I sat on the edge of my bed and wiped the sleep from my eyes when suddenly I realized my mother was standing before me. What’s she holding in her hand? I wondered.
Her words rang in my head as an enormous surge of adrenalin rushed through my tired mind and my whole body went into high alert. “Code Red” as the government would say.
“No, mom, I know what you saw but it doesn’t mean what you think it does!”
“Sue, it’s not normal,” she told me. “But don’t worry. It’s okay. We can get you some help. We can go to the priest at church and they’ll be able to help you.”
She held up the book in her hands and I saw it was the Bible. The Holy Bible. Oh shit, this is serious!
I know the thoughts cascaded through my head only for a few seconds, but it seemed like hours. She thinks I need help. She thinks something is wrong with me. She thinks I’m not normal. Fear gripped my belly as her words and the fire in her frightened eyes ripped through me.
I felt the heat rise up into my cheeks and my immediate response was to defend myself. Defend myself against my own mother. The thought was so foreign to me. And although I knew in my heart she loved me deeply and was doing what she thought she should to protect me, I could feel myself slipping away.
I looked at my mother and recognized how incredibly vulnerable and afraid she must have felt. She didn’t really know what to do or think and she wanted us to seek answers and comfort from the source she’d relied upon for years–her faith in God and the Catholic Church.
“Sue, answer me.”
I remember looking directly into her eyes but I didn’t recognize her as my mother. Instead, what I saw before me was a woman who was afraid and grasping at straws. I felt as if she was incredibly angry, and I remember experiencing her pain and fear as she looked at me. She looked like a woman who didn’t know what to do. Perhaps for the first time in my twenty-one years, I saw my mother simply as a human being.
Wasn’t my mother supposed to love me unconditionally; support me and protect me and have my back? Now who would I turn to for help in sorting through this confusion?
“Mom, you’re wrong. It’s not what you think. It was just a kiss to say goodbye.”
“You leaned into her car three times,” my mother replied. “I can see once or even twice, but not three times.”
“Mom, I’m telling you you’re wrong. We’re just friends.”
And So the Lies Began
I tried to convince myself that lying was the only way to protect myself. I mean, if a mother can’t accept her daughter for who she is, then what about the rest of the world? How was I going to live? The truth was that I didn’t even understand it myself.
Years of conditioning had etched into me that I would go to college, get a job, get married, and have babies and grandbabies; yet, hard as I tried, I simply couldn’t see myself living this life. These newfound feelings had come forth to help me discover the truth of who I was. And as good as I felt when I was around “people like me” I felt a hundred times worse trying to be someone I wasn’t around everyone else.
My world had become an unfamiliar landscape and, hard as it was to distance myself from my family and hide some of the best parts of my life–my loving relationships, my friends, what I did, and where I went—somehow I knew I had to live my own life.
I treaded water for years and presented myself to the world as a career-driven woman because this took some of the obvious questions off the table: “No time for a relationship, Sue?” and “What’s a beautiful girl like you doing without a boyfriend?” All the while I was making my way and doing my best to accept the real me, but the lies continued.
Old Habits Die Hard
The truth is that the habit of lying had started much earlier in my life. I always wanted to be a “good girl” and have my parents’ approval so I often hid things. My earliest memories include sneaking food into my room because I didn’t want to be yelled at for eating too much. I was a butterball of a little girl, and it didn’t help that I had a very skinny sister only fifteen months older than me.
My mother enjoyed dressing us alike and, while my sister wore slim size clothes, mom had to take me to the “chubby girls” department. I felt what I thought was her embarrassment and disappointment if we couldn’t find my size in the dresses she wanted me to wear, and I often ended up wearing ones that cut into me just so we could dress alike. Add to this the fact that often as kids one of our reward systems was snacks like candy, ice cream, and soda; I felt easily confused by the mixed messages.
Shame and hunger haunted me at the same time. What I recognize now is that I wasn’t necessarily hungry for food, but for love. I wanted to fit in, make it easy for my mom, and look pretty and skinny like my sister, but I couldn’t help stuffing food into my mouth. Looking back at some of my old photos, I see that I wasn’t actually fat, just pleasantly plump—too bad I didn’t feel that way.
I remember a specific question that still echoes in my head today, and probably even more profoundly at a subconscious level—“what will people think?” This question comes to me as the voice of my mother and grandmother often around the issue of my weight, but also about attending church, achieving good grades, behaving obediently, dressing properly, and being clean and well-kept. I can’t help but wonder if that’s how they lived their whole lives too…worried about what others would think. So much pressure. So much wasted energy. Will the voice ever go away?
It Only Hurts When I Move
A feeble laugh escaped my lips, followed by a mild groan. The pain ripped through my shoulders and neck, down my spine and arms, and even, it seemed, right down to my toes. Even laughter made my whole body hurt. In the past weeks, the pain had increased from annoying and sporadic to throbbing and ever-present…but only when I moved. It sounded like a bad joke, but it was the truth.
This pain had popped in and out of my life for thirteen years. Some months passed with little or no discomfort, and then wham! I’d become incapacitated, weak, and itchy. The doctors had no idea what was going on and numerous inconclusive tests left them baffled. Various drugs masked or relieved the symptoms for a while, and then it—whatever it was—would rear its ugly head and I’d find myself unable to tackle even the simplest tasks. The eruptions on my skin made me feel like a leper, and I felt lucky to at least be able to hide them with clothing or to simply work from home.
