“Who are you?”
I was not always sure how to answer that question. Since 1987, public relations gurus had written my professional bio for me saying, “All you have to do is memorize it, and remain that person in public”. Like a storm shelter, becoming a workaholic allowed me to avoid my vulnerable interior. Instead of confronting the results of decades of trauma as a youth, I secretly hoped I could just ignore it, like it never happened. It didn’t quite work out this way.
One day, my pity-party was interrupted by these hauntingly painful words:
If you know my story, you may be as shocked as I was. I mean, how could I let a simple sentence like that bother me so much, if at all? Truth is, that statement probably hurt me more than all of the abuse and bullying in totality.
My immediate reaction was to jump into the safety net of the “victim mindset” and shout back in retaliative defense, “I have always been broken and defective, I have always been on the other side of the fence. I always have and always will be the reject that nobody understands, and everybody hates”.
Yet, underneath the bitterness, it felt like my heart had been shattered. For years, I had worked extremely hard on trying to change my personality so I could be “normal”. I had tried for years to shift my toxic mindset, to start trusting and caring about others, to conquer the near-uncontrollable anxiety and bitter sarcasm, and to free my heart from years of unrelenting pain and anger. In fact, I tried so hard that I mistook my emotional detachment as success, and my isolation for strength.
With every replay of those hurtful words, it became obvious just how fragile my inner spirit was. The individual who said that to me was one of five human beings I had truly loved. He knew my deepest secrets and biggest dreams. Although it took awhile, he was the first person I had truly ever trusted. I had removed the walls around my heart for him, and I considered him my best and only friend. Yet here I was, immediately starting the reconstruction of my heart walls.
After my emotions came to a grinding halt, and my logic was in full throttle, I realized that he was also my biggest and only cheerleader, no matter how big the defense. I also realized that the Universe assigned him to the difficult task of delivering that life-changing message.
You see, I believe everything that happens to us also happens for us, and that each storm we survive carries a valuable lesson. I also believe that if we ignore the often-subtle clues of the lesson we are about to learn, they become larger, until we cannot ignore them anymore. No matter what, we will never be able to outrun the lessons that are waiting for us. So, while reminding myself of these beliefs, I also recalled hearing variations of those words for many years. I either wasn’t listening or wasn’t quite ready to hear them.
After being hit repeatedly with the “crane of pain”, the storm shelter finally gave in and the damn of self-awareness rushed in to consumed me. It was time to sink or swim because I now was swirling around in the middle of an emotional hurricane. The emotions were raging out of control and the words were piercing my gut. I felt like I was drowning while being pregnant with an angry child who was trying to break free from years of torment and anguish.
As a successful trauma therapist, I was now faced with my most difficult client ever… my inner child. I had to be understanding yet tough. I had to realistically and fairly look at the choices I had made along the way which led me to this day of reckoning. I had spent my entire life feeling as if I was alone and trapped on the other side of the fence, away from all the normal people. I had become obsessed about how to transform into one of the popular people. I had allowed the “you are defective” tape to play over and over in my mind for years. In return, my anxiety and fear had been paralyzing me.
It was now time to take responsibility for my actions – or lack thereof – and it was time to forgive myself for settling behind this powerful fence of segregation.
Then it clicked…
I had spent years giving people mixed messages because my internal environment was in a power struggle with my external facade. My outdated beliefs, and toxic thoughts, behaviors, and attitude were slowing suffocating me. In self-defense, I was a responsible adult by day, and a hot-tempered, spoiled nine-year-old by night.
I could talk the lingo of the mental health world, and I could verbally define the meaning of authenticity – but I had no clue how to actually be genuine. In fact, the mere thought of even trying was utterly exhausting.
Nevertheless, I was now faced with three choices:
#1: Refocus on my career and ignore my personal side again (easiest option but not obviously not helpful);
#2: Continue trying to change or fake it so I could fit in with the normal people. Yet as a result, I was now standing bare-naked inside in the “Mental Auschwitz Camp”;
#3: Try something new and start my journey toward authenticity. I knew it would not be a quick trip, but I also knew that this was the healthiest, best and right choice.
So, I packed my bags and prepared for flight.
Along the way, I was able to empty my suitcase. I traded my self-criticism for acceptance, my mental bullies for love, my anxiety for forgiveness, and my hatred for gratitude. I also cashed in my bonus miles, and traded my tunnel-vision for clarity.
When everything came together, I realized that I had been so busy running from my past while being suppressed by the fence, that I never bothered to look in my heart for the key. I had gotten so accustomed to the darkness and isolation, that I never noticed that my inner warrior was with me the entire time.
You always have your inner warrior.