I recently had the opportunity to share some of my healing stories as part of a shamanic healing workshop while my mentor, shaman Ross Bishop, was visiting in Maryland last month. As I read the stories, I realized how much I have changed since I have written them and even more so, how I have changed since the time I was a child. The other thing that I realized is that I am still healing and this is a lifelong journey for me. There is certainly today a lot more balance, joy and ease of well-being than I have known throughout my lifetime, but there is no “magic pill” and there is no “this work is done”. I share this as a survivor and thriver of trauma, but I know that it’s not just my story – healing and transformation are part of the ongoing journey of being human.
Our stories may differ. Yet, what I have learned through my own healing journey, and my work supporting others as a shaman, holistic practitioner and recovery coach as well as a writer is that there are universal themes that we as human beings experience, especially those of us living in a modern world. These include feelings of unworthiness, disconnection, isolation, shame, abandonment and the list can go on. I touch a lot on these themes in my story, “I’m Okay Really!”, which was featured in Harmonic Voices: True Stories of Women on the Path To Peace, a Heal My Voice collaborative book project.
I had the honor of supporting this project as a facilitator in training for the Heal My Voice process and will now be co-facilitating a new project with HMV Founder Andrea Hylen starting this Fall called, Recovering Voices: True Stories of Women and Men Healing Grief. This will be the first HMV project open to men as well as women and we are kicking it off with a Writing To Heal ~ Transforming Our Grief Workshop in Annapolis, MD on Saturday, May 2nd and a 3-Session Teleclass in June, dates/details TBA.
Here is my healing story from Harmonic Voices...
“I’m Okay, Really!”
by Beth Terrence
It was a quiet Sunday afternoon when I headed down to my favorite coffee shop with my journal in hand. It was just a few weeks after joining this Heal My Voice Peace Project and I was ready to begin to invite in an idea for my story to emerge. It wasn’t until I actually sat down and began to write that I realized it was Mother’s Day. It’s usually a day or two before that I realize this day is here; and as others begin to celebrate in various ways, I feel this huge wave of sadness and loss wash over me. It still seems to catch me by surprise each year.
It’s been 11 years since my mother passed away and yet, this feeling of loss was one I felt long before. My mother died when I was 35 but I really lost her when I was about 8 years old. Whether I actually knew it then in a conscious way or not is a question, but I remember when things began to feel different. On the outside everything seemed pretty much the same and as any good suburban family would do, we did our best to keep it that just that way. As time went on, it was evident that something was wrong.
The “something wrong” became clear for me one day when my mother forgot to pick me up from school. I lived too close to school to be bussed and too far away to walk, so part of our daily routine was my mother driving me to and from my elementary school. On this day, I was only in the 2nd grade; and I stood waiting for her, just waiting outside the school. I waited and waited until everyone else was gone. Still, she did not come.
I was an only child, but I don’t think I had ever been “forgotten” before. As I stood waiting by myself outside the school, I began to ponder my choices. Could I walk home on my own? It wasn’t that far to my house, but I knew for sure that I was not supposed to walk alone. And, yet here I was all alone. Perhaps this was the first time I really felt alone in this lifetime.
Oddly, I remember wondering, rather quickly, if I had done something wrong to cause my mother not to come. I couldn’t think of what that might be. I began to question if I was in the wrong place or if I was supposed to go somewhere else that day. I couldn’t think of where. I just felt alone, afraid and abandoned. I don’t think I was old enough yet to know that I would be okay.
Alone. Afraid. Abandoned.
As I waited and waited, I wondered where a teacher was or why no one had noticed I was there. I was at the back of the school where I usually met my Mom, so not many folks were often there. Still, I thought, “how could no one know where I am?” As I reflect on this, I wonder why I didn’t seek out a teacher or think to ask someone for help. It didn’t occur to me to ask for help – that’s how old that pattern goes.
I remember feeling a wave of shame come over me and somehow I knew I should be able to figure this out on my own. A few times I made the move to walk home but wasn’t sure the best way to go. One way was through the woods; the other was on a street with no sidewalks. Both were options I knew not to take alone. As I struggled to find a solution in my mind, I felt scared, really scared and all alone.
Ashamed. Don’t ask for help. Not knowing which way to go.
At some point I began to cry in that silent way that I had already learned. Instead of letting the tears flow, I tried to suck them back and be brave. A “brave little soldier” was a phrase I had heard. Maybe folks said that more about boys than girls, but somehow I knew this was a good quality to have. As I stood there alone and scared, I tried as hard as I could to suck back my tears. And, I did! I told myself to just act like it was okay and I felt the façade of “I’m Okay” wash over me, perhaps for the first time in a conscious way.
Brave little soldier. Hide your tears. The façade of “I’m Okay”.
As I reflect on this, it seems so strange because I stood there alone, all alone. There was no one to hide my tears from, there was no one to be a brave little soldier for and there was no one to put the “I’m Okay” façade on for except me, just me. There I was, at only 8 years old, standing alone and putting on a mask of protection that I would wear for decades to come as I told myself that life was okay when I knew deep inside it was not.
