Years ago, someone said to me, “We have low-self-esteem in our family. That is just the way it is.”
It woke me up.
Having emerged from a familial pattern of mental illness, personality disorders, codependents, and addicts, repeating their own history of trauma and abuse, I understood. By the time I came to be able to put a name and label of what I endured, the cycle was well underway. The cards were stacked against me that I would not emerge with high self-esteem or any worth at all.
Yet, I found myself wondering if it were true. If I was destined to live my life with low self-worth, if that was just the way it was, or if I could turn it around, perhaps live a life of greatness. I turned my question into a quest for knowledge that lasted more than fifteen years.
I devoured biographies of those whose life screamed out greatness. Those that beat the odds of succumbing to their limited thinking, physical challenges or neglected childhoods. I listened to personal stories including, Oprah, Abe Lincoln, Maya Angelou, and Roger Bannister, who first broke the four-minute mile. I studied self-help books on how to overcome our past, determined not to repeat the patterns of abuse with my own children. I listened to spiritual teachers speak about living in the moment. I made a decision, that it was not going to be,” just the way it is.”
I felt inspired, but how would I prove my greatness?
Would I really need to become like Erin Brockovich and take down the establishment, fighting for those who had been harmed? Did I need to do something miraculous like heal my body with only my thoughts as Joe Dispenza had done with his fractured vertebrae?
I heard a small voice tell me that before I could set my sights on a future of greatness, I would need to go back into my past. I did not like this answer but listened to my intuition as it had never steered me wrong. I knew I had to muster the courage, faith, and determination to face the shame, fear, and doubts that plagued me every day. Problem was, my Pandora’s box was locked and chained, and I had spent years pretending it did not exist. Yet, the sexual abuse I endured as a child, a result of my extremely dysfunctional family system was standing in the way of a life of greatness.
I knew I had a choice. Open Pandora’s box, or die.
Like all species, humans are designed to evolve, create and heal, not to resign yourself to living out a dysfunctional cycle, creating more uncertainty, fear, and doubt in the world. I would need to change my focus from resignation, stagnation and dying to create, changing and living. I would need to unearth my pain. Mostly, I would need to choose.
I chose to live.
I lost friends, distanced myself from toxic family, went into therapy, endured nightmares, fought against disease, screamed, cried, threw up, rocked back and forth, and smashed plates. I meditated, prayed, learned self-hypnosis, and devoured others’ stories of sexual abuse.
I don’t know if Oprah or Joe Dispenza screamed at the top of their lungs in their car, but I am sure they had their moments. Somewhere along the way, I began to feel like I was not going to do something great in the world after this healing work was done. I was already doing it. I realized greatness was not an endpoint but a journey, and this path to greatness was not paved, but rocky, uneven.
With each unearthed memory, I was gathering pieces of my self-worth, while picking out the places where denial and normalizing had gathered like lint.
This path became about survival as if I was blindfolded and dropped off in the middle of the wilderness. Nothing was familiar. Putting out there what I believed, regardless of another’s views, judgments and criticism felt like thorny bushes I had to navigate before I could even believe in a road to salvation. It meant becoming vulnerable and transparent all the time, even when it scared the crap out of me. It required getting comfortable with change and enduring the discomfort of saying no, or else I could starve to death.
Each time I opened my heart and shared my truth, it was like offering myself glimpses of greatness. Slowly, I began honoring my strengths, exploring my empathic gifts and sharing my heartfelt writing.
In my soul searching, I came to understand why my previous attempts at greatness in my life had failed. I had never found greatness in academic success, athletic prowess, occupational achievement or unending devotion to being the perfect mother because that is not where greatness is found.
Today, I am still walking the path of greatness. It includes making mistakes and being imperfect, but also having compassion and gentleness with my progress. It is about being brutally honest and needing to stay awake to combat the messages and conditioning from the abuse which can seek me out like coyotes howling in the darkness. It is remembering to admit to those moments where I am at my worst, as often as celebrating my victories.
I will spend the rest of my life hammering out lingering aftershocks of the earthquakes I endured, but also continue looking to a future filled with wonder and awe, joy and peace.
When this life ends, I want to look back and say, “I lived a life of greatness, that is just the way it is.”