“The dark does not destroy the light; it defines it. It’s our fear of the dark that casts our joy into the shadows.” Brene Brown
I cannot recall the exact moment it happened for me….this losing of my voice.
What I can recall though are the moments that it had made its appearance before slipping quietly back into the safety of its witness protection program.
From time to time , In fits of anger or bubbled up courage, I would allow my voice to surface and speak out.
While in my head my words had the eloquence and power of Martin Luther King, in real life they would fumble out of my mouth and end up looking more like the awkward fight scene in Napoleon Dynamite.
The fumbling would inevitably trigger an avalanche of shame in me and so I would work hard to keep my words quiet….I would retreat safely into silence or craft my words in a manner that made everyone around me feel at ease.
I purposefully quieted my voice to allow space for others to speak more loudly….and in this I shrank.
Some how everyone else’s well being was more important than my own.
Basically, everyone else’s comfort held a higher esteem than my own dignity.
This was my sad little truth.
The problem is that when I allowed my own dignity to be diminished, it dug a deeper hole into the pit of fear, loneliness and rejection blocking any chance of real relationship.
When shame binds you….fear will define you.
Growing up in a home rife with emotionally unbalanced people meant living in a home with floors made of egg shells. What anyone said or did could pull the trigger of violence and no one , BUT NO ONE , was safe.
So I learned from a young age that being invisible was not just safe, but a super power.
My father layed the ground work.
You see, my dad was a deeply insecure and broken man whose defence came through his fists. One of my first and only memories of him with my mother was when he knocked her off her chair as she fed me. I was in my high chair opening my mouth to receive the food on the end of the spoon and as she reached the spoon towards me his fist connected with her skull and she fell to the floor. I was barely a year old and had not yet learned to speak, BUT had begun the lesson that what I said would either keep me safe or tip the scales.
Again, at five years old, after years of being bounced between parents and grand parents, I went to live with my father, his new wife and her son who was my age.
My father put me on a pedestal and praised me at every turn which you would think would have a positive affect and build my self worth.However, there was dark side of this as my father also beat his step son into submission with clenched teeth and closed fists. This sometimes happened at the dinner table but mostly happened behind closed doors. The screams of that boy child invaded every corner of my imagination and I would sit frozen in fear as a shame storm ravaged my tender soul.
The message was loud and clear….NO ONE WAS SAFE…so shrink away unseen.
His hands never had to land on me for me to be hurt. My flesh was not damaged by him, but my heart and soul were torn to shreds making fertile ground for shame to reign supreme.
This was the beginning of the shaping of my character. I knew at 5 years old that my words held power and what I said or didn’t say was going to protect me and everyone around me.
Invisibility may have been my super power but I had to somehow find a way to exist in the world before me. Shrinking away was not always a possibility and so hustling for my self worth became an art in which I excelled. When the only mirror to who you are is via severely damaged and darkened souls you experience yourself as deeply flawed and unworthy of real love and belonging. So in this, you work to be what you think others need in order to be ok. When this is the only view of yourself, you accept it as truth and you go about the lonely business of avoiding real connection and in this, shame quietly wins.
Fast forward almost 49 years old ( I am on the fast train to 50) and I am just realizing the importance of not only finding my voice….but actually using it.
The first step has been in admitting that it was lost. It existed somewhere, but was unrecognizable. I have really had to get out the big girl shovel and dig through piles of shame to find it.
When I finally found it all beaten down and cowering in the corner, I was not so sure I wanted it to come out.
It had a lot to say and it was scary.
I was afraid of its power.
What if it was unruly and carelessly opened doors that I was not ready to open?
What if it told stories that I did not want told?
And then that magic moment happened. I looked into the eyes of my oldest daughter who saw that I was not speaking up for myself. She defended me in a situation that she should not have had to. She spoke the words that should have come out of me but my voice was too tired and beaten down.
I saw it right there in her eyes …the “why mom?”
How do I tell her that it is because I am afraid or because I am trying to protect her? That my silence is my superpower…That I am still believing in the lie that it will save us in the end.
There it sat.
The truth is that I was holding on to a lie and my kids deserved better. They deserve a mother that speaks up….a mother that loves herself enough to know that her voice matters.
I want for them to feel whole and go out into the world equipped to experience love and belonging and trust.
I had to recognize that I am a leader and my little followers will go where ever I lead them. That is a powerful thought and I knew I had to step out at all cost.
In wanting something better for those I loved my search began. I stepped out in faith and began by praying.
I prayed for the courage to move into this place of vulnerability.
I prayed for walls to come down.
I prayed for clarity and direction.
I prayed for wisdom of those who have walked before me.
If you are reading this I ask you to continue to pray for me as this will probably always be my battle.
I prayed and I listened.
I read and I talked it out.
I sought healing in counselling and I surrounded myself with people on the same path….and then as my eyes began to open so did my heart.
A friend invited me to sign up for the Brene Brown Courage works course. Her work as a shame researcher has more than held my interest and she has helped shed light on my inner workings. Through this course my eyes have been opened to these facts;
- I crave wholeheartedness
- I am bound by shame and this keeps me from using my voice and living wholeheartedly
- Empathy heals shame
- Self compassion helps me to move through releasing shame I put on myself
- In order to have courage to live out side of fear and shame and practice using my voice I must allow myself to be vulnerable
- Vulnerability will lead to wholeheartedness
Not sure why it takes having kids to want this for myself but it is a real wake up call to understand that I could not expect my kids to experience wholeness when I modelled something different.
I searched scripture to see how Jesus views me and how he views all women. God, in the flesh, came at a time when women were valued as less than cattle and he spoke to women in that time and told them (paraphrase)”Sisters, take your high place!” and in the same way he spoke these words to me.
He has reminded that my image….my narrative….my value, is not to be decided by the broken people who have defined this aspect of me for so long. God has given me the power to step out of this. He has shown me through Jesus that I am valued beyond measure and has put loving friends on my path who speak healing truth…. a balm to my injured soul…
” You are a new creation in Christ”
A new creation means I no longer have to hold on to the garbage of my past. Time to declutter and renew my thinking. I can let go of what was so that I have space for what I want to be.
I am going to need a lot of space because my heart feels crowded.
It needs a workspace.
A sacred place.
A place to stretch out and listen….listen for God’s voice and in that find my own voice.