Saturday Snapshot Story #8

My beautiful mother, Cheryl (photo by Bob Hendrick)

Waving Through a Window

On the outside, always looking in
Will I ever be more than I’ve always been?
‘Cause I’m tap, tap, tapping on the glass
I’m waving through a window
I try to speak, but nobody can hear
So I wait around for an answer to appear
While I’m watch, watch, watching people pass
I’m waving through a window, oh
Can anybody see, is anybody waving back at me?

Dear Evan Hanson (Paul / Pasek)

Living can be lonely. Particularly in the teen years. When I heard the soundtrack to Dear Evan Hanson, a couple of years ago it shot me backwards to a tender place. There was a push/pull of desperately wanting to be accepted but the fear of being seen and judged by my peers was paralyzing. The teen years were harsh, not to mention confusing. The duality of feeling envious and resentful of everyone I perceived being better than me was suffocating. There was always someone who was more popular, smarter, faster, and prettier. These comparisons were searing, but the internal dialog that was birthed from them was brutal. A dear friend used to call it her, “itty-bitty-shitty-committee,” referring to her internal voices which convened to tell her how awful she was and how she would never amount to anything.

Destructive inner dialogs are no joke. How we speak to ourselves internally, as well as externally, effects every area of our lives. Bob E., a well-known member in Alcoholics Anonymous, spoke in halls across the country about the insanity of his thoughts. As he shared his story, he used the visual of the “vulture on the bedpost,” in which a metaphoric vulture sat poised and waiting for him to wake up every morning. Upon waking, the bird would begin to pick at him, inside his head, shredding his peaceful state. I thought the continuous noise of scrutiny was normal. I didn’t know in my younger years how harmful it was or that I could actively change these patterns. 

A gift of sitting in the recovery halls was hearing people share their stories. People spoke about pain, love, self-worth, shame, fear and hope. It was in these halls where I found fellowship and acceptance. I began my Al-anon journey when I was twenty. Most of my friends were away at college or we lost touch after my boyfriend passed away. I was searching to find deeper meaning. I was seeking answers and a pathway to understand, and it was here where I was taught an essential truth. It begins with me. The only way to get beyond the pain and confusion was to move through it. John’s death wasn’t the only thing I was coming to grips with, it was the emptiness I felt inside. John’s death only magnified what was already missing. 

I became active in twelve step meetings as well as private step studies. I got a sponsor and called her regularly. Linda became family. She listened without judgement. My friendship with her was transformational. She bore witness to what I believed was the worst part of myself. The secrets I kept and the bitterness I harbored inside my wounded heart. She saw my imperfections and held me close while I cried. Like so many others I found in the halls, she shared her experience, strength and hope. It was here were I learned about the “committee,” and the negative “tapes,” that played on a loop inside my head. I heard members talk about theirs, which made me identify mine. The overall message played was that I wasn’t enough. This message materialized into a belief—my belief. Unknowingly, I had internalized these negative statements into truth. The truth of who I thought I was. My low self-esteem produced a lack of confidence and carry-though. I blamed others, systems and situations for my failures outwardly, but inwardly, it was a different story. Inside, I believed I was the failure. This cycle became a self-fulfilling prophecy. I could only attract or achieve success at the level I believed I was worthy of. It took me decades to finish college. I started and stopped and changed my major more times than I can count, but eventually at forty, I did it. At eighteen, I wasn’t emotionally capable of following through with this goal, and by the time I was twenty, I knew it. I grew up in the halls of recovery, it gave me a place to decode, define and realign myself and from which I learned how to navigate the world.

Working the program, talking with others and being honest helped me recalibrate my beliefs. But those tapes! They took a while to erase. One of the first signs of the dialog shifting was when I realized the nightly mental chatter had lessened. I was falling asleep quicker, thus feeling more rested. Progress! Later, I was given the suggestion of stopping the tape. As I visualized the negative dialog being played on a cassette tape inside my head, I was directed to say, “stop,” or “not today,” as a way to disrupt and sever the destructive pattern. It became a practice which I still use. Over the years I have implemented positive thought patterns using various techniques as a way to retrain my mind. 

The tapes have almost subsided. Once in a while, the “itty-bitty-shitty-committee,” reconvenes, but today I have tools to disband it. My heart is filled with gratitude for the men and women who shared pieces of themselves with a group of “strangers” as we gathered together in musty church basements and creaky meeting halls. I am thankful for the time and dedication I gave to myself in claiming a seat, both there and on my therapist’s couch. There will always be ways I can improve, new awarenesses or situations to travel to, but my foundation and belief in myself is strong. I don’t have all the answers but each day I trust in the mystery as I see the thread of divinity which has guided me along the way. 

May we all find our pathway to transformation, of being in service to others and realizing how amazing we truly are. My sincerest blessings to you, as we continue to nurture and love ourselves into wholeness. As we illuminate, we eradicate darkness. We are all connected, loved and supported. 

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Tracey Brennan-Reale


    1. nhdonovan

      Thank you, Tracey!

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