This blog is the reflection of the many lessons I have learned in my short life. As life works, I am sure many real time lessons will be shared here as well. I am a huge fan of looking at the world symbolically. I remember being a kid and seeing the world completely different from other members of my family. I saw the world beyond just curiosity and wonder like most children. Instead, my focus was my deliberate. I wanted to know how people functioned and made decisions. As a child, I was the most sensitive of my siblings often stuck in my thoughts brooding, crying or locking my self in the bathroom. Now, if you are picturing me as the frail little sweet girl who asked lots of questions and cried often you are sadly mistaken. I was more of the self-protector, grudge holder, aggressive little lady. Although I cried a lot I learned to keep my most tender side to myself a habit I am still struggling to break. While young my sadness often manifested into physical illness. By third grade I was taking prescription medication for migraine headaches. I also suffered from chronic step throat and gastrointestinal issues. I was definitely an orchid in a family of dandelions.
It is amazing the lessons we learn from our families and the impact our upbringing has on how we see the world. With full disclaimer, I love family and know that each member has offered the best they have. I truly believe we all do the best that we can and sometimes even our best intentions have unintended consequences. This journey is not about bashing or pointing out flaws of others. Rather, this is a reflection of the gratitude I have for my teachers. The lessons I have learned have shaped me into the person I am today. I am strong, confident, loving and brave (just to list a few of my amazing qualities). I am also reserved, impatient, and prone to periods of isolation (don’t worry the list is equally as long). There is something to be said about how ALL of my experiences have forged the path for me to be here today. I have learned through it all that fortitude will take me all the place hustling and grinding it out simply cannot. Grace is redeeming and love is life saving.
The first lesson I ever learned was the power of fear. Fear is motivating. It can transform, for the worst, the best of intentions. I watched first hand how fear called my family to action. Fear has been my scared partner for a good portion of my life. Many nights fear has whisper my name waking me from my sleep with shallow breath, sweating skin, matted hair, and panicked thoughts of the unknown. It has asked me to offer up my integrity and self worth. Fear has lead me to the alter to lay at it’s feet my authenticity. Oh what great lovers fear and I have been. And for some points in my life fear was a worthy companion; sometimes even saving my life. But in my current season of living fear has been nothing more then an over stayed unwelcomed houseguest.
I would love to say fear robbed me of my authenticity. The truth is I offered on a silver platter with no shame my authenticity in hopes of gaining belonging. Even when faced with betraying myself on a soul level I still wanted to melt into everyone else. That way no one would have anything to say about my body, how I spoke, or what I thought. If only I could hide in the crowd all judgments would cease to exist and no one would know how different I was. I had leaned early on different was notsafe. I was acutely aware that I could not not be different and if I could only hide or pretend to blend I would be just fine. Right? Wrong, my well laid plan of surrendering my self on the deepest level failed to provide me the anonymity Icraved. After trading my core essence- my authenticity, all I was rewarded with was a deep black void. A freaking hole filled with nothing. Even whenI encountered some semblance of belonging or acceptance the void swallowed it whole into its belly of nothingness. In truth, the acceptance was nothing because its foundation was a lie. I was being accepted for complying. I paid admission into the VIP of acceptance with my body, my silence, and my submission. I had given up allthe beautiful things about my self and became lost in the nothing of everything else.I was a ship along the coast with no lighthouse for guide me away from the rocky shore. Crashing was inevitable. When the shipped wrecked I floated face down to shore emaciated, dehydrated and a bit crazy. The hot sand welcomed me. The shore offered mercy, grace and love. Here self acceptance existed and authenticity was required.
It is funny how fear can distort our perception of reality. My mother parented out of fear and her mother parented out of fear, generation after generation living in fear. I know she wanted more for me then what she was afforded in her life. She placed all of her hopes and dreams on my tiny shoulders. I was the youngest of her biological children making me a sure bet for success. Or so she thought. My mother wanted to protect me from failure, pain, and rejection. She feared if I experience those things I would be broken like her. And like every other woman who knew heartache and despair I would succumb to the ways of the world. My mother needed me to be more and do more so that her life and pain was not in vain. She needed me to be strong, hard, and without flaw. If I were able to be all of those things then the scary world could not hurt me. So she draped the cloak of fear around me and sent me into the world.
I believe my mother like all mothers, myself included, offer the best we have on any given day. The best my mother had was to show me that any connection was suffering and love only existed in the confines of rules and conditions. She offered that women suffered in silence and only pretty skinny women were valued. Well damn if those were terms for success I was a failure at birth. I was sensitive, in need of connection, and loud. By my mother’s standards I was not pretty or skinny. I was up shit’s creek without a paddle. As I got older my mother and I fought often. I was suffocating in her fearful protection. I wanted to try things, have friends, and be me. I did not want to be reminded that I was not skinny or pretty like my sisters. I did not what to stay in the house with her as my only friend. We were at odds with one another and I was losing. My options were to comply or defy. Both had their consequences. Complying was physically and mentally safer so comply I did. My authenticity was traded for safety.
