Breakdown or breakthrough … ?

courage

One of the most sacred but entirely daunting and deeply humbling parts of becoming a ‘Certified Integrative Coach’ is that you MUST do all the work yourself … long before you ever get to lead a client through any kind of process.  I learned really early on that Debbie Ford’s incomparable internal processes were not for the faint of heart.  They are designed to unconceal inner truths that most of us have consciously and/or subconsciously tried to avoid, justify, resist and/or deny. Sometimes in the midst of it all, it feels more like you are on the cusp of a breakdown rather than a breakthrough … BUT …

Over the past dozen years, I have learned to ‘trust the process.’  I have never yet failed to find the most bright, brilliant and beautiful gifts when I was courageous enough to face the most painful parts of my own past experience.  Which doesn’t mean it’s pretty.  No, definitely not pretty.  And …  you learn that the wisdom in your wounds, the blessings in your challenges and the light in the dark  are usually tucked somewhere within the ‘ugly cry’ (you know – that shoulder heaving, snot dribbling, swollen-eyed, red-faced kind of sobbing that makes it hard to breathe) … BUT …

It is hard to describe the sublime freedom, joy, and/or bliss of redefining the parts of your life you had previously been resenting, rejecting and blaming for your heartaches. Crazy but true … ask anyone who has attended a Shadow Process or been coached through this impeccable body of work. They have incredible stories to share.  Sorry, I’ve digressed … this was not meant to be a sales pitch for integrative coaching.  My intention was to offer you some honest, authentic  ‘truth-telling’ … BUT …

Some of the most profound shifting of my life emerged when I became part of Debbie Ford’s study group as she was writing her book Courage: Overcoming Fear and Igniting Self-Confidence . Debbie has redefined courage as a quality of ‘being’ rather than ‘doing’ … not something that we ‘do’… but something that we ‘are’.  Huh?

I had been equating courage to a kind of brave and intimidating force … and relating it to qualities like strong and invincible  You know, the ‘roar’ of the lion … the bold retort … the willingness to stand up and defend yourself or your cause (at all cost). I thought it was what you mustered up when you couldn’t take it anymore (whatever ‘it’ is in a given moment).  Yep … I could see where I could ‘do’ courage like that … BUT …

As I journalled about how to ‘be’ courage, I could feel a large lump forming in my throat.  The unflattering truth that leaked out of my soul through the ink on the page was this:

“I don’t know how to ‘be’ anything … I only ‘do’ life. (Ouch).

Well … that’s not entirely true … I AM STRONG. I do know how to BE strong. (In truth, it’s become my comfort zone.)

But if being strong is doing courage … then what is being courage? (Totally baffled.)

No other thoughts or words came to me, but in my mind’s eye I got the most poignant, remarkable image of a huge tree (trunk at least 5 feet in diameter) … solid, unshakeable, and impenetrable. I could feel it was the visual representation of my strength.  And then … I could see some wee little arms struggling to reach out of two (almost imperceptible) holes in the massive trunk of that tree.  And … I knew it was me. More tears … big tears. It was heartbreaking to notice that she couldn’t reach anyone … and … very few passers-by noticed her.  She was hard to see  because she was pretty much concealed by the enormity of the tree trunk that protected her but also eclipsed her from view.

Then the tree opened (kind of like “open sesame”in fairy tales) and out came this little waif … a little strawberry blonde – so innocent, so tender, so trusting. She was about 2.5 feet high … such a fragile, timid, vulnerable little thing that she could have been knocked down by a feather . Her skin is so thin … so translucent … you could see clear through her and right into her heart. She was the essence of pure love …

It was in this poignant moment that the ugly cry started.  The tears were blurring my vision and flowing like rivers as they poured off my chin … BUT …

I got it.  THIS IS COURAGE!  To allow yourself toBE’ completely exposed, unguarded, unprotected and undefended takes a very brave spirit.  I could feel in my heart, as Debbie contends, that ‘courage’ truly is  ” to be and own all of who you are … without apology, without excuses and without masks to cover the truth of who you are.”

