LB and Mali recently posted about self confidence and it really stirred something in me. Something I wasn’t sure I particularly wanted to share. Why? Mmmm, well, I consider myself a confident, strong woman who knows her mind. I’ve learned a lot about what works and what doesn’t work for me over the years. I know who I am and most of the time, I think I’m the bee’s knees. And yet, I’ve spent way too much time being insecure over the years. Over my body, my abilities, my very thoughts.
I’ve had this lifelong tendency to replay every bloody mistake I have ever made and try to mentally fix it somehow as if I could come out mystically unscathed in the present. Go figure. I spent about a year in therapy when I was in my late 20s to get to the root of this and yes, I figured it out, but it blossomed again whenever I got into a relationship. Self doubt, second guessing, trying to prove myself, feeling not good enough. Sigh, daddy issues. And so every so often I hit a patch of depression that sucks the wind out of my sails. Even my choice of career sometimes has me shaking my head – what was I thinking? I’ve been rejected more times than a ham sandwich at a bar mitzvah. You could be super talented and have tons of experience and still be unemployed and penniless. Yep, sign me up. That’s the life for me.
I read somewhere that a father is the one who gives his daughter confidence. Mmm, well, if that’s the case, then it’s no surprise I always felt lacking. My recollections may not be entirely accurate, but I grew up with a constant stream of petty criticism from my father. Nothing cruel, but just enough to make me feel that I could just do better, I would get his approval. Maybe he would even be a better dad.
Race was also another issue. I was taught that as a black girl, I had to be twice as girl to be considered equal. Sadly, that pretty much seemed to be true. In elementary school, I can remember certain teachers who would constantly overlook my raised hand or pleas for assistance. But I also remembered the ones who went out of their way to acknowledge me. I was always under some sort of scrutiny as a minority. My mum taught me that I always had to be careful what others thought of me. I had to be careful. I had to behave. Any misstep would not be overlooked. I could never go browsing in a store without hawk eyes on me. I would be accused first out of my peers of shoplifting (yup), service would be denied (oh, you didn’t see me waiting here with a number?) and certain people would never invite me over to their house for a sleepover. The people who I thought had it all – well, they didn’t look like me. All I had to do was look at the TV to see the proof of that.
I did have the gift of the gab and I won awards for public speaking. I was smart and learned quickly so academics were for the most part were pretty easy for me and I made friends. I was kind to the underdogs and never picked on anyone. Unless they deserved it, like bullies. I hate bullies. I’d sooner stick up for someone than myself. I had a pretty sarcastic tongue when I was a teenager. I think that all that powerlessness over my fate back then made me one angry girl. Though all in all, high school was pretty good to me. I had a preference for the medical field (but sucked in math and sciences) and for creative arts. I wrote pieces for our high school play and performed and people laughed, so I was hooked. Finally, I felt I was really good at something.
I went to university and after my 2nd year, I got cut from the drama department. Yep. I was free to pursue my Fine Arts degree, but not as an actor. Wow, the sacrifices that had to be made in order for me to go to school and I get cut from the one program I had dreamed about. Next up was the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York City. After auditioning, I was accepted and one school year later, I got cut again ( though, I suppose for fundraising purposes, they still consider me an alumni). That gutted me. My mother had taken out a bank loan to send me to that school and all my savings had been spent. I repressed my disappointment, found a job within 2 weeks and entered the regular work force. So I did the 9-5 thing for years, wading into the theatre field in my spare time. I got fat, fell into a depression (and I didn’t even realize it) until one day I just couldn’t take it anymore and quit my job and the dead end boyfriend. Everyone thought I was crazy. I felt free. Then I fell back into another f/t job, finally moved out of the house and my life began again. And when I finally left that job, I started to work in theatre and TV (doing office temp jobs for years), I never looked back. Still insecure, but I am great at faking it.
By the time I became a Buddhist, I realized I didn’t have to repress any more. I felt I had the tools I needed to strengthen my soul and my heart. Oh yeah, anti depressants and therapy helped as well. Buddhism is all about taking action in finding the right medicine and healer as well as lots of chanting.
And then infertility came along and sucked the air out of my lungs. I didn’t want to be in my body anymore. I had no hope and every day contained a sliver of pain that I felt helpless to remove. But I learned how to breathe again. Absolutely, having a child to mother helped me to heal, but it did not FIX me. I am forever changed. And since I have the privilege to life, I expect I’ll keep changing.
So here’s my lesson for the decade. Nothing will fix me – not a husband, not a career, not a child. Nothing will make me happy but me. I can’t undo the past. I can’t go back and change a damn thing even though I would love to erase some scars. It’s okay to cry, it’s okay to say NO and it’s okay to be angry. It’s also okay not be hysterically happy and satisfied every second of the day. That’s just the world of heaven or rapture and that’s not reality. It is acceptable to not know the answer.
If you were Buddhist I would quote Nichiren Daishonin:
Suffer what there is to suffer, enjoy what there is to enjoy. Regard both suffering and joy as facts of life, and continue chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo. no matter what happens. How could this be anything other than the boundless joy of the Law? Strengthen your power of faith more than ever.
And if you were not, I would say endure, surmount, never give up and enjoy.