What’s the point in rehashing the past, telling my stories once I’ve moved past them? Why am I bothering to reexamine painful periods in my life, what’s to be gained?
“Telling your story is a participatory act. It’s an act of courage. It means choosing to engage the conversation of your life with insight, perspective, and a little distance. Doing so will allow you to see the archetypes, patterns, and underlying human struggles for redemption.”–Albert Flynn DeSilver, Writing as a Path to Awakening
I want to regain my courage.
My past is filled with complexity, struggle, messy history, fucked-up thinking, and bad behavior.
I absolutely want redemption.
I grew up in lack – of love, attention, affection, money, security. Maybe everybody else had it just as bad as I did; maybe I didn’t have it all that bad. I’m not sure. There are huge gaps in my childhood and young adult memories and let’s face it – there is plenty of evidence that everyone’s childhood memories are suspect and unreliable. What I know for sure is that I struggled. I was a super-sensitive kid who felt things deeply. To avoid the pain of everyday life, I did my best to live in a fantasy world of books, and to float out of my body. (That was later diagnosed as Dissociative Disorder and explains my childhood amnesia – I simply was not present.)
My childhood nickname was Cinderella. I did everything in my power to earn positive attention, to feel worthy of love, to earn my right to a bit of joy. When I worked hard and achieved a modicum of success the reaction would be, “Who do you think you are?” and that put me right back in my place.
I spent my early adult years stumbling along, clawing my way out of holes I dug myself into and out of holes I got thrown into. I was on both the giving and receiving end of the appalling ways humans treat each other. I wanted to be happy – meaningful work, my right life partner, a family, a home, a sense of purpose. But my relationship skills were abysmal, I blamed everyone but myself for what went wrong, I felt victimized and bitter. I put out toxic energy under a veneer of being nice, friendly, accommodating. I took care of everyone else’s needs without a clue of how to take care of my own. I seemed OK on the surface, and simmered with co-dependent rage, resentment and (often misdirected) anger underneath. I felt life was a zero-sum game – if things went well in one area then something turned to shit in another area. Or else it was just a matter of time before the other shoe dropped and anything good I achieved got taken away. “Who do you think you are?”
Jump ahead 30 years. I’m happy. I’ve found my life partner. We are raising a daughter and living in a home I love. By now I have 3 college degrees, have worked in a couple of meaningful careers, and my life with family and friends, along with volunteer work, give me a sense of purpose.
Yet as my life evolved and all my dreams came true, I became more and more cowardly. I constantly feared reverting back to my state of profound unhappiness. I didn’t want to rock the boat and get pitched out, go underwater, and be fighting for my life again. Everything revolved around playing it safe. My consciousness did not contain the concept that life can be good, and then things can change and get even better. The neural pathway for that idea did not exist. However, the neural pathway for “Who do you think you are?” was still very much alive.
I didn’t trust myself. I didn’t believe I had fundamentally changed. Despite the evidence I had learned the formula for manifesting one heart-felt dream and then the next, I doubted myself. So I tried to stop time. I felt perched on the head of a pin, afraid to take a step in any direction. But I found constantly playing small and playing safe wasn’t working. I’d gone from living an existence so miserable that I occasionally considered suicide (during the 30-year period I jumped over) to something just as scary. Turns out sitting in my comfort zone and not reaching for my next dream is a form of spiritual suicide.
There is transformative power in telling a story, precisely because it can feel so uncomfortable. When I lived on the edge of fear and darkness, my attitude of what do I have to lose gave me an edge of craziness that kept me feeling fully alive. My life was energized through recklessness and dangerous risk taking. Inside the safe and comfortable life I have now, I still want experiences that make me feel fully alive. I still want experiences that change who I am. Writing does that.
I want spiritual growth and evolution.
“That’s exactly what we soul writers seek: to connect with our innate wisdom, discern the truth behind our story, and move on. Move on from the place where we are to a new place where there is greater peace, greater love, greater possibility.”–Janet Conner, Writing Down Your Soul
My daughter came into my life when I was 44. She was not with me during the years of hardship, struggle, broken dreams, misery, heartbreaks and tough lessons. She has only known me as mature, loving, well functioning, happy, predictable and sane (I like thinking that; I could be wrong). So I decided to share my story, and in the process become more truthful and fearless as I allow her to peek behind the curtain and see the life I’ve lived. And in doing that, I hope to help her understand why I think, believe, and act the way I do. I hope to share something that will resonate if she goes through a dark night of the soul after I’m no longer here to help her navigate the darkness.
“Much of the beauty of light owes its existence to the dark. The most powerful moments of our lives happen when we string together the small flickers of light created by courage, compassion, and connection and see them shine in the darkness of our struggles.”–Brene Brown, Daring Greatly
I want my daughter to know who I am. I want to tell a story that will reach out to her with love, encouragement and support during tough times.
Life has challenges. That is the human condition. At the same time, life is a precious gift, to be savored and enjoyed to the last moment. I live in a constant state of gratitude, and when my time here is up, I will cross over to the mystery of the other side on an energetic wave of love and gratitude the size of a tsunami. Why wouldn’t I share what I’ve learned? “Who do you think you are?” I think I’m someone with a story to tell.
“The impulse to keep to yourself what you have learned is not only shameful, it is destructive. Anything you do not give freely and abundantly becomes lost to you. You open your safe and find ashes.”–Annie Dillard (quoted in Show Your Work by Austin Kleon)
“No one is as capable of gratitude as one who has emerged from the kingdom of night. We know that every moment is a moment of grace, every hour an offering; not to share them would mean to betray them.”–Elie Wiesel
© 2021 Carol Merwin