Do I really want to know the truth? I was aware of something niggling within me, and it kept up and got louder until I paid attention and then, there is was, right in front of me – I could see the truth – I was awake and my head and heart were clear and in alignment and what I saw scared me. Or was it excitement? Fear because I considered stepping out of my comfort zone and into the unknown? Excitement because my true and best self was peeking out and liked what she saw?
It was like this for me. I didn’t really want to know the truth, let alone see it, because that would mean having to do something about it. I’d have to be bold and willing to admit to something that I considered shameful, and I can’t do that. If I did that, I’d be breaking my family’s perfection code and I was a good team player. I didn’t want to rock the boat and every time I upheld the family code I reinforced my unspoken core belief that something was fundamentally wrong with me. What a dilemma!
I’ve been reading The Big Leap by Gay Hendricks, Ph.D., and he says, “There’s only one way to get through the fog of fear, and that’s to transform it into the clarity of exhilaration.” He cites Fritz Perls, MD, the psychiatrist and founder of Gestalt therapy who said “Fear is excitement without the breath.” Dr. Perls pointed out that the “less breath you feed your fear, the bigger your fear gets.” The very same parts of our brain that produce excitement also produce fear and it is through the breath and mindful attention to our breath that we can calm the fear and sit with the exhilaration, allowing ourselves to feel happy for longer periods of time.
I can completely relate to this because as a child I got in trouble for being too happy, or too excited. My mother couldn’t tolerate “childish giddiness” and so I learned to keep my emotions within a narrow range – never too sad and never too happy. As Dr. Hendricks explains in his book, I had developed “a limited tolerance for feeling good” so whenever I felt too good for too long, I reached my “Upper Limit” and would find one way or another to bring myself back down. I usually did this by nurturing my natural state of depression by drinking daily. When I was finally diagnosed with a severe and chronic clinical depression, my psychiatrist told me that based on my history I had probably been suffering from dysthymia (long-term, low-grade, chronic and persistent depressive disorder) since childhood. Every time I felt happy for just a little too long, I felt uncomfortable and my alcohol consumption helped relieve this discomfort. Another side effect was my low self-esteem and a general feeling that I just wasn’t good enough and flawed somehow.
The truth that I didn’t want to see is that I’m not perfect but I am good enough and that there’s nothing wrong with me. Sobriety helped with this awakening, for sure, but learning to breathe and to sit with uncomfortable feelings, mindfully observing them with gentleness and curiosity, has allowed me to move beyond my incredibly low “Upper Limit” and to expand with happiness. My awakening led to the clarity I needed to move out of the fog and to challenge myself to be happy just a little bit longer, and then even longer and to begin the process of finding the person I was born as but trained not to be.