“Courage is being scared to death, but saddling up anyway.” – John Wayne
Well, here you are. Your life is not going as planned.
Maybe you’re stuck in a rut, unable to take that essential next step.
Maybe your life has come down around your ears.
Or maybe it’s anything in between.
You may not know what to do next, or if you do know, you’re bogged down and can’t move.
What holds you back?
Not fear; sensible fear keeps us alive.
Afraidness is nonsense fear.
Afraidness says, “You shouldn’t do that … you might fail, or people might talk, or you might rock the boat … here, dear; better to sit by the fire and have another cookie. It’s less risky.”
Less risky, but in the end, you are still sitting there eating cookies while the world passes you by, and one day you’ll realize that your afraidness has all but made you disappear.
I felt afraidness too, and this is the story of how I overcame it.
The Turning Point
Taking one day at a time was a luxury; for months I felt successful if I managed ten minutes at a time in a world turned upside down by my husband’s alcohol and prescription drug abuse.
I had lost myself in our couple-ness and faded further into invisibility as our relationship derailed. The script in his head left no room for me except when blame for some perceived wrong needed somewhere to land.
And then I couldn’t be invisible enough.
Working the Al-Anon program helped me find the strength to tell him we should separate as I could no longer watch his self-destruction, and he promised to use the time apart to get clean and sober.
Instead, he got a girlfriend, and that was pretty much that.
Starting over can feel so overwhelming. You feel broken, without worth, and you wonder how in the world you’ll ever find the bravery you know you need.
Whether rebuilding or getting back on track, you can easily become overwhelmed by looking at the tasks ahead. To counteract the paralysis this point of view causes, take a breath and come back to where you are now. Pick three things that you know for sure and write them down.
You’ve started, and that’s half the work.
I was totally shattered, so my life started over with “My dog and cat liked me … When I waved, people waved back … I was a good nurse.”
When I looked at these ordinary bits of goodness, gratitude flooded in, and the next step was a no-brainer.
Begin with appreciation for the simple things in your life, and be grateful for your small accomplishments. No matter how insignificant they may seem, write them down in a notebook.
Call it your “Gratitude Journal,” or “My Little Notebook of Why Things Don’t Suck,” or “Building Blocks.”
But get them out of your head and onto paper; it makes them real, and you can re-read them when you need a boost.
Find Your Teachers
I found that my marriage had left me raw and questioning almost everything. I had lost my bearings trying to cope with the crazy world of addiction and came to find safe harbor in the one constant of my life: my work.
I have always loved my nursing career but suddenly felt renewed gratitude for it. Not only was it something I knew how to do but it also provided me with perspective — the patients in my oncology clinic would trade their problems for mine in a heartbeat.
These people were ordinary folk catapulted into extraordinary circumstances, and most learned to “live like they were dying,” unknowingly setting an example for me. If they could live like that, why shouldn’t I? What did I have to lose?
Dare To Do
Remember this quote from Yoda?
“Do or do not. There is no try.”
Nothing is mentioned about doing it perfectly, or even well, or without mistakes.
But try… try sounds whiney, like you are making excuses before you even start; try will keep you by the fire with your cookie.
I finally started to feel less like an invisible woman in a broken marriage and more like the brave woman I knew I could be. It was time to step out of my comfort zone and DO something to help squash my afraidness.
But where to start? I picked something I knew and loved (music) and dared myself to sign up for a complete unknown: a performance workshop in opera. This sounded like a fun way to learn about a different music style with the added bonus that if I flailed and floundered, I would never see those people again.
With this realization, I discovered my recipe for deciding if doing something was worth my time (or not):
Will it be enjoyable?
Will I learn something new?
If it doesn’t go as planned, will it matter in a day, a week, a month?
What has afraidness kept you from doing to create the changes you need in your life? What do you really have to lose if you take that step?
Dare yourself to do, and you will find people who will encourage and cheer you on.
Fire the Critic in Your Head
Each time you challenge yourself, resist the urge to be too critical of your efforts. Becoming brave enough to do will take most of your energy and make it almost impossible to be objective about the situation. Do you have someone you trust who can provide feedback?
Performing in the opera workshop was more fun than I thought possible, and it gave me the courage to audition as a bodhran player for a local Celtic group — and I made it! On stage at last, I was no longer invisible, but I still tried to hide, standing in the background and avoiding audience eye contact.
My daughter gently mentioned that I might want to actually appear to be having as much fun as I said I was; her input helped me realize the critic in my head was holding me hostage in afraidness.
Send your inner critic packing, and when you hear the first whispers of doubt trying to weasel their way back into your head (because they will), toss the critic out again, and keep tossing, for as many times as necessary.
Feel ALL the Experiences
I began to feel indomitable, and I had the courage to begin fiddle lessons. During my first recital, I shook so badly that my bow bounced as if possessed, and I had to start over. I was surprised how terrifying that experience was.
