Authenticity (Guest Post from @suek)

 

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

29 Comments
  1. Classic50 2 months ago

    SueK your experiences and way you write about them hold such meaning for me too. My early experiences with religion and the difficulties I have had and continue to grapple with because of them have taught me so much about what freedom is and what it is not.
    I’m so used to being told what to do its hard to tell myself what to do. I watched a programme on Arts TV last night called Imagography about photography & one of the commentators said “we have the possibility to create as human beings…photography is very democratic…” And it hit me- how difficult I find it to know what I want to make! Just as you asked, what is authentically my choosing? What I do or make or decide means I take responsibility for it, I am accountable.
    For me this has the weight of blame sewn into its seams. It means if what I say is flawed or wrong in some way I am to blame. For me deciding something on my own without getting permission first, – making a decision, a choice, or asserting a right, resulted in acute pain.

    Early on in my journey out of patriarchal fundamentalist religion I found that making any life changing, life choosing decisions whatsoever created havoc within my mental wellbeing. Decisions which were considered normal and expected for others of my age, what job to do, where to live, who to have a relationship with… could never be made on my own. I could not make a choice, make a decision or even assert a right without preceding it with a convolution of prayers.
    And the icing on the cake was that my perspective of how the answer would come was so infused with the beliefs, perspectives and fears of the child prisoner I had been, and in many ways still was, that if my own ideas asserted themselves, I experienced the ensuing chaos physically. Inside my head my brain felt as though it was made of something like cold lard and attempting to make a decision felt like a knife was slicing through my brain’s centre and caused exploding and cracking like fireworks on one side while the other side remained inert like it was dead. It was so confusing, noisy and terrifying that I had to shut my conscious thinking down to survive. It felt like my temperature rose and dropped simultaneously, my brow furrowed and my eyes flickered wide as whatever part of me that ‘thinks’ registered my confusion.

    I found I had to mechanise my thinking in order to free myself from mechanisation if that makes any sense! I had to shut down my internal mechanical response by using a mechanical device, I turned the switch off.
    I stopped asking I started doing. I stopped thinking I decided. I acted or I rested, I no longer contemplated. And eventually with very, very small steps I began to make decisions. And I began to feel ok deciding something for myself. I began to feel that if I made a decision, I could live with it and be responsible for it and the sky would not fall in-my mental wellbeing sky- on me.
    I had been given the responsibility to live a ‘good ’ in the religious sense of the word but was given no control as to what I could put into or take out of that life. I had no rights even to my own decision-making choices. Being so unaccustomed to my own true feelings and perspectives and choosing what to do or say, or even think took a lot of time, nourishment and work to learn how to do once I got away.

    And now, years after I ran to freedom, I still find that in the deepest part of my heart where my dreams and goals are safely kept, I have to remind myself that I can decide. A sad part of me still lingers a bit, I feel a hesitation where I wait for someone to tell me what I’m doing is good or worth doing or how to do it.

    Much of this is linked to why I became embalmed in alcohol abuse. Alcohol was not a part of my religious culture and so at first symbolised a mark of adult hood for me, drinking meant I was ‘normal’ in a way I had never been before. It seemed glamorous even…(that’s bull sh*t of course, there’s nothing glamourous or even ‘normal’ about boozing!) Realising that for me alcohol diminishes rather than enhances my freedom has changed things this time around for me. I have been trying to give up drinking and failing for three years but this, this time it feels different!

    And reading and learning from others’ experiences and feeling the companionship of others who have come through similar almost suffocating experiences is so, so wonderful. Thank you Sue, you have so much to good to share and you have blessed me!

  2. jo14 2 years ago

    Dear @SueK…this sure hit home with me too. My childhood was filled with a lot of those Catholic rules. Tough to have self-confidence and believe in your choices and decisions with all those rules! No wonder so many of us turned to alcohol. After 2 years of sobriety, I am finding my voice again and being me. I no longer need or seek other people’s approval. I am putting myself first. I am thrilled with my life now and believe me…I am making up for lost time. Now if I could only get time to slow down! Loved your post and wish you all the best! 🙂

    • SueK 2 years ago

      That’s so great to read @jo14!

