As you have born witness to these last few posts, I have been struggling with my identity. When it finally came to a head in a rush of tears and grief and sorrow I wept for having had to always be the strong one. The tough one. The one who knew what to do. The put together one. The one who would come through it, on her own, by the seat of her pants. With very little support (though support where it counted most, like when my life was in danger) I survived being abused by my father by learning to communicate. Then I survived the aftermath of him leaving and my mom’s personal mental and emotional battles just beginning.
No one wanted to talk to me when I needed to talk. No one wanted to hear the horrible things I needed to say. I was often told to be quiet. Though I was taken to therapy, no one at home, the first place a child turns for support, was able to support me. I was on my own with a problem that was so much bigger than even one adult person. Sexual abuse, sexual assault, hell any kind of assault or abuse – be it physical, emotional or spiritual (or all three) – is a problem bigger than one person. It’s a problem that requires a community unit to take on. And in my family, a unified front was not what we had to face it.
Just a 3 year old girl to wander in the woods.
I have always been applauded or my accomplishments, especially by people who know I am a survivor of childhood sexual abuse. It bugs me because it is almost like saying, it’s only impressive because someone took so much away from you and you got to here all by yourself. In a way it almost feels like it robs me of something, my unique me-ness that has nothing to do with what I came through. In a way I feel reduced, my accomplishments feel reduced, to that single event in my life. I can’t deny that it has shaped a lot of my outlook and the way I show up in the world, but it hasn’t changed who I believe I am, who I have always been my entire life. The way I feel about things yes, but not the one who is feeling. And at no point does anyone step back to consider how much I have hurt because of being so unsupported. It doesn’t seem to occur to most that the one who is walking alone, fighting it all in isolation, desperately wants and needs your help but the spectacle of this person slaying monsters alone is of greater value (or something) than lending a hand.
In our culture we place a lot of value on the person who goes it alone. We have anthem songs from every genre of popular music about walking it alone, standing on your own yet… no one applauds those who ask for help or who receive it. In our culture, asking for an accepting help are signs of weakness. Yet how much courage do you think one has to muster to ask someone for help, and not just because of the backlash from cultural attitudes, but because it requires one to show another that one is not all powerful, that one is backsliding, losing the fight, losing their way, and is in need of support? How much courage do you think it requires to let your guard down and rely on another person to carry you when you no longer can carry yourself?
This very courageous thing is where I am right now and it is terrifying. Every step of the way I am doubting myself for relying on other people, I am doubting the people I rely on. I can see, feel, hear and taste my vulnerability and it makes me sick. I learned that to be vulnerable was a dangerous thing. I learned that the people I’m supposed to be able to count on are the people I can not count on. But now, as an adult, I have run out of “pants” to fly by. It appears as though my good luck train, my saved by the nick of time gift, has run out. And now, I’m having to learn how to ask for help, how to ask for support, and how to lean on that support. And then how to assess how that support is working for me, determine if I need more support or if I need to move on to a new support.
These are skills that we are supposed to learn in childhood from our relationships with our parents. The skills I learned were danger assessment, self preservation, super human strength, concealment and toughness. It is now as an adult that I am learning to ask for help, to receive, to identify who is a good helper, to lean on people, to trust. To have the open mind and heart of a child would make this so much easier. Instead I have my history as reference. History is a tricky thing, most of my childhood is unremembered, I have mostly impressions of things than I do of actual memory and if I were to base all my present day interactions on what I can derive from history well… I wouldn’t get to where I want to go.
When I look around at people who have the kind of success I want (healthy relationships, comfort at home, a sense of belonging at work, confident self expression, a belief in their ability to set and achieve a goal) what I see most often are people who know how to ask for help from the right people, have a strong network of support around them should they stumble, and lean into that support network regularly. How they develop this I don’t really know, not entirely. It is what I am learning about right now. A friend of mine is running a really successful fundraiser for a local mental health hospital and it’s really got me to thinking about my fundraiser. The one I have only just barely started. The one I am probably erecting barriers to as we speak. The one I am so afraid of launching because what if no one cares. What if no one cares how important this ride is to me, how monumental this ride is to me. How much this ride will affect and change me. What if no one cares that this ride is symbolic of me taking charge of the direction my life goes in, of demonstrating to myself that I CAN do hard things of my of determination, I can do hard things for personal development and I CAN do hard things for me. I can be a leader. What if no one cares? What if I raise $0? What if the ride is awful and takes longer than expected or rains the whole time or we get lost (honestly, how does one get lost in the land of cell phones…)? What if it doesn’t meet my expectations of being a super hero?
I’m building a new identity now. I’ve been survivor girl for a long time, scrapping it out, making the quick saves, getting that incredible stroke of luck or insight and survivor girl is tired now. She’s dragging all the rest of me down while I am trying to climb out of this pit and into a new arena. An arena of friendship building, collaboration and partnerships. Of giving and receiving, of being supported and supportive. She’s done a great job of getting me to here but it’s time for her to rest. And of course she doesn’t want to because her identity is all about the fight to the death. Thing is… I’m choosing to fight to the life. Survivor is a part of that identity and no doubt her skills will be called upon when the ground falls out from under me, there will be times when I will need to remember how to make those quick saves and dodge bullets. But hopefully I will need to do that less often because I will have a team with me, people who will snuff out the dead ends before I find my way into them, people who will stand in front of me with great battle shields to protect me, people who will help me devise strategies and challenge me to think, and people who will hold and heal me when things go awry and we all need help to clean our wounds.
I don’t know the name of this new identity, how she works, but she is taking shape. I can feel this old skin coming undone, flaking away and something new, and shiny underneath is coming through. I look forward to helping this new sense of self emerge.