Public speaking helps me to put burdens down more than therapy did, as it reinforces my unwillingness to be silent! Therapy, though it involves talking, is still silencing (politically) since the SECRETS are shared confidentially. They are told to only one other person, so others and society at large are still “protected” from our truth to some degree, and the status quo isn’t pointed out (or disrupted). Public speaking with authority and vulnerability about my experiences and truth, on the other hand, creates more widespread change. It rocks the status quo. It reminds me I’m not silenced and it feels more supportive to have a group of people listening and benefiting than just one person (who is being paid to listen).
Let’s remember that therapy started as a way for women to talk about their problems with their imbalanced marriages privately, in secret, with one other male “doctor.” Therapy began as an institution to preserve the status quo of keeping women relatively silenced, in the house, subservient to men, only turning to other men for “help” with their dissatisfaction, and ultimately dis-empowered. Real change happened when women joined together, spoke aloud to the masses and wrote their stories and ideas for the general public to read. This is exactly what those who have received a mental health diagnosis are starting to realize they need to do!
Having a group of people who are choosing to listen to and learn from me is liberating. Telling them my secrets is tampering with the locks, whether they understand or not. I may never know who gets what out of what I say but I trust that what needs to be said and heard will come through the group. I know first hand that many have experienced trauma and virtually all of us adults are still holding things for our parents/other family members. We are still perpetuating family myths; they are insidious and we are terrified to tell a new story. Who will act in our new play with us? My family dynamics are built on a whole series of stories that are so far from my truth you’d think my family and I were from different planets!
My parents perpetuate the story that they were excellent parents, very generous providers, and anything that “went wrong” in my life is my own lack of responsibility. I should be ashamed of any under-functioning. This is hard to admit publicly since I love my parents very much, they love me very much, and I’m protective of them. Yet the silence must end somewhere. My experience was that, while my physical needs were mostly met, and sometimes very generously, I was more often than not relied upon to be an emotional parent for both of my parents at a young age (not to mention an emotional support for my younger brother). I was an emotional parent for everyone in my family, and the weight, burden and heaviness of this often made me feel sick, both physically and emotionally.
Empathetic as a child and blessed/cursed with a compassionate, healing nature, everyone in the family turned to me for comfort. Whether or not they realized it, I felt it and knew it. I held it. I have held it my whole life! I also felt it was my role to be stable amidst everyone else’s emotional upheaval, to pretend I was fine and everything was fine and I had only appreciation for all of the good my parents did. I also held onto heart for my father who seemed to have lost it when my mom divorced him.
Where did all of this leave me today? I’m unwilling to be that nurturer for people I don’t resonate with, for people who don’t emotionally nurture me in return. My father and brother have generally been incapable of providing nurturing, and my mother erratic, sometimes able to do very well, other times critical, emotionally manipulative and abusive. As a kid I was the good daughter. The first kid. The well-behaved one. The one who gave her family hope and pride. Today I refuse to be, but I don’t know another way to relate with them, so I withdraw and distance mostly.
I live my own life, certain I must, but in my body and relationships those old patterns emerge. I still feel like the sick child who is holding everything for her family. Certain they will crumble if I’m displeased with them, I’ve made myself small so I can squeeze between whatever cracks are available for me. So I don’t rock anyone else’s boat. I see this in my body, in my emotional body and energy body – how I’ve held onto all the guilt my family had over not being emotionally adult enough to give me an emotional childhood. I’m holding their guilty feelings. I’m putting them down. I feel so light when I put them down, and tears well up in my eyes, as I know I’ve held all this in my body for 30+ years. It’s a lot to lay down. And sharing publicly is the best way to do so as I am both supported by and supporting my wider community when I do.
Were I to share this with a therapist, I would likely still feel the weight of it, and how I would feel would depend on their reaction. That one persons’ reaction would have way too much power over me. In sharing my story publicly, there will be infinite reactions and infinite opportunities to grow as well as facilitate deeper understanding for myself and others.
There was a time I thought I had to wait until my parents died to share any of this publicly. To mention how my dad violently abused my brother and my mom has had substance addiction for most of my life. Now I believe that’s unfair. Not only for me but for them. They deserve to know the bright shining me that isn’t weighed down by holding their guilt or silencing myself. They deserve the opportunity to work through their guilt and face themselves, as we all do. They deserve to be treated as responsible, capable adults who can face their own demons. There’s still a part of me that says it’s too much for them, they can’t handle it. But the truth is, I’ll never know unless I let go.
When my brother was a young child, my mom did all kinds of things for him. She tied his shoes, made his lunch, kept track of his schedule, things she didn’t do for me, perhaps because I didn’t let her. I wanted to do them MYSELF. I wouldn’t let her tie my shoes for me because I wanted to learn how, even if it took me all day. I used to tell her not to do things for my brother: “He’ll never learn to do things himself.” And now I need to take my own advice. I need to let go of holding my stories back, let go of protecting my parents so much, so they can emotionally mature THEMSELVES. Or not-I can’t be attached to the outcome either.
I wrote these equations to represent why I have held these things like my life depended on them:
Not being liked = violent abuse = terrifying
Holding others guilt = being liked = safe
When we share our stories publicly, whether in speaking, writing, or another art form, we acknowledge we are part of something bigger. We are aware we aren’t the only ones who have been abused or witnessed abuse, or who are scared to let go of our ancestral shame and fear. We are, rather, part of an entire generation, an entire society that is moving away from silence, blame and abuse. In sharing our stories, we instantly recover from a big hunk of loneliness, loneliness that might not be so easily resolved sitting in a room across from a professional, with a few non-offensive art pieces on the walls. We acknowledge that every single one of us who experiences physical or emotional symptoms is holding onto things for others, in our bodies, and together, word by word, we can break free.
The picture gets bigger. We start to see a larger stage, a larger audience, more players to work with and a sense of safety we never knew. A safety that doesn’t require anyone to hold onto anything for anyone else(!) but instead the liberation to be like children in the best sense, allowing feelings to move through us freely. Most of us who have been given a diagnosis find prescribed “adulthood” challenging – and many of us didn’t get to be kids when we were young.
I find my current challenge is to allow myself that guilt-free mentality I came in to the world with, and to put down any heaviness or burden. If it feels heavy and burdensome, it probably isn’t mine to do. It’s probably the child in me still feeling like she should hold everything for her family, thinking that will keep her safe.
Letting go (and supporting myself to do so) is its own reward. Therapy and coaching helped me take some steps towards expression – but ultimately I need to set my truths free for the world at large. It feels lighter to do so. Many hands make light work. Many ears make light listening. Many eyes make light reading.
If a therapist or friend or family member is the only one to hear your story, they may feel a heaviness, a sense of responsibility to help you or solve your problems. If a wider audience hears or reads it, the heaviness virtually vanishes. Each person holds a listening ear and that’s it. There’s no burden or weight or sense of responsibility in most cases. The community holds each member together; many hands make light work.