  3. madandsad 2 years ago

    @SueK thank you so much for this post. It broke my heart and at the same time I identified with your feelings – my childhood was not so harsh but my Mother was not openly loving either and did not make us feel safe, cherished and loved. Our father did so I am so grateful for that. My mother is alive, she’s 91 and all those feelings still come back when I go and see her, but she is more vulnerable now and I have forgiven her, for myself, otherwise I would be bitter forever, and I’ve learned that she couldn’t give what she didn’t have or feel. We carry so much of our upbringing with us don’t we?
    I love your writing, do you write a blog about your new life in Nova Scotia? I would love to see some pictures xxx

    • SueK 2 years ago

      Hi @madandsad, isn’t it true that missing out on a loving mother is so rough for a child… but there is usually someone else there to provide the love we need. My mother died quite young, but I still feel I’m working through the relationship with her and finding some compassion for her, which is a great thing. I do have a blog but I haven’t posted anything on it for over a year (yikes!!!!!!!! that’s terrible, but I have been writing memoir around my mother/me so there’s an excuse for you)…. but you can see the beginning of the story of life in Nova Scotia there, and I do plan to put an update on it soon because there are SOOOO many flowers in the garden now and it’s starting to look amazing. fivecoursegarden.blogspot.co.nz

      • madandsad 2 years ago

        I just read your story again @Suek and this time I read each word carefully and let it all sink in. Your words just keep staying with me. I have been seeing a Counselor, as I have had an on/off affair with depression for a very long time. I would love to print your story and show it to her. Would that be okay with you?
        Also, will you be sharing your memoir? It’s a fine excuse and I would definitely love to read it xxx

      • madandsad 2 years ago

        Oh, oh, oh I have found it – thank you so much Sue, I’m looking forward to reading it and the photos 🙂 x

  4. Noelle 2 years ago

    Loved this @Suek . I spent and still do spend my life covering up, making up for, and coming to terms with my disability . I know that shaking grease feeling off will unlock me from my alcohol problems. It’s my first “go to ” when that protective shell is scraped by someone or something. Thank you for your reminding me of what I need to do . X

    • SueK 2 years ago

      Great to hear from you @Noelle… every one of us is so worthy of love and kindness and compassion, and yet we find it so hard to give those things to ourselves. This is the core of my sober journey, my recovery… just being loving and kind to myself. Such hard work!!!!!!

  5. reena 3 years ago

    Thank you @SueK , I always enjoy when I see you in the feed and especially appreciate the honest and raw post here today. I have been trying to pinpoint why I choose to hide in booze, why it’s such a comfort to me and to my sisters and brothers but not my parents, they didn’t overdrink it’s strange. The work I have been doing through books, meditation and therapy is to heal the wounds, the ones you speak of, I grew up Catholic and it was similar, the messages and the suppression. I wonder if alcohol gave me the permission to act out. Keeping things OK on the outside, and living a “secret” life. Some part of me likes the darkness of it all and I am trying to look at it. Thank you for your mentorship, your ability to present your feelings and struggles earnestly and for helping all of us while you do.

    • SueK 2 years ago

      Hi @reena, thanks for your comment and support — I really appreciate it. The whole Catholic upbringing was such a strange thing eh? So much weird shit drummed into us, and I really wonder if our parents even had a clue about what they were doing to us! I am really grateful that today we have access to so much in the way of healing — like you say, books, meditation, therapy. Healing is definitely in our reach.