‘Being’ courage, therefore, is reflected in my willingness to really be seen … to come out from behind the tree!  To boldly face the fear being of mocked,  ridiculed, dismissed or ‘less-than’ and to stand in the energy of heart … to show my pain, my heartache, my sadness rather than concealing it behind my impenetrable veneer of ‘strength’. It seemed so incredibly clear in that moment. .  I have clearly used my strength to aptly avert anything that might invite me to be really, truly vulnerable.  I could also see that I had been motivated to do so because  life hurts. And, hurt people, hurt people!  Vulnerability did not feel safe.  At all. No. Not one bit … BUT …

You have to decide who is worth suffering for and/or with … and then …  let your heart show.  Because … here is the ‘truth’ that I uncovered.  It is ‘safe’ being tucked into the trunk of the tree, but it is incredibly lonely … and … painfully isolating.  In any given moment, I can  protect or I can connect … but not both.  With that awareness, Brene Brown’s insights about vulnerability being the quality that connects us were  speaking to me at a much deeper level … at least 10 layers deeper.    The dots were coming closer together around why I have often felt very alone in the world.  I have been unwittingly co-creating my own sense of isolation by choosing to be strong instead of vulnerable.  Argh.

I could see that the true challenge would be to actually show up differently … to actually let my waif-like warrior be ‘seen’ beyond my strength.  So, here I am …  blogging about it … attempting to drop my guard with this transparency.  It feels more like I’m destined for a breakdown than a breakthrough … BUT …

This is me ‘being’ courage.

It’s going to take some practice … Karen

 

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“Not all wounds … are so obvious” – My Messy, Beautiful

With gratitude to Annie Oddflower for this amazing grahic

With gratitude to Annie Oddflower for this amazing graphic

I feel like I’m going out on the skinny branches with this blog.  I’ve been deeply shifted by Glennon Doyle Melton’s brave commitment to “shameless truth-telling and hope spreading” and, in keeping with that, this essay and I are now part of the Messy, Beautiful Warrior Project .  As a result, I have been inspired to admit that I’ve been hiding my authentic Self behind a shiny facade of perfection, performance, and people-pleasing (but only for most of my life).  It turned out that I got to grow up on ‘the wrong side of the tracks’ (so to speak) and, since then, I have invested considerable effort and significant energy into ensuring my dignity and character were, as much as humanly possible, safely beyond reproach.

Nonetheless, despite my very best efforts to out-run my past and confirm my worth, I’ve been described as “fake” (Ouch).  I’ve also had people tell me (yes, right to my face):

·         “You’re the kind of girl we love to hate”(painful) …

·         “I don’t know you and I don’t think I want to” (excruciating)…

·         “I didn’t think I could ever be friends with someone like you” (encouraging-ish) …

·         “You are not what you look like” (hmmmcriticism or compliment … ??).

Lately, I’ve been secretly flirting with what life would be like if I accepted Glennon’s scary invitation to “drop the cape” and meet her on the messy side of life. You know … actually risk letting people see the less thanI’ve got it got-it-all-together’ me.  But, honestly, since  I am a counselor, I SHOULD have it all together if I am going to presume I might support others in doing so, right?

So, the other day at work, while exchanging pleasantries over our coffee, a most lovely colleague of mine unsuspectingly asked about how it is that I always look so ‘put together’.  In that moment, I heard that small, still voice within me wildly proclaiming  “here’s a chance to ‘drop the cape’ Karen”.  Dang it!  I guess I should have expected that the Universe/God would lovingly conspire to help me grow into the next best expression of who I wanted to be in the world.

