We were afraid of our teachers; our dance instructors, coaches, and authority figures.
These fears could be positive motivators. We came home on time because we didn’t want to get punished. We completed our homework to avoid being sent to the office. We listened to our coaches so we wouldn’t get sidelined.
But what if we were afraid to be ourselves?
I was a good kid. I liked rules and boundaries and for the most part did as I was asked or told. I believed that being good and working hard would bring rewards, and when I was little, it did.
Receiving praise from my grandmother; who I revered, was reward aplenty, but once I entered my teen years, like the elder brother in the prodigal son story, rewards were not exactly forthcoming.
For years, I struggled with self-acceptance. I tried very hard to be someone other than myself. What I found was that I didn’t like myself very much, and when I was myself, I found others didn’t like me very much.
A teenager’s world is one in which rules are broken, the establishment bucked; unfortunately that just wasn’t me. People said I was uptight, and I guess I was. I believed drugs were bad, and being drunk was unacceptable (especially because I knew what living with an alcoholic was like.)
I blame my father, who personified bad behaviour. He was a clinic in how NOT to behave. I’m not exaggerating when I say that the police would be knocking at the front door, while my father was running out the back. I had first-hand experience that breaking the rules of any kind would land you in jail or worse; so I was afraid.
I didn’t smoke weed, or drink to excess, and I kept hoping that being “good” and doing all the right things would eventually grant me acceptance by my peers. I was wrong.
It’s devastating not be accepted and loved for who you are, because after all, it’s the only person we can be.
Granted, from the time I hit puberty until well into my forties, I suffered with depression and was not a happy person. We didn’t know much, or talk about depression back then. If you were miserable, it was because you were a “normal” teen. I really don’t know how much of my angst was caused by that, as opposed to my personality, but I can say it was an emotionally isolating time to be a part of a large community knowing I wasn’t liked.
Those early experiences hurt; and like phantom limbs, have continued to cause pain.
My first lesson t’ords extricating myself from fear came from a very dear friend. To outsiders he was the life of the party. He knew how to drink and have a good time. He fit in and everyone liked him. He was always with the most beautiful woman in the room; publicly he had it all.
What people didn’t know was that he wasn’t very happy. Something was missing. He never let anyone know that he loved opera, poetry and philosophical and spiritual conversation. One night we drove to the country just to watch Hale-Bop and talk.
We dated for quite a while, but it was all on the Q T. He was afraid to admit that he liked me; even to himself. One night, he turned to me and said, “Why do you have to be like . . . you?” It crushed me, and that was the end of our romantic affiliation; thankfully not our lifelong friendship.
He was afraid others might see him for who he really was, a sensitive, loving and deeply spiritual being.
One day, years later he called, depressed and dejected. He said that he’d finally found peace, but that it had come at a great price. You see, this party guy had become a priest, and most of his friends wouldn’t or couldn’t accept that. He said he knew that they laughed at him behind his back, and that it hurt him deeply.
Some of you already know who I’m talking about. But he, like the “one that must not be named” would wish this to be private. I can see him cringing from heaven as I write this.
It can be excruciatingly difficult to give up a disingenuous life for fear that people will be unaccepting of the genuine; yet I have never personally been able to don a coat or mask. Gift, or curse?
Lesson number two. I was at university and the phone rang. It was my mom telling me that someone we knew had had a horrific accident, and was not expected to live. I thought a lot about him and what I knew of his life. Another party guy who had a penchant for, shall we say living life to the fullest? At any rate, thankfully he lived.
I’m not sure how it was that I began visiting with him while he was on the road to recovery, but on one of my visits he disclosed that the accident had made him realize what an asshole he’d been. (His words, not mine.) Quite a revelation. In this case, fate had taken away his good looks and charm and given him no choice but to become a better person. I’m privileged to call him, friend.
For most of my life I have been afraid to be fully me; mostly because it has been my experience that people don’t like me all that much. I have never felt as if I measured up to other people’s abilities or talents. I have always been the outsider. I don’t divulge this in order to garner sympathy; but to deconstruct and gain understanding.
In the past few years I’ve been inspired, mostly by my daughter, who has spent the last 21 years plowing through fear; tackling gender bias and sexual preference head on; but also by my son who has endured emotional hardships of his own. They have both taught me to embrace myself fully; lay fear aside, and live!
In this regard, social media has also been affirming. I read messages daily from people, in particular women, unafraid of letting their cellulite and baby bumps show; about the importance of nurturing and loving oneself; about acceptance and letting go of past pain and negativity.
I am making strides. After years of not singing, and without formal training, my husband and I formed The Synergistics. After years of writing, and again without a degree, I formed A Story Just For You; write a monthly blog, and continue to work on a larger project, which I hope to share with you soon.
I have taught myself graphic art and enjoy painting.
After years of isolation, I look forward to one day becoming part of a community again.
I’m finally letting go of fears that have held me back my entire life. Yes, I’m still a goody two shoes, but that’s okay; in fact it’s more than okay, it’s genuinely me.
I’ve discovered there’s a fine line between not caring what anybody thinks, and caring about what everybody thinks. Ultimately and finally, it all comes down to what I think. Better late than never, as they say.
Recently, I was inspired by a movie called Hector and the Search for Happiness. For those that have Netflix, I highly recommend watching it. There were simple and enlightening messages. For me the one that stood out was, “happiness is not comparing yourself to others.” I’m working on it!
As I continue to age, I know there will be new fears to face; wrinkles, loss of mobility, most certainly illness and death, but as long as I can fully accept myself, just as I am, flaws and all; I know I will be able to face whatever comes, and be happier for it.
“Everything you want is on the other side of fear.” Jack Canfield