I don’t know about you, but every time something traumatic happens in my life, I get small. I think most people do. But for me, if something “bad” happens, no matter how little or huge, whether it’s a rude comment or the loss of a loved on, I naturally start to shrink. It’s my automatic reaction. And, usually my reaction is to also look outward for answers. I look around and wait for someone or something to help.
But this is the opposite of what I need to happen. It’s contrary to what I want to happen. I need to grow in those moments. I want to get big and expand. And I want and need to turn to myself for the answers.
Because for me, that’s the key to finally being happy and feeling fulfilled.
I am the answer for me.
Just like you are the answer for you.
But why do I do that? Why do I want to get small? Why do I turn away from myself?
I think a part of it has to do with who I am. It’s who we all are. It’s in our DNA.
When we experience pain we automatically, reflexively pull away. If I accidentally touch a hot stove, I’m going to pull my hand away without even thinking about it. If someone yells from behind me, I’m going to jump and get ready to run even before I realize what’s happening. It’s a survival mechanism we all have inside of us. When we feel pain we try to get away from it. And when we feel threatened, we go on high alert and we look away from ourselves as a way to stand guard against predators or any other type of potential threat. Obviously this applies physically, but I think it also applies on a mental and emotional level too.
Think about when something really horrible happens. Think about when something happens that is devastating and cuts right down to the bone. I know in my most desperate moments, I’ve curled-up into the fetal position and balled my eyes out. The very act of curling into the fetal position is getting smaller. And it’s regressing back to being a baby. It’s not a conscious decision. It just feels right. It’s a natural reaction and it provides some small level of comfort.
But getting smaller and turning away from myself is also a learned behavior.
From the time I was a baby, I was taught to drop to my knees and pray whenever something bad happened. When my marriage fell apart, I remember listening to a priest say that bad things happen to remind us to drop down at the foot of the cross and turn to Jesus.
The very act of praying is shrinking. It’s literally physically getting smaller when we get on our knees. And it’s literally turning away from ourselves as we look upward toward heaven.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not bashing prayer. In fact, I love praying (though it’s been very difficult for me lately and I struggle to pray with everything that’s happened over the last couple of years, overall I recognize the power of prayer and it’s value, especially to many of the most important people in my life). I would never bash prayer. Just like I would never tell anyone not to follow their faith and I would never demean anyone’s faith. Praying is a good thing. So is turning to God (for those of faith). But, at least for me, I have to be careful.
There’s a great saying in AA and in Alanon:
“Let go and let God.”
That saying ties into the Serenity Prayer:
“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
I love that prayer. And it’s always so helpful when I start to worry about things that are out of my control.
It also shows me where I need to draw the line.
I was always taught to pray, which is a good thing. But sometimes it’s easy to feel small and insignificant and to feel like I can’t really control anything so why try? It’s easy to pray and expect just that to make a big difference. But, the key is taking care of what I can control and letting God handle everything else. In other words: Take care of myself. Let God take care of the rest of the world.
Another saying I was taught since I was little is:
“God helps those who help themselves.”
And that’s something I forget at times. I forget to help myself.
Then when I was married I was taught to get small so that I could lessen the pain that was being dished out. I was taught to abandon myself to try to please my ex so that the day would go smoothly. I had years of training to forget myself and only worry about my ex. I had years of learning to shrink away, to get small. It was the easiest way to survive. It was the best way to avoid pain.
So, when things went sideways in my life a couple years ago, and especially a year ago, I got small again. I shrunk away. It’s what I knew. It’s what I’d learned. I turned away from myself and I got as small as possible.
I did that not because I was trying to fool anyone. It wasn’t because I was trying to play a role or be someone I wasn’t. No, it was because I was scared. And that’s what I knew to do. Protect myself. Be vigilant looking for threats. I was still being myself. Absolutely, I was being myself. I was just being myself who was terrified.
But now I see that the true answer is turning to myself and getting larger. Everything I need is inside of me. And I don’t need to be afraid. I don’t need to shrink or run. I don’t need to look outside for help. It’s all inside of me. And I am strong enough and good enough.
Sure there is a time for prayer. And there is a time for curling-up in the fetal position and balling my eyes out. But, once those moments are over then it’s time to get back up off my knees, to stand-up from the fetal position, and to turn to myself and expand.
That’s a tough lesson to learn and it’s an even tougher lesson to understand.
Because for just about my entire life, I didn’t feel like I was good enough. I felt weak. I felt stupid and incompetent.
But for anyone to change, first we must say it, then we think it, and finally we feel it and believe it.
Right now, I’m somewhere between thinking it and feeling it and believing it. And I’m still saying it plenty too. It’s been a long process. And it’s not done yet. It may never be done. But that’s okay.
I am good enough. I am strong enough. I am unique and powerful and beautiful.
The power is inside of me. It is.It’s inside of you too.
But what exactly does that mean?
Well, first of all it doesn’t mean that I don’t try to change anything or look outside for help.
I listen to Podcasts and watch YouTube videos and read lots of books and articles.
I meditate, which really helps me look inside myself. I run, which also helps me look inside. I blog and I journal and I write fiction.
I stay open while also turning inside.
There is so much self-help stuff out there – free and readily available – that it can be overwhelming. And just about all the advice is great, but it’s not all for me.
So, where and how to begin?
Begin where and whenever.
Take 5 minutes right now and watch a Ted Talk on whatever topic you want. Or head over to Barnes and Noble and grab whatever book jumps out at you in the Self Improvement Section. Then sit down and leaf through it for 10 minutes. You can also do this at your local library or online (just about every book comes with a free preview).
If it rings something inside of you then keep watching/listening/reading. If not, then move on to something else.
I’ve heard a ton of great stuff in Alanon meetings, but I think this is my favorite:
“Take what you like and leave the rest behind.”
We all get to choose what we want to hold onto and what we’d rather just pass us by. So, if something doesn’t sound quite right or doesn’t make sense or whatever, then just let it go. But if something feels right and makes sense, if it’s like you knew it all along but just had to hear it to remember, then that’s the good stuff. Keep watching/reading/listening and pay close attention. Because that’s when you expand. That’s when you grow. That’s when you begin to heal.
And that’s what it’s all about. Empower yourself. See how great and strong and perfect you are.
You get to choose your path. You get to be your own savior. It’s all inside of you.
Just like it’s all inside of me too.
I am meant to grow. I am meant to be my own hero. And so are you.
We all have exactly what it takes to be our own heroes. It’s inside of me. And it’s inside of you too. Right now. And always. It’s there. And it’s beautiful.