Wednesday, July 31, 2013

On Fear, Ego and Gratitude. With a Cameo by Queen Latifah.

I used to think that what made me different from everyone else was my fear.

Fear of just about everything - not fitting in was at the top of the list. I didn't realize what a fruitless goal fitting in actually is, because the bar is always moving.  Am I supposed to be fashionable like her? Brave like him? Popular like them? Athletic? Thin? Soulful? Smart?

Like a chameleon, I would shape shift to fit in with whoever I was talking to, while a silent ticker tape ran in my head: does this person like me? Am I fitting in? 

It's exhausting.

I was afraid of rejection, abandonment, vulnerability.  I thought that if I didn't look like I had my shit together that everything would fall apart. I believed that people loved the version of me I had shown them, and that if they knew about the vast emptiness inside me, if they knew about the fear, they would run for the hills.

Automatically, anything that came from deep inside me was rejected as inadequate.

I filled this hole inside me with anesthesia for so long.  Motherhood scared me, so I numbed it out with wine. Crowds of people scared me, so I numbed it out with a false extroverted persona.   I was simultaneously afraid of being ignored and being recognized.  Nothing -and I mean nothing - was ever good enough.

Enough. There's a concept. Having enough. Being enough.   For a long time, I defined "enough" from the outside in ... and not surprisingly the feeling of having enough or being enough eluded me.

What I didn't know is that everyone is afraid, whether they know it or not.  We're conditioned to hide it, to appear put together, sure of ourselves.  Social media exacerbates this phenomenon -- you don't see many Facebook updates about how bored, messy, afraid, angry or resentful we are.

I'm still afraid a lot, except now I don't have my anesthesia.  Facing fear naked is, well, scary.  Sobriety robbed me - gradually - of the ability to fake it, to appear fine when I'm not.  Little by little, I began to recognize that my fear of life was incredibly selfish, ego run rampant.  The world simply doesn't care about my fine-ness as much as I'd like to believe it does.

Cultivating the courage to be open, vulnerable, was the key to freedom from fear, it turns out, but when I began blogging, dumping my imperfections and fears out on the page for the world to see, I was terrified.  I would walk through the supermarket convinced I knew what everyone was thinking about me:  there she goes, the alcoholic. I'm so glad I'm not like her. 

How self centered is that? 

Little did I know that being open and vulnerable would bring people in, not send them away.

I went to the blogging conference BlogHer in Chicago this past week.  As I wrote about in my last post, I was feeling fear and unworthiness about reading a post of mine at the Voices of the Year community keynote in front of thousands of people.  My old nemesis fear was riding shotgun, fueling my fear-based ego:  you're unworthy of this, people will mock you, ignore you, talk behind your back. You're not as good as the other readers, not as important a blogger. 

Sitting behind the stage, waiting for my turn to read, I was lost in self, in fear.  Every cell in my body screamed at me: you're SMALL.

So I prayed.  I got out of my own head. I looked around at my fellow readers and felt such joy for them, and it hit me: what's wrong with feeling joy for myself?  

Gratitude overwhelmed me as I prayed:  I get to have this amazing experience. It doesn't define me in any way, it's just a really amazing thing I get to do. 

Living closed off in fear is so much harder than living open and vulnerable.  So many amazing people have come into my life - people I used to peek at from my self-perceived sideline and think: wow, she's got it all together.  Now some of these people are good friends - soul mates, even - and we are broken and beautiful together.   I try to fill that emptiness inside me with acceptance - first of myself, then of others.  Jealousy or resentment let me know that fear is taking control again.  Feelings of unworthiness make me examine my ego, tell me that I'm closing off instead of opening up.

When I took the stage that night I felt only peace and gratitude.  I took a deep breath and read my piece as though I was the only person in the room.


Because that's who I write for:  me.

Of course, this was pretty awesome, too:

Queen Latifah emcee'd the Voices of the Year


29 comments:

  1. Good on you - I'm in awe of how you pulled yourself together, got up there and spoke with peace and gratitude. Very, very well done. Congratulations! And high-five for meeting Queen Latifah too!

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  2. You were amazing. I'm glad I had a little time to chat w/ you in the Serenity Suite at the Sheraton. You amaze and inspire me and so many others. I relate to so much of this, especially since Alexandra Rosas & I did a #ROYO on Shedding the Facade & Blogging With Vulnerability. It's true. Dump the fear. Be naked and open and share yourself, your truths.

    I feel lucky to have met you in person and heard you speak at the VOTY keynote.

    xo

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  3. This was a wonderful post. My fear centers around money and debt. When I walk through the grocery store the people are saying "look at her, she shouldn't be here with all that debt. Why isn't she making more money, she's a lawyer for heaven's sake." Quieting that voice takes some work.
    But really, does it serve me or the world or increase my ability to change my situation and earn more if I willingly feel like a loser all the time?

    I recently had to tell my mother (gasp!!) about my situation, since I needed her help. We aren't close, and telling her was like flaying myself alive. But you know what? I wasn't flayed alive. I was mildly uncomfortable for a time, she asked some good questions, and agreed to help. And then I could breathe. And even though it still feels uncomfortable to have shared it, I know it is important to her to know more about me.

    A rambling comment to say that your blog posts make a difference.

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  4. <3 Just love reading your words...so glad you had this experience and even more, I am glad you got to enjoy it! Prayer is an amazing thing.

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  5. You were amazing! And, it was such a joy to watch you shine.

    So glad we met. And look forward to seeing you again--soon!

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  6. Oh how I wish I could have been there to see you SHINE !!!! You are a true inspiration to so many of us, and I thank god I found you when I needed your words the most. Thank you
    Kim from CT

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  7. I could have written the first part of your post. Fitting in, fear of behind disliked, false extroversion, numbing it. I haven't found my tribe yet, bit I am still healing and I know they will show up. Congratulations on the conference!

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  8. Sometimes you just hit me spot on with your blog - thank you! Elisabeth

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  9. Loving reading all your posts about addiction Ellie - you get it, and I need to hear people that get it.

    You're so right. It is a fear driven illness - the disease of more, as I've often heard it called. Because nothing is ever enough. I always demanded more than my fair share of the security, love, attention, and validation. And if I didn't get it from outside sources I couldn't be ok.

    In sobriety I'm learning to trust a higher power and look within to feel ok. It's a struggle, but it's better than what I had, and I know I will grow and it will get better.

    Lots of love,
    Gappy. x

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  10. I loved hearing you read, and loved talking to you in the Serenity Suite!

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