In January 2020 I made a decision to read more. It has taken being intentional with my time but it has been one of the best things to happen to me. In reading others stories and struggles, I have in turn found my voice again. I will share in another blog post what I have read so far. But for now, I have reached a point where I have processed a lot of things internally and feel I can put words to paper to release the voice that is relentlessly in my head urging me to write. The last 2 years or so I have been sort of kind of silent, afraid to write. I have been stuck. The truth is I was battling somethings internally and didn’t feel it was the right time to share a part of me with the world (even if no one reads what I share) because I had not come through them. More time and healing needed to take place. I finally feel the release to write again. This blog post is more for me than anyone else. A way of releasing parts of me out.
5 years ago this month I met the guy who would become my husband. We met in July 2015 and were wed 7 months later in March 2016. To say we have gone through some changes is an understatement. Not that I have not gone through major life changes before, but there was something different about it this time. This time it felt like for the first time in my life I had to face the person I had worked so hard to run from since I was a little girl…. myself.
They say getting married magnifies all the issues you have within you that you need to work through. And I am a living example of that. Now before I go any further please know that I have a wonderful supportive loving husband who loves me at my worst and best. We are not in any trouble, in fact quite the opposite. And I had a wonderful childhood. My parents loved and supported me in so many ways. It is because of all of their love that I have had the strength to face my insecurities, shame, fear, anxiety, joy, happiness and so many other feelings I had suppressed for so many years. It is because of this that I am able to write.
What reading other’s stories has helped me to realize is my own struggles are not unique, we all eventually have to face the core of who we are as a person and we each have our own way of doing that. If we want to quit the mental cycles and move forward in growth, it takes going into dark places to work on in order to enjoy the beauty of what grows out of that.
A few major things I have learned:
No matter the changes I go through, good or bad, if I do not change the narrative I tell myself about myself, then I will never allow myself to enjoy the beauty of now.
Change is as natural as breathing, it will happen. But I have a choice daily to decide how I will respond to change, to situations beyond my control. I have a choice to decide my moods, my feelings.
I allowed what others thought of me / said to me to drastically affect how I felt about myself, saw the world and how I responded.
I gave too much power to others, expecting friends or family to “save me”, to do the work that only I could do.
I am learning to be quiet, be still. Sit in moments of meditation to empty out the mind. Through that I tap into a deeper realm of peace that has always been there, but I was too distracted & caught up in a false narrative to reach it.
I have learned to become an observer of my thoughts rather than allowing my thoughts to cripple me.
The only time I have is now. I do not have the past nor is the future promised. But I do have right now.
I have learned to stop trying to rewrite the narrative of my past by trying to control the narrative of the future of what I think it should be, which in turn makes me miserable in the present. It birthed in me a spirit of complacency. I didn’t want to do too much or too little. Just let me live in this little boat I built to remain in shallow waters so I never have to bump up against others or experience the downfall of the walls I have so carefully constructed. Instead I am learning to relinquish that control, surrender to the now and be grateful for it. I have started to see others with a new lens, but most importantly I see myself in a new way. I am not as harsh on the girl in the mirror.
Merge my desire to no longer try to control the narrative with removing busyness and distractions, and you start the journey of getting to the raw real person under there. It threw me into a crisis of sorts, but a good crisis.
Previously whenever I went through any type of major change, whether it was changing schools, moving, attending nursing school, having a baby, starting a new job, I learned to stuff down my emotions, avoid shame and grief like the plague and focus on whatever was at hand. This became my defense mechanism and tools through which I learned to build the wall of shame. Looking back I realize I never processed the grief of all the changes that ensued. My coping mechanism of denial attached itself to my identity and what others thought of me, how I looked, the way I dressed and conformed to a perfectionistic mentality became part of the narrative that I told myself. If you don’t look / act / respond in a certain way then people will not like you. You will be alone. It was the breeding ground for the narrative to take root of never being good enough. I equated God with this mentality as well. He must only love me if I am perfect.