I know that something changed in me that day. I stood alone trying to prove to myself and to the world that all was well, when in my heart I knew it was not. Thinking back, I have often ”accused” my family of this very thing. After all, I was a child and they were adults. I don’t know what I could have done, but as I grew older I thought “they” could have done something and didn’t. Now I know they were doing all they could do to be okay with a situation that was truly not “Okay”.
Denial. Protection. Isolation.
It is this kind of unspoken truth that can destroy families and lives, and yet seems to happen so often. For me, it was a truth that remained unresolved for many years as my mother descended into the depths of mental illness untreated. Although she remained present in body, the mother I knew was gone long before her death. This created a deep thread of abandonment and loss I carried with me throughout my life. It was not long after that day of being “forgotten” at the school that I remember beginning to feel abandoned by God, too.
I had always felt a strong connection with God. I still continued to pray each night; sitting by my window, looking up at the stars and asking for that same support, protection and love. Yet, I had a sense no one was listening and in some odd sort of way, I felt like I had to make it “Okay” for God, too. Like what I was carrying was too big for the Creator. It’s hard to imagine how I could come to that conclusion at only 8 years old, but I know it’s true. Today, I know I was not the only little one who made that conclusion, many of us do.
When my mother finally arrived that day, how late I cannot say, she was very angry. She blamed me; somehow this was my fault. “I was a bad child” was a message I was already familiar with; it was intermingled with messages of love and caring, at least still at that time. If something went wrong or my mother did something not quite right, it was usually not her fault but mine. This was a pattern I learned early on in life. Later my mother’s words got harsher and ultimately, my own words to myself were just as harsh – I came to believe that I could do no right.
It’s all my fault. I am bad. I am wrong.
I took on the belief that I was a mistake. I was not the perfect angelic child that my mother wanted and needed to be healthy and whole. Somehow, I was defective. I came to believe that I had failed her needs and so she left. Her body stayed but her spirit went to dwell somewhere else, leaving space for other energies and entities to reside. For many, many years, I truly believed this was my fault. If I could become the perfect child, the perfect daughter and the perfect woman somehow I might be able to save her. This mission became a driving force in my life, one that caused me much suffering – physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually.
Be Perfect. Sacrifice yourself. It’s up to you to save her.
Living with the legacy of a mentally ill parent is one that you carry with you each day. For many years, I wondered if I would lose myself in this same way, too. I carried the burden of feeling like I had chosen to abandon my mother just to live in the world. Often, the pain was so great that I honestly didn’t know if I would survive. Through it all, I continued to wear the mask of “I’m Okay”. I was like a soldier walking alone through my own internal war.
As I write these words my tears flow as they could not flow back then. For many years, I shed no tears or when they bubbled up, I sucked them back in. Now I can shed tears and often do. I know this is growth, progress and healing. It wasn’t until I was willing to take off the mask, lay down my head and shed the tears of this lifetime that the healing began. I came to understand that by being a “brave soldier”, I had continued to abandon myself just as my 8 year old had felt abandoned by my family, by God and by the world.
It took a great commitment to healing for me to stay present the pain of my inner ones long enough for them to feel safe and loved. Today, I can hold that 8 year old in my heart and soul and tell her it was not her fault, she is not alone and she can let her tears flow, too. It was in building this relationship with myself that the façade of “I’m Okay” finally melted away and my true self emerged in a deeper way.
“Healing means making yourself vulnerable by exposing the core of your being and admitting how you really feel about yourself. The decision to heal requires the willingness to accept that you may be as flawed as you fear (we never are). It also requires an almost ruthless commitment to find and live in the truth, irrespective of the cost.” – Ross Bishop, Healing The Shadow
Don’t ask for help.
Not knowing which way to go.
Brave little soldier.
Hide your tears.
The façade of “I’m Okay”.
It’s all my fault.
I am bad.
I am wrong.
It’s up to you to save…
Through the shamanic path I came to see that although we each have different life experiences, there is a much bigger picture at work. Our individual struggles may vary, but the feelings, patterns and beliefs that emerge are a natural and necessary part of the journey of a soul on earth. Becoming conscious of our feelings of separation and healing through them is the path back to source and to reclaiming the essence of who we are.
The Big Picture. Separation. Coming Home.
Today, I know now that peace begins with being true and honest with myself. As I allow my authenticity to shine out into my life and into the world, I continue to move into greater harmony; this is my path home. Rather than feeling alone or abandoned, I feel a deep connection to the greater whole. This always begins and ends with my relationship with myself. As I am willing to love, support and embrace all of me – body, mind, emotion & spirit, I grow in my ability to experience peace and joy in my life. Even when it doesn’t feel okay or when painful feelings or difficult situations arise, I know, “I’m okay, really!”.
If my story speaks to you in some way and you’d like to explore Shamanic Healing, feel free to contact me for a Complimentary 20-Minute Consultation to explore what’s possible! I am available for Shamanic Healing and Integrative Holistic Healing Sessions both in person in Annapolis, MD or virtually by Phone/Skype? Learn more at www.bethterrence.com.