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Authenticity

August 20th, 2016 Guest Posts

 

We are very fortunate that the lovely @suek has written another insightful guest post for us. I always really appreciate her take on matters of identity and truth. Her willingness to explore herself in brutally honest yet gentle and loving ways makes for compelling reading. I know many of you will relate to what she is exploring here… 

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@suek: I’ve had a problem with this word, authentic. It seems like there’s an authenticity fad on at the moment. Everywhere you look there are preachy messages about getting in touch with your authentic self, how to be authentic, how much better life is when you are authentic, how to know when you’re not being authentic. It’s been making me squirm. Sometimes when I hear that word, I want to scream and punch someone or something.

Something’s up with me, obviously.

I’ve been digging around inside, trying to find out why I’ve had a hate-on about authenticity. The big revelation was a dictionary definition: authentic = acting on one’s own authority. Bingo. I felt very anxious when I read that definition. I’ve never really done that— acted on my own authority. Never really thought I would. It just sounded too dangerous, somehow. When I get that “this is dangerous” response these days, I look to childhood to find out when I “learned” this response.

Did anyone else out there ever get slammed and shamed and shut down and slapped (or locked in a cupboard or beaten up or worse) when they “acted on their own authority” as a child?

I did.

I found out at a very young age that “acting on my own authority” was the single most dangerous thing I could do. It meant being publicly shamed, mocked, ridiculed, shunned. It meant my mother got angry and pushed me away. She wasn’t a lovey-dovey mother at the best of times, but she was terrifying when she was angry. And she didn’t forgive quickly. She’d tell anyone who would listen about my wrong-doings, with great dramatic and comic effect, cranking up my shame to unbearable levels.

My mother was determined to have perfect kids, and when we were not perfect—her version of perfect—life was perilous. Most kids instinctively want to be on the right side of their parents, to stay on the right side of the food source, the shelter source, the protection and security source, the love source. It’s a matter of survival. For me, that meant learning to be inauthentic, because that made my mother happy and kept pain and shame to a minimum.

Here are some of the things inauthentic me learned to master as a kid and teen:
* Do what you’re told.
* Be clean and stay clean.
* Ask before you touch anything, play with anything, wear anything, do anything.
* Do what you’re told.
* Be quiet. Don’t speak up, don’t answer back, and don’t say what you think.
* Be thankful for what you’re given, and don’t ask for or expect more.
* Be polite to all adults.
* Do what you’re told.
* Put other people first.
* Don’t tempt boys. (Specifically, don’t wear anything, say anything, do anything to tempt boys. And don’t be anywhere you might tempt boys.)
* Do what you’re told.
* Be a good example to your sisters. If you get in trouble they will also get in trouble.
* Go to Mass every Sunday, say your prayers, believe everything the nuns teach you and don’t question anything to do with the church.* But most of all, do what you’re told. You get the picture.

(I wonder what mad messages you had drilled into your beautiful authentic mind. Let us know in the comments.)

So that’s how I survived as a kid. I did what I was told. I behaved myself. I acted on my mother’s authority, other adults’ authority, the church’s authority, anything but my own authority. I didn’t really even know I had a choice.  And I can see the sense in some of this, for a limited time. Children need some protection. But at some point, at least during adolescence, someone needs to sit us down and start teaching us how to act on our own authority. Otherwise we go out into the world completely cut off from our strength, our power. We only know how to do two things – please other people, and do what we’re told. We are instant victims, we cannot protect or defend ourselves, we can’t manage conflict in relationships (we are generally shitty at relationships), life is painful and lonely and helpless. We don’t know ourselves, because we’re cut off from who we really are. The pain of feeling like a failure as a human being is immense. We are prime candidates for addiction.

I saw all of this play out in my life, and I’m sure many of you did too.

Getting sober was the start of getting back in touch with authentic me. Stopping drinking, for good, was perhaps the first time I truly acted on my own authority as an adult. Stopping drinking meant I was finally putting myself first, taking care of my own needs, taking responsibility for my health and well being. It was going against the grain of everything I’d been taught—be a good sort, have a drink and chill out, relax and join in with the crowd, don’t rock the social/family/cultural boat by being different. Saying “no” to all of that, was my primary way of getting myself back from all that conditioning. It was hard work. But so worth it.

Now, about fifty years after all that childhood conditioning, and looking through my almost-four-years-sober lens, I am starting to get to know authentic me, the me I was too ashamed to let out, too afraid to acknowledge, the me I blotted out with daily boozing.

I’m discovering she’s a wild and beautiful creature, bursting with creativity, energy and colour, filled with wide-eyed wonder, infused with magic and spirit. She’s an intrepid adventurer, a gentle yogi, a quiet meditator. A superhero, a life-saver, a champion for the underdog. A plantswoman, a healer. A writer.

That’s what I’ve uncovered to date. It’s a scary business, thinking about letting authentic me out. I just do it a little bit at a time, to test the waters. I’m still kind of worried she’ll get trounced if she’s not careful, so I’m still a bit cautious!

But at this point in my sober journey, I know this is my personal work. I am truly tired of being small and afraid. I’m ready to live larger, with more colour, with more spirit and magic and vitality and adventure. I guess I’m finally ready to act on my own authority—I’m ready to embrace authentic.

@suek

© 2016

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