“This is my secret, what’s yours?”
When a friend asked me this question, I had to think. There are many, due to a couple of decades of alcoholism and bad choices.
I’ve shared my deepest secrets with my sponsors in the AA program and a sister, to whom I gave a detailed “fifth-step” over the years. The fifth step is the one where you share the exact nature of your wrongs with another person.
We like to say in the recovery rooms that: “You’re only as sick as your secrets.”
I’ve often held secrets for others. That is one thing I am exceptional at. I am a walking encyclopedia of secrets from friends, lovers and others in this lifetime.
Now at mid-life, my deepest secret? I’ve always felt unlovable.
Growing up, my mother and grandmother made sure I knew they loved me, but it was complicated. Being raised by a mom with serious addiction issues can be tenuous, at best.
Addicts tend to keep you hostage throughout your life with them. It felt at times that my lovability had a set of expectations which were ever-changing and held just out of reach.
Love is a strange complication of being human. I drank my way through lovers and friends. I did everything within my being to offer myself up to be loved. Love of any kind, didn’t last. It pulled my body from my soul.
I was spiritually bankrupt. I married more than a few men. Once they asked me to marry them I thought, “Yes, I am now acceptable. I am worth loving.” I lived with them, worked to be the wife and lover they wanted. I thought if I contorted myself to fit what men, women or anyone who came within 10 feet of me wanted, then they would love me.
I lost out on 25 years of my life by molding myself into the image I felt others wanted me to be.
The dirtiest part of the secret is that every time I was silent, I was screaming inside to be me. When I would allow myself to show, to make that slip, it would mean disaster, as I had connected being me with those I loved, leaving me.
The abandonment of love.
During this time, I would fall asleep and have violent dreams where I was killed over and over by heinous means. Then, I would wake up and realize, I was actually killing myself.
I stayed in marriages with no love, strange objectifications and mentally ill hazes. I even stayed in an abusive marriage with a man-—who appeared “together” to others—only to find out he hated himself so much, it spilled out sideways onto me.
It wasn’t until my last unhealthy marriage ended and I was celibate for over a year that I began to unravel myself. I did this with therapy, silence, yoga, my dogs (my ever-present cheerleaders and solace tenders) and my life. I investigated who I was becoming and what being in midlife meant to me.
I realized I had more days behind me than ahead of me. I had to sit in the pain that was my life, this secret which had almost defined me to my death.
I cried in a huge ugly heap on my floor over the un-lovability of me. I cried for months. Drinking, drugs, smoking, shopping, eating…these were my unhealthy go-to’s which I could no longer use. It took time to undo the words, undo the meanings and recover the soul under my addictions.
The truth was out there in the open. I didn’t run. I lost friends, I lost time, I lost myself for a bit in the process of letting go, but what emerged on the other side of the fire, was me. Unequivocally, me. I don’t apologize for this woman. I spent 45 years apologizing for her—no more.
My journey with this secret is not over. It’s just beginning. Here are some of the ways I started:
1. I connected with my breath. At night, I would lay in bed and listen to my dogs breathing. I realized hearing their breath made me sleepy. I also felt comfort. I began to listen to my own breath at night. I could feel it, but wanted to hear it, so I would lay in my bed listening to my heart and breathe until I fell asleep.
2. I read books that uplifted me—that does not mean self-help. If self-help books worked, by 1988 I would have healed myself. I read fiction, non-fiction, comic books…I started reading Buddhist teachings, Hindu teachings and mystic Christian teachings.
3. I found friends who understood my need for being alone. They didn’t hold my fears against me. This meant moving out of my comfort zone to meet new friends at 45. They showed up. I couldn’t have created better friends in my wildest dreams.
4. I let go of friendships that no longer served either of us. I ended a friendship of 30 years. It was one of the hardest things for me to let go of. I acknowledged all the good and realized that after 30 years, I had changed. I realized that what this relationship represented was from a time long gone.
5. I realized time does not get rid of the wound. It heals it, but that wound is a scar, easy to pick at, easy to have opened again. Protect your scars. Allow yourself to be gentle with them. I learned to lean into my pains, but not become a victim; to lean into my fears, but not allow them to stop me. I had to teach myself to be gentle with myself. Sometimes that means taking a bath, buying a lotion for my hands, being quiet, or eating popsicles for dinner in the summer with my dogs.
6. I taught myself to become vulnerable with those I trusted, and only those I trusted. Those you love and who love you are trustworthy enough to share your scars. If they use them to hurt you, they are not allowed in your tribe. Don’t tell your story to everyone, not everyone deserves to hear it. Period.
7. I learned to love myself. Find one silly, amazing, wonderful thing about yourself and love it so hard! Love it until you think you couldn’t love it more—then love it more and expand it. I loved my feet. They walked me places I would have never imagined, helped me escape places I needed to and they were always there to ground me.
8. I trusted my dogs’ love for me. They loved me. They did not care that I was six foot, 200 pounds of tattooed, educated, awkwardness. They loved me each day for me, and I owe my life to them for that.
9. I practiced yoga and meditation. I went to one class, then another and listened deeply. I learned that I was never alone and that I was loved, and it started with me doing the work. The universe has so much wisdom to offer when I’m quiet—it’s free and it’s lifesaving.
When I wake up, I think of one thing I’m grateful for before my feet hit the ground. I ask the G-d of my understanding where I need to show up for service, and I work to be patient with myself and those in my life. I work each day to be kind and be authentic—a balance I work toward with meditation, reading good books, hanging with exceptional friends and loving myself.
Today when I fall, I get back up and I keep working and stay in the moment, with the awe and wonder of my life today.
Author: Gabriella Moonlight Dahalia
Editor: Travis May