When I was young, it felt impossible for me to escape being defined by my losses; I either had to keep silent about them or risk people looking at me as "the girl who"...fill in the blank.
Like many others, I wondered if I would just be myself. And, if I found that potential person, the one who hadn't lost years of school learning to being abused, been left behind by suicide, or deeply marked one of my other sorrows, who would I be? Was I an artist, or was the only interesting thing about me the fact that I was still standing? I had a fabulous tale of woe, but maybe that was all.
Here's what I know. It doesn't matter what spurred me to grow into the person I am; the loving mother, the tenacious writer, and the supporter of risky human expression. The key for me is to accept my wounds, while trusting that they don't define me. At my age, I see the ways in which they set me free. I know myself well enough to let sadness live alongside joy.
Yesterday I was coaching a young man who was struggling with a series of losses, of his dignity, of his reputation, and of a loved one he didn't know how to live without. We talked about how in our world there's a sense that being grief-stricken is seen as weak. People in his life were ready for him to move on. But he hadn't allowed himself, in his private moments, to feel the full weight of his sorrow. So the more pressure he felt to "get on with his life", the harder he found it to allow his natural grief process.
The work for him, as for many of us, is to separate out his valid feelings of loss, from the fear that he is that loss, that it will become all of him, swallow him whole and never let him laugh again. But when he insists on his feelings, letting the complex web of reactions to his experiences just exist without fighting them, something strangely unexpected happens.
He feels lighter. He is able to move on. Because he is ready.
Funny, huh? When we stop forcing ourselves to move forward, but stay still, the growth simply happens. Because live things naturally want to grow.
If you have unhealed sorrows that are keeping you from being present in your life and your creative work, I challenge you to try and separate YOU from your traumas. Dive in and simply be with what you feel; a perfectly reasonable response to loss.
(Do what you need to be safe in this. Trust only the trustworthy. Keep a therapist on speed-dial if you might get clinically depressed. Learn the difference between discomfort and danger and act accordingly.)
On the other side of your tears, your confusion, rage or whatever else is waiting for you to own it, you will find the gifts of vitality and unique wisdom. Rather than being less of a person, you will be more. As a friend, lover, and artist, your empathy and insights will grow.
You are much more than your wounds.