Up until around age 9 I lived in a beautiful cocoon where no one really made fun of me for my weight, how I dressed, how different I may have appeared. I was loved and accepted by all. Then humanity showed up at our door step and suddenly I realized many things. In 3rd grade, the lady who was like a grandmother to me passed away, I started at a new school, our church (which was a huge part of our life) went through a major split causing us to change churches, my dad had just started his own business about a year before & our lives were consumed with that and I got made fun of relentlessly because I was fat. I went on my first diet, vowing to cut out sugar and sweets. By 5th grade I had dropped about 20 or so pounds and the attention I received from others was nothing like I had ever experienced before. I equated my looks to my self worth and it was a drug that I got hooked on. I started a roller coaster of dieting and eating disorders that lasted well into my 20’s. I used it as my crutch to control what I was not in control of and to never show the world I was hurting. Never processing the grief. I realize my issues pale in comparison to those who have experienced horrific childhood trauma. But these issues served as the building blocks for the false narrative I told myself for years.
I allowed shame to come in and take residence and began a cycle of negative self talk, perfectionism, unrelenting anxiety and fear that would somehow seem to manifest itself time and time again. That is until I said No more. It is exhausting always trying to be someone else or appease everyone and care so much about what others might think of you for fear that you might mess them up or they may not like you. Healing for me has been a journey.
As the Natalie Grant song goes, “You’re restoring me, piece by piece.”
When I got married, there was no major life crisis going on or something bigger than myself to dissolve into. I had someone to love and support me. I didn’t know what to do. I could no longer use my old defense tactics because that narrative didn’t hold up to my reality.
It was the first time I stopped to ask myself, Who Am I?
Perhaps some may think this is a midlife crisis. I don’t know. I think it is me allowing God to heal the parts of me that I covered up with busyness, distractions, perfectionism, comparison games, always wanting more, etc.
For so many years I told myself that I deserved the life I had because of past decisions or because I was not perfect like others. Never allowing myself to be truly happy. I told myself I didn’t deserve the happy families I saw on social media or the ones I interacted with. I didn’t deserve anything. I would never be pretty enough, good enough, etc. I was somehow a major defect. Despite goodness all around, in my core that is the narrative I chose to believe. Getting married and having wonderful things happen to me you would think I would have realized those things were not true. But changing what you have told yourself forever is not some magic switch you flip one day (at least for me it wasn’t). It has taken years of work to uncover the layers to get to the switch to flip it. And despite me getting to the point to flip the switch, I still struggle. But I am learning to change the way I see the struggle.
While this is not easy to share, I feel to share it in a sense to fully release it out and to provide an example of one of the issues I have had to work through. After my husband and I got married I thought I would never want another child. But then something happened. I started seeing others having babies, I saw young couples who got married and had their first child. I wanted that family that is on my social media feed, you know that elusive perfect family with the perfect Christmas / Easter pictures that is happily married and they have their kids dressed up in matching outfits and the dad takes the kids fishing and comes home and plays with the kids in the floor. They take amazing vacations each year, the wife is perfectly groomed, has an amazing social life and their kids are the perfect saints.
I thought if my husband and I would have a child it would somehow replace the years I lost where that is the one thing I wanted, a family. A husband to love me when I was pregnant, go to the ultrasound appointments with me. Be in the delivery room with me. Even though I already had a family I cannot tell you the days I beat myself up telling myself I was not deserving and I was flawed because my life did not look the way I thought it should.
I knew there were deeper issues here, but for months I relentlessly brought it up to my husband. “if you loved me you would want a child with me.” I pulled out the emotional baggage I still unknowingly carried from how I previously viewed men, to just use me. But that perception goes back to how I saw myself. Thankfully my husband saw past the shame screen and had patience with me.
Ultimately I realized my desire to get pregnant and have another child was yet another way to distance myself from the grief I had never allowed myself to process and from my inability to appreciate what I have now. I have a beautiful healthy happy family. By no means am I saying that someone shouldn’t want to have a child, but for me having a child was not really about having a child but yet was another attempt on my part to control the perfect narrative in my head and to create a distraction from dealing with deeper issues. I was looking for a way out of processing my own pain.
