By Lori Welch Brown
As we celebrate the 4th, I give gratitude for all my freedoms. As an American, I have a veritable smorgasbord at my disposal. It’s an embarrassment of riches. I have more personal freedoms than Kardashians have Spanx. Every day I wake up to a plethora of choices. Whole bean, ground or French press? Tall, grande or vente? Gluten free or vegan? Two-day free delivery or Express? Gentle or flow? You get my point. Many gave their lives so I can have those choices, and I am grateful. Beyond. The freedom I most appreciate is the freedom to be me—which is the one I most often take for granted. I have the freedom to embrace my whole quirky, messy, moody feminine self. Dare I say, however, that most of us don’t enter the world knowing that we are blessed with the freedom to be these awkward, complicated, beautiful beings. We don’t have a clue that life is this crazy magical mystery tour of discovery that takes courage, patience and perseverance. I imagine there are a chosen few who shoot out of the womb with a suitcase of confidence, self-assurance and knowledge, but that wasn’t me. I wasn’t athletic or popular or particularly cute. I believed in Santa Claus until the fifth grade and secretly played with Barbie’s through the eighth. I guess you could say I was a late bloomer, but you could also say I was a little geeky. Somehow I managed to survive my incredibly awkward middle school years because I morphed myself into the kid who made other kids laugh. I worked hard at being likable. By the time I got to high school, I was well liked, but I wouldn’t necessarily say popular. I began smoking so I would fit in with that crowd, and then I began drinking because it appeared to make me even funnier. I graduated, went to secretarial school and then got a decent job that I liked. Everything should have been great, right? The glitch, however, was that I was ashamed and embarrassed because I didn’t have a four year degree. Whenever I was in a group and the subject came up, I broke into a sweat and tried to either dodge the question or redirect. That was the shame I carried. Silly, right? At the time, it felt big and important, and hiding it took a lot of energy. My feelings were so off the mark, but not to me. First, I was smart, and I did have some college-level education under my belt—I just didn’t take the traditional path so I felt ‘less than’ when confronted with the inevitable “where’d you go to school” question. Second—who would have cared? No one. Of course, there were plenty of other occasions to feel embarrassed or ashamed—I was just lucky enough to be doing all the embarrassing/shameful things before the era of phone cameras and social media #praisegod.
I cannot begin to imagine what it must be like to be holding onto a bigger, ‘darker’ secret in solitude. I say ‘darker’ because all shame is dark until it is brought out into the light. And worse yet when you are still grappling with understanding THE SECRET—you just know that you feel different or less than or not enough. Triple threat alert: What if you don’t have anyone you trust enough to share your feelings and emotions? I once read a great analogy—emotions are like an iceberg. What you see on the surface is only the tip. The rest is lying beneath the surface like a mountain. When I interact with people I try to remember that what I’m seeing is only the tip of their iceberg, and I have no idea what darkness is lying beneath their surface. As an adult, it has taken me decades to understand my own mountain of emotions and not let them constantly control me or get the better of me. The things I credit most for my own peace of mind are my community of friends, a stack of whiny journals, a really good therapist, and a lot of hot baths. If you don’t have freedom from your emotions and/or demons, start with a baby step. Get a pencil and some paper and start writing that crap out of your head and into the light. I can practically hear freedom ringing…
I wish I could have been one of those confident teens/twentysomethings who had things figured out, but alas, I didn’t. And, I doubt they did either. It just looked that way from the outside. If I could talk to my younger self I’d say—“you’re beautiful just as you are, and you will never be defined by a piece of paper. No one has it figured out. We are all doing the best we can, one day at a time. You will plan and you will fail. You will rise and you will fall, but you will rise again. Trust that it will all work out. Have faith. Pretty soon, you’ll look back on the acne, the awkwardness and all the other HUGE THINGS THAT WILL DEFINE AND DESTROY ME and you will laugh. But more importantly, you will survive and you will know happiness comes between the highest waves you ride out.” I know, however, it’s not that easy—for some teens, tweens or adults. It wasn’t that easy for Kate Spade or Anthony Bourdain.
While many of us understand our options/choices, there are as many who feel the opposite of free—they feel trapped and are sinking in despair. The recent suicides of Kate and Anthony are proof that freedom isn’t accessible to everyone even in America in 2018. No matter how much money or success, they weren’t able to find freedom from their demons or the freedom to be their messy, beautiful selves – which feels like such a horrible injustice. How many more are fighting silent, solitary wars that we can’t even begin to comprehend? While I feel as though I’ve managed to stay a step or two ahead of my own demons, their deaths make me realize that maybe it’s best not to get too comfortable. I stay alert the best way I can—by making my own wellness a priority and feeding myself a healthy dose of positivity when I can muster it. When shame tries to rear its ugly head, I call it out. Quickly. I say the word ‘acceptance’ to myself daily and try to look a little deeper into the eyes of others before I pass judgements. Freedom is something we all must fight for every day. It’s worth it.
I wish you freedom from everything that is holding you down and back. May you be free from depression and anxiety. Free from drugs. Free from bullying. Happy Independence Day, but realize that true freedom takes an army—or at least a community. xoxo