Please welcome Annah Elizabeth to #BeREALationships.
What do you think people see when they see your image?
This answer will roll from my keyboard and onto the screen like melted butter down your chin.
Smart…got it all together…successful business…leader…mentor…teacher…compassionate friend…justice seeker…student advocate…sweet…nurturing…devoted mother…Mama Bear… Perfect family…
These are not my words, but a few descriptors others have used when talking about me—wife and partner in a successful business; Community Volunteer; Committee Chair, Committee Representative, Mom, Homeroom Mom, Team Mom, ad nauseam
Those things are all true. Yet they are but one side of my REALity. They are the public persona and the equivalent of what some would refer to as a Facebook Highlight Reel. They are the perceptions derived by those who see me, wave, and shout out from across the hallway or the street, “How are you?” but don’t wait to hear the response.
At one time, other’s reactions confused me.
As a young person I learned that others received me better when I was the listener, the go-to girl who every guy wanted relationship advice from but few wanted to date. Telling my story of suicidal thoughts and attempts, sharing my fears and my sadness over injustice and mean-spiritedness seemed to scare people away. Who knows, maybe it was just I who was running away from the thought of it all.
And there were the stories I couldn’t tell because I was somehow so inherently different from everyone else. I was flawed, unworthy, and unlovable. I was the gatekeeper of everyone else’s darkest secrets. I was a Saver, with no savior of my own.
Then their responses changed me.
People began asking, “Why aren’t you smiling?” or simply stating, “You’re not smiling.”
I was Their Light, so I smiled and I beamed my happy brilliance out onto the world. I grinned and chuckled and laughed at jokes I didn’t understand and sometimes even at those biased ones I didn’t like. I waved at every person who walked by, and if they paused to share, I stayed as long as they needed me.
I became the consoler after my son died and again after two miscarriages, a way of protecting others from the awful truth that bad things happen to good people. Ironically, when positive things happened in my life, I tended to view it like this: Good things happen to bad people.
I scrawled my darkness onto page after page in journal after journal and when my life’s bleakness spilled out onto a few drunken, public episodes, I retreated even father into myself, filled with guilt, shame, and a festering rage that I worked hard to keep concealed from the world. And from myself.
I beat myself up so badly that one day I thought I’d surely gone mad because of the many conflicting conversations running rampant in my head. I did the only thing I knew to do; I asked my husband to drive me to the local psych ward where I spent six agonizingly short weeks in the BSU. Also known as the Behavioral Science Unit, I was studied, my every move watched, and my mind was gently guided in different directions.
These new coping strategies and my trusty therapist tried to teach me that I was one of those good guys, that I was worthy and capable and deserving. One of the favorite phrases my counselor used to say to me has become one of my personal Power Mantras. “Put down the hammer.”
Then one day others’ actions broke me wide open.
About a year after my psychiatric stay, Hubby and I had separated and I was a hot mess. My sleep decreased. My smoking increased. I fretted about my marriage and worried about the health of my unborn child and the two toddlers in tow.
When Spouse and I reunited, hope filled the empty spaces in my soul.
But seven and a half months pregnant with my youngest child, I finally received validation of what I’d been suspecting for almost a year. My spouse and my best friend were, indeed, having an affair.
After hours of sitting slumped on the floor, my back against my washing machine and my mind a sober waste, I finally realized what I had to do.
Then I changed Me.
This is what I later wrote about that earth-shattering morning: “Every piece of hope I’d ever held onto before had just been shredded, my faith, my trust—in God, in dignity—every spiritual, emotional, physical, and academic part of me lay in a heap to be tossed out with the garbage. It never made it to the garbage. I recycled it instead.”
Elie Weisel once said, “The opposite of love isn’t hate; it’s indifference.”
One of the first things I did was to begin telling myself I mattered and acting in loving ways toward Me.
I accepted the fact that I was worthy and lovable and that the entire world has flaws.
I started paying attention to those times when I put others before Me and tried to be aware of why I was doing the things I was doing. When I put others first, I tried to make the decision a deliberate one.
I found that by being conscious of the choices I had, I began acting with more purpose, which helped to rebuild the Me I’d long ago lost.
Then I changed Me some more.
Oh, it didn’t happen overnight, no siree; this growth spanned numerous years and is a process I continue to work on today.
In some ways, I took a monstrous leap backwards when I unearthed my husband’s second affair, yet in other ways I made monumental strides forward.
When my spouse initiated marriage counseling, I recognized that his love, for both of us, had also been covered over by indifference.
We went to therapy.
We worked our arses off.
And I changed Me yet more.
I recognized my culpability, my behaviors that contributed to my husband’s issues, which is not to say I accepted responsibility for his actions. In acknowledging how I impacted him, I could work to exist in ways that were better for both of us.
After years of trying to reconcile my grief, I realized that, even though I’d healed from the first affair, this loss bore its own identity. I also accepted that there was no shame in reaching out for help.
I found another counselor.
And when that person just didn’t feel right, I took a breather and then began asking around until I found a counselor whose style fit with mine.
I worked my arse off.
I began building the walls of my dreams, a vision of using my words and my voice to help heal a world of hurt.
And I realized that above all else, if I didn’t take time to take care of the REALationship with Myself, I’d have little or nothing to take care of others.
When I took care of me, I had so much more to give.
What would surprise people to learn about you?
“Here I always thought you had the perfect family,” someone said after hearing me share my story.
The global neighbors who have been with me since I began my public forum wouldn’t be surprised by any of that stuff, but they will be surprised to know I secretly want to be a race car driver!
Locals, however, are surprised when they hear me talk for the first time.
And many in both of those categories are often surprised to learn that not only am I still married to my first husband, our relationship improves with the passing of time.
What would you like the readers to know?
One of the things that might surprise people is to learn just how many years I’ve been utilizing the support of mental health counselors and various life and personal coaches.
When we enlist the assistance of others to help us live our best personal, professional, or philanthropic life, courage replaces defeat, and strength replaces weakness.
For some strange reason we often only see the easy part, the effect that results from all of our hard work.
One of my new favorite mantras is this recently discovered quote by Art Williams: “I’m not telling you it’s going to be easy; I’m telling you it’s going to be worth it.
Committing to REALationships with ourselves and others demands our time, attention, and our energy.
The result of our efforts is that we are able to live freer and more fulfilled lives—to BE REAL—to be well, work well, and do well, even in the face of adversity.
One of my lifelong dreams is that everyone will come to know that s/he can be REAL and live authentically, even in the face of adversity.
Annah Elizabeth is a conflict and grief resolution pioneer and creator of the groundbreaking guide, The Five Facets Philosophy on Healing™. A self-prescribed Healing Specialist™, she strives to heal worlds of hurt through traditional and alternative methodologies. She is an author, life coach, speaker, and an energy work practitioner with Advanced Level Integrated Energy Therapy® and Level II Reiki certifications.
Annah loves connecting with fellow journeyers and invites you to join her in these global communities: Subscribe to The Five Facets Neighborhood, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Google+, YouTube.
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