I want to share a story with you, in the hope that there may be some nugget you receive from it. Perhaps you may see some part of yourself reflected in it and that you may let it serve as an invitation to step into a new story for yourself.
Like standing on the bank of a stream, peering at your reflection gently rippling on the surface, and seeing yourself clearly for the first time . . . as you let the stream begin to carry away the old story that no longer serves you. I was an accident.
My mom and dad had been dating for a short period of time when, sometime in late spring of 1971, there was a drunken night at a party that led to my conception. The stuff romance is made of, right? My mom would have been 17 (just having or maybe not yet having graduated from high school) and my dad would have been 23 (back from the Vietnam war for a year or so).
They got married in the fall of 1971.
I was born February 7, 1972 – clearly less than nine months after they got married . . . a mathematical computation that I figured out when I was fairly young. My parents never talked about how they felt or what thoughts they had when they found out that my mom was pregnant. And I certainly was never raised with any messages about being an “accident.”
I can only imagine what it may have been like for my mom, at such a young age and in 1971, to have been faced with the toughest decision of her life: to have me or not. I can imagine that initially she was shocked, scared, uncertain . . . basically that she experienced some traumatic feelings. Trauma that she never fully processed . . . that rooted itself deep within her. Trauma that got passed on to me because, as we know, the issues are in our tissues.
I also can imagine that my mom struggled with what to do with the dreams she had for herself (like becoming a nurse). . . dreams that she ultimately chose to put on the shelf so that she could raise me. My mom buried the hope of her dreams deep in her tissues and, consequently, into mine. But I can only imagine all of this . . . I never got the chance to ask her.
All I know is that my mom adored me. She never let on in any way that she felt that she had sacrificed for me or that she had deprived herself of anything. My mom reminded me every day and in every way that I was exceptional. I was her spitting image. I was brilliant and gifted. I was walking and fully potty-trained at nine months. I could read the entirety of Bambi Gets Lost before kindergarten. She loved to brag about me.
I was her Baby Girl.
She was a fierce mother. God help anyone who tried to mess with me or question how exceptional I was. She had me on a pedestal. My dad, on the other hand, was mute. I never knew, one way or the other, how he viewed me. I just kind of assumed that he loved me. He showed his love for me by working hard, providing for our family, and doing things with me like hunting, or wrestling, or pulling me behind his jeep on a sled in a snowy cornfield.
Messages from my parents about my worth and value were, in hindsight, very conflicting or, at best, ambiguous. My mom had me on a pedestal. My dad had me in the dark. Moreover, the rest of the world did not put me on a pedestal. So when I started being around other children and adults as early as pre-school, I quickly learned that I wasn’t always going to be number one . . . that other people didn’t see me the way my mom did. It was discombobulating.
The pedestal I was on was very tenuous . . . and when others knocked me off of it, I fell hard and far. And anytime I was knocked off of that pedestal, I got very angry. Anger was my go-to for most of my life. And the anger was always directed at myself. I became an expert at being angry at myself. Beating myself up. Berating myself. Seeing my shortcomings. Finding every single flaw in myself. Because if I could find all my flaws and shortcomings, then I could fix them and no one would ever be able to knock me off of my pedestal. My pedestal where I was safe and secure. Above everyone and everything. Isolated. Not needing anyone.
“Not needing anyone” is the other message that I received from my parents. Neither of my parents ever asked for help . . . from each other or from the rest of the world. And they raised me with that same “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” mentality.
Asking for help meant weakness. And if you’re weak, you’re not worthy. True worth comes from being exceptional all by yourself, with no help from anyone, right?
So fast forward 49 years and here I am . . . on my safe little pedestal, still getting knocked off every day with reminders about how unexceptional I am . . . feeling that deep sense of discombobulation . . . yet never asking anyone for help. I’ll climb back up on my pedestal all by my freakin’ self because then, and only then, will I know that I’m actually worthy.
Where . . . in . . . the ever-loving hell . . . did this all come from?
My mom used to tell the story of how she came home one day when I was in first or second grade to find me at the dining room table writing some word 500 times. When she asked me what I was doing, I told her that I’d missed this word on a spelling test. It was the only word out of ten that I’d gotten wrong. My mom asked if the teacher was making me write that word 500 times. I looked up at her, pushed my glasses up on my nose, and said “No, I’m making myself do it because I’m never going to spell this word wrong again.”
To this day, I have no idea what that word was. My mom always said that’s just how I was . . . hard on myself. Again, where in the ever-loving hell did that self-punishment come from? I was seven or eight years old! My mom and dad certainly never were upset if I missed one word – even or all of them – on a spelling test. They just wanted me to try my best.