Complying meant aligning with fear. This allegiance came with a hefty price tag. The grand sum was years of chronic sickness, headaches, binging and purging, crying spells, the list goes on. By age 8 I had developed a pretty aggressive personality and my relationship with my body was on the decline. I had become aware of my body in away no eight year old should be familiar. My body was betraying me. I had breastand I was bigger than all of the other girls my age. I knew what was going to happen next because my mother had warned about the perils of being a woman. She informed once I started to develop men, all men, were going to come and try to have sex with me and there was nothing I could do about it. And when sex happened to me it would be all my fault. I feared getting up everyday. I wanted to hide, but given my maturing body hiding was not an option. Instead I got mean, well meaner. I made it my mission to be so tough that no one could hurt me. From third grade I was hell on wheels. Fights and in school suspensions were common. I was never punished at home for my aggressive behaviors at school. However, if I spoke up or showed any vulnerability I was chastised.
During my younger years fear drove me to act aggressively. I found when I established some form of dominance I felt better. By middle school I started to move from an externalization of my feelings to the internalization of them. This was mainly due to my desire to play sports. I could not play sports and get in fights; coach made that clear. As the battle between my mother and I continued I sought distraction from the pain. I remember discovering the numbing power of marijuana and alcohol. Although I grow up around drugs and alcohol it never interested me until then. By 7th grade I needed to find a way to manage all my scary thoughts of impending doom booze and marijuana helped ease the stress. I thought I was the master of keeping secrets until I came home one day to my mother sitting in the living room. I was high and just coming home to grab clothing. I was hoping to avoid her but I was not so lucky. She said, “I can’t tell you not to get high because I do, but you better not get pregnant and you better not fail any of your classes.” I headed to my room feeling disappointed that she was not able to offer me a better parenting example. I was angry she was willing to pass on to me what was passed on to her.
Shorty after our “talk” I stopped getting high (for a while). I quickly traded booze and marijuana for restrictive eating. I was already on the verge of an eating disorder by middle school, so the leap to full blown restrictive eating was not an issue. Over the next few years I found creative ways to develop control over my feelings using my relationship with food, eating too much or not eating at all. I became less aggressive but more emotional. I needed a way to not feel fear everyday. At 14, I realized everything my mother told me was right; all connection was bad, the world was cruel and men were going to do whatever they wanted.
My mother warned men were vale creators taking what they wanted with no regard for others. In an effort to have some control over the day men came for me, I planned to give my virginity away. If I could not stop them from raping and using me the least I could do was decide to who and when I lost my virginity. I remember all of the other girls being so excited about having sex for the first time. They had romantic fantasies about losing their virginity. I wondered how their mothers had failed to warn them about the traps of men. Why were these girls were so excited to be violated and used? Didn’t they know boys and men were only pretending to be nice so they could get their way. Even if some men weren’t brutal and violent they still lied and left (this lesson courtesy of my oldest brother and biological father).
While all of the girls were sharing stories of love and romance I was in the corner mentally going through the list of boys to proposition. This boy the one to take my virginity had to be good at keeping our one time sex act a secret, he could not like me, and he could not be friends with my brothers. None of the boys I knew fit the bill. Most boys in my school I had known since I was little, or they were friends with my brothers. Worst of all I knew most boys would tell the entire school about taking my virginity. The last thing I needed was for some stupid boy bragging about having sex with me. Ironically, I had a reputation for being promiscuous, mainly because I hung out with boys and the few female friends I did have were sexually active.
Over the summer I went with an older friend to see her boyfriend. This particular friend was about 4 years my senior. She and I arrived at her friend’s house. Upon entering the home she went to a back room leaving me in the front with an adult male. Being on receiving end of unwanted male attention was just a reminder of how my body betrayed me. This night was no different. The man sat across from me looking, staring. Where most men, upon starting conversation with me, recognized how young I was and would quickly disengaged. He on the other paused asked me my age and continued talking. He made his way towards me offering to show me something to keep me entertained as we waited. The next thing I knew I was being penned down screaming. No one came to my rescue.
He muffled my pleas and screams with his giant hands. He hurt me physically in an effort to keep me quiet. After a while I stopped fighting. I was tired and batter. My face was covered in my tears and his sweat. My lungs burned from all of the screaming. My torso ached from being hit. My legs sore from his insistent force used to pry them open against their will. At the end he laid all of he dead weight on my tiny 14-year-old body. I remember him crawling off of me cursing in acknowledgement that his action were a perpetration against not just me but all women; his action an atrocity against humanity. I got up got dressed and cried.
My friend returned to the room to find me crying on the crouch where she left me. She asked him what happen, although I strongly suspect she heard me screaming. She yelled at him about me only being 14 as she ushered me out of the house and into the car. On the way home she told me to stop crying warning if I arrived home upset we would suffer grave consequences. She assured me everything would be fine in time. The remainder of the drive was spent in silence. She was nervously gripping the wheel. I was in my thoughts shock at my emotions about an event I knew for years was coming.
I tried to sleep that night but sleep evaded me. I recall crying softly through the night. By morning I was sobbing uncontrollably. My mother arrived in my room to find me curled in a ball weeping. I could not utter the words because the pain it was much too fresh. I was hurt and embarrassed. My mother she knew. Without my words, she knew. Her response was simple, “Danell, I can’t help you with this. I already told you this happens to all women. So you are going to get over this because there is nothing I can do.” In that moment everything she had ever told me became truth. That day on my bunk bed covered in a yellow polyester bedspread I entered a committed, monogamous relationship with fear. Its seductive teachings drew me and claimed its rightful place in my heart and mind. I found sweet comfort in my relationship. I became obsessed with fear. My relationship with fear was one in which I committed serious crimes against myself in order to prove my allegiance. I was Bonnie and fear was Clyde, together we created mayhem.
What is you relationship with fear?
How long have you been living with or living in fear?
How do you know when you are experiencing fear?