“But deep down, I was still searching for answers to the same questions. Was I pretty enough? Good enough? Clever enough?”
(from Take Your Place by Tamsin Evans)
During my teenage years it felt like I went round and round in circles with these questions. At first they came because of cruel things that others said to me like,
“I’d shag you with a bag over your head. You have a fit body, but I can’t be doing with your face.”
Those words deadened my confidence and set a deep seed of doubt in my mind that would take years to shake. And then as the years of being 13, 14… overlooked and awkward, faded into years of being 16,17… noticed, celebrated and adored, I found that – although well concealed, although those doubts had been masked by other people’s approval – the questions still remained.
Do they go away? Does everyone have them? Am I enough?
I have found myself in this cycle: I have blazing moments when I am self aware and see where I’m going, but then so easily I forget. So quickly I get immersed in the busy blur of life and little by little these same words keep creeping up, just under my consciousness until rather than a foreign thought, they have become part of me again, like an old friend who has been away for a while, who walks in and makes a cup of tea in my home as if they had never left. It feels familiar, even comforting perhaps.
But unlike that old friend, I find that there is often not much good about these questions.
They usually only lead to me trying to find my ‘enough’. Trying to prove my worth somewhere, in something like position, or how I look, who likes me, who is kind to me, or perhaps how well I do or what I achieve. The problem is that if I find my ‘enough’ in any of these things, they are not consistent; they change, they waiver, they go up and down like the tide. And very soon I find myself washed up in the cycle again.
For me, I have found that being aware – realising what is happening – is the first step to actually dealing with this question and confronting it head on. When I can recognise that my thinking is faulty, that is the first step to me figuring out what is going wrong and how to put it right.
Several years ago, I was on holiday with my family in Australia. We were at Sunrise Beach, Noosa, and we were jumping waves. These waves were much stronger than the English waves I am used to, and I found myself becoming increasingly pummeled by them. My husband and his brothers would dive into the waves as they approached and come up the other side unscathed. To them, these waves were normal, what they were used to, and they knew how to face them. But I, treating the waves like their English cousins, would attempt to jump them, control them, manage them. And then one bigger than I could handle came. I tried to jump up, to evade it, but it enveloped me and around and around I was turned as though in a giant washing machine. So violent, so strong was the wave, that it stripped me of my entire bikini and I was left, washed up, gasping for breath, naked and faced with my brother in law as I desperately tried to retrieve my bikini from the backwash.
My trying to keep my head above water, to manage the waves that came at me with my feeble jumps, resulted in that one wave stripping everything that covered me, away.
_ _ _
Sometimes, I have found that it takes a moment where everything is stripped away to realise just where I had been placing my worth, my ‘enough’. I learned this the hard way as an 18 year old, through rejection. I had placed my worth in boy’s affection and academia, and suddenly, when I was rejected by both, I found myself utterly defeated, sobbing every evening. But here – stripped down – was the place I began to really find myself.
_ _ _
After being stripped down and washed up by that wave, I made my way back to the beach and my towel, where I lay, salt water stinging as I breathed through my nose, as I swallowed the salty taste, my eyes smarting. Our friend, Jez, laughing as, between splutters, I recounted what had happened.
“Wish I’d been there to see it,” he laughed.
And something struck me: it is easy to see others stripped bare, and to appreciate the funny side. But when it is ourselves, we are traumatised. And yet, I think it can be the greatest gift. What if we take those moments as an opportunity to ask that deep nagging question? And really find out the answer. I think those are the moments that define us, and make us grow and become the full colour versions of who we really were created to be.
As long as I try to be enough, to jump the waves of approval, to need them to propel me, I am just one wave away from being ‘dunked’. If each wave resembles a way I try to find myself and to keep my head above water – those waves at some point will be out of my control, and when I don’t expect it they will strip me back to vulnerable nakedness. It is inevitable. It will happen. So then, I have to choose. Will I keep slipping back to trying to be enough in the approval of others? Or will I let go, allowing those moments of being stripped back to be wonderful discoveries of who I am and stop trying to be enough for everyone else and instead pursue the adventure of being fully me?