Yesterday, on America’s Independence Day, I wrote a bit about being grateful for our freedoms while also acknowledging our imperfect past. Today I’d like to explore how that idea transcends our national history and applies to our personal history.
In this country we are taught from a young age that we are lucky to live in “the land of the free”. It is drilled into our heads so much that it can, unfortunately, begin to lose any real meaning, especially for young children. Freedom just is; we say customary platitudes about it but we don’t really think about. Once in a while we are reminded that “freedom isn’t free” (usually when someone is trying to convince us that war is a good idea) but beyond that, it’s just our way of life.
Or is it?
What does freedom really mean? We have become so accustomed to tossing about this word that we often don’t think about its meaning. We think we know what it means but that assumption is limited. Yes, we are free from govermental tyranny and I’m very grateful for that. But in order to be truly free people we have to dig deeper than the freedoms granted to us by others. We have to be free within our own minds as well.
This definition of freedom is easy for some. For me it’s been a long, difficult journey; one I’m still traveling. But I am getting there. Over the last decade, with a lot of introspection and hard work, I have been able to actually feel the burden of people pleasing being lifted, little by little.
There’s no symbolic, grand moment of walking into the sun when liberating yourself from a self imposed prison. It happens gradually, without much notice until one day you look around and realize that only a few shackles remain. This small moment is bittersweet as you wonder who that person was from so long ago. The one walking around in your body. The one whose memories are still rattling around in your head. The one whose regrets are yours carry.
There’s also a bit of a desperate urge to rid yourself of those last few shackles but, just as the rest happened so slowly, so will these. Just because you notice them now doesn’t mean they’re easy to rid yourself of. There comes a moment when you simply accept that for some people, yourself included, freedom may be a constant journey, a few shackles may always remain but that’s okay. You keep searching and in the meantime you learn to derive strength from their confinement.
So, I accept that I’m still learning but I also reflect upon what I’ve already learned and am grateful.
- I’m free from the absolutism of traditional education.
- I am free from the confines of authoritarian and coercive parenting techniques.
- I am free of needing constant approval.
- I am free from the tyranny of thin obsession.
- I am free from self-degradation and self-abuse.
- I am free from the cult of busy.
- I am free of patriarchal thinking that is so engrained that I didn’t even know I was participating.
- I am free of religious oppression designed to control.
- I am free of blind obedience (under the guise of “respect”) to those in positions of assumed authority/power/expertise.
- I am free of crippling clinical depression.
- I am free of disordered eating. (Though these last two will be ongoing, lifelong struggles.)
All of these, of course, ebb and flow but they are still there. And while none of it was easy it has made life easier in the long run.
I don’t always feel courageous and I certainly wasn’t always brave. But I was brave enough to get here. And I’m courageous enough to keep going.