By Deb Avery
I was a mess when I met the man of my dreams.
Too young and naive to realize that even good dreams can become nightmares, and reeling from childhood traumas, I was floundering in a sea of hopelessness and desperation.
It has taken me years to overcome and heal from the feelings of shame, pain and unworthiness that began in my childhood. Even today, a wound can still open up and bleed a little. I tend to it with loving care until it closes and heals over. Every time it happens, I hope that this time it heals deeply, completely—forever.
Sexual abuse at an early age left me ashamed, confused, shy and awkward. There were other things as well. There was the harsh religion I grew up with. A religion of patriarchal rule, Eve’s curse, and fear of hell fire and damnation for disobedience or even questioning the rules.
Then, there was the loneliness of spirit. A loneliness that came from being more in tune to the natural world and the animals around me than the society I lived in with its mind games, ulterior motives, inequality and lack of depth.
Then, on that warm summer night, I met him.
He came into my life at a time when I was convinced I could never be enough, never be of value, never be lovable. He was my total opposite. He had been out in the world, even in the military. He had grown tough and confident. He believed in himself, and I soon believed in him too.
We were so wrong for each other, but it felt so right. I was running, but not freely. I was hiding behind a mask of normalcy when I longed to run wild and free. As Clarissa Pinkola Estes states so beautifully in, Women Who Run with the Wolves: “I swagger-staggered in high heels, and I wore a dress and hat. But my fabulous tail often fell below my hemline, and my ears twitched until my hat pitched down over both my eyes.”
This wildness had been squelched early and kept in check by patriarchal rules, religion, self-hatred and shame. I seemed to always be ashamed of something. It seemed I could never be good enough no matter how hard I tried. So when my dream man came along that summer and put me up on a pedestal, it seemed as if all my dreams had come true. Here was someone who loved me, worshiped my body and thought I was much more than good enough. Or so it seemed.
Each year, my dependence on him grew. He had control and the feeling of accomplishment that I imagine a sculptor must have as he chisels away on a piece of marble, bringing out each contour and shape to perfection. And for a while, it was worth the blunt hammering and the deep chisel marks on my psyche, just to have someone who finally, deeply and irrevocably, felt that I could be a masterpiece. At the time, I didn’t see it as a way of power or control over me.
Eventually, the day came when I grew tired of the hammer and chisel, the look of his critical eyes searching for imperfections. The pedestal wobbled, teetered on the edge, and finally came crashing down. It was a hard landing and I felt shattered, even more broken than before. But the worst part of the whole ordeal, was watching his face as I crashed. I watched all his expectations and dreams for a masterpiece shatter into a million tiny pieces.
It’s difficult ending a relationship, even when we know it’s no longer good for us. When I let go and my world shattered, I learned three things:
- Self-love and self-forgiveness are absolute necessities for a life worth living.
- Learning to walk away from anyone or anything that tries to change us to fit someone else’s idea of who we are, can be one of the toughest but most rewarding things we can do for ourselves.
- Whatever it takes, we must live authentically. Anything less is really not living at all.
These are not easy lessons to learn. In fact, they are difficult and painful lessons. For some of us, the hardest part of all is causing pain to others. This is true even if it’s to save our own lives—sometimes literally, as in the case of abuse.
The first step to recovery is learning to value and love yourself.
It takes courage, because we must take all the ugliness inside ourselves, bring it out into the light of reality, study and examine it thoroughly. We must separate, bit by bit, others opinions, likes and actions—sometimes everything we’ve ever known to be true—from our own beliefs, our own thoughts and our own instincts.
I’ve learned through meditation to sit with my feelings and emotions, letting them pass by like clouds on a sunny day. Sometimes the clouds will block the sun, but soon they pass and the sun shines brightly once more. I came to understand that not everyone will love, or even like me, and that that is okay.
What’s most important is that I love myself.
Learning to love ourselves is a tremendous challenge to those of us who have not been valued for who we truly are. But I’m here to tell you, you can do this. I know this to be true, because I did it. I not only survived, I have thrived. Despite the many obstacles, the heartbreak and struggles, I am finally happy and living life as it was meant to be—heart wide open and authentically me.
These days I no longer tug on my dress, totter in heels, or wear an over-sized hat to hide my beautiful ears. I allow my wild self to run freely, bushy tail held high.