Anyway, with my consciousness frantically grasping for courage, I responded by saying “Do you really want to know?”  “Yes” … apparently she did.  Hoping she’d change her mind, I repeated “Really?”  She said “really”.  So … to the best of my anxious mind’s recollection, I think I said something like:

I’m honestly just trying to out-run the ‘better-thans’.    My father was an alcoholic who struggled very unsuccessfully to keep us all from sinking.  My mom was diagnosed as manic depressive (bi-polar) – and became addicted to several prescription drugs (with all the shenanigans that THAT involves).  Both of them were doing and saying things that shamed and humiliated me as a child … often.  After my parents divorced, I was raised on welfare and ended up in foster care three times.  Most distressingly … I felt like my friends and their parents were watching (and judging) the entire debacle called my childhood.

Kids can be honest (OK, maybe even mean) … so I intuitively sensed the good parents liked to keep their children away from troubled families like mine. Clearly, I had no way to save face when the police arrived at at my house or when my mom landed in the loony bin (both more than once).  It just stung too much to actually admit it, so I put a perpetual smile on my face and committed to never let them see me hurting. I resolved to someday become someone I could be proud of … someone like my amazing classmates Susan or Janice or Margo.  These girls were never ever mean to me, not even a little bit … but I always felt incredibly ‘less than’ in their presence.  They were kind, smart, athletic, beautiful AND rich (at least from where I was looking!). They were everything I ever wanted to be …

Somewhere along the way, I must have decided that if I looked and acted like them, then maybe no one would be the wiser about my shoddy roots.  So, I began dressing immaculately, behaving impeccably and earning straight ‘A’s … clear through to my Masters Degree.  Perhaps unconsciously, I figured that with perfection and performance I could fly under the radar and avoid any chance of further shame and/or humiliation.

So, as I honestly shared with my coworker, the truth of the matter is this … appearing “put together” was simply my fear-based and well-intended attempt to feel safe … to measure up, to be liked and to feel accepted.

But here’s the thing. I still got those kind of comments (like those listed above) that belied my ongoing attempts to carve out a safe place to dwell.  It wasn’t until I did some deep inner work through Debbie Ford’s Courage Coaching Program that I realized the ugly truth of it all. It turns out that in my sincere effort to escape and out-run the shame I felt in the presence of those ‘better-thans’ … I was unwittingly showing up just like a ‘better-than’.  I had become what I most feared.   ARGHHHHH.   I was completely gob-smacked to know that in my protective effort to escape feeling ‘less-than’  … other people might be experiencing me as attempting to be ‘better than’ they were.  Eeeek … no wonder I got those kind of comments!  Whoa …  I felt sickened to the core with this painful awareness.

So, here I am …with my protective cape tossed to the ground. I am publicly acknowledging that the real reason I have been inclined to appear ‘put together’ is because I am scared spit-less not to.  I am terrified that you might get a glimpse of the REAL me … a shame-filled girl who just doesn’t feel worthy of your admiration or respect.  Yep … this is the me most people don’t ever get to see.  Aside from my best girlfriends,  my husband and my precious community of certified integrative coaches, no one really gets to see the part of me that is wounded and hiding – hoping no one will look beyond the facade (on one hand) … BUT … (on the other hand) needing  desperately for  someone to consider that terrified little gal as someone worthy of their love and acceptance.

While it is hard to admit,  I hope I can stay this brave…. and … keep letting people meet the REAL messy me.  I hope so, because in all honesty, I truly have been fake.  I’ve been hiding behind my cape of perfection and performance and people-pleasing.   It is absolutely true,  I publicly admit it  ….  I am not what I look like.

Yikes … maybe all those ‘better-thans’ from my past weren’t either.  Not all wounds are so obvious …

With messy heartfelt humility, Karen

messy-beautiful-700b

To learn more about the Messy, Beautiful Warriors project or to join us, CLICK HERE!  If you would like to  learn more about the New York Times Bestselling Memoir Carry On Warrior: The Power of Embracing Your Messy, Beautiful Life, just released in paperback, CLICK HERE!

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