When I think back upon the misadventures of my life, I have been slow to attach labels to the things that I felt in various stages. After all, once we attach a label to something, we rob ourselves of the freedom to describe it any other way. We build a box around the thing to which no other identification shall seep. Perhaps it’s easier for us to digest truths when we decide to understand them by giving them a name – an example of our very human need to be in control.
While my labeling system has included such tabs as “painful”, “lonely”, “forgotten”, “unimportant”, “shameful”, and “invisible”, it has also included descriptors such as “strong”, “surviving”, “forethinking”, “bulletproof” , and “capable”. One would think that with counter labels as the latter ones, nothing could get to me.
Yet, it became clear last week, in a moment of active reflection, that I missed perhaps one of the most powerful labels in any arsenal: “fear”.
Is it possible that I spent the better part of my young life afraid? Didn’t I have a roof over my head and 7 other people in my home to assure my safety? Wasn’t I warm and dry and fed?
Fear is a cunning emotion. I realize that now. It sneaks through our physiology without letting us know where it is, while simultaneously building a cozy nest somewhere in our core. But, if it was there, why and how did I miss it?
I spent my entire childhood trying not to be a burden to my parents. I knew that I was expected to clean my plate, not talk back, do what I was told, and get good grades. Sometimes at the supper table, the only meal we ate together as a family, a hand would fly across my head or face accompanied by the instructions to, “Sit up straight, Goddamit!”. The result was an attempt to hold my head up while choking down tears and the food I’d just put in my mouth seconds earlier. That would usually last either until the next outburst or until dinner finally ended. Thinking about that now, how can that not be frightening? Never knowing when you would be ambushed with physical harm and sub sequential embarrassment would put any adult on guard. I’m sure my uncertainty as a child was significantly magnified.
I still can’t sit or stand up straight to this day…
Physical, mental and emotional abuse existed in my home. Every single member of my family suffered and without exception. No one emerged unscathed. Nor did any of us learn how to handle our pain and fear in a healthy way. It has taken me, personally, decades to finally come to grips with and accept my story.
And so I came forth as a young adult: ashamed and unworthy and self-reliant but untrusting of every one in the world. I was determined to never return to those days of my life. But the truth is that I never escaped. Fear has dominated every memory, every relationship since then.
I have spent more years outside of that family than inside. I have my own children now. I have sworn not to raise them in the same way, and thus far, I have not. Yet just this past week, both my children were diagnosed with anxiety issues. Where did I go wrong? When did I miss the warning signs? How much is genetic and how much is environmental? Have I failed them? And how can I make them feel peace in this absolutely batshit crazy, tribal, angry and polarized world?
Fear wasn’t just an emotion of my childhood. It WAS my childhood. It is so obvious to me now. I haven’t quite wrapped my head around it yet. I need more time to sit and be with myself as I feel the fear again and let it consume me. It must finish its destruction before I can begin reconstruction. Maybe this is what finding out who we are truly means: letting the incompletion of all the things we suffered and pushed away finally get through the wash and rinse cycle, the agitation and the removal of the impurity. Because we were all pure beings when we entered the world. Innocence was and still is at our core. We only have to emerge…Where is the stifled beauty we each uniquely possess?
Can you sit with your pain and let it finish its course and control over you? Life is a shit show. Time to take the front row seat and bear witness to it all…fearlessly.