All summer I’ve been chewing on the notion of authenticity. What it is? What does it mean to me? I took a hard long look at myself and really wondered whether I can truly call myself authentic. And, if not, did it matter very much?
My journey over the last year and a half has taken me on a lot of winding and very bumpy roads. In pursuit of some vague notion of finding myself, I uncovered some wild and ravaged terrain that I wasn’t prepared for. There were many long, hard weeks when I was certain that I might actually be lost forever, that it would be impossible to find my way. I cried, I panicked, and I avoided. There is a distinct edge to this period on my life, the amount of spiritual change has been nothing short of staggering.
And while many might think I’ve finally found my way, in fact, the only thing I’ve found is that the living is in the searching. We are never truly done. We pick up bits and pieces along the road, pieces that may seem as random as a hardened hitchhiker, and each forms another companion meant only to keep us company along the way.
This past spring I started to believe I was finally starting to see the forest for the trees. Though misguided, I felt so sure that I made some personal decisions of what and who I needed in my life. The details of those decisions are not important, but rather the reason I made them is. Given what I’ve learned, it should have been a huge flag for me. But I was so sure, it seemed incredibly clear. There was something in my life to which I believed I no longer belonged, it seemed like this part of my life no longer fit. I had spent many months learning about my triggers, sifting through the trouble spots and separating the parts so that I could finally be whole. For a while I believed that meant letting go of parts that were hard, that caused me anxiety and worry.
Along came Brené Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection Dream Lab and her book I Thought it Was Just Me. I learned about shame, perfectionism, inadequacy and what it means to be authentic. Her work changed me. I saw myself very different than ever before. I finally understood myself.
Finally there was clarity where for so long there had been fog.
And I had a conversation with one of my closest, most dear friends. A candid, frank, open discussion about this decisions I had made. As she and I talked it out, as I explained where I was coming from, these words slipped neatly from my mouth, surprising even me.
“Maybe it’s not that I don’t fit in. Maybe it’s not that I don’t feel comfortable in this situation. Maybe it’s just that I’m not comfortable with myself.”
We grew quiet for a minute, and it wasn’t long before I said. “Oh my God, that’s it!”
With this simple wisdom came a well of self-understanding that had previously remained hidden. It had never before occurred to me that my insecurities were the direction result of self-perception. Rather, I always believed they were because of my effort to achieve of a vision of myself as expected by others.
The ground shook a little for me.
And I’ve settled into this realization for months. The judgment has never really been about how others see me. It has never been that anyone has ever ostracized me for the person I am. It has only ever been me.
I am not comfortable being myself. I have spent my life judging myself. I am responsible for my anxiety, my shame.
I say this not to blame myself. I say this with the deepest intention to change myself.
In I Thought it Was Just Me, Brené says “Shame is best defined as the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing we are flawed and therefore unworthy of acceptance and belonging.”
For me this is so painfully true. The person I am, the life I want to live is so very different than the life I’ve grown up believing I should be living, a life where I have it all and I am everything to everyone who needs me. I’ve believed forever that I needed to be a certain way to fit in, to be good, to be happy. And because I’ve believed it virtually forever, I became rooted— deeply fixed—to an ideal of myself that I couldn’t separate from myself. So much so that I was ready to run away from relationships where it was no longer necessary to paint that picture.
I thought I was running away from an uncomfortable situation that wasn’t right for me, but in reality I was running from a place where I really could be myself.