After many decades, I’ve finally found my tribe; my people; the ones who accept me in spite of my faults—or maybe even because of them. Still, I have moments when I wonder if it’s all a dream, and I’ll wake up on the outside like I was for so many years.
Granted, during those years, I was a chameleon; pretending to be what I thought others wanted to see. I didn’t have the confidence to just be me. I’d been knocked down too many times when I did. Many of the wounds were still open, and the pain came back if I so much as moved a little too far to the right or left. I learned to hide everything inside, and unknowingly made the wounds worse, and in fact, kept them from healing over and thickening my hide a bit.
I was what my parents and family called a “sensitive child”, and believe me, it was not a compliment. Sensitivity and overt emotions were frowned upon in my family. The punishment was ridicule and public humiliation. Yet hard as I tried, I always seemed to be the butt of someone’s cruel joke. What I didn’t know then, but understand better now is, I was a reminder of everything they worked so hard to keep from showing. In a way, they were probably envious I hadn’t yet learned to stuff it all down inside. That would come later. Perhaps they even believed punishing me would ease their own frustration.
Telling Myself Little White Lies to Blend In
I managed to convince myself my family accepted me, and that the ridicule was their way of showing it. I was half right anyway. My dad’s side, especially, only knew how to show they cared by teasing. The trouble was, the teasing managed to hit my pain points dead on more often than not.
Mom’s family was a bit more direct. They went right for the jugular; the things I was most sensitive about: my weight, my complexion, and my inability to measure up to the talents and skills of my sister and cousins. I grew up believing I could never get it right. I thought a was the family black sheep, when in truth, I was the one with rainbow splattered wool woven with moonbeams. In a world of subdued sepia tones doing their best to blend in, I was a beacon who stood out, threatening their safe, unremarkable world.
Over the years, I’ve learned blending in is easy as long as you are OK with losing your individuality and uniqueness. I truly tried, but there was clearly a spark inside me which refused to be dimmed, though heaven knows many tried. But that spark required self-confidence and courage to be able to un-apologetically shine. Traits I lacked for the better part of my life. At least I came to believe I did.
A Spark of Individuality That Insisted on Shining
Every time I’d push my unique, sensitive self down, it would find a way to pop back up, sending sprouts in different directions, scouting for the ones who’d accept the crazy, colorful mosaic that was my true self. I’d whitewash the heck out of it, and stomp down all the little runners, but somehow, some of them survived. The whitewash was swept away by tears and the storms which punctuated my life, and, though milder now, occasionally still do.
There came a day when I was no longer content with isolation; no longer willing to stuff my feelings away. I broke the urn containing my colorful self, and unlocked the box containing all my unprocessed feelings. I allowed anger, fear, guilt, resentment, and all of my ugliest feelings to run out until I sat for awhile in a sea of blackness.
Then came all the joy I hadn’t allowed myself to feel over simple things; a cat’s purr, a butterfly flitting past me on a warm Spring day; a child’s happy laughter. So many things I’d allowed to be buried under the worst feeling of all: unworthiness. It was then I took the first step towards being accepted. I accepted myself as I was; the crazy colors, and the darkest hollows. I opened a door I’d kept securely bolted because I’d been taught to open it was to invite catastrophe.
A Price to High to Pay
I look back now and realize my parents paid the highest price of all for keeping their own doors bolted. They were utterly alone behind those bolted doors. No one knew them well enough to understand their darkness; their need for a light to guide them out when they fell in too deeply to get out by themselves. In fact, I suspect the few times someone got close enough to see the demons lurking in the darkness, they pushed them away.
I remember my mom ending friendships over the years for reasons I couldn’t fathom. Were they people who tried to reach her in the darkness? Did fear make her repel them, and eject them from her life before they got any closer? Was the possibility she’d be accepted in her entirety too frightening to consider? Or did it not even cross her mind anyone could accept what she’d been taught to believe was a horrible, even evil part of herself?
Or was their version of acceptance simply too foreign? She’d taught me what she learned from her own family: love equals abuse. Kindness isn’t to be trusted, as it surely hides a snake ready to bite you in the butt and steal your soul.
Learning to Tease Gently
In my minds eye, I see my parents now as haunted souls, afraid to let even those closest to them inside their tightly guarded walls. They tried to teach me, but while I managed a semblance on the outside, my insides were churning; demanding an ultimate melt down and release. I can only be grateful my melt downs were less extreme than those of my parents or my aunt. I managed to keep functioning enough to raise my kids, hold down a job, and pay my bills. If I was socially awkward, it was because I didn’t know how to get along with people who weren’t constantly putting me down.
I still have friends who tease each other back and forth. I wasn’t going to stray completely from what I knew. The difference is, the teasing is light-hearted and silly rather than pointed and painful. We find humor in our humanness, not in our weakness. The humor isn’t one-sided, but shared by all concerned. My friends make me feel like the times I trip and fall are shared. We all stumble. We all make mistakes, and sometimes do foolish things. Picking each other up and finding humor in the situation takes away the sting instead of adding to it.
A Family Forged With Our Broken Parts
My circle; my family; my community are different these days. Everyone has been broken at one time or another, but have found ways to get back up and keep going. At the heart of it all is a level of acceptance I never before experienced. Each of us is accepted because we allow our imperfections to show; because we openly admit we don’t have all the answers or get it right every time.
Each of us had struggled with parents, siblings, or children, or maybe all three. Not one of us has had a life of ease without a single trauma. Most of all, the challenges we’ve faced haven’t made us weak or less than. They’ve simply made us human. Sharing those traumas makes us relatable to the others. It’s something my birth family never figured out. They insulated themselves to the point of isolation. Somehow I knew from early childhood I needed to learn a different way, even though it meant ultimately disconnecting from my own family.
Today, I value and appreciate those who accept my imperfect self far more than I ever did those who loved me into existence. What they knew could only take me so far. The rest, I had to figure out on my own until I connected with those who could and do take me farther than I ever dreamed I’d go.
Gratitude for Learning to Accept My Differences
My gratitudes today are:
- I am grateful for the friendships I’ve formed by allowing my imperfections to show.
- I am grateful for the opportunity to share what I’ve learned with a hearty dose of compassion.
- I am grateful for a life that’s very different from the one I imagined when I was young.
- I am grateful for an amazing, supportive family, very few of whom are by blood.
- I am grateful for abundance; joy, friendship, compassion, support, opportunities, motivation, inspiration, peace, harmony, balance, philanthropy, and prosperity.
Love and Light
About the Author
Sheri Conaway is a Holistic Ghostwriter, and an advocate for cats and mental health. Sheri believes in the Laws of Attraction, but only if you are a participant rather than just an observer. Her mission is to Make Vulnerable Beautiful and help entrepreneurs touch the souls of their readers and clients so they can increase their impact and their income. If you’d like to have her write for you, please visit her Hire Me page for more information. You can also find her on Facebook Sheri Levenstein-Conaway Author or in her new group, Putting Your Whole Heart Forward