At the spring session of my FEnomenon women's retreat, writing instructor Rita Brown led us in a revealing exercise she called Reclaiming Your Voice. First she asked us to reflect on a time when we were silent, when the power of our voices was stolen or we gave it away. Next, we imagined what we might have said. Then she asked us to write about this time. No rules or guidelines...just write. Our work could be a reimagining, a work of fiction, a poem, a journal entry. The only directive was to reclaim what had been lost: our voices.
I found myself called back to a summer eleven years in the past, when I first met the man who now shares my home, my bed, and all of the deepest parts of me. I wasn't myself when we met. Or rather, I stopped being myself shortly thereafter.
I never lied to him, but I failed to be my fullest self. I wasn't aware of it at the time, and in the intervening years we have both paid dearly for my lack of voice. Through that 20/20 vision one is afforded only in looking back, I can see that I was intimidated. I believed he was better than me; I feared losing the chance to be with him. In a misguided attempt to please him, I quieted myself down. I didn't speak my needs or wants out loud. I muted my opinions and dimmed my delightful and delicious light.
As I reflected on this choice, the familiar meme came to mind: You are not intimidating. They are intimidated. There is a difference. When Brown called on us to write, here is what fell from my pen:
"Darling," she said. "You are not intimidating. But he may be intimidated. You deserve to know the difference."
She looked as she always has--long blond hair in a thick braid, pulled over her shoulder, dressed in white, shoulders bare and proud. Her eyes are kind but fiercely direct, her gaze open but inescapable. She is everything I aim to be, my Higher Self.
"Why would you offer him less than all of you?" she asked. "I thought you wanted this man. You would dishonor the both of you, taint a love yet unborn, with this nonsense? Too good for you? Pah!" she spit, flinging her arm across the table in a gesture that felt both graceful and lethal.
Dishonor him, I thought. I hadn't quite considered that angle. Truth be told, I hadn't really considered the dishonor in what I was contemplating at all.
Of course, she is right. She is always right. It's her job, to be right about me, and to tell me all about it. Sometimes I even appreciate it. This is one of those times.
What a house of razor-edged cards I'd been poised to build, entering into this relationship as less than my full self. What seeds of destruction I'd been planning to sew. I'd not considered their harvest, the death by a thousand cuts I'd been inviting, before speaking to her. It's why I oughtn't make decisions without her counsel.
Rye or Canadian, I can choose for myself. But, this? How to enter a relationship? Whether or not to enter at all? For this, I need her guidance.
She is still watching me, endlessly patient. Her gaze never waivers, her bearing never diminishes. Yet she never attempts to force my acquiescence, rarely offers advice beyond that which I request.
I consider her words: you deserve to know the difference. And I realize that I do. I know that I am not intimidating, though others may find me so. And I know that no man who is intimidated is a match for me.
I know, and all that is left is to act on my knowing. To act as if, as I am fond of saying. As if I am not intimidating, and as if it matters not whether he finds himself intimidated. As if knowing the difference makes all of the difference, and as if what I find by displaying my full self like a piece of fine museum work will be precisely what I've been seeking.
We embrace, Higher Self and I, and I walk away settled. I will be me. I will choose me. And he may choose whatever suits him. And it's as if this is how it always should have been.
This is a work of fiction. In reality, I built the house of cards. I did the dishonorable thing. I died the death of a thousand cuts. But perhaps that was truly how it always should have been.
This story cannot have been true. At the time that I met my man, I had no concept of Higher Self. I'd never seen her face, felt her love, heard her guidance. Though I knew on some level that I felt outclassed by the hunk with the Camaro and the hazel eyes and the stories of adventures of which I had never dared to dream, it wasn't in my conscious mind. Had I a sage to ask, I could never have requested the advice Higher Self offers in this tale. To have received this counsel, I would have needed an awareness of what I was about to do.
An awareness that I did not have. The choice to show up smaller, quieter, dimmer, was entirely subconscious. I read recently that the subconscious mind makes the best choices. I am inclined to disagree, at least in this instance. The argument for the power of unconscious decisions is based on the fact that the subconscious is able to process a wide range of complex mental data, creating associations and integrating seemingly unrelated points into a coherent whole.
All of this is true and admirable. However, the subconscious is also where limiting beliefs live, where trauma (big T and little t) resides, where our self-imposed restrictions flourish. In the dark caves of the subterranean mind, decisions are made quickly and with little effort, but not always in the interest of the best and highest good.
Without the guidance of Higher Self or the conscious awareness of what I was about to do, I planted the seeds of destruction. I placated when I would have dissented, agreed when my preferences were contrary, nodded and smiled when I should have shaken my head or throw the occasional middle finger.
I showed up small and conciliatory in hopes of being rewarded with recognition and love. These seeds sewn, I guaranteed a poisoned harvest. How could I have ever been truly seen and loved when I was not fully present to be so? Alas, it all seemed a fine idea at the time.
Then we split up. Turns out he didn't want that woman I had been trying so hard to be, the woman I'd almost convinced myself that I was. In the months that we were apart, I held that woman in my arms and watched her die the death of a thousand cuts. It was heart-wrenching. The life force seeped from every pore of my soul, from every wound left by my refusal to be true and his denial of the half-truth he'd been offered. It was the most vivid emotional agony I have ever suffered.
It would be many more years before I realized this death was actually a rebirth. Losing this false self left me with nothing to lean on but my own truth. Without this alter ego, I found myself increasingly unable to placate or kowtow, in ever-greater need of authentic expression, and progressively aware of how uncomfortable I felt without that expression.
Standing naked, without the shroud of my illusions, I could see myself clearly, see and feel my worth. I became able to detect my connection to, my creation from and reflection of, All That Is. With these clear eyes and open mind I was able, at last, to meet Higher Self, to hear her guidance and know our shared truth.
It was a difficult and painful lesson, a thick chapter of pages crammed with dense, angry characters in the manual for my human education. Given the choice, I may have requested something more like a field trip and less like a spiked ruler across my emotional knuckles. Then again, I'm sure I was offered the field trip at some point in my life and failed to sign the permission slip. Along with an invitation to return to my true center, this experience offered me a chance to learn attention. I am better now at noticing when I'm invited to learn something with ease; I appreciate the reduction in learning things the hard way.
So, I suppose it is as it always should have been. Higher Self and I are together, she watching me with her implacable gaze, calling me out, lifting me up, saving me from myself when the situation calls for it. My man and I are together, as well, both of us still learning what it's like to be in the full presence of me. I have found my voice, and having reclaimed it, I will never again let it go. I remain intimidating, but am no longer intimidated. Knowing the difference has made all of the difference, and I am settled.