“You will find that you don’t need to trust others as much as you need to trust yourself to make the right choices.”
― Miguel Ruiz, The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom
Anyone who has talked to me for very long knows I have a weird eye thing going on.
This is how I’ve always referred to it: my weird eye thing. I have nystagmus, so my eyes move abnormally fast, back and forth horizontally – even more so when I’m upset or tired. I also have a lazy eye that tends to veer off to one side occasionally. These two eye issues were the cause of a tremendous amount of shame in my childhood, and I still tend to cross my eyes ever so slightly when being photographed or talking to somebody, so they know that I’m for sure looking at them and not peering over their shoulder.
My parents strove to raise me well and pushed me in many areas, like academics, to challenge myself. However, they didn’t understand how my weird eye issues affected my eyesight and tended to be wicked overprotective. When I was in elementary school, I longed to play Little League baseball on the town team like my brother. My parents refused to let me join, convinced that a ball would come flying my way and slam into my glasses, permanently blinding me with shards of broken glass. Nevermind that I played baseball all the time at home and with my extended family, with no problem.
My stupid eyes got in the way again in junior high when it came time to sign up for the basketball team. I desperately wanted to play basketball and asked my parents for permission to sign up. I assumed they’d have no problem since I had been playing tennis for years and regularly had balls speeding my way on the courts.
I got a firm NO. When I pressed as to why, I got the same answer I’d been accustomed to getting my entire life: “We don’t know if you can see well enough to play, and you might get hit in the face, and your glasses will break, and you’ll be blinded, and basically the Apocalypse will be ushered in.” [Ok, the last clause in that sentence was mine.]
Burning shame. It felt brutal being told I couldn’t do things that in my heart I knew I would be fine at. I hated my eyes, hated my glasses, and for a time, hated my parents for not believing in me.
Then high school basketball came around. I was already well behind my peers who had been playing basketball for two years, but I was determined this time to be allowed to join the team. I asked my parents yet again for permission, and once again received a firm no. But this time I was pissed.
“Bullshit,” I told myself and proceeded to flat out ignore my dad for the next three days. I didn’t look at him, refused to speak to him, and didn’t acknowledge when he spoke to me. I was NOT going to be the first to crack on this one. And I didn’t. He finally came to me with his consent to join the team. In general, I sucked at basketball even though I loved playing, but I never broke my glasses, never lost a contact lens, and no one ever had to pull glass shards out of my eyes.
Each of us creates stories about ourselves from early childhood, and these stories have the tendency to stick with us. Some stories are good and helpful, but much of the time, they are stories about our faults and weaknesses, and they come dressed to the hilt in shame.
We don’t always know we hold these stories. They can be unconsciously embedded in our psyches, but they are retold again and again in the choices we make, the people we decide to be in relationship with, our perspectives on life, and so on.
Don Miguel Ruiz, who wrote The Four Agreements, describes these stories we believe about ourselves as the dream. Our brains are always dreaming, and each of us is subjected to the dream of the planet, which includes rules, religion, culture, governments, and all of humanity’s collective constructs. As Ruiz describes in his book, we are taught how to dream this way, how to behave on the Earth, starting at birth, from the adults and peers in our lives.
I think it’s necessary to have some measure of order or social norms and ways of doing things to help life run smoothly. Rules and societal structure can help protect individual liberties and set up good boundaries. But problems occur when we begin to believe that dreams, or stories, that are being told to us from childhood define who we are at our core. We are, according to Ruiz, domesticated. We allow ourselves to be tamed, we begin to doubt our own instincts, and we defer to what others want from us and our perceived need for the attention and acceptance of others.
There are constant voices speaking to us every day that are working to keep us in line, keep us domesticated and submissive. These voices might be speaking different dreams to each of us, but we all have forces telling us to just go with the flow, do what society deems acceptable, stop rocking the boat, and for God’s sake, don’t trust ourselves or our choices.
The voices usually aren’t malevolent; most of the time they are rooted in fear. In our domestication, we take on the fear of others and then perpetuate it. It is only when we learn to question the dream that we discover there was never anything to be afraid of.
