The one thing people often say to me that never ceases to surprise me is this: “You are so brave.” It takes my breath away every time they say it. I look behind me, to see if they’re talking to someone else. I laugh out loud at the absurdity of it. Because the truth is I rarely feel brave.
I feel scared just like everybody else. There are plenty of days when I have toe-curling fears about scarcity and credibility and purpose and love and keeping up with those freaking Joneses, too. It’s just that I know in my bones, and recognize it much faster than I used to, that those fears do nothing but steal my shot at living a joyful life.
When I chose NOT to drive off a bridge in 2003, as I’d fantasized about a thousand times during my journey through postpartum depression, I did not feel brave. I didn’t feel like a courageous mama soldiering on to create more light; I felt like a coward who couldn’t pull the trigger and had bills to pay, so I stuck around, focusing on surviving (but certainly not thriving).
When I left corporate life in 2007, and even threw myself an “independence day party,” I did not feel courageous. It felt like a necessity; like my soul was shriveling up and needed room to breathe, and that there was something more waiting for me – I just didn’t know what it was. Our financial advisor told me leaving would be risky, and she was totally right (we wound up in DEEP debt). But I left anyway, knees knocking, because I had experienced a whole bunch of signs from the universe that felt more wise and soul-stirring than any spreadsheet. Some people would call that irresponsible, others might call it blind faith. It was not a smooth transition, but it delivered me to joy.
When I had a second baby the next year, I was petrified. But I’d had a moment of clarity – a brief flash of faith – nine months before. I prayed, I talked to the angels and I set my intention, saying that if a calm, quiet, happy baby was available to come into our lives the following spring, I could make myself ready for that. I later wrote in my journal – like hours later – that I was already regretting that move, fearful it would actually come to fruition. And it did. I learned four weeks later that I was four weeks pregnant. I was scared shitless of repeating the traumatic birth and downward spiral of 2003. But there was no turning back – and Tru was born at the end of April; the calmest, quietest, happiest baby ever.
When I declared myself an artist in 2010, I wanted to throw up. I knew artists who would spent weeks on one painting and made thousands of dollars on each piece; I did not feel like a peer to them, but a wannabe, a faker. I remember showing my first mixed media collage, one that I was going to put up FOR SALE, to my family – my parents (art lovers) and my brother (an artist by trade) – and feeling like I couldn’t breathe. They were kind and supportive about it, and it gave me just enough faith in myself to move forward.
When my intuitive gifts began to intensify, and when healers and mediums started telling me I was one of them, I resisted it like crazy. When that didn’t work, I tried to contain it, keeping it to myself and only using it on special occasions (like quietly working with the angels on manifesting really big stuff in my life). When that didn’t work and I started blurting out things I “shouldn’t” have known or seeing dead people in my baby’s room, I told a few friends – who all looked at me like I’d just told them the sky was blue. My intuition was old news to them; they just wanted to know when I was going to tell the rest of the world. Ugh. It took years to choose faith over fear (fear of what people would think, fear that I wasn’t good enough, fear that I’d fall flat on my face) and let my intuition become my way of living (in all ways). None of it felt courageous; it all felt scary.
These stories from my past keep popping up for me, reminding me that whenever I’ve been in the middle of a scary situation – a big decision, a daring move, an uncomfortable conversation – it felt so much bigger than it really was. You have these stories, too.
This may sound silly to some of you (and gross – sorry in advance!). But a year ago, I was in knots about Tru’s inability to poop on the potty. His autism and the developmental delays that come with it made potty training a nightmare. At five years old, he was pooping in his pants or on the floor regularly. I attended workshops, talked with his therapists, read everything I could about it and no one had a solution. And we felt like we were on a deadline; he couldn’t start kindergarten the next fall if he didn’t know how to use the bathroom. I cried about this. I felt defeated by it. I felt it draining me of my joy. Try cleaning up a big kid’s messes multiple times a day, and you might, too. Eventually, I chose to step back and see each accident as an isolated incident, easy to manage and move on – and trusting it would not go on forever.
And then one day, Brad sat with Tru in the bathroom, encouraging him to relax – as he had many times before – and something clicked. Tru pooped on the potty. Glory, glory, hallelujah!!!! This huge weight was lifted, and all of the previous tension and angst seemed, well, unnecessary. I felt a little silly for having spent so much energy worrying about it. And today, a year later, I barely remember how awful it felt; I have a cognitive memory of it, but not a visceral one. And it serves, now, as a lesson for me about facing the shit I don’t want and knowing the old adage “this too shall pass” is really true. The hard things that feel insurmountable and almost inhumane miraculously pass. We somehow move through grief, we somehow heal relationships (or let go of their hold on us), we somehow survive the big decisions we make. And looking back on them, they look a lot like courage even if we didn’t feel it at the time.
Today, I know my fear is just a bully. When I give it power, it beats me down. When I notice it nagging me, taunting me, I remind myself that there is a light in me, a faith in me, that can cut through the darkness if I let it, if I choose it. The courage to shine is not about waiting to do something until we feel brave enough; it’s about choosing to trust even when we’re scared.
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