“Beneath the Mask”
“It is so easy to look at people and make quick judgments about them; their past & their present. But you would be amazed at the pain and tears a single smile hides. What a person shows to the world is only one tiny facet of the iceberg hidden from sight. And more often than not, it’s lined with cracks & scars that go all the way to the foundation of their soul. Never judge! Learn to respect and acknowledge the feelings (& journey) of another” ~ author unknown
There are just some stories we don’t want to tell. We should remember, though, that in the grand scheme of life, what we consider to be our story is most likely someone else’s too; with some variations of course. I have, at times, been ashamed of my life’s journey. I have been fearful of the criticisms of others, judgements and their treatment of me if I chose to expose certain aspects of my life. However, experience has taught me that living for the approval of others leads to a very lonely and isolated existence. Maturity & personal growth have allowed me to conquer the fear of others’ perceptions of me. I now permit myself to be unapologetically, unequivocally, uniquely ME! I let go of the negative perceptions embedded in my mind and in my heart; enabling me to release the courage & strength that has ALWAYS rested just beneath the surface; biding its time, waiting to emerge.
Before I begin, let’s be clear; this isn’t just about weight loss. I believe that societal standards of beauty and health are infinitely flawed! Everyone that is “skinny” isn’t in good health and everyone that is “overweight” isn’t in poor health. This is about wellness & wholeness; being emotionally, physically, mentally & spiritually WHOLE… COMPLETE! It is also about accepting my uniquely flawed self & the life’s journeys that have led me to ‘this place’. You know, ‘this place’ of peace, self-acceptance, resilience, strength & contentment! Not everyone will find ‘this place’, but it’s possible for most, if the sincere desire for it exists!
I keep looking at the picture on the left. I have stared at it time and again, for what seems to be hours, recalling the events leading up to becoming her and what my life was like at that time. I see a woman. She is fully dressed, hair combed and wearing a smile. That’s it. Not beauty. Not value. Not worth. I see a woman whose eyes reveal hurt, depression, hopelessness, pain and loss; a broken person! Only my husband at the time, my children, doctors & former mother in law knew the extent of the physical limitations I suffered through. I needed a cane, sometimes a walker to get around. I would never use them where I felt I’d encounter people I knew.
Instead, I would suffer through the pain of being unable to walk (unassisted) for the short time I had to be in public. Only rarely would I use the motorized cart at the grocery store, even when I clearly was in pain. Was it pride? Absolutely! But like I said, I was embarrassed about my life. I mean, how could I effectively encourage others publicly, yet be so broken privately? How could I lead when I didn’t even know where I was going? At the time, I felt like I had to carry the weight of my world & other people’s issues on my shoulders. I was trying to be the best mother to my children & step-children, daughter, sister, a better wife than I had been the 1st time, ministry leader, employee, student, friend, confidant to strangers/clients/family/friends alike and the list goes on. I was wearing so many hats, but none were actually fitting properly.
Even though I knew I was giving my all in EVERYTHING I did, I just never felt like I quite measured up to the impossible standards of perfection I set for myself & the ideal of what I felt others expected of me! The way I was taught, you had to “look delivered” (look the part) to help those in need of deliverance! But what I have found is that sometimes people need to see you at your lowest point in order to really know and appreciate just how far the Grace of God has brought you! At the very least, people need to hear about someone else’s hardships to believe that victory over depression, physical/emotional illness and other struggles is possible! #Iamnotashamedanymore
Although some clearly recognized the physical & health issues I endured, no one but me (& God of course) knew the extent of the mental and emotional agony plaguing me. I was on so much medication, some that had me zombie-like at times & sleeping most other times. I went weeks without getting out of bed, except to go to the bathroom or shower (if I showered), I interacted with my children/family from my bed. I was diagnosed with clinical depression. After years of abuses, feeling abandoned by those that claimed love (relationships of varying types), as well as other disappointments, failures and/or hurts, I was at a crossroads in my life. Needless to say, I needed drastic change!
We’ve all heard the saying “the only constant is change”. Much like the butterfly, I needed to go through a complete change, a metamorphosis, if you will. Sometimes the transformation we experience must be deliberate and gradual. Other times it has to be immediate and forced upon us. However the transformation occurs, it can be a powerful tool for growth. We must stop fearing and fighting against it. We should, however, embrace it! “In the cocoon of our thoughts — fears, doubts, regrets, and a host of other emotions — may be extremely limiting, holding us back from our ability to change and grow. Even if they no longer serve us, our limiting beliefs hold us captive in a place that’s safe and familiar, making us cling to where we are, rather than embracing change and completing the cycle. When we find ourselves in that place between no longer and not yet — it takes the utmost courage to spread our wings and simply fly.” The Butterfly Effect: Personal Cycles of Transformation, Rebirth and Renewal, Marina Rose, 12/2016
There’s so much I kept hidden from the ‘outside world’. More than what I can even articulate in this article. The people that I worshipped with, ministered/worked with & to, laughed/talked with & to; people that I called friend or family had no idea just how deep the anguish was that I endured then. Oh, but if only someone had bothered to carefully inspect beneath the surface and the smile. Maybe even ask questions or really listen! The very core of who I was, fractured, nearly irreparable (from my perspective anyway). Yes, I was functioning, but only to mask the depth of my wounded heart and spirit. Meanwhile, I continued to encourage others; pouring into them until they felt better, yet, I was left empty & feeling discarded. Merely existing, not actually living!
(That) woman now seems so foreign to me. SHE WAS ME! I have done A LOT of soul searching, self-evaluation, decreasing my circle, self-esteem building (singularly, w/ the help of close friends, counseling & prayer), to name a few things. The woman in the picture on the right has a story to tell! She has lived through some personal hell, conquered many fears & battles. She has been empowered and has released the old (thoughts, habits, people who were dead weights, etc) and embraced the new, more powerful, fearless woman that she always was and that God created her to be!!! She is purposeful because she knows she has purpose! She is content with life; living a healthier lifestyle & is whole! She is living her truth, unashamed & unapologetically! Perfectly imperfect! SHE IS ME!!!