There are fewer things more powerful to witness than a woman learning to stand in her own truth.
What it was like
Growing up, I always felt bad or wrong; for the way I thought, the way I felt, how I could never seem to control my emotions, for even existing. I was afraid of everyone and everything, myself included. I never felt like I measured up or like I truly mattered. I questioned every decision I made to a painful degree and I was trapped by fear. I carried that with me through early childhood, my adolescence and teen years, and all through adulthood. Gradually that fear turned into anger and I couldn’t seem to move past it. Whenever times got tough, which seemed to be a lot during those days, my go to emotion was anger, but underneath that? Incredible feelings of fear, insecurity and unworthiness. Every time things got rough, I reverted back to that little girl who either froze with fear, lashed out in anger or hid herself from the world.
A few years back, I went through some pretty big life changes. Changes that really challenged who I was as a person and as a woman. As I was going through these major life changes, I realized that much of the life I was living, many of the decisions I was making were based solely in fear and anger. I was impulsive, irrational, deceitful and I seriously lacked trust. For years, I thought I was a kind, polite and open person. I was none of those things. In actuality, I was afraid, angry and lonely. I viewed the world through eyes that, at every turn, saw people (women specifically) I could never measure up to. I was stunted. I was stuck and I didn’t know how to get unstuck. As a result, I isolated myself as often as I could. I may have been present physically, but emotionally, I was closed off. The circle I’d drawn around myself was small, tiny really. Actually about the size of a cheerio. How incredibly lonely.
I wanted to understand why I was the way I was. When I realized my entire life was ruled by fear, that I was using anger as a protective shield and that I’d drawn my circle so small that there was only enough room for me (I’d even gotten rid of my cat because I didn’t trust I could take care of him), I knew I had to get some clarity. I knew I needed to make space to find out where, when and why I’d become this woman. I had to be curious about a subject I’d never had any interest in before; ME.
I started talking to other women. I wanted to know if they felt the things I felt. If they had as much fear roiling around in their stomachs as I did. Were they struggling with connecting with other women? Did they suffer from low self esteem? Did they have major trust issues, not just romantically, but universally? And if so, what were they doing about it?
I went to therapy. I started reading articles online, self help books. You name it. I started questioning my every move, every thought that floated through my head. Not in the way I had been before. This time, as much as I was able to, I did so without guilt, without shame and without judgment. I took a hard look at my responses to life. I got introspective about every negative feeling that came up. Most importantly, I started looking into my past. I wanted to know where this all started. Was I six, sixteen, twenty six?
How I grew
First, it was the simple stuff. Eating better. Drinking more water. Brushing my teeth and washing my face before bed. MAKING my bed. Believe it or not, those things helped A LOT in the beginning. I started asking for help outside therapy. I asked for a listening ear when I needed it. I spoke my truth as best I could. I let myself be vulnerable. Seeking out women who have what you want and doing your best to let go of your ego long enough to learn from them is absolutely paramount to personal growth. If there's one piece of advice I can pass along to the next woman it is that you must find a tribe.
Next I started writing “I am” statements. Every day, I would write things I either believed to be true about myself or desperately wanted to be true. My goal was 100 positive statements about myself a day. My mirrors at home are covered in positive affirmations. I started talking to myself in the mirror. I would say things like, “you are worthy”, “you are beautiful”, “you are enough”. All of those things helped, immensely.
The biggest help? Being really honest with myself. All. The. Time. And asking myself the same question over and over and over again. What am I afraid of? When I’m jealous. When I’m in fear. When I’m procrastinating. When I’m judging someone. When I don’t want to get out of bed. When I don’t want to voice an opinion because I’m worried about what people think. When I don’t want to start my business because I don’t think I have what it takes or anything meaningful to offer. When I’m angry at the guy who cut me off on the highway. When I’m hurt because that guy never called me back. I’m honest with myself about all of it. I don't judge myself and I. Just. Own it. And then I ask myself again where it’s coming from. Am I afraid I won't get something I think I deserve? Am I afraid I’m going to lose something I already have? What would the old Shay do? And once I figure that out, quite honestly, I do the exact opposite. It works out. I don't know how and I know enough now to know not to question it. It just works. And so I let it.
What it’s like now
Life got good. Really good actually. Sometimes I can't fully take in how good it is. It's definitely not perfect. I’m still that scared little girl more often than I’d like to be, but with practice comes progress. And boy have I made progress. Today my life looks a lot like gratitude in motion. It looks like thankfulness. It looks like security. It looks like self love. It looks like giving back and passing along what I've learned these past few years. It looks like compassion, for myself and for the people still struggling. It looks like love.
I’ve learned that it isn’t just one particular thing that moves me closer to the woman I want to be. It is a whole suite of tools that keep me moving towards my goal. The more I learn about myself, the better I am able to make decisions based on actual fact rather than what I’m feeling. The more I learn about myself, the better I am able to do those “gut checks” that help me to determine whether a decision I am making is based in fear and anger. The more I learn about myself, the better I am able to see that life is not about the end goal, it is about the journey. It's about service. If I am not doing what I can to enjoy my journey and be of service to others, then what is all this for?
I've been asked before if I could go back and change anything, would I. Absolutely. I wish I'd asked for help sooner. Walking the road of self discovery and personal growth can be challenging, but it's worth every hurdle. I wish I'd known sooner that it's a road that doesn't have to be walked alone. Having a support system in place, having someone to help you see your blind spots, someone to help you stay accountable has been a godsend for me. If I could give Shay from a few years ago advice it would be this: "it's okay to be vulnerable. It's okay to ask for help. You aren't alone and there are people who will understand. Reach your hand out girl. I promise there's someone on the other side who will grab on."