I know there are no coincidences, but that doesn’t mean I always heed the call. But it was time for me to stop playing the victim, looking for someone else to fix me and try something, anything, and everything, to learn how to take responsibility for my own happiness.
My mother took on the persona of victim and martyr the second half of her marriage. Starting in my twenties she began telling me her life would only begin when my alcoholic father died. Three months after his death, she found out she had stage three ovarian cancer. It did not go well, and she died deeply angry, bitter and unable to remember any of the wonderful parts of her life because she had let so many years pass between them and those final years of feeling empty and resentful. After so many years of chastising her for not taking charge of her life and happiness, I was hit from all sides with the opportunity to acknowledge that I was equally unhappy.
Four years after her death, with my parents’ lives finally sorted through, closed down and put away, I had to look at my life. I stood at a jumping off point. I was working on my marriage (and of course I mean, I was working on me), had long since cut off relationships with most of my family and friends because I did not feel good enough about myself, and had moved from really loving to really disliking my career of teaching. I was overweight, had no children, and had pretty much shrunken down my life to working and then coming home to recharge to get through the next day. No longer finding a sense of fulfillment from my job, all my hiding spots were gone. As I watched a younger colleague lose a valiant nine month battle to cancer, and with my mother’s bitter resignation still etched in my mind, I was struck by the undeniable fact that if I had to face my own imminent death, I would be looking at the same level of failures and unhappiness as I had so boldly challenged my mother to do something about. Either I could take my own advice and take advantage of that last and precious lesson she gave me, or I could find denial enough to reconstruct the walls around my fearful spirit. With no plan, I cut the cord to my teaching career, and I jumped.
I trusted the universe would present me a path, and I vowed to listen and say yes whenever an opportunity arose to conjure up some courage to smash through even the smallest of my fears.
That was my only plan. But random acts of courage weren’t going to be enough. I had no more idea than I had in years past of how to really identify and challenge whatever had been keeping me from creating a life not filled disproportionately with regrets. Of course, it felt a lot safer to go this journey alone, but I intuitively knew I had to accept someone’s expert guidance. So when The Wilderness Walk opportunity seemingly appeared from nowhere, I knew it wasn’t a matter of whether I wanted to participate. I am not employing hyperbole when I say that I understood this was a real chance to change the rest of my life.
The six weeks virtual journey of writing and looking inward didn’t scare me half as much as the seventh week when I would not only meet the other eleven women, but would have to share a room and, even more so, a bathroom, with someone I didn’t know. I honestly believed this was the biggest hurdle I was going to have to overcome. But, early on the fog of denial started to clear and the obvious cause for these and other symptomatic fears was revealed.
I had a very deep, old belief that I was not loveable.
Experiences had presented the message that if people got to know me they might not like me, or worse, they might ridicule and leave me. Altogether, a lifetime of tightly wound stories had brought me to the conclusion that it was not safe to be me.
I first started to identify this primary wound when we were asked to find a picture of ourselves from the time period when we first remembered taking on negative messages from the world around us. I had no problem finding a photo. But when I really looked into the eyes of that little girl and saw the deep unhappiness there, I was crushed by the recognition I had been unable to help her. And when I posted my picture for the rest of the tribe to see, I again felt how unattractive she was to others. Well-intentioned comments acknowledging the pain they saw in her brought back memories of that beautiful and sensitive girl so desperately in need of acceptance and love. She had been instead presented with too many challenges and ultimately, abandoned by me. The deepest of my wounds uncovered, I recognized I still didn’t know how to take care of her. I felt myself split in two. I spent the rest of The Wilderness Walk journey between trying to connect with my tribe mates and simultaneously searching tirelessly for any evidence of their not accepting me. I had almost totally reverted to the little girl who was afraid to have friends who might hurt her, who read into every word and facial expression to protect herself from further harm, and who learned to not trust what people said because at some point the real truth would come out. All my insecurities and underachievement now made sense.
I had been deep in hiding. And this was the abyss into which I had to be fully immersed until I could find how to value and take care of myself.
There were plenty of other revelations during the journey into my darkest places, but all were just more symptoms of the root cause of not believing in my own worth. Still holding tight to my old coping skills, I continued to second guess my responses to people’s posts. I even looked to see if others were getting more comments than me. I retreated further into myself, and my best attempt to be a part of the group came from asking indirectly for people to notice my pain of feeling unlikable. As in the past, I was crying out in desperation for someone to stand up for and save me. Instead I kept hearing, “There are no saviors on the trail.”
I kept digging in and working to unearth as much truth as I could withstand, always retreating again when I perceived it was unsafe to trust others. It was actually not until the formal part of the Wilderness Walk had concluded and I had returned home, that I finally emerged from being held prisoner by my storyteller’s insistence that I was really just not capable of escaping being the old unlovable me.
Only when it became clear that no one else could make me feel worthwhile, did I find and recognize the courageous warrior who also resided in me.
It was then I found the energy to rip away from the familiar and comfortable victim- story teller role and remember the feel of the powerful force who was also accessible to me if I were willing to do the work. Back against the wall, feet on the ground, I picked up and tried some of tools I had been handed along the way. Only then did any lasting freedom from the old stories start to come.
I can not possibly convey or cover everything that I went through or how Suzanne expertly took each of us through our own hero’s quest until we arrived from our abyss, transformed, with new gifts and tools to use as the result of our willingness and vulnerability. I will share, that the most effective tool for me was re-discovering journaling. Suzanne lovingly moved me back to this tool time and again. It was something I had used earlier in my life just to survive. I now found it a way to move from victim of my emotional demons and wounds, to accessing my higher self. Writing let the top layer of raw emotion come out, and my inner child felt heard. That quieted the fight or flight response enough for me to listen for the wise and more evolved spirit within me. I could finally move past reacting in defensiveness and fear and into a place of compassion. I found I could identify where the hurt was coming from, and how those wounds were being poked in me and the other person(s). Messages would then come of how to re-engage in the form of a verbal bridge to safely reopen the discussion to address the fears and needs which were the real basis of the misunderstanding. From this, I started to learn how to ask for what I needed directly, and without apologizing. And specific to my marriage, my stopping early in the cycle to write and look at what had happened in a fight with love instead of reacting out of hurt and fear, has meant far less damage brought on by defensive counterattacks. The result has been more immediate repair, fewer breaks in feeling safe and more continuous forward motion.
Suffice it to say, this is an abbreviated version of only one part of a much larger journey.
The Wilderness Walk was the necessary centerpiece to a year of incredible growth through continued challenges of old fears and insecurities.
But the core transformation came from Suzanne Hanna’s other-worldly gift to guide me to experiencing the difference between letting life work me versus my stepping out of fear into whatever possibilities I want to have happen. I also need to thank my tribe mates who allowed me a place in their hearts while I was stripped down to the smallest and most needy part of me. They gave me time and safety enough to work through the deconstruction process to find the part of me that felt worthy of love.
I have since the Walk’s end made several trips to reconnect with childhood, high school and college friends. I have rebuilt relationships with family members. I have allowed new friendships and made time for existing ones. Most importantly, I have not said no to anything because of insecurity about how I look or how my resume reads.
And because of this, as incredible as it sounds, I can say, if told that tomorrow would be the end of my life, I would face it completely differently than if it had been just one year ago. That is how transformational this journey has been.
Absolutely, this has been the best year of my life.
How are YOU spending your life?
Walker ~ Costa Rica