“Consult not your fears but your hopes and your dreams. Think not about your frustrations, but about your unfulfilled potential. Concern yourself not with what you tried and failed in, but with what it is still possible for you to do.” Pope John XXIII
Holy shit, this is the part where you really get to know me. That quote up there needs to be tattooed in my heart, posted on my mirror, carried around in my purse, printed on each square of my toilet paper and even tattooed on the palms of both hands.
I confess that I was so involved in work this past week, I didn’t spend my normal amount of time in quiet contemplation over what this week’s blog topic assignment is. Of course, it’s also possible this topic is so deep for me, I’ve just pushed it aside. (I’d go with the latter if I were the one reading this.)
Tomorrow I am catering for a group of mostly seniors at church, Wednesday Charlie and I do our regular catering gig for 100+ people and then Saturday, we are catering a Birthday party for almost 40 people. I have excuses, real ones, for being preoccupied, but I confess to having been thinking for a while -on the down low- about this subject. So when I sat down tonight (Saturday) and opened this blank page, the first words to come to my heart were, “Consult not your fears...”. And then I did a Google search and immediately found the quote from the Pope which is simply perfect.
Although I do have simple “fears” like a tremendous fear of heights learned as a child on a gondola trip up the side of Stone Mountain in Georgia; there isn’t much in life that I can say, “I actually fear.” I dwell on; I give too much attention to; I panic over; I get frustrated by; but if I break it down, I don’t allow myself to “fear”any more.
Defined, Fear means: “to be afraid of :expect with alarm fear the worst”.
The word “fear” usually conjurs up memories of the past and with it, the recollection of my worst fear growing up: “being in trouble”. It’s hard to go back in time and remember this; let alone talk about it, but I’ll try. Let me begin by saying that I love my parents dearly. They are elderly, still together, and at this point we have talked through pretty much everything that went on while I was growing up and beyond. I have always had a good understanding of why things were happening the way they were; it was just damned difficult to live through at times. I didn’t deserve it, but I don’t think my parents knew any better. I don’t think they were ever fully aware of how bad it really was.
From about eighth grade forward,“being in trouble” meant having done something my Mother found offensive. Typically it had to do with not being enough help around the house, getting a bad grade or being out past curfew; pretty small infractions that most parents would address and then move past.
Mom’s method of discipline was to call me downstairs, and force me to sit in a chair. (My sister and I always referred to this practice as sitting in the, “you suck” chair.) She always began with, “I want to talk to you.” From there, it began with the current infraction and didn’t end until she’d listed everything I had ever done wrong, didn’t measure up to and would never be. Then it would launch into how much she has to deal with and how no one helps her and on and on and on. The only way to end it was to run off sobbing ugly tears. She never followed. She might keep screaming, but she never followed. (I always longed for her to realize she'd gone too far and would come to apologize and comfort me.) In fact, what almost always followed was days of being treated with disdain until she snapped out of it. Sometimes my father would come upstairs to try to comfort me, but only if she didn’t know about it.
Just thinking about this right now brings a familiar pit to my stomach.
Imagine going through this for years on end, with the list of infractions growing and growing; being told repeatedly and often, what a bad person you were, never being able to get away from mistakes you'd made without them constantly being recalled and thrown in your face repeatedly? We would do literally anything to avoid sitting in that chair. (Enter the birth of perfectionism.) When I was twenty six she stopped talking to me entirely. When I sat next to her at breakfast, I would feel the cold chill of her disdain leap across the table at me and grab me by the throat. Once I questioned her why she wouldn’t talk to me, she said, “Oh, I make a point never to talk to you, because everything that comes out of your mouth is a lie.” (What? Where did that even come from? To this very day, I have no idea. What's even worse is that she doesn't remember any of this.)
I tried and failed for years to win my Mom’s approval only to realize later, it has always been an impossible task. What was really going on was projection. Whenever she and my father were having issues; I bore the brunt of it from both of them. (Gratefully, never at the same time.) I have often said I could be elected Queen of the Universe and nothing would have changed, because it really was never about me to begin with. I simply filled the roll of scapegoat in a warped codependent household. (Fancy words I learned when I finally sought help.)
Retrospectively, I know that my Mom had no idea that what she was doing was abusive and shaping me for a future of dysfunction. She was dealing with life the only way she knew how. Sixteen years ago I was diagnosed with PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). I thought the diagnosis had come from an attempted sexual assault; turns out I was wrong. Mine came on as the result of being constantly exposed from a very young age, to the screaming fights my parents would have several times a month (and of course, the life long“ you suck” chair. Time in that seat classifies as traumatic.)
Years later I can sit here and write about this confident that these are just the unflattering facts of my past. They don’t define me. They made me. Even though I have that diagnosis, I no longer need any form of medication to control it, as I rarely have debilitating episodes. If I feel a panic coming over me, I almost always know what has triggered it and what to do to stop it. On the off-chance it doesn't stop, I know it will run its course and I'll be just fine.
It took a lot of years of discipline and practice, but I finally taught myself that when you refuse to give fear the attention it wants; it goes away. The Universe has a way of delivering whatever we focus on, so whenever fear threatened to rob me of precious time, I trained myself to dwell on something else -anything else- even show tunes. Yes, there was a period of time that in order to keep my head and heart clear of negative thoughts, I’d lie awake at night trying to remember the words to show tunes. Now, when I need a clear head, I silently sing, the “Our Father”. Truly, it does work.
At 54, I finally feel like I have been through so much, there isn’t much worth my fearing. Every experience I have had, I have lived through. Some times were definitely rough and hard to navigate, but I did it. It is said, “The only way out is through”, and this is really true. You can’t just steer around things that are unpleasant because you are afraid. Unpleasantness is inevitable, but the other side always holds the promise of understanding the mystery of “why”. “Why did I have to go through that? What did I learn from it? What did I gain? (Oh, there’s always a gain!)
It’s this “why” that let’s me be the 54 year old Bobbe, secure in her own skin, opening her arms to offer virtual hugs to anyone out there who is still in the throes of fear. I have been there and I kicked fear’s ASS!
YOU CAN TOO!
PS- If you read my last blog, "Dear Younger Self", this will give you some insight as to why that was so hard to write and remember. "19 year old Free At Last Bobbe"-away at college- was just about to start making a slew of mistakes that would take eons to repair. (You'll learn about all this later, I'm sure.)