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I am a big sister.
Yes, big in the sense of being older than my sister, but also big in the sense of size, of wrongness, of not fitting.
Growing up I was the bigger sister so everything was my responsibility or my fault.
Being the bigger sister meant doing extra work because my delicate little sister couldn’t possibly have been expected to do it.
Is it any wonder then that I ended up a disordered eater? Probably not. Probably – even though in my head my way of eating was designed to keep me from getting sick – what I was really doing was trying to make myself small. I think somewhere in my child’s brain I made the connection that to be worthy – of care, of consideration, of people doing things for me – I needed to be small. To be frail, young, delicate. I needed to be something other than I was.
That feeling of otherness, of wrongness, of being too big for the space I was allotted has followed me my whole life.
I’ve always been the misfit – whether it was being the only Black girl in an all-white class, or the friend everyone forgot to invite to the party, the only one at the table not eating, the only one at the club not drinking – I just always felt that I didn’t belong. That I’d always have to morph myself in some way to fit in. Play small, play rough, play funny – be anyone other than who I was if I wanted to be accepted.
Of course, when you spend your whole life contorting yourself to fit into any given situation you wind up having no idea who you really are. What do you like when you like whatever your friends like? What do you believe when you’re playing for a crowd? I didn’t know. And I didn’t fucking care. Anything that was authentically me was going to be wrong, because I just did not know how to get it right with people.
That’s the story I was told for years. By the people around me, yes. But most often and most emphatically by myself.
And what happened when I spent my life trying to morph into my surroundings? I drifted. From job to job, friends to clubs to relationships that hurt. And I’d tell that tiny little voice in the back of my head saying “wait. I don’t believe this. I don’t want this. This hurts!” to shut the fuck up because nothing that ever came out of me has been right like, ever. And so I drifted on.
I figured out the touchpoints that would make me popular with people. If I was the helper, the giver, the clown. If was the one with the nice clothes and the nice cars and if I was sexually liberated and had a cool job with my own employees and an office and words like “Senior” and “Director” and “VP” in my title, I would be worth loving. And so I started shooting for that stuff. And every time I hit another rung on the ladder to acceptance I kept waiting. Expecting that this would be the thing that would make my outside match my inside. That this would be the thing that made me feel satisfied, feel that joy of getting what I wanted.
Except that feeling never came.
Because I’d forgotten that what I’d been chasing all my life had nothing to do with who I was and what I wanted. I was chasing acceptance. I didn’t know that it comes from within.
And then it all came crashing down. I got fired for the second time in a year – from a job that I hated so much that it made me physically ill, but I didn’t care because it hit all my checkboxes for success and acceptability and all of a sudden it was gone and I was a failure and a fuck up and I had to start the shit all over again.
Except this time, that little voice inside me said – Enough. That voice that had been throwing everything it could get its hands on at me from illness to heartbreak to disappointment for years to get me to pay attention. That voice that was getting quieter after years of not being listened to gathered itself up and with every last breath of energy it had said
“Max! I’m in here! Let me out! It’s me – your true self – did you forget that I was here? Don’t make me do any more of this dumb shit. IT’S NOT WORKING!”
And it was so loud and jarring and it wouldn’t shut the fuck up and leave me in peace to look for another cool job and so I had no choice but to start listening. And finally – finally – at 40 years old, I woke the fuck up.
It wasn’t easy though. That little spark of myself that I finally remembered was still there inside me, still fiery and brilliant but it was buried way behind a brick wall.
And every brick of that wall was a choice I had made in the name of acceptance, a need I had denied myself because I didn’t think I was worthy.
Every brick was a wound, a false belief, a story I was told, someone else’s bullshit opinion of me that I took on as fact because who was I to say they were wrong? Every time in my life I had tamped myself down to fit in had turned into the bricks that had trapped the light of who I really was way deep down inside me.
So I began. The slow, painful, scary, confronting, confusing, triggering work of taking down that brick wall. And with each thought I examined and discarded, each limiting belief I released, each long-held opinion I questioned, the bricks came down and the light got a tiny bit brighter and my true voice got a tiny bit louder.
The first bricks were kind of easy. It wasn’t that hard to break through opinions that I already kinda knew were bullshit. But as I kept digging, getting down to the bricks that had been there since my childhood, that were built on the stories my family and the people closest to me had told, they got tougher to break down.
But. As my light got brighter it began to guide me. It led me to o a group of strangers who were demoing their own walls. Who listened to my story and shared theirs and quickly became friends who understood me better than anyone ever had in my life. And the thing that was really crazy was that they loved me. Really loved me in this astounding way. Because they weren’t seeing all my stuff – my nice clothes and my shoe game on fleek, and my adorable twins, and my impressive resume. They saw me – bedraggled, sweaty and struggling, breaking down a 40-year-old wall brick by brick with my bare soul. And they loved me. And even though they had their own demolition to do, they even rolled up their sleeves and helped me break down some bricks; loving me and cheering me on as more and more of who I really am started to emerge.
This really kinda fucked me up because it wasn’t how it’s supposed to be. This wasn’t the life I had learned, the story I was told. People who loved me even when I wasn’t pretending? People who saw me stripped of my style and grooming and thought I was beautiful? People who knew all the mistakes I had made and still thought I was powerful? It didn’t seem right. But my inner me lapped it up and it became fuel for my own self-love. It gave that inner me who was starting to emerge from the rubble a voice that was loud enough to say “This. This is it. This is right. Go toward this.”
And I listened.
I learned more tools – yoga and prayer and meditation and music. I found teachers, articles, videos, that helped me break down those last few bricks. And then one day I felt this great tremendous crash! from deep inside me and I knew it was the sound of the last brick coming down and there was no longer a teeny tiny spark of the real me hidden behind a wall – there was only one me. A beautiful integrated loving and lovable seeker who is generous and compassionate and curious and who is a marvel of a human being ready to finally step into the life I’ve been waiting to live for forty fucking years.
I created the love mob because the experience I had with a group of strangers going through the same thing together and supporting each other saved my life.
I truly don’t know what would have happened had I not been led to this group of beautiful beings who were there when I needed my new sensibilities to be validated. Who propped me up when I struggled and said yes, I understand. I know this is confusing. But it’s true. You are loveable. You are worth the struggle. Your feelings and your opinions matter and you deserve everything you want in life. And who also allowed me to be there for them. Who let me see that the love and care and generosity that had always been in my heart was welcomed, was needed. Who lifted my heart by allowing me to lift theirs. I believe that if I had never found this tribe to walk that road with I would have given up. And I want every single person who is facing down the daunting task of tearing down their own brick wall to have a squad to help them just as I did.