It used to be when I wanted to offer someone support, I had two women in mind. The first woman threw her body over yours to shield you with her own, taking blows and absorbing pain on your behalf. The other woman rolled up her sleeves and planted her palms on the flat of your back to push you uphill wether you liked it or not. I aspired to be those women. Single-minded women. Heavy-handed women. Self-sacrificing women. Women who acted from a place of absolute knowing. I am protecting you or I am pushing you. That is how I supported me too. Protecting myself or pushing myself. Single-minded. Heavy-handed. Self-sacrificing. I didn’t understand how my concept of support was disempowering and damaging. Especially to my own sweet self. I was too in love with my own brute strength and force of will. I was too scared of uncertainty to allow myself anything other than an unwavering ability to act.
As a parent, not only is that not an effective way of transferring life skills for success to my kids, it’s fucking exhausting. It’s also a little soul bruising for them. And my desire to keep my sons’ beautiful hearts as intact and vibrant as possible won out over the fear and led me to learn new ways of parenting.
As a community member, it was downright dysfunctional. There’s no growing together. There’s no taking turns. There’s no room to learn from mistakes. As a lover and friendship partner, it was just not cool. Where is the choice? Where is the recognition of unique skill sets different than my own? Where is the display of belief in a loved ones ability to choose their own adventure? So I tried new ways of being supportive. New ways to show I’ve got your back, but they were shaky attempts. I wasn’t quite sure of what I was doing. I didn’t know if I was being as helpful as I could be. Maybe I should go back to pushing and protecting. This whole being gentle thing is so mysterious to me.
As much as I love being right, there’s something so satisfying about being wrong about what support looks like.
I’m now 6 weeks out from an intense surgery. The months that led up to the procedure were pain filled and emotionally draining. Sometimes I didn’t recognize myself, I was so far from the woman I thought I had forged myself into being. I was not in control of what was happening inside of me. I could not reach into myself and fix the problem. I also had this sinking fear that if I was not the heavy-handed, single-minded woman I have relied on in my past, I would fail to heal and my children would suffer greatly. Yup, all of that was there and no, none of it happened.
Instead, the kids and I were supported so deftly, so deeply, by so many loving, sweet, strong, kind people. People who never disempowered me as they held me close. Support that looked like a steady hand to hold and be guided by. Support that was many arms in a squooshy soft embrace. Support that came with check ins and me being asked “is this ok?” sincerely. There was no heavy-handedness on the scene.
I am beyond grateful, I’m transformed. This level of love and support is healing me on so many levels. My body is no longer in pain. I’m in the process of regaining my stamina while remembering to be gentle with my body. I’m also healing the broken heart that comes from never having experienced what empowering support actually feels like. The world is a lot less scary when you know people are capable of effectively caring for you. And now I have so many more examples of what it means to help than I could have imagined! A whole new menagerie of helpers now live inside me.
And I want to keep being helpful in this way to others too. To empower and support. To create the sustainable container for growth. No selves need to be sacrificed in order for care to emerge.