Yesterday I did something terrifying. At least for me. I admitted to the world, which required me to admit to myself, that I have issues with worthiness that encompasses fear and shame as it relates to money. I shared the truth about an incredibly frightening and shameful time of despair and lack in my life. In speaking that truth, I opened a wound that has been with me for so long that I have gotten used to its additional weight, its smell, its limitations. At times, I have accepted its toxic messages as truth and felt the need to affix to myself a mask of someone who feels safe.
I have never felt safe. Maybe it is biology, maybe it is the permanent imprint of trauma, maybe it is something my tiny human brain does not have the capacity to understand. Regardless, I have grown tired of the mask. I have grown tired of bullshit. I genuinely want to be free of the pretense that causes us to lie and say we are “Great!” when, in reality, we are barely keeping our hearts inside of our bodies. We are holding it all together with duct tape – but not in a funny way.
During that harrowing time, over a decade ago now, we had a few friends who were truly there for us with so much love and kindness. Our family has always been so supportive. We are fortunate beyond measure. But I remember the times when sharing my fear and pain of the situation with some people in my life - people I was very close to – and seeing the moment when they stopped listening.
This is the same thing that happens when you speak to someone about mental illness who isn’t prepared to hear or process your pain or fear because it triggers an awareness of their own pain or fear. I wasn’t asking anyone for anything but to sit with me and help me to see the light. I find people are more comfortable talking about mental illness than they are talking about money, especially the emotional hold it has on our feelings of value and worthiness. It is the third rail of polite conversation, even with the people to whom we are closest.
I get it. No one ever teaches us how to be real with one another. Not really. It is human nature to both turn away from suffering AND to derive some sick, voyeuristic pleasure in it as long as it happens to someone else. Hence, gladiator fights, public hangings, and reality tv. I’m not suggesting anyone in my world got pleasure from our difficulties, but I am saying that I understand. It can be so scary to sit across from another person who is suffering and be able to offer them only silence. No one could fix our problems but us. But the loneliness of that time will always be with me. And at the same time, I was so ashamed. I tried to put on a brave face. My value had always been wrapped up in being able to be there for others. I crumbled at the thought of needing help from others. I could not allow myself to be fully vulnerable. I was not able to allow myself to be loved when I didn’t feel that I could earn it. I had always felt I had to earn it. When I saw someone shut down at my vulnerability, I turned the conversation around. When someone asked me how things were going – I almost always said “Great!” I always had a smile. I always showed-up.
That’s the confusion of these situations. In this case it was a financial downward spiral but for some it is a mental health crisis, a physical health challenge, or …sometimes one leads to another…regardless it is so hard to ask for help and at times it can be even harder to accept the help it is so obvious that we need. I was afraid of being judged because at the most basic level I understand my own innate capacity to judge others. When we see someone in pain or suffering it is almost reflexive to begin thinking of all the things, they may have done to welcome their misfortune and all the things we would have certainly done differently in their shoes. I had worked so hard to earn my tenuous self-worth and yet still carried around the core belief that anything negative that happened in my life was proof of my dysfunction.
Silencing that voice will be a lifelong challenge for me. But as I get older and really break into my mind, my choices, and step closer and closer to emotional healing I become acutely aware of my addiction to feeling unsafe. It is at the core of my being. Like an abusive relationship, I have been turning away from and running back to my fear response for as long as I can remember. I hate it but I am also validated by it. Can I be alive without it? For the first time my eyes are open to this. I am breaking down the reality of my experiences, my disappointments, my responsibilities, and the truth that no matter what I have done, or not done, in my life I am worthy of safety and more importantly – I am worthy of FEELING safe. Being safe and feeling safe can be very different.
This unconscious connection to my own feelings of being unsafe and becoming so used to those feelings that I don’t feel normal without them, is what has fueled my fears of abundance, wealth, and success. I do not know how to feel safe and not always be anticipating that something awful is just around the corner. If I stay comfortably in that place of worry, concern, and limitation then I won’t have to worry that things MIGHT go wrong – because they already have and I will learn how to “Make do with what I’ve got”…in the famous words of my mother. It’s good to know how to make the most of what you have. It can be destructive when making do becomes settling.
So here I am working through these blockages, in real time. I am ready to free myself from fear and uncertainty. I am ready to feel connected to this world and other people in a way that I have never allowed myself to be – because I did not feel as if I deserved it. I am ready to step forth into the future, letting go of the anticipation that things will fall apart at some point and replacing that with the knowledge that things WILL fall apart. When that happens – I will have the emotional AND financial resources to face them.