Along with thirty-two other women, I co-wrote the book 'No Ordinary Words'. For this book, ordinary women from all over the world came together.
To celebrate the hardships, the highs and the revelations of life in our time. Today, I am posting my chapter here. Don't hesitate to let me know how it touches you and especially not to purchase the book, you will find the link at the bottom.
"It's belonging to yourself; it's feeling strong, being true and embodying your integrity." - Bethany Webster
Again an angry man stood in front of me. Screaming, he sent his fiery energy towards me in an attempt to burn me down. I couldn't look straight at him, so I just looked at the ground. Meanwhile, I was searching for the chair with one hand: I had to sit down. I was getting so dizzy from the continuous avalanche of fierce words that I was unable to respond to the violence. I tried to listen, to the point where I couldn't even hear him and a loud buzzing sound filled my head. The feeling that I had done something very bad took full possession of me.
And at that moment, I fainted.
There is another moment in my life when an avalanche of angry words came over me because I had done something 'terribly wrong'.
Six years before, I had emigrated to the United States to be with my American partner. Getting him to emigrate to the Netherlands had ended in failure, but after a long year of administrative wrangling, I was allowed to come to the States. We married in Las Vegas and within three months I had the desired green card in my pocket.
He had proposed to me the summer before on a hill with the spectacular view of Barcelona. I felt the moment coming all day and got quite nervous. When it was suddenly there, a spontaneous ‘no’ escaped from my mouth. Without really thinking about it, I quickly corrected myself and said ‘yes’ after all.
I said yes for so many reasons: because we had been together for quite some time but still lived separately, because we had spent so much time and effort applying for a green card for me, because in itself it was a promise I had to keep, because, well, who says no to such an offer in such a sparkling city? I remember feeling like I wasn't worth my engagement ring, but had no idea where that feeling came from.
That swallowed ‘no’ had to come back sometime and it did four years later. And this time it would stay.
A loud no
I sat on the bottom steps of the wooden stairs of our beautiful century-old house, trying to catch my breath after the explosion of emotions just seconds ago. Without my knowledge my husband had grabbed my phone and read through the conversation with another man.
The anger coming at me completely paralysed me. I could not find proper answers to the questions he was asking. There was a knot in my stomach, a buzzing silence in my head and it was as if time stretched into a vacuum.
In that vacuum, a little voice rose from my gut. Wasn't this what I wanted? Wasn't this a good a reason to get out of here? Did it seem that the universe opened the door of my self-made prison and said: fly my love, fly?
My ‘no’ in Barcelona had been hiding in a dark corner for years, but was actually a red flag. A sign on the wall of something I was unaware of at the time. And that was now standing there in that space, demanding attention.
Back "home" again
Within seconds, I decided to leave. To leave everything behind, not knowing where to go. I just knew I didn't want this. Not anymore.
The feeling of ‘not this anymore’ helped me through the last three weeks of my stay in that big house that only felt like an empty, dark crater. As if I still didn't believe my own decision, I decided to rent another house first. Then I thought about maybe volunteering in the area, but I ended up with the plane ticket back ‘home’. I gave up and went back to the Netherlands empty-handed.
Back in Europe, I began the Camino de Santiago. It was a painful and strange time in my life. Physically incapable of the 900-kilometre walk, but pushed by my mind to complete it, I finally reached the zero point of the Camino.
The zero point of my life, the zero point of my mental state.
There at the edge of the ocean, with a view and a great distance to that other life I once had over there, I knew I really had to say goodbye to the idea of returning to the United States. I felt disoriented and lost, but there was also a small yes in me that brought me back. Back to my roots, back to the continent that was behind me, back to Europe.
There on that edge, I said yes to more time with my backpack. And a yes to living in truth with myself. I wanted to get rid of the feeling of being a victim and take responsibility for my own life. I was done following others.
A deep crater
But there was one thing I couldn't say yes to. And that was that big crater full of guilt that I dragged behind me to every new place I went. I just couldn't seem to get rid of it. I couldn't get over the idea that I had toppled someone else's dream and stopped their happy life in full swing. I tried to avoid it and at one point I thought I was over it.
That was around the time when I also thought my wandering existence was over, that I had found my roots and so I moved in with a man who rented me a small room for a token amount. But he turned out to have different expectations from me and after a few months, his patience exploded. Right in my face.
And so then I fainted.
It was clear. It was time to really look that guilt in the eyes, to know what I was dealing with. I invited it over for tea. I wanted to understand why I still felt guilty for something I had done years ago, when I was clearly living such a better life now. I felt much happier, doing what I wanted for myself and I knew that I had left behind a life that would have sucked the joy out of me.
It became clear to me that what I could not seem to forgive myself for was that I had played 'make believe', that I had spent a long time looking for all sorts of secret ways out of my marriage, that I had let the tension build up and done nothing about it.
I was, in my opinion, a very bad girl.
I don't know how many times I dared to let this overwhelming thought enter me, but each time I found a new depth. I went on a quest and like an onion, I peeled away layer by layer in my insides. And like a flower, little by little the core opened up allowing me to see more of the truth. And I discovered some interesting things there in the deep depths of myself.
I suddenly remembered that there were many other moments in my life when I felt like a Bad Girl: when I was scared of a spider, when I got home 5 minutes later than I had promised. When I wanted to go to a bar and stay until at least 2 o'clock or when I had sex with my boyfriend 'already' after being in a relationship for 3 months. These are just some of the times when I did something I thought someone else didn't like me doing. And usually their reaction was one of intense anger, overwhelming fear or devastating silence.
