Wednesday, May 25, 2011


I just finished You Don't Look Like Anyone I Know, a memoir by Heather Sellers. She grew up with a mentally ill mother, and an alcoholic father, and writes with such honesty and love. I found inspiration and identification on every page. I started the book and I simply couldn't do anything else until I finished it. I could feel myself healing as I turned each page, and for the profound experience of reading and mending my torn heart in the process, I am deeply grateful to Heather.

One of the lines which jumped off the page at me was when she was in her counselor's office, and he said, "You don't have to have clarity to take a clear position." He was explaining that when we become adults, we must leave our child self in the backseat of the car and take away the keys. As children, we want to please our parents, and make sure that they are never unhappy with us. As adults, we have to take responsibility of our own lives, and drive the car, and make decisions which can be difficult but help us define and hold our boundaries.

Having just lived this process, I understood exactly what the counselor was saying. It never gets easier to keep the child in the backseat and become the responsible adult, but it radically alters the way you live your life. The clarity tends to come much later, after we have taken a position. It's almost always uncomfortable to do this, but the reward is growing up, and being adult in the way we make decisions and accept our consequences.

I wanted everything black and white before this year. I longed to understand with my mind, and have things make sense to me. I'm learning that most of the time it doesn't make sense, and that feeling is a process quite separate from the mind. Going around the logical often shows us the way, if we will be brave enough to fumble around in the dark. The understanding dawns after the decision is made, and it's not always a linear process.

The feeling work is the hardest part, as it guts you like a fish, from the inside out. You still have to function in the world, smiling and saying, "How are you?" when inside you are bleeding where no one can see. But the end result is maturity, and clarity, and learning to live as yourself without so many hard defenses in place. I've been digging around in my psyche, trying to free that sensitive little girl who lives inside me, and letting her cry her tears and heal from what went wrong so many years ago.

We don't have to understand in order to proceed, and make better decisions as adults. Becoming real, and communicating as clearly as I can with people in my life has caused some initial collateral damage which has been intensely painful to manage, but it has also liberated me from always having to please other people. Now I please myself a little more. I protect the new vulnerabilities struggling to grow in the fresh soil of my heart.

I am learning to honour this process in my children. To invite them to exist in my presence, as who they really are and not who I would like them to be. They are flawed, and beautiful, and works in progress, just like I am. I don't want them to become hard and safe. I want them to be raw, and themselves, and to keep growing and being honest, even when it hurts a lot. Clarity might not be there initially, but you can still take a clear position, and trust that it will find you when you are ready to understand.

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