I kept my condition a secret largely because I didn’t want to appear weak or incapable of taking care of myself. Lucky for me, my amazing partner of nearly twenty years, Kathy, loved and cared for me through it all and understood my need for secrecy.
Here We Go Again…Or Not
It was 2011 and my symptoms had exacerbated to the point that I could no longer stand the intense pain, massive inflammation, and unnatural discoloration of my skin. I decided this autoimmune disease—finally diagnosed—was not going to have its way with me any longer!
I explored alternative therapies and finally, after many months and a few sessions with a shaman who reminded me “drugs are not a failure, they are an assist,” I resorted to steroids to help me function normally again. It was miraculous and immediate, and I wished I hadn’t waited so long. Perhaps the lie I’d been telling myself lately was the biggest one of all—that I could control everything myself.
During the year I looked deeply into this disease that wracked my body. What I learned is that an autoimmune disease is one where the immune system malfunctions from its natural state and the body attacks itself. As I looked closely at my patterns of thought over the years and how I had been living my life, it became very clear to me that my body was mimicking my constant barrage of punishing thoughts about being fat, gay, and broke. I attacked myself—literally! And always I worried “what will people think?”
All those years I’d been so unkind to myself! I’d looked in the mirror with disgust at my weight, which ranged from 5-50 lbs. heavier at any given time. I looked at my short hair and clothes, and bashed myself for not looking feminine enough. I looked at my bank account and the abundance I so desired that wasn’t flowing to me. I was most struck during this self-exploration by the stark realization that I was completely out of alignment with my own priorities and values—and ultimately, the truth of who I was.
In this defining moment I realized the pattern I had lived my whole life: worrying what others would think. The time had come to stop! My mother had been a wonderful loving teacher and I would not be the woman I am today without her bravery, encouragement, and willingness to grow alongside me. And now the time had come for me to live my truth.
Although I knew in my heart that my purpose was to empower and encourage women to wholeness and authentic ways of being, I also knew I was not living this way myself. I could easily speak to others and help them become more powerful in their lives, and in a flash of insight I recognized that my public persona was disconnected from my private one. I appeared to be strong, connected, loving, and powerful on the outside, but deep down I felt like a fraud because I felt none of these things for myself. I had stuffed the real me into something so small that I was almost non-existent.
As I sit here in this moment, I know I must stop the secrets. Stop the fibs. Stop skirting my truth. I have made what may be the biggest, most empowering decision of my whole life—I have decided to live my life as me.
“And the day came when the risk to remain tight in the bud
was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” – Anais Nin
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Powerful You! Inc.
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About the Author: Sue Urda is an Author, Speaker, Inspirer and Co-Founder of Powerful You! Women’s Network, She was named twice on Inc. Magazines list of the 500 Fastest-Growing Private Companies and is the author of two books, Powerful Intentions Everyday Gratitude and Empowering Transformations for Women. Sue’s vision is to contribute to a global consciousness of women helping women succeed in business and in life and to open them to truth of who they are. www.sueurda.com
My beautiful Friend Sue,
I applaud you for sharing your story with such heart, and beauty.
It takes great courage and love to become so unconditionally vulnerable and true.
Your courage, wisdom and truth inspires all of us who may still be locked fearfully in our own hiding spaces.
I am so glad that I became part of the powerful group you and Kathy envisioned and created…..abundance will flow in ever larger waves to balance your amazing gifts and service from your hearts and souls.
Thank you for your kind and sweet words. I am humbled to share my story and it is my wish that it will provide courage for other women to step forward into their own truth and release themselves from the fear of rejection and denial. I have found overwhelmingly an acceptance and relief from others who have read it, and I personally feel so much freer, lighter and happier.
We are grateful to have connected with you, Angelika, and the many other inspiring women who are a part of our beautiful network. It is a gift in and of itself.
Lots of love and joy to you,
My heart is so warm and overwhelmed by your words and story. Letting go of others expectations and living your own life is so important, yet as women, we tend to neglect even our own best interests to be authentic in order to to please others.
I am happy you have dropped the “cloak of silence,shame, and guilt” which has held you back for such a long time and know you are living your “true life” now. Live free, full of hope and always with lots of love.
Love and light always,
I am so happy that you decided to step into your own Divine Self & Spread Your Wings! By being true to yourself living an authentic life you will create & achieve the balance that you desire. Having had the pleasure of being your & Kathy’s friend all these years I can see firsthand how freeing this has been for you. The quote you picked is one of my favorites & it so aptly describes your journey!
“And the day came when the risk to remain tight in the bud
was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” – Anais Nin
Love & Blessings to you always,
Good story….words and thoughts to “live” by.
Thank you for your kind words. I know you have seen me ‘hiding’ for many years and you respected my wishes even though you could probably see the gifts I was holding myself back from.
I sooo respect and admire how you live your own life, fully as YOU! I know that your example is one that inspired my decision to be open – even though it took me years to get to this place – and I am sure you have inspired others as well.
Keep shining your beautiful light, girl!
Dear Arlene, my friend,
You have always been so accepting of Kathy and I as we journeyed through these muddy waters. We appreciate you holding the space for us as we found our way to the freedom and peace we now feel.
Thanks for your love and friendship! You are a blessing to us and to so many others!
love you lots,
I am living by them and enjoying every moment! I know you are a woman on a mission and bask in freedom each day! Thanks for your beautiful example of being who you are!
Namaste` and love,