Because of this, as a girl, I slowly began to believe that I was responsible for all these emotions of others. I convinced myself that in order to keep the peace, within my family, in the classroom, the dance group, as well as within myself, I had to remove every bit of tension that might arise. After all, having my own needs was the reason they felt so tense, then I had better behave and be a good girl. So I kept silent when I disagreed, I resolved arguments, came home exactly on time and didn't ask for the psychological help I needed.
And so then, years later, I said a reassuring ‘yes’ to a marriage proposal, while inside a ‘no’ was screaming.
Too much responsibility
What I didn't know was that more women recognise this. Many women feel the responsibility to keep the peace, to resolve tension, to always be happy. I noticed that in this largely male-dominated world, it is often the woman who has the responsibility to keep that world turning. And although I saw myself as a very modern woman, I too apparently felt responsible for my husband's well-being and for the success of our relationship.
Because emotions are women's domain and entering and maintaining relationships is our strength, we are also responsible for their success. It then naturally follows that when a relationship then fails, it feels like it is also our fault.
Hence my guilt.
But I felt there was more. With all this knowledge, not everything had been explained for me. After that 'little accident' with the fainting, I decided to see a therapist for a family constellation. It was a strange moment. The woman dove straight into the long-forgotten past of my female family line because, as she later said, some patterns are survival mechanisms that have existed for generations.
And my strategy was to constantly say yes to every offer a man made me.
So we dug deep and we found it. We found the moment when my grandmother said yes to something she knew she should better say no to. But to keep the peace and protect herself and her family, she gave in. She said yes to being pregnant one more time, against all medical advice.
She lived in a time when, as a woman, she was beholden to her husband and not to herself. She was not allowed to decide about her own body, her own health or even her own life. She never had the courage to tell anyone exactly what happened in the bedroom and all her life she kept silent about that real and uncomfortable truth.
Saying yes, even though I felt a big no, and keeping quiet about it, all this was apparently engrained in my DNA.
After that session, I felt like I was swimming in toxic water. Water in a fishbowl that I had taken for granted all my life. I had accepted it as normal, as it was, is and always will be. But it was no longer normal and now I had to get rid of it. I no longer wanted to be the victim of this toxic behaviour with which I had hurt myself and others. I felt I had to wash myself clean, over and over again, inside and out. Years earlier, at the edge of the ocean, I promised myself to be honest and take responsibility for my own actions and my own life. And now it was time to be strong and do just that.
And I did.
To wash away all this toxicity, I decided to give myself all kinds of baths.
An acquaintance took me to a session with the singing bowls. It stuck and I went back every week because those moments were one big bath of sound that washed away the pain in my bones.
A friend invited me to a three-hour dance session. I dove into the bath of dancing bodies only to reappear after the last note had drifted away. From that day on, every month, I danced away my anger.
And a therapist prescribed a daily bath in ice-cold water. For a whole month, I went swimming every night, in one of the most beautiful places you can imagine, in the cold fresh mountain water. There I found my own inner fire again.
But most healing was the bath of being alone. After work, I went alone into the mountains for hours. By being alone, alone on mountain peaks and in deserted valleys, relying on my intuition, knowledge and physical strength, I learned that being alone is not the same as loneliness.
I found myself being the perfect company during those long walks.
And that opened up a whole other world to me, the world inside myself. Deep inside, the idea grew that I belonged to myself.
I belong to myself and not to anyone else!
That one thought was the biggest change in my whole journey. It made me feel strong and powerful. It meant that I was accountable only to myself. It meant that I was more and more choosing what I really wanted for myself, because at least I could explain that to myself.
I suddenly realised that no matter how angry my ex had been at me for breaking his heart, at that moment I only felt how I had constantly broken my own. How enormously I had let myself down all these years.
I met my sovereignty and with it my own truths.
And finding my own truths makes that my ‘yes’ and my ‘no’ come more and more from a place of authenticity. By exploring my own inner world, by connecting with my deeper core, I now know better what is good for me and what I am no longer willing to accept.
In other words, I am starting to put myself first.
By doing so, I am learning to set healthy boundaries between me and the rest of the world. Because I no longer fear that my world will collaps when yours is, I can listen better to what you want and what you desire, but without feeling the compulsion to ignore my desires. Without feeling the compulsion to change me for you.
I can stand in your storm, but don't make it my drama.
A normal woman
That doesn't mean I feel like a Super Woman now. If I did, I would ignore my own feelings, because often I still feel guilty, feel off balance, feel fear. I can even catch myself asking my boyfriend first if he is OK with me going on a three-day trip through the mountains. But these are my feelings and by acknowledging them, figuring out where they come from and then accepting them, I can finally take responsibility for what is mine and leave what is yours to you, without feeling like a bad girl, but a complete woman.
A bath of love
During my process, there was a very special moment when I could feel that crater of guilt filling with love. It was like warm water flowing into a fragrant bath. It was the colour pink and it took the darkness out of my feelings. I sat down and immersed myself in that moment of absolute love.
Afterwards, I wondered who had done that. Had my ex finally forgiven me? Were the angels pouring their loving light in? Or was it my connection to the eternal love of the universe?
Looking back now, I see that it could only have been MYSELF.
You can buy the book 'No Ordinary Words' here.
All proceeds from this book go to two women's charities: by buying this book, you support the work of TreeSisters and She Has Hope.
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