Tuesday, June 25, 2013

The Dangers of Staying Quiet: Learning to Ask For Help

Her story really reminded me of that very moment where I fell and landed on my neck and had a concussion during my gymnastic years.

I knew I had the talent, I knew I had good dreams with this sport, but my heart just had to tell me that this isn't really what I want.

So speak out, someone out there will reach if not the universe will. Trust me, it will :)

Covered Lips
“The greatest mistake you can make in life is to be continually fearing you will make one.” ~Elbert Hubbard
My right leg lay twisted, broken and disconnected. As I regained awareness, I could hear a primal scream.
It took a while to register that it was coming from me.
At the time, I was supposedly living my dream, but in truth I was drowning in my loneliness. So I had stood almost directly behind a horse I knew was prone to kicking and pulled her tail.
She wasn’t malicious; if she was, I would be dead now, as I had lain under her until I was found. But I had invaded her space and she told me she didn’t like it.
That was fifteen years, three long operations, and one titanium rod ago.
I had been riding since I was four, and at the time I was twenty-two and competing professionally. I had trained with Olympic medallists and I had supposedly landed this great opportunity and I was on my way.
It all looked right and perfect. The truth was that I was miserable and felt completely out of my depth. I knew no one where I lived. I was isolated yet expected to succeed—to deliver without any support.
The more time went on, the more I hid the truth of my situation and how I felt from everyone who loved me, denying myself, because I didn’t know how to say I had made a mistake. I was struggling and desperately needed help.
I had realized I’d made a mistake by accepting this job. I didn’t trust the owner for whom I was working and I couldn’t do everything I was expected to do alone, but I didn’t want my friends and family to think I had failed.
It took me ten years to admit to myself that I was ashamed for having caused my accident.
I chose to sacrifice myself and put my body in danger so that I could make the situation end—to somehow be rescued and for things to change.
I was ashamed that I had caused drama in my life and trauma to myself as a way of getting what I needed. I got change, but the consequences were more dramatic than I could have imagined.
Not only did I lose my job, but I also ended my professional riding career for good.
I ended my dream of competing at the Olympics, which I had been striving, training, and working for my whole life. I lost my house and my friends, who I had left when I moved away to the new job. For a year, I totally lost my independence, and it would take several years until I was fully physically recovered.
I would live the rest of my life with physical scars to remind me, and internal scars that would haunt me for years.
It has been my greatest lesson in life to find a voice and not just speak, but to speak up and tell the truth about how I feel. To be true to myself and take care of what I need and want, and demonstrate to myself that I matter, by telling other people what is important to me.
We are taught in school that if we don’t understand something and need help, to put our hand up and ask. It sounds so simple, but why do so many of us see this as a weakness and instead believe we must struggle and suffer in silence?
My suffering in silence eventually led me to dramatic and potentially life-endangering measures.
When I lay on the floor waiting for the paramedics, before someone had covered my leg, I stared at it broken like a china doll.
I was lucky that I had been wearing calf-length leather riding chaps and it was to them that I owe the fact I didn’t lose my leg; it managed to keep everything together enough to be saved.
My physical healing was relatively easy, with some time, patience, and loving care. Although I did eventually get up and ride again, even compete, even though I was told I never would, the psychological damage stripped me of my trust in myself, something that would last for years.
I came to fear that I might self-sabotage again, betraying myself, and that there would be dire consequences if I took any risks.
So I quit trying.
For a long time my life was small and riddled with fear, which kept me prisoner—physically safe but, ironically, once again deeply lonely.
It has taken an immense amount of courage to change this, and sometimes I would start to feel better, only to end up back in my cell.
I had to stop waiting to be rescued by someone—anyone—who might telepathically know how I felt without me actually saying.
I laugh now, because I have been taught by life that real love means being encouraged to be the biggest, most confident, strongest version of myself, to be able to stand up for myself and tell the truth, even if it might hurt someone else’s feelings.
It is not my destiny to be self-sacrificing for fear of disappointing someone or hurting other people, but instead my responsibility to protect, love, and honor my well-being and happiness.
My mistakes, actions, or consequences no longer need to be catastrophic, as long as I speak up and be honest early on, ask for help, talk to others, ask for someone to listen to me or even sometimes just give me a shoulder to cry on or a hug.
A plaster always needs to be ripped off quickly to minimize the pain—and sometimes speaking the truth must be done in the same way.
Because I didn’t do this, the pain, grief, shame, and trauma of that time in my life got stuck in my body and festered, eventually becoming too painful to hide from. Strangely, though, it actually helped me find the strength I needed to face how I had let myself down.
I had chosen to be the victim, rather than speak up.
I finally chose instead to let the tears fall, to wash away the pain, and I started speaking the truth. It wasn’t pretty, but I wanted to find a way to forgive myself and finally let go of the past.
A few years on, I still sometimes struggle a little to speak up straight away when I am cross, in pain, and upset, but the truth always finds a way to bubble to the surface.
Something in me won’t let me be quiet any more.
With practice, I have learned to quieten the inner voice that tells me to ignore my feelings and keep pretending that everything is fine and dandy.
Instead, I have to practice speaking with emotional clarity to say what I need, even if I have to shout it, write it, or repeat it over and over again to be heard.
I have learned the simple truth that mistakes only happen when we are confused, don’t understand what is being communicated to us or expected of us, and when we don’t ask for help to make sense of something we don’t understand.
So, the next time you find yourself in that state of fear, confused about which way to turn, don’t stay quiet, don’t suffer in silence!
Remember our school lesson and put your hand up, either metaphorically or physically, and ask for help from anyone, whether in prayer or from another person.
Be honest, keep asking, and don’t give up until you find what you need.
You might not always find the answer straight away, but by talking about it, asking, and listening, it will come.
Photo by Mitya Ku

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