My guess is that if Shakespeare were alive today, he’d be all about not giving a fuck what others thought. (You know, in the healthy, anti-codependent, non-sociopathic way.)
Let me declare, just to gain even more credibility here, that I used to be sort of obsessed with astrology. Give me a break, I was fifteen. And though I of course don’t live my life dictated by horoscopes or how much mercury is retrograding, I do believe some of it to be of relative importance in the law of attraction witchy woo beyond our earthbound comprehension way, whether or not it is solely supplanted in fact. One of my favorite astrology books breaks down each of the 365 birthdays into great detail, and at the bottom of each page, it gives some nuggets of wisdom and advice. What I read for the first time over fifteen years ago has never left me, and today its message holds more resonance than ever: Don’t be afraid to stand alone. And just as the old bard instructed, when we know ourselves and are being true to ourselves, we are better able to stand alone with courage and conviction.
Like many of us who lose ourselves for a time, only to search and reclaim with such triumph it is heartrending, I came from a dysfunctional background of narcissistic abuse, divorce, and addiction. On top of that, I was already a highly sensitive, empathic, deeply emotional child who internalized everything and felt her suffering was all her fault or somehow deserved. I never really felt understood in my family, and there was a lot of blame and criticism simply for being who I was.
I repressed all of my feelings and pretended to be fine, which is common in those who suffer childhood trauma (and even those who don’t. We are not a society that encourages or praises strong empathy.) I never learned to love and value myself simply for being, and so along the way I picked up various addictions and coping mechanisms that turned destructive by the time I was in my teens and twenties. I learned to (attempt to) control my environment so that nothing could hurt me, which eventually caused a deeper, more painful numbness. I rejected my true nature and grew to hate my (false) self, which is the end result of addiction and codependency. From this place, it is impossible to live a joyful, authentic life. I was lost. The idea of standing firmly alone with heart and certainty was impossible.
Luckily, I always had an insightful, gutsy spirit, and so even in the midst of addiction and despair, I sensed there was a way out and was more than willing to move toward it. I wasn’t fearless, but I had courage. I wanted freedom badly, and I knew the only way I could have it was if I launched myself into the world of recovery. I was a seeker and one who wanted to cultivate true well-being. I had started doing some therapy at fifteen, was a voracious reader of anything and everything, and found yoga quite young, (which was the first thing besides getting high that helped me feel that ahhhhh, I’m OK.) I too always believed there was a benevolent force in the world that wanted me to be happy, despite sometimes finding it out of reach. All of this helped me have an open mind and believe that life could be different, that I could feel different. I was on the path before I even really knew there was one, but at first it was a long, winding and often dark road that I would never wish to walk again!
By the time I was nineteen, I was dabbling with much needed recovery, although it would take me several stops and starts and ups and downs to find my feet planted in a place of willingness to do whatever it took to remain free from the gut-wrench of addiction and learn how to love, value, and care for myself. No white knight was coming. It was up to me.
At twenty five I got clean (for the last time, God willing) and over the next five years I got to work. I overcame, and I mean really overcame the seemingly never-ending torture of disordered eating and body dysmorphia, I began to have some healing around codependency and self-punishment, I found solutions for many years of mind-body related chronic pain and illness, I moved through depression, anxiety, and insomnia without needing medication, I learned how to work in a career and become self-supporting, I learned how to be truly alone and without a toxic relationship, I dated (ish), and I started to love myself. A lot.
Mostly, I found a faith that worked for me, a spiritual practice that nourished me and helped me move through sometimes excruciating pain and fear. When you stop checking out with addictions, you face all your feelings, and there is no way I could have done this and stayed alive (or sober) without a belief in a God of my understanding.
There were and are many other modalities, all of which I trust and revere and mix and match, as needed: twelve step programs, therapy, yoga, meditation, prayer, visualizations, law of attraction, writing, talking with and helping others, running, screaming, chilling the fuck out and remember there are one hundred billion galaxies and this too shall pass, and basically reading every single book out there on psychology, spirituality, codependency, love addiction, narcissism, and family trauma.
I felt sometimes, in the midst of this, a little embarrassed for being so into all this healing stuff. Did people think I was dramatic? Self-indulgent? Over the top? Weird? Some of ’em did, actually, and told me to my face, while others looked at me puzzled when I hinted at some of my philosophies. Los Angeles, despite its open and tolerant mindset, is also a hotbed of narcissism, cynicism, and coolness. God forbid I look like a dorky twelve stepper who prays to God and believes in innocence and goodness.
Obviously, those inside my woo woo world totally got it (my cult fellows, right?! You silly haters) but I couldn’t shake my disappointment that certain people in my life did not understand. It was an isolating, alienating feeling and caused me to pull away a bit or pretend when in their presence. I noticed how I would shut down parts of myself that I felt were misunderstood, simply because I was afraid of what people would think. Classic codependent behavior. I realized, I had done this most of my life.
But you know what has happened to me recently, at the ripe old age of 31? I straight don’t give a fuck anymore what people think, I am deeply proud of myself and my journey and trust it beyond a shadow of a doubt, and if people don’t get it, oh well. I also trust that maybe if I stand a bit stronger in my beliefs and walk of life, others in need of a similar journey might take note and reach out. My hunch is that if you know and celebrate yourself first, you’ll probably have a lot to share with others that is authentic and full of grace.
These truths are resonating so clearly for me today because I am coming off a stretch of time where I was trying to get someone to understand me and respect my path who just couldn’t. I at first tried to morph myself, thinking, I can deny a little bit of this, pretend a little bit of that, this is my fault, I need to change.
Bullshit. Hell no. Boy, bye.
We are not here to pretend or be small or deny our true natures in order to get along with certain people. It is our right to find ourselves and stay true to whoever we are, even if others don’t quite understand or get it. (This of course, does not function as an excuse to be abusive or harmful.) Then it becomes our personal work, too, to accept others for who they are. Compassion is important, as is understanding why people behave the way that they do, and I can always understand this (you have childhood wounds? Me too!) but that doesn’t mean it’s our job to stick around and try to help them, especially if it doesn’t feel good.
It actually might all be that simple. If it doesn’t feel good in your gut or your chest, it probably isn’t. If it ain’t true, it ain’t true. Warm, yummy, high vibes say a lot. Was it N’Sync who said be true to your heart? The nineties were so full of wisdom.
Do not let others diminish what you know to be true in your heart. Do not let those you grew up with, especially when in the midst of great pain, dictate how you are supposed to think, feel, and take care of yourself. Never apologize, justify, or attempt to rationalize your path to someone who doesn’t understand. Fuck the haters. Do not sacrifice authenticity and warmth for the sake of coolness, detachment, or invulnerability. Those who understand you will follow; those who don’t, they’re on a different path. In fact, let go of the need to be understood by others altogether. Instead, understand and trust yourself. Understand and trust your goodness. Be a beacon of light and truth, and if you stand alone, don’t worry. The ones you’re meant to connect with will appear, and if you’re lucky, they’ll dig Shakespeare and astrology.