A couple of months ago, a friend shared this question on social media: Do you ever feel like just the shell of a person?
These are the questions I love: honest and vulnerable.
September 21st marks six years from the day I nearly died by suicide. Trust me, I get it. It’s why I appreciate people who don’t dress up their experiences or use social media to only share cat videos. I need more people in my life who are willing to be raw about what they’re living through.
Have you ever been exhausted by unrealistic expectations? Worn thin from performing for far too long, for people who care far too little? Have you ever experienced one of those days where a thousand tiny things compound, and before you know it, you need either a stiff drink or a straight jacket? We’ve all been there, friend. You don’t have to pretend. You’re safe here.
Most of us inherited the story of our over-worked parents who found their identity in their work. As much as we love and appreciate our parents, a culture of scarcity raised us. We bought into the lie that being overwhelmed and filled with shame is just a way of life.
Men, in particular, are likely to disengage and walk away instead of risking the shaky courage it takes to be vulnerable. Plenty of guys grew up in a world where boys didn’t cry. From a very early age, many of us had it ingrained in our psyche to be a “big boy,” or “dry it up.”
Don’t stop for directions! Just keep driving.
Vulnerability is weakness.
Get it together, bro.
Don’t cry! Dry it up.
Stop whining! Don’t be a little bitch.
Men are tough.
For the longest time, we have taken everyone else’s story as our own, but it’s time to reformat the lies that have been downloaded into our tired souls by fearful parents, partisan politics, and oppressive religion.
It’s time we stop letting shame win. Refuse to back down. Don’t be silent. If you secretly wish for a hero, be one. Stand up. Choose the hill you would gladly die on and be your own damn hero. It’s time to start writing our own story.
We need a better narrative: one that reminds us that we are enough and empowers us to fight back. We need to affirm ourselves and shout into the fucking darkness, “I am here! I’m not backing down! I’m ready to do the hard work, and shame will not destroy me!”
God calls me beloved, and one tangible way I fight back against shame is through positive, personal affirmations. About a year ago, I started keeping a list of statements that reaffirm the truth of my being. They look something like this:
I am loved.
I am worthy.
I am capable.
I am healthy.
I am patient.
I am compassionate.
I am making a difference.
I am worthy of love and respect.
I remember what it’s like to reach the end of the rope. I know exactly what hopelessness feels like. I remember the white noise of shame, whispering in my ears that I am worthless. I know what it’s like to be labeled the underdog.
For me, it was the latching of the large metal door that locked me in the psych ward. If you’ve ever felt as overwhelmed as I did that September day, you know exactly what the end of the rope looks like.
Maybe you feel caught between secretly hoping the strands unravel so you can die, or wishing your feet could just touch solid ground again. I get it. When you are holding onto the end of the rope, there’s not an immediate magic formula. The goal isn’t to climb from chaos to calm overnight. Sometimes, it’s just surviving. And that is okay. But you are still here, still holding on.
Remember this one thing: you are the protagonist of your story, and every moment of your life happens on your watch. If you feel about as strong as an eggshell, you’ve got to set some clear boundaries with anyone and anything that doesn’t see or value you.
Hard days are a universal experience, and sometimes all we can do is endure the moment. When the chaos arrives, hold on. But remember there is an ebb and flow to all of life. So let the emotions wash in, and don’t give up. Sooner or later, they will recede, like a tide. And you will find that you are stronger than you think.
When we disconnect from outward chaos and reconnect to our inner-calm, things begin to shift. When we get quiet and begin to affirm ourselves, we slowly reconnect with the truth of who we are. This is when we start to realize that we are much more than just the shell of a person.
Steve Austin is an author, speaker, and life coach who is passionate about helping overwhelmed people learn to catch their breath. He is the author of two Amazon bestsellers, "Catching Your Breath," and "From Pastor to a Psych Ward." Steve lives with his wife and two children in Birmingham, Alabama.
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