Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Finding My Backbone

I never thought I had a strong backbone.

From my earliest memories, I have always been drawn to people who seem to need less of me than I need of them. I have always hero-worshipped those closest to me, assuming that they are cooler, smarter, and somehow better than me. I have always felt that I had to impress them, to work very hard to keep them. From a very young age, I have lived in fear of people realizing that I don't bring as much to their lives as they bring to mine. I have always been afraid of being left.

I'm not quite sure where this came from. My self esteem has always seemed decent, and I have never cared much what strangers or society as a whole thinks of me. However, there is something in me that has seemed determined to seek out those who have a certain aloofness to them. Or maybe I always imagined them as being aloof. Maybe they were only aloof because I allowed them to be. Either way, this has resulted in me being forgiving to a fault.

Forgiveness is a beautiful trait to have, and I'm sure in many ways, it's one of my better qualities. My forgiveness, though, has always come from a lack of faith in my own self-worth. Although I never consciously thought this, when I look back at all the times I forgave things that secretly I still thought were unjust, I realize that my forgiveness was motivated by necessity. I think I was always afraid that if I didn't forgive someone, if I put my foot down, they would leave me.

Something tremendous happened to me in this past year. I'm not sure exactly how or why, but I found strength, self-love, and peace that I hadn't even realized I was missing. From being someone who desperately feared being alone, I have grown quite happy and content in my own company, confident that, when the time is right, someone will come into my life that will complement me. I find joy in every day. I had always thought of myself as happy, but I have felt so good this past year. It's shocking to me that I didn't realize before what I was missing.

Then, earlier this year, something happened that rocked me to my core. I didn't melt. I barely cried. Instead, I felt an anger unlike anything I have ever experienced. It was powerful, cold, and malicious. I could never have imagined that I had the capacity to feel something like this. I fought with all I had to keep finding the joy in every day, to keep being happy. And I was able to, for the most part. But beneath every moment of happiness was this anger, lurking, waiting until my mind was quiet to start whispering to me.

It's strange, but in a way, I kind of liked my anger. It made me feel strong, and that made me feel safe. In the past, I would react to something like this with self-doubt and sadness. This time, I knew with every fiber of my being that I had been wronged. I respected myself in a way I never had before (how could I have been so lacking in self-respect without ever realizing?), and I knew that I deserved better than this. There was a fierce pride in my anger, because it represented my appreciation of my own worth.

As time went by, though, my anger began to eat at me. It wasn't fading, and it was making me feel so bad. Now, though, I couldn't seem to harness it. I felt it had run it's course, and I was ready to move on, but this rage had set up shop in my head and wouldn't leave. I was telling this to a friend, sitting in my car and feeling hollow. My friend said, "You know how your body tries to tell you something by hurting, or by getting sick? I think maybe that's happening here. This anger is here for a reason. I think there's a lesson here you haven't learned yet. So instead of trying to fight it, maybe try and figure out what it's trying to tell you."

The next morning, the solution hit me with frightening clarity. As soon as the thought entered my head, I started to shake. I shook for half an hour after coming up with my idea. And then I severed I tie that I never dreamed I would have the strength to sever.

When it was over, I expected to feel relief. I didn't. I just felt the same pounding anger, maybe even stronger than before - only now I had nowhere to put it. I had been calm, cold, collected, disdainful, and I had said everything I wanted to say. I could not for the life of me figure out why I still felt so bad.

It took me another day to realize it. Cutting someone out of my life wasn't going to stop the anger. The only way to stop feeling angry was to stop being angry. And in order to do that, I had to stop imagining a villain and start seeing a person. And so, I met up with the person I thought I would never see again, and had a conversation.

I think, in a way, it's easier to think that someone just doesn't care about you. That they just aren't a good person. It's harder and much, much more painful to accept that someone can love you with all their heart, even as they are hurting you so deeply. That it doesn't make them a bad person. That something can be right and wrong at the same time. That really, most people are doing the best they can every moment of every day.

Forgiving someone has never been this hard for me. Really, I forgave very selfishly. I didn't forgive for anyone else's sake. I did it because not doing it was destroying me. And once I left from that conversation, I felt a weight lift. I felt so at peace.

I came up with the idea to get a tree tattooed on my back about three years ago. I wanted to get it to remind me to have a strong backbone, because it's not something I ever really felt I had. I thought it was a good idea for a tattoo, and I even found a picture that I loved. For some reason, I never felt the same drive to get it like I did with my other three tattoos. And so it stayed a small file on my computer, a small thought in the back of my mind. Something I would get maybe, when I had more money, when I was sure I could commit to such a large tattoo, when I felt more passionate about it.

Monday afternoon, I was thinking about everything that had happened this weekend. All of a sudden, I realized, with a clarity I had never had before, exactly what that tattoo meant. Five hours later, I was in the waiting room of a tattoo studio.

It's important to love yourself enough to be angry on your own behalf when you are wronged. You should be as protective of yourself as you would be of a good friend. It's also important, though, to recognize the necessity of seeing someone for who they are, for all the beautiful strengths and complexities and flaws that go into making them. It's important to love yourself enough to let go of hate and let in love. I don't think there's anything that requires a stronger backbone than love.


  1. You hit so the heads of so many nails I've discovered recently... beautifully written. Well done.

  2. I agree with her. Great post, Katie. And congratulations. I can't wait to see the new tattoo.

  3. Great idea for a tattoo! I love the meaning behind it especially. Is that photo the finished product?! It's lovely!

    1. Thank you! Yep, that's the finished product. Only I was standing at a slight angle when I took the picture, so it is, in fact, in the center of my back, and not off to the side like it looks in the pic.