She trembles as we speak. The diagnosis is only part of the reason; her anxiety has built up over the years and now it is hard for her to be in public. Shame covers her still though the trauma took place years ago. She knows she should be over it by now and wonders what people think of her inability to join in, to keep a job, to look like everyone else. She is a beautiful soul and is loved by many but her insecurity and pain have erected a well-constructed wall, preventing joy from seeping in. Keeping people out. And when she wonders aloud what people must think of her, I answer that what matters more is what she thinks of herself.
She made a vow over a decade ago to stop hating her body. To turn away from a lifetime of body shame, of bingeing and restricting and constantly wishing she was different. More like her sisters, perhaps. She has worked to love herself and her body through pain, and as her weight shifted downward, and harder yet, the times her weight shifted up again. Despite all the years and all the work she is fighting back tears today as she notices that roll around her middle that seems to have expanded overnight, pushing out over the sides of her jeans. She knows some people might judge her but the worst is the way she is judging herself today. She does not see what I see when she is chatting freely and letting down her guard: a radiance that has been hard-won. A gentle beauty that spills out and touches others’ lives without her even being aware.
You are absolutely not the only one who struggles.
She is one of the kindest women I know – so generous with praise and encouragement for others. And so very hard on herself. She has her share of struggles and worries that she might mess up her children, the ones she loves most in the world. She has carried a burden of anxiety for so long and I think wonders if she will ever, truly, be free. She is persistent, seeking, willing to do the work. But when the change she needs does not come easily she wonders what is the matter with her? Why is this thing so hard for her and not for others? She sees the beauty in others but cannot completely see the incredible gift and beauty in herself. Yet she is a delight to all those that meet her.
She is stubborn and strong in ways she does not realize. Raising all those kids, serving and sacrificing, she lives out her values on a minute by minute basis. But there is also a darker side. Fear that she might crack, that even though she has managed to somehow keep it sort of together to this point that one day, she will completely fall apart and what will happen to her family then? She has been learning to use her voice, to ask for what she needs, but it seems selfish to her to speak the fuller truth: that this is too much. That maybe what seems right and honorable will push her over the edge. One day. There are glimmers of joy in her life but they are mostly overshadowed by the daily panic of trying to keep up. What would people say if they really saw behind her closed doors?
Are you beginning to see that you are not the only one who struggles?
She struggled back in school and turned to alcohol and drugs and sleeping around to feel loved. She compared herself to her big sister, always feeling like she fell short even though no one else was comparing. Back and forth she has danced with addiction but over the past few years has landed in a fairly soft place. She has never quite fit easily with her family – and the more she feels rejected, the more she lashes out, pushing people further away. She lacks somewhat in social graces but all she wants is to feel like she belongs. Safe. Loved. She has a tenacity about her that I admire – and an ability to keep reaching out for community where many others would have given up. She wishes perhaps that she were different, that life came easier to her. But I think all is as it should be.
For we are all imperfect and encounter pain on this journey. And each of our struggles is an opportunity to listen, to love and to learn.
She is bold and interesting and a little fiery. She knows how to work hard and create and carve out sanctuary for others. And she is also completely overwhelmed and defeated; so weary of this relationship that she cannot fix. She thinks it is her fault. A better woman would know how to undo the damage, how to repair the breach. This is not the life she dreamed about all those years ago nor the one the books and magazines promised her. This one is too hard. Sometimes she actually thinks about driving away from it all but that is not what she really desires. There is so much shame swirling, dizzyingly, around this broken place in her life. But she does not see what I see: she is a red tent sister; always ready to reassure and hold space for others. For me. A bold and beautiful gift to the world.
She held on when most would have let go. She fought for her family and her mental wellness and modeled strength and dignity even in the midst of abuse. She was told she was at fault, a mess up, all her flaws – real and imagined – pointed out to her on a daily basis. Still she hung on for the sake of the children until one day it was time. She has thought about ending it all. Or on a slightly better day about running away and starting over. But then she digs in her heels yet again and does the work laid out before her. There are many reasons to quit; many circumstances that she wishes she could fix both for herself and others. Her life has been far from easy but she mostly puts on a brave face to the outside world. She is by far one of the strongest women I know and one day I hope she will see what I see in her.
Can you see now that it’s true? You are not the only one who struggles.
And just like all of these women – you are a gift. An imperfect, beautiful, delightful gift to this world. Be gentle with yourself today.