A radical twist in my self-perception happened recently….
My mother died early, at only 69. She was one of those always-takes-care-of-others-first people, so you never heard about her, as a person. I have felt cheated for almost 40 years, not having a better picture of who she really was. I didn’t want that to happen to my sons.
So I’ve been writing stories about my life. I want them to know about the person I am, the things I’ve done — the folks I’ve met all across the world, the places I’ve visited, the amazing things I’ve accomplished, even though I never thought I could.
I was surprised out of my sox when memories started to emerge about how I was raped by my trusted family dentist at the age of 13 … as well as other not-so-fun events as a teen, young adult, and older.
Here I was now, in my mid-70s, and I hadn’t remembered being raped. At all.
And not once, not twice, but several times.
The memories are now clear as day in my mind. Every detail. Every sound. Every sensation.
I’ve questioned why, as these memories emerged, I didn’t feel shaken to the roots in fear or worry that these things might happen again, or have flashbacks, or collapse in emotional puddles. You’d think it would be totally troubling to have these memories. That I’d be crying and upset and traumatized.
But no — one of the most astounding things has been watching myself come out on paper as a courageous, outrageous, fighting, don’t-fuck-with-me character!
It flies right smack in the face of how I have felt about myself for decades.
How could this be?
How could the person I was ‘out there’ be so very different from the one I was ‘in here’?
Here’s an example:
At a party in Honolulu in the ’80s, I found myself going around grabbing men’s butts, the way men grab women’s butts.
But wait! This was not something I usually did! I saw myself as shy!
At home later, I meditated on this odd thing I’d done. I realized that I’m the one in the room who says the things other people are afraid of saying. I’m the one who does the weird thing some people would love to do, but don’t dare.
That realization shaved away a wee bit of the self-perceived ‘shy’ label.
But I still carried The Shy identity around for years afterwards. Especially about marketing my artwork.
I was caught by thoughts like:
• I don’t want to intrude on anyone’s space,
• I’m afraid I’ll be rejected,
• Someone will criticize my art and say it’s awful,
• Someone will laugh at me, or my work,
• I better not speak up.
Those thoughts kind of smootched and dribbled heavily over into my perception of myself, as a person.
The first few times I started posting my stories on facebook and on medium.com, I felt like I’d have a heart attack from sheer terror. It took everything I had just to click the ‘publish’ button.
Happily, the response has been good — people seem to like the stories — they even buy the books I’ve created from the series of stories.
As I wrote more and more about living in NYC as an art student, other assault stories emerged. Times I was whistled at, cat-called, accosted in subways, leaned on, petted like a dog, raped, felt up, grabbed, groped, mauled — all events I hadn’t even remembered, much less given a thought to, in 50-plus years.
I have been astounded by a common theme that threads through each story – how I responded to each assault:
I was NOT shy!
In almost every instance, I became hyper-present, awake and aware, and took my power back from the assaulting person. Either getting away unscathed, or pushing them away, or even attacking them back!
And here I had thought I had been one of those people who walks on eggs around men! I was convinced of it!
She said, “Angela, it doesn’t add up! In your story about how you were essentially raped the first time you had sex, you get present, you tell the guy to fuck off … and then even make him walk you home! And then later in your post you say you felt like you’d been ‘walked all over’ by men for decades. HUH???”
After we hung up, that one question flopped around in my brain for days! She was right!
I had to ask myself, who was/IS this person?
Why has she been hiding herself from me all these years?
It came to me that I had the belief that if I speak up, if I’m a powerful, outspoken, say-it-like-it-is person, no one will like me.
Which, in fact, is the exact opposite of my real experience!
Man, isn’t the mind a fucked up piece of work????
I wonder how many other women think of themselves as victims — shy, better-not-be-loud — poor-me — being fearful, passive scapegoats of the family — not daring to say how they feel or what they want.
I wonder how much locked-up power there is in all these ‘shy’ people — all of us — both men and women. Maybe enough to blow the entire solar system apart if released!
My next query was:
If I’m not this shy person I’d thought I was, who am I?
And what would I like my life to be like, living that other, newly-OK-to-be-me persona?
If I’m not the shy, back-of-the-room-observer who doesn’t like to rock the boat …
What if I was the out-there observer who was able to sum up a situation, story or piece of art in focused words and images, opening people’s minds to the beauty of what I see?
How much good can I do?
How much love, kindness, compassion and beauty can I create and share?
Ros, dear, thank you! You have opened a can of worms … and the worms have turned out to be amazing, beautiful, sparkling tentacles of power-truth-love-beauty-intensity-energy!
I hereby relinquish the identity of Shy.
I hereby relinquish the identity of Walking on Eggs.
I hereby relinquish the identity of Being Afraid to Speak Up.
I’m so happy to be me. I’ll take that any day. And keep on keeping on!
Thanks for reading my story. I hope you enjoyed it, and that it inspires you to make new, delicious choices, so you can be the Real You, and live more deliberately and funly than you ever allowed yourself to dream possible!
Am I Really the Person I Thought I Was?
© Angela Treat Lyon 2023
Image: I’m Happy to Be Me
Oamaru New Zealand Limestone, 24x12x12
© Angela Treat Lyon 2002