I recently read Brene Brown’s book, I thought it was just me but it isn’t. She says that we are all someone else’s “other.” So while I maybe looking at someone else thinking If only I had this… someone is looking at me with the same lens. We are all looking at each other.
The desire to have another child was the bandaid of choice for the grief I carried of being a single mom for so many years and always wanting that picture perfect family thinking it would solve all my issues. Having a child would not replace the shame of previously having a child out of wedlock and being envious of women who had a supportive spouse or partner to walk through them in it. Having a baby wouldn’t change how I compared myself to other Mom’s who seemed to have it all together. Having a baby wouldn’t make my husband love me more or less.
I learned to stop trying to write the narrative. While having a child is a wonderful thing to go through, it was not going to save me from myself. In fact having another child at this point in life would probably actually bring a whole new set of issues I would have to work through. Being close to 40 I know I would be labeled with the term “geriatric pregnancy.” How’s that for a boost of confidence. What I was mourning was the narrative I had told myself for so many years that my life would somehow be better if I lived up to the standards of what is normal, whatever that is. My perfectionism was trying to win, but I am tired of that game.
I have learned to let go of the shame. No I will never know what it is to have my husband go with me to the doctor and be happy at the first sound of the heart beat and ultra sound together. But I do have a loving supportive husband who will hold me when the tears spill out of my eyes for no reason. When I lash out at him in anger over my insecurities then have to go back and apologize, he still loves me.
No I will never know what it is to be married at 22 in a perfect Pinterest wedding, go on a honeymoon to Rome, come home and be a stay at home wife, living our best life for 5 years then have our first child, moving into our dream home, taking 2 week vacations to amazing locations every year.
The same struggles I dealt with mentally as a single person were magnified when I got married. I know its an age old saying but until you change inside, no matter the outward changes, the story in your brain will remain on that continual loop of “You are not good enough and you will never be good enough.” That is until you stop the loop.
I will never have that “perfect life” because it was all a made up world in my head. Painting myself into a corner of shame over how my life turned out.
I am tired of it all. It is exhausting. I have realized that No my life may not look like what I thought it would, but I have had amazing experiences that I probably would not have had if I had been in control of the narrative from the get go. While I am happy for people and families who have done things “the right way” and may have that picture perfect social media family, (whether they realize it or not) I am thankful that my experiences have not blinded me from the realities of our world or the power of who God is.
I have seen first hand the work of God as he provided for my daughter and I for so many years. I have seen the kindness and love of people from so many backgrounds in ways I know I would not have ever experienced had my life looked different.
The narrative I told myself is ultimately what God used to show Himself to me by placing people in my life to prove what I believed about Him and myself wrong. He showed me that I don’t have to be perfect. He isn’t going to love me any less if I look a certain way. It’s ok to cry. It’s ok to have good things happen to you. It’s ok to be angry. It’s ok to want more. That’s called being human. But in our weakness He is strong. I have learned to surrender the narrative to Him and have found strength that only He can give.
At the end of the day I have realized that I was the lucky one. Because had I not gone through the life I have lived up to this point, I would never appreciate what I have now. I would never be able to share my struggle, which in turn may help someone else.
I think each of us in our own way struggles with that “perfect” narrative. We somehow make ourselves seem less than who we are because we don’t fit the narrative without realizing we are already pretty amazing just as we are.
I don’t want to live a perfect life. I want to live my life. I don’t want to live what others think I should or what I think my social media feed is telling me to. I want to live the life I have been given and I want to be fully present in it. I want to tear down the big house with the white picket fence and green grass and bring my own house with its unique personality to the beautiful yard God has already had waiting for me.
This quote from Bob Goff sums everything up so pefectly:
“Don’t get punked by your past. It will lie to you, distract you, try to get your attention, and then laugh at you for looking. Shame has one goal and one goal alone: to keep you cemented in a dark past while it hides you from a beautiful future.”