Rejection and abandonment are two old friends of mine. I met them both over twenty years ago, and I’ve been terrified of them every since. Despite my fear, and the work I put into avoiding them, I’m coming to realize just how heavily they influence me. In 99% of my relationships, I frequently worry that I will do or say something that makes people leave me. This anxiety can take different forms at different times: fear I’m not black enough, fear I’m not cool enough, fear I’m not athletic enough or smart enough, but it all boils down to the fear that I’m not enough. The ‘enough’ shifts depending upon the person or group that I’m with, but the fear is constant. As a result, not only do I seek approval and validation from people, but I’m also very guarded. I don’t trust that people can or will accept me until they’ve proven it. Everyone isn’t safe, so I put up walls and keep people at arms length unless and until I feel certain they can accept me. I want people to see me, know me and love me. That is what acceptance means for me. Each day, I carry this anxiety around both knowingly and unknowingly. Seeking the answer to this one question: where do I belong?
As I process this, I’m recognizing that I may always struggle with these anxieties. The constant peace I seek is likely gone for good. The trauma of my childhood produced a heart that is fertile ground for anxiety, doubt and worry. Peace and security can still grow there, they just require more intentional awareness and labor. Even at that, the weeds of anxiety will still spring up periodically.
I shared some of these realizations with someone I love and they were surprised that I struggle with these fears. They thought that because I talk so openly about my past and have strong relationships with other people, that I must have moved on and healed. My response to them was “can’t it be both and?” For those that perceive me as happy, healthy and whole; as having a lot of positive relationships and being well-adjusted to life you’re right. To those that perceive me as wrestling with past traumas and hurts that are taking an uncomfortably long time to heal, you’re right.
I have healed a great deal from my childhood trauma and that healing has allowed me to form healthy relationships and share stories of my past that are deeply personal so that others might be inspired or encouraged…AND…I’m becoming aware of ways in which I’m still healing from past traumas. Some hurts are deeper than others and some anxieties are more persistent. I still operate through my trauma sometimes. I get triggered and respond in ways I don’t like in order to protect myself, and I hurt myself or others in the process. I live in both realities as someone who is healed and one who is still healing.
Life is far too messy to fit into some “either or” paradigm. If we can accept this truth about life and about ourselves, we make room for grace, gratitude and growth. Recognizing how far I’ve come helps me to put my current struggles in perspective, so I can give myself grace when I respond in ways I don’t like. In addition, I’m able to be more gracious when others are operating out of their own trauma. I’m inclined to take their behavior a little less personally when I am aware that I too act or react in ways I dislike but at times, can’t help.
This awareness also makes me thankful for the healing that has taken place in my life and thankful for the many people that have helped to facilitate that healing. It’s taken a team of teachers, parents, family members, counselors, friends, mentors, pastors and many others to get me to the point I’m at today. That is no small feat. Every now and again I need to recognize the distance I’ve traveled, and give thanks for the people that have run beside me. (As an aside, one such person is my wife. I can’t articulate how or why, but when I’m with her, my anxieties rarely flare up. She operates as my safe space, and has for quite some time. I’m not one who typically believes in divine intervention, but I can’t help but look at our relationship and think surely God had something to do with this. She has been integral to my own process of finding grace, practicing gratitude and pursuing growth.)
Once I put things into perspective and recognize the people that have helped me along the way, I’m prepared to continue growing. I know that one day I will die, and I want to be pushed out to sea in a flaming canoe (yes I want a viking funeral). Before that day however, I hope to live and operate as the best possible version of myself. Meaning I want to be aware of the ways in which I live and move that are oppressive, unhealthy or counter-productive. I’m impatient when it comes to my own growth, but I recognize it is a process. Much like any good video game, life requires you to pass one level of awareness before moving on to the next, so I try to take things level by level, hoping that before the end I will have beaten the game. For me, this means I want to not only heal from my own pains, but create space so that others may heal from theirs as well. That is the work. I want to create cycles of healing that will outlive me. That is the only way this world can become the life-affirming oasis it was meant to be.
I try to utilize this blog as a way to open myself up, and create a little more vulnerability within myself and the world. It is too easy to view people as “others”, but if we begin putting our walls down and making safe spaces for those around us to do the same, we can collectively heal ourselves and deconstruct the oppressive systems that we all live and operate within.
I know some of you will want to tell me I’m loved and accepted, and while I’m thankful for those thoughts, I’m not seeking that affirmation. My hope for this blog post is that you might see me both as one who has come a long way, and who has a long way to go. I also hope that you might read this and know there are other people who have some of the same struggles that you do. If that is you, please recognize that you too have come a long way. Be thankful for your progress, and prepare to keep moving forward. My anxieties may never go away, but they won’t keep me from finding grace, practicing gratitude and pursuing growth. I hope you can do the same.