and just left. But comfort feels safe. And that’s what I did. I wanted to stay safe.
Caution: Safety in comfort can cost you!
Safety caused so much pain. I gave up myself for others. I wanted so badly to be a friend and popular. I wanted to fit in even though I never really felt like I fit in anywhere. I wanted to be normal.
I’ve come to accept the fact that I’ll never be normal and I may never fit in. I have people in my life who love me despite my past and my daily struggles. I feel a sense of pride and courage that I’ve never had before. My personal life has had moments of trauma, but also been very inspiring with moments of growth. My professional life hasn’t been peachy keen, but I have learned valuable lessons that has shown me how to be a better leader, colleague, and associate.
The process of healing, self-acceptance, and self-discovery will not look the same for everyone. It will not look the same for me in the next ten years. I am excited for my future. I’m not expecting sunshine everyday of the year, but I have faith in my ability make it through those days. This process is learning to be free. Liberated.