My Child Self has been scared recently…
Lately, my Creative Heart has been longing to write stories. I’ve always written, but over the past 30 years or so, most of my writing has been non-fiction – either work- or education-related. I started writing fiction again at the beginning of the year by entering the NYC Midnight Short Story Challenge. I enjoyed it immensely, and though I didn’t place, I loved my story. Despite all the positive emotions I felt, my writing practice fell apart. I entered a couple more, small contests, wrote daily for about a month, and slowly started the process of stopping.
I stopped putting effort into the practice. I cut writing time short, gave up in the middle of a piece if it started to feel hard, didn’t do any research, and I avoided seeking feedback. I labeled my writing as another silly hobby, and then I put the notebook away.
I told myself that I was lazy (a message that I’ve recycled numerous times over the years), but I knew that I was missing the truth.
So what could it be?
You probably already know the answer, but I’ll give it to you anyway.
Writing fiction pings my fear button. For some folks, this fear button might be specifically related to rejection. For me, while fear of rejection is certainly a piece of my personal puzzle, it was playing a smaller part here. My Child Self’s biggest fear was that if I wasn’t perfect, my family would fall apart. I didn’t realize it right away, but that was the fear button that was getting pushed.
I grew up in an alcoholic home, and for at least a part of my childhood and adolescence, my parents were trapped in a violent cycle of domestic abuse. I learned at a very young age that a part of my job as their child was to make sure that things were as stable as possible, and that meant that I couldn’t be a problem. I needed to be perfect. My life was easier when my parents were happy, and one of the ways that I tried to keep them happy was by appearing smart, together, and creative. My household was scary when things were out of alignment. It was my job, in my very young mind, to keep it balanced. I remember the tight chest, hot, tearful eyes, and sick stomach that I felt listening to my parents fight. I also remember the warmth that I felt when things were quiet and especially when they were expressing pride and happiness in my achievements. They were never angry with each other when they were talking about the things that I did well.
I began quitting when I was 8, and it’s a habit that I’ve developed into a fine art over the past 41 years. When things have gotten hard for me, I would quit and move on to something else.
This style of writing doesn’t come easily to me. I really have to work at it, and I’m behind that learning curve, so I need to do catch-up work just to get started. While I’ve grown some gray matter since childhood and logically recognize that perfection is impossible, that it was not ever my job to save my family by being perfect, and that at this point in my life I don’t even have to try to save anybody, those underlying emotional circuits often work to sabotage me. My Child Self really believes that she can save everyone if she only maintains the appearance of Perfection, and she has a lot of habit-wiring around how to do that.
She is a pro at Sabotage. Of course, little Me doesn’t see it as Sabotage. She sees these issues as Code Blue Events requiring life-saving action. Those life-saving actions look like CPR and Adrenaline shots to her. She would whisper, “Be quiet, settle down, move on to something you already know you’re good at, or take a nap. Just don’t risk this. You’ll look stupid, and they’ll be upset.”
And my Adult Self listened. Sort of. She listened by downplaying, half-assing, and outright quitting. She didn’t take her writing or herself as a writer seriously.
Honestly, I didn’t even get the chance to feel the fear of unworthiness, failure, and disaster around my writing. My Child Self was so fast. She said all the right words and led me into all the easy addictive actions. Before I knew it, I just wasn’t writing. I didn’t even wonder why. My Child Self told me, “writing isn’t for you; it’s better this way.”
But it is for me. I want it to be. So my Adult Self had to take some action.
I had to slow down and listen to what was really going on. When I got quiet, and brought up the subject of taking myself seriously as a writer I could hear Little Me crying. I could hear her almost begging me to just let it go. I could hear her snuffle and hiccup and calm down and rationally tell me that I could write if I promised it wouldn’t be a big deal, that I would let it be a stupid little hobby like when we collected bees for a summer, that I wouldn’t put my effort into it or talk about it, and most importantly that I would eventually let it go and focus on something I was really good at. I could hear my Child Self trying very hard to save my family. And tuning in like that, I could finally feel that fear. I could feel my chest get tight, my eyes get hot and teary, and my stomach knot up – just like it did when my parents were fighting and I was hiding under the blankets in my room. Mindfulness practice helped me know the root of my reactive behaviors. I can see Little Me, and I know what she’s trying to do.
Now I can start helping her come into the present moment. It’s a place where there’s nobody to save but ourselves. It’s a time when we’ve finally learned that perfection never saved anybody anyway. The present moment, over and over again, is a safe space for imperfect exploration and growth. And for us, my Child and my Adult Self, writing fiction is a part of that adventure.