HOW DARE I?
Initially, Sheila asked me to be part of a panel discussion for The Company of Women chapter in Ottawa on education – its impact and its potential. When she asked me, I was flattered that someone other than me recognized that I had something to say about something which is part of my being. And I knew that I had something to say after 33 years as an educator and over 58 years in the education system. Unfortunately, the panel discussion did not evolve.
So, I started moving to create what gave juice to my life – writing, designing, creating music, educating, working with pre-service teachers, developing programmes for women incorporating language and art, music and movement, developing a programme on Speaking Powerfully for Women, creating a Women’s Choir – Authentic Vibrations.
When I first talked to Sheila about how I was feeling about what I looked to create in my life, I brought up the inner critic voice which has always been my companion. Most of the time, I wasn’t even aware of what was going on — that an inner critic was sitting perched on my right shoulder and nattering like Charley Brown’s teacher into my ear. I couldn’t always hear what my critic was saying. I was just aware of this annoying feeling in my right ear – something I originally thought was an ear infection until I realized that it wasn’t. That’s when I knew I had an inner critic sitting like an invisible gremlin on my right shoulder.
Once I became conscious of its presence, I found myself distracted by its persistence. And the voice which echoed in my brain always said something to the effect that I didn’t know what I wanted or I didn’t know what I was talking about or what I wanted wasn’t good enough for others to want to hear me, or how did I think that I could be an authority about something so that I had the ‘street creds’ to be seen as an authority, or what I wanted to create would never interest others. I mean, who would want to play with me? The question seemed to be – how did I dare think that I was worth it? To my mind, it came down to where the hell did I get off thinking that what I wanted to say and create and do would matter to anyone else but myself? Where the hell did I get off believing that I had the right to be heard?
That is what I have found myself bracing up against even as I continue to create. I have been bracing against feeling arrogant. Arrogant to assume that I know something that can be of interest and value to others. Arrogant to believe that I could be an authority about something. As Sheila said – How Dare I? And then I wondered when the hell did I learn to put myself last?
So…that got me thinking about what I dared to want in my life as I grew up. What did I dare to want in each of the systems in which I lived my life?
At home, I dared to believe that I had the right to say what I needed; I had the right to recognition for myself and not what I did or didn’t do; I had the right not to be judged against an ever-changing set of rules which were never explained to me; I had the right to expect consistency from my parents; I had the right to change my mind without being threatened with being kicked out of home if I did so; I had the right to know that I was ‘good enough’ just by being myself; I had the right to ‘be’ without having to perform and ‘measure up’ [to what, I was never sure]; I had the right to my emotions and to expressing them; I had the right to a safe place to be as I grew up.
At school, I had the right to have friends; I had the right to be picked for a class team [and not be picked last]; I had the right to change my mind; I had the right to say ‘no’; I had the right to question my teachers and believe that they were not gods – tin or otherwise; I had the right to be smarter than any boy; I had the right to be stronger and taller than any boy; I had the right to be accepted as myself – not a ‘fake’man.
At work, I had the right to get the job I wanted [again, to expect to be picked]; I had the right to be taken as a serious applicant because I had all of and more qualifications than the job required; I had the right to expect to be treated as a professional [that one’s a biggie]; I had the right to feel confident in my ability; I had the right to recognition for doing my best; I had the right to change my mind; I had the right to tell my bosses that they were wrong without fearing reprisals.
On a personal level, I had the right to put my needs first without being called selfish; I had the right to praise not a bunch of ‘yeah buts’; I had the right to love and connection; I had the right to being accepted as me; I had the right to tell the world to take a long leap off a very short pier if I wanted to. I had the right to my personal power. I had the right to my sensuality and my sexuality – to my womanhood without feeling that, because I was not a man, I did not measure up to that which was ‘worthy’.
Interesting that what I learned in one system was reinforced in the next and the next.
Unfortunately, what I had a right to dare to want was not what I got. Not unusual for any of us, I think.
In my heart of hearts, I always have known that I am bright, curious, funny, loyal, caring, just, creative, intelligent, powerful, insightful, playful, questioning, independent. That is what I dared to expect I should have the right to be in this lifetime.
The impact of all the systems on me as I grew up was that I learned to be something and someone I was not. I learned that the person I have always known myself to be – the qualities which I value in me – which are me — were of no value to anyone else. I learned to be fearful, hypervigilant, watchful, waiting, self-doubtful. I learned to question every decision I ever made [Is it any wonder that making decisions has been hard for me?]. I learned that I was undeserving of praise. I learned that I had to perform – to meet someone else’s expectations. To be considered as ‘real’ I had to measure up. I learned to be dependent, to need constant reassurance. I learned that my emotions were bad, especially anger and tears, and so I learned to live in my head. [I used to tell people that I felt like a walking brain on 2 feet.] I believed the story I was told that I was uninteresting, scary, hyperemotional, high maintenance — a loose cannon. Somehow, the reaction of others seemed to be “Watch it! She might go ‘postal’ on you!”
What this all lead to was a schism within me. I used to tell people that I was at war with myself. I’d make a joke of it since my family background is primarily German and English. I didn’t realize how on the mark – how true — I was. I was at war.