I think that in the last year I might have possibly met every woman in Indianapolis who recently went through a huge relationship breakup and is attempting to reinvent or completely overhaul their lives. And it’s crazy to me how each of these women, including me, is having to claw and fight against the dream and stories we ‘ve carried for so long that convinced us we are not enough.
I went out for margaritas a few days ago with two of these amazing women, ladies that I’m thrilled to call friends. Over chips and salsa, we discussed how things were going in our lives, what steps forward we were making, and how we still struggled with various things on a daily basis. One friend was almost despondent at times, seeing only the hard things in her life and the very slow progress she perceived she was making.
Bullshit, I said. She was listening to the story that society had ingrained in her about what success looks like. She could only hear what people in her past had insisted was true about her, so much so that she struggled to believe in herself, and believe that she was making good, solid choices for her life. She viewed herself and her worth largely through the eyes of a dream she was born into.
What I see in her is someone who moved across the country by herself, is creating a new, interesting life, and is pursuing goals she’s held onto since childhood. I see a woman who is courageous and is peeling back layer after layer of burdens once placed on her by others in order to find her real, authentic self.
My other friend had beat herself up as well, not so long ago, for having to move back home, take a new career direction in her 30s, and struggle to ignore the voices of friends and family who shamed her for not having a husband, family, and established vocation by now.
Bullshit, I’ve told her again and again. She hasn’t failed, and she isn’t going to fail. She’s listened to her heart, refused to make a choice that she knew would have suffocated her, and is moving step by step towards her goals, despite obstacles that have tripped her up.
Other friends and women I know tell me their stories of being called losers by their parents, being left high and dry by husbands and partners, being estranged from their children, being judged by their social groups. They beat themselves up and lower their gazes and apologize repeatedly for their faults.
Bullshit. These women may have failed by society’s standards in many regards, but I know better. I know that they are the brave ones – they are the ones facing hard things head-on, learning to trust themselves, and discovering, as Rumi tells us, that our wounds are the places that the light gets in. They are learning to cast off the stories that have held them back, and are helping others recognize their own sabotaging stories.
I know better because I myself am breaking free of my old stories, the ones people and society have told me since I was a child:
Julie, you’re just a quitter.
Julie, you’ll never be able to manage a home and will always be a slob.
Julie, you’ll never be able to drive because of your eyes.
Julie, you just need to marry someone to take care of you.
Julie, you can’t survive on your own after a divorce and you’re going to screw over your kids.
Julie, you never make good decisions.
Julie, you’ll never be a “real” athlete.
Julie, you’ll never belong.
Julie, you’ll always just be a stand-in, a poor man’s Wendy (reference The Wedding Planner).
Now granted, I had alot of wonderful people speaking encouragement and praise into my life. But, people tend to hang on to negative emotions and events far longer than positive ones, and so the horrible things said to me and about me have just had a way of sticking tight.
Fortunately, I’ve also had people in my life who were willing to call out the bullshit that I was believing about myself -women who had been through similar life struggles as mine who have broken off many of their old stories and so have the clarity to look at my life and help me parse through what is real and what is just dream haze.
The funny thing is, the more you’re able to cast off the things that have held you back, the more you’re able to see that it really is just bullshit. You are shocked that you ever believed any of it, ever let it define your life. You also start to find that there’s bullshit everywhere, holding countless back from finding out who they truly are.
As Rob Bell likes to say, “Once you see, you can’t unsee. And once you taste, you can’t untaste.” Once you see bullshit for what it is, you can’t unsee it, in yourself or anyone else. Once you taste freedom from lies and negative stories you’ve believed for years, you can’t go back to the old bondage, and you don’t want anyone else to remain stuck there either.
“Let them judge you.
Let them misunderstand you.
Let them gossip about you.
Their opinions aren’t your problem.
You stay kind, committed to love,
and free in your authenticity.
No matter what they do or say,
don’t you dare doubt your worth
or the beauty of your truth.
Just keep on shining like you do.”
― Scott Stabile