    • Trace 3 years ago

      This is wonderful @suek – like so many others here I was brought up in a very religious home, by my mother who herself needed faith to cling on to life, I think. So it had its upside. But the downside was the shame, and the fear, and the anger at being invisible and voiceless. Drinking became a rebellion, the first thing I actually chose for myself and that I felt I could control. It literally changed my personality from shy and withdrawn to party girl. Unhappy but with all the masks party girl. Authentic friendships and relationships? Not possible. Still a struggle today. My authentic being pretty much disappeared in those childhood and teen years, but she’s still there and worth fighting for. Thank you so much for your words, perfect timing for me xx

      • SueK 2 years ago

        She totally is still there @Trace, and I would bet a million bucks she’s way more likely to thrive and flourish in an emotional and physical environment of sobriety and self care. It’s hard work, but you’re so worth it.

  6. elhall 3 years ago

    This is a soul-touching post @Suek. More than anything it makes me appreciate my father who has always been an authentic person. My sister and I recently discussed that hearing him say “I love you” is not what we want, but hearing him acknowledge our gumption or moxy or whatever you want to call it, goes right into our hearts and fills them up, because we know he is really “seeing” us, the real person who is also his daughter. Getting sober has helped me to really appreciate this. Thank you for baring your soul and I hope your life is filled with all the things that helps you see the light in yourself and keeps fire in your belly.

    • SueK 3 years ago

      Thanks @elhall, that’s a really good point — it’s important to feel like we are really “seen” for who we are. That’s awesome your father has the authenticity thing nailed!!

  7. Anonymous 3 years ago

    Thank you Sue for such a thought provoking post. I could relate very much when you spoke about the controlled upbringing you had, where you had no choice, no voice. I love my parents very much and I believe in God and hold on to my faith, but when they became “born again ” Christians when I was the age of ten and my sister was eight, our world turned upside down. They moved us from from our beloved school, we couldn’t wear shorts, we even had to sit on the sidelines watching our classmates square dance because that wasn’t seen as proper. My sister and I also couldn’t talk to our parents about anything, even the fact we were being sexually abused by an uncle. I never correlated my power and voice being taken from me as a child to my struggles in the past ten years, but I know there is no way it hasn’t impacted me greatly. I still have a lot of anger…and anger is one of my main triggers that makes me want to guzzle the booze. Thank you so much for the honesty and your gift with words…your present life is nothing short of beautiful.

    • SueK 3 years ago

      That must have been so devastating not being able to talk about that pain and suffering with the people you really should have been able to rely on for protection. I can relate to that trigger reaction of anger = booze. It’s just a way for us to avoid our anger and pain, by numbing it out. At least now, as adults and particularly as sober adults we have another chance to experience our emotions and be kind and loving towards ourselves, even though we didn’t necessarily get this from our parents. Thanks for sharing your story with us.

  8. JM 3 years ago

    This is so wise + insightful + totally hits home for me. The rare time I question being sober, thinking enough time has gone by, there’s a little voice inside that is cheering me on, who adamantly doesn’t want to go back to the dark side. My true self, who I’m finally uncovering and respecting after decades of abuse from others and myself. Gentle yogi, thank-you for this beautiful post, I will ponder and reread it! xx to you and all

    • SueK 3 years ago

      So great that you have an inner cheerleader who keeps you away from the dark side. Our true selves really only want the best for us, and it’s so cool how that side of us grows stronger the longer we are sober.

  9. April 3 years ago

    @Suek, I found this to be an insightful, sobering yet hope filled read. I absolutely love your last paragraph and want all of that for myself also…

    The childhood stuff is kinda hard for me to sift through… as really it was pretty idyllic. My parents were and remain fabulous people. I have messages I guess that I have taken on that I don’t really want in my life. The biggest for me;
    1) perfectionism
    2)caring too much what ‘others’ think
    3)taking on too much

    However, there is waaaaaaay more good stuff/messages that I have taken on from my upbringing and many great memories. My biggest ‘thing’ is how did I come to be so ‘flawed’ with addictions when I have had such a ‘charmed’ life compared to others. We were tight financially but wanted for none of the important stuff: time, love, care, kindness, respect and opportunity to do anything we were really passionate about.

