Growing up, I never had any really good women role models to help me through the teenage years. I held myself prisoner behind walls I had purposely built to keep the world out and me safe. For the longest time, I didn’t realize that the walls even existed.
As I struggled through the years of trying to be who I was, I always came to a roadblock. A question I could not answer. It was easier for me to tell people who I wasn’t.
And I knew that answer. That was easy. I knew I wasn’t a victim or selfish. I knew I wasn’t lazy.
Yet, even with knowing who I wasn’t, I was still very afraid to be who I was and still hid behind walls. I am not even sure what I was afraid of or what held me back.
But something did.
Maybe it was fear. Maybe it just felt safe. Maybe it was because once I came out from behind those walls, I knew I could never go back. Maybe I didn’t like the possible attention it might bring me.
Every once in a while, the real me would sneak out from behind those walls and when I did, I felt very uncomfortable. It retreated in silence and hid in the darkness, feeling ashamed of something I shouldn’t be ashamed of ever. Sometimes, I got caught and then I regretted it — hating myself for thinking that I could actually come out from the shadows once and for all.
Like the animals who crave the cold, musty hidden caves of solitude, I would retreat quickly.
But most people never saw that surrender.
I withdrew in small ways that no one noticed, but I felt it. Some days, I still do.
Fast forward to about six years ago, when I stopped hiding. I was exhausted from maintaining that wall and let it slip away into the ruin it now is. It is covered with moss, almost invisible, yet I know it carries a lot of history with it. You will not find it on any map and it not very pretty to look at, but I know where to find it, should I ever go looking for it.
But the barrier that once stood strong and was built with courage and survival now sits empty and lays barren to the wasteland it has now become. It is uninviting and stale. Pieces of it remain…exactly where I left them.
I have accepted that I am not defined by the walls I created so long ago, but instead by the decision to tear them down and leave them.
Many women I know still have these walls. Some are higher than others and some are just being built. Although I do not have any daughters, I saw the walls already being constructed in a classroom full of 6th graders yesterday. They tried to express their own confidences yet looked at the ground when making such statements.
And in those girls, I saw someone who looked very familiar…I saw me.
Without saying a word or knowing why, I was frazzled by the same story repeating itself in these future generations and I was helpless as I watched it. Again, I remembered who I wasn’t in every one of those girls’ faces and my heart broke.
The same heart I had held onto so tightly for so many years. The one I had protected at all costs to keep from being seen, heard, or even felt.
These girls are not alone. Many women never allow themselves to live their lives on their terms and continue to be sheltered from theone thing they want more than anything else…to be who they really are.
To come out from behind the fortress, leaving the gate wide open, and proclaiming to all who would listen, “I’m done! I am not going to keep myself in any more!”
We look to others to show us how because it can be very scary, navigating a path that makes us feel uncomfortable. We don’t feel ready and our feet trips over the stones covering the ground. On occasion, we glance over our shoulder to see the wall still standing where we left it, but we know we cannot go back.
Freedom has been tasted and it is so sweet.
The burden of carrying the stones to keep the wall in place disappear and our once heavy shoulders feel light, as we walk a little taller and begin this new adventure.
As we walk our own path, we notice other women who hide behind their own defenses as they peer over their walls to see what is happening around them. These women are naturally curious and find themselves to find out more. To try it for themselves. To grab hold of the hand next to them. To stand stronger together.
It’s time, ladies. It’s time to allow yourself to be vulnerable and to share everything you are with the rest of us. Holding back is doing the world a disservice.
We don’t need more walls. We need more women to be brave. It begins with tearing down your own walls and inspiring others to do the same. We might not get there at the same time, but even removing one stone affects the integrity of the wall and eventually that wall crumbles away.
Stop being anything less than who you are.
Michelle A. Homme 2016 ©