At six years old, my positions as a writer and loving parent were solidified when a note I’d scribbled on one side of a pantyhose paper insert changed the narrative of my relationship with my mother.
Neatly placed on top of still warm laundry she’d just finished folding and was now putting away, the message was a crude list of ‘How to Be a Better Mom’ tips. I pretended to watch Hong Kong Phooey as she noticed and then began reading the waxy, bright purple words.
A corner-of-my-eye view caught her dash into the bathroom.
Fear and summer heat kept me glued to our white leather couch when sobbing pierced the wall separating us. The thunderous sound of water running into the tub did little to muffle her weeping.
Suddenly, I was afraid.
I felt betrayed by her emotions. That wasn’t the woman I called Mommy. Mommy was indestructible – a sharp edged, brick wall with tiny alcoves she stocked with obligatory, varying degrees of care. Sure, home-cooked food, trendy shelter, pristine hairdos, clean clothing, and all basic needs were accessible, but there’d been no semblance of tenderheartedness accompanying them.
In fact, acquiring it typically required some form of intimate terrorism. She ruled with a heavy and mean hand.
And now she was broken.
I was prepared for her rage. I understood that well. But her sadness was unexpected… and not knowing her next move freaked me out. In those moments, my six year old self understood the magnitude of the words I’d strung together with Crayola.
I could move the mighty.
It was quite clear that things would be status quo when Mommy appeared in the doorway a short while later.
As far back as I could remember, I’d searched her eyes looking for someone loving I could trust. Loving has a look. It is visible in the eyes. Even with tears welling up alongside the fury, it was absent from Mommy’s.
As usual, she looked through me and I turned away. I did not resist or complain as she held me by one arm and danced me around the room to the rhythm of the leather belt swinging through the air. I focused on my happy places. Everywhere I’d go and everything I’d do once I was free. The only dancing I’d do would be with my children to music that cuddled the soul.
And every word they wrote to me would reflect our mutual love and respect.
At six years old, I knew I could and would do better. I wasn’t sure what my written voice wanted say to the world, but I knew that my pages would speak.
My desire to be loved was strong and I knew that would propel me. The realization made me happy and helped me survive until my life was my own. I’m grateful for the character traits surviving developed. Something in that wash was very clean.
Surviving groomed several traits that continue to keep me powerful.
Here are 4 things I’ve learned about rising from the flames of a tumultuous upbringing.
Resilience Is Your Brilliance On Display
Resilience is the equivalent of a car’s Optimus Prime transformation that allows it to soar over bumper-to-bumper traffic. Obstacles don’t overwhelm you because you quickly figure out a way to rise above them.
I’ve always had an immense capacity to handle anything thrown at me. Ask anyone who knows me and they’ll tell you that I have uncommon patience and a keen ability to see a way out of things; even when the stakes are high.
Yes, uncomfortable heart pounding, stomach flipping, palm drenching sensations rain down on me when stressors force my adrenaline to surge. But instead of incapacitating me, it ignites my mind-over matter skills.
The warrior in me is awakened and stressors best beware.
No Stinkin’ Thinkin’
The concept is quite simple; change your mind, change your life.
Scholarly studies, Naked & Afraid marathons and IG memes have proven time and time again that positive thinking will instantly transform life experiences. Better health, stress relief and enhanced coping skills are obvious benefits, but better living is the biggest win.
Life is just better.
I have little tolerance for negativity and no hesitation about immediately cutting it, him, her, and them off. Tolerating unkind natures feels like I am literally unloving myself. I’m grateful for positive thinking because it allows me to see the act of removal as making room for good things.
Positive thinking is ‘you’ at work. The choice is yours and it’s simple.
Learn & Live With Empathy
I consider myself a Super-Feeler. I have a heightened sensitivity to feelings – both mine and those of others.
My childhood taught me that my emotions were not safe with everyone, so I learned to guard them. The internal simmer made me acutely aware of emotional yearning. It also cultivated an always-exposed compassion for others.
The world is heavily scented with longings for validation.
Folks want to matter. They need to feel wanted. That longing resonates with me.
If I, in any way, can make someone feel like they are not alone in world, I’m Johnny-on-the-spot. My writing allows me to sit and share, side-by-side, with folks every day. Giving in this way continues to grow my ocean-deep capacity for empathy.
I love very, very hard and I’m not ashamed to admit that.
Prose by Reyna Biddy eloquently explains: “Don’t be afraid to show people how much you appreciate them. Don’t hold back. Love as hard as you want to. Love as hard as you need to…the more you love yourself, the less you hate people. The more you’ll understand and empathize with others. The less you’ll feel the need to pass judgment.”
Never Let An Opportunity Pass You By
I never ignore an opportunity to improve. I’m a self-help book junkie and require regular upgrades on my iPhone’s storage plan because of all the IG self-love memes and poems I save on a daily basis. I’m one of the first people my friends forward empowerment workshop details to, and my life coaching podcast forwards are on point.
My commitment to being a constant learner is met equally by an unflinching desire to try new things.
I can’t outrun the calling that there is always more for me to experience. My response to folks’ dropped-jawed expressions when I share my life story is: “I only have one life that I know of so….” I know, that I know, that I know that I’m so blessed to have this outlook on life.
9.899 times out of 10, the only thing stopping me is me.
Love’s true meaning wasn’t always clear during my childhood, but my thoughts about the kind of mother I’d be to my own children were pure. They’d know that we were all loveable because we’d openly express affection, respect, commitment, and trust.
As bell hooks says, “Love is as love does.”
Today another poem by Alex Elle guides my daily moves through this life: “Wholeness can come from brokenness.”
And Octavia Butler confirms what I too confidently know now: “In order to rise from its own ashes a phoenix first must burn.”
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