“She is incredible. It’s like every time she cries she gets more power and just keeps going.”
The time after I lost Alec I was truly in a daze. I heard my friend describe me like this to her friend on the phone. It was when she had rushed to come and take care of us at our home in the first couple of days after the loss. I was there in my body, but not really present. For 11 days I was somewhere else … on the inside. The world was a blur around me. I could tell it was loud but the noise was muffled by my grief. I could tell it was fast but I had no connection in space to be able to accurately gauge its speed.
But even from within this isolation and disconnection, I had experienced a realisation that helped me to anchor everything and make sense of it all. You see, on the day after Alec died, I sat reading the reflections I had been keeping in my phone and I realised that everything in my life had brought me to this point. From here, I was to become an author and a speaker. I knew almost straight way that I would write a book and share a message of hope and light. At that time I had aspirations of becoming a “Professional Encourager.” These days I describe myself as The Happy Widow with a message of Unstoppable Freedom. The words almost don’t matter. What I have wanted to do with every part of this chapter is to empower you to realise that you already have everything you need to find and follow your passions.
I have always had this sort of outlook. Positive. Optimistic. Faith-filled. This doesn’t mean that I have not faced darkness … only that I don’t know a time where I have not had a glimmer of hope that it would pass, however faint that glimmer was. You don’t have to read too many of my reflections to know that I have experienced profound loss, terrifying fear, choking anxiety, and the thickest grey sludge of depression. But even amidst those times, I have always managed to pull something special from somewhere deep, to see the season through to change.
“You are so strong!”
“You will get through this. You’re a survivor.”
“You’re an inspiration, Kerry. You’re amazing.”
Given my “ray-of-sunshine” outlook, it is understandable that people would describe me as strong. I get it. I really do. But no, I can’t live up to that, and I would like to go on the record and correct this misunderstanding.
I realised a very long time ago that being strong is a falsehood, and a bar that is set too high for me to achieve. I can’t believe I’m strong on the days where I haven’t been able to pick up the phone without crying, or go to the shops without experiencing a panic attack. A strong person wouldn’t have black outs on the freeway, and wouldn’t be terrified of being alone and unloved. This is not what I would call a picture of strength. No Sirreeey.
And this is more than OK. In fact. It is perfect.
I have no intention of being strong. And my aim with this blog is to let you off that unrealistic hook too. Screw being strong. Real life hurts! It is hard. It is scary. It is unpredictable and it is relentless. Real life is brutal.
I permitted myself a long time ago to give up on being strong. I don’t feel strong. I don’t need to look strong, and I sure as hell don’t need to act strong. Especially when I am simply trying to keep up appearances. The pretence is worse than useless. It is damaging. Destructive. It will hold us in a prison of performance, people-pleasing, striving and falsehood. And the worst part of trying to act strong, is that it locks us in a cage that we have, in fact, constructed entirely on our own.
No. Being strong is a recipe for disaster. I chose years ago to replace this ambition with the one I have for bravery.
You see, in bravery, I can admit that I am afraid. I’m hurt. Confused. Angry. Ashamed. Lost. Broken. Terrified. In fact, to experience those feelings of overwhelm is a pre-requisite of bravery, because without them, my response would simply be … living! Bravery does not require strength. It simply requires a step of bold courage from the place of weakness.
It is in the face of fear that I can choose to practice being brave. It is when I confront pain that I can dare to show my broken heart, and somehow take steps forward. It’s in the shame that I can stand tall. In the haze that I can fight my way through to clarity. In bravery my fear becomes hope, my reluctance becomes action, and my exhaustion becomes a new flame of passion.
When I am brave I still get to cry. To shut the world out, just for a little while. To feel it all. Every lat painful bit. These agonising feelings are what make my positive response so damn brave. Being strong says “It’s fine. I’m ok. This doesn’t affect me.” But being brave says, “This hurts like crazy, but I am going to give it my best shot and see what I can make of it.”
You don’t need to be strong in the middle of the mire. But, there is a bravery inside of you that can confront your worst days head on. Let’s give up on being strong, and let’s choose to be bold and brave instead.