“Who are you?”
I was not always sure how to answer that question. Since 1987, public relations gurus had written my professional bio for me saying, “All you have to do is memorize it, and remain that person in public”. Like a storm shelter, becoming a workaholic allowed me to avoid my vulnerable interior. Instead of confronting the results of decades of trauma as a youth, I secretly hoped I could just ignore it, like it never happened. It didn’t quite work out this way.
One day, my pity-party was interrupted by these hauntingly painful words:
If you know my story, you may be as shocked as I was. I mean, how could I let a simple sentence like that bother me so much, if at all?
I mean, how could I let a simple sentence like that bother me so much, if at all? Truth is, that statement probably hurt me more than all of the years full of abuse and bullying in totality.
My immediate reaction was to jump into the safety net of the “victim mindset” and shout back in retaliative defense, “I have always been broken and defective, I have always been on the other side of the fence. I’ve always been the one everybody hates”.
Yet, underneath the bitterness, it felt like my heart had been shattered and ripped apart piece by piece.
For years, I had worked extremely hard on trying to change my personality so I could be “normal”. I had tried for years to shift my toxic mindset, to start trusting and caring about others, to conquer the near-uncontrollable anxiety and bitter sarcasm, and to free my heart from years of unrelenting pain and anger. In fact, I tried so hard that I mistook my emotional detachment as success, and my isolation as strength.
With every replay of those hurtful words, it became obvious just how fragile my inner spirit really was.
The individual who said that to me was one of five human beings I had truly loved. He knew my deepest secrets and biggest dreams and, although it took a while, he was the first person I had truly ever trusted. I had removed the walls around my heart for him, and I considered him my best and only friend. Yet here I was, immediately feeling betrayed as I started the reconstruction of my heart walls.
After my logic was once again operating at full throttle, I realized that he was also my biggest and only cheerleader. No matter how big and powerful the defense, he always had faith in me – both personally and professionally.
I then had to realize that the Universe assigned him the difficult task of delivering that life-changing message, knowing it would break me down, and force me open in preparation for full transformation.
You see, I believe everything that happens to us also happens for us, and that each storm we survive carries a valuable lesson. I also believe that if we ignore the often-subtle clues of the lesson we are about to learn, they become larger, until we cannot ignore them any longer. No matter what, we will never be able to outrun the lessons that are waiting for us. So, while reminding myself of these beliefs, I also recalled hearing variations of those painful words for many years. I either wasn’t listening or wasn’t quite ready to hear them.
After being hit repeatedly with the “crane of pain”, the storm shelter finally gave in and the damn of self-awareness rushed in to consume me. It was time to sink or swim, because I now was swirling around in the middle of an emotional hurricane. The emotions were raging out of control and the words were piercing my gut. I felt like I was drowning while being pregnant with an angry child who was trying to break free from years of torment and anguish.
As a successful trauma therapist, I was now faced with my most difficult client ever… my inner child. I had to be understanding yet tough. I had to realistically and fairly look at the choices I had made along the way which led me to this day of reckoning.
I had spent my entire life feeling as if I was alone and trapped on the other side of the fence, away from all the “normal” people. I had become obsessed about how to transform into one of the popular people just so I could feel valuable and accepted. I had allowed the “you are defective” tape to play over and over in my mind for years. In return, my anxiety and fear had been paralyzing me.
Then it happened – I was tossed out of the hurricane and plunged throat-deep into the emotional quicksand.
It was now time to either let it consume me even more, or free by myself by taking responsibility for my actions – or lack thereof – and it was time to forgive myself for settling behind this powerful fence of segregation. Yes, the hard truth was that I was lonely because I chose to be.
Then it clicked…
I had spent years giving people mixed messages because my internal environment was in a power struggle with my external facade. My outdated beliefs, and toxic thoughts, behaviors, and attitude were slowly suffocating me. In very little self-defense, I was a responsible adult by day, yet a hot-tempered 13-year-old by night.
