For so much of my life, I was dying to be me and hungry to be free. Even though I looked alive and vital, the hourglass measuring the aliveness of my soul was swiftly draining to the bottom. I was losing my battle to be myself. I was in my prime. My career was taking off; I was surrounded by loving friends and family. Yet it felt like time was running out. I had always thought that by the time I was in my forties, life would be good—maybe even great. I assumed that most of the kinks would have been ironed out to some degree.
But from where I stood, I wasn’t forty-something and fabulous. On the outside, maybe. But inside I was forty-something and falling, faking, and failing. I wondered what was wrong with me, whether I was sick, overly exhausted, or depressed. I drove around aimless, feeling lost. The journaling that had for years offered comfort became alien to me. For months I literally roamed—through my house, the woods, the community, the supermarket, the streets, and the co-op. I searched books and billboards, hungry for answers and peace; for everything. I went through a litany of what I was truly hungry for in my life:
I’m hungry for real love—not crumbs I try to call a meal.
I’m hungry to have my gift and talents truly appreciated by those I work with.
I’m hungry to be beautiful and sexy and not a Barbie doll for a man.
I’m hungry for passion and great sex that is worthy of my mind, body, and spirit.
I’m hungry to not have to play small when my spirit and dreams are big.
I’m hungry to be brave and not let fear drive my life.
I am hungry to know I am loved and am irrevocably a child of God.
I’m hungry to be me.
In talking with friends and family, people I know well, and absolute strangers, I’ve discovered that hunger holds endless questions for all of us. Do we accept conditions in our relationships that make us feel diminished, uncomfortable, or downright miserable? Are we afraid to say the words, “I need”—thinking we’ll be rejected, abandoned, shamed, or sent away? Are we anxious sharing our true feelings? Do we feel we don’t have a right to ask for what we want? Do we feel that honesty causes suffering? Do we find our relationships to be hard work? Do we live in fear that people will discover the real us and judge us negatively? Is our vow to love, honor, and cherish ourselves as important as the vows we make to others?
THE STARVING SOUL
Denying being hungry is living in the desert of deprivation. It’s similar to the delirium that happens when a person has not had ample food or water. They start seeing mirages that reflect the balm of a gentle breeze, the soothing taste of an ice-cold drink, and the fragrant cornucopia of a lavish spread. But none of it is real. Perhaps the starving person dies imagining that all the plenty in the world is at hand. But she dies nonetheless.
Starvation is the result of living with the false nourishment of half-truths and lies, rather than the real nourishment of compassion and truth. At first, the falsehoods may feel exhilarating and filling, but their empty calories will eventually take their toll. It is important to separate fact from fiction and truth from lies or misinformation. For example:
Fiction: Always putting others first is the best way to live.
Truth: It is costly to ignore and deny yourself.
There is a difference between being generous and living to please. Giving without boundary makes a victim of the giver, and can create a boiling pot of resentment. Making your life about pleasing others doesn’t elevate you or give the recipient of your desperate largesse anything of value.
Fiction: If you reveal your real self, you’ll be rejected.
Truth: If you’re encouraged to be someone other than your real self, that is rejection.
Living behind a mask may make things comfortable in the short term, but do you really want friends, lovers and even colleagues to like and appreciate you for the mask?
Fiction: You can be happy living someone else’s life and values.
Truth: You need to know your own script in order to live it.
What are your true dreams? Do you know? The saddest thing in the world is to live from someone else’s script and never take the opportunity to figure out what you really want.
Fiction: Being needy is being greedy
Being human and having needs is about being healthy, whole, and free. It hurts to be shamed and blamed for having basic needs and vulnerabilities that have every right to exist!
Fiction: You are nobody without a mate, money, looks, fame—or any other external measure of success.
Truth: You are sufficient and whole from birth.
No external or materialistic possession can define you. You are more than what you do, where you work, how much money you make or lose, what you look like. You are a soul, a being, a person who longs to be loved, accepted, and known.
Fiction: If you can’t fix it, don’t feel it.
Truth: Pretending to be okay won’t make you okay.
“Don’t cry over spilled milk.” This was a directive I learned growing up. If I could not change the situation, what was the point of feeling bad about it? I learned to bury my feelings, which only made my hunger worse. I have since discovered that what we don’t face has dominion over us. Our denial of pain does not make it evaporate. It’s like the goldfish that grows to fit the size of its bowl or pond. The bigger the hunger, the bigger the bowl of denial required to house and store it.
My openness and willingness to share is not a family trait. It is what I have chosen for myself, in order to claim my spiritual, physical, emotional, financial, and relational health. I was definitely raised not to “air my dirty laundry” in public. But I learned that dirty laundry is not really dirty. It is unacknowledged pain and shame, and denying it was never going to lead to my personal freedom and liberation.
In the process of learning, I also began to understand what it meant to care for myself and to set boundaries. What I owe and what I don’t owe. What I want to share with people and what I don’t. And, when I have done enough and am satisfied with my own efforts, attitudes, and actions, then I have peace. I finally have my own “good enough” barometer and it is working.
The challenge—and invitation—in every moment is to live through our own eyes. To say, “Will the real me please show up and stand up?” There is a quote that says, “When death finds you, may it find you alive.” I have shared this many times as I go around the world speaking, inviting people to step out of their caves of shame and fear, to take a risk on love when aloneness feels much safer, to speak truth to others but begin the journey of speaking it to ourselves first, and to find a safe tribe of people to build a loving community where we can grow, fall down, make mistakes, and have the grace and support to try again. One step at a time is how we make this journey, one question at a time is how we move forward or decide that turning around is a wiser bet. Quieting the outer world so that the inner world can speak to us and give us sight and insight is the place to begin. We can begin this journey right at the place we find ourselves in this moment, in this space, happy or depressed, with money or on the verge of bankruptcy, sick or well . . . we can begin right here and right now, right where we are.
Copyright 2013, Fearless Won, LLC.