When I was 5 (think about that for a minute. FIVE) I would tell my mom "I'm going to go get the other Natalie." I would literally walk to my bedroom, have a small discussion with two selves and walk back out to my mom and say "I'm sorry about her. The good Natalie is here now." I have no memory of what caused me to do that, but I do know it was rewarded. I do know that it made the room lighter. I do know that it felt good. I was proud of this little drama that I played over the years and I would brag about it well into adulthood, like it was some kind of superpower. Oh, I just go get the other Natalie. When my son was very little, I would plead, I wish you could just go get the other O.
So here I am in my 40's and I tell this story to my therapist and his face goes white. And for the first time in my life I got a very different reaction to that story. And we've been working on digging it up for the past year and let me tell ya, it just keeps on giving.
Janaya Future Khan's Instagram Sunday Sermon a few weeks ago was all about saying what you want to say. It's about Being Liked vs Being Honest. Janay reminds us "Remember, nothing that requires you to lie or make yourself small can ever truly be like, or love. It's time to give ourselves the chance to shine, and when we do, justice shines all the more brightly."
I am not trying to sound dramatic when I say that the fear I have inside me of telling someone how I feel if I am angry or upset, is that of abandonment, which feels like death. And I know I am not the only one, so perhaps that's why I feel compelled to attempt to articulate this. I have been training myself to stay small my ENTIRE life. When people express anger near me, I do not (in my core) feel safe. And safety is primal. It's what we all want. So it's not only easier to stay quiet, to stay small, but it also feels safer. Which is a lie.
I'm a woman (a strong woman, none-the-less) in her mid-40's and my therapist keeps reminding me that he is not going anywhere. My fear of abandonment is so deep within me. Especially when I am being vulnerable, when I am speaking my truth. I am just now learning how to do that. When you spend your life staying small and not speaking up, then you lose your sense of self. You lose your ability to know what it is you actually want to say.
In this past Sunday sermon, Janaya says "If you aren't using your pain, then the pain is using you. We have to let ourselves feel the pain. But you've got to go through it otherwise you are going to be living in the shadow of it for the rest of your life." Janay asks "Are you working towards the person that you want to be? You have a voice, you have to find a way to use it. Your timeline is your own." And that right there....your timeline is your own...I needed to hear that.
Protecting the feelings of those around me (by staying quiet), feeling like I am responsible for the feelings and actions of other people (it's my fault), fearing abandonment for speaking up (feels like death), seeking nothing but approval from everyone, all the time (not possible)- shedding these core beliefs, taking off this old skin, it is simply learning how to be vulnerable. Most of us are not raised in a way that honors our emotions or honors vulnerability. We shame ourselves to death, beating ourselves into being submissive and no longer knowing who we really are.
In Pete Walker's amazing book titled Complex PTSD: From Surviving to Thriving, he writes "Eventually, any inclination toward authentic or vulnerable self-expression activates internal neural networks of self-loathing. The child is forced to exist in a crippling state of self-attack, which eventually becomes the equivalent of full-fledged self-abandonment. The ability to support himself or take his own side in any way is decimated."
And this is an epidemic. It's ancestral. Cultural. So many of us carry this burden. Just look at the success of Dr. Nicole LePera ( @the.holistic.psychologist ) and the sharing of her profound wisdom on Instagram and how her teachings resonate with 3.3 MILLION people and counting. Another therapist whose wisdom I am grateful for is Nedra Glover Tawwab (@nedratawwab) If this work interests you, please follow them if you don't already.
I think it comes down to being asked the good questions, the ones that make you go deep, the ones that make you feel like you need to sleep for a few weeks, and then trusting yourself enough to come up with an honest answer.
There have been times over the past year that I just want to quit. I want to give into the desire to just sit in the darkness. I'm tired, too. We are all so tired. But everything has changed and there is no going back to the way things used to be. I can no longer go get the other Natalie, she is no longer available to me. She got me this far, and now I have to learn and unlearn. It's reassuring to know that science affirms that WE CAN CHANGE OUR BRAINS. But wow is it ever a meandering, dark path of chasing off the monsters. But on the other side (I believe) is true freedom which is a voice, inner trust, self knowing and self love.