It shouldn’t have made me cry.
It was my last day in Beacon, NY and I was with the woman who has become a sister. My 10-day trip to New York had been filled with overwhelming beauty: I’d cried at the 9/11 memorial. At Central Park. Hell, I’d even cried at a burger joint in Harlem.
But, this… this shouldn’t have made me cry.
“Why don’t you just try something?”
We were talking about my career plans. Over the weeklong visit, I had posed the idea of quitting my job to begin a yoga teacher training. I had no plans after that.
Waiting for my response, Mo looked at me in the way she reserves for the sometimes. The sometimes when our armor has been flung off, left forgotten by the door.
I looked down at my two tacos, decorated with guacamole, and I started to cry.
Trying is something I’ve never been good at.
In high school, I was that girl who was good at things. Volleyball, AP classes, the Spring Musical. If I did it, I was good at it. This continued into college. I got the scholarships. I graduated Cum Laude.*
I don’t downplay these accomplishments to be humble. I write about them this way because that’s what they felt like: Numb. Unsurprising. Colorless.
It felt that way because I was unable to make contact with the sweetness of a job well done. Fear of failure, rejection, and humiliation had stunted my emotional spectrum. And as Brené Brown, professor of social work at the University of Houston, has found in her research on shame and vulnerability, “We cannot selectively numb.” Thus, joy and pain were left equally unfelt.
I’ve been blessed with physical and intellectual capabilities (thank you, Universe, thank you); but for a large portion of my life I couldn’t enjoy these accomplishments because I was bracing. Against failure. Against pain. Against finding out that my fear that I’m unloveable without my accomplishments just might be true.
After so many years of my worth being hitched to my performance, I lived in paralysis of falling short. Success held no solace because there was certainly another trial around the corner and I needed to be ever vigilant, always prepared to prove myself.
So, I tried to stack the deck: Go down safe paths. Only choose the things I was certain to be good at. Never let my guard down. And, certainly, never rest on my laurels.
When Mo asked why I didn’t just take a risk, she had stumbled upon one of the most well-worn routes in my brain, namely, my story of my unloveableness.
As Mo stayed quiet, I could feel the tightness in my chest takeover. The familiar chorus started, “You worthless piece of shit. You’re such a coward. You never try. See, she knows what a coward you are. She KNOWS. She’s tired of you. Did you hear her say ‘just’?”
In that moment, I reached out to my best friend for support because the voices were overwhelming. I was losing my footing. And she held steady, certain enough for us both that I am a being worthy of love and belonging, regardless of my achievements.
I tell you this story to put voice to a crippling experience I’ve had for much of my life. And I know I’m not the only one.
Loves, we are worthwhile.
I’m glad to be here with you.
Some resources for cultivating self-love: Tara Brach’s podcast, this beautiful interview by Tim Ferriss of Whitney Cummings, and – if you’re in Chattanooga – go to one of Maggie White’s yoga classes. You won’t be disappointed.
*(Please note: This data is skewed as I didn’t actually attempt anything I wasn’t already certain I’d be good at.)