It’s okay to be so scared you shake when trying something new. You are pushing your boundaries. You will know more about yourself as a result of being scared, and understand that scared is different from afraidness. You will have had the courage to leave the cookies and the fire.
It’s been a year of fiddle practice, and I am surprised how much I love it; maybe in another year others will love it, too. My goal is to become good enough to play simple accompaniments with my group. I keep that scene in mind and call myself a musician, without apologies.
Name yourself: are you a writer? Painter? Runner? Musician? Resist the urge to add “but,” or “except,” or “almost.”
Write it down.
Post it where you can read it every day.
Start Here. Start Now.
I wish I could tell you that living a courageous life is a piece of cake and that you will always “go confidently in the direction of your dreams.”
Not so, but still go. Carry a clipboard, and look like you know what you are doing.
Every day you have to find your courage; fortunately, it gets easier with practice.
The time to start that practice is now, from where you are right here.
So put down that cookie, channel some John Wayne, and
Saddle up, pilgrim!
Photo by ChrisHaysPhotography
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14 thoughts on “Invisible Woman to Stage Performer: How I Dared to Live Courageously”
I read your post with empathy and respect. Empathy, as I have long periods of sufferring. Respect for your guts to try to work through the difficulties. Writing is a great way to get it all out. It helps to detox the mind and the heart. Although it is fair to share your problems with your loved ones, sometimes I turn to writing privately. I wanted to shield my loved ones from the pain. Getting out of the issues take accountability, intention, work and the ability to ask for help… from the right person. Thanks for starting the conversation on this and best of luck.
Thank you for your kind words, Soon Wah. You have been through the fire, too, and I wish you continued courage on your journey. I have also found that finding something to laugh about every day helps a lot! Best, Claire
Knowing you for over 15 years has enriched my life.
You have been there for me and for Jeff since we met you.
I have witnessed the pain of your husbands addiction, lies, and betrayal. The unnerving outcome it had on you even when others would not believe.
No one really “gets” addiction until they are in it, or go through it with a loved one. It is a scourge on mankind. For the addict, it is ALWAYS there. The door has opened in their brain, and does not close for good. It only gets shut. It can come open at anytime. The addict knows this, unless they are in denial.
Your excellent work shines through everyday. I witness your skill, compassion, and knowledge every week.
You are a survivor. One that will help others as you help yourself. It’s a two way street. Sometimes we walk alone and can light up the sky!
Brent, my friend,
Your friendship has meant a lot and I can’t believe it’s been 15 years.
You are so right about addiction and the horrible grip it can have on people. As a result of all this I have immense admiration for those who can do the work to stay clean and sober.
We are both lucky, methinks.
Thank you for the gift of your beautifully crafted post.
I was moved by your description of the bad situation with your husband. I can identify-my wife was an alcoholic and died after 10 years of hitting the bottle morning, noon, and night. That was 4 years ago and it still affects me.
Your words about the script in our head rings true. We all have our own script, so the question is: can we change it? I believe we can providing we have intent. You’ve done it, and I’m doing it.
Congratulations for making the decision to lead a courageous life, and put the past behind you. As you say it’s not easy. But worth it? Absolutely.
I just want to give you a hug.
And you are correct, it is absolutely worth it.
Hey Claire, I absolutely love how you poured you heart in this post. I really like your writing style, very elegant, I must say! In terms of the content, you already know you are a survivor and inspirational. well done!
Sticking with writing this post was a challenge and I wavered more than once.
Your kind words have made it worth it.
Okay, so making this blog may have been hard to make but I respect that you could make it i can say that it can make others look at situations differently by following this post.
Yep, I was scared. But I am getting better and better at finding courage and not wallowing in afraidness.
And if I can do it, others can, too.
Today is my birthday, and I am weirdly happy about reaching a decade mark that many people (especially women) dread.
How did I make it this far? All I know is I had lots of help along the way.
Mostly, thanks to my parents for not selling me to the gypsies when I was 15.
Thanks to my offspring who have grown up to be my friends, and enlarged my circle with spouses and kids, both human and furry.
Thanks to those who have come into my life as both blessings and lessons (I didn’t make that quote up but I wish I had).
Jon Morrow and the editors in the guest blogging course kept me going and Peter Clemens of The Change Blog published this post, (my firs!).
So, another day dawns and I am off to work.
What?? Work on my birthday??
Yes, it’s good to have a birthday and a job, ya know?
Such a beautiful and honest post, Claire! But what a wonderful journey you’ve been on. Al-anon sure gets one started, no? But I love, love the 3 things you know for sure. What great tips!
I look back and am in amazement at the turns my life has taken. You can’t make this stuff up!
Thanks for reading!
This is fabulous. I am so proud of you. I am inspired to keep taking those steps forward. Who knows what anyone can do. Thanks for being you and showing up.