Feminist Friday: Courage

Friday, October 17, 2014

Photo Credit: http://casheefoo.deviantart.com/art/Reflection-382037983
Feminist Friday: Courage
You have more than you think.

I don’t think of myself as courageous.

But earlier this week I was asked a question that made me think:

Where did my courage come from? How did I get it?

They were talking about the courage to walk away from unhealthy relationships that no longer supplemented my personal growth. The courage to hit publish every morning with a personal story. The courage to tell the truth, to be honest, even if it hurts or terrifies me. The courage that seems to come so easy to me.

But it doesn’t.

I have courage because I no longer had a choice. When I hit my personal rock bottom last March, I had to have courage to survive. I didn’t have a choice. I only had myself to rely on.

In the year and a half since I hit rock bottom, I have made it my mission to change my life. I felt like I was given a second chance, and I was determined not to blow it again. 

But it wasn’t easy. While I could easily recognize and acknowledge the unhealthy patterns, habits, and beliefs that had ruled my life for as long as I can remember, I couldn’t seem to find out how to get rid of them. I read a lot of self-help books, saw a therapist, and practiced yoga & meditation daily.

But I still found myself in situations and relationships that were harmful to me, repeating a pattern that wasn’t healthy, and engaging in dangerous behaviors. Despite being aware of everything that was wrong, I felt powerless to change it. It was like watching a scary movie, seeing the main protagonist enter a dangerous situation, knowing they are going to get hurt, but being unable to stop them from entering. I was both the audience and the main protagonist of my life, watching a scary situation and living it at the same time.

This past summer was the biggest turning point in my determination to change. For over a year, I had worked diligently on the mission of changing myself, but my biggest effort was spent when I walked away from two friendships that had once meant everything to me. It was the first time I had ever stuck up for myself, and yes, at first I felt selfish, guilty, and terrible. At first it really sucked. I had to block their numbers and delete them from my social media because I didn’t trust that I would be able to keep myself from running back to them and begging them to forgive me for walking away if I didn’t.

I practiced a lot of yoga. I wrote daily. But mostly I let myself feel.

I cried, and screamed into my pillow. I cried, and I didn’t stop crying for days. I’d fall asleep crying, and I’d wake up crying. I’d cry at my desk as I wrote. I cried as I forced myself to eat three meals a day. I cried until I had nothing left to cry about, and apparently there was a lot.

All the time I had spent trying to change myself so the past would stop repeating itself, I had never thought to actually grieve the past. I’d been through a lot. I’d made a lot of mistakes, suffered through many disappointments and heartbreak, and rebuilt my life from the ground up many, many times. 

But I had never let myself feel it.

Really, truly, honestly feel.

Instead, I had spent all my time trying to change the outcome of my future, avoiding my feelings, escaping from them, hiding them behind trivial things. But how was I supposed to change the outcome of my future if I never truly let go of the past?

I was under the illusion that feelings can be buried until they disappear on their own. I thought if I distracted myself enough, I would eventually be okay. The distraction would take over my negative feelings, and it would be like they were never there at all.

But feelings don’t go away. They don’t disappear with distraction or on their own. Feelings will keep demanding to be felt until they are released. And the only way to release them is to let yourself feel.

Really, truly, honestly feel.

So that’s what I did. I let myself really, truly, and honestly feel everything. Every disappointment. Every heartbreak. Every disaster. Every mistake. Every loss. All the pain and the truths I had been hiding from for so long.

I let it all out. I released it.

And finally, for the first time, I honestly felt okay. I wasn’t just pretending anymore. I wasn’t hiding behind a joyful distraction. I was really, truly, honestly okay.

My courage came from the realization that even after the most terrible, sickening feelings of pain, despair, and sadness, I could be okay. My courage came from allowing myself to feel, from leaning into the pain instead of hiding from it. From accepting the truth instead of defending myself against it.

My courage came from me.

It’s still a struggle sometimes. I still have trouble letting go of the things and relationships who bring more harm than growth. I still apologize for my feelings, and my need to express them. I still feel guilty and selfish for having feelings at all, and worse for believing my feelings matter.

But that’s what the courage is for, to get me through the struggle. It takes courage to be vulnerable. To let go. To feel despite the guilt and accusations of selfishness.

I don’t know why our culture makes us feel so guilty and selfish for feeling. We are a society of escapism, fast-fixes, and advertisements that have to remind us “we are worth it” and “deserve a break” because we don’t seem to be capable of recognizing those truths on our own. We are a culture of fake-smiles, customer service, and secrets. We are a culture of lies, and the biggest lie is the one we tell ourselves: Feelings are wrong. They don’t matter. We are selfish for expressing them, having them, feeling them.

Have the courage to stop lying to yourself. 

Have the courage to feel. 

Because that’s where courage comes from:


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