So. I very often get the intended compliment of "Wow! You are so strong. I don't know how you do it all!" when I share pieces of my story with people. While it is meant as a term of admiration for overcoming life's obstacles (some self-inflicted and some gifted to me) and becoming a perceived success, I don't often swallow it that way. My usual response is "It's not strength....it's survival." That response usually takes people by surprise and then I have to elaborate on why I just turned their complement into a lesson on playing the cards one is dealt. You see, strength, to me, is having a choice and choosing what is right and sometimes hard. Survival is doing what's hard by any means necessary because it is the only choice that you have.
Life has had it's way of handing me some pretty tough cards. Without making this a whoa is me song, I will share what I mean briefly. At 35 years old, I have had the experiences of growing up in a home of domestic violence, being on the poorer side of a middle class status, becoming a single mother at the age of 20, struggling through my own heartbreaks and emotional abuse, coping with low self-esteem and issues with rejection, losing my father to cancer and nephew to a drunk driver in the same year, becoming a single mother again at 30, helping my mother through two bouts of cancer, and almost losing my life due to heart failure, resulting in living with a pacemaker the rest of my life.
In spite of these things, I have managed to become a success in many people's eyes. I have managed to obtain 3 degrees, including a Master's of Social Work, become a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, obtain a well paying career that allows me to work in my passion area, as well as be a part of the change in the system that I work for, and give my children a life that they will cherish forever. I have also been able to continue my personal growth through volunteerism, mentorship, and community involvement. I'm exhausted just typing it. LOL!
But, reality for women like me is that there is nothing glamorous about the struggles we must face in order to overcome the adversities that life places on our tables. So, when someone says I'm strong because I have accomplished in spite of my cards, it is almost insinuating that I had any other choice but to. In reality, I have been functioning in survival mode the entirety of my life. I don't know anything else. And let me tell you, it is exhausting and the furthest thing from glamorous that I can think of. You see, in survival mode, one does not often rest or relax. Even during intended R&R, your mind does not stop thinking of what the next step is to continue to progress. Your spirit is constantly in a space of protecting what you have and finding a way to get more. Your world is persistently in crisis mode of some sort because at any moment, the bottom could fall out of it all. Not to mention that as a single mom, I am responsible for two lives that I cannot let falter.
I have said to my friends and close acquaintances more times than I can count that I just want to be able to be soft and let someone else be strong for me. I yearn for the day that life finally says "Ok, my girl. Here's some slack." I pray for the moment when I can breathe easy knowing that I don't have to function in fight or flight anymore. So, when someone reaches out to give me a figurative high five for climbing that last mountain, I don't take it as such because that mountain is not one that I climbed for recreation. It was one that placed in front of me just as I caught my breath from the last one. I don't want to be strong most days. It is a burden that becomes almost too heavy. But, I don't get to sit down or give up because if I do, as a single, black mother, who grew up in the hood in a lower middle class family, I and my children become a statistic. And that is one thing I will never settle for.
So, please keep that figurative high-five. Instead, use that same hand to help keep me from drowning by helping to lift me up to get over that mountain that I am trying to climb. I may not ever ask for the help or let on that I am drowning, but I am learning to let my circle help me to survive and allow me to just be soft, instead of strong. I am learning to accept the light and love that I have given to others in return.
Light and love....