I was confused, and everyone in my life was confused too. Unbeknownst to me at the time, I had been diagnosed with Asperger’s in 1981. In clearing out my mother’s home after she passed away in 2007, I found the paperwork. As if I was unwrapping the best gift under the tree, the words within that paperwork clarified so much for me. It opened up a whole new mindset of both relief and self-understanding; I now understood why I had never been chosen for the teams during physical education class or at church picnics. I finally understood why I was bullied and assaulted for over 10 years in school. I finally understood why I had always been the outcast… the girl behind the fence.
So, because of my chosen career, I was able to talk the lingo of the mental health world, and I could verbally define the meaning of authenticity – but I had no clue how to actually be genuine. In fact, the mere thought of even trying was utterly exhausting.
Nevertheless, I was now faced with three choices:
#1: Refocus on my career and ignore my personal side again (easiest option but obviously not helpful);
#2: Rekindle the “fake it” flame so I could try and fit in with the normal people. This was probably not the best idea either because I had spent many years standing bare-naked inside of the “Mental Auschwitz Camp” and I really did not want to go back;
#3: Try something new and start my journey toward authenticity. I knew it would not be a quick trip, but I also knew that this was the healthiest, best and right choice. Although it was going to be a struggle, I intuitive knew that this was the choice that would ultimately save my life.
So, I packed my bags and prepared for flight.
Along the way, I was able to empty my suitcase. I traded in my self-criticism for acceptance, my mental bullies for love, my anxiety for forgiveness, and my hatred for gratitude. I also cashed in my bonus miles, and traded in my tunnel-vision for clarity.
When everything came together, I realized that I had become so accustomed to the darkness and isolation while running from my past, that I never noticed my inner warrior who had been trying to help me the entire time.
In fact, I was so trapped in my victim mindset that I never noticed I was free all along; I just had to make the choice and commitment to take an action step of which the first one was making an inventory of
- the lessons I had learned yet ignored;
- the emotions I had felt yet suppressed;
- the unhealthy thoughts or behaviors from both myself and others that I hated yet settled for;
- the “who” I had been, the “who” I currently was, and the “who” I wanted to become (this was especially difficult);
- the positives in my shadow side which helped me survive decades of this toxic stuff
In making these lists, my mind and emotions started spiraling out of control. For example, in 2007 when I found out about my hidden Asperger diagnosis, my initial reaction was anger toward my adoptive parents for not telling me. I immediately assumed it was just more of their deceptive ways. As I sat alone in the living room sorting through all of the belongings that my now-deceased adoptive parents had collected throughout the years, I started to feel like a victim of theirs yet again. However, I was able to stop myself when I made the conscious choice to find some good in the situation. I truly was grateful that I did not know about the diagnosis until that moment. The diagnosis would have become my label, and my excuse and would have held be back and sabotaged my success.
After all, in appreciating my shadow side, it was my Asperger symptoms which allowed me to survive decades of trauma at the hands of family members and peers. As a child, teen, and young adult albeit unbeknownst to me, I was forced to adapt the Asperger symptoms into my life in order to be successful in my career, and function as a responsible wife and mother. As a result, I fully believe that by not knowing, I developed a unique perspective on life and a unique appreciation for my skills, talents, and inner strength.
I firmly believe that my Asperger symptoms are what gave me ravenous passions, focus, dedication, and loyalty to people, animals, places, experiences, and things.
That moment was when I was able to take the last piece out of my suitcase… I traded my anger for gratitude.
It had finally become clear that my parents were protecting me and that not telling me about this diagnosis was their unique way of not allowing my human potential to be hampered by what many consider a “disability”. In my opinion, no part of me was ever disabled, only uniquely-abled.
Bottom line is that freedom comes in many forms and one of those is the “freedom of choice”. You are in a powerful position right now. You have the freedom to choose an action step – something that will help you step out of your comfort zone and away from the life you hate, into your authenticity and a life you love.
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