This is it. I have been waiting for this moment for a very long time, finally feeling free enough, wise enough, and strong enough to put what I know into action. Technically this moment began a month ago, but I had to grieve, I had to let go, and my patterns regularly appeared to attempt to fool me out of my logic.
I have grieved time lost to patterns of survival before but this was the most painful and significant grief. I always say there is no grave to burn when it comes to finding blame for the origins of one’s personal shame. Not anymore, not for me. I found a grave to burn (metaphorically), but every fiber of my being struggles to hold fire to the stone. That is because I have been taught, from birth, from my family, from society, that I cannot survive without it.
For centuries and centuries, women’s survival depended upon whether or not they could marry. A girl’s appearance, body, behavior (obedience), intellect, talent, fertility, and child care skills were on the line. The payoff for being selected by a man for the institution of marriage was safety and economic prosperity. This societal standard had been calcified by many a religious myth. Why is this important? Fast forward to the dawn of media and advertising, where a woman’s fear of having an unmarriageable appearance, body, behavior, intellect (etc) began to be exploited for monetary gain.
Even as women began to find their own power through the feminist movements that gave women the right to work and the right to vote, society continued to sell to women that everything they want and need in life is in finding a man and starting a family. The sale of products that “improved” one’s chance of survival through courtship, (including makeup, corsets, clothing, etc) exponentially spawned the narrative of what a woman should be, more specifically, the kind of woman a man wants. These narratives still exist today in advertising, books, movies, and viral posts on social media. Why is this important? Story is the number one agent of change. A patriarchal narrative rages on through men and women, and its stronghold is deeply embedded in various power structures, even as women fight like hell for equality. The patriarchy is far from being in a grave.
My body, my appearance, and my intellect would have never been attacked when I was a child if it weren’t for the societal norms of the patriarchy. Were my parents hinging every way in which I was enough to them on my marriageability? No, but the definition of what an acceptable girl was had been woven into society based of the patriarchal standard and where power lies in the family dynamic. If I couldn’t fit in as a child what chance would I have as an adult? I was never taught that being single as an adult was acceptable. Throw complex trauma into the mix and it’s no wonder my mind was warped into patterns of survival.
Ground Zero in the shame game, for me, is in the patriarchy. Women’s shame based gender norm “Do everything, be everything, look hot while you’re doing it, never let anyone see you sweat” is the direct result of centuries of a woman’s survival hinging on whether or not she is marriageable. It’s 2019, and the offshoot from that is still in every facet of society.
Given my story of complex trauma and the patterns that emerged from it, I realized I have two choices in life:
1. Participate in this societal model. Do everything I can to be enough and hopefully survive by finding someone who will accept me due to these efforts, then continue struggling to stay enough until my dying day.
2. Refuse to participate in this societal model, draw a boundary with those expectations, accept myself as I am, and devote no further energy to surviving that system. Be extraordinary.
As soon as I made the choice to stop being a part of the effort and energy that has prevented men from understanding what women are actually like, I felt so many walls come down. I felt immediate grief because again, time lost, pain felt, I could go on.
I’m free now. So damn free. Every once in a while I have a “Frodo hesitating to throw the ring into the fire of Mount Doom” moment but that’s part of the work of recognizing patterns. I’m not saying I’ll never date or marry (it is a tax benefit after all). I have just reached a point where I understand my story well enough that I can fashion myself an incredible life outside the jail of patriarchal survival patterns. My entire energy can be devoted to what I wish to learn and achieve. I could be so joyful and happy. I could prosper on my own if I chose to do so. I can do this because I finally feel, in every way, worthy of love and belonging. I am worthy of love and belonging, as I am, outside the bounds of the patriarchy.
This is where I truly begin.
Part Two – Ground Zero: Music Edition
Brené Brown, Daring Greatly
Rebecca Traister, All the Single Ladies
Joseph Campbell, The Hero With a Thousand Faces
Bessel Van der Kolk, The Body Keeps the Score
Christopher Graves, How Humans Decide, How to Change Minds, and How to Craft Narratives