First off I want to say how grateful I am to be part of two gratitude lists. I have had a rough few days and taking the time to write out what I am grateful for even though I didn’t want to really helped me see that everything in my life is not difficult and sad. A couple of days ago I let myself get to a point where I was viewing everything from the lens of anxiety, fear and stress— not my best moments but ones I needed to experience to learn, once again, that when I am unwilling to say what I need to say I become powerless over my life.
Have you ever avoided a conversation because you were afraid of how the other person would respond? Do you put too much emphasis on making sure it is the “right time” to say what you need to say? Are you trying too hard to be nice and avoid confrontation? If you answered yes to any of these questions then we definitely have a few things in common. As a person that works with others to help them get the most out of their lives and relationships, I often support them in speaking up when they need to. It is humbling to admit on the internet that I am still a work in progress in this area! The good news is I catch myself rather quickly and have the tools to get me through the sometimes awkward and uncomfortable conversations that come up in my life.
In high school I had this boyfriend that would ask me lots of questions about my feelings. It was the strangest thing to me. The only person I discussed my feelings with at that time was my shrink and I wasn’t even seeing her that regularly. I had absolutely no clue how to talk about all the stuff that was going on in my life and mind. The thought of opening up to my boyfriend in that way terrified me. I had been taught to not ever talk about how I felt and when I did speak up I usually was told in one way or another that how I felt and what I needed did not matter. As a result I turned to art which is where all of my pent up emotions and thoughts went. I had to express myself some how and in many ways having a serious creative practice saved my life. That and drinking a lot of alcohol. Art helped me with self-expression and alcohol helped me numb out as I had no other outlets for getting away from myself.
Fast forward to the present, I have been in recovery from so many things for many years and I am still fine tuning and practicing speaking up in my relationships. In some ways this feels like the final frontier in my journey of becoming the brave and inspiring person I know deep down that I am. I realize though that there is no such thing as a final anything other than death and that I will always be discovering, growing and working through whatever situations I need to in order to get closer to the truth of who I am.
Over the weekend I did a lot of writing and became acutely aware that when I don’t speak up for myself and tell others how I feel my self-esteem starts to break down. If I let it go too long I become anxious, stressed, and sad and eventually resentful. I am not sure what happens after resentment but for me that is the place where I know I need to take some serious action – i.e. say how I feel before I start acting like a jerk! Thankfully I did not get to that place this time as I have enough self-awareness and practice under my belt that I reached for my tools and eventually said what I needed to say.
Often I have the experience of not feeling complete relief when I speak up. I am learning that is okay and that it doesn’t mean I should stop doing it. Sometimes relief comes slowly but it always comes when I am speaking my truth and sharing with others in an honest and kind way. There is no freedom or joy in shutting myself off from others. True intimacy is only possible when I am willing to share what is going on with me. Intimacy is what I am after and though I still stumble along the way I keep showing up and trying because it is important to me.
As I reflect back on this year and all of the times I spoke up I can see how it is time to let my stories go from the past. I don’t have people in my life that shut me down when I speak up today and if that happens I can totally take care of myself. Today my relationships look very different. When I tell my friends what is really going on with me, what I am afraid of, how I feel, or what I need, we are able to have very calm, grown up conversations. These talks result in me feeling better for opening up, them being happy that I was willing to talk, and us becoming closer. So many wins in these scenarios. Not to mention I don’t have any anxiety, stress, sadness or resentment. So like hello, keep opening your mouth and talking about how you feel!!!
Learning how to use my words and actually putting that into practice is something I will continue to have to work on. Today I am willing to do that work because I want relationships based on open communication and honesty and in order to have that it requires my participation. I have a deep desire to get to know myself and be myself in front of others as scary as it is sometimes – this is where so much of the magic of being alive is. Just like with career stuff, when I ride the edge of my comfort zone and have the conversations I don’t want to have, I gain compassion, insight and wisdom. I also get to have the close relationships I longed for most of my life – to have people around that really know me not just the parts of me that I decided are good enough for them to know.
Today I am choosing to view these hard conversations as opportunities not just to grow but to become closer to myself and the people in my life – closer to my truth and the truth of our relationships. I am learning to trust that I can take care of myself in this way and not to underestimate people and their capacity to connect and engage with love and understanding. I am learning that there is nothing wrong with me for having feelings and needs, the only thing wrong is choosing not to express them to the people that I care about.
Photo: Marielle Chua