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To Be. Or Not To Be. Seen.

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I’m avoiding getting on my bike this morning. My bike is set up on the trainer. I’m wearing my cycling clothes. I finished mixing my drinks. My laptop has the workout pulled up. I’m even wearing my damn heart rate monitor as I sit here diving into this post. I’m all set up. Ready to go. But I can’t get on. I don’t want to.

I’m noticing that I avoid things when I feel more vulnerable about myself. That said, I knew this was something that I needed to look at — this reluctance to get on my bike. More often than not, we don’t have time to have these conversations with ourselves about what we do and don’t want to do. We just have to do the things that we need to do in a day. Period. But today, I had this little gift of time so instead of shrugging off this nagging thought, I sat with the feeling of not wanting to start. I asked myself, “If you don’t want to do it, then what do you want to do? What would you rather do?” Now, don’t kid yourself, this wasn’t some Zen or grace-filled experience. I wasn’t happy about it. Holding a space for the tough stuff is, well … uncomfortable. But I thought of you, and how I’m striving to be my authentic self and embrace my life, and in turn hopefully inspire you to do your own version of authentic-living. So instead of forging ahead and ignoring the uncomfortableness of it all, I sat with it.

In my stillness, the thought of what I would rather be doing flashed across my mind. Like a blink of light — quick! If I had been only half paying attention, I would have lost it. But instead I grabbed it. The answer was: Hide. I want to go and hide. Immediately after I recognized the thought, I wished I’d let it slip instead of grabbing it. I was flooded with thoughts like: “YUCK! Just yuck. What am I supposed to do with that!?! Why am I feeling that? What is this about?!” I’m pretty sure my face even scowled with the thoughts.

A minute or two passed and I stood there with all sorts of negative thoughts about this wanting to hide thing and then I realized, it’s about the blog. Not about the bike. I’m feeling vulnerable about the blog and because of this I don’t feel that great about getting on my bike. This self-doubt is sort of taking over everything. And that’s really what the problem is. I am NOT hiding. I opened myself up. I started writing to anyone who wanted to read it. And I’m not just writing about the weather, or whatnot. I’m writing about me. To make it even worse, I opened up a Facebook page, I told my friends about it … I’m totally out in the open. And I SO want to run and hide. But I won’t.

I won’t because one of the hardest parts about surviving childhood abuse is the ripple effects of it. It sort of flows out into everything you do in the world unless you come to understand it. I’m told you could call it PTSD, but I don’t have to drag you through a psychology lecture to get my point across. It just means that the way you relate to the world is different. Abused children often own the blame and responsibility of the abuse instead of placing it appropriately on the abuser. This sounds strange, but honestly, it’s safer. Look at it this way — if you’re little and you hang your primary caregivers out to dry, you’re pretty much screwed. So you own it. And the thoughts go something like this: If I was good, this wouldn’t be happening to me, so I must be really, really bad. With those thought come feelings of shame and fear and a lack of conviction about your own self-worth. One coping mechanism is to hide. Both literally and figuratively. The tendency to lean into shame and vulnerability linger as an adult because those thoughts are familiar. They were your compass as a kid. The goal is to cast them off as you free yourself of the blame. So here I am.

I have a terrible habit when I am my most vulnerable self, of assuming the worst when my husband makes an observation or comment about something I’ve asked him about. I automatically, before he’s even uttered a word, assume he’s saying something negative about me. Pointing out my deepest flaws. More often than not, when this happens, he just stands there looking at me wide-eyed with his jaw dropped open. His feelings are hurt and he’s wondering what I’m talking about. Questioning if we are even part of the same conversation. He can’t believe that from our conversation I’ve deduced that he’s criticized me. We replay the conversation and what inevitably ends up happening is that I actually slow down a minute to truly hear what he’s said. He hasn’t criticized. He hasn’t judged. I have. When I’m vulnerable, I’m so quick to lean into being self-deprecating and so, I assume he’s automatically judging and criticizing me too. And yet, he is truly my biggest supporter. Always pointing out the good stuff and asking me to see myself as he does.

This weekend my husband and I spent our days juggling our children’s swim meets and soccer games. He took videos of the events I had to miss. In one of the videos, our 9-year-old was up for the 50 yard butterfly. He was standing at the starting block. Seven of the eight swimmers were on the block waiting for the start. The 8th swimmer, my son, was next to the block. The buzzer went off and 7 swimmers dove into the water. The lane timer eventually tapped my son on his shoulder and gestured that the race had started. Guess what he did?! He immediately — without hesitation — jumped onto the block and dove into the water. Fifteen seconds after the other swimmers had started. I get goosebumps when I think about this. His fearlessness. His lack of hesitation. He just DOVE.

There are so many ways this could have gone down. He could have panicked. He could have hesitated. He could have frozen right then and there riddled with negative thoughts, like, “Oh NO!” Or worse, “How could I be so stupid?!” He could have thought to himself, “I’m going to come in dead last. No way am I diving in!” But he didn’t. He just went for it and he swam his heart out. He swam beautifully. He was brave and daring and he went after it with all he had. He beat his time from last year by 2 seconds. If you subtract the 15 or so second delayed start, that’s actually a remarkable time. But more than his time, was his lack of second-guessing that moved me to tears. He stayed out of his own way. He didn’t have any negative chatter that so many adults have in our day to day living. I wish I was more like that. I wish I could stay out of my own way; stop being my own worst enemy. Stop caring so much about being judged and seen and criticized. When I watched him dive, I had this feeling wash over me, this deep knowing, that the first place to start was to stop criticizing myself so much.

When he got home from his meet, I got right down on his level, looked into his eyes and said, “I saw your race. I saw your butterfly!” He looked down and sort of mumbled, “Oh, you saw that one?” I think it was then that he had that sense of worry: “Is my mother going to be disappointed in me? Is she going to point out my mistake?” Tears welled in my eyes and I said to him, “You were remarkable. You missed the start and yet you just got right up there and dove in anyway! You dove and you swam your heart out! I am in awe of you. I am inspired by you.” His whole face lit up. This could have been one of those catastrophic shame filled life scars, but instead it really was a grace-filled moment. A shameless moment. “I want to be like that”, I said, “I want to just dive in and give life my all without any hesitation.” What a life lesson for both of us.

So here I am. Getting out of my own way. Not hiding. I can’t promise that I’ll be fearless. But I can promise that I’ll get on the starter’s block despite wanting to hide. And come to think of it, while I often think of this as being fearless, that’s not actually right. It’s not being fearless. Its leaping and diving in spite of being afraid. It’s not letting our vulnerability dictate how we navigate our way through life. As I leave you, I really am getting ready to get on my bike. I’ve cleared the air a bit. I’m ready now.

15 replies »

  1. What a distance you have ridden already, Jess. Keep going! We see you. We’re watching and cheering you on or maybe swimming, riding and running alongside you.

    Liked by 1 person

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