When I was a little girl, my father taught me (by leaving) a few really important lessons about life, which I have never forgotten. Namely that,
1. I was too difficult, and when you’re difficult, people leave.
2. That I wasn’t enough, because if I had been, he would have stayed.
3. That I was flawed beyond repair, such that my own parent would abandon ship.
And these lessons – these “truths” – are ones I’ve carried around as heavy burdens my entire life… until now. Until now, when the pain of staying stuck in my same old stories, my same old patterns and same old beliefs has become much (MUCH) more excruciating than the pain of deconstructing and replacing those narratives which have at many different points in time destroyed me, my relationships and my peace.
When we are young, we learn about the world through limited cognitive abilities and assemble highly emotional storylines from our experiences. Generally speaking, our primitive desires and fears are what drive those conclusions, and usually we never take the time to purposefully interrogate those less-than-helpful beliefs about the world and the people that inhabit it. But, I believe that much of our work is about knowing where we come from, so that we can accurately assess why we are where we are and, from there, determine where we want to go. Which is to say that loving the woman you are starts with honoring the girl you once were.
For me, that means honoring the fact that although my father leaving was certainly not the worst thing that could happen to a child, it still hurt deeply and profoundly affected (and continues to affect) my life in innumerable and often latent ways. This does not mean I get stuck there or set up camp in a space of mourning, but it does mean that every time my partner appears to be frustrated, I can question whether or not it’s quite as catastrophic as it feels to my rattled 5-year old brain. Or that I can breathe through criticism without dissolving into a puddle of panic or angry lashing out. It means that when I start to get tunnel vision and feel attacked, belittled, unimportant or any other manner of rejected, I can ask more clearly, “Is this true? Or is this an old story popping up?”
In other words, in order to move forward, we must accept and acknowledge our “truths” so that when our defenses are triggered or our wounds poked, we can see what’s going on and call it by its name. Which, no, does not make it less scary, but it certainly makes it more navigable. Because, as I’ve said countless times, change always begins with awareness.
As women, we have not been taught what it feels like to accept all of who we are. We have been taught to neglect ourselves so as not to seem self-absorbed, and to make peace by declaring ourselves void of feelings, thoughts and opinions. Whether or not we’re willing to admit this, the culture we live in would much rather see us than hear us, and this is true of women to women exchanges, not just the men we vilify with movements like #metoo. I have had many girlfriends over the years tell me I’m too opinionated and too vocal. But, what do we teach our daughters when we teach them that the best way to be liked is to be quiet? Better yet, what do we teach ourselves when we only accept the pretty, tidy, presentable parts of us? What do we miss out on or leave behind when we refuse acceptance of that which makes us messy, complicated and sometimes even downright ugly?
What we miss out on is love. Wholehearted, all-encompassing, unconditional … love. And love, my beautiful friend, is why we’re here.
I understand how scary (read: terrifying) and destabilizing it can feel to do this work. To do the undoing and the uncovering and the changing. But it’s all a part of the perfect process that is growth. All a part of the process that brings us closer and closer to experiencing love in it’s truest forms. Not as dysfunctional attachments, obligatory familial ties or self-fulfilling prophecies of abandonment, but as real, non-relational, present Love. The kind that lets us sink into our bodies, breathe easy and feel at home. The kind that spontaneously leads to gratitude, joy and a warm, soothing sense of safety.
So, how do we do this? We look at hard stuff. We try to understand what our childlike motivations are and we give ourselves compassion. Endless, forgiving, loving compassion. When we mess up, we recognize that the little girl inside doesn’t make rational decisions or logical choices and we give her a hug. We tell her it will be alright and we understand that she’s doing the best she can with her limited capability. We understand that in order to move forward as secure, grounded, steady women, we must accept that we WILL run up against our petulant inner children at times, and we mother ourselves. We nurture ourselves. And we do our best. Because in the end, that’s all any of us can do: Our best.
To love the woman you are, heal the girl you were. Love her. Thank her for getting you this far, and then gently take the reigns and do things differently this time.