“Ay, marry, now my soul hath elbow room”
– Shakespeare

This may be potentially the first time in my life that I have given myself permission to do, to be, to have, to like, to love, to take, to give — without first gaining permission from others.

“Ah, but haven’t you been an adult for quite some time?” someone might ask. Being raised inconsistently under sets of rules motivated by fear (and thereby causing fear) can create an instinctive need for permission and approval. My mother’s indoctrinated paranoia that anything could send me straight to hell (and the seemingly arbitrary selections of those “sins”) made for a confusing dance across eggshells. This particular Thing (action, emotion, object, thought) was acceptable, while that other Thing wasn’t. The following year, Thing 1 and Thing 2 could switch places without warning.

Example: I was publicly praised by my mother for never talking about boys in that breathless and giddy manner employed by other young teen girls. Praise from her, being so rarely achieved, motivated me to keep secret all my questions, crushes, and fantasies. In this, and in many other areas, I had a secret life. There was a whole other me hidden beneath who would be unrecognizable to many if discovered.

The very act of writing, pen-hand cramped and back hunched, was deplorable to me growing up. But, there was a world of thought and story inside of me — pages and chapters and books. Old diaries, with sporadically inked pages, contained only occasional lines. There was, in addition to my laziness, a deep fear that my writing would be found and any revelation of my secret self would be punished. I wish now that I had found a way to record that young inner me — I have many questions to ask of her and only inconsistent memories to rely upon.

As I reached adulthood, there was this overlap where I was still somewhat under the authority of my parents, but also under the accountability of my new church leadership. My mom’s strictness had mellowed in many ways by then, as she entered a new stage of freedom in her own life, but there were still rules and expectations that came with living under her roof. Strangely, the devoutness and fervor and faithfulness I gradually entrusted to my church family was something that developed just as my mom detached herself from organized religion. Loyalty to my church overtook my submission to my mom’s authority.

And so, over the following several (nearly 15) years, my life found motivation in my faith. Over time, however, as I grew further into a leadership role, I craved that same approval from my pastors and people around me. The constant internal questions like “Would they be disappointed in me if they really knew me?” And, I would never know the answer because I never let them, really. I felt a gradual build-up of this need to perform for others, to be strong for others, to be good enough. 

This wasn’t just a religious thing. Even with my musician/art/etc friends I would keep silent about things I loved until I knew it was cool enough for them. I hide whole sections of my house from company when I can because it hasn’t reached a level of awesome I can be proud of. I have been paralyzed by a fear of disapproval. I crave permission to stretch and express and experience.

Someone recently contradicted this description of myself. “No, that is not you,” she said, having this illusion of me that is so bold and independent. To me this just shows my skill as a chameleon. I show enough of my individuality to avoid being called a 2-dimensional doormat (and in part because I’m a horridly opinionated person and it’s nigh impossible to keep all of that stuffed behind a mask). The easiest way to do this is to just point out all the things you dislike — this method can establish that you have discerning tastes, without having to risk admitting you like something that isn’t kosher to like.

In this new stage of life I am trying to bring that hidden version of myself to to surface– allowing myself to disappoint, fail, screw up.

(It’s a bit exhilarating.)