I was perusing one of my new favorite websites, So Worth Loving earlier this week, and came across this picture on their Instagram feed....
Intrigued I clicked on the #mayyoube hashtag under the picture and found a handful of photos exhorting viewers to be something...
Goofy...fearless...brave...full of grace...
Some were cute, others powerful, all inspiring.
Inspired by the premise, and wanting to make a contribution, I spent the next couple of hours thinking about what I would want to encourage myself and others to "be."
As I sat on my couch trying to quiet my thoughts enough to see what would rise to the surface, my mind went back to my childhood.
I've mentioned this here before, but I grew up not being able to talk. I don't mean physically. I wasn't mute, had no speech impediments. I LOVED talking. In elementary school, my teachers would always mention in the comments section of my report card that I was quite the chatterbox. This always landed me in a world of trouble and punishment with my father. I was a straight A student but when my report card mentioned my penchant for chatting up my classmates, I knew I'd have my father's wrath to endure. But yet, I couldn't stop.
You see at home I wasn't allowed to talk. Silence dominated my household-that's how my father liked it. The only person allowed to say anything was him, and my stepmothers & I were only allowed to speak when spoken to. My stepmothers (I had 5 growing up) had more liberty in this area than I did, but not much more. When we were out in public, I never uttered a word because I knew doing so would get me a beat down at home. My father's beatings usually consisted of spanking me not with a belt but whatever he could get his hands on as soon as we walked through the door, where no one could see him deal out his abuse. He would pride himself in how creative his beatings and punishments would be. You name it I've been beat with it. Ice baths, cutting our grass with scissors, being made to stand in the corner all night while everyone else was asleep...people are always shocked and appalled when I divulge some of the punishments my father came up with.
I grew up in that abusive environment until I was 17. The abuse as I grew older intensified and became more violent, and I became more terrified to tell anyone. I lived only within my imagination & walls of my mind...I became a master at becoming expressionless, always masking how I was feeling. Even when I moved into a new place, away from my father's abuse, I still endured another 2 1/2 more years of being molested, which pretty much silenced any voice I had left. I tried a couple of times to tell people and reach out for help, but no one believed me and even told me I had no right to tell anyone about them. So I buried these experienced deep, covering them with the shame and fear that kept me from ever speaking about them to anyone. It wasn't until I was 26 and in front of a therapist that I could finally begin talking about them.
People always ask me why I'm so transparent now, at 29. They tell me I'm brave, courageous, and call me a hero for doing so. To be honest, I don't feel like I'm any of these things because being so open about my life now and what I've gone through in the past is still terrifying. It hurts to be so open and vulnerable. I wish I could say I'm always good at it, but I'm not. But I continue to try to be and keep speaking up because not only does it free me from pain and shame, it helps other people see that they aren't by themselves. I don't share the ugly parts of my life to gain sympathy or have others feel sorry for me. I do it to try and help cultivate a shame-free environment that I can share with others. I do it because it teaches me how to be more loving & accepting of myself & others. It teaches me empathy and helps me connect with people. I also do it in the hopes that it encourages and empowers someone to seek the help they need, or to just be more willing to share their own experiences with others.
As a survivor of abuse and a person who lives with a mental illness, I know what it's like to have your voice stolen from you. I know what it's like to be forced to live in silence, unable to speak up. I know how it damages your confidence and distorts how you view yourself. But I also know that owning and sharing my story has enabled me to heal....in ways I didn't think were possible. It's not easy, I think it's something I'll always struggle with, but I really do believe there's a power and strength in it anyone can benefit from.
When I sat on the couch reflecting on all of this, I knew what I wanted my "May you be" photo to say. I snapped a picture, uploaded it to Instagram, and lent my words to the #mayyoube wall of encouragement.
Whatever your story is, my hope is that you be one who dares to be vulnerable enough to share it.
May you be a Storyteller.
What's your "may you be" word or phrase? Be sure to check out So Worth Loving's May You Be website to be inspired & even upload your own photo. I dare you.