I was raised in an aggressively religious, creatively-stunted home. Not only was critical thinking frowned upon, but any intuitive notions without religious undertones were given the stink eye.
And everything was conditional. Including love and acceptance. I couldn’t just be me, I had to be the right me. The approved me. But none of those thin and quiet personalities fit onto my wild and curvy form. I couldn’t be “right”, so I always felt a little wrong. And that sprouted a bitter, and sometimes harmful, resentment.
My family would often erupt into violent displays of anger so terrifying that my young mind quickly understood that if I were to survive, displaying anger was something to be avoided at all costs. In the end I understood too quickly.
I became a walking wound. Everything hurt. And because I wanted so desperately to avoid showing anger, I seethed.
If you aren’t allowed to utilize your mental powers to arrive at conclusions, judgments, or decisions, and you’re not allowed to acquire knowledge without conscious reasoning, then you are going to spend your life walking around and around and around in a very small circle. I was basically standing in place, spinning.
If you are never made to feel comfortable in your own skin, your flesh becomes armor to keep your too-tender self safe. You build a wall to surround you, protect you. It’s only later that you realize that you forgot to include a door. And still, for all of this effort, I never really felt safe.
Suffice to say, I remained closed for the early part of my life.
Like most of us, when I was in my mid-teens to early twenties I didn’t understand much about myself. What’s worse, in my case, is that I have always been overly empathic. It comes easy to me to assess the emotional state of others, and to not only know how they feel but to be able to understand why. This was an issue because as it got easier to share other people’s feelings, it became harder to understand mine. I could relate to others better than to myself.
This also meant that I came to trust others’ instincts more than my own.
As the saying goes, those who stand for nothing fall for anything. Or anyone. I surrounded myself with the kinds of people I thought I should. I spent way too much time with people I didn’t really like or trust. But I couldn’t trust myself, so what was the difference? My muted intuition knew better. I felt it in my gut. But I couldn’t yet differentiate between a gut feeling and a stomach ache.
It was a self-shattering heartbreak that started to change all of that. I loved (greatly, though not well) and I lost. And despite what I’d heard, it did not seem “better” than the alternatives. It fucking broke me.
Imagine you’re holding a glass of water. Now imagine someone comes along on smacks that glass of water out of your hand and sends it careening to cold, hard, unforgiving pavement.
That was pretty much me.
And like picking up shards of glass, picking up my fragmented self left me cut, shredded, bleeding.
I was, once again, a walking wound.
But this time instead of recoiling, I began living life, as I like to put it, face-first. This process was as liberating – and often as painful – as it sounds.
I am curious by nature, and growing up in an apathetic environment created a rebellious streak. So it makes sense that the New Adventures of Me began with my associating with the types of people my family would never have approved of. Through these new acquaintances, friends, and lovers, I was introduced to things strange, unfamiliar, and sometimes kinda scary (in the best possible ways). I wanted to explore it all. I began to pay attention to what MY body and MY mind and MY heart were telling me were good and worthy.
Sure, not all of it was good and worthy. Some of it was very wrong on me. Not a good fit. But none of it was time wasted. I found that sometimes the more wrong I was, the more I learned about what was right than I would have had I been more “right” in the first place. If that makes any kind of sense.
And I learned to stop worrying so much about being wrong, to not be embarrassed about being wrong. Or, more importantly, to not be embarrassed about trying things and sometimes failing. I was willing to learn as much as I could about myself by interacting with the world as much as I could. As messy as that could be.
It was through these experiences that I began to slowly renew myself. To re-establish a relationship with myself. Each step forward began with a death (an old understanding) and a rebirth (who I was becoming).
And it was during this time that my chaotic mind began to ease with the invocation of four simple words.
I had been describing to someone an incident that had left me intensely, insensibly angry. The event was pretty typical for a young person seeking love and acceptance who is woefully underskilled with how to go about it. It was, really, just one of those things. But I lost my shit over it. I was apoplectic verging on apocalyptic. “I was just so angry,” I said.
To which my friend replied: “Of course you were.”
It had seriously never occurred to me until that moment that anger could be acceptable, let alone useful and necessary. That it is not being angry–or feeling any other emotion, for that matter–that is unhealthy. Problems arise when we don’t understand how to control the expression of our emotions.
When we don’t listen to and trust ourselves we tend to shut down and close up, because it’s the quickest way we can think of to protect ourselves. And we desperately need to feel safe.
We can find healing when we stop criticizing and minimizing ourselves for not living up to some imagined ideal. Especially someone else’s ideal. We need only give ourselves permission to not be who others want or expect us to–or even who we want and expect ourselves to be–but who we are.
I start every day by giving myself permission to live my life in open, authentic ways. However that expression looks, I accept it. I quiet myself so that I can hear the still, hushed voice of my genuine nature, of the Divine Feminine within me, and I listen. And I let it grow bolder.
I allow myself be liberated and unbound.
Being open is a dynamic process. We are not suddenly gifted with openness; it is a lesson to be relearned daily. In our busy lives, we often forget to give ourselves permission to do the things that foster our growth and happiness. But it is of the utmost importance that we remember to be lenient toward ourselves when we forget. Forgive. Relearn. Renew.
And let me let you in on a ‘not-so-secret’ secret: You do not need permission to be you.
You are you without trying. In fact, you couldn’t not be you if you tried. You are even you when you’re masquerading as the “self” you want others to see you as.
To live openly, you need only give yourself permission to be who you are at this moment.
At every moment.
It’s a waste of energy bemoaning who you once were. Accept that “past you” isn’t real. You cannot even have a different first reaction to the sentence you just read. Think about that. You can go back and reread it and build an emerging understanding. But that particular moment is gone.
And try not to get caught in the idea of the person you think you might one day be. “Future you” doesn’t yet exist. You are creating that person with every decision you make, every opportunity you take, every love you choose to embrace.
Be where you are, and work from there.
Right here, now, in this moment, is when the committed pursuit of an open life begins. Which is actually kind of perfect.
Because here is where you are.
Be curious. Be rebellious. Be wrong. Be embarrassed. Be messy. Be soft. Be lucky.
Want to learn more? Sign up for my online workshop, Permission to Be: 7 Practices for Living Openly