I remember the first time I felt out of place in my life.
I was 4 or 5 and laying in bed in our new home in very rural Nova Scotia.
See, I was born in Boston, rather Brockton, a suburb of Boston. I remember living with lots of neighbors in our backyard, all around us really. The non-stop noise of the city was somehow like a weirdly comforting white noise, lulling me to sleep every night.
But here? Here in rural Nova Scotia it was quiet. Eerily quiet. Quiet, stillness with nothing breaking the silence but the sound of crickets. It freaked me out and left me feeling so displaced that 40 years later, I still remember laying in bed those first nights feeling like I was stuck somewhere I didn't belong.
That's been a reoccurring theme my whole life.
It didn't get any better as I got older. I've lived in this area for most of my life but I have never, ever felt like I belonged or was welcome here.
My father was an abusive alcoholic which didn't help. I grew up very aware that often our friends and family would simply just drop out of our lives for weeks or months on end because of something scary or crazy that my father did when he was drunk.
My little girl brain, just trying to make sense of the world around her, decided that meant they hated him because he was a monster (how I often felt about him myself which sucks to admit) ...and since I was his daughter, those feelings were somehow also transferred on to me.
Luckily I made a few very dear friends in school, but they were it. I've held on to them to this day because they were the only few people that I knew, for whatever reason, just loved me and were always there. Those few people knew my darkness and loved me anyway but I never understood why and was convinced no one else would.
So I did everything I could to hide it. I hid myself -- both figuratively and literally. I walked around with a chip on my shoulder the size of a city block that said, "don't get too close" to protect myself. I spent my life going through the motions of trying to be who I thought I was supposed to be in order to be accepted -- but I never even felt like it was working.
I just didn't know any different. Every moment of the day, my inner world felt a war zone -- a horrifying place full of evil little ferrets on meth, all fighting over who could come up with the most hurtful things to say to me. Constant abusive thoughts about how badly I sucked at everything, constant reminders about how badly I screwed up every interaction I attempted and how much people were judging and hating me. Constant reminders that I was fat and ugly. It was a constant running dialogue of self-abuse... millions of times a day, the thoughts would pile on each other like those ferrets, or a group of school yard bullies kicking the weird kid while they're down. "You're so weird and awkward. God you suck. You don't belong here. They don't like you. They're talking about you when you leave. Why do you suck so much? What's the matter with you? Why are you so stupid? You're such a loser. Such a screw up. Such a failure. Idiot. Dumbass. Nobody likes you. Nobody values you. Nobody wants to be around you. Nobody gives a shit about you. You're such a pig, why can't you stop eating? You're so lazy, get off your ass and do something. Etc, etc, etc, etc..."
I told you, a war zone.
I was also always angry and terrified of what was going to happen next. I walked around with constant anxiety, worrying about everything and expecting the worst was just the norm every day.
Then I decided to lose weight... yanno, to fix it all. Haha, that was cute.
When it didn't help, I took it even farther. I started competing and I started training other people. Personal and professional time combined, I spent 12 years in fitness. And it didn't fix any of it. Sure, my body transformed into something others either wanted or wanted to be -- but after a while I started resenting the attention it got. I felt stronger physically and that felt amazing. I was lean. I even had abs for awhile. I could lift a ton. I could run far. I won competitions, and awards, I was featured on bodybuilding websites...
But none of it helped and none of it was ever good enough -- because no matter what I did, or how I looked, those voices were always there.
For years I've heard how strong and inspirational I am -- "You're so lucky. You're so strong. You're such an inspiration. You're amazing. I don't know how you do it. You're such an amazing mother."
I'd always nod, say thank you and explain it just being stubborn or doing what I needed to do but secretly the voice of my monster would remind me, "if they only knew how wrong they are and what a weak, pathetic, screw up you are and how you're the worst mother in the world and how bad you suck as a friend, daughter, sister, aunt, niece... basically everything, really."
I felt like a fraud and was always terrified that someone was going to find out.
I was a horrible mother. I was a terrible human. I wasn't as strong as they thought I should be. My belly wasn't as flat as it should be because the flat belly I had first thing in the am would bloat after eating. That awesome definition in my shoulders that I shared on social wasn't really how they looked, it was just great lighting... obviously that meant I was really fatter than I was supposed to be if I expected to call myself a trainer and be considered "fit". And of course, I was stupid and didn't know anything, I was just pretending.
I didn't belong.
And the underlying theme or cause of it all? Feelings of worthlessness and shame over who I was... or who I thought I was. See, I thought all those voices, all that anger, all that fear, worry, depression and anxiety were who I really was. I thought that crap was my truth. That was the truth about me that I had to hide from the world. The trainer, the mother, the friend, the strong, intelligent, loving woman with a huge heart and wanted to save the world -- those were the things I was pretending to be.
That's what I thought. And then I started reading. And meditating. And getting still, listening to my thoughts, examining where they were coming from and why I was telling myself those things. Why did I feel worthless? Why was I so angry? Why I was always so scared of everything? Why was I telling myself everyone hated me? Slowly it all started coming together. Answers came. Clarity, light, stillness and peace began to slowly creep into, and ultimately replace, the war zone. And whoa, have I ever given the monster in my head way too much energy, attention and credit for way too long. That jackass isn't me, it was never me.
The process of this self discovery has been painful, scary and sometimes paralyzing but with it, it's been like I've been reintroducing myself to me -- the me I was meant to be, the me I've always been, underneath the monster's lifetime of hateful abuse. See, the monster in my head was never really me and your monster (because I know you have one too) isn't you. I know he's convincing and making you believe his words are your truth but they're not. They're stories we made up, they're baggage we've collected and they're crap we've picked up from other people over the course of our lives.
I share all that because one of the many things that helped me get here was hearing other people (who I always thought were so lucky and strong and perfect) express all the same thoughts and fears I've had my whole life.
So, if anyone reading this has ever looked at me and thought those things, I want you to know that all the same things the monster in your head is telling you, mine has told me.
Everyone has that voice to some degree or another.
I'm still learning to find me but the longer I practice compassionately loving and honoring the little girl in me who only ever wanted love and belonging, the easier it gets. Because that's all we all ever really want isn't it? I finally understood that if I ever expected to get it from anyone else, I had to start giving it to myself.
And the longer I practice letting the monster rant without giving him any power or feeding him with attention, the weaker he gets. I'm starting to think he might even be gone completely some day. Then all that will be left is me. For the first time in my life, I'm starting to like and trust her more than the monster and she's slowly starting to feel a little like maybe she belongs here after all. :)