And how this schism manifested itself in me was an eating disorder, physical limitations, psychosomatic illnesses – I used to ask my doctor if he could make sure that there was nothing really physically wrong with me and was my mind taking it out on my body in some new way. Amazing how I knew what was really going on even when I didn’t have the words to acknowledge the truth of what was going on. And the 2 biggies — clinical depression and intense rage. Sometimes, I feel as if I have been angry my entire life. It’s very tiring not only feeling anger but also trying to contain anger. The worse the anger got, the more watchful of it I had to become.
There was a sort of break in me – two disconnected parts of a whole that would be difficult to repair, I was lead to believe. But I tried the standard ways of trying to ‘fix’ myself. I took courses — Anger Management, Understanding Your Emotions. I read books. I tried to ignore what I was feeling – like ignoring the elephant in the room. I lived in my intellect. I kept busy. I didn’t say ‘no’ to any request because if I was asked then that meant I was worthy and wanted. And if I kept busy, I wouldn’t think about how I was feeling. I went into talk therapy with an Adlerian psychiatrist. The best thing I can say about therapy was that I learned to fit in and to manage my feelings. I learned how to control myself but I did not learn what was at the base of my feelings or how to metabolize and integrate them. I didn’t learn anything about how to be ‘me’ – just be me. I still had to measure up to my psychiatrist’s performance expectations. I felt that I had to be the ‘model’ patient, whatever that was. My strongest memory of four years of therapy was my psychiatrist frequently asking me “What are you going to do about it?” I told him that if I knew what to do about it, then I sure as shootin’ wouldn’t have to see him. [That’s the closest I ever came to telling him that he didn’t measure up to my expectations.]
And nothing changed and I got angrier and angrier. I’ve always believed that I am an emotional eater – all emotions, emotions in general would trigger my eating. I know now that it is anger and rage which is the trigger. But I used to tamp how I felt down. The more food I ingested, the more I stuffed myself, the deeper down the rage would be locked. And then I had bariatric surgery. That’s when I was no longer able to eat to stuff food on top of my anger. I physically couldn’t do it anymore. And so, I started to throw up. Talk about a metaphor! I couldn’t stuff my anger down with food so it came spewing out – not the anger but the food. At the worst of it, I was throwing up on average 3 times a day – with a great deal of pressure in my head so I’d end up with petichiae around my eyes. And it was getting worse. Everything made me angry. [I had no patience for anything. I was a scary driver!]
And then, my niece Melissa visited me and as we were talking in the morning, I started to get angry – not at her but about what we were talking about. I don’t even remember what the conversation was about. It doesn’t really matter. But I started to cry – something I always do when I get angry and which I’ve always hated [talk about not being able to say what you need to say and then getting more angry and pissed off about that, too]. And I wanted to throw up. And it was a simple as her asking me, “Auntie Jeanie, what is it that you can’t swallow anymore?”
I believe that things come to us when we are ready for them. I was ready to hear Melissa. I was ready to do something for me. I was important to me. And so, that started the process which began just about a year and a half ago. I went to Decloaking in Nova Scotia and came back changed. And the metamorphosis has continued. I ask for help when I need it from women who listen, really listen, and do not judge. I’m deciding for myself. I listen to myself. I’m getting to know myself – me – again. I am re-discovering myself – getting to know the me I have always been. I’ve been creating what I want, carving out my space, bracing against ‘arrogance’ and yet daring to make my life what I want it to be.
I’ve been re-reading all my notes and journals which I have created as I’ve processed at a cellular level as I’ve been travelling my WEL-Systems® journey. In reading and remembering, I have realized that I have been creating my own Declaration of Independence. I know that I am not my past and that I do not have to choose constrained by the story of my past or by the expectations of others. What I know now is that I am genius. I know how to live my life. I know that in the completeness of my personal truth, I have immense power to create and give birth to those things which will change the culture of my world. I know that I have the right to declare what I need and what I want. I have the right to dare to be outrageous. I have the right to make big choices. I have the right to dare to be bold – to be the living expression of the totality of me. I have the right to craft my future. I know that I am the author-ity of, for, and in my life.
Sheila asked me, when we were discussing my presenting to a group of women on this, what were my goals for this? What did I want to achieve for myself at the end of the presentation? For me, I want to, first, speak my truth. Each time that I speak my truth, my past has less potential to govern the choices I make in the present. Each time I decloak about my life and my experiences, I claim my own truth. Each time I am real, I become more.
I am reminded of something I always told my students when I taught poetry. They knew that they could read a poem [out loud, please] and think “What was the poet thinking? They don’t know what they are talking about! Next…” Or they could think, “Nice poem. I get it. So what?” Or they might think, “Great poem. I never thought of it that way.” So, they might get nothing or everything from the poem. In hearing my story, I believe that there will be something in my words which has the potential to move someone else. Something in my experience and in the way I express it might generate change for someone else. Or not. That is not mine. But the possibility is always there.
And I want to make others aware that Boldness and Arrogance are not ways of being to be shunned and avoided. We all have the right to expect to and dare to live our truth. That is our true birthright. We have the right to claim it. I have been and will continue to claim mine.