“It is only when a man feels himself face to face with such horrors
that he can understand their true import.”
When I was young, I was absolutely terrified of vampires ... the most famous being, of course, Dracula. I was scared of all horror movies, but especially vampires. There is one scene from an old movie which really freaked me out. I can't remember the movie or the actors, but I can recall the scene involved a woman dressed in a long white nightgown lying in bed asleep. Outside her window lurked the infamous Dracula. According to my recollection, Dracula couldn't enter the bedroom chamber unless he was invited in, so he would appear outside her window each night, scratching at it with his long, hideous fingernails.
The idea that the victim played a role in her own demise by accidentally inviting Dracula in (through evil trickery, of course) seemed to me to be highly objectionable. There was a particular terror and dread generated through the suspense of Dracula being just outside her window. I found this tension far worse than any of the gory scenes that ensued.
Of course, it is this "anticipated dread" that keeps most of us living in fear our entire lives. When my children were young and we would take them to a restaurant, even if they were behaving themselves (a rare occurrence), I still couldn't relax and enjoy the experience because I was waiting for the moment when it would all unravel!
I realised the other day that I am finally emerging from the dark place I have inhabited for the past few years ... well, it's more like a lifetime really, but the past few years have been especially difficult. Everything I had tried to run from caught up with me all at once! It was truly sink or swim time. As cliche as it sounds, I had completely lost my sense of self. I have always been reasonably sure of the "what", but not of the "why". Suddenly, I began to doubt everything. So began a desperate forensic search for clues about the real me. Who was I before the guilt, the shame, the fear set in? I have been on a quest to find this person. What music makes me want to sing and dance? What art takes my breath away or brings me to my knees? What books make me want to write? Who do I admire? Who and what do I aspire to be?
There have been many discoveries along the way. I think the most important discovery has been just how little confidence and self-esteem I actually possess. When I was little, I used to dream about being discovered as a writer or an artist, because I thought it would make me feel confident and successful. I imagined myself at dinner parties entertaining and delighting people, because, of course, I would be transformed into someone interesting and knowledgeable ... an introvert no more! My dear friend did point out that even if I had achieved some measure of renown and success, that I was still not a likely candidate to be swanning around singing my praises!
Now I understand that until and unless I believe in the value of my own work, regardless of what other people think, I will never feel like a "success" ... on any level. Being recognised publicly as a success is surely a little like going on a holiday, or buying a house, or eating an amazing meal. The experience itself is not everlasting. Ultimately, you need to take another trip, renovate or redecorate the house, or try something else on the menu! Thankfully, I have let go of my aspirations to be "famous". I simply want to create because I love creating. I am not opposed to being "successful", but I know that it can be more of a hindrance than a help. In obscurity, I am free to create what I want. I can take risks and fail and no-one is there to judge me.
In an attempt to bolster my self-confidence and self-esteem, I have begun to simplify and declutter my life. I want to surround myself with things I genuinely love and have respect for. This includes family, friends, home, work, relationship and all other aspects of my life. I am trying to banish the oft-used phrases "I'm not sure" or "I don't know"! I may not be able to achieve the things I desire, but I do know what it is I want!
Of course, I still experience the old feelings of dismay and dread. These are the habits of a lifetime. Perhaps this is a familiar scenario: 1. something amazing happens!
2. just as you begin to celebrate, a thought comes
into your head: "what if?"
Here are some classic examples of "what ifs":
I have just bought a really nice dress ... what if I discover tomorrow that I am dying? (I know it doesn't make sense, but that's how my head works!)
I have finally found a new art studio which I love ... what if the building gets condemned?
I am living in a beautiful old house ... what if there are termites?
These are the crazy thoughts that come into my head and spoil whatever joy I might be experiencing! Even when I know the odds are in my favour, the thought alone is enough to create a seed of doubt, which grows into a tree of anxiety and dread! I have realised, with horror, that I am inviting Dracula in night after night!
So, this is my homework! I am learning, slowly but surely, to do the opposite of what my anxious mother taught me to do ... I am tempting fate!! I am trying to experience whatever joy comes my way without giving notice to the dark forces outside my window. Bad things do happen ... death and termites are real! However, I need to stop experiencing the bad things before they've even happened. Quite simply, I need to shut the curtains!