I’ve asked myself a lot over the last couple of years why I have always felt, from a very young age, that I was never good enough despite all of my mom’s affirmations of my worth. I’ve just felt like this unworthiness – this “not enoughness” – was deeply embedded within me, without explanation.
And then the trigger . . .
Recently, I went to the rock climbing gym with a friend. I had one of those climbing days where nothing seemed to go right. My friend, who is a much better climber than me, offered kind and very helpful advice about trusting my toes and using less energy.
Her wise advice, however, landed in me like a grenade, exploding me into instant anger and self-judgment (which I stifled so that my friend wouldn’t notice).
“Well, I must suck at climbing because she’s telling me what I’m doing ‘wrong.’ Clearly, I look like an idiot and don’t know what I’m doing. That’s it. I suck. I can’t do anything right,” is what I said to myself.
That’s how fast it happened. That’s called a trigger.
Triggers – no matter how big or small – are an invitation to acknowledge something deeper within us. Some hurt that has been buried. But we have to be willing and open to do the excavation to get to that hurt. Otherwise, we will keep getting triggered, even by the smallest of things.
We will keep getting triggered until we learn what we’re supposed to learn. Over the last two and a half years, I’ve done a lot of self-work. I’ve started to acknowledge a lot of my triggers. But the big granddaddy of them all – my deeply embedded “not enoughness” – was still lurking beneath the surface.
After that seemingly small trigger recently, I slipped into some deep self-loathing. I totally spun out over all the things where I’m “not good enough.” I completely crashed energetically. And I let myself just stay there yesterday. Then, this morning, despite feeling some resistance to sitting down to journal, I did it anyway. Two hours and 13 pages later, I was astounded at what came pouring out. I felt like a 20-pound weight had been lifted off of my chest. I actually felt lighter, more open.
How and why?
As I allowed myself to sit . . . let my thoughts and emotions flow onto the page, unfiltered . . . I listened to what the trigger was telling me.
What I learned from listening to the deep wisdom within me was this:
(1) I have always believed – in my bones – that I needed to prove that I deserved to be here. Whether that belief was transferred into my tissues from my mom’s own trauma of becoming accidentally pregnant at such a young age, or whether it was inflicted on me from some other source shortly after I was born, I’ll never really know. But what I do know, is that some message took root deep in my body, telling me that I was going to have to prove my worthiness and value. That I needed to prove I was worthy of being alive; and
(2) That I had to prove this value all by myself. That I could never ask for or receive help and, if I did, that it meant “See, you’re really not worthy because you couldn’t do it by yourself.”
This revelation is what we call a Truth Bitch Slap (TBS) or, if you prefer, a Truth Bomb. All of my life, I’ve been trying – all by myself – to prove that I am worthy of being alive.
As icky as that sounds, it’s what I know. It’s what feels comfortable. It’s the Devil I know. And it’s more comfortable than the Devil I don’t know, but once I acknowledged that TBS, something in me broke open and released. The weight lifted. And now I saw the truth:
I am worthy because I am alive. And I am fully open to receiving. Because I could see this truth, I could let go of my old story and step into a new story. All of that happened because I was triggered by advice on how to climb a 5.8 wall at the gym . . . because I was willing to acknowledge and be with that trigger.
I was willing to come down off of my pedestal, because my pedestal isn’t what makes me worthy. My mom and dad’s view of me doesn’t make me worthy or unworthy.
Other people’s view of me doesn’t make me worthy or unworthy. I am worthy because I am here. My pedestal doesn’t keep me safe. It keeps me isolated.
When I come down off of the pedestal, I’m in a better position to receive ; to receive the love, guidance, and help from others that I deserve because I am worthy . . . because I am alive.
The real key . . .
Although there are several practices, like journalling, that contributed to this revelation, there’s one that is absolutely key to allowing me to be in the space to do these other practices and allows me to acknowledge and be with the trigger, the ickiness, the sadness:
Without giving myself the awareness and space I needed, I wouldn’t have had this revelation. If I’d told myself to get over it, ignore it ,push past it, or that it was all just stupid, I would have missed the message that the trigger was trying to tell me.
I would not have been able to be kind to myself and let the anger and sadness be there without doubling-down on self-judgment for being angry and sad. This is why I believe that mindful self-compassion is such a vital practice. It allows us the space to be kind to ourselves, so that we can bring awareness to what needs to be seen and held.
Mindful self-compassion invites us to crack open the door to seeing our own self-worth and, from that place, to receive all the love and abundance that we deserve.
Mindful self-compassion invites us to step onto the riverbank, see our reflection in the water, and love what we see.
Michele Walter is certified mindful meditation teacher. To learn more about Michele and her services, visit http://www.lifefromthesummit.com