What Growth Looks Like

I just finished a book that 2 years ago would have left me cowering in my closet.

I just faced vivid imagery of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack in New York City as details of the chaos were laid out in steps.

I just listened as the author outlined a myriad of threats looming around us every day, everywhere we go.

I didn’t stop the audiobook. I didn’t hide. I didn’t imagine every possible way the world is out to get me, to attack me, to keep me down. I listened to the book and took in the authors comments and suggestions and went about my days. Somewhere around 40% of the way through this book I realized that 2 years ago….even one year ago…I could not have listened to this book without crying, without being riddled with fear, without catastrophizing everything around me based on the suggestion of potential threat in the book. This book would have wrecked me.

Events in my life and the way I reacted to them created a life built of fear. I consistently saw the problems in everything. I was consumed by worry about what could (would) go wrong. I was incapacitated by too much conflicting information. I lost my ability to trust almost anything. From family to shopping websites to physicians, I believed everyone was deceiving me in some way. I struggled with everyday activities, and being reminded that there are actual threats around us that could cause us real harm would have left me frozen in terror.

This author is a kick-ass kind of person. As a child, when hearing about the Massacre at Chios in Greece, about children who were hidden in a well in hopes of keeping them safe but who were ultimately burned alive by the Turks, she thought “I hope they fought back to the end!” I heard this same story and my heart broke; I wept for the helpless children who could do nothing. I felt only loss, not power.

This is a fundamental difference in my core character and that of the fighting, brave, warrior-women in our world. Where they feel a challenge, I see the defeat. Where they see the bravery, I feel the suffering. It didn’t even occur to me that the children might have fought back. It typically doesn’t occur to me to fight back.

I grew up in an era and in a family where it was my job as a child to stay out of the way. It was my job as a daughter of faith to follow instructions. It was my job as a girl to look pretty. It was my job as a woman to ensure my man was happy. I was taught to use my words not my fists, and then was taught that I should keep silent unless directly asked a question. At no time was I taught to fight back. No one told me I could be strong or bold or loud or messy. My highly sensitive soul never thought to ask.

Truth be told, I often liked not having to be strong. I don’t like confrontation and by giving in immediately, I avoided that little problem. I was never praised for my decision-making skills, so when I deferred to others there was no need to worry about making a wrong decision. I did not learn to have confidence in my thoughts or feelings, but when I let others tell me what I should think or feel I believed that was better.

Finally understanding myself more, finding my voice and my brave, has allowed me to interact with the world differently. I still don’t like confrontation, but I’m learning to let the powerful emotions that emerge in those situations hang in the air between us and not absorb them into myself. I still struggle to make some decisions, but I’m finding a way to assert my choice in smaller and more personal ways to build that confidence. I often forget, but I have made huge strides in listening to my thoughts and discerning my feelings and allowing them to be authentic instead of forcing them into a box I’d let society shape for me.

This book taught me that I am not living from a place of fear anymore like I once was. This book showed me that I am brave, I can be strong. This book showed me what growth looks like for me.

I may not be Bulletproof, but I have taken hits and I’m still standing – I’ll call that a win.

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