    This post has bought up a recurring ‘fear’ I have tho’… how on earth will my children judge me? What messages am I ‘downloading’ into their wee brains unknowingly? What on earth could I be doing better to help them avoid the mistakes I have made?

    Authentic living – I guess it’s the ‘holy grail’ for many of us. One would hope that ‘acting on our own authority’ would include empathy, compassion and caring for others who are physically and mentally incapable of doing so.

    • SueK 3 years ago

      Hi @April, I was thinking about this as I wrote the post — not all people with addictions have had rough childhoods! So I guess this tells us there is much more to addiction than nature and nurture conditions. I read somewhere that all addiction and recovery processes are spiritual journeys–simply a way for a human to find out the true essence of who they are — to connect deeply with their human-self and with their soul or spirit-self. I really related to that, even though I know there’s no proof it’s true. In that light, our addiction and recovery are a gift, however we got them and whatever led us into them. We are all flawed, and nothing our parents could have done or said or been will change that I guess.

      • April 3 years ago

        Oh, I love that @suek – on a ‘good day’ I definitely see my addictions as a gift…. I am still living through them (spiritual journey) – some more/less than others – on an hourly, daily basis. However, I am definitely finding out, recognising, accepting and embracing who I really am. So, so, so many levels and layers to what you have written about authenticity above. Very thought provoking.

  10. hummingbird 3 years ago

    I don’t think I breathed the whole time reading that as totally captivated. Thank you for sharing such a great insight. I had a similar childhood and have been digging around with some of these issues as well. Healing the Shame that Binds by John Bradshaw is a great and classic book that deals with some of this. A lot of what our parents do is just reflect back to us what they haven’t healed yet. I still get annoyed but now at least I have insight when one of my parents is for example constantly passing judgement about everything. Everything is picked apart and scanned and judged so you constantly are being fed messages about what is acceptable and what isn’t acceptable in a subversive way. I ended up in a dreadful abusive relationship that I stayed in. I had no sense of who I was. Drinking was a way to escape myself. I am still trying to figure all this stuff out. It is comforting to know there are many others who had similar experiences.
    Some of the messages that I got included
    we don’t talk about anything negative or emotional
    do what you are told
    respect authority
    be a good girl
    put other people first
    I don’t matter
    don’t make a fuss

    • SueK 3 years ago

      Hi @hummingbird, I haven’t read that book, but I will get a copy. I think it’s true that my parents were not being malicious or purposely negligent — they just didn’t know any better than to think they could protect us by controlling us completely. I can totally see how they were playing out their own fears and insecurities and wounds from their own childhoods. It sounds weird, but I’m really grateful that I got unglued with drinking because it’s allowed me to start getting on top of some of these issues and stop living as a victim underneath them. Getting sober is such an amazing gift eh?

  11. Liberty 3 years ago

    Lovely @SueK, I relate. Eloquently said.

  12. MrWTF 3 years ago

    Wow, I relate to all of that. Especially at the moment.

    Families and people are difficult things and, frankly, at the moment, are probably beyond me.

    I always thought Larkin said it best.


    They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
    They may not mean to, but they do.
    They fill you with the faults they had
    And add some extra, just for you.

    But they were fucked up in their turn
    By fools in old-style hats and coats,
    Who half the time were soppy-stern
    And half at one another’s throats.

    Man hands on misery to man.
    It deepens like a coastal shelf.
    Get out as early as you can,
    And don’t have any kids yourself.

    – Philip Larkin

    • SueK 3 years ago

      That’s a pretty bleak poem!! In a way though it shows that our basic human/physical/earth-bound state is fraught with problems of ancestry and cultural conditioning etc…. but we all know it’s possible to break out of that cycle and make our own lives be the way we want them to be. Not easy to do, but possible.

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