By Indira Grace
Last May, I had the unique and totally exceptional experience of seeing Amanda Fucking Palmer in concert.
If you have never seen her, concert is the wrong word. She is an experience, more than a performance. She connects with each person in the audience in a way I have never seen a performer connect. It felt like we were all going to meet for a drink after and tell stories about surviving our lives.
She came out on stage and talked to us about what the evening would look like. We would talk about some pretty intense stuff, death, abortion, love, fear, motherhood, childhood and all the things in between. She gave us an escape route; if things got too hard, if we began to feel too sad, we could just yell out, “Amanda, I feel sad!” and she would play an upbeat section of one of her songs.
About 30 minutes into her performance, which was simply the most creative thing I have ever experienced, she began to tell a story about being a 14-year-old girl who was involved with a 17-year-old boy. She thought that she was doing adult things, acting like an adult; she thought she was getting insight into what adults do and was feeling super important. One day, the boy called her to come over and when she got there, he told her that he had a friend who was celebrating his birthday that day and she was to be his gift.
He proceeded to tie her to a table, in a cold cellar.
She then went on to play another song, tell another story and finally, after what felt like hours (closer to 15 minutes), she returned to the story of her tied to a table. The door to the cellar opened and a man came down the stairs. He stared at her wide-eyed and then said, “This is wrong. I must untie you.” The collective sigh of relief that permeated the room was audible two states over. We were grateful to this man. She later went on to explain how he became one of the greatest loves of her life, who supported her in every way.
The show went on for a couple of hours, and when it was close to being over, she said something else that has stayed with me since then. She said, “If you can, you must.”
If you can help, you must. If you can make a difference, you must. If you can step into your power, you must. If you can let something go, you must. If you can forgive someone, you must.
Fast forward six months.
I was in the latest of what seemed like a continual anxiety attack. My stomach was in knots, my mind was racing, and my chest was starting to tighten. Lately, my anxiety attacks had started to do that. My chest tightens, my esophagus begins to spasm and the pain radiates to the center of my back. The first few times this happened, I was convinced that I was having a heart attack.
Anxiety attacks have been a thing I have experienced since I was a kid. Years of abuse, emotionally absent parents, needing to feel loved, being afraid of losing what stability I did have brought about years of conditioning; always being on the lookout for a potential shift in power from calm to unsteady to chaotic, so I could respond before things got chaotic. This lasted through my entire life, including two abusive marriages and some high stress jobs.
Now, here I am, a woman with very unhealthy coping mechanisms, including sustained anxiety attacks. The plus side—I am aware and I am working on them.
I was driving to a yoga training, worried about all the things that I should not have been worried about: would they think I was too fat, too old, too inflexible, too pushy, too talkative? With each worry, my chest tightened more and my mind raced faster. Okay, breathe. I placed my hand on my heart and repeated, “It’s okay. You are safe. It’s okay. You are safe.”
This has become my mantra, lately, as I work myself through each anxiety attack.
And suddenly, I heard Amanda’s voice say, “This is wrong. I must untie you.” I began to envision a younger version of me, tied up, by my own unhealthy coping mechanisms. Ultimately, I was the one who tied her up, and I was the one who now had the ability to untie her. I slowly began to undo the things that I was erroneously taught about myself—all the “too’s”—and I vowed to become one of the greatest loves of my life.
I have been spending more time being kinder to myself, my thoughts, my delusions about who I am and what I look like. I have become so much more aware of my internal dialogue, and my external dialogue. I have forgiven myself and others on a deeper level. I have expressed great love for who I was, especially when I didn’t know then what I know now.
No one has a right to tie us up—not even us.
There are no should’s, or must’s, or too’s that are worth sacrificing ourselves and others for. In fact, we are not a sacrifice for ourselves or another, ever. I implore each one of us to look at how we are tying ourselves or others up and begin the process of untying ourselves and helping others to do the same.
Become your own greatest love, your biggest supporter, and then do it for someone else.
Release yourself from the things that cause you suffering and then teach others to do the same. For, as Amanda Fucking Palmer so eloquently stated, “If we can, we must.”