The Shy Child Sent to Stagecoach
I wasn't a naturally expressive person in the sense that as a child I was incredibly, painfully shy and very rigid and many of these traits followed me into adulthood.
My younger sister has always been the extrovert of the household, dancing, singing, acting and performing whenever the opportunity arose and even when it didn't. I always preferred to adventure outdoors alone, play with my animals and read books. But somewhere in there was expression trying to find its way out.
I wrote songs, poems and stories but performance was always terrifying. I was made to do it and I'm so glad because it took me out of myself. I distinctly remember turning up to Stagecoach and in our first class we were asked to sing what we had eaten for breakfast. I literally would have rather eaten myself than done that. I wanted to disappear. I still have no idea if I did it or not. I remember nothing beyond the initial request. My younger sister, on the other hand, LOVED it and by the end of our time there she ended up performing in musical theatre.
And Then the Tears Came
Discovering yoga and yogic philosophy was a huge part of my journey to climbing out of my very tiny shell. I found a teacher that I loved (and still do - check her out here) and so when she put on a 'Goddess Retreat Day' I booked on. I had NO idea what to expect other than the fact that it would be very much out of my comfort zone but I strapped myself in and did what I knew I needed to do.
I couldn't have been more right. I arrived and sat in a group of women (I'd never spent times with groups of women and found it enjoyable) and within no time at all we had to speak in a group, role play, intuitively move and dance. It was official, I'd arrived in my own personal hell. I was back at Stagecoach being asked to sing my breakfast but this time I'd decided to come here myself!
I started speaking, heart beating in my throat, face flush with fear, voice uncertain, anxious and hesitant and then the tears came. I felt so overexposed, so seen and so heard. At first it was a scary, almost overwhelming feeling but in time I would discover that this was exactly what I so desperately needed. I started role playing and talking to the person in front of me as if they were someone who had hurt my deeply, I spoke everything I could never speak to them. At first it was embarrassing, I felt uncomfortable and silly and then the tears came. I was ventilating, grieving, feeling and releasing. Over the years I have healed deeply wounded relationships through this simple but powerful practice. I started moving and dancing without guidance, I was self-conscious, nervous, hyper-aware of myself and everyone else, rigid and stuck in my head and then the tears came. I started to loosen up, to let go and to express through my body in ways I had never done before. It took a couple more years before I felt free enough to express with sound and to let myself go completely. Today letting loose to music and making the sounds my body wants to make is one of the most healing practices I have access to.
A Crippling Fear of Speaking
The next hurdle was to overcome my crippling fear of speaking.
My fear had grown so huge that I was struggling to engage in conversation at
home without feeling panicky, I couldn't sit in restaurants even with my partner or friends because I hated them looking at me when I spoke and it made me lose the ability to swallow or speak. I would continually deflect back to them and sometimes I would crumble and we'd have to go home so I could be alone. Both of my jobs (yoga teacher and musician) involved public speaking and it became such a problem that I very nearly gave them both up because I couldn't see how I would ever overcome this fear. We even took 3 months off of playing shows and I took 3 months away from social media after having a breakdown. I just couldn't face the visibility.
Gradually I began to address the root cause of the anxiety through therapy as well as lifestyle and dietary changes (ashwagandha I love you) and then I had to just dive in head first and get back on the horse.
I started with vulnerability.
I began expressing honestly when I was anxious and invited others to do the same. I soon began to realise that my anxieties were all rooted in what people would think if they knew I was anxious. I've never been one for worrying all that much what people think (any more than is healthy and normal for a community based animal) so this felt at odds with who I was. In sharing I discovered that many felt just like me. I stopped seeing groups of people as these huge crowds of scary, judgemental beings and started seeing them for what they were: fellow humans trying to navigate this life alongside me. I discovered that the more human I was with others the easier it became to be a human. I realised that I was not different but very much the same and that sameness made me feel so much more relaxed.
It was a journey and a bumpy, gritty, uncomfortable one at that but it helped me to begin to grow my tiny little life into something expansive, enjoyable and fun. I still have my moments of anxiety though I am grateful they are far fewer than before. I will still never be a performer, I can only be me as me. But these days I am mostly comfortable as me and that is one of life's greatest gifts that I give thanks for each and every day.
Expression has allowed me to speak what I thought was unspeakable and heal, to crack walls that I thought were impenetrable and feel, to express needs that I thought were unfulfillable and grow and it has allowed me to let more life live through me. I have expanded my container, widened my tolerance and welcomed it all in! That doesn't mean it's all plain sailing but it does mean I feel more liberated to navigate the challenge and more connected to others in our shared experience of this human life.
The ability to express is essential to our ability to expand and our ability to expand is to take this gift of life and make it our own.
'Our culture equates maturity with the ability to deny pleasure' ~ Anodea Judith