or How I Stumbled Across My Biggest Fear
Note: I wrote this post in January 2020, and while it still holds true, it’s also been really good to notice that since then I’ve been moving steadily towards peace. So if you’re aching – hold yourself lovingly and treasure the knowledge that grace will come.
2018 was a strange and difficult year for me – I’ll write more about it later, but there were weird relationships, drugs (both good and bad ones), a visit to a psychiatric clinic, and intense beautiful moments of healing and connection with myself and others. It ended on a hopeful note.
Then 2019 – oh, 2019. I will always remember 2019 as my Year of the Reckoning. It’s the year I turned 30. It’s also the year in which my romantic and familial life finally collapsed in on itself after many, many ups and downs and near-misses over the years. It’s the year that forced me to sit down and take stock – and by taking stock, I mean rage and grieve. But in between the raging and grieving there was recognising, and naming the wounds, and accepting them, and extending a tenuous compassion towards myself and my loved ones. This happened in cycles – is still happening in cycles – and so the tentative grace I could give myself was alternated by times of blind fear and loss; yet that shy grace, when it came, was my lifeline.
Because life is not neat and therefore the arrival of a new year does not miraculously herald in uncomplicated peace and joy, 2020 thus far is still quite a mixed bag. But there is more space between the moments of anguish now. Every now and then I wake into days that begin and end with intense weeping, I still have moments where the pain of being alive utterly takes my breath away, but they’re fewer and further between.
Yet I catch myself being in a hurry, rushing towards being ‘all better now’, and then the despair, when it finds me, is accompanied by grave disappointment at the fact that I’m not yet ‘over it’.
I’m still, in many ways, broken. I still have the same fears I had two years ago, a decade ago, even 30 years ago. Often I’m still reacting from a place of deep elemental woundedness like a child who’s terrified for her life. And that’s what I am, in so many ways: a child who fears that she might not get the love and the acceptance and shelter she needs to survive.
Because I find it intensely hard to just sit with pain without DOING anything, I read a ton of books last year. One of the books I read was Undefended Love, by Jett Psaris and Marlena S. Lyons, which deeply changed my life. Undefended Love speak about the “cracked identity”, which the authors describe as the lies we have come to believe so firmly about ourselves that they have become a fixed, and important, part of how we see ourselves. In one way or another, we all suspect that we are deficient. This belief is compared to living with a broken toe: we hobble around, raging at others if they so much as come near our toe, avoiding situations in which we might stub it, numbing the pain however we can. We are not living from a place of wholeness and joy, because there’s this one untreated injury dictating what we can and can’t do; and therefore, if we do not become conscious of these wounds, as the book says, “they will control our experience of life, including our relationships.”
Most of us believe more than one lie about ourselves, naturally, but Undefended Love maintains that there is most likely one main theme. It could be that we feel worthless, or weak, boring, powerless, un-special, too-much, that we don’t belong, that we’re shameful, etc. Sometimes many of these adjectives might feel true, but they’d tend to cohere under a main theme.
The idea that all humans feel fundamentally flawed and unworthy, that we’re all looking to cover up this feeling of not-enoughness, is not a new one. But what I liked about how Undefended Love presents it, is that it maintains we all have a specific wound and corresponding fear. This means I can dig up my own ‘cracked identity’ and see how it has been influencing my behaviour and my relationships, instead of just vaguely dealing with knowing that I feel ‘not good enough’. So, as I was reading the book, I set about figuring out what my cracked identity could be. This is what happened: First I thought of a thing that awakens a strong reaction within me. One of the things that opened up a deep well of fear and anguish within me last year was when a then-lover no longer wanted to be intimate with me. What did/do I fear? I fear that, having seen and known me intimately, he no longer finds me beautiful, worthwhile, interesting, that he’s lost interest in WHO I AM. What does that loss feel like? Like deep aloneness and abandonment. Like being utterly and completely bereft.
And, when I dig further into it, it feels like confirmation. The thought that comes up for me is “this was bound to happen, after a while I’m always unwanted”. The thing that I had feared – and expected – most had come about. And here, thus, the belief underlying to it: That I am, and always will be, unwanted.
Immediately upon recognising this I started crying. There’s something that happens when you poke at your deepest wound: your entire body gasps with the shock of being touched where it has been trying so hard NOT to be touched. In my experience when tears come involuntarily, like a reflex, a deep truth has most likely been triggered. The truth for me was that I believe I am unwanted.
Over the past decade I have spent much time building up experiences and self-confidence: I learned that I am interesting, and resilient, and that my heart is a beautiful place. I learned that I can survive many things, that I am able to make friends, that I have a generous spirit and a sturdy mind. I believe, except for the occasional moment of self-doubt, that I am worthy. I believe that I am beautiful. But. I am having a truly hard time believing that I am wanted. This is my broken toe: I feel that my personality is too cumbersome, too intense; I am too hungry and sad and happy and clumsy for others to accommodate me for long. Try as I might, I cannot consistently manage to whittle down my emotions and ideas to a size that others might find palatable. Here lies my greatest fear: That when I allow myself to relax, my bigness will sneak out and others’ reaction will be to gently but insistently distance themselves. So far, life has not proven my fear wrong. (But I also know that there is such a thing as confirmation bias and that I am primed, as we all are, to have my biggest fear confirmed.)
There’s a lot to say here. There’s a lot to unpack when you suddenly come upon your own broken toe and realise you’ve been limping along with this injury for a lifetime. But unlike a broken toe, this cracked self is not ‘fixed’ within a month or two. I’ve tried repeating uplifting mantras to myself (“the universe loves and values me”), I’ve tried yoga-ing and meditating it better, I’ve tried digging out the root cause of this wound – and while these are all valuable, there’s also a time for just sitting with this. That might be the most necessary part of the process because it means ACCEPTING this fear as a part of who I am right now. I know that I cannot move into a life of flourishing if I am judging my own fears and wounds and trying to criticise myself into being healed. I can’t force myself not to be afraid of being unwanted.
So, over and over again, I have been facing this thing, and it’s been… interesting.
All of a sudden I recognise all the times my cracked identity has been calling the shots:
When I try to be super useful so that, if unwanted, I might at least be needed. When I people-please. When I become the life of the party and afterwards spend hours agonising about whether I talked too much. When I apologise too much. When a small comment or setback sends me into paroxysms of self-doubt. When I fluctuate wildly between being flamboyant and shy. When I feel resentful towards others for not doing as much for me as I do for them. Fuuuuck. There’s so much here. It’s so deeply annoying to find that, after 30 years of living and about 12 of more-or-less sustained self-inquiry, I am still THIS fundamentally wounded and afraid. That at the heart of my actions sits the simple yet profound fear of not being wanted.
I have no specifically cheerful note to end on, but here is the intention that I have set, will continue setting: To sit with my wounded heart, to investigate it and, most of all, to ALLOW it. For now, this is where I’m at and it’s taking tremendous effort not to rush the process. But I’ll own up to this, I’ll recognise it as the identity I’ve built and believed in over the years. Therefore:
Hello! My name is Sage, and right now I’m shit scared of loving people. I’m in a place of fearing even just existing fully in this world, because I secretly believe that I’m unwanted. I might be here for a while – so let’s have tea and chat while we’re waiting for this moment to pass.