The fragrant smell and hot steam of basmati rice and beef stew waft and mingle in the air, warming the house. Yet, my 16 year old hands grip the wood banister, fingertips turning white hot with rage. I look down at my exasperated mother who paces in the living room below.
The words expel out of me, almost as if I had no control:
“DON’T. TELL .ME .WHAT. TO. DO.”
Blood coursing through my body, I barely notice her face crumple into hurt and frustration. I cross my arms over my chest to display the authority I so clearly wanted and march away, so sure that my wishes mattered more than hers. She just didn’t get it.
As I hid away in my room, the lingering smell of food hovered over me as if offering a symbol of peace, but my pride refused to accept it.
All I wanted to do is make my own decisions. With a childlike rebellion, I pushed back against anyone who tried to overtly mold me into who they wanted me to be, claiming that I was practically an adult or that I knew better.
My ego was stronger then, washing over the feelings of others, not noticing the way my negative energy must have impacted them (I’m sorry, mom).
I thought I could do it on my own, or at least, wanted to try. Even though this opened up the possibility of failing, that was an after thought I wasn’t ready to admit.
Meanwhile, around others, I betrayed my own desires. It started small, so subtle that I didn’t notice the thin vine that was beginning to tangle around my true self and voice. In my struggle for familial independence, I had missed the signs.
Should I wear this or this?
What do you think of so and so?
Is this a good idea?
I’ll go only if you go.
These comments snuck into my vocabulary, peppering my decisions and influencing the tiniest of actions.
It seems relatively harmless at first. But after years of layering in these questions, it suddenly makes choices that are central to my life that much harder to make. Namely, the vine gained strength around my spiritual life and I began to lose confidence.
I wanted to be told it was okay, that I was doing the right thing. If my friends or family could just tell me that I’m not a bad or broken person for doubting everything I knew, I would be able to move on.
That’s not how it worked. I knew it, but it didn’t stop me. Along most of my journey, I craved wanting to hear the perfect words to find that they would only bring a temporary high. The come down was a hollow return to myself, only me and my thoughts.
My ego had become more fragile. I didn’t want the consequences to the power I yearned for as a child: I didn’t want to blame myself if something went wrong, and I didn’t want to do all the emotional lifting to validate myself.
I circled around the obvious solution to my problem, finally coming to terms that if I was going to shatter all the pieces I couldn’t keep waiting for others to put me back together. This is not to say I am not allowed support, or even advice. Everyone needs a sounding board and I believe in the healing power of connection. But, my beliefs about my religion and spirituality (and other life decisions) must fundamentally be determined and cared for by me, or I do myself a disservice.
That means accepting that friends or family might support me, but they may not all agree with me. That means those who push me in a certain direction or give advice may not actually know what’s best for me. That means trusting that I do know what I’m doing, even when I’m feeling lost, and that if I fail, I can pick myself back up.
Truthfully, I still struggle with this. I’ve always wanted to make other people happy, a double edged sword. Now, I’m able to see that trying to take care of other people’s feelings or controlling their reactions quickly becomes a barrier to admitting to what I truly want and then going after it.
It takes practice and patience to strip down the above distractions, really look inward, and take ownership of my own self, the good and the bad.
I’m slowly working to undue ingrained habits, to untangle the vine that has no personal stake in where it lives and grows.