I’m an adventurer at heart, a trait I inherited from my dad. I adored our mule train explorations in Africa. I loved swinging onto my horse Mengustu’s back and trying a new trail. I met the most amazing people that way. I adored my pet leopard, Gifte. Exquisite was learning to fly, for my whole world opened up. I’m fascinated by new countries, new cultures, different languages. I raised two children. If that isn’t an adventure, I don’t know what is! I met a man later in life, threw caution to the winds, and moved to his city knowing only him. Nearly two decades later we’re still adventuring together. I love that too.
And yet: The journey from there to here was a harrowing one. I wear every battle scar with pride for having lived through the dark, dark places of my youth and young adult life. If you had looked at me back then, all outward appearances would have been quite fine: Youthful, vivacious, high visibility on campus with music and drama, excellent student, athletic, and a pilot. I had the world by the tail. Only, my wounded heart was held together with metaphoric duct tape.
Even while you’re still young, the past and its dysfunctions can come back to bite you. My freshman year of college I was asked out by a professor’s son. His cousin wanted to double date, so he asked if I had a sister. Do I have a sister? How about four? Feeling pretty pleased to be asked out by this fellow, a junior, and for a recommendation for his cousin, I contacted my adopted twin. I could have crawled under a nickel and given you four cents change when she informed us she was pretty excited about all the money she was making as a prostitute. Why-oh-why didn’t I suggest my roomie?
This embarrassment was temporary, but were you to gently pull away a piece of duct tape, a pulsing bruised heart would have looked at you with wide terrified eyes, certain you would see her for the fraud she was; who looked happy, acted happy and bled tears when alone; who froze if someone surprised her; who trusted no one’s emotion including her own; who didn’t recognize danger when it walked toward her; who was ashamed to admit how much she longed for a good mommy and daddy who would love her for who she was; who accepted the negative messages of her childhood about herself but presented herself confidently to the world.
You see, I wanted to believe that still small voice buried under an avalanche of trauma that said “You are.” Me at the core. But I figured, they’re the adults, they’re my parents, wouldn’t they know me best? I was the ugly duckling. I would never be beautiful; my smile would get me into trouble. My laugh was hysterical, like a hyena. My posture was impossibly bad. I carried bad blood. Traumas seen and heard didn’t really happen, we were told, so I locked them up – or so I thought. But the body always keeps the score. And my migraines as a teenager and young adult was my heart’s way of signaling the need for change. Which brings me to rage.
Rage roiled subterranean until a fissure (migraine) released a bit of it. The rage existed at a couple of levels. There are the obvious issues, physical, emotional, sexual, spiritual abuses; but I was truly at war with me. Here is where I credit the “You are” part. Deep within me I loved me. I, Laura, loved me. But, I needed to navigate the magma of half-truths, lies, betrayals, the losses through to fresh air, to a life above ground. Tall order.
It’s very hard to describe the teeter-totter emotions of what my own belief about me wanted to be, and what I had bought as truth through the messages of my youth. The youth messages weighed more – a lot more – in my young adult world and left my naïve childlike heart dangling high on the teeter-totter. But my core belief system made forays into the battlefield of taught messaging with enough consistency that I couldn’t quite wrap my brain or emotions around the utter disconnect between the two, hence the frustrated rage. When my core belief timidly raised a hand and asked to speak, the chorus of ‘old’ voices shouted it down and I would find myself utterly enraged by this and my inability to rid myself of the horrid chorus. Therefore, migraines. (I must issue a disclaimer here. I’m not saying anyone else’s migraines are the result of unexpressed rage, but mine were.)
It has held true throughout my life that though I had sufficient experience with other people’s actions or the lack thereof to find myself angry, I was most enraged by and at myself.
Yes, I can cite youth trauma, young adult trauma, wife trauma, as having been done to me, which is true. I was enraged, as a victim of crime. I can further agree with the experts who said that because I was raised in danger, I didn’t recognize it when it presented itself later. That my childhood took precious gifts from me; trust, safety, love, and an alert system. And yet. There that phrase is again. And yet. My biggest, baddest, ass-kicking rage was scoped in with crosshair perfection on me. Trust me, I was good at giving myself that whooping.
It wasn’t until I began the practice of mercy for myself about myself that modest equilibrium began.
Mercy is defined as compassion for someone whom you have the power to punish or harm. I began to show compassion to myself. I thanked me for holding on. For loving me enough to keep on keepin’ on as I journeyed awkwardly toward health and well-being. For the rising tide of assurance in who I really am. For believing in me as a woman, a mother, a wife and advocate. For the inner fire to be me no matter what. But most of all, for the grit it took to take me from there to here. That feisty part was always there. She just needed voice.
I honor the you that has traveled your journey. None is without challenge. If you’ve got this mercy thing completely handled, awesome. If, though, I were to ask for a show of hands of those who might, maybe, possibly, probably, okay undoubtedly be a little (or a lot) hard on yourself? Uh-oh. I ask you, please, show mercy. Make a list of areas you need to extend mercy to yourself and begin the practice. Thank the young you, the persistent you, the do-it-or-die you. The scared, or shy, or vulnerable you – yep. Mercy. Grant the old you, the one who had enough spunk to get you through thick and thin from there to here, mercy.
I would love to hear ways you have now found to show mercy to yourself.
This poem was gifted to me by my Lion Sister.
A Toast to the Old You.
If you feel inspired to use
the new year to help you
reset or change habits: Great.
The old you has survived
every terrible day, every
hard thing, every awful
circumstance, and every
heartbreak you’ve ever felt.
The old you is a fighter
And that’s worth celebrating.
It is. And I do